Frustrated? Just because global warming seems to be escalating? And the Iraq war continues down the George W. Bush track funded by Congress — the Democratic Congress? And everyone’s supposed to just twiddle their thumbs until the votes are counted in the next presidential election, right?
Boredom, they say, can be deadly.
That’s why it was uplifting to catch the 14 antiwar activists ranging in age from 27 to 82, plus the 10-year-old child of one of them, paying a visit to the Main Street office of Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch on Monday afternoon.
Congressman Welch was in Washington. They’d hoped to speak to him via speakerphone but were informed politely and firmly that he would not be available.
Newbury vegetable farmer and former Marine Lt. Boots Wardinsky, 64, of Veterans for Peace said the contingent was there “because Peter Welch keeps saying, ‘There’s no one more against the war than I,’ meaning Peter, and yet he keeps voting for war funding bills right down the line.”
The most recent one, said Wardinsky, “had no strings attached” and “no timeline for troops out.” And so, he said, “We’re upset with that.”
Wardinsky had been with the group when it had protested the war at Welch’s office back in March. So had the late, great poet Grace Paley of Thetford, who passed away in September at age 84. Boots said they were also upset with Welch for voting for a resolution condemning the antiwar group MoveOn.org for its full-page New York Times ad attacking our top man in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. The ad said: “GENERAL PETRAEUS OR GENERAL BETRAY US?”
“He justifies that vote on the rationale that the Republicans introduced a bill and there was no way he could vote not to condemn [MoveOn.org], because it would be seen as not supporting the troops. The ad was attacking the general for his dishonesty and cooking the facts,” said the former Marine from the ’60s. “It had nothing to do with the troops, only with Petraeus.”
Jay Moore of Marshfield said he felt they “had been lied to. Peter told us,” he said, “that there was a plan the Democrats had to end the war, just be patient.”
Moore, who teaches a course on “The ’60s” at UVM, noted Welch had voted for a Bush administration resolution that designates Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Bush is going to use it, Moore predicted, like President Lyndon Johnson used the bogus Tonkin Gulf Resolution of 1964, to justify bombing Iran.
Moore expressed the view and frustration of many in the room and across the state: “Peter, what is going on? Stop this war.” He suggested he join with folks like Rep. Dennis Kucinich to “clog up the works and have a filibuster.”
Bunny Daubner, 76, of Bristol said she would have liked to ask Peter Welch “what it would take for him to walk his talk and to stop voting for the funding for this war. It’s totally outrageous.”
Welch spokesman Andrew Savage assured “Inside Track” his boss feels their pain. He said the congressman has “consistently voted against bills for funding the war and for legislation requiring our troops to come home.”
But the folks clogging the office lobby in Burlington Monday afternoon, we noted, say he “has voted for continued Iraq war funding.” Are they wrong?
In fact, acknowledged Savage, Welch voted for a funding bill last spring that also “would have required the withdrawal of troops.”
President Bush vetoed it, and his veto was sustained in the House, with Welch voting to override.
Welch also voted in September for a “Continuing Resolution,” he said, “which avoided a government shutdown.” That C.R. included Pentagon funding.
And will some of the Pentagon funding go to the Iraq war?
“Yes,” answered Savage, who emphasized it passed both houses overwhelmingly. Just one “no” vote in the Senate and “14” in the House.
As for voting with the Republicans on the resolution condemning MoveOn, he noted Welch supports MoveOn’s antiwar efforts but believed the Petraeus ad “was just the wrong approach and diverted attention from where it belongs.”
In Welch’s view, the ad missed the mark. The target should have been the president, not Petraeus.
“The congressman is extremely frustrated with our ability to end the war,” said Andrew. “The Republicans and the president remain a big obstacle. If Congressman Welch were the only member of Congress, this war would have been over months ago.”
VPIRG Anniversary — The Vermont Public Interest Research Group celebrated its 35th anniversary Saturday evening at Shelburne Farms. Lots of white hair in attendance, as several original VPIRGers from the 1970s were on hand, including Scott Skinner, the first executive director back in 1972, when even Ralph Nader lacked a gray hair in his head.
Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders was the headliner for what was inescapably a little walk down memory lane.
“I’m sure it’s not just me,” said current Executive Director Paul Burns, “who still has a tremendous sense of excitement, awe, of bewilderment, I guess, that we get to use the words ‘U.S. Senator’ before the name Bernie Sanders . . . And there’s just one more level, Bernie!” said Burns, bringing down the house.
Bernie did Bernie. And he made sure the audience of 150 did not for a second forget battles still unwon.
“Please never forget,” said Sen. Sanders, “that we remain the only country in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care for all people as a right of citizenship.” And no matter which party controls Congress or the White House, said Ol’ Bernardo, “I can tell you with 100 percent certainty — not 99 percent, but 100 percent — that in order for us to establish a national health-care program we are going to need a political revolution in this country!”
It will take, he assured everyone, “a strong and vital grassroots movement prepared to take on the power of the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry, and that is the kind of work that VPIRG does.”
On the upside, the only socialist in the U.S. Senate acknowledged there have been “positive changes” in the last year. “Right-wing extremism has been put on the run,” said Ol’ Bernardo. “But don’t take too much for granted,” he warned.
“It is one thing to defeat right-wing extremism,” said the passionate progressive from the Green Mountain State. “It is entirely another thing to talk about moving forward on a progressive agenda, and we are not there yet.”
No, we’re not.
In fact, truth be told, VPIRG lost on its two major legislative initiatives this winter: global warming and campaign finance reform. Republican Gov. Jim Douglas’ vetoes of those two major bills were sustained.
Burns assured “Inside Track,” “We’re going to come back next year. These issues aren’t going to go away, and we need to make progress. We’re going to continue working for that, and I’m sure we’re going to win.”
We shall see, won’t we?
Mayor Who? — It’s the halfway point in the inaugural term of the freshman mayor of Vermont’s largest city: Big Bad Burlington.
And Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss, 60 (pictured here with his longtime partner Jackie Majoros next to his 1994 ISUZU pickup truck), has so far enjoyed relatively smooth sailing. Most people in Vermont cannot tell you the name of the current mayor of Burlington.
Not since the one-term aberration of Republican Mayor Peter Brownell (1993-1995) has the Queen City enjoyed such a low-key chief executive in the corner office at Church & Main.
In the 1980s and ’90s and through the first half of this decade, da mayor’s office was dominated by leftist/progressive types who were anything but shy. Mayors Bernie Sanders and Peter Clavelle held as many press conferences in a week as Bob Kiss does in six months. They sought the spotlight. Bernie and Moonie had issues, as well as places to go.
Not Mayor Bob.
The not-so-secret secret about the biggest Kiss in Vermont is that he shows no evidence of desiring higher office. The former Peace Corps volunteer, who served two years as a conscientious objector at a Boston hospital during the Vietnam War, does appear to enjoy being the mayor of Burlington.
Bumped into him for an interview at Speeder & Earl’s coffee shop on Sunday. He was picking up his “better half” after her yoga class.
Freyne: How’s it going halfway though the first three-year term?
Bob Kiss: Good. Good. I think we’re making progress on a lot of important issues.
Freyne: Such as?
BK: Well, the budget. We’re looking carefully at making sure we can sustain some of the benefit packages into the future. I also think we’re moving forward on a formal presentation on the use of the Moran Plant.
Freyne: What’s your idea at the moment?
BK: Well, you know, there has been a users’ group and an advisory group, and, really, a multi-use facility that would include a sailing center, a children’s museum and an ice factor, which is an ice-climbing wall.
Freyne: You kinda like that?
BK: Well, I think a mix of uses.
Freyne: Many say it’s such an ugly building. Why not just knock it down?
BK: I think, as you look at it right now, people have different views. But I think, reused, totally refurbished, I think you have an asset on the waterfront in a lot of ways. It’ll complement ECHO if we do this. It will be a four-season kind of facility. It can meet a lot of different people’s needs.
Shifting gears, yours truly couldn’t help but inquire about the Brendan Keleher matter, which is raising eyebrows in some circles. Keleher, the treasurer and chief administrative officer under Mayor Moonie for 15 years, managed to retire with both a city retirement plan and a city pension. The pension was granted just two months before his departure.
Freyne: The Keleher thing. Is there anything shady there?
BK: I don’t think it’s shady. The city attorney reviewed it. It didn’t violate any city practices or policies at the time. It clearly was done in a public process that included a memo and the Finance Board [approval].
So, would I do it the same way?
No. I don’t think that would be the approach I’d take, but I think it was something that had public review and meets the basic requirements of the city, and it provided a benefit to Brendan Keleher as the former CAO.
Freyne: So, personally, your predecessors were ‘Mr. Press Conference’ mayors. You’re not. How do you like it? How’s it going?
BK: Well, I’ve actually enjoyed this job. One thing you realize is that Burlington does have resources. It’s not like the mayor, by himself or herself, that does the work. You know, we have competent people throughout the departments and a lot of energy, I think, to move forward. People do like Burlington, people who live here, and I think as long as we continue to build Burlington for the people who live here, that we’re on the right track.
Freyne: You’re feeling good?
BK: I am.
Freyne: City’s going in the right direction?
BK: I think it is.
Freyne: What would be the one thing you’d like people out there to know about what’s going on at city hall?
BK: I think, across a wide spectrum of issues, I think that we’re making progress, and we don’t talk about every one of those all the time, but I think the general tenor of the city’s good.
Freyne: You’re not a “PR” kind of a guy looking for the limelight. That’s not your style, but your style is working, eh?
BK: I think it is.
We’ll all know if most Burlingtonians agree with Mayor Positive on the first Tuesday in March 2009.
And one thing’s for sure: By then, at least we’ll have a new president.