Friday, October 29, 2010


This week on Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live at approximately 11:30 a.m. Fridays on WOMM (105.9 FM – The Radiator) in Burlington: Does exposing corruption lead to real change? Vermont Scene – Little change expected in state elections, Burlington Telecom’s fragile future. National Scene – Deconstructing the anti-government crusade, NASA’s space colony plans. Special Report: A time traveler on film? Rumor of the Week: A Billionaire Run for the Presidency.

Tune in to the Live Stream:
For Live Call-in: (802) 861-9666


Wikileaks – currently the most controversial media operation in the world – released thousands more documents last week revealing systematic crimes and abuses by the US military during the Iraq War. Somehow, it barely caught public attention. Meanwhile, the most fact-resistant election season in a generation careens to an end. We’ve seen candidates openly lying about themselves and their opponents, hoping to seize power by avoiding public scrutiny and playing the victims of some mythical crypto-socialist elite. It looks as if many people are retreating from reality into a self-reinforcing nightmare.

So, the (existential) question of the week is: Is this a good time to try and persuade people with uncomfortable facts, the truth about corruption in both business and government? Does muckraking help – or just give people more ammunition for the misinformation war?

Does media exposure of corruption and crimes lead to any real change?



Burlington Telecom is in deep trouble. Several years ago the city decided to spend $17 million on the new municipal cable company. It also borrowed $33.5 million from CitiCapitol, using BT as collateral for the loan. But it hasn’t been able to make interest or principal payments this year and has hired a firm, Dorman and Fawcett, to negotiate with CitiCapitol.

Now the state Department of Public Service is concerned that if BT can’t make a $386,000 interest payment by this Sunday, the lender might just shut down the whole system. Members of the City Council were briefed last Monday but the details aren’t being made public. BT could, for example, be declared in default and have its assets seized.

Meanwhile, the city continues to work on restructuring the loan and BT’s operations. If the operation isn’t shut down, management should be status quo for the next six months. Acting GM Stephen Barreclough, representing the consulting firm managing BT, met with its Technical Advisory Council – or TAC – last week and told them there would be no changes until a permanent manager is hired. That should be sometime in the first part of next years.

Once new management is in place, the first chance the public will have to play a role is the budget, due to be developed in April and May and passed in June 2011. Right now Barreclough is focusing on what he calls a long list of financial issues – the loan crisis, as well as other matters aimed at saving money and bringing BT closer to sustainability. But he acknowledged that the impact of bad press is keeping the ambitious public enterprise from promoting its services and connections with the community. One of his priorities is to develop relationships with schools like Champlain College and UVM.

Last week the TAC heard from Free Speech TV, which has approached BT to be added to the lineup. Several people, including Sandy Baird and filmmaker Deb Ellis, have spoken in favor of FSTV. But no decisions about lineup changes are expected until the budget comes up next Spring. That’s also likely to be the time when people and political parties hoping to end Burlington’s progressive administration start using Burlington Telecom as a political club. If the current crisis passes, we may still hear talk about selling it.

Meanwhile BT has brought in a team that includes management specialists from a successful municipal cable company in Winona, Minnnesota.



Two years ago this weekend the US was on the edge of the most consequential election in generations. In less than 24 months we’ve gone from high expectations to deep polarization and a counter-cultural uprising. The country seems up for grabs. What are the stakes? Well, how do you feel about the next two years being about investigating the Obama administration, maybe even an impeachment push?

One of the big charges spurring this uprising is that we have "too much big government!" Virtually any attempt to regulate or tax anything is a government intrusion into our lives. Candidates say they want less government. But what's behind all the anti-government talk?

Government “intrusion” is a powerful propaganda tool that’s been around for a long time, one that big businesses often use to manipulate opinion. As with many other propaganda tools, this one originated largely with the tobacco industry.

Big Tobacco started screaming "too much big government" in the 1970s in response to efforts to pass smoking bans. Even most smokers preferred some restrictions, since such laws at least clarified where they could and couldn’t smoke. After the industry realized it couldn’t win by arguing the health facts about secondhand smoke, they used the anti-government theme – through third parties – to campaign against the bans. The idea was to shift the attention away from the health hazards of secondhand smoke and to a topic more in the industry's favor.

Cut to 2010. Now the anti-government argument is everywhere. Tea Party candidates use the theme constantly. Big businesses also deploy the "too much big government" argument – usually through front groups – whenever people start considering ways to rein in their abuses and protect consumers.

The financial sector screamed "too much government intervention" when Congress was considering the financial reform bill to crack down on Wall Street's excesses. Climate change skeptics, many paid by fossil fuel companies, use "big-government intervention" rhetoric to defeat policies that address global warming.

Should we worry about big government? When is it a valid argument, and when is it propaganda? Let’s take Tea Party candidates Sharron Angle ( Nevada), Ken Buck (Colorado) and Rand Paul (Kentucky). All claim to be against big government. But all also support strict anti-abortion laws that would restrict the personal, medical choices of women. They can't be against big government and simultaneously argue that government should control such personal decisions – at least not without being complete hypocrites.

And what about the corporations backing the anti-government crusade? Well, no one screams about “big government" more than Koch Industries, run by oil billionaire brothers David and Charles. The Kochs claim to support a free-market system free of government regulation. Yet they profit from government programs. The Matador Cattle Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch, benefits from a federal program that allows the ranch to graze cattle on public lands basically for free. Two thirds of the ranch's 300,000 acres of grazing land belong to the taxpayers.

The Kochs also own the Georgia Pacific paper company, which logs in public forests. Taxpayers cover the cost of creating new logging roads for Georgia-Pacific to access forest lands – a corporate welfare deal that benefits the Kochs financially and that costs taxpayers more than $1 billion a year. The Kochs are also involved in the ethanol industry – one of the most highly subsidized in the US. Their energy companies operate tens of thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines that exist only because the government used eminent domain to seize private property. So the Koch's argument against "too much big government" is also pure propaganda.

Using the "too much big government" argument is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. It makes people so angry that they become blind to the facts. They accept it without asking questions. So, if you don't have time to investigate who's making the argument – and why—the safest thing may be to disregard it and move on to more verifiable facts.

Thanks to PR Watch for much of the information in this report.

But now a little good news…


A senior NASA official has promised to deliver a spaceship that will travel between alien worlds "within a few years." Speaking at a conference in San Francisco, NASA official Simon Worden said his division has started a project with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency called the "Hundred Year Starship.”

The project was kicked off recently with $1 million funding from DARPA and some seed money from NASA. The hope is to use new propulsion ideas being explored by NASA. Worden said the space program was "now really aimed at settling other worlds.”

“Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired…. I think we’ll be on the moons of Mars by 2030 or so," he said. "Larry (Page) asked me a couple weeks ago how much it would cost to send people one way to Mars and I told him $10 billion, and his response was, ‘Can you get it down to 1 or 2 billion?’ "So now we’re starting to get a little argument over the price.”



While watching the DVD extras for Charlie Chaplin’s classic The Circus, Irish filmmaker George Clarke recently spotted something breathtaking – a woman who appears to be using a mobile phone 50 years before their invention. Clarke, who lives in Belfast, uploaded the clip to YouTube where it has received more than 1.5 million views. The footage shows the outside of the theater premiering The Circus. A woman walks past holding her left hand to the side of her face while moving her lips.

The original clip lasted only seconds, but it has been looped, zoomed and slowed down for the online version. Clarke claims the footage hasn’t been tampered with and looks convinced this is evidence of time travel. Others aren’t so sure. Explanations range from the woman holding a block of ice to take away the pain of a dental appointment to the clip itself being a fake. Judge for yourself at…


Michael Bloomberg will run as an independent in 2012, peeling off enough votes and states to hang the electoral college and deliver the White House to Sarah Palin.

Scary stuff. But the problem with this rumor, which was launched last week by John Heilemann on the New York Times blog, is that, to make the scenario work, Bloomberg would have to win states like New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, with a combination of moderate Republicans, centrist Democrats and progressives who are disappointed with Obama. In a vacuum, this sounds plausible — but not if Sarah Palin is the Republican nominee.

How many progressives would consider voting for a third-party candidate if they knew it might put a woman they fear and loathe in the White House? Not many. In fact, probably nothing could rally the Obama coalition quite like the prospect of a Palin presidency.

For Bloomberg to have any chance in 2012, the Republicans would have to nominate someone who makes some voters uneasy but doesn’t terrify people – someone like Mike Huckabee. Some liberal Republicans would be uncomfortable if he were the GOP nominee, creating an opportunity for Bloomberg. At the same time, Huckabee is unthreatening enough that he wouldn’t send progressives into rally around Obama mode. It’s still an implausible scenario, but it is possible to imagine some Democrats justifying a vote for Bloomberg while telling themselves that a Huckabee presidency wouldn’t be that bad. It’s harder to imagine the same voters taking a chance on Bloomberg if that means the Momma Grizzly-in-chief – apparently a shape-shifting Alaskan Barracuda – might end up in the White House.

Friday, October 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.


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?



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.


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.



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.


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.”



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.


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?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Maverick Back on the Air

I'm pleased to report that my weekly round up on politics and culture has returned to radio. Each Friday at 11:30 a.m. EST. I'm broadcasting from the WOMM studio in beautiful downtown Burlington. Re-uniting with the Howie Rose morning show, I'll be talking about current events, doing interviews, taking calls, and saying whatever seems necessary. On the local dial it's 105.9 FM. On the web, go to The Radiator.

This week, listen in for a report on the scope of the Vermont defense industry, plus news updates, the question of the week and the rumor of the week (You contort, we decide; suggestions welcome by phone or e-mail).