The extraordinary thing about Monday's anti-war protest in Burlington City Hall Park was that it was not organized by "the usual suspects." Not the Burlington Anti-War Coalition, nor the Peace and Justice Center. Not one Progressive politician was involved. There were no drummers from Sambatucada. No Bread-and-Puppet-style figurines.
Instead, the rally was organized by a 47-year old Shelburne businessman without a political track record. Derrick Senior followed an impulse to buy a bus ticket and attend the recent anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. The experience radicalized him. "I found a new courage," he said.
What Senior did next was form a group called Patriots for Peace. He put it on the Web last week at www.patriotsforpeace.org. On Monday, 126 people showed up in the park to hold red, white and blue Patriots for Peace posters. Mr. Senior asked everyone to take two posters and pass them on. It's a way, he explained, "to spread peace visibly."
Folks, it doesn't get any more grassroots than this.
Derrick Senior and his brother have been happily running a successful South Burlington business that supplies videos and coffee products to hundreds of convenience stores across the Northeast. He's never been a political activist. But the madness of President George W. Bush's march to a needless war has rocked his comfortable little world. All Mr. Senior is saying is give peace a chance.
He ain't alone.
P.S. Regarding Dubya's successful policy of deception discussed here last week, we couldn't help but notice that President George W. Bush mentioned Saddam Hussein, the completely surrounded and contained leader of Iraq, 18 times in his State of the Union speech last week.
But Mr. Bush never once mentioned the most dangerous man alive, the perpetrator of September 11, Osama bin Laden. Perhaps someone should remind Dubya?
Unionizing Tofu? -- Burlington's City Market is the latest target of local union organizers. That's right, the Queen City's sparkling granola and tofu palace, owned by the members of the Onion River Co-op.
Last week, we're told, more than half of City Market's 160 workers signed union cards. The organizer is Kimberly Lawson of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America. She did not respond to a message left at her Pine Street office Monday.
City Market General Manager Ned Flinn appears unfazed.
"If this is what our staff decides, we'll live with it," said Flinn.
Taj Mahal Update -- Just when you thought the massive health-care scandal up on Burlington's Hospital Hill couldn't possibly get any worse, another revelation pops out that makes you sick to your stomach.
This week it's a report commissioned by BISHCA, the state agency that oversees banking, insurance and health care. The report was done by a leading Seattle architectural firm.
Turns out the Renaissance Project will cost even more than Interim CEO Ed Colodny said it would in his blockbuster tell-it-like-it-is press conference last November. Mr. Clean stunned everyone by revealing that the price tag actually wasn't $173 million. Colodny delivered the bitter pill that much more had been concealed. It would really cost $326 million. Who pays?
We all do, in our skyrocketing health insurance bills.
Now BISHCA says the price tag on the biggest scandal in Vermont history is actually another $40 million higher than that. Good lord, it feels like an ulcer.
It's obvious that former CEO Bill Boettcher and his fan club, a.k.a. the board of trustees, decided Vermont desperately needed a medical Taj Mahal. They dreamed of an "academic medical center" that would rival the Mayo Clinic and attract zillions of research dollars and make everybody very rich.
Their $370 million Renaissance Project on Hospital Hill is one that would make Michelangelo blush. No expense was spared. None. The plushest fixtures, the thickest and best stone, the most luxurious landscaping. The BISHCA report indicates the Mary Fanny elite chose a gold-plated Gucci style for their Renaissance motif.
Hey, want a good laugh?
Last May before the scandal broke, the Rutland Herald ran a Boettcher interview. Business reporter Bruce Edwards asked Big Bill, "Are there things the hospital should have done differently?
"Well, first of all I wouldn't characterize anything that has transpired as a problem. I'm not sure specifically what you're referring to," replied Boettcher.
Tony Soprano couldn't have said it better. "Deny everything," was Billy Boettcher's policy.
Unfortunately, it appears to be the continuing steadfast policy of Chairwoman Louise McCarren and the board of distinguished trustees. This "elitist clique," as Congressman Bernie Sanders calls it, hasn't budged an inch when it comes to giving the public a seat at their Gucci table.
FAHC's gorilla of a $55 million underground parking garage will forever be the bunker reminding people of the Boet-tcher mentality. It's a mentality the trustees never once questioned and still don't as they continue to hunker down in their own bunker.
Stonewalled last week by McCarren and Colodny, Sanders' Fletcher Allen Task Force now turns its attention to the State-house and Gov. Jim Douglas.
"Our next move," said Sanders' press secretary Joel Barkin, "is to bring it to Montpelier and push the legislature and the governor to act."
Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield) has a bill in the House. Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) has one in the Senate. Donahue's 65-page bill calls for a major overhaul of health-care governance and regulation. Illuzzi's is just three pages. It requires that hospital boards appoint representatives of the public.
Vince the Prince describes his bill as an attempt to "burrow into the hierarchy." Even if they opened their board meetings, said Illuzzi, it wouldn't change anything. "You've got to have players in place on the inside," he said.
But so far, Diamond Jim Douglas appears reluctant to act. The Mary Fanny trustees are, after all, his kind of people. Folks like Ritchie Tarrant of IDX fame have been the Republican Party's financial gravy trains for years. Does anyone really expect Jim Douglas to make cleaning up Fletcher Allen a priority?
That's why a Sanders vs. Douglas showdown on Fletcher Allen may presage an even bigger showdown at the ballot box in the 2004 governor's race.
Tuesday's Burlington Free Press editorial hit the nail squarely on the head: "Like the millions of dollars it has squandered, the current [FAHC] board has tossed away its credibility and can never get it back."
Live by the bunker, die by the bunker.
Bush League Budget -- Amazing how great minds can think differently. Take the reaction from Vermont's four top elected officials to President George W. Bush's proposed 2004 federal budget.
Sen. Patrick Leahy: "The priorities in this budget are sharply out-of-kilter. The Administration continues to minimize funds for homeland security while maximizing tax cuts that are sharply tilted to the wealthiest. This budget is wrapped within a reckless fiscal policy."
Sen. Jim Jeffords: "I am afraid this budget does more harm than good. It is based on misguided priorities and as much sound reasoning as the weather forecasting abilities of Punxsutawney Phil."
Rep. Bernie Sanders: "This budget is bad for the economy, bad for Vermont, and bad for America."
The above statements were issued Monday afternoon. Gov. Jim Douglas' office, however, did not issue a statement. So we contacted Press Secretary Jason Gibbs Tuesday morning. Jason kindly forwarded the following:
"In the Governor's view, the President's budget is an excellent starting point for a dialogue on the nation's budget priorities.
"The Governor is pleased that the President's budget includes proposals that would make significant investments in important issues --including education, health care, prescription drug coverage for seniors, energy independence, environmental protection, homeland security, and the unemployed."
Amazing that Vermont's congressional delegation can't see the bright side that Diamond Jim sees.
Or is it amazing that Gov. Douglas cannot see what the entire Washington delegation does?
Douglas Rethinks Tax Cut -- Last week yours truly reported that one of the poster-child beneficiaries of Gov. Douglas' proposal to drop the statewide property tax on land in the current-use program is ex-Enron CFO Andrew Fastow. Though Diamond Jim painted it as a tax cut for hardworking dairy farmers, most of the land in current use is owned by folks who have at least 25 acres of woods.
Diamond Jim's spokesman tells Seven Days this week that his boss is rethinking the scheme. Stop the presses!
"The Governor," said Mr. Gibbs, "is open to the notion of means-testing individuals currently enrolled in the current-use program to determine eligibility for the tax exemption."
Actually, that's a pretty radical notion for a Republican to entertain. Let's hope the White House doesn't get wind of this.
DeanWatch 2004 -- Since his appointment as Howard Dean's campaign manager, Rick Ridder tells Seven Days he's received over 600 resumes from eager job applicants. But in the last month, he says, "The big dogs are calling in and saying, 'I want to be part of it.'"
The shuttle disaster bumped Ho-Ho from NBC's "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert Sunday. It would have been his second visit. It's said that the first time on the show, you're a guest. The second time, you're prey. Just as well. He'll be rescheduled.
Dubie's New Position -- Anyone who's watched Repub-lican Jim Douglas' weekly press conferences has noticed the presence of an unusual new stage prop. It's the gentleman who silently stands over the governor's left shoulder, looking attentive.
No, it's not security. It's Republican Lite-Gov Brian Dubie. Never before have we seen a governor raise the visibility of a Lite-Gov in such a manner. Doobie-Doo has emerged to play Robin to Jim Douglas' Batman, at least for photo-op purposes. What's up?
According to Mr. Gibbs, "The Lt. Governor attends the Governor's press conferences to support the Governor and his initiatives. Characterizing him as a prop, or his attendance as purely part of an image, would be inaccurate."
"Their friendship," continued Mr. Gibbs, "is certainly a stark contrast to the stone-cold relationship of the previous Governor and Lieutenant Governor."
"This is a united administration and the Governor and Lieutenant Governor will work together on issues of common interest," declared Gibbs.
And the fact that Mr. Dubie won with just 41 percent of the vote has nothing to do with it, right?
We'd suggest Doobie-Doo's new assignment to stand in the camera shot at Diamond Jim's press conferences is all about the 2004 re-election campaign. It's all about making a powerless Lite-Gov look like an important player.
In 2004, the Democrats and Progressives will likely cut a deal to prevent a repeat of the Peter Shumlin/Anthony Pollina political suicide that got Dubie elected in the first place. In two races, Dubie's never cracked 42 percent. But he's going to have to break 50 percent in 2004 to hold his job.
If playing stage prop is what it takes, playing stage prop is what Doobie-Doo will gladly do.
Media Notes -- Wedding bells at WCAX-TV. Reporter Joan Ritchie recently became engaged to videographer Bryan Goodchild. Bryan popped the question during what Joanie describes as a "romantic getaway at the Trapp Family Lodge."
Not the first station romance. Anchor Sera Congi is married to videographer Joe Carroll. Something in the air at Ch. 3?