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Back Track: 2003 in Review

Inside Track


Published December 29, 2003 at 5:00 p.m.

Are you ready? Strap on that seat belt and let's take a spin through the Vermont political year of 2003.

Without question, it was the Year of Howard Dean, during which the Vermont former governor's name became nearly as familiar across the nation as those of two other New York City-to-Vermont transplants who migrated north to make the world's best ice cream.

Of course, Dr. Dean wasn't the only hot story of 2003. Beyond the earth-shattering, we've also focused on the sublime, the ugly and the ridiculous.

January The New Year began with Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle cruising towards a March reelection with the endorsements of both the Progressive and Democrat parties. Mayor Moonie was out to become the "fusion" candidate.

Little did we know then that Clavelle would announce his run for governor in the fall. At the time, "Inside Track" uncovered a back-channel scheme launched by Clavelle's Republican nemesis Kurt Wright. Kwik Stop Kurt was trying to get a "real" Democrat to challenge Clavelle in the March election. Before it was over, we reported, even our favorite presidential hopeful got involved.

It was obvious to Kwik Stop Kurt that the only way to defeat Clavelle was to encourage a Democrat to run as an Independent, reasoning that Progressive Pete had unfairly swiped the Democratic endorsement from Democrat Andy Montroll.

Kwik Stop drew up a list of possible candidates. He told yours truly that Bill Keogh, a city councilor and state rep, as well as former city councilor Maurice Mahoney turned him down. But his third choice, Ward 1 City Councilor Ian Carleton did not.

"I'd noticed," said Wright, "that Ian had the spark to tussle with the mayor." Carleton's an attorney at Hoff Curtis. Holding up his thumb and forefinger so close they were almost touching, Wright said, "Ian was ready to go."

Wright told Carleton he would make sure there was no Republican candidate to split the vote. And he promised to work hard to get out the ABC (Anybody But Clavelle) vote in his home turf, the city's New North End.

Everything was proceeding according to plan when, suddenly, said Wright, Lord Carleton got cold feet.

Wright said that outgoing Democratic Gov. Howard Dean weighed in. Dean told Carleton to drop it. It would not be good for the Democratic Party and it would not be good for Carleton's career.

Carleton confirmed the scheme, but denied he was as close to running as Kwik Stop indicated. He told yours truly that in the days following Clavelle's victory at the December Democratic Caucus, many people, including Republicans and disgruntled Democrats, had urged him to run.

"There were so many moving parts to this," said Carleton, "and the moving parts were not coming together." He said he "was not going to go off half-cocked."

Carleton also noted he is the Chittenden County Democratic Chairman. "Obviously," he said, "I had to take my position in the party seriously."

But Carleton declined to say if Gov. Dean had discouraged him from running. One source told us that Dean had promised to personally line up the Burlington business community behind Clavelle if Carleton entered the race.

Nice of Ho-Ho to take the time, eh?

In January Dean opened a campaign headquarters on St. Paul Street above the Vermont Pub and Brewery. A couple of desks, a secondhand couch and six bedraggled staffers. He'd been able to raise just $157,000. The White House seemed a long way off.

February Howard Dean merged into the fast lane. All of a sudden, he was the guy everyone was talking about on the Sunday news programs.

On "Face the Nation," CBS' chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer and Time magazine columnist Joe Klein were mesmerized by Dean's rip-roaring speech to the Democratic National Committee.

What got their attention was the way Ho-Ho had stepped before the party faithful, accused party leaders of copying the Bush Republicans and declared, "I'm Howard Dean and I want to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

The audience went bananas! In fact, Dean got more standing ovations than all the other candidates combined.

Said Klein: "Howard Dean came in and he just blew those people away. It was one of the most effective speeches I've ever seen a candidate give."

Said Schieffer: "It is a long way from knowing who the Democrats' nominee will be. But if I were one of those other candidates, I'd start keeping an eye on Howard Dean."

Schieffer was right on the money, eh?

In Montpelier, Howard Dean's successor, Republican Jim Douglas, appeared to some to have overdosed on Viagra when he put the wood to the Mary Fanny's discredited board of untrustworthy trustees.

Just one week before yours truly had questioned whether Vermont's new Republican governor would jump into the Fletcher Allen fray and hold the trustees' feet to the fire. Douglas did precisely that. To say the least, a whole lot of people were stunned. Jim Douglas plays Douglas MacArthur?


In a display of more backbone than he's ever shown before, Gov. Rambo, er, Jimbo publicly called for the scalps of all of the well-heeled Mary Fanny trustees, who did nothing to prevent the biggest scandal in Vermont history. Three hours later, Board Chair Louise McCarren announced that all the Renaissance-tainted trustees, except her, had resigned.

What put the lead in Jim Douglas' pencil?

After all, everyone knows he'd pretty much washed his hands of the FAHC Renaissance scandal. Wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. Why the sudden change?

It's fundamentally a two-word answer: Bernie Sanders.Sources tell Seven Days that Mr. Douglas and his astute political advisors could read the writing on the wall. The possibility that Ol' Bernardo was going to turn his Fletcher Allen Task Force into a "Sanders for Governor" campaign in 2004 got their undivided attention.

Gov. Douglas continued to cover his left flank as the year progressed. He subsequently gave his blessing to two lawsuits against the Bush administration brought by Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

March Beware the Ides of March! The Bush War was about to start. America and Vermont hunkered down. But not our Howard Dean.

Something was happening. Dr. Dean was being discovered and he'd cornered the market on bold and intelligent criticism of the issues of the day in a speech at the California Democratic Conven-tion.

The Vermont candidate was heartily applauded by the Sacramento delegates, particularly for his antiwar statements. Meanwhile, John Kerry got heckled, and John Edwards drew a chorus of boos when he defended his support for President Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Dean called Kerry and Edwards "fine people." He said they'd "done a lot for the country," and he'd have no problem supporting either one as the Democratic standard-bearer in 2004.

But, continued Dean, "I don't think we can win the White House if we vote for the president's unilateral attack in Washington and then come to California and say we're against the war." Both Kerry and Edwards supported the so-called "blank check" Iraq resolution that sailed through Congress last fall.

That drew a standing ovation from the Californians. Dean fed off the enthusiasm of the 1200 delegates like a conquering hero. In fact, Ho-Ho was so pumped that, his voice cracking, he shouted out a few catchy new lines like, "I want my country back. We want our country back!" And "I don't want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore!"

In Vermont, more people were feeling the stress of war and what it does to obliterate one's hope for the future. Patient visits at the Howard Center were skyrocketing.

"What we have seen," said Susannah Chamberlin, "are people coming in with more depression and anxiety lately. It's just kind of hanging in the air."

In fact, so many people have been seeking help that Howard is offering two free workshops this week at Memorial Auditorium "to help people cope with the stresses of these difficult times."

April It was a dark month. Little talk of the new baseball season. People flew American flags out their car windows to show their team spirit. WCAX-TV showed its team spirit with a disturbing report about antiwar protesters throwing rocks at a female Vermont Guard soldier in central Vermont. "Inside Track" looked into it.

Ch. 3 reporter Brian Joyce told viewers, "The most disturbing complaint came last Friday, the day of this protest in Montpelier. A female sergeant claims she was confronted by teenagers outside a convenience store near Plainfield. Lt. Col. Scott Stirewalt described the incident.

"As she was walking to her car," said Stirewalt, "there were various profanities directed in her direction along the line of [profanity] murderer, [profanity] baby killer, and then it culminated when some of the individuals threw rocks at her and, as testament to her discipline and professionalism, she got in her car and left the area."

Threw rocks at a female Vermont National Guard soldier?

Hurry up, Ma, load the musket while I saddle the horse. These damn peaceniks have gone too far!

By Friday, the story of Vermont peace protesters stoning a soldier in uniform went national on Fox News.

At Sunday's Burlington demo in support of the president and the troops, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie told the crowd he'd received 25 angry emails from around the country since Fox broadcast their report.

One demonstrator carried a sign, "Peaceniks Stop Harassing VT Guard."

But the most disturbing part is that, one week after the allegations surfaced, they remain completely and totally unsubstantiated. The Vermont Guard has declined to present any evidence whatsoever that the rock-throwing, profanity-hurling or "spitting" ever really happened.

In fact, since WCAX's first report, the story has changed. By Friday the location of the "rock-throwing" changed from a convenience store near Plainfield to the Shaw's supermarket in downtown Montpelier. The teenagers were identified as students from Twinfield Union High School who were in Montpelier that day to attend an antiwar protest.

And on Monday, one of the students bravely stepped forward at a school assembly to confront Adjutant Gen. Martha Rainville.

Django Koenig, age 15, denied that any students ever cursed or threw stones at the "Guard lady" who passed by them as she left Shaw's.

Rainville later told a reporter she "stands by" her soldier. And she bristled that anyone would have the "unfortunate" attitude of questioning the veracity of the secret accuser.

However, since the WCAX story broke, the Guard has been in back-pedaling mode. Official spokesman Capt. Jeff Roosevelt has done his best to play down the rock-throwing story.

The alleged victim, he said, did not wish to be identified. She had not notified police. The Guard had chosen not to investigate the matter. It was an isolated incident. In fact, Roosevelt said, the rocks may have actually been small stones, even "pebbles." Let's drop it and move on. No big deal.

Roosevelt insisted that the Guard hadn't sought media attention. Stirewalt, he said, had merely emailed Guard members to alert them to the incident after the soldier reported it to him. Standard procedure. Ch. 3's Joyce had obtained a copy of the email and called the Guard for comment.

But many have raised questions about the propriety of Ch. 3 airing an unsubstantiated report. After all, the accuser would not come forward. The location was not identified. And the alleged perpetrators of the assault were not named, other than to say they were teenage peace protesters.

In a follow-up report a few days later, Joyce acknowledged those who questioned the story's veracity.

"There's a problem," Joyce told Ch. 3 viewers. "The Sergeant who allegedly claims that she was harassed here in this parking lot won't come forward to file a complaint with the police, and she won't even identify herself. So the facts about what really happened here are in dispute."

At year's end, the Guard soldier who made the claim has given no evidence the incident occurred anywhere but in her own mind.

May Things were happening in Dean Land. Ho-Ho's antiwar stance had attracted the spotlight. His Inter-net operation was starting up and we profiled the newcomer to Burlington who by year's end was a household name.

Joe Trippi is no LSD guru, but he sure was feeling pretty high this week about the performance of his boss in the Democratic presidential candidates' debate in Columbia, South Carolina.

Trippi's a fortysomething political junkie-consultant-spinmeister who started in the game while a teenager growing up in San Jose, California. Joe went to bat for a black woman running for city council against a powerful incumbent. No one thought she had a chance -- no one except Joe Trippi, that is.

Guess who won?

Trippi was hooked. In the 1980s he was one of the Young Turks in the fast lane of the Democratic Party political machine. Twenty years ago, he guided Walter "Fritz" Mondale to victory in the vaunted Iowa caucuses. Today he's one of the nation's hot political consultants, and his wagon is securely hitched to Howard Dean's star.

Trippi told Seven Days this week he prefers longshots -- "the races that don't have a snowball's chance in hell."

That means he's perfectly positioned, eh?

Mr. Trippi recently moved to Vermont from D.C. to oversee operations at Dean Headquarters -- a ridiculously cramped suite of offices at 95 St. Paul Street in downtown Burlington.

There on the fourth floor, with a view of the brick façade across the street, Trippi spends mornings, afternoons and evenings chugging Diet Pepsi, with a telephone stuck in his ear. He's currently filling the role of chief spokesman for the campaign, too. The phone never stops ringing, as reporters far and wide line up to cover the new kid on the block in the 2004 presidential race.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist," said Trippi, to recognize the benefit that Saturday's national exposure brought to Howard Dean. In fact, said the Trippster, every time Ho-Ho appears on national TV he gets a big bump in popularity. And the bump appears online as the curious sign up by the thousands for Dean "meetups" all around the country. Check out:

No candidate has ever tapped the Internet the way Howard Dean has. It's one of the skills that Trippi, a Silicon Valley brat with a technology background, brings to the doctor's table.

The second skill Trippi offers is his wealth of knowledge about Iowa. He knows the Hawkeye State, site of the first Democratic showdown, like the back of his hand. And he fully intends to do for Dean what he did for Mondale. That explains why Ho-Ho's spent more time in Iowa in the last year than in Vermont.

Trippi was delighted with Dean's TV debate performance, but he was a little perturbed that most of the press continues to miss the big story. And that story, he said, is that U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the frontrunner, has adopted a clear strategy of taking down Howard Dean!

How time flies!

At year's end, Kerry's campaign is in shambles and Ho-Ho holds a 30-point lead in New Hampshire.

This Joe Trippi dude knows what he's doing, eh?

June It was a big Dean month. The national press was starting to notice the Vermont candidate who had what the Boston Globe called "fire-breathing campaign rhetoric."

Just to make sure, Paul Dean, son of Howard, and a few of his hockey-playing buddies got caught ripping off the outdoor cooler at the Burlington Country Club. It was a reminder that 16-year-olds will do almost anything for a beer.

Instead of hurting Dean, the beer bust actually helped him. In a country that knew little of him, the story of a wayward teenage son struck a universal chord among parents coast to coast.

June 23 was a perfect day weatherwise. Blue sky, a light breeze off the lake. Perfect for someone who wanted to officially kick off his campaign for president. Son Paul did not join sister Ann and mother Judy on the platform erected at Church and Bank streets that day, but Ho-Ho went ahead with the greatest speech he ever gave to date.

While we left it to the Washing-ton Post, CNN, BBC, Fox News and all the rest to cover the speech, yours truly covered the crowd.

At least three uninvited local wingnuts did their best to rain on Gov. Howard Dean's parade Monday, but only one made national news.

That was the dude with the gigantic 8-by-8-foot placard, raised high on the Church Street block behind Ho-Ho's podium. It heralded Ralph Nader and the Green Party. Dean supporters quickly rigged their own signs and hoisted them in an attempt to block out Sign Man from the TV cameras, but the damage was done.

The sign incident became all the rage for the chattering inside-the-Beltway class Tuesday morning. In fact, one reader informed us the incident made the David Letterman show Monday night.

In addition, it sparked outrage among Deanocrats. They're more than a little ticked off at Mr. Nader and his Green Party for a demonstration of colossal rudeness at best, dirty tricks at worst.

From Burlington to Washington, folks started to think the impossible just might be possible. Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift put it best: "Democratic officeholders have a fear of the unknown, and when they look at Dean, they see an angry liberal who will send them into the wilderness for another 25 years. Savior or spoiler, Dean has gone from a second-tier candidate to the man to beat."

Good instincts, Eleanor.

July As everyone knows, the largest daily newspaper in Vermont -- The Burlington Free Press -- is one of 100 dailies in Gannett's media empire. Strange paper. The top editors are always from somewhere else. Most of the reporters, too.

You'll remember that a few years ago during the brouhaha over same-sex marriage, the Freeps never published one editorial on civil unions. Hello? It was only the biggest issue in the state.

Praise the Lord and pass the censorship!

Suddenly this summer, however, the Freeps went on an editorial crusade!

The target of the paper's editorial outrage was the city's long-planned move to turn a crumbling warehouse on Battery Street into a multi-modal transportation center. Apparently, in the view of the Freeps, the commies had gone too far!

So why did a newspaper that never wrote one editorial on civil unions in 2000, nor on the nurses' union drive, nor on the current brouhaha over the Circumferential Highway suddenly weigh in so heavily on the waterfront bus depot?

Blame Canada, folks. It's the only explanation that makes any sense.

You see, the five anti-bus-station editorials were the work of someone few people in Burlington have ever heard of. Susan Reid joined The Burlington Free Press about two years ago. One year ago, Ms. Reid transferred from the copy desk to the position of editorial writer. She works under the guy from Kansas, editorial-page editor David Awbrey. The bus-station project has been her passion.

You see, prior to coming to Burlap, Ms. Reid was a city hall reporter and copy editor at the distinguished Toronto Star in Ontario, Canada.

Ms. Reid told Seven Days that waterfronts are special to her. She well remembers the one she left behind on the shore of Lake Ontario in downtown Toronto.

"I came from a city," said Reid, "where the waterfront is all built up and there is little public access."

Susan told yours truly that she and her husband, Bill Anderson, the Freeps' weekend editor, "fell in love with Vermont a long time ago." When the couple saw "an opportunity here," she said, "we went for it."

And the last thing Susan Reid will allow in her adopted home is for the Burlington waterfront to turn into a copy of the congested Toronto waterfront. We're saved! No Toronto here!

On the presidential campaign front, Ho-Ho crossed the credibility threshhold. His opponents and the press started digging for dirt. In fact, there were so many untruths flying around we wrote a column called "Howard Dean Is Not a Woman!" just to set the record straight. Hee-hee.

Recently Fox News, the Bush Campaign's unofficial TV network, featured two anti-Dean Vermonters.

One was the Green Mountain State's #1 sore loser. The other, a GOP state rep whose career blossomed as a result of the 2000 civil-unions backlash.

Ruth Dwyer got trounced by Dean in 1998 and 2000. She then drifted into a TV job with WVNY, the state's least-watched news operation.

Mrs. Dwyer told Fox News, "Personally, I think [Dean] will self-destruct at some point. When push comes to shove, and he's under pressure, he won't make it -- he never could."

Amazing how some people will project their greatest shortcomings on their enemies. Because, when push came to shove, GOP hopeful Dwyer is the one who self-destructed. The two-time loser from Thetford is an example of a politician who couldn't make it "under pressure." Remember when Bernie Rome, the guy who lost the GOP primary to Ruthless in 1998, said Dwyer attributed Dean's success to a Jewish connection between Ho-Ho and the Vermont media?

She denied it, but it sure sounded like a classic Ruth Dwyer tongue spasm.

The other Vermont critic tapped by Fox was Dwyer acolyte Rep. Frank Mazur of South Burling-ton. Dwyer may have gone down in flames in 2000 with just 38 percent of the vote, but the GOP won a majority in the House by playing the gay-bashing card. Mazur's star rose. He's gone from backbencher to chairman of the House Transporta-tion Committee.

Cranky Franky told Fox News that Ho-Ho "has a very short temper. He gets rattled easily, and when he gets rattled he says dumb things."

At the Statehouse, Mazur is recognized as something of an expert when it comes to "dumb things." In January, Frank distinguished himself by introducing a bill that would require poor people on state assistance to undergo drug testing in order to get their benefits. A true compassionate conservative, eh?

August The Dean star continued to rise. Many national pundits who once dismissed Ho-Ho as having no chance were reconsidering. But not in Boston. To the Boston media there is only one god and his name is John Kerry.

Incredibly, the headline on the Boston Herald story was "Poll: Kerry has the edge." Beneath it ran a photo of Kerry riding a Harley at an Iowa rally. The lead was "Howard Dean still can't convince New Hampshire voters he can beat President Bush." That was based on one question showing that voters gave Kerry a better chance of beating Bush.

One had to jump all the way down to the ninth paragraph of the Herald story to glean the real news. Howard Dean won the poll! Ho-Ho defeated Boston's hometown favorite 28 percent to 25 percent. Sources say other recent private polling backs up Dean's surge to the top in the Granite State.

Folks, if the Big Stiff with the Ketchup-Heiress Wife can't hold New Hampshire, he's finished.

September Despite the increasing national media focus on Howard Dean and Vermont, one of the state's three TV stations canned the news.

The lights are out in the Ch. 22 news department. WVNY-TV pulled the plug last week. After giving it the old college try for four years, and pumping a lot of money into the effort, our local ABC affiliate's TV news just wasn't selling. No matter how hard they tried, Ch. 22 couldn't get more than a 2 percent share in the Nielsen ratings.

What's the lesson here, folks?

Maybe it's that the way to beat Ch. 3 (CBS) and Ch. 5 (NBC) is not to be Ch. 3-Lite or Ch. 5-lite, but rather to be something completely different.

Ch. 22 produced a newscast that was a cookie-cutter version of what local news is around the country. It could have been Topeka or Toledo or Ft. Myers, Florida -- only the local place names were different.

The only local talent Ch. 22 put on air was two-time right-wing Republican gubernatorial loser Ruth Dwyer as an "investigative reporter."

Give me a break.

On the judicial front, the name of the late, great Judge Frank Mahady popped into the news from a most unexpected source: Jimmy D's first appointee to the Vermont Supreme Court. Paul Reiber was asked to name his judicial hero.

When the Rutland lawyer gave his answer, we thought Gov. Douglas would need smelling salts.

"Of all time?" Reiber responded with a chuckle. "I'll tell you," he said, "Frank Mahady was one of the greatest guys I ever met. He's the first name that comes to mind."

The late Frank Mahady is remembered by many for two very courageous and controversial moves.

In 1984 he overruled another judge and threw out the search warrants in the state raid on the Island Pond Church. Mahady called Gov. Richard Snelling's state police roundup of church children an "illegal kidnapping."

That same year, the chain-smoking jurist with the long hair allowed the protesters in the Winooski 44 trial to use the "necessity defense." The demonstrators had staged a sit-in in U.S. Sen. Robert Stafford's office to protest U.S. support for the right-wing Nicaraguan Contras.

This Reiber fellow has good taste in heroes, eh?

Nice pick, Jimmy D!

October Life goes on, but Vermont life will go on without an old dairy farmer the state fell in love with.

The oddest thing about Fred Tuttle passing away last weekend was that, even in dying, the Tunbridge farmer-actor made a lot of people feel good inside. Fred was 84. He was out digging potatoes on Saturday, the day his heart finally gave out on him.

Usually there's sadness in death. But Fred's dying was different because it caused so many to remember the man, the character, the curmudgeon on crutches, who made it to the Jay Leno show way before Howard Dean did. Time magazine took Fred's story national in 1998. This week, The New York Times ran a long and admiring obituary.

As the one-of-a-kind star of John O'Brien's film Man With a Plan, Fred brought laughter to many people who've never been to the Green Mountains. The film was true to Fred and the lives of the oldest generation among us. The life of milking cows on hardscrabble hillside farms; the life of dirt roads and wild strawberries; the life with the "you can't get there from here" world view.

Fred's run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1998 started as a publicity stunt but ended up with a message -- Vermont is not for sale!

The Man With a Plan's candidacy upset the plan of another man, an unknown, untested Massachusetts multimillionaire who'd never before voted in Vermont. Jack McMullen shelled out almost $300,000 of his own money on the race.

Fred coughed up just $13 for one tiny print advertisement that ran in Seven Days next to this column.

Fred won.

Talk about a feel-good election, eh? Never has money in politics been rendered so impotent.

John the Tunbridge filmmaker and sheep farmer had a particularly poignant message on his answering machine Tuesday. Mr. O'Brien quoted Winston Churchill: "I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is ready for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter."

We trust that wherever Fred Tuttle is today, the rest of us will someday, somehow, be able to get there from here.

November The national media attention on Vermont kept increasing. Their quest was to find the real Howard Dean.

More and more, papers across the country are digging into the real Dean. You know, the tightfisted Republican, er, Democrat governor who put Vermont's financial house in order.

Sunday's San Diego Tribune had a cute piece entitled "Vermonters Puzzled by Dean's Liberal Image." The flatlanders are starting to catch on.

"He sure wasn't a liberal," said State Rep. Ann Seibert (D-Norwich). "I'm a liberal. I fought him on a yearly basis."

And great fights they were, too.

Republican State Sen. Bill Doyle told the California daily he saw Ho-Ho as "a reasonably conservative Democrat."

And former Progressive State Rep. Terry Bouricius put the kibosh on the notion that Dean championed equal rights for gay couples.

Mr. Bouricius told the San Diego paper the issue of same-sex marriage was "something that was thrust upon him. I think he took the most conservative approach."

You know what?

They're all right!

For those of us in Vermont who know him so well, it's a delight to watch the press in the other 49 states get hip to the real Howard Dean.

The only question is, will the millions who flock to the banner of America's newest political messiah keep the faith when they realize their god is made of more conservative clay?

The one story that appeared in "Inside Track" and nowhere else had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the new front in the War on Drugs. We were contacted by a mom whose seventh-grader was dragged into the principal's office at the Colchester Middle School, interrogated, and then put in a private room where he was searched by the school nurse. No drugs were found. We spoke with the kid.

The assistant principal, he said, also told him he ought to stop wearing those baggy clothes. "Ms. Gockley always tells us how it's not a ghetto school and stuff. She told us like to change how we dress."

In fact, when his mother later called Gockley, she was told she should change the way her son dressed because "when drugs were found they were often on kids with the baggy-style clothes."

When she asked what "reasonable suspicion" they had to search her son, "Rosie" said she was told the boy had been seen with another child who looked to be under the influence of drugs. It turned out, said Rosie, that kid was on prescription drugs for an ear problem.

"I feel he was violated," said Rosie. "It's not right to do that to a 12-year-old, especially when he wants his mother. I'd be scared if I was 12."

Welcome to Middle School in Vermont, folks, the new front line in the totally failed War on Drugs. And you thought kids had constitutional rights? Civil liberties? Think again.

One veteran criminal lawyer put it this way. "In America today there are three places where you have no rights," he said: "One is at the border. One is in prison. And the other one is in school."

December Well, December isn't over yet, but we bet that in the annals of presidential politics this month will be remembered in Vermont for two little words: Al Gore.

The candidate who got the most votes in the 2000 presidential election stunned the political world by coming out for Howard Dean of Vermont.

Merry Christmas, Ho-Ho!