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The Dead of Winter 

Inside Track

Published February 1, 2006 at 5:00 p.m.

As February dawns, Lake Champlain is iceless and near flood stage. No ice at all in Burlington harbor. And, worse, there's also an ice shortage this year high up in the Adirondacks at the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.

So global warming is a lot of left-wing bunk, eh?

Maybe that's why Exxon Mobil wants to get as much dough as possible for its shareholders and from our credit-card accounts while it still can. On Monday, the largest oil company on Planet Earth reported it had the best year any company in history has ever had. The Texas-based oil giant (with operations in 200 countries, and 13,000 gas stations in the U.S.) raked in $36.1 billion in profits.

God bless America! A country where even the super-rich can become super-richer! And some people thought one-party rule wouldn't work in America, eh?

Historians, we'll bet, will look back and find the tipping point occurred December 9, 2000, the day the United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 to halt the Florida Supreme Court-ordered recount. We now know that it mattered more at the time than anyone could have imagined.

Sure, one can draw some solace from the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing 54 percent of Americans disapprove of Exxon's man in the White House, President George W. Bush. But what the hell's wrong with the other 46 percent?

And did you happen to notice, last week, amid the furor over the Judge Edward Cashman controversy that still more Vermont soldiers departed for the oil-rich, Bush-created war zone in Iraq? Did you notice that another brave Vermont soldier, Sgt. Josh Johnson of Richford, came home in a box?

While everyone hopes and prays, no one expects Josh will be the last.

Just before Christmas, the tide appeared to begin turning. Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, showed the world he had truly learned one lesson of the Vietnam War. The conservative Democrat and longtime defense department protector on Capitol Hill went public with a call for major U.S. troop withdrawal by the end of 2006.

Once a solid supporter of the Iraq invasion, Murtha argued our military forces had completed their mission, and completed it with honor. They deposed the dictator. Now the presence of U.S. troops only provides targets for the insurgency. It's inevitable, said Murtha, that, like the Vietnamese, the Iraqis ultimately have to work it all out amongst themselves. And, as history showed us with Vietnam, that process cannot begin until U.S. forces get out.

Last fall, the president had adopted a bunker strategy -- few public appearances. It was due to the bloody stalemate in Iraq and the indictment at home of top Republican congressmen and lobbyists, including House Speaker Tom DeLay of Texas and Big Jack Abramoff.

But then Congress went home for the Christmas holidays and, for the last month, the former governor of Texas has controlled the national stage. President George W. Bush, with guidance from his "under-investigation" political hypnotist Karl Rove, suddenly abandoned his bunker-mentality strategy over the holidays.

And what has our president, leader of the free world, used his solo opportunity for?

To change the subject, that's what!

It's time to play the new Iran card -- to go back to the winning strategy of 2002 and 2003 when Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney played the 9/11 card with precision. They successfully whooped us into a state of 24/7 fear over the imaginary "weapons of mass destruction" that Saddam Hussein was poised to unleash on Yankee Stadium.

It was, historians will say, one of the most masterful political deceptions ever pulled off in the U.S. In the so-called "Information Age," the Bush administration won with disinformation. Let's face it, they pulled off the best propaganda campaign the civilized world has witnessed since 1930s Germany.

As everyone knows, Adolph Hitler's propaganda genius Joseph Goebbels, is credited with originating the "Big Lie" technique, also known as argumentum ad nauseum. Under the Big Lie strategy, Goebbels demonstrated the truth is an obstacle that can be overcome. One achieves success by repeating the Big Lie continuously, until the people have heard it so many times they accept it as fact.

Despite the fact that Saddam's Iraq had absolutely no connection to the 9/11 al Qaeda terrorist attacks on America, President Bush overcame that obstacle in a fashion that would make Goebbels proud. And as a result, Vermont soldiers are coming home in boxes.

As for climate change and the absence of ice in Lake Champlain this winter, we can always look on the bright side: The Bush administration says all the scare talk about global warming is just a lot of hot air!

That's a relief, eh?

January Surprise -- The first month of 2006 packed a mighty big surprise for Vermont: the uproar over Judge Cashman's sentencing of Mark Hulett back on January 4.

Based on initial press reports, specifically those aired on WCAX-TV, several Republican publicity seekers jumped before the microphones to denounce Judge Cashman and call for his removal.

Fueling the raging fire, more than anything else, was the comment attributed to Cashman by Ch. 3 crime reporter Brian Joyce. Joyce told WCAX viewers at least four times in his first two reports that Judge Cashman said on sentencing day, "he does not believe in punishment."

That "Big Lie" has been repeated a million times since then on talk shows coast-to-coast, particularly those broadcast on the Fox network by its tough-guy star Bill O'Reilly.

The problem is, Judge Cashman never said he doesn't believe in punishment. Ch. 3 got it very wrong. In fact, the release of the transcript a week later quickly changed many minds.

Last Thursday, Judge Cashman resentenced Hulett to 3-10 years on count 1. He raised the 60-day minimum because the Douglas administration had abruptly changed state sex-offender policy so that low-risk offenders like Hulett could get treatment on the inside. In recent memory, we cannot recall a faster jerking of a governor's political knee.

In addition, the attention of national right-wing talk shows and the eager participation of several GOP lawmakers in their hang-the-judge circus has left wounds that won't heal overnight. That was clear the other day when Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington) sat down with Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) for a segment of yours truly's Statehouse cable show, "Point-Counterpoint" -- -- our lucky 13th season!

Kwik Stop Kurt was quickly out of the box on this one, introducing a resolution condemning Cashman and calling for his removal. Never mind that he only knew what he heard on Ch. 3. Never mind that he could not cite one other questionable case in the 24-year career of this respected and competent jurist.

"Let's be clear," said Wright, "the actual definitive quote that many of us were certain we heard Judge Cashman say with his own words on TV is not there."

Wright, who has made several national "news" show appearances, including "The O'Reilly Factor," argued that one could still make the case Cashman "believes more" in the treatment side.

"He won't give out the punishment," charged Wright, "unless he can give the treatment the way he thinks it should be given. That's my problem."

Illuzzi has been in the senate as long as Cashman has been on the bench. He's also the state's attorney in Essex County.

Vincenzo called Kwik Stop Kurt's position "grossly inaccurate." The King of the Kingdom noted, "Many people took a public position before they saw the transcript. Almost everyone relied exclusively on the WCAX report. As happens in public life, you sometimes lock yourself in a position, paint yourself in a corner. When the transcript came out, it was pretty tough for them to back up and say, 'I guess made a mistake.'"

Kwik Stop's face reddened as Illuzzi lamented, "This national roller-coaster ride in which Vermont has been made a mockery, in which a judge's career has been torn to shreds, his character assassinated, I think it's been one of the most outrageous acts that I have seen in my career in state government."

With fire in his eyes, the veteran state senator simply told it as it is.

"Everybody seizes on political opportunities here at the Statehouse," said Illuzzi, a master of the game. "It's a year where health care is a major concern to Vermonters. This legislature is not going to do anything of substance about health care, so how do you divert attention? How do you jump on other issues? The Judge Cashman thing is a perfect fit."


"It's very disappointing what Sen. Illuzzi just said," replied Wright, "trying to bring in motivations, that people are doing this for political reasons." His blood pressure rose as he exclaimed, "For Vince to sit here and castigate members of this legislature and put motivations on them, I think is beneath contempt, frankly!"

Oh, really?

Or is it O'Reilly?

Yours truly, who has refused three O'Reilly invites (even though he went to a rival Catholic New York-area high school), finally made the O'Reilly Factor last Thursday anyway. They scarfed a tape of "Vermont This Week" from Vermont Public Television. Ran the clip in which this writer lamented the absence of any interest in the actual facts in the Cashman controversy.

"It boggles my mind," we said, "that the facts have been valued so little by the governor of Vermont, all the way to this O'Reilly jerk on Fox!"

"OK, well, he's a moron," smirked O'Reilly to his followers last Thursday. "And that kind of insanity must be confronted by the good people of Vermont."

Thank you, Mr. O'Reilly. Perhaps the highest compliment of our career! That's because being called a moron by you is like being called ugly by the Elephant Man.

After Effect? -- This one will linger, and it has nothing to do with Ed Cashman. It has to do with Vermont's homegrown TV news institution -- WCAX. The station management has defended reporter Brian Joyce and refused to correct his erroneous reports that the judge told the courtroom "he does not believe in punishment."

Cashman never said or meant any such thing. It's pure fiction. Unfortunately, it has become gospel, or rather, the "Big Lie," and it all began on the Ch. 3 Six O'Clock News on January 4, 2006.

WCAX has adopted a hyper-defensive bunker mentality on this one. That's not good. Ch. 3 bills itself as Vermont's "most trusted news source." The fact is, Vermonters need to be able to trust Ch. 3.

But, sadly, those days may be over. Ch. 3's Big Lie, which has crucified a good, decent Vermont public servant, comes at a price: credibility.

Everybody makes mistakes. It's not too late for "Vermont's Own" to reconsider, is it?

Tarrant Update -- GOP U.S. Senate hopeful Rich Tarrant went on the airwaves last Friday with what looks to be the first in a series of Oscar-winning, Hollywood-produced campaign ads. A legend is born!

At the press conference unveiling, however, things didn't go so smoothly. It started 15 minutes late, and the Tarrant staff couldn't get the projector to work. Then the campaign manager abruptly ended his first campaign "press conference" after just 16 minutes!

In the process, they even ticked off the mild-mannered dean of Vermont radio news broadcasters, proving once again that all the money on Earth can't buy human intelligence.

After questions about the commercial, we asked Tarrant how news reports of his Florida declaration of residency in 2004 and 2005 were some sort of "partisan attack," as he had claimed on his website.

"That issue is closed," declared Tarrant. "I think you saw the paper. It was an innocent mistake."

"Do you still have a Florida driver's license?"

"We're done with Florida for now."

"You're not going to answer that?"

"No," said Tarrant, "I'm not going to answer any Florida questions. We put it to bed yesterday.

"You put it to bed," we replied, "but what about the people of Vermont who have questions?

"They can certainly ask," he answered. "Today's about advertising."

Despite Tarrant's edict, other reporters continued with Florida questions. Soon, Campaign Manager Tim Lennon called a halt. The entire "press conference," including showing the commercial, had lasted all of 16 minutes.

As we were taking down our microphone, VPR's Bob Kinzel was politely but firmly informing the new-to-Vermont-politics campaign manager that "trying to limit the time frames of press conferences, particularly when your candidate is 15 minutes late, is wholly inappropriate. It's going to be a problem if this is going to be the strategy of the future."

Words of wisdom. Mr. Kinzel later delivered the same message to the rookie candidate himself.

But what's really weird about the Tarrant Campaign are the early signs that the candidate is afraid of the press! Afraid to stand on his feet and take unrehearsed questions from news people who aren't his employees and don't care how many hundred million dollars he's worth, or how many Florida mansions he owns.

Asked this week if the candidate will release recent Vermont Income Tax filings, Lennon replied via Blackberry: "We will run our campaign on our schedule, and when we decide to release information, you will be able to read about it in the free press, just like everyone else."

As we said earlier, all the money on Earth cannot buy intelligence.

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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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