Friday, October 22, 2010

MAVERICK CHRONICLES: 10/22/2010

This week on Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live each Friday on WOMM in Burlington: Do talking heads provoke violence? Vermont Scene – Nuclear Opinions, Minimum Wage Hike, and Defense Facts. National Scene – Burning Man Goes to College. Plus, the Rumor of the Week.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

The extreme ideas being promoted by Glenn Beck and others are obviously scary. But how far could it go, and how responsible are the messengers?

Three months ago, a heavily armed man named Byron Williams was on his way to kill people at two non-profit organizations in San Francisco. He got into a gun battle with police and, luckily, they arrested him before he could go through with his plot. In an interview from jail, however, this self-proclaimed "progressive hunter" revealed that Fox News's Glenn Beck was a major inspiration for him. Williams is just one example of a real and growing danger – political violence from the far-right — and some people say that FOX's promotion of hate mongers like Glenn Beck only fans the flames.

That leads to the Rebel Round Up question of the week: Do words inspire violent acts? What do you think? Specifically, are personalities like Beck directly responsible if someone uses their words to justify violence or hate crimes?

VERMONT SCENE

PUBLIC SPLIT ON NUKE FUTURE

Vermonters are divided over what should happen to the state's nuclear plant. That’s according to a poll released by Vermont Public Radio last week. The station asked 625 people, and 44 percent said they oppose a new 20-year license for Vermont Yankee, while 39 percent want to see the plant's license renewed when it expires in 2012. Seventeen percent are undecided. The poll has a 4 percent margin of error. So, the bottom line is that public opinion is basically split over the future of the 38-year-old nuclear plant.

MINIMUM WAGE HIKE ON THE WAY

In line with the slight upward creep in consumer prices, Vermont's minimum wage will rise on Jan. 1, 2011 by 9 cents, to $8.15 per hour. Vermont's minimum wage has remained higher than its neighbors since 2009, when it moved six cents past Massachusetts's $8 an hour. But it lags behind five other states in the 2011 rates: Connecticut, Illinois and Nevada ($8.25 per hour); Oregon ($8.50); and Washington ($8.67) – as well as the District of Columbia ($8.25). Most states adhere to the federal guideline of $7.25 per hour. Quebec workers earn a minimum of $9.50 Canadian (that’s about $9.30 in US dollars).

Under legislation passed in 2007, Vermont's minimum wage may rise annually by up to 5 percent -- but only if the U.S. Consumer Price Index increases by more than that.

Exemptions to Vermont's minimum-wage law include taxi drivers, full-time high-school students, agricultural workers, newspaper or advertisement home delivery persons, domestic servants and employees of the US government.

SPECIAL REPORT

VERMONT’S DEFENSE PROFILE

Vermont has received more than $7 billion in defense contracts during the last decade –over 9000 contracts awarded to 560 main contractors. The only county with no contracts is Essex, and the clear leader is Chittenden County with $5.2 billion received between 2001 and 2009.

In 2000 the state was getting $211 million through 187 contracts. By 2005 the amount had reached $554 million, and there were 1,183 contracts. The next year the total jumped again – to more than a billion, and stayed there until 2008. In 2009 Vermont companies got $800 million through 1467 separate contracts, some enormous but many small and given to companies that aren’t primarily involved in defense-related work.

The increase in the number of contracts suggests a trend toward direct funding of more, smaller businesses. According to a 2009 article by Ken Picard, much of the money coming to Vermont is spent on defense-related aeronautical supplies: aircraft parts, missile and explosive components, guns, ammunition and “quick-reaction” capability equipment.

Five of the ten top contractors are in Chittenden County, two in the Northeast Kingdom, and one uses as an address a non-existent Vermont town. Some appear to provide support services rather than producing weapons or equipment. Last year Plason North America, a Bennington-based company, became partial recipient of a $1 billion contract for Army all-terrain vehicles, and in October 2010 the Newport-based Mine Safety Appliances (#3) nabbed a $21 million contract to produce combat helmets. Nevertheless, 75% of all defense money to Vermont goes to just two contractors – General Dynamics and Simmonds Precision.

THE TOP FIVE

1)—BURLINGTON is the clear leader with $5 billion, increasing throughout the decade with a peak at $986 million in 2007, and leveling off at $611 million in 2009. UVM got 31 contracts worth $4.5 million. The leading corporate contractors is General Dynamics ($4.8 Billion), followed by PKC Corp ($67M), which produces “clinical decisions support technology” that helps doctors and patients make more informed decisions, and Barer Engineering Company ($11.8M). There were more than 300 contractors, many of them small – including among others Advance Music, Booskas, Charlebois, Conant Custom Brass, GS Blodgett, and an architectural firm that received more than $7 million.

2)—VERGENNES saw $447.4 million, with the greatest increases in the last three years. Tiny Vergennes began the decade at $12 million, but was up to $125 million in 2009. Simmonds Precision Products ($446M), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Goodrich Corp. got most of the money. The Navy recently announced a $13.4 million Navy contract for continued work on a helicopter diagnostic system. This has brought the company more than $100 million in defense contracts. In April, US Sen. Pat Leahy joined Simonds/Goodrich employees at the facility to mark shipment of the 2000th system.

3)—NEWPORT saw $155 million, with $100M coming in one year, 2004. Mine Safety Appliances Company ($154 million) is the anchor, with a few related smaller contractors. In October, Leahy came to Newport to announce $21 million in new contracts for the Army’s Advanced Combat Helmets, ending a slowdown last year.

4)—WILLISTON companies received $99.8 million. The big year was 2005, with $44.5 million. Dew Construction led ($40M), but Triosyn ($28.6M), which makes eyewear, is upcoming and has been used in a Leahy campaign ad. Others include Microstrain ($6.5M), Total Temperature Instrumentation ($5.2M), Velan Valve ($3.7M), H & M Industrial Sales ($6M), and dozens of smaller but still significant contractors. Last November Microstrain, which produces sensors, and Triosyn, which makes antimicrobial products such as surgical masks, won new contracts worth $3.2 million. Both have been adding employees.

5)—BRANDON saw $70 million, but virtually all of it went to one company, New England Woodcraft, which uses Forest Dale, Vermont (not a real town) as its address. It’s actually on the outskirts of Brandon at the edge of the National Forest area. Records say it produces “household furnishings,” but whether any of that is weapons-related is “not discernable.”

NATIONAL SCENE

BURNING MAN GOES TO COLLEGE

Every year for the past 25 people have been gathering in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert outside Reno for an annual art-and-fire festival – Burning Man. But recently a growing number of sociologists, business professors and theologians have taken an interest. They view the event – today a mix of hipsters, artisans, theme camps and outdoor art galleries – as more than a party. They see fertile ground for research.

University of Maryland doctoral student Wendy Clupper saw a dissertation, titled, “The Performance Culture of Burning Man.” It’s part of a boom in academic interest, the most attention such an event has received since Woodstock.

There’s Catherine Chen’s book, “Enabling Creative Chaos,” which traces the evolution of the event from its start to becoming a $10 million operation with 2000 volunteers. Cal State Anthropologist Lee Gilmore has written about the spiritual nature of the festival in “Theatre in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man.” Many of the art projects during the festival have spiritual or religious overtones.

There’s also a compilation of academic essays called Afterburn. And yet it remains a deeply radical event….a place and time when festival goers need to be radically self-reliant, to share everything from food to solar showers. No commerce or advertising. Also virtually no violent crime. But people do steal things from campsites. The cost $300 – whether you go for a day or a week.

One professor calls it an organizational mutant – not quite a business but highly organized and financially self-sustaining.

RUMOR OF THE WEEK: THE NEXT PREEMPTIVE WAR

Growing American drone strikes and NATO helicopter attacks inside Pakistan are the harbingers of far broader actions: The expansion of the West’s war in Afghanistan into Pakistan – with the ultimate goal of seizing that nation’s nuclear weapons.

Do you agree? What’s your rumor?
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