Saturday, March 31, 2012

Obama in Burlington: Video Highlights & Analysis

He didn’t have to say any more than “I’m here” to get a wild burst of applause upon taking the stage at Patrick Gymnasium Friday...

Addressing 5,000 people on the UVM campus in Burlington on a sunny Friday afternoon, Obama talked about how to rebuild the economy, attacked the opposition's "cramped, narrow conception of liberty," and previewed his pitch for re-election. And since it was Vermont, at one point he proposed using half the money currently being spent on war to reduce the debt, and the other half for "some nation building right here at home."
    As he reminded an excited crowd estimated at close to 5,000, the last president to visit Vermont was Bill Clinton in 1995. Since 1988 the state has consistently voted for the Democratic candidate for president, which takes it out of the swing state category and has made presidential visits a rare occurrence.
     Nevertheless, “We decided that today we are going to reset the clock,” Obama said. Moments later, as if to emphasize the change of mood, he removed his jacket. From then on he seemed to know he was on friendly ground and frequently showed it, at times leaning on the lecturn as he paused to stress a point or take in a reaction.
The president began with a plea. He had come to Vermont not just for help getting elected, Obama admitted, but “because the country needs your help.” Flattering as that was to those in the audience, most knew that the primary reason for the visit was to help raise money for Vermont Democrats. Most of those who heard him speak live paid between $44 and $250 for tickets.
     The event also served as a reminder of why Obama remains a compelling, effective candidate. His campaign rhetoric has shifted from the “one America” theme that brought him to national prominence in 2004, or the “change we can believe in” of 2008. But populist calls for fairness and cooperation were just as enthusiastically received in Vermont.
     Recalling the high hopes of the 2008 campaign, Obama talked about “a shared vision for America. It wasn’t a vision where everybody has to fend for themselves,” he said. This set the dynamic for his talk – enduring optimism about what people can do by working together, combined with a sharp critique -- and occasional ridicule -- directed at the GOP.
     He never mentioned Mitt Romney, or any Republican, by name. But his basic argument was that “this is not just the usual, run of the mill political debate. This is the defining issue of our time, a make or break moment for the middle class.”
     The line received a huge reaction, almost as large as one after mentioning the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “For the first time in history you don’t have to hide who you love in order to serve the country,” he said to sustained applause.
The Pitch for a Second Term
     The narrative Obama is developing for the fall campaign, regardless of what happens on “the other side,” is a choice between slow, steady change and going backward. Claiming four million new jobs and an accelerating recovery, he argues that “the last thing we can do is go back to the policies that got us in the mess.”
     Among the accomplishments mentioned in Burlington were equal pay for equal work legislation, rescuing the auto industry, raising future fuel efficiency standards, eliminating “taxpayer giveaways to the banks for processing student loans,” and health care reform.
     “Finally,” he stressed, “no one will go broke just because they get sick. Already 2.5 million young people have health insurance who didn’t have it before. Already millions of seniors are paying less for their prescription drugs because of this law. Already Americans can’t be denied coverage from their insurance companies when they need care the most. They’re getting preventive care they didn’t have before. That’s happening right now.”
     Obama also briefly mentioned foreign policy achievements, including the obligatory reference to the demise of Osama bin Laden. “Change is the fact that for the first time in nine years there are no Americans fighting in Iraq,” he declared. “We have focused our attention on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11.”
    But the main message was a warning about what he defined as the Republican agenda – Wall Street and insurance companies playing by their own rules, and “tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals in America – even if it means adding to the deficit, or gutting education or Medicare. Their philosophy is simple. You are on your own.”
     “That’s the cramped, narrow conception of liberty they have,” Obama said, “and they are wrong.”
     His contrasting vision revolves around responsibility, teamwork, and the expectation of a fair deal. “We are greater together than on our own,” Obama contends, exploiting a popular liberal platitude. “This country advances when we keep that basic American promise – that if you work hard you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, put a little away for retirement. And it doesn’t matter who you are and what you look like.”
     For those who worry that the president has some secret agenda for a second term, however, the speech also contained just enough to keep them busy for the rest of the campaign. 
     It wasn't just items like the proposal to end subsidizes for an “oil industry that has rarely been more profitable” and instead “double down on clean energy that has never been more promising.” Obama also proposed something more basic, taking “the money we were spending on war and use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest of it to start doing some nation building right here at home.” 
     Although an easily made but tough to deliver proposal, it nevertheless represented a rare presidential assertion that the balance between military and domestic spending should undergo a major change.
     Obama linked that to another change almost as difficult to achieve with a divided Congress – making sure “we’ve got a tax system that is actually fair.” Rather than blaming Republicans and the one percent, however, he flipped the argument by placing himself among the wealthy. “When someone like me gets a tax break, and that the country can’t afford, then one of two things are going to happen. Either it adds to our deficit, or we’re taking something away from somebody else.
      “Either folks like me start doing more, or somebody who can’t afford it is getting less," he said. "And that’s not right. That’s not who we are.”
     In response to the social issues debate among Republican candidates, Obama is talking more about values in this campaign. “Let me tell you about values,” he told the crowd at UVM. “Hard work, personal responsibility, those are values. Looking out for one another, that’s a value. ‘We’re all in this together,’ ‘I am my brother’s keeper,’ that’s a value.
     “The idea that we think about the next generation, and we’re taking care of our planet, that’s a value.” It was a direct challenge of the Republic Party’s long hegemony in this area of discourse.
     “Yes, we’re rugged individualists,” he admitted just before another quick pivot. What he called “you’re-on-your-own” economics” won’t work. “It’s been tried in our history and it doesn’t work.  It didn’t work when we tried it in the decade before the great depression, or in the last decade.”
    What opponents call class envy the president described as a spirit of common purpose. “Maybe it doesn’t exist in Washington,” he joked, “but out here in Vermont and all across America, it's there."
Wrapping Up
     Since both the speech and visit were basically outreach to his base Obama ended as he began – with a pitch-perfect combination of progressive inspiration, nuanced humility and quiet defiance.
     “It’s tempting to get discouraged,” he said, sounding almost like a preacher for a moment. “But I did say back in 2008 that real change, big change is hard, it takes time. It takes more than a single term and more than a single president.” That was another stump speech standard.
     “What it takes is ordinary citizens who are committed to keep fighting and keep pushing, inching us closer and closer to the country’s highest ideals,” he continued.
     Then something else he used to say back in 2008. “I’m not a perfect man. Michelle will tell you that,” he recalled. “And I’ll never be a perfect president. But I made a promise to you then, that I will always tell you what I believed, and always tell you where I stood, and I would wake up every single day fighting as hard as I know how for you. And I have kept that promise."
     He repeated that last line three times as the applause and shouting swelled. Then he added something else they were eager to hear. “I promise you change will come,” he shouted. “We will finish what we started in 2008.”

Thursday, March 29, 2012

PROGRESSIVE ECLIPSE: Burlington, Bernie, and...

...the Movement that changed Vermont
Burlington's historic 2012 mayoral race lasted six months. But in the end it took only half an hour after the polls closed to find out who won the most hotly contested race in decades.
     Meanwhile across Vermont about 50 communities -- including most of the state's largest  -- passed resolutions recommending a Constitutional Amendment to make sure that corporations don't continue to have First Amendment rights as people and money doesn't destroy democracy. The call passed by almost 80 percent in Burlington.
     "Vermont is helping to lead the nation on this important issue," said Bernie Sanders, the state's Independent US Senator, after the votes. "The resounding results will send a strong message that corporations and billionaires should not be allowed to buy candidates and elections with unlimited, undisclosed spending on political campaigns."
     The stakes felt as high as they had been three decades earlier...
Latest Chapter: Bidding Farewell
Previous chapter:Democrats Rising, Progressives in Eclipse
Election results, 3/7/12: Weinberger scores decisive win
Updates weekly at Keep in touch for the book release.
Buy Maverick Media books and products

     An eclipse occurs when an object is temporarily obscured. It comes from the Greek word for abandonment, downfall, or "the darkening of a heavenly body." These astronomical events often occur at times of syzygy – a straight line configuration of three celestial bodies like the Sun, Earth and Moon.
     In this case, one political entity -- the Democrat Party -- has expanded its local presence and power. Two others have become a bit obscured, partly due to external forces, but also due to decisions over the years. But eclipses are just phases in a continuing process. The sun, earth and moon keep moving along their unique paths, and so will Vermont’s diverse political parties.
                                                                                               LAST UPDATED 4/3/2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Last Words: Burlington Leaders Bid Farewell

During the final session of the Burlington City Council before a new administration begins, Progressive Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak reviewed local accomplishments, Republican Kurt Wright looked at his race for mayor and long career, and Mayor-Elect Miro Weinberger made a brief appearance.
News Analysis below 
Video Part One of Two

In the clip below Kurt Wright, who lost the recent race for Burlington mayor, continued his farewell talk at City Hall with a tribute to Board President Bill Keogh. Keogh discussed what has worked in Vermont's largest city, and retiring Mayor Bob Kiss offered some final reflections. Plus, a group photo.
Video Part Two of Two 

Shot and Edited by Greg Guma
News Analysis: 
Officials Bid Farewell before a New Team Takes Charge
By Greg Guma

3/28/12 -- The Burlington City Council split its attention between some lingering business -- downtown loitering and water flouridation* -- and a series of emotional farewells on Monday night during its final session before a new mayor, Miro Weinberger, and four new councilors are sworn into office next week.
      “I think we have something to be proud about,” said Mayor Bob Kiss, who offered a few final remarks just a week before the end of his two terms in office. Referring to Burlington Telecom, whose finances marred his last years in power, Kiss predicted ultimate success due to the potential value of a publicly-owned fiber optic system.
      “That is part of our economic future, so we can’t be faint-hearted as we push ahead,” Kiss advised. “Be careful, but don’t be afraid either. And we’re not afraid here in the city of Burlington.”
     The four departing members of the city council include Democrats David Berezniak and Board President Bill Keogh, as well as Progressive Emma-Mulvaney-Stanak and Republican Kurt Wright, who ran against Weinberger. The council newcomers include two Progressives, Rachel Seigel and Max Tracy, and two Democrats, Chip Mason and Bryan Aubin.
      The shift represents a one-seat gain for Progressives and a one seat loss for Republicans, with Democrats maintaining seven votes, just short of a majority.
      Two candidates, both women, will compete to replace Keogh as Council President when the legislative body reorganizes next Monday. Some Democrats are uniting behind Joan Shannon, who currently chairs the Ordinance Committee and has worked closely with Keogh, her colleague from Ward Five in the city’s heavily-Democratic south end.
      The other candidate is Ward 6 Independent Karen Paul, member of the powerful Board of Finance. As a result of the recent elections, the other four elected members of the Finance Board will have to be replaced.
      Both Shannon and Paul endorsed Weinberger, who emerged on March 6 as the decisive winner in a three-way-race with Wright and Independent Wanda Hines. It was Weinberger’s first run for any public office, but Wright’s third bid for mayor. He has said it will be his last.

Although Kurt Wright will continue to represent Burlington residents in the state legislature, he opted not to seek another term on the council. In farewell remarks, he looked back at what he described as a “grueling race” for the city’s top job and asked Weinberger, who was in the audience, to come forward for a public handshake.
      “I look forward to the next three years and watching that fresh start,” Wright said. Then he smiled, adding a light-hearted joke about his opponent’s campaign slogan. “I’m hearing that phrase in my sleep,” he said. “I keep saying nonpartisan (Wright’s catchphrase) but I keep hearing fresh start.”
      Although Wright acknowledged several points of agreement with his former rival, he also challenged Weinberger to make good on some campaign pledges. “I want to see the gateway entrance developed into Burlington, the midtown motel being torn down and development happening there,” Wright said.
      “I look forward to the decision on the Moran plant over the next 60 to 90 days. I look forward to 10 percent efficiencies occurring – that’s going to be a challenge, that’s about $4.5 million. And also solving the retirement system problem.”
Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, who has represented both Ward 2 and 3, reflected on her three years as a council member. The challenges created by BT made her colleagues more alert and activist,she concluded, “with eyes more wide open about the need to have this body just as informed about city finances and large decisions than ever before.”
     She specifically mentioned her own efforts on behalf of a livable wage for city employees, as well as bringing “working people’s issues forward and a real community-based approach, including trying to talk about labor standards on city projects.” Public-private partnerships on climate change and other issues will be a major topic going forward, she predicted.
     “Everything that we talk about has a global impact,” she added, “and everything global has a local impact.”
     Mulvaney-Stanak also urged councilors to consider all points of view, and to help new members, especially “the novices from the Old North End. And treat them well – or I’ll be back.” Whatever lies ahead, Wright insisted, she is likely to re-engage in local politics at some point.
Bill Keogh called the last few years quite stressful. “The Burlington Telecom issue presented a major challenge, a challenge that offered few tools to effectively deal with it,” he explained. Keogh nevertheless praised elected officials and city staff for an “unparalleled sense of cooperation.”
     He added, “Those of us who are leaving the council probably echo what many of us hear on the street: despite our shortcomings we have a strong sense of hope in the new council and new administration, and that the city will continue to be as great as it is.”
     Like Wright and Keogh, Mayor Bob Kiss struck an optimistic tone. “It’s nobody’s fault that we move slowly,” he said. “The process of government deserves attention and a slow process so that what you get at the end is something that we hoped for.”
     Countering a common assumption, he noted that partisanship does not always drive political decision making in Burlington. “When issues come up I’ve always looked for eight votes,” Kiss recalled, “and during the last six years I’ve never known where those eight votes are going to come from.
     “What is very true is that different groups of people came together to shape government and the results of government going forward. It’s not truly driven by party politics. It’s often driven by personal views, the debate, and how people participate in the democratic process. That really is the democratic process, and it is at work in the city of Burlington.”
     On April 2, Weinberger and new city council will attend Organization Day ceremonies, selecting board and committee leaders for the coming year. With backing from Democrats, Shannon enters the leadership race with an edge. But at least one Democrat, David Hartnett, who managed Wright’s campaign, often votes with Republicans. They and the three Progressives may prefer a council president who is not as closely aligned with the Democratic Party.
* for a more detailed report, visit

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Re-opening Wounds of Racism

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin has re-opened old wounds for many in Sanford, Florida's black community, and fueled an existing distrust of police. My son, Jesse Lloyd Guma, visited the community last week to produce this segment for The Grio. It aired Friday on MSNBC

     Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett attended a town hall meeting on Wednesday after traveling to Washington DC with a delegation. They urge the Justice Department to review the case, including why police failed to arrest the shooter, George Zimmerman. But the main source of mistrust, many residents said, is the department led by a man who wasn't there, Sanford police chief Bill Lee.
     Outside the town hall, a group of young men from a local church wore Skittles candy boxes around their necks to signal their fear that they could become victims of racial profiling, just like Trayvon. National NAACP president Ben Jealous said the fear of profiling, especially after the killing of Trayvon Martin, is not limited to Sanford.
     The Department of Justice and a Florida grand jury are investigating the police handling of Trayvon's death.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Vermont Yankee: Taking Back the Power

3/23 Update: More than 1,000 people turned up in Brattleboro on Thursday to march the 3.5 miles from the town common to Entergy’s offices at Vermont Yankee. Dozens trespassed on the company’s property and were arrested. Continue reading
Calling all citizens,

Defying the will of Vermonters, Entergy Nuclear has successfully won the first stage of its strategy to break its word and to usurp the authority of the Vermont legislature. 

In their negotiations to get permission to buy Vermont Yankee, corporate officials agreed to abide by future state statutes, and promised to forgo the right to sue the state over statutes that might be contrary to Entergy's interests. But they were lying, sued the state, and have won the first round in a federal court suit that reverses the state legislature's refusal to extend Vermont Yankee's operating license.

Judge J. Garvin Murtha effectively said that [contrary to prior Supreme Court rulings] the legislature has no authority to regulate the operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor. The Public Service Board is now the only state entity with the power to decide Yankee's future.

The judge also bought Entergy's argument that he should base his ruling not on the written legislation, but rather by retroactively reading the minds of the legislators to judge what they were thinking at the time.

This ruling goes hand in glove with current Federal policies that enrich the 1% and keep power firmly in the hands of large corporations. It affirms that corporate power and influence trump the interests of the citizenry. And it reinforces the notion that only the federal government can be trusted to keep us safe from radiological accidents caused by corporate malfeasance and profit-driven lax practices.

More significantly, the ruling should serve as the catalyst to spark Vermonters who have been watching the struggle from the sidelines to join the citizen effort to shut down VY before an accident shuts it down for us.

A majority of Vermonters know that Vermont Yankee has run its course and needs to be shut down, as originally licensed. Now is the time to turn to your neighbors.

With as few as five to ten friends, you can form an affinity group that takes non-violent training to help in the effort to shut down VY. You customize your affinity group to match the interests and willingness of its members, from pledging to engage in direct action/civil disobedience, to standing quietly on the sidewalk or organizing other actions. While a coalition of organizations IS working to coordinate these diverse efforts, don’t wait to engage in any way that seems appropriate to you.

Entergy has the judge's approval to continue operating past its March 21 close down date. But Vermont can (and may) appeal the decision, and the Public Service Board should be encouraged to deny a Certificate of Public Good.

But more important…

The region is mobilizing to descend upon Entergy's presence in southern Vermont and engage with a campaign of rallies, marches, direct action and political engagement to make it increasingly difficult for Entergy to conduct business as usual.


Civil disobedience and direct action will continue as needed. The State of Vermont will continue to assert its right to control the state’s energy generating future. But it needs the help of everyone. Only with a strong partnership of people power and government action can we assure victory over the entrenched interests of the money powered corporate oligarchy.

Starting now, every American who lives anywhere near an Entergy related establishment should know the truth about the company – and how they use their influence with the federal government (they brag about it on their website) to increase profits and deny the sovereign rights of communities and governments.

Together, we can take actions and create a narrative that resonates with people across the country and contributes to the growing political consciousness that the Occupy Movement has nurtured. Let’s keep up the momentum. The expiration date of Vermont Yankee’s license provides a sharp focus for the months ahead.

Contact for help organizing an affinity group and staying connected. Take back the power from federal overreach and take back Vermont from those who would put us all at risk for the sake of profit. The Arab Spring and the Occupy movement demonstrate the potential power of the people. When we stand by and watch, we often find ourselves in peril. When we assert our sovereign power we take the first step towards building a better future.

Never Violence, Only Victory.

The SAGE Alliance

Monday, March 12, 2012

Will Maverick Go to Netroots? You decide

Democracy for America and America's Voice are teaming up to provide financial scholarships to 40 bloggers and activists so they can attend this year's Netroots Nation conference, to be held June 7-10 in Providence, RI.  Netroots Nation provides bloggers, progressive activists and candidates a forum to strengthen the online community and grow progressive movements.
     If you think I should be there, please add your support to my scholarship application.

The scholarship winners will be decided over the course of three rounds. The first round runs through 11:59 PM PST on March 21. The three applicants with the most support from DFA Members and Netroots will automatically win a scholarship in each round. Others will be chosen by a selection committee.
     The competition is tough and I need your help. Please support my application in the Netroots Nation Scholarship Competition. Also, spread the word over the next two weeks through your social networks.  Here’s the link: Greg Guma’s NetrootsScholarship Page.
     Early votes are extra important, since they can help to build momentum. So, if you think I ought to be there, let them know. Sound like a plan? Thanks in advance. – GG aka Maverick Media

In case you wondered….

To apply, I answered a series of interesting questions. I don’t know if this qualifies as transparency, but here are most of my responses:

A little about me: Questioning illegitimate authority and assisting new social movements has been my privilege for decades. Since returning home to Burlington in 2010, I've been challenging the corporate media consensus through my blog (Maverick Media), reporting and investigations for, and articles on sites like Alternet, Truthout, Common Dreams, ZNet, and many more. 
      Starting out as a reporter in the late 60s, I launched several alternative publications in the 1970s, including as editor of The Vermont Vanguard Press, which set the stage for the election of Bernie Sanders and the launch of Vermont's modern progressive movement. In the 80s and 90s I was a syndicated columnist, launched community bookstores in Vermont and Santa Monica, coordinated Burlington's Peace and Justice Center and New Mexico's leading immigrant legal services organization. 
     Returning to Vermont, I edited Toward Freedom, a respected international affairs magazine, and supervised its digital transition. I also organized one of the first Indy Media conferences in 2000 and participated in the Quebec Mobilization against corporate globalization. In 2004 I co-founded Vermont Guardian, a print and online weekly. In 2006 I became Executive Director of Pacifica Radio, attempting to promote its national programming and internal reconciliation. 
      I'm the author of The People's Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution; Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization, and What We Can Do; Big Lies: How our corporate overlords, politicians and media establishment warp reality and undermine democracy; and the radio play, Inquisitions (and Other Un-American Activities). I currently work for, a Vermont news website, as its Burlington correspondent.

Why I deserve a scholarship: To begin, I am a 65-year old activist of long-standing living on a fixed income. Over the years, fighting centralized and entrenched power has required some sacrifices. In 1974, for example, I was blacklisted from public service for becoming a whistle blower on misuse of federal funds. Several years later, while teaching at a Vermont college, I was improperly fired for standing up for student rights and fair pay.
     But more relevant, I have decades of on-the ground organizing experience -- and have also kept pace with major technological innovations. From alternative publications, photography and community radio to documentary films, books, a CD on nonviolence, a radio drama on civil liberties that has been aired in more than 20 states -- I use many techniques and platforms to investigate, educate and create a counter-narrative of resistance and liberation.
     I continue to participate in the evolution of Vermont's progressive and independence movements, and write several widely-read stories weeklies on everything ranging from financial scandals, elections and education to Vermont's Yankee and significant historical events.
     Without a scholarship, my limited income and current commitments make hard for me to deal with transportation and housing. But I'd be excited to attend and exchange ideas.

What first inspired me to get involved: In a way it began in high school, defying arbitrary authority in a repressive parochial school. But being a reporter in the turbulent 60s revealed deep social injustices, and later work in government exposed the bankruptcy of the current social order. By the mid-70s I'd become a full-time organizer and media activist. By the end of the 80s the head of the local Republican Party called me a "serious professional revolutionary anarchist." I turned it into a campaign button.

How I’ve gotten others involved: I've been mentoring young writers and activists for more than 30 years, initially as editor of Vermont's leading alternative newspaper. Then, and later with Toward Freedom, I worked with hundreds of young reporters, in the US and later around the world, some of whom went on to do significant work. While in print TF stressed connections with writers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. I have also organized campaigns on civil liberties issues, local democracy, energy, militarization, corporate globalization, and the environment. Beyond that, I use my research and writing to challenge conventional thinking and motivate constructive action.

A Twitter manifesto? Bringing us together globally, new media challenge the management of mass perceptions and the knowledge monopoly of elites, fueling hope and direct action to make another world possible.

Bumper Sticker:  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Video Diary: Burlington's 40 Percent Question

Once upon a time voters in Vermont's largest city faced a difficult choice between the leader of an ad hoc coalition that crossed party lines and a Democrat with solid backing from the political establishment. That was 1981, and a political outsider named Bernie Sanders was the ultimate winner.
     In March 2012 it's happening again, and the election could be just as consequential.
     Here's a video summary of the race...

For a detailed analysis, go to Campaign Notebook.