Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Republicans Say the Darndest Things

A brief political news quiz, based on research by the Christian Science Monitor.  Match Republican presidential candidates with some of their memorable quotes. Answers below, but try not to cheat. Who says conservatives can't do comedy?

1.On the Occupy Wall Street protests, what upstanding GOP citizen said, “That’s not free speech. That is trying to destroy the greatest nation in the world?

2. What Republican hopeful said, "We don't need more weapons... We do not need to be the policeman of the world?"

Chet Arthur, early GOP POTUS 
3. On cutting federal agencies, who said "too many chefs not only spoil the broth, they make it inedible and prohibitively expensive?"

4. This one's really good, or at least ironic. Who said "..if you have a good enough leader who's positive enough, they can ignore the other candidates?"

5. This is probably too easy, but who said “I’ll work every day to make Washington, DC, as inconsequential in your life as I can?”

6. Tough one. What hopeful believes “the people want to know your heart and soul, and they can tell if you’re faking it pretty quickly?”

7. What mental giant said, "I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come?"

8. Think hard. Who said, “The judiciary cannot create life, and it did not create marriage, and it has no right to redefine either one?”

9. Discussing liberty, which candidate said "...the question we need to ask ourselves tonight is: Will it end with us?"

10. Which GOP statesman admitted the obvious about Obama with this, It’s a good issue to keep alive. It’s fun to poke at him?”

11. Another easy one. On legalizing grass, who said, "Having done both I can tell you that marijuana is a lot safer than alcohol?"

12. Finally, what candidate suggested "that you serve your eggs with hollandaise sauce in hubcaps. Because there’s no plates like chrome for the hollandaise?”


1. Herman Cain, in Nashua, New Hampshire, displacing blame as his campaign imploded.

2. Ron Paul, in Iowa, speaking his own truth to another no-nothing audience. The complete quote: "We have more weaponry than everybody else put together. And if you add up what we have and our allies, we have 70 percent of the weapons of the world. We don’t need more weapons.... We do not need to be the policeman of the world.”

3. Mitt Romney, on the need to combine or reduce the number of federal agencies. Speaking of "prohibitively expensive," Mitt should know.

4. Newt Gingrich, explaining leadership on CNN. Seriously.

5. Rick Perry, before jumping in and proving that he was actually talking about himself.

6. John Hunstman, whose brain may be his biggest problem in the GOP race. (He has one.)

7. Herman Cain. The full quote is a keeper: "I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come. And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say, 'You know, I don’t know. Do you know?' And then I’m going to say, 'How’s that going to create one job?'”

8. Rick Santorum. Yes, it is hard to remember that he's in the race.

9. Michelle Bachmann. Another verbatim gem: “For 21 generations, the torch of liberty has been successfully passed from one generation to the next. And the question we need to ask ourselves tonight is: Will it end with us? Will we be the first generation to fail when it is our turn to pass the torch of liberty? Will we allow this great experiment in human liberty called America to end on our watch?"

10. Rick Perry, on whether President Obama’s birth certificate is fake. A moment of unintentional candor.

11. Gary Johnson, pro-pot Republican. It's a big, rainbow-colored tent after all. Full quote: "What I'm advocating is the legalization of marijuana. Having done both I can tell you that marijuana is a lot safer than alcohol."

12. Mitt Romney, explaining how to dine while playing human in a New Hampshire restaurant. The full quote: “I saw the young man over there with eggs Benedict, with hollandaise sauce. And I was going to suggest to you that you serve your eggs with hollandaise sauce in hubcaps. Because there’s no plates like chrome for the hollandaise.”

How'd you do? With characters like these, it's the best reality TV show yet -- Far Right Survivor: Presidential Death Match Edition. Only when you vote these bozos off the island they get speaking deals and corporate appointments.

Scores: 1-6 correct: Oblivious. 7-9: Normal. 10-11: Well-informed. 12: Irritating. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Staying Occupied in Burlington

MAVERICK CHRONICLES, 11/23/2011:  Practicing democracy – from the city council to a park encampment and on to the caucus. Plus, Is America over? Thanksgiving memories – Mumbai and Obama, immigration and the moving border, Burlington’s mayoral race, financing downtown redevelopment, and a few rumors. Stories and Thoughts by Greg Guma

What can I say? It’s been hectic. And it certainly feels as if we’re living through tumultuous, even revolutionary times. The pace is rapid, sometimes overwhelming. Six month ago the Middle East erupted in what we now call the Arab Spring. Since September protests against economic inequality have spread to hundreds of cities across the US and far beyond.

Marching past City Hall
Whatever happens with the onset of winter, the national discourse has shifted – from the Tea Party’s anti-government rage to a focus on concentration of wealth by a tiny elite, the illusive, wealthy and well-connected one percent. Conservatives call the new movement a form of class warfare, but it actually reflects an overdue recovery from a long period of mass amnesia.

On the other hand, some participants in recent protests seem shocked at the heavy-handed official response, as if they’ve discovered some new truth about the relationship between the state and those who dissent. Haven’t they heard of Cointelpro, the Palmer Raids and assorted other counter-intelligence ops? Others suggest that their efforts to create self-governing communities represent a breakthrough of paradigm-altering significance.  A little grand for a movement less than a year old.

On the ground, things aren’t so simple. To say that you represent almost everyone – except a few super-rich pigs at the top – doesn’t mean that you actually do, or that the vast majority of people will continue to identify with various tactics or the overall grievance, no matter how it is presented.

But that’s a discussion for another day. Instead, here is a bit of what I’ve been studying and writing about. And first, a side trip down memory lane...

The Edge of Obama: Thanksgiving 2008

This excerpt from The Howie Rose Show, originally broadcast on WOMM-FM in Burlington in November 2008, looked at the recent bombing in Mumbai, the opening weeks of the Obama era, and other timely topics . It was a lively post-Thanksgiving conversation with FP Cassini and his dad. Enjoy. 
Practicing Democracy: From the Border to the Caucus

Cardenas: The border is moving.
After interviewing four Democrats running for mayor in Burlington, I recently took a brief break from local politics to attend a talk by Mexican organizer Macrina Cardenas and Danilo Lopez, who recently played a key role in sparking a revision of state policy on bias-free policing. Macrina’s point, in saying that the border “is moving,” seemed to be that free trade and inconsistent immigration policies have produced devastating social, legal and economic impacts far away from Mexico. Maybe it also relates to the general militarization of society since 9/11. Another topic for the future. Meanwhile…

There is much doomsday talk these days, even in establishment circles. The cover of the latest Foreign Affairs, official house organ of the eastern establishment (only kidding/not really), screams:


The lead article by George Packer goes directly at inequality: “Inequality hardens society into a class system, imprisoning people in the circumstances of their birth – a rebuke to the very idea of the American Dream.”

But the next essay counsels that the way back is “retrenchment,” or “cutting back to move forward.” In this case, the topic is overextension of US imperial ambitions. The authors, Joseph Parent and Paul MacDonald, suggest what they see as a more humble – and frugal – approach. But the best they can offer is a prescription for “modest decline.” They actually admit that overseas “commitments” are unsustainable and suggest making “a virtue” of the necessity to pull back. It’s making lemons out of…  The advantage for America? This can “not only slow its decline but also sow the seeds of its recovery.”

Inspiring stuff.    

No less dispiriting is much of the left’s analysis. Here is John Feffer, assessing whether Europe is over in Foreign Policy in Focus:

“The social ideals that once animated the European project are dissipating fast. The continent has simply become a good place to do business, particularly in financial services. The current crisis and the resulting austerity measures have served to further Americanize Europe through privatization, reduction of government services, and the like.

“Europe as a continent will, of course, continue. But what made Europe a compelling political, economic, and social alternative wedged between Anglo-American free marketeers and Soviet nomenklatura is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. A much less appetizing European history, whether the dangerous interwar period of the 1930s or the fratricidal melee of the 8th century, now threatens to repeat itself.”

Roman infrastructure?
It’s good to know that Europe will continue to exist, though it may look a bit like pre-Nazi Germany.

The mood in Burlington is a bit better, despite the untimely death of a 35-year-old homeless man in a tent at Occupy Burlington. Things had been going well, in contrast with the violent confrontations between police and non-violent protesters elsewhere. But an impromptu concert seems to have sparked relaxation of the normal restrictions on drugs and alcohol. The next day a number of people at the camp were still intoxicated, including Joshua Pfenning.

His death, reportedly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was traumatic for those in the movement, especially those who knew and tried to help.

A few days earlier, representatives from the encampment had attended a City Council meeting, eager to build on their success and win official support. It was an unusual session, also featuring public comments from local skateboard enthusiasts and a lively council debate over their own democratic rules.

That Sunday, just three days after the Pfenning’s death and the city’s decision to end the encampment, more than 1,300 people gathered two blocks from my home for an historic Democratic Party caucus.

As the Regime Changes: Caucus Interruptus

It’s been a strange journey already, and it has hardly even begun. The elections aren’t until March 6, 2012 – just two days after my 65th birthday.

Decades ago, back when I was editing The Vanguard Press and chairing the Burlington branch of the Citizens Party, I ran for the City Council myself as a fusion candidate. In that case, it meant getting the Democratic nomination after entering the race as a “third” party candidate. Democrats like Phil Hoff and Joey Donovan were supportive, understanding even then what Tim Ashe has been saying lately – that the feud between Democrats and Progressives need not be permanent.

But this is now, and it will take some time to heal several decades of mutual mistrust, and some moments that veered into open hostility. In a recent series of articles for VTDigger.org I have attempted to delve a bit deeper into this tumultuous relationship at a time of transition. Here are three recent dispatches:

DJADOG rocks the caucus.
One of the pleasures on my new job is the chance to spend time in and around City Hall, an elegant building at the corner of Church and Main Streets, at the base of the city’s famous pedestrian area. Even when there isn’t an encampment in the adjacent park it is a lively and beautiful spot.

Most City Council meetings aren’t as well attended as the one on Nov. 7 when the skateboarders and Occupiers came to make their cases. Often it is just the 14 members of the council (also known as the Board of Aldermen), plus the mayor, a few key staff, and the Channel 17 camera person.

Some of the business is tedious, and, for those unfamiliar with parliamentary process, a bit opaque. But there are also frank and informative discussions at times, and actions that reveal underlying issues and new directions.

At the most recent meeting, for example, the council heard about a proposed tax incremental financing (TIF) district, a financial strategy designed to promote redevelopment and increase the tax base. It’s a big deal – the city wants authority to take on $10 million in debt in hopes of making public improvements that promote private development. Yet I was the only journalist who did more than mention it.

Yet that isn’t what makes it odd. It’s that, 30 years ago, back when I was a candidate for the council and Bernie Sanders was making his first run for mayor, the impact of redevelopment was one of the main problems the emerging progressive movement pledged to solve. When Bernie said “Burlington is not for sale,” he was talking about redevelopment on the waterfront and throughout downtown, the whole thrust of a proposed “master plan” designed to gentrify the city beyond recognition.

That didn’t happen, in part due to Sanders’ election, but also because local citizens continued to resist redevelopment plans. In fact, when the Sanders administration tried to make a deal for waterfront development that included a hotel and condos near the water’s edge, public opposition stopped it.

But that was then… and now all three political parties apparently support targeted redevelopment through TIF.

Yes, times are tough, and state and federal help with some worthwhile local projects is unlikely. But those projects will likely be things like parking garages and amenities that increase the value of nearby properties. In the short term, there will be jobs; in the long term, more valuable real estate and tax revenue. It sounds fine, except that success also means higher rental prices, more downtown traffic, and more tourism dependency.

As Bernie and others used to note, the jobs will be temporary or low-paying, and the local cost of living and luxuries will increase. It’s a tough bargain. But this is now…

In any case, here’s a report on the most recent City Council meeting, including details about TIF, some recent praise for the city’s oft-maligned Mayor, and a resolution on oversight that failed to persuade.

It was upbeat session and ended with an official nod to the Occupy movement: wiggling fingers to vote for adjournment. But some juicy questions hung in the air. Considering the recent praise and success in pushing his agenda, will Mayor Bob Kiss run again? Rumors are circulating that he may step in as an Independent candidate if the Progressives decline to give him another nomination.

Stranger still is the whisper that Councilor Karen Paul, who introduced the doomed oversight resolution, may also run as an Independent – if Miro Weinberger doesn’t prevail at the reconvened Democratic Caucus. Was the resolution really the tentative start of a campaign?

Or is this all just smoke and mirrors? We’ll have to see. Until then…Occupy Yourself. And have a restful time despite the holiday. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Blame Games: Which 1 Percent?

Evidence of impending social breakdown or paradigm shift to the contrary, the old order has not yet capitulated. But we are living in fluid times, at a moment when it’s sometimes possible to get a better look at the big picture.

Right now everybody’s talking about the one percent, the very few with most of the wealth -- bankers, oil tycoons, hedge fund managers. You know, Them. But as Robert Greenwald points out, there's an even smaller elite -- the top 0.01 percent of wealthy Americans, military contractor CEOs.

One %ers, or just rich and crazy? 
These are bad bosses, he says, who don’t create nearly as many jobs as they claim and waste huge amounts of taxpayer money doing it. “What you may not know,” Greenwald adds, “is that the huge amount of money these companies’ CEOs make off of war and your tax dollars places them squarely at the top of the gang of corrupt superrich choking our democracy.”

In many areas, including CEO salaries and dollars spent corrupting Congress, he points out that war profiteers are far greater offenders than even big banks like JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America.  For instance, the top brass of military companies outpace the big banks in the knack for enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else. In 2010 Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush received $22.84 million, Lockheed Martin honcho Robert Stevens got $21.89, and Boeing chief James McNerney got $19.4 million. The amounts are equal to the takes of JP Morgan Chase and other bank CEOs.

“The war industry gets away with blowing our money on job-killing spending because it can bend Congress to its whim,” Greenwald explains. "In the process, the industry is like a vacuum sucking up brain power and engineering resources that could and would establish and grow entirely new wholesome industries.”

This is precisely what has made the embrace of Sandia Labs and Lockheed Martin by Vermont’s congressional delegation, including Bernie Sanders, so perplexing. On this and other military projects, these otherwise vocal critics of the 1% have consistently made the same pork barrel arguments as almost every other member of Congress. In some cases – as with the invitations to Lockheed, its F-35s, and Sandia – it goes as far as pushing “public-private” partnerships, positive PR, selling out a neighborhood, and marginalizing critics.

Recently, the war contractors’ grip on the country has caught the attention of Occupy Wall Street, who are targeting war profiteers in a draft list of demands  with a call to bring home “all military personnel at all non-essential bases” and end the “Military Industrial Complex’s goal of perpetual war for profit.” 

Encouraging. But what about connecting the outrage and those strong sentiments with the elephant in Vermont's room -- the seduction of UVM, Burlington and the state by military contracts that mainly enrich the 1%?

The 1% in Honduras -- A US-Backed Cocaine Baron

Speaking of wasteful spending and wrongheaded policy, fresh Wikileaks cables reveal that the US embassy in Honduras – which means also the State Department – has known since 2004 that the richest man in that country, one Miguel Facussé, is a cocaine importer – and also allegedly responsible for the deaths of campesino activists. In short, US “drug war” funds and training are being used to back a known drug trafficker in his war against peasant farmers.

According to a new article by Dana Frank in The Nation, “The US is funding and training Honduran military and police that are conducting joint operations with the security guards of a known drug trafficker to violently repress a campesino movement on behalf of Miguel Facussé’s dubious claims to vast swathes of the Aguán Valley, in order to support his African palm biofuels empire.

"Despite strong anti-drug rhetoric from US officials, State Department cables recently made available by Wikileaks show that the US has been aware of the drug ties of one of Honduras’ most powerful and wealthy individuals since 2004, yet has continued to support him. US military and police assistance is also aiding the businessman, landowner and coup-backer Miguel Facussé, in a campaign of repression targeted at the campesinos whose land Facussé wants for production of palm oil.

“Despite the objections of 87 members of Congress, US funding for the Honduran military and police continues, even though reports continue to emerge of police involvement in killings, such as in the recent case of the son of a university rector, and journalists and human rights activists continue to be targeted, with impunity."

Dana Frank is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz  and author of books, including Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America. Here is her complete article: WikiLeaks Honduras:US Linked to Brutal Businessman.  

As the Regime Changes: A New Soap Opera Begins

For the past two weeks I’ve been looking at the Democratic race for mayor, a hot topic in Burlington.  Specifically, I've studied and talked to the four candidates competing in the Nov. 13 caucus. The result is a series of profiles. 

Pitching visons: from left, candidate Miro Weinbberger standing,
with Tim Ashe, Jason Lorber, and Bram Kranichfeld seated.
The Caucus is expected to draw a huge crowd to the classic Memorial Auditorium downtown on a Sunday afternoon. The winner will face a Republican who almost won three years ago, and possibly other candidates, in early March voting. I hope to talk with the GOP's Kurt Wright, whom I've known for decades, sometime later this month.

Meanwhile, here are early installments in what promises to be a series revisiting the Queen City in transition: Will it be peaceful, or a radical realignment?

Chapter One:  Tim Ashe Steps Up

Chapter Two: Miro Weinberger’s Big Plans

Chapter Three: Bram Kranichfeld’s Community Connection

Chapter Four: Jason Lorber Wants to be CMO

And for those who haven't followed the story so far, here’s a recap that appeared just before Ashe – since christened “a young Bernie Sanders” by the head of a local union – jumped in the race: Mayor’s Race Heats Up

Until next time…Remain Occupied. It’s better than the alternative.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Turning Point Times: A Maverick Scrapbook

October 2011

Stories, sounds, images and thoughts from a month of upheaval and realignment. From Toward Freedom, VTDigger, The Vermont Way, Soundcloud, and Maverick.


Toward Freedom - Oct 5, 2011 
     From New York City to San Francisco thousands of people were protesting the growing wealth disparity between large corporations and the super rich and almost everyone else. By the first days of the month, the movement had spread to hundreds of US cities and around the world. In Burlington too, people began to gather, to express their outrage about economic inequality and the excesses of banks and other economic interests.

VTDigger -Oct 6, 2011
     In the corridors of City Hall it was hard to ignore the rumblings of an imminent political change...

Housing Waterbury patients at Fletcher Allen is risky, trustees say
Oct 11, 2011
     At Fletcher Allen Medical Center, officials said that mentally ill patients from the Vermont State Hospital were putting the hospital and its staff at risk...
Oct 13, 2011
     The Occupy Wall Street movement gained momentum. Labor joined in and 99% forces prepared to bring their energy to communities across the country...

About 800 Vermonters “occupy” streets of Burlington and Montpelier  
Oct 16, 2011
     In Montpelier, protesters marched from City Hall to the Statehouse chanting "We are the 99%."

City Council wants PSB to drop Burlington Telecom build-out rule
‎Oct 18, 2011
    As the local election season began, Burlington came up with a possible solution to one of its BT financial problems -- don't build out to cover the whole city ...

From Left: Democratic candidates Ashe, Lorber, Kranichfeld and Weinberger
Oct 23, 2011
      At a Democratic debate just two days after publicly declaring his run for Burlington mayor, State Sen. Tim Ashe proposed an alliance with Progressives to defeat the Republican challenge...

Oct 25, 2011
     Another Democratic candidate, Miro Weinberger, countered: he was angry about how the City of Burlington has been managed -- and he's the leader to handle it...

Burlington may let Occupy Vermont protesters camp in city park
‎Oct 26, 2011
     Leaves fell as activists and Occupy supporters geared up the next stage – an ongoing encampment at City Hall Park. The Mayor signaled that he was prepared to go along ...
Out of this world: The Chittenden mysteries
Oct. 30, 2011
    At month's end, for Halloween, a Vermont tale from the vault -- a spooky search for the truth about ghosts, astral projection and the afterlife...


October 9

MAVERICK CHRONICLES, 10/7/2011: Memories of Mobilizations Past, Will Vermont Be Occupied? Burlington Politics: Is this the end of an Era? From the Vault – vintage audio with dialogue, stories and thoughts about progressive politics, Mormon ambitions, Obama’s election, Pacifica, and more. The Question: Could the Arab Spring become a counter-revolutionary fall?  

AUDIO: We Got Sold Out, street music from the People's Republic. Recorded 10/9, 2011 along Church St. in Burlington.

October 15

MAVERICK CHRONICLES, 10/14-15/2011: Tracking the Occupations: substance, style and  a victory in Liberty Park. THE VERMONT WAY: Class Struggle in the Company Towns. NEW MUSIC TRACK from Taco Land. The Plot Thickens: cooptation, surveillance and the movement.  PROJECT CENSORED: Manipulating Social Media. VTDIGGER: State Hospital closing is putting staff and patients at risk. 

October 15 Updates: Going Global (story on worldwide protests) and Vermont Occupy Rallies.

October 22

MAVERICK CHRONICLES, 10/22/2011: Journalists Targeted at Occupy Protests, Blood Lust - American Style, and Regime Change in Burlington. Plus, a song from the streets.

The Vermont Way

October 11

The Moran Station, seen from Lake Champlain.

October 26

     And so it goes. Keep in touch...Seriously....

     Greg Guma

Vermont news and features on VTDigger.org 
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"Reality is the lie agreed upon"