Those of you who think freedom of the press is alive and well in the Green Mountains, think again. The Burlington Free Press just sacked its best op-ed columnist in living memory -- former foreign correspondent Barrie Dunsmore of Charlotte.
For 30 years Dunsmore covered the world's hottest hot spots for ABC News. From crossing the Nile with the Israeli Army to covering the liberation of Saigon by the Vietnamese communists, Barrie Dunsmore has been there, done that. On the night the Berlin Wall started coming down, Dunsmore was in our living rooms, live on "Nightline." His was the trademark crisp voice that made us sit up and pay attention to the Big Bad World.
A few years ago, Dunsmore called it quits and moved to Vermont with the new wife he found in London and a young daughter. He did weekly commentaries on ABC22-TV until the station regrettably bagged its entire news operation. Barrie currently does commentaries on VPR and since last September, he's written op-ed columns in The Burlington Free Press.
Dunsmore's final Burlington Free Press column provided a brilliant analysis of the disastrous impact of religious fundamentalism at home and abroad. This from a guy who's seen thousands of dead bodies piled high in the name of somebody's Almighty God. Dunsmore took particular note of the recent success of Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ.
"What the success of this movie underscores," wrote Barrie, "is the growing power in this country of the fundamentalists, without whose support George W. Bush would not have been elected president. And whether it is the appointment of federal judges who oppose abortion, the limitations on stem-cell research, the proposed constitutional amendment against gay marriage, or unquestioned support for Israel, Mr. Bush's White House goes out of its way to pursue and promote the fundamentalist agenda."
Dunsmore cited the impact of the Christian Right on America's pro-Israel Middle East policy. According to New Testament prophecies, the Jews must be in control of the Promised Land for the Second Coming of Christ to occur.
"One does not have to be a bigot or an atheist to be concerned about the extent to which fundamentalism is shaping events in the world these days, whether it's the Islamic, Jewish or the Christian variety.
"I find it ironic that just when modern science is opening up some of the secrets of the universe, our little planet's political agenda is being driven by people who believe God made that universe in a week, about five thousand years ago."
Good line, eh?
A few days ago, Dunsmore received the following email from David Awbrey, the editorial page editor of The Burlington Free Press. (Yes, the same guy who accepted the free UVM basketball tickets.)
"Barrie, I deeply regret this, but Free Press publisher Jim Carey has taken a dislike to your column and doesn't want us to run it anymore. He has been vague on the reasons and my appeal that he change his mind has been for naught. He is the boss, however, and I must accede to his wishes. Therefore, we must drop your column, even though it was very well received by readers and was a great asset to our Sunday pages. Again, I deeply regret this decision, but I have no other choice."
We tried to contact the Freeps' publisher Jim Carey. But as usual, the local Gannett Co. publisher declined to return our call. We did reach Mr. Awbrey, who verified the email to Dunsmore, but declined comment. Awbrey may well be on the hot seat now. His crime: He told Dunsmore the truth and nothing but the truth about why he was getting the editorial axe by Vermont's largest daily.
As readers know, this isn't the first time the top guy at the local Gannett chain paper has worn his religious beliefs on his newspaper's sleeve. Carey's company car carries the bumper sticker "No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace."
In 2000, during the historic legislative debate over same-sex marriage, Carey's brand of religious censorship meant The Burlington Free Press ignored civil unions on the editorial page.
Apparently, when God talks around Burlington, Publisher Carey is listening.
Car Talk -- It's more than just a popular show on VPR -- it's also a hot issue in the gubernatorial campaign.
Vermont Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett sat in on Mayor Peter Clavelle's Statehouse press conference on outsourcing. Mad Dog was in full-court-press mode. He even trailed Mayor Moonie and snapped a picture of Clavelle departing Montpeculiar in his "Japanese" car. Then Mad Dog emailed copies to the press.
Chairman Barnett's point was that Peter Clavelle has to be an unpatriotic hypocrite if he opposes outsourcing American jobs while piloting a Toyota Siena.
Mayor Moonie's Toyota, however, came off a Georgetown, Kentucky, assembly line. But it's still "Japanese," said Barnett.
Asked about it at his weekly press conference the following day, Gov. Douglas brushed it off, saying it was Barnett's thing, not his.
Barnett got his training in Washington, D.C. Republican circles. It shows. There's more than a wee bit of Dubya's guru Karl Rove in the spunky 28-year-old Vermonter. And he brings with him a Rovian taste for the venomous politics practiced in Foggy Bottom.
"I think it's time for the governor to call off the attack dogs," said Mayor Moonie. "This is not the kind of campaign Vermonters are accustomed to. If the governor has an issue with me on policy, let's have that debate. But let's put an end to this nonsense of hiding behind Barnett. It's 'Bush League' politics coming to Vermont."
"The role of the party chairman," replied Barnett, "is to defend his candidate when he comes under negative and misleading attacks."
Not sure how Clavelle proposing a ban on outsourcing in state contracts amounts to "a negative and misleading attack," but that's how Mad Dog sees it.
As for knocking owners of Japanese-brand cars, Barnett ought to talk to the folks down at Heritage Toyota.
"Most Toyotas are built in the U.S.," said Sales Manager Greg Medlar. "If [Barnett] looked at his tax base," said Medlar, "he'd see how much revenue Toyota dealers and those of other Japanese automakers contribute, besides creating millions of jobs in the U.S."
The other curious thing about Mr. Barnett's passionate mudslinging on Gov. Scissorhands' behalf is the fact that just a couple months ago Mad Dog was boasting about Douglas' alleged 30-point lead over his Democratic challenger. (Last week we reported that a more recent Sanders for Congress poll showed Douglas with just a 3-point advantage.)
As he shadowed Clavelle last Wednesday, photographed his car and dished his Karl Rovian dirt, the Republican chairman sure wasn't acting like a guy sitting on a 30-point cushion.
"We take nothing for granted," said Mad Dog.
Grrrr. Ruff! Ruff!
Campaign 2004 -- Republican Gov. Jim Douglas downplays all talk of the gubernatorial campaign, suggesting his focus is on the legislature. But Jimmy Scissorhands' public appearance schedule indicates otherwise. And Douglas has been quite active on the fundraising front, raising some questions in the process.
Seven Days has learned of two "Douglas for Governor" fundraisers sponsored by registered Statehouse business lobbyists. That's raised a red flag, since state law prohibits lawmakers or state officials from soliciting political campaign contributions until after the legislature adjourns.
Title 2 states: "It is prohibited conduct when the general assembly is in session, until adjournment sine die, for a legislator or administrative official to solicit a political campaign contribution from a registered lobbyist or registered employer or for a registered lobbyist or registered employer to make or promise a political campaign contribution to any member of the general assembly or any member's campaign committee."
One fundraiser, held a couple weeks ago in St. Albans, was hosted by Frank Cioffi, president of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation. Frank, a Howard Dean Democrat who disagrees with Ho-Ho's choice for governor, told Seven Days about 130 folks attended at $25 per ticket. Gov. Douglas was on hand, too.
The second fundraiser is scheduled for this week at the Inn at Montpelier. Lobbyist Bea Grouse, president of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, is the co-host along with Rutland Hospital President Thomas Huebner.
According to the invitation, "$250 contribution suggested, payable to 'Douglas for Governor.'"
Asked about the legality of the lobbyist-sponsored fundraisers, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz told Seven Days, "On its face, it looks like a violation."
Markowitz referred us to the Vermont Attorney General's Office for further inquiry, since it's the AG's office that enforces the campaign-finance law.
But Assistant AG Mike McShane was not in a chatty mood. We asked for a ruling, but McShane politely declined. He pointed out that should someone file a written complaint, anything he said now could be used against him later.
Lobbyist Grause told Seven Days it was perfectly legit. Queen Bea said the VAHHS legal counsel checked it out and "gave us the green light."
Lobbyist Steve Kimbell, who represents the hospitals' association among others, said the Douglas fundraisers are not only legal but similar ones have been held in the past. Kimbell said the way the statute's worded, "There's a loophole the legislature hasn't closed."
Kimbell pointed out that information on the Secretary of State's own website "contradicts" Markowitz' view that the fundraisers "look like a violation."
On the site, it plainly states that "Administrative officials cannot solicit gifts while the legislature is in session, but can accept unsolicited contributions."
Douglas is not soliciting the money, said Kimbell. Bea Grause is soliciting the money for him.
Stay tuned, eh?
The other question is why would the VAHHS take such a partisan political stand by backing the Republican candidate so early?
Grause explained that despite the fact she's soliciting money for Douglas, "We are not endorsing him."
Okay. If you say so, Queen Bea.
Asked if VAHHS might also sponsor a $250-a-head fundraiser for Democrat Peter Clavelle, Grause said she hadn't been "asked by Clavelle to support him."
Circ Update -- Last Wednesday, Gov. Douglas tried to upstage his Democratic rival by hastily scheduling a Statehouse press conference one hour before Mayor Clavelle's. The notice went out at 10:40 p.m. the night before, whereas Clavelle's event had been scheduled for two days.
Gov. Douglas dragged out Buildings Commissioner Tom Torti and his dozen charts to hype his bold plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from state government facilities.
Asked how his anti-greenhouse gas words match up with his crusade to build the controversial Circumferential Highway, Douglas once again praised the Circ's potential benefits to the economy and assured everyone it will overcome the pending environmental challenge in federal court.
The Gov was asked if construction of the Circ will, in his view, increase greenhouse-gas emissions or decrease them?
"I don't know," replied Gov. Douglas.
It was a display of naked honesty by Gov. Douglas. It was also stunning evidence that the government has not been playing by the rules on the Circ.
One of the main purposes of the National Environmental Policy Act, the nation's landmark environmental law passed over 30 years ago, was to ensure that policy makers and political leaders like Vermont's governor absolutely do know in advance the consequences of their grand schemes.
Under NEPA, environmental impacts of major projects like the Circ Highway are supposed to be fleshed out before the project's built, instead of after, when the damage is done.
According to court documents, no study or assessment of the Circ's impact on greenhouse-gas emissions has been conducted.
The governor, you'd think, would be making damn sure the Circ isn't going result in more greenhouse-gas emissions in Chittenden County.
"I don't know," is not the right answer.
President Sanders!!! -- Has a nice ring, doesn't it? But we're not talking about Vermont's firebrand congressman. We're referring to his better half, wife and partner Jane Sanders.
Lady Jane was appointed president of Burlington College this week. The petite institution of higher learning located at the intersection of North Avenue and North Street doesn't offer students an opportunity to play NCAA basketball, baseball or ice hockey, but with President Jane Sanders at the helm all that could change!
Burlington College is a gritty, no-frills kind of place. Started back in 1972 as the Vermont Institute for Community Involve-ment, Burlington College has its niche. If you want to study film, or transpersonal psychology, for example, it's the school for you.
Lady Jane's track record indicates she has the skills to make Burling-ton College grow and improve. Following the Sanderista Revolution of 1981, Jane Driscoll started the Mayor's Youth Office and later married the mayor. Like Bernie, Jane grew up in Brooklyn. He came out of a Jewish neighborhood. She is the product of an Irish one.
Talk about a dynamic duo, eh?
Lady Jane has recently been Ol' Bernardo's talented media buyer during campaign season.
A few years ago, Jane was appointed the interim president at struggling Goddard College in Plainfield. She led the effort to put her alma mater back on solid financial footing and started two new graduate-degree programs.
Burlington College did a big national search to find the right person to be its president. Sometimes the best apples fall closest to the tree, eh?
P.S. Ol' Bernardo wasn't there Tuesday to share the spotlight with the new college president because he was in California crusading against the Big Drug companies and raising a little campaign cash.