Yours truly was watching Errol Morris' documentary The Fog of War the other night when one of those little epiphanies occurred. The film stands as a personal final confession of the sins and war crimes of Robert McNamara, former secretary of defense and a leading architect of America's disastrous war in Vietnam.
McNamara confesses that the Vietnam War, which killed millions, was not only unwinnable, it was unnecessary. And when asked how he could have kept that simple truth a secret for so long, McNamara replied, "I learned early on ... never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question you wish had been asked of you. And quite frankly, I follow that rule. It's a very good rule."
Now we understand what has become a vexing problem regarding Gov. Jim Douglas' weekly press conferences: It's become nearly impossible to get a simple "yes" or "no" answer from our Republican governor.
Take last Thursday's weekly press conference as an example. Douglas was asked if he agreed with GOP State Sen. Diane Snelling. Yes or no?
Princess Di had earlier described the recent Vermont GOP fundraising letter attacking Sen. Jim Jeffords as "trash." The letter was put out by GOP Chairman Jim Barnett, former member of both Douglas' campaign and gubernatorial staffs.
The question was asked, "Do you agree with Sen. Snelling, or is Sen. Snelling wrong?"
Our Guv's reply would have made Robert McNamara blush with pride.
"You know," said Douglas, "political party leaders have a responsibility that's different than mine. They're in office to motivate the party faithful and raise funds for political campaigns. Democratic Party chairmen and others say pretty rough things about me. That's what political parties do, and I'll leave them to deal with their business and I'll tend to mine."
You may have noticed that Gov. Scissor-hands, the state's leading ribbon-cutter, never addressed Sen. Snelling's remarks. Instead, following the McNamara Rule, he proceeded to answer the question he wished he were asked: "Isn't it true you have no control over what your party does?"
Gov. Douglas went on to say that, unlike the Democrats, he depends on Vermont contributions. In 2004, he said, "90 percent" of his campaign cash came from in-state donors.
In fact, in 2004 Gov. Douglas received a hefty dose of out-of-state cash, just as he did in 2002. In 2004, Douglas reported raising almost $740,000. What he neglected to mention was the $300,00 TV ad campaign funded on his behalf by the Republican National Committee.
Probably just a temporary memory lapse, eh?
Two years earlier, in 2002, Gov. Douglas relied on out-of-state sources for more than 50 percent of his campaign contributions. The biggest chunk came from national GOP campaign committees in Washington.
According to his campaign finance report, Gov. McNamara, er, Douglas raised about $1.1 million in the 2002 race. More than half of it -- $580,000 -- came from the national party.
Another McNamara-esque answer came when Douglas was asked about the bill that would require the government to pay plaintiffs' legal fees when the court upholds a request for the release of public documents.
Douglas quickly lapsed into a two-minute recitation of all he's done throughout his career to promote open government.
The fact that a member of his administration had already told a legislative committee that the governor opposes the bill did not factor into Jimbo's answer.
Instead, Douglas merely answered the question he wished he been asked: "Gov. Douglas, isn't it true you are a champion of open government?"
But that wasn't the question, was it?
Thank you, Sec. McNamara. Now we can finally see through the Fog of Jim Douglas.
More GOP Sleaze -- The former head of the New Hampshire Republican Party was sentenced to prison earlier this month for some 2002 campaign sleaze. If he's lucky, he'll get a cell next to the former Republican governor of Connecticut, John Rowland.
Charles "Chuck" McGee hired telemarketers to jam the phone lines at Democratic campaign offices on Election Day so they couldn't get out the vote and offer rides to the polls. McGee pled guilty to a felony charge last summer.
Mr. McGee was also vice president for political and corporate communications at Spectrum Monthly & Printing Inc., a direct-mail outfit very familiar to Vermont GOP Chairman Jim Barnett.
Last fall, you see, the Vermont GOP spent more than $85,000 at Spectrum Inc. on nasty direct-mail pieces attacking Democratic state legislators.
Chairman Barnett told Seven Days this week he has since been made aware of McGee's legal problems.
"We're not doing business with Spectrum," said Mad Dog, "in light of the events in New Hampshire."
Asked why the Vermont Republican Party had spent so much money on an out-of-state printer, Barnett replied, "Because of the cost. They're cheap."
P.S. According to Vermont campaign finance reports, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie also used the services of Spectrum in his last campaign. Both the state GOP and the Doobster continued to do business with McGee's firm even after he entered a guilty plea last summer.
Murder Update -- Questions continue one week after Burlington Police arrested a suspect for the murder and sexual assault of Laura Winterbottom. Gerald Montgom-ery, a convicted sex offender living in the Old North End, has been charged.
Many in the public wonder why Mont-gomery wasn't caught sooner and why police issued no public alarm about a random killer on the loose. Folks also wonder why Montgomery's mug wasn't posted on the state's online sex offender registry.
As everyone knows, the case was cracked when the semen samples from the crime scene were successfully analyzed by the Vermont Forensic Laboratory. Since the crime occurred on a cold night, the suspect's ejaculate froze, making for a good-quality specimen. Unlike in TV cop shows, however, the analysis took more than a week. It's a very time-consuming process, according to Dr. Eric Buel, the longtime director of the lab.
The first results of a partial DNA reading, we're told, were enough to rule out the prime suspect police were focusing on. Investigating murders, say those who do it, is all about ruling out possible suspects.
A few days later, forensic scientists were able to capture a complete DNA profile and match it to the DNA profiles of Vermont violent offenders the state has kept on file since 1998.
According to Dr. Buel, the Montgomery case is the first case since the DNA Registry was started "where we have actually gone out and made an arrest," based on a DNA sample left behind at a murder scene.
Back in 1998, a mostly Republican-sponsored House bill won approval over the objections of civil libertarians and liberals. Gov. Howard Dean signed it. Rep. Cathy Voyer was the lead sponsor.
H. 89 specified a list of offenses that would require a convicted defendant to submit a DNA sample for inclusion into a state and national DNA base.
The DNA registry, however, is different than the state's Sex Offender Registry.
According to Max Schlueter, director of the Vermont Criminal Information Center, there are currently 2205 individuals listed on the Vermont Sex Offender Registry. But only police have access to it.
A smaller list of 144 Vermont sex offenders deemed the most dangerous is online with photos at http://www.dps.state.vt.us/cjs/s_registry.htm. To make the online registry, one must be convicted of specific crimes.
Montgomery had earlier been charged with two sexual assaults. But the charges had been reduced by plea-bargains. Officially, his most serious conviction was for lewd and lascivious conduct.
Unless an L&L involves a child, however, it does not get the perp on the online registry. Thus Mont-gomery's neighbors really had no way of knowing about his past.
Lawmakers may want to revisit that one.
After all, Ch. 3's shocking report by Darren Perron, with home video footage of Montgomery coaching kids' basketball, sent chills down many a spine.
Mr. President! -- With no challenger in sight at the moment, Burlington City Councilor Ian Carleton appears a shoe-in to succeed fellow Democrat Andy Montroll as council president next week.
Carleton landed in Burlap after picking up a law degree at Yale in 1999. He currently hangs his shingle at Sheehy Furlong Behm P.C. and is on the board of the Vermont Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Before ever meeting him, we'd heard of his political ambition, and that ambition emerged back in December 2002.
That's when Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle sought the Democratic endorsement for mayor in the March 2003 race. Mayor Moonie beat Montroll at the Democratic caucus, sparking a political uproar in the Queen City.
In response, Republican State Rep. Kurt Wright (who returns to duty on the city council next week) hatched a scheme to get a "real" Democrat to step up and run as an Independent against Clavelle. Wright's plan called for Republicans to sit the race out and back the Independent.
Kwik Stop Kurt was turned down by two Democrats in his search for a Clavelle opponent. But the third, freshman City Councilor Ian Carleton, bit.
"Inside Track" reported back then that it took a phone call from Howard Dean, then a rising presidential contender, to dissuade Young Ian from running against Clavelle. Dean, we were told, had threatened to personally line up the Burlington business community behind Clavelle if Carleton ran.
As it turned out, Ian thought better of it, took Ho-Ho's "advice" and decided his political ascendancy could wait.
Reminded of his earlier mayoral ambition this week, Carleton forthrightly responded by acknowledging he "didn't have the experience as a politician" back then that he has now.
Politics is, after all, a live-and-learn kind of game. Ian sounds like a good student.
As for his new role as council president, Carleton said he hopes to run efficient and effective meetings. And looking ahead, he forecast July as a "month of reckoning."
That's when reappraisal kicks in and Burlington homeowners get their new property tax bills.
"It will be a very difficult month," said Carleton.
Taxpayers will be screaming bloody murder and the target of their anger will likely be the city council.
The Era of Carleton has begun!
Big Brother Update -- How much freedom are we willing to give up to protect our freedom?
For example, living in the Land of the Free means freedom-loving citizens get searched by their government on a daily basis. From airports to courthouses, security checkpoints are a way of life in 21st century America.
But beyond those locations, one checkpoint in particular has Vermonters rankled. It's the Border Patrol checkpoint on I-91 just south of White River Junction. Many find it somewhat unnerving to have government agents stopping vehicles so far from the border. The word is the Border Patrol wants to make the checkpoint a permanent Homeland Security fixture.
Asked about it last week on VPR's "Switchboard," Sen. Jim Jeffords questioned the need for it. "What good's going to come of it?" asked Jeezum Jim. "I don't see its utility at this point."
When Bob Kinzel pointed out the Border Patrol has caught 600 people with immigration violations, Jeffords wondered aloud if that meant there was lax security at the border.
"It seems to me that's what the border is for," quipped Jeffords.
Earlier this month, Vermont's senior senator raised the issue to the Bush Administration's Commissioner for Customs and Border Protection.
Sen. Patrick Leahy noted the checkpoint is "a long, long distance from the border." St. Patrick told Commissioner Robert Bonner that it "just stops honest Vermonters who have been driving back and forth forever and ever."
And Vermont's senior senator pointed out that "if someone wanted to circumvent" the Interstate inspection, "they could just go on any of the back roads. The agents would never find them."
The Border Patrol checkpoint on the Vermont Interstate "is creating a bit of concern," said Leahy. "It's not doing anything to stop people from coming across our border because they aren't the ones that would get stopped."
Bonner responded by saying, "It isn't that the checkpoint is necessarily going to net terrorists that might come across the Canadian border into the United States." He called it "lateral enforcement."
Maybe the overall strategy would be helped if the president adopted a policy of not invading countries halfway around the world that pose no threat to us?
As far as the I-91 Border Patrol checkpoint becoming a permanent fixture on the Vermont landscape, Leahy spokesman David Carle said, "They said before the Bush budget came out that they would not be requesting funds this year to make it permanent. And they have not requested funds ... So far."
WCAX Anchor Search -- Ch. 3 News Co-Anchor Sera Congi bid viewers an emotional farewell Friday evening, wrapping up her 10-year career at WCAX-TV.
Monday evening veteran reporter Bridget Barry Caswell sat alongside Marselis Parsons. Dare we say Bridget sure looks like a perfect fit?
Word is everything's on the table as far as picking Congi's replacement. They may go outside the station. They may not.
Bridget, however, sure comes across like Old Home Week. She's clear, credible and comfortable. And she sounds like a Vermonter because she is one. Many readers remember her dear ol' dad Jack Barry, who dominated the local news/talk airwaves for more than 30 years.
But unlike Sera, Bridget's a mom with four kids. The 11 o'clock broadcast, we dare say, might be a bit too much to handle.
Other in-house possibilities are reporters Kristin Carlson and Kate Duffy. Talented Kristin may be too young, though, and Kate prefers performing with hair covering half her face.
Anson Tebbetts in drag?