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Welfare Kings 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published September 24, 2008 at 5:58 a.m.

This week Congress will debate the Bush administration's proposed $700 billion bailout of the high-flying Wall Street financiers who made some really, really bad decisions.

Taxpayers will likely be asked to buy up more than a half-trillion dollars in bad debt - and, consequently, the Wall Street types will get to keep making bad decisions.

I love my country, but I really loathe my gummint sometimes.

Vermont's congressional delegation isn't taking kindly to the Bush administration's plan. Surprised?

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders claims we should tax the wealthy to pay for the bailout. After all, they've benefited the most from the robber-baron policies of the last decade, so they should suffer the consequences. Tough love.

He also said the feds should ensure financial institutions don't become so big that their failure can threaten to wreck the economy.

"If a company is too big to fail," Sanders trumpeted, "it is too big to exist."

Why, that smacks of socialism! Oh, wait, he is a socialist.

Democrats Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch likewise say the bailout plan should include provisions to help out folks on "Main Street."

Damn, I live on Ward Street.

At a Monday press conference in his Burlington offices (on Main Street), Welch said he wants more details from the Bush administration. He also wants assurances that consumers and taxpayers are protected, more oversight of the bailout process, and new regulations put in place to prevent future debacles.

The Bush administration held dear to its free-market principles for just one day, Welch said, by declining to save the investment house Lehman Brothers. Once that firm went belly-up, however, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was off to Congress, hat in hand, asking for public money to bail out the private institutions holding all those failed mortgages and securities.

Welch called Paulson's package the "death knell of the Bush so-called laissez-faire policy."

So, why is Wall Street and the administration suddenly embracing what you or I would consider socialism? One reason, says Welch: "They're scared."

Maybe. But it's hard to take seriously any claim of imminent danger by the Bush administration - be it foreign or domestic. This time, instead of bogus weapons of mass destruction, the threat is a different set of WMDs - Wall Street's Massive Debt.

Many analysts trace this disaster back to 1999, when, at the urging of Wall Street, Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act. That broke down the walls between banks, securities firms, insurance companies and mortgage lenders, paving the way for the risky new investment schemes that have now failed. The theory was, get government out of the way and the free market could lead us all to Easy Street.

Now, at least for Wall Street, Easy Street is looking an awful lot like a welfare office.

What a turnaround from Pres. Ronald Reagan's day. The Gipper claimed, "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem."

Reagan had no love for the downtrodden. Remember his image of a welfare queen - a poor woman of color driving a Caddy and wearing furs?

Well, today's welfare queen is a Wall Street white guy in a limousine.

The "A" List - Funny how, every two or four years, pols insist on the need to hold institutions and people "accountable." But they somehow find it easier to look the other way the rest of the time.

From legislative emails to prosecuting Bush for murder, we Vermonters do manage to try and hold our officials and institutions accountable once in awhile.

Here's a quick rundown of the current "A" list:

Curt Hier, the education activist who, we told you last week, discovered that lawmakers' public emails are only kept for 90 days, now wants lawmakers to release emails from their private accounts. Hier's attorney believes that private correspondence is fair game for public scrutiny. Legislative council has asked for a deadline of Oct. 3 to respond to the request.

Charlotte Dennett, the Progressive Party candidate for attorney general, said Thursday that, if elected, she would appoint former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, the man who put Charles Manson behind bars, to try Pres. George W. Bush on charges of murder.

Bugliosi, who was in Vermont to support Dennett's candidacy, is author of The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, which lays out the case for prosecuting the president after he leaves office. Last week, Bugliosi told Seven Days, "The evidence on his guilt is clear."

Bush purposely withheld key information from Congress and the public that proved Saddam Hussein was no imminent threat, Bugliosi said. "What could possibly be worse and more criminal," he added, "than for Bush and his people to keep this all-important conclusion from the American people?"

Speaking of the Iraq War, Progressive Thomas Hermann took his campaign to unseat Welch to the incumbent's Burlington office. As "Fair Game" reported last week, the Iraq War vet says Welch is misleading the public about his antiwar record in Congress.

On Sept. 7, Welch told The Burlington Free Press he opposed war funding "unless it was tied to bringing our troops home." He made a similar boast in August to Vermont Public Radio.

Two bills Welch supported in 2007 say otherwise, Hermann claims. Both provided war funding without a provision to withdraw troops.

Welch's campaign manager Carolyn Dwyer attended Hermann's presser and told the Prog that one bill Welch supported temporarily funded the government, and that no one would consider that vote a "litmus test" on the war. The other bill included a troop-withdrawal provision to be voted on at a later date.

As his debate with Dwyer unfolded before TV cameras, print reporters and Democratic Party communications director Liz Saxe (also holding a video camera), Hermann didn't back down. The candidates will spar in Chittenden County on Oct. 7.

Finally, like clockwork, Vermont's Old Faithful - Vermont Yankee - sprung another leak.

VY spokesman Rob Williams told "Fair Game" it was loose duct tape, er, joint compound - not rotted beams - that caused cooling-tower pipes to leak. Whew, that's comforting.

The administration of Gov. Jim Douglas took note and wrote a terse letter to nuclear regulators, urging them to send more special investigators to VY. That'll show 'em!

You really want to hold VY accountable, governor? Put more than one state employee onsite as an inspector. Composters are watched more closely than nuclear power plant operators.

Vermonters know what's up, even if Douglas doesn't. A WCAX-TV poll found 52 percent of Vermonters think VY should be shut down in 2012. Only 29 percent want the plant's license extended, and 19 percent are unsure.

A few more mishaps, and they might not be so unsure.

Who's Got the Big Mo'? -Every day, I get a national polling update from Rasmussen Reports, and last week the group polled Vermonters as part of their state-by-state pulse.

Here's where we stand: We back Sen. Barack Obama over McCain by 60-36 percent. And 22 percent of us think Bush is doing a good job. That seems high. Maybe it'll drop if he visits us.

Word is, Rasmussen will soon issue a Vermont gubernatorial poll (hat tip to John Odum at the blog Green Mountain Daily). A Rasmussen staffer told me they had not yet polled the Vermont race, but would. We'll know the results within two weeks.

The first publicly released poll was issued last week. The poll of 400 Vermonters, conducted September 11-14 by Research 2000 for WCAX-TV, found 48 percent of respondents favoring Douglas, 33 percent for Democrat Gaye Symington, and 7 percent for Independent Anthony Pollina.

The Rasmussen poll could show whether Pollina has momentum following his union endorsement trifecta - the Vermont State Employees Association, Vermont AFL-CIO and the Vermont-NEA. Symington and Douglas have one union endorsement each.

On the trail this week, Symington, Pollina and Douglas will debate live on Vermont Public Radio. Douglas and Pollina have been winners in the debates so far. They're clear, articulate and forceful, while Symington continues to struggle. Meanwhile, she's losing Dems to Douglas and Pollina.

Symington's lackluster showing in the WCAX poll may give more Democrats pause. Given Douglas' tepid support combined with his high negatives (43 percent), you'd think she would have made some gains.

If she wants to score points, she'll need to step up her critique of Douglas and prove she has both the vision and the gravitas to hold him accountable.

The poll did find that not a lot of Vermonters know who Symington is yet. She hasn't run a TV ad, and it's almost October. That may change this week. Her campaign issued a plea over the weekend to raise $15,000 to fund TV ads. As of Monday morning, they were halfway there. Not bad. That's nearly as much as Pollina raised in all of August.

UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson said Pollina could potentially outpoll Symington November 4. That would be a shocker, but it has precedent in Vermont, he notes.

Independent Bernie Sanders did just that to Democrat Paul Poirier in the race for Vermont's lone House seat in 1988. The winner that year was Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Smith. Democrats chose Sanders over Poirier (who, ironically, bested Welch in the primary) because he better articulated his leftist positions. Though Sanders came in second, two years later he unseated Smith. The rest, as they say, is history.

The danger for Symington, and the hope for Pollina, is that history will repeat itself.

Start Your Engines! - Stock car drivers from New England and eastern Canada are revving up for this weekend's 45th annual Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl at the nation's site of excitement - Thunder Road in Barre.

The Milk Bowl is a 150-lap race broken into three legs. The winner nabs $10,000, plus bonuses. And in a tradition that dates back to the first running of the race in 1962, the winner gets to kiss a real Vermont beauty - a half-ton Ayrshire dairy cow. I'm sure there's a lipstick joke in there somewhere.

As in years past, pols will sponsor cars in the race. Douglas is sponsoring Chip Grenier's No. 9 Late Model car and Bruce Melendy's No. 68 Street Stock, while Symington is sponsoring Tony Rossi's No. 90 Tiger Sportsman and Alex MacLean's No. 90 in the Junk Yard Warriors division.

MacLean is Symington's legislative assistant in Montpelier. While she has yet to win, MacLean did finish three of five races. She's unsure if she'll race this weekend; a crash in her last race sidelined the Honda CRX.

"I am still a little amazed that I am doing it," said MacLean, who got into racing in part due to Rossi, who is also her fiancé. "But the combination of being the only girl out there, the high level of adrenaline it produces, plus the fact that I am helping Gaye shift Vermont into gear all keep me going back for more."

Another Milk Bowl tradition is the cow-chip-throwing contest, in which political candidates literally pitch poop. They're going for distance, not accuracy.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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