Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave | Inside Track | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave 

At a time of great surplus, Sanders' idea to give every taxpayer $300 takes off and ultimately becomes law.

Bernie Sanders

Published March 28, 2001 at 7:58 p.m.

One certainty about the brave new world of cyberspace, even Vermont cyberspace, is the fact that you never know what’s around the corner just a little click away.

Last Friday, there were a few guffaws heard around the public computer terminals at the hallowed Vermont Statehouse. James Ehlers, the editor of Vermont Outdoors — “The Outdoors Magazine for the better hunter, angler and trapper” — was guiding volunteer cyber-surfers through the state of Vermont’s official Web world.

First stop — the link to the state Department of Tourism and Marketing. A click at the bottom of that page leads to the site of Vermont Life magazine. Hardly a destination on the worldwide X-rated cyber highway, right?

Posted on the Vermont Life page is the spring issue of the distinguished publication that for decades has touted the unique character and pleasures of the Green Mountain State. For writers and photographers, making it into Vermont Life is something to be proud of.

The current cover features a delightful picture of Little League baseball in Charlotte. Beneath the photo is a direct link to the Web site of photographer David Sawyer. That page opens to a colorful collage of Sawyer’s work — a dazzling shot of Camel’s Hump, a rich close-up of a ripe tomato and… a naked babe?

Holy mackerel, stop the presses!

That’s what the gasps and guffaws were all about last Friday at the Statehouse. Included in Mr. Sawyer’s sampler (www.davidseaver.com) was a black-and-white shot of a nude woman laying back on the white sheets.

“I think it’s a lovely image,” said Vermont Life Editor Tom Slayton. “I’m not distressed about it,” he told Seven Days. Mr. Slayton said he had been alerted to the matter by Mr. Ehlers. (More on James’ motivation later). Tom said he had spoken to Sawyer about it. “If it becomes an issue,” said Slayton, “he will remove it.”

“I hope I’m not going to be censored,” said Sawyer Monday. The 23-year-old Charlotte resident majored in photography at Skidmore College. Talented guy.

Vermont Life is, indeed, a state-funded publication. Editor Slayton pointed out the questionable nude art is not posted on Vermont Life’s own site. Regardless, said Tom, the photo of the nude woman “is not an offensive image.” He told Seven Days that it’s Vermont Life’s policy to compensate photographers for work published on the magazine Web site — either a “small cash payment,” he said, or a “link” to the shooter’s site.

Cool. Can’t wait until Rep. Nancy Sheltra and the “Sex Pack” get hold of this one, eh?

Vermont Life, however, is not the only Vermont publication with sexual linkage issues. Last Sunday’s excellent “Heroin’s anguished voices” feature in The Burlington Free Press included nine links to “Information on the Web.” One was to www.heroinpages.org. It’s an interesting site, well worth a visit. You’ll find bluntly honest letters posted by folks who appear to be real-life junkies. Very much an eye-opener.

So’s the pop-up advertising window that opens when one exits Heroin Pages: Welcome to “Adult Friend Finder — the World’s Largest Sex Personals” site. The page includes several photos of naked men and women in a style vastly different from that of Mr. Sawyer.

Yours truly was tipped of about the Free Press’ porn link on Monday. By Tuesday, the local daily apparently got smart and censored the link on its Web site. A click now brings a “Not Found” message.

The Freeps’ other porn problem has been around for quite awhile, and more and more folks are noticing now that the paper’s finally putting some news content online. A couple days ago a local senior citizen called to tell us of his surprise at logging onto www.BFP.com. In this case the “BFP” stands for “Bound for Pleasure.” It’s the Web site of a New England bondage and sadomasochistic social group. Thanks to The Burlington Free Press, Bound for Pleasure may be a growing concern.

Hunting for Hunters?Turns out there’s quite the feud brewing between Vermont Outdoors editor James Ehlers and Vermont’s Tourism and Marketing Commissioner Tom Altemus. Free Press hunt & fish writer Matt Crawford broke the hot story in his March 18 Sunday column, but few politicos make it to the Outdoors section. Mr. Ehlers is upset that the department does little, if anything, on its Web site to promote hunting in the Green Mountains. He tells Seven Days, Altemus finds hunting too controversial and therefore has “arbitrarily” decided to ignore it. Ehlers notes that a recent tourism survey found hunters are the biggest per-capita spenders — shelling out more cash than skiers, leaf peepers, lovers or antique collectors.

On March 19, the commissioner informed the editor he was ceasing further e-mail communication. “Consider this my final e-mail response,” wrote Altemus. Vermont’s tourism whiz invited Ehlers to the next meeting of the Governor’s Council on Travel and Tourism. Ehlers will be there, we’re told, loaded for bear.

GovWatch 2002 On Monday, yours truly e-mailed the five leading candidates for “next” governor of Vermont from the Republican, Democrat and Progressive parties. Our topic — last week’s controversial seizure of the two flocks of Belgian sheep by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “In 25 words or less,” we asked, “what’s your position? Do you support the action of the USDA?”

Guess which one didn’t respond?

Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, a Democrat, supports the USDA seizure. “Although many legitimate questions of science remain unanswered, I would prefer to err on the side of caution because of the potential harm to human health and the future of Vermont agriculture,” responded Doug.

Cornelius Hogan, a Republican, agreed. “Even though the science is not as clear as we would all like,” wrote Mr. Hogan, “the consequences of being wrong are dangerous. And I say this with a sense of sadness for the animals and their owners.”

Big softie!

State Sen. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, added a little oomph. The feds “didn’t move fast enough,” according to Shummy of Windham. “When you have a risk of that nature that could bring a disease to America that could decimate farmers, you have to act more quickly.”

Anthony Pollina, last fall’s Progressive Party standard-bearer, said he supported the seizure. Based on his dealings with USDA on issues like bovine growth hormone and genetic engineering, Tony the Prog said he doesn’t “trust” the USDA, “but we have to err on the side of safety.”

State Treasurer Jim Douglas, a Republican, was the only candidate who failed to respond. As you may have heard, Candidate Douglas has publicly adopted an “Alice in Wonderland” strategy of refusing to discuss controversial issues for as long as he can get away with it.

“I’m really surprised,” said Sen. Shumlin, “that Douglas is being so sheepish on this issue.”

Say It Isn’t So, Wally? — At deadline Tuesday afternoon our phone started ringing off the hook. Word came from the Golden Dome that Republican House Speaker Walt Freed had just ordered Mike Kusmit, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group’s one-man video crew, removed from the House chamber. Dave Rapaport, VPIRG’s director, told Seven Days the Speaker told him last Thursday he considered VPIRG to be “extremely biased.” Rapaport said Freed had a problem with “continuous taping of floor action.” God forbid the public see how Freed followers have been performing in public. In Wally’s World, would C-Span be a subversive organization?

Wowee! Perhaps “leadership” has become a bit of a paranoia challenge for the Dorset millionaire who describes himself in his bio as “a multi-state petroleum marketer.” Attempts to reach Freed for comment were unsuccessful. Damn First Amendment.

“Ineffective” Sanders Leads the Way — You may recall last month’s ridiculous front-page story in Vermont’s largest daily newspaper portraying Vermont’s six-term congressman, Bernie Sanders, as more ineffective and out-of-touch than ever before, now that the Republican Party controls the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and the White House.

On Tuesday, the Freeps reluctantly reported on its back page that Ol’ Bernardo’s tax-cut plan — the one that divvies up the nation’s surplus into $300 checks for every man, woman and child suddenly has attracted some impressive backers.

On Sunday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) proposed to a national audience on Fox Television that he’d like to see a tax-cut plan that gives $300 to all working Americans, almost 200 million of them. Lieberman didn’t credit Vermont’s congressman for his idea, but many who heard him felt a sense of déja vu and knew exactly where Joe was coming from.

“Obviously I’m delighted,” said Sanders Monday. “The concept is gaining momentum not only with Democrats in the Senate but (Sen.) Pete Domenici, the chairman of the budget committee in the Senate, is also sympathetic.”

“You know what?” he told Seven Days. “Every once in a very long while, even in the United States Congress, good ideas resonate. We’ve got a lot of work in front of us,” said Bernie of Vermont, “but we’re making some good progress.”

Speaking of the Freeps — For some reason, folks keep calling yours truly for information on the current major vacancy over at 191 College Street. The departure of Stephen Kiernan as editorial page editor has left a big hole in the paper’s opinion-setting role. There’s an old story in Vermont political circles that Mr. Kiernan once described the job of Freeps editorial page editor as that of “the most powerful person in Vermont.”

If he’s right, Vermont has been without its “most powerful person” for a month. What’s strange is that Kiernan gave three months’ notice, so it’s not like the paper was caught off-guard.

In response to readers’ queries, we contacted Freeps Publisher and President James Carey Tuesday and left a message requesting an interview. But it appears that Boss Carey is sticking to his courageous policy of never returning calls from his favorite local weekly columnist.

Since Kiernan stepped down, you may have noticed the editorial board line-up atop the editorial page has shrunk to its fewest members in living memory — just four individuals. Besides Boss Carey, there’s Mickey Hirten, the executive editor, Edward Bartholomew, the controller, and Molly Walsh, the editorial writer.

Since the “most powerful person” resigned, the paper has been able to generate just one local editorial per day instead of the usual two. Ms. Walsh, you may remember, came to the editorial page after a distinguished stint in the journalism-lite arena of the Living Section. Regular readers know Ms. Molly’s obsessions with booze, boys, noise and graffiti only too well. But Molly’s political resume is, shall we say, lacking depth and experience. So the newspaper that declined to take an editorial stand on civil unions last year is currently editorially AWOL on Vermont politics.

One Montpelier insider suggested the reason Boss Carey has not hired a replacement for Mr. Kiernan yet is because no one has applied. The paper’s big blink on civil unions, he suggested, has scared away any candidate with both a brain and a conscience.

We cannot confirm that, however, since Boss Carey won’t talk to us. He is, you know, a very important person.

Media Notes — On the local TV scene, Channel 22’s news director, Ken Schreiner, has departed for WCIA in Champaign, Illinois. It’s a larger market, more money and a chance to be closer to his relatives. Ken’s the guy that deserves the kudos for starting the new news operation at Channel 22 from scratch a couple years ago.

“They really came after him,” says Larry Delia, the station’s general manager. “They were impressed.”

Yours truly found Mr. Schreiner to be a talented, funny and very decent gentleman, a real TV news pro.

Mr. Delia tells Seven Days he’s been “besieged with applicants” for the vacant news director slot since they put an ad in a national trade publication a few weeks back. Larry says he’ll make a pick by the end of this week.

Also leaving the brash ABC-22 News shop this week is Misty Showalter, the producer of the 6 and 11 o’clock news. Misty’s moving onward and upward to a producer slot at New England Cable News.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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