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Inside Track

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Just watched President George W. Bush on the TV Tuesday conducting his 10th presidential press conference in the Rose Garden. Critics say Dubya ducks the tough questions and doesn't hold enough press conferences.

Thank God he doesn't, because watching Mr. Bush on his feet in "action mode"is a terrifying experience for most American citizens. Putting a twisted face on a twisted foreign policy, our president babbles and babbles.

Throughout the media event, King George II looked uncomfortable, impatient and edgy. At times he came off like a tourist in a foreign town in desperate need of locating plumbing facilities. At other times, he acted like an under-investigation corporate CEO whose Prozac prescription ran out five days earlier.

"The world is more peaceful and free under my leadership,"George II declared to the watching world, "and America is more secure."

Only someone living in a cave for the last six months could make - or believe - such a preposterous statement.

Asked if he could promise the American people fewer of its sons and daughters will be on the front lines one year from now, King George II simply refused to answer. He called it a "trick question."

Asked how his reelection campaign was going, the prez declined to discuss details. Instead he stiffened, focused his beady eyes and declared, "We're arming, [we're] raising money to wage a campaign. There's an appropriate time to engage."

Like his use of the verb "arming,"don't you?

As it looks today, the man he will be engaging is the former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. Ho-Ho was back home Friday. He held two well-attended fundraisers, collecting more than $100,000 from the locals. He also sat down for a C-SPAN interview at Theresa Alberghini DiPalma's house on Maple Street. Nice living room.

Then Ho-Ho took a trip down memory lane and sat for a press conference with the former "usual suspects"- the Vermont press.

Ho-Ho was battling an annoying cough Friday. We suggested he see a doctor. He thanked us for our medical advice.

Other than that, Dean was in "the zone."He bounced into the conference room with enough energy to power the streetlights on Shelburne Road. Despite the turnout by the local media, little of the half-hour session made the local news. The state's largest and closest newspaper, the Gannett chain's Burlington Free Press, sent a reporter but failed to publish a story the following day.

Strange newspaper, eh?

Anyway, here's a taste of how Dr. Dean handled the incoming. Obviously, our former governor loves his current occupation - campaigning to be the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

"I love being on the road,"said Ho-Ho, "but I hate being away from home, if I may sort of be Zen-like about it."

Zen-like? He never was into Zen before.

But would you love doing the job you're seeking, we asked?

"I'll like the job if we can get stuff done that needs to be done,"replied Dean. "I think this country's in real trouble because of what this president's done. With this presidency I see the sun setting, and we need to have the sun rising in America. It's not going to rise under George Bush."

Dubya, said fellow Yale graduate Dean, "can't manage money and he can't manage our defense. If you can't do those things pretty well, then you've got a big problem if you're president of the United States. I want this country to achieve the greatness it deserves and it's not going to do that with this president in office, and I've got some 'idears' about how to do it."(Love how he pronounces 'ideas.')

Why are some Democrats saying Dean will be bad for the ticket? Anybody but Dean, please!

"All I know is,"he said, "the last time I looked, we were leading in California, we're leading in New York. We're leading in Arizona. We're tied for the lead in Iowa. We're leading in New Hampshire [by a mile]. There must be something the Democrats like about that,"said Ho-Ho.

"Maybe it's not the Democrats from Washington who managed to lose the House and the Senate,"he added. "Maybe it's the Democrats outside of Washington who are tired of losing and want somebody to stand up for them once in awhile."

Has President Bush done anything right?

Dean took a long, thoughtful pause. He really tried to come up with one example of the Bush genius, but not even a smarty-pants like Howard Dean could think of one.

"I don't keep a list in my head,"he answered with a grin. "I mean, there's not much about his policy that I agree with. There really isn't. He's divided us by race, by sexual orientation, by gender. He's undermined the fiscal strength of this country. He's sent troops to Iraq without telling people the truth about why he sent them there. I think this president needs to go."

No beating around the "bush"there, eh?

"No matter what happens in Iraq,"said Dean, "the president got us into Iraq without being candid with the American people about why we went. I think that's a pretty serious problem."

But what does an ex-governor of Vermont, a state with fewer people than Northern Ireland, know about international relations?

"Here's the way I look at it,"answered Dean. "With my foreign policy folks, we were able to figure out that the president wasn't giving us an accurate picture of what was going on in Iraq. All the other Democrats in the top tier voted to go to war based on a set of facts that turned out not to be true. I don't think that's the kind of foreign policy experience we ought to have in the White House."

Good answer, and, believe me, he's got a good answer for everything. Almost.

How about the War on Drugs? How about Dean's strident opposition to methadone treatment for heroin addicts in Vermont? What about Gov. Law & Order taking a $2000 campaign contribution from billionaire George Soros, who lavishly funds the effort to decriminalize marijuana and legalize all illegal drugs?

"George Soros likes my foreign policy a great deal and because I rely on him for some economic advice,"answered Dean.

Economic advice from a guy who wants to legalize drugs?

"Economic advice from a guy who's made a great deal of money by correctly predicting trends throughout the world,"explained Ho-Ho. "And somebody who has funded the emergence of democracy in Eastern Europe. I thought he was a pretty good source for both foreign policy and economic advice."

And the War on Drugs that locks up hundreds of thousands of users?

"I've said substance abuse is a medical problem and ought not to be treated as a criminal problem,"said Dr. Dean. "If you're shooting convenience-store clerks, you're going to jail. If you're dealing heroin to small children, you're going to jail. But if your problem is that you're a drug addict, you need rehab."

Moving right along, Dean talked about what history may record as the most important piece of legislation he ever signed, albeit in private: civil unions, i.e., marriage rights for same-sex couples. The year was 2000. Seems so long ago.

"Most of the leading candidates support civil unions,"noted Dean. "Mostly it comes up when you're talking to the gay and lesbian community. It doesn't often come up elsewhere. I have a feeling in the general election Karl Rove [Dubya's political guru] will make sure that it does come up more frequently. But it doesn't come up much in the Democratic primary, 'cause most Democrats believe in equal rights under the law."

Would you have thought three years ago it'd shake out this way?

"No,"he said with a sigh of relief. "I was thrilled the Cana-dians did what they did on gay marriage. It's made me a moderate,"he said grinning, "which, as you know, is where I'm most comfortable."

What happens if the Massachusetts Supreme Court backs gay marriage?

"Massachusetts is free to do what they want. That was Dick Cheney's position, as I remember in 2000. We should remember that. And I will remind Dick Cheney of that on numerous occasions,"said Dean, "if I have the opportunity."

It's a good bet he'll have no shortage of opportunities next year to do just that.

What about the conservative South that appears firmly in Republican control? Aren't you just too liberal for the South?

"Look, when I left the DGA [Democratic Governors Association], we had Democratic governors across the old Confederacy. I never thought I'd see that in my lifetime after Nixon's Southern strategy kicked in. And yet it happened.

"A lot of those governors lost because they didn't bring out their own base. The mistake the Democrats have made is to concentrate on the swing voters and forget about the base. Start with the base and the swing voters will come along.

"There are marginal districts in the South that we can win,"Dean continued. "I've told people from places like Alabama, where I think it's going to be really hard for any Democrat to win, 'Look, I'll come there if you want and I won't if you don't want. But I will make the visit if it's going to help you get the base out to help your close congressman."

What about the influence of the gun lobby, the NRA?

"The NRA is going to endorse George Bush,"conceded Howard. "But what they aren't going to be able to do is send out those inflammatory flyers they sent out about Al Gore, about he's going to take your guns away and all that kind of stuff."

Closer to home, what about the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury? It recently lost certification. Surely that can't be blamed on the new governor?

"There's not much I can say,"replied Dr. Dean. "Certainly none of the problems at the state hospital came to my attention during the time that I was governor, otherwise we would have done something about it."

Across the Aisle -

Kudos to Republican Gov. Jim Douglas for a masterstroke this week on the issue of reimporting cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

On first blush it appears Jimmy D has pulled the rug out from challengers Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle and former State Sen. Peter Shumlin of Putney on the reimportation issue.

In Burlington, the Clavelle administration is studying a proposal to buy Canadian drugs for city workers. Mayor Moonie is scheduled to report back to the city council in December.

But Tuesday, Douglas administration secretary Mike Smith dropped the big one at a congressional hearing in Boston.

"The Governor's opinion is that it is inappropriate for manufacturers to balance their checkbooks on the backs of American consumers,"testified Iron Mike.

Smith told the congressional panel, which included Ol' Bernardo, that the Douglas administration is offering up Vermont to the White House as a guinea pig for a trial run on reimportation.

"With its smaller population, with mechanisms that can easily be put in place to take advantage of this type of program, Vermont is prepared to serve as a national model for pharmaceutical drug reimportation,"said Sec. Smith.

Asked about Jimmy D's proposal for a test run, Sanders reminded us of his leadership on the issue and that of Peter Clavelle's.

But what about the Douglas proposal? You know, the Republican governor?

"It's good news,"said Sanders, "for prescription drug consumers who have been overcharged by the drug companies for far too long."

Also last week, Jimmy D gave his blessing to Attorney General Bill Sorrell's second consecutive lawsuit against the Bush administration on an environmental issue. Douglas says reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important because of "global warming."

To the president's team of rascals, global warming is a fantasy spun by environmental extremists. So, does Gov. Douglas, chairman of the 2000 Bush Campaign in Vermont, think Dubya's doing a good job on the environment?

The Gov first took a moment to swallow hard. "I believe the president is doing a good job overall,"said Jimmy D with a straight face. "The president's providing great leadership to the nation on an overall basis, and I think the American people believe that and will continue to do so."

Speaking of Global Warming -

Gov. Douglas' acknowledgment of the existence of the global warming crisis surely must burn the ears of the right-wing wackos of Rush Lim-baugh land who pooh-pooh it.

But our ears recently burned at the renewable energy conference at the Sheraton. The lunchtime speaker was Bill McKibben, distinguished author and currently scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College.

If the Earth's temperature continues to rise as anticipated, said Billy the Planet Watcher, "it will increase six degrees by the end of the century."

The snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro will be all gone by 2015.

After 2045, there will be no glaciers left in Glacier National Park.

By 2070, said McKibben, the climate of New England will resemble that of today's Atlanta, Georgia. No more skiing. No more fall foliage. Seacoast towns and cities like Boston will have serious "oceanic"problems.

"Even if he's only half-right,"said Kirk Herander of Vermont Solar Engineering in Burlap, "we're in deep doo-doo."

More windmills, please!

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