Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Free Speech TV to Launch on Basic Cable

Burlington Telecom, the publicly owned cable, internet and phone utility in my hometown, will add Free Speech TV to its basic cable line up on March 1. It will become Channel 122 for thousands of Vermont cable subscribers. Although FSTV already reaches millions via satellite and DIRECTV, this will be its first US appearance on a basic cable line up
    It wasn't quite a done deal until today, when a Kickstarter fundraising campaign finished raising almost $3,000 in less than a week ...

The video above was produced by Friends of Free Speech TV, a Burlington area group organized to make FSTV's launch happen. It include clips from the channel. Please take a look.... 
    To insure carriage on the basic tier received by all cable subscribers, FSTV and its supporters agreed to raise $10,000 to cover some start-up costs -- by the end of February! 
    A Friends of Free Speech TV group stepped up, a $5,000 match was offered, and the rest was raised in the last days of the month. If the goal wasn't reached, the match would have been lost, possibly jeopardizing the basic cable deal.

FSTV is an essential alternative on television. It airs Democracy Now! three times daily, and has coverage of cutting-edge current affairs like the Occupy movement and many independently-produced documentaries. A daily talk show hosted by Thom Hartmann features “Brunch with Bernie,” a Friday noon discussion and call-in segment with Vermont's Independent US senator.
    The mission of FSTV is to “inspire viewers to become civically engaged to build a more just, equitable, and sustainable society,” says Greg Epler-Wood, a former member of BT’s Community Advisory Council and member of Friends of FSTV.
    It was a race to the finish. But we made it! Congratulations and thanks to all who took part.
UPDATED 2/29/2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Burlington Beat: Changes at the Top

Recent stories from (plus drugs & dissent)

On March 6  residents of Vermont's largest city will select a new mayor. After the vote, however, some department heads in Burlington are also expected to change. Is this job creation or creative destruction, or perhaps part of a more epochal changing of the guard. In any case, here's another installment of my campaign coverage...

Campaign Notebook: 
Weinberger and Hines try to be different
     Feb. 20: If elections were decided by the number and quality of plans a candidate produced Miro Weinberger would be way out in front. Since last September the Democrat has released a five-point financial plan, a rescue plan for Centennial Field, leadership and downtown housing plans, and strategies for improving education. Last week, at a press conference with local entrepreneurs held at Union Station plaza near the waterfront, he added another one – a development plan to “jump start” the city’s economy. Continue reading

     Two Burlington schools will also have new CEOs soon…

UVM trustees choose Minnesota provost as next president
Tom Sullivan says Vermont is a good fit.
     Feb. 22: The University of Vermont announced the selection of legal scholar E. Thomas Sullivan as its 26th president on Wednesday. Sullivan, who has been senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Minnesota for the last eight years, will assume his new post on July 15 and receive more than $440,000 annually for the next three years. Continue reading
     A new president is also being sought for Burlington College, after the abrupt departure of Jane Sanders last September. If you know the right person to run a small college on the brink of something (or if that’s you), go to BC Job Postings

     The race for Burlington mayor took more unexpected turns last week. The local Progressive Party finally decided not to endorse a candidate, but one of its two City Councilors is backing Republican Kurt Wright. Meanwhile, there are unanswered questions about local finances, especially whether a ballot item to fund future development projects will be defeated by rumors and the delay of a state audit.

Council President requests pre-election release of TIF audit
     Feb. 26: Most members of the Burlington City Council claim that they want the ballot item establishing a new tax increment finance (TIF) district covering much of downtown to be approved by voters on March 6. But if it fails Council President Bill Keogh knows where to place the blame: on the shadow of doubt and “erroneous conclusions” that emerged from a TIF audit of Milton.
     That is why, three weeks ago, Keogh requested fast-track release of Burlington’s waterfront TIF audit by State Auditor Tom Salmon — in hope that the results would be available prior to the vote. Continue reading 

Mind Games: Drugging Dissent
Dealing with various political and institutional leaders as a journalist these days, I've been reading up on how they operate in The Dictator's Handbook. My objective is to understand how best to "help" them reveal themselves and their strategies. But this week's most revealing insights so far have come from Bruce E. Levine, a clinical psychologist who recently published an essay on Alternet with the provocative title, Would We Have Drugged Up Einstein? How Anti-Authoritarianism Is Deemed a Mental Health Problem.
     Levine says that drugs are marketed specifically to "cure" people who question authoritarianism. Makes perfect sense. This piece connects some important dots. A few of my favorite lines:
     I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.
     And his conclusion:
     In every generation there will be authoritarians and anti-authoritarians. While it is unusual in American history for anti-authoritarians to take the kind of effective action that inspires others to successfully revolt, every once in a while a Tom Paine, Crazy Horse or Malcolm X come along. So authoritarians financially marginalize those who buck the system, they criminalize anti-authoritarianism, they psychopathologize anti-authoritarians, and they market drugs for their “cure.”
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BIG LIES: How our corporate overlords, politicians 
and media establishment warp reality and undermine democracy

Sunday, February 26, 2012

MOMENTUM II: A Presidential Death Match

Coming soon! FIRST LOOK
Presidents have long been the focus of bio-pictures and, to a lesser extent, TV sit-coms. In recent times, however, the race to be “the decider” has become a common theme in more imaginative storytelling. 
    On the tube, the plots have often been dramatic; Martin Sheen fighting for a second term on The West Wing or Dennis Haysbert narrowly avoiding assassination on 24 come to mind. In 2008 HBO took on the 2000 Bush-Gore Death Match in Recount. Next month not-TV will release Game Change, a TV translation of the political bestseller about the 2008 race and, for cultural train-wreck fans, the emergence of Sarah Palin.
     Movie makers often tend toward comedy. Released in 1997, Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog was prescient in its dark comedy premise that a president facing scandal might resort to staging a phony war to distract voters and jack up his poll numbers before the vote. The following year Primary Colors combined laughs and pathos as John Travolta played a fictional version of Bill Clinton during his first campaign. More recently, the plots have become a bit unlikely.
     In Head of State, Chris Rock became an “everyman” candidate who was supposed to lose but defied expectations. He won by telling the truth (with jokes), echoing the title of Al Frankin’s satirical book. Playing a talk show host, Robin Williams also used comedy to win an election in Man of the Year, a less successful Levinson project. This time the joke was on the voters: Williams’ victory was the result of a computer glitch.
      But these projects just scratched the surface. As any political junky knows, campaigns are high drama, filled with the possibility of betrayal, murder, even war. Gore Vidal launched the genre with The Best Man, a 1964 film (based on his play) in which a principled (pre-Sergio Leone) Henry Fonda had to decide whether to go negative during a brokered convention in order to prevent an unscrupulous Cliff Robertson from winning the nomination. Most people got that they were playing fictional versions of Adlai Stevenson and Jack Kennedy.
     Times – and movies – have changed. Since more people get their opinions today from TV shows and cinema than newspapers and talking heads, we deserve films that rip their stories from the headlines. To fill that niche, during the 2000 presidential race Maverick made a development deal with FantasyWorks to develop the next political-action franchise. The way we pitched it, a presidential blockbuster is less costly, more entertaining and certainly less damaging than the real thing. Everybody wins.
     The title, Momentum, telegraphed out-of-control energy – and also what makes the difference in most campaigns.
     In Momentum I, released overseas on video late in 2000, an unscrupulous governor (Michael Douglas) used a phony assassination attempt to secure the nomination. Some reviews called it Extreme Gekko. He faced a former basketball player (Kevin Costner) and a wrestler-turned-talk-show-host (Arnold Schwartzenegger) running as an independent. The solution was to use Islamic fundamentalists (led by John Malkovich) to take out Arnold on TV -- in exchange for Afghanistan. When the plot failed, Arnold hunted down Michael (plenty of Act 3 action) and Kevin became president.
      The tag line for the ad campaign said it all: “Momentum. Some people will do anything for it." Foreign sales went well, but it never got the expected platform release. Distributor negotiations stalled. Since then the film has been re-edited three times, the latest version for release in 3-D.
(unreleased 2008 poster)
     In Momentum II, which is set for release this summer, we move ahead many years. Now a former candidate’s daughter is on the road to the White House -- after her dad lost the presidency 20 years before due to a scandal. (I can't reveal what.) Her chief opponents are a war hero and a charismatic billionaire with a youthful following. The popularity of the incumbent President is so low that one of these three is likely be the next president.
FantasyWorks Gets a Dream Cast
    As Christine Norris Nichols, a driven Congresswoman haunted by the need to settle old scores, you could hardly do better than Michelle Pfeiffer, still a potential box office draw and due for a Meryl Streep moment. After the scandal Christine's mother and father broke up, and later her playboy husband died in a mysterious plane crash. Now her main relationship is with her dad, Ted Nichols. 
     A well-connected lawyer and popular public speaker, Nichols often shows up on TV chat shows. In an early scene Gene Hackman, who nails it as a cynical yet charming old fixer, gets well-deserved applause tearing into a Sean Hannity clone.
     But the path to the nomination is not clear. The film opens with military action as retired General Frederick Oxhart (friends call him Fox) orchestrates the dramatic rescue of POWs held in Iran after an abortive attempt to bomb a suspected nuclear installation. That’s one way to get momentum.
     Laurence Fishburne, who first appeared on screen in Apocalypse Now and achieved icon status in the Matrix trilogy, delivers the goods as a career soldier with principles, personal demons and an iron will. FantasyWorks also considered Samuel Jackson. Personally, I'm happy to see Fishburne on the big screen again.
    The wild card in the race is Nathan B. Crane, who would be the youngest president in US history if he won. Crane recently rocked the media world with the launch of a 3D television network over the Internet. Inspiring and charismatic, he’s practically a rock star.
    Armie Hammer nails the role of an overconfident entrepreneur – a better looking Donald Trump – with money to burn. Early on, Ben Affleck was cast, and Matt Damon and Brad Pitt considered it. But the development phase went on so long that they had all aged too much. After J. Edgar, Hammer is ready for a break-out role.
Act One Begins
     During a brutal primary season, with the prospect of a brokered convention looming ahead, rumors fly about Fishburne’s alleged connection with a private military company that has received diamond concessions in exchange for backing a fundamentalist rebellion in Africa. It’s not true, but Armie exploits the controversy to press his change agenda, arguing that both of his opponents represent an obsolete politics.
     The momentum is shifting. But Hackman is really behind the smear. He is determined to gain access to the White House for himself and secret Chinese backers.
     Cut to: On the way to a campaign event, Michelle’s plane almost crashes. The mishap totally dominates cable news, drawing attention to her husband’s death and giving her a sympathy bump. When Internet rumors begin to circulate that her hubby was returning from a secret tryst when he died, the role of victim triumphing over adversity revives her flagging campaign. Shades of Hillary’s travails and the Kennedy curse. 
     Now Michelle has the “big Mo”...
Find out more: 
Momentum II highlights (and a casting call) 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Burlington Beat: Countdown to Town Meeting

Recent Stories from

Campaign Notebook: 
Kurt Wright's cross-party alliance takes shape
    Feb. 12: While Democrat Miro Weinberger added Gov. Peter Shumlin to his growing list of prominent Democratic endorsers in the race for Burlington mayor, Kurt Wright provided a deeper look at the unusual political alliance he is creating, and identified some players in a possible City Hall team. Continue reading

The City Council at work: from left, Joan Shannon, Kurt Wright (white shirt), Bill Keogh, Ed Adrian, Paul Decelles, Bram Kranichfeld, David Hartnett, Bob Kiss,
Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, and CCTV.

Sanders, Searles push transportation plan 
with $408 million for Vermont
    Feb. 14: A national transportation group report ranks Vermont's rural roads as the worst in the nation, and that's unlikely to change unless the U.S. Senate's version of a pending transportation bill prevails. If it doesn't, the state will have to cut $160 million from transportation spending over the next five years, Vermont Transportation Secretary Brian Searles said. Continue reading

More live TV coming to public access; 
Burlington Telecom to add new channel
    Feb. 16: Channel 17 has signed a new contract with Comcast Cable, and is stepping up its live coverage. Lauren-Glenn Davitian, executive director of the public access channel which serves Chittenden County, made the announcement in a report to the Burlington City Council. Continue reading

City Council grapples with student housing and UVM relations
    Feb. 16: The Burlington City Council took on nagging quality of life issues in the Queen City Monday night. Council members heard conflicting and sometimes angry reactions from Burlington residents and landlords to proposed new occupancy limits aimed at student housing. Ultimately, they rejected the ordinance change. But they passed a resolution with recommendations for a renewed agreement with the University of Vermont that covers housing and other town-gown relationships. Continue reading