Summer in Vermont
If you've been having a hard time lately keeping current American history out of your mind, this week won't be any easier. That's because another 400 Vermont weekend warriors are shipping out from Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for the war zone called Iraq.
The 300 soldiers from the 172nd armored regiment and 100 troops from the Mountain Battalion will significantly beef up the number of Vermont targets available to the intensifying Iraq insurgency.
Reports out of Iraq this week indicate the stepped-up, horrifying success of the anti-U.S. resistance. More American soldiers -- 52 -- have been killed so far this month than in all of June 2004.
Iraq police and security officers are being blown up by the truckload. Half the water system of Baghdad was disabled Monday, leaving more than 2 million people without fresh water as temperatures exceeded 100 degrees.
According to Vermont Guard spokeswoman Lt. Veronica Saffo, 110 Vermont Guard troops are already stationed in the country that has no weapons of mass destruction (despite the White House's well-orchestrated brainwashing of the American people).
None. Zip. Zero.
Today, another 600 Vermonters are stationed in neighboring Kuwait. And this fall, about 100 members of the Vermont Guard's air ambulance company will be shipping out for Iraq.
That's a lot of Vermont citizen-soldiers in harm's way, and a lot of moms and dads, sons and daughters, wives and husbands who will be on pins and needles for the year to come.
It's the third summer of George W. Bush's Iraq War of Choice and more than 1700 Americans have been killed so far. More than 12,000 have been wounded. Fourteen Vermont soldiers are among the dead.
But the real bloodbath has been the one sustained by the people of Iraq, with estimates of up to 100,000 civilians -- men, women and children -- killed since the U.S. invasion three summers ago. Strange how American media reports and death counts always leave out the piles of dead civilians to whom Mr. Bush wanted to bring democracy, eh?
Finally, public opinion has begun to turn as the realization sinks in that our president and his team lied to the American people about the threat Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed to us. In fact, it's quite clear that Saddam posed no threat whatsoever.
Rather, Osama bin Laden, the real threat, the architect of 9/11, leader of al- Qaeda and the hero of millions in the Muslim world, remains free despite this president's promise years ago to catch him.
It was back on December 17, 2001, that Mr. Bush told us, "Osama bin Laden is to be brought to justice. It may happen tomorrow, it may happen in a month, it may happen in a year. But he is to be brought to justice. He's on the run. He thinks he can hide, but he can't."
Like so much of the rhetoric that's spewed from the White House, President Bush got it wrong. Osama remains free almost four years after 9/11.
And while al-Qaeda's recruiting operation appears to be in much better shape these days than that of the United States Army, the reality is hitting home: America is hopelessly bogged down in Iraq for years to come, much like we were bogged down in Vietnam 40 years ago.
It's summer in Vermont. Time for farmers' markets, classical music concerts at Shelburne Farms and boating on Lake Champlain. The sun shines more than 15 hours a day, but there is no light at the end of the Iraq War tunnel. If ever America was in need of regime change ...
Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall of a high school history class 200 years from now, listening to the teacher explain why one American president was impeached for an extramarital blow job, while his successor was let off scot-free for starting the unnecessary war that marked the beginning of the downfall of the American Empire?
Thank you, George.
Legislature Balks -- It got lost in the last-day rush two weeks ago when the official legislative session ended. But the deep-sixing of J.R.H. 47, inspired by the passage of antiwar resolutions by more than 50 towns on Town Meeting Day, has led to a lot of finger-pointing.
The Town Meeting Day resolutions basically called on the legislature "to investigate and discuss Vermont's role in the governance of its National Guard, and to set up a commission to study how Guard deployments affect readiness to perform its mission here in Vermont."
Given the fact that antiwar sentiment is pretty high in the Green Mountains -- our entire congressional delegation opposed the Iraq Invasion -- one might expect the Vermont Legislature to get on board.
At the 11th hour, even supporters of the resolution got cold feet as word spread that adoption would send the wrong signal to Washington, and closing the Vermont Air Guard base in Burlap could be the penalty.
When J.R.H. 47 was brought up on the floor on the final day, Rep. Jim Condon (D-Colchester) quickly moved that it be sent back to committee. On the ensuing roll call vote, 90 members agreed with him, while just 40 voted no.
Rep. Condon, who opposed the Iraq invasion, told "Inside Track" this week that the possibility of the resolution leading to the closing of the Vermont Guard base was "definitely a consideration."
"It might send a message," said Condon, whose district includes Camp Johnson, "that we don't want the Guard here."
Indeed, the Pentagon had weighed in following Town Meeting Day.
According to Deputy Adjutant Gen. Bill Noyes, some folks at the Pentagon "with the rank of three-star general" did call Vermont Air Guard brass asking, "What is this resolution about? And does Vermont really support its military?"
"Our answer was," said Gen. Noyes, "that we explained Vermont Town Meeting tradition and the state's independent spirit and told them it did not mean there was not support for the military in Vermont."
Currently, the Air Force is considering stationing up to 200 regular troops in Burlington. A first!
In addition, the Pentagon is in the process of closing bases to save money. Recently, there was a big sigh of relief when Vermont's Air Guard, despite older F-16s, made it through the first round of cuts unscathed.
Though some resolution supporters "claimed we were using scare tactics," Noyes said neither Adjutant Gen. Martha Rainville nor any Guard leaders lobbied against it. Members of the Vermont Guard, he noted, were free to contact their legislator on their own time and many, no doubt, did.
The information a legislative study committee would seek about Guard readiness, he said, is already available.
"We already know about our ability to respond," said Noyes. "We never said we opposed the resolution, just that we had concerns about public hearings dissolving into emotional infighting about the current situation in Iraq."
Noyes also told us that he had heard from two Republican lawmakers from his hometown of Barre that Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy had personally weighed in at the last minute opposing the resolution. According to Noyes, the "gist" of Leahy's message was, "If you want to ensure that Burlington gets to the top of the base closing list, then pass this resolution."
Republican Rep. Leo Valliere of Barre, a leading opponent of J.R.H. 47, told "Inside Track" he had been told by an unnamed Democrat on the morning of the scheduled vote that St. Patrick had called "Democratic leaders" the night before.
Sen. Leahy, however, strongly denied through his spokesman that such a call was ever placed.
"Gen. Noyes is incorrect," said Leahy's spokesman David Carle. "Neither the boss nor his staff made any such calls. He has a long-standing policy of trying not to get involved in matters before the state legislature, and neither he nor his staff intervened on this resolution."
Mr. Carle said the story of a last-minute intervention by St. Patrick "seems to be another product of the rumor mill kicking into overdrive in the closing days of the session."
Meanwhile, Brattleboro peace activist Ellen Kaye told "Inside Track" she was "really horrified at the implications of what happened" to kill the Guard resolution.
"More than 50 Vermont towns," said Kaye, "asked their legislature to do something very specific and the House chose instead to listen to a threat from the Pentagon."
Asked about what currently appears to be a dearth of antiwar activity, Kaye said she'd prefer to call it "a time of regrouping."
"Under the radar," she said, "hundreds of groups are involved in counter-recruiting efforts, discouraging enlistment in the all-volunteer army. Down here," said Kaye, "we go into six high schools in southern Vermont on a regular basis throughout the year. We're looking at the source, the source for bodies in this war."
And lately, U.S. military recruitment has taken a big hit, with the Army failing to meet monthly goals for the last several months.
"We always say the military is the best counter-recruiter we've got," said Kaye. "This war itself really helps people understand this is not a job opportunity or a career move. This is about being ready to fight and kill and possibly die. Current events are helping clarify that for people pretty easily."
Yes, they are, aren't they?
Rep. Effective -- In last week's column we wrote about the Repub-lican National Senatorial Commi-ttee's new effort to paint Indepen-dent Rep. Bernie Sanders as "ineffective." Sanders is the frontrunner for the U.S. Senate seat Jim Jeffords is giving up. The GOP, needless to say, wants it bad.
That very day, however, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives adopted Sanders' amendment removing federal authority in the Patriot Act to secretly snoop through library and bookstore records. The vote was 239-187. In all, 38 Republicans defied both House GOP leader Tom DeLay and President Bush, who hates Bernie's amendment so much he's threatened to veto the entire $57 billion spending bill.
Ol' Bernardo's victory was front-page news in Burlington and across the country. But if you regularly get your news from WCAX-TV, you might have missed it.
The Sanders Amendment was debated on the House floor in mid-afternoon last Wednesday. The roll call vote was concluded at 5:50 p.m. The proceedings were carried live on C-Span.
Ten minutes later, we tuned into the station that bills itself "Vermont's Own," expecting the victory by Vermont's only congressman to get coverage. After all, it was "breaking news" and a hot national story to boot.
We thought wrong. Ch. 3's long-standing Republican bias against Bernie Sanders knows no limit.
The "top" story on WCAX that evening was about a mudslide blocking Rt. 102 in the Northeast Kingdom and more rain storms in New York.
I'm not making this up.
The next story was about a Beekmantown, New York, two-vehicle accident in which there were no injuries. Repeat, no injuries!
Apparently, WGOP doesn't get C-Span at their South Burlington headquarters. Not only did Sanders' floor victory not make the top of Vermont's top newscast, it might just as well have never happened as far as Anchorman and News Director Marselis Parsons was concerned.
But it would be inaccurate to suggest WCAX totally ignored the story. The following day, after it was on the front page of The New York Times and broadcast on the national network news, Parsons finally did tell Ch. 3 News' Six O'Clock audience about it.
The Sanders Amendment story was the 13th news story on the WGOP, er, WCAX newscast that evening. After sports and weather.
Excellent example of unbiased "news judgment," eh?
Of course, the amazing thing is that after 20 years of such treatment by Ch. 3, Sanders just keeps getting stronger.
When Chairs Collide -- This season's last edition of "Point-Counterpoint," taped at the Statehouse last Thursday, is a keeper, folks.
Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Peter Mallary and Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett went nose-to-nose for 33 minutes. To say things got heated is an understatement.
The program starts running this week on Ch. 17 in the Burlington area. Check the ad on page 30 in this issue for airtimes. The slugfest is also available for online viewing at http://www.channel17.org/dome.htm. Scroll down.
Among other hot issues, the pair clashed on the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for the U.S. Senate.
"I'm sure," said Mallary, "that Mr. Barnett would be happy to contribute to a Democratic campaign for the Senate. I would say at this point that many, many Democrats think highly of Bernie Sanders and see a three-way race in that case as problematic. As chairman of the party, that's really all I can observe at this point."
"I'm not surprised," scoffed Barnett, "but it is somewhat startling in many ways, because Bernie Sanders is certainly someone who's done the Democratic Party no favor. He's decimated them in the city of Burlington. He's regularly served as the spoiler. He's run candidates against Democrats who in your view have cost you the elections."
Barnett whipped out a Bernie quote from 1988 in which the then Burlington mayor said, "When you get in bed with the Democratic Party, you find yourself having to work with people whose views are diametrically opposed to my views."
"Bernie Sanders has worked successfully for 14 years with the Democratic Caucus in Congress," countered Mallary. "Look, we know why you want a Democrat in this race, because it's the only way that you can elect a Republican to the Senate. You know it and I know it, and it's just ridiculous!"
P.S. GOP Chairman Barnett tells us he was 12 years old when Sanders made the above statement.
"Political statements aren't like Twinkies," insisted Barnett. "There are no expiration dates."
Mad Dog eats Twinkies?
That explains it.