Would you believe Bernie Sanders of Burlington, Vermont, is the target of an attack TV ad this week in Costa Rica?
It’s true. Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), traveled to Costa Rica 10 days ago. Their mission: to tell the people of Costa Rica it’s a lie the U.S. will punish them if they vote down the pending Central Ameri-can Free Trade Agreement on October 7.
Apparently, Ol’ Bernardo told “Inside Track,” “I’m now becoming a celebrity in Costa Rica, they’re running 30-second ads attacking me, and I’m not even running for the U.S. Senate in Costa Rica. Can you believe that?”
Yes, indeed. When it comes to politics, we’ll believe almost anything.
“On October 7, Costa Rica will be the first country in the world to have a national referendum on a free-trade agreement. The very first,” said Sanders. “The people who are supporting it are outspending the opponents by at least 100 to 1.”
According to Sen. Sanders, “What you have on one side are all of the monied interests who want this. On the other side you have students, environmentalists, religious groups, unions, who for a variety of reasons don’t want it.”
It’s been “a very, very dishonest campaign,” he said. “And what their ruling class has been saying is, if the people of Costa Rica vote ‘No,’ the U.S. will rethink its overall relationship to Costa Rica — that a relationship that has been positive forever will become negative.”
Sanders and Michaud went to tell the Costa Ricans that is a big lie. “We said, ‘You’re a free country, you’re a democratic country, the longest-standing democracy in Latin America. You vote however you want and there will not be retributions. The United States will respect your vote.’”
Sanders also had Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi write a letter to their ambassador in Washington making that perfectly clear.
Sanders’ Costa Rica trip got zippo for local press coverage. In fact, most people don’t know where Costa Rica is. But his visit did draw a big, scathing editorial attack in The Wall Street Journal.
Ol’ Bernardo must be doing something right to earn that, eh?
Gaye Goes Nuclear — Finally! Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington has visited a nuclear power plant!
The speaker told yours truly, “It’s much smaller than I would have imagined it to be. The cooling towers are quite small. I kept waiting for this large thing to sort of emerge from the horizon and it never did.”
Hey, size isn’t everything, is it? Besides, suggested yours truly, France is chock-full of them, and we like France, don’t we? The Tour de France, the Champs Elysée, the wine?
“But I don’t think they’re all 40 years old,” responded Lady Gaye of Jericho, “and they’re not being operated at the same height of expanded design.”
As everyone knows, Vermont Yankee, owned by Entergy Inc. of Louisiana these days, got a juicy power upgrade, and the money’s been rolling in. Plus, Vermont Yankee has a pretty powerful No. 1 cheerleader in Montpelier — Gov. Jim Douglas. Douglas vetoed the Democrats’ climate-change bill that would have taxed VY profits — and his veto was sustained!
Subsequently, a big pipe in VY’s cooling-tower apparatus broke, causing both a power and a public-relations crisis.
What did Symington come away with?
“I am impressed by the extent to which they pay attention to who’s coming and going and what everyone’s doing,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of razorwire there.”
Does Speaker Tree Hugger have a different take on Vermont’s lone nuke now?
“I remain concerned,” said Symington, “that we have a facility that’s over 40 years old being operated at 20 percent above its capacity, and that the state relies on that facility for a third of its power.”
There was apprehension in her voice as she told yours truly the “main issue” for her is, we’re “not doing enough concrete work to plan for the day when that plant can’t be operated, whether it’s going to happen in 2012 (when its current operating license expires) or sometime after. Eventually, we need to know what’s coming post-Vermont Yankee.”
Right now, folks, the sad truth is that we do not know.
“We’re not facing up to that future, as a state,” said Symington. “I don’t think we’re taking it seriously at all. We’re certainly not ready to fill that gap in 2012. Somehow, we have to get beyond all the things we don’t like about each of the possible sources of electric power.”
And, also, what we don’t like about each other, eh?
Not Anytime Soon — Not if Rob Roper’s nasty, personal and, some would say, vulgar press release sent out the other day is any indication. Roper, a clean-cut, all-American boy, is the state chairman of the Vermont Republican Party. The headline of his press release was: “Symington’s Company Boasts Green Thumb — But Gives Environment the Finger.”
The finger? What had Roper-Dope been smoking?
“The left in Vermont has repeatedly used our environment as a tool for partisan politics,” stated Roper, of the party of the Christian Right. “The negligence at the Intervale illustrates that they are not only hypocrites, but unworthy of Vermonters’ trust as environmental stewards.”
Just a little over the top, maybe?
A week earlier, the Agency of Natural Resources charged Burlington’s Intervale Center with violating rules on the leachate from its compost. It is addressing the problem. (See this week's story, by Mike Ives.)
You see, the Vermont House Speaker is, in one of her other roles, development coordinator at the Intervale Center. Been in the post since 2003.
“The Intervale Center, to the extent that we’ve made mistakes, we’re out to fix them,” said Symington. “And we take this very seriously. If there was a violation, we will rectify it.”
As for Roper-Dope’s rather “pointed” press release, Symington told “Inside Track” that she thinks it “really degrades the public conversation in this state. If any one of the high school students that works at the Youth Farm at the Intervale were to use that language, even in reference to their math homework, some adult in the room would shake their head and say, ‘Oh, kids these days, they just don’t show any respect.’”
Speaker Gaye of Jericho called it “outrageous language to use in reference to one of the leaders of the state, and it demonstrates the extent to which the public conversation is being degraded.”
Funny. Many would have thought Middlebury Jim, our guv, would have given Chairman Roper a tongue-lashing in public for his “giving the finger” statement.
We have a call in, but no response as yet.
Not Big Brother? — Last week, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security made a surprise, rather secretive visit to Burlington, Vermont. Michael Chertoff — yes, the bald, skinny, scary-looking one — did a little shopping and made some brief rounds with his fellow Republican, our Gov. Jim Douglas.
Gov. Scissorhands had left the day, Wednesday, blank on his official public-appearance schedule. “Inside Track” — though we were officially on vacation — got wind of it Monday. Popped it onto our cyberspace-only outlet, “Freyne Land,”  at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, and called and emailed Jason Gibbs, the gubernatorial press secretary.
Shortly before noon, the Vermont Democratic Party put out a press release welcoming Chertoff to Vermont and posing several questions to him.
Shortly after 2 p.m., the Associated Press’ Montpelier bureau moved a story about Chertoff coming to Vermont on Wednesday.
Surprisingly, there was not a peep about it on WCAX-TV News — neither at 6, nor at 11. Like the guv’s office, Ch. 3 News certainly appeared to be keeping the visit a secret. Heck, the moose getting shot in Burlington was the big story on “Vermont’s Own” that night!
Never did get a response from the guv’s office. Very hush-hush. Many surmise it was to prevent the appearance of — God forbid — Iraq war protesters at one of Chertoff’s stops.
You’d think our governor would want Vermonters to know that a prominent member of the Bush administration was visiting Vermont. After all, Sec. Chertoff was coming here to sign a “memorandum of understanding” with Gov. Jimbo about how we’ve agreed to move toward a new “enhanced driver’s license.”
Vermonters will be able to use it instead of a passport when they re-enter Vermont from Québec. It’ll cost $15 to $20 more than our current driver’s license.
In fact, no one’s sure when, or if, the whole new beefed-up border security requirements will actually take effect. After all, there’s a presidential election next year.
“One of the cornerstone recommendations that the 9/11 commission made,” Chertoff told reporters  at a hastily arranged presser in an abandoned state office complex in Burlap, “was the need to secure documentation that is used to enter this country.
“People may be surprised to learn,” said Chertoff, “that today at the land borders, we see approximately 8000 different kinds of identification that are offered.”
The secretary said those of us in a college town like Burlington “probably know it’s not that hard to forge a driver’s license — kids do it all the time.”
What this means, said our charming Homeland Security Secretary, is “what the 9/11 commission identified as a weapon in the hands of potential terrorists is the ease with which people can get a phony ID.”
So, Big Brother is the answer, eh?
“I mean, I guess there may be people who think that having a driver’s license is Big Brother, and that’s between them and the state troopers,” quipped Chertoff.
“I think everybody recognizes when you cross an international boundary,”said Chertoff, “you are required to show some kind of identification. So I don’t think this order, in any way, shape or form, looks like a Big Brother type of operation.”
That’s a relief, eh?
After Chertoff and Douglas completed their photo-op and made their exit, we asked motor vehicle commish Bonnie Rutledge if there is a date by which Vermonters will be required to have either a passport or one of these new drivers’ licenses to enter the state from north of the border.
“I believe,” said Bonnie with a chuckle, “the secretary stated that there’s not a date certain yet.”
The new border-crossing requirement was originally January 2008, said Rutledge, a 37-year veteran of the Vermont DMV.
“Now they’ve moved it out until next summer,” she said. And, she noted, “Chertoff had said that that’s a little fluid right now, depending on how many states come on board. So they’re looking at that.”
So, with the election coming next November, this may never even happen, we asked?
“Well, not being a politician,” answered Rutledge, “I can’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that.”
Ah, the voice of experience!
Agency of Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville assured us they will find the $1.5 million in the state budget for startup costs — assuming, of course, the march toward Big Brother Land continues.
Neale, a.k.a. “The Boy Wonder,” who as a twentysomething campaign manager demonstrated his transportation skills while getting Gov. Photogenic elected twice, was asked if he knew when the new border-crossing ID requirement will go into effect.
“We don’t know when DHS will say this is the final date,” said Sec. Lunderville. “We just don’t know what that date will be.”
Hey, at least he’s honest.
And late word Tuesday is that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy is coming to Newport, Vermont, next Wednesday morning for a field hearing on the matter.
Leahy, who calls Chertoff’s agency “dysfunctional,” says the EDL and/or passport requirement for Canadian border crossings is “a bad mistake” that will close businesses and put Vermonters out of work, while “not doing anything to stop terrorism.”
What improves security, in St. Patrick’s view, is “enhanced intelligence,” not “enhanced driver’s licenses.”
Pretty radical idea, eh?
P.S. Rookie Transportation Secretary Lunderville is taking a little well-earned vacation time that, reliable sources say, will include a visit to Bratislava, Slovakia, on the banks of the Danube River. That’s the current home of the legendary Gasoline Vallee, excuse me, Rodolphe M. “Skip” Vallee, former Republican national committeeman from Vermont, generous Bush-Cheney contributor and current U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia! Check http://slovakia.usembassy.gov/index.html .
Enjoy. Rest up. A fun winter ahead in Montpeculiar, eh?