One day, somewhere out there in the future, the world's number-one history bestseller will inevitably be The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. Picture, say, a book with 25 chapters. The question is: Which chapter are we living through today?
Like Rome on the downside, our American Empire appears to be suffering from seriously bad leadership and costly foreign conquests gone sour. In political discourse, the absurd has become the norm.
It's Tuesday morning. I'm watching President George W. Bush address the United Nations. Thank God, he's wearing an American flag lapel pin, or I wouldn't know what country he's from. The Invader of Iraq is preaching freedom and peace and the rule of law, everything the world knows his actions have betrayed.
That explains why the representatives of the other 190 nations on Earth are sitting on their hands. There will be no applause for the world's latest Butcher of Baghdad.
They say that he who does not know history is doomed to repeat it, and the current president of the United States is Exhibit A.
Meanwhile, Democrat John Kerry, the challenger to our mad emperor, flails in the weeds created by the countless, double-talking compromises he's made on the way to his current perch. The very words Prince Long Face once used to stifle Howard Dean's antiwar candidacy have come back to haunt him.
Picture the states of mind of the 1300 Vermont men and women in the National Guard who are on alert, waiting for deployment orders. When they watch the TV news footage from Iraq, where in the eyes of the locals the only good American appears to be a blown-up or beheaded American, what do you imagine they're thinking and feeling?
Like previous emperors, George II continues to lie to his people, telling them the conquest of foreign lands is going well, and victory over the barbarians is near.
But no one will be surprised when our president follows up his November election victory with a religious revival of the Selective Service System. With National Guard troops running out, King George will inevitably call our young to arms in the name of his Holy War. Folks, 2005 will not be a good year for 19- and 20-year-olds.
If only it was just a movie and you could leave the theater, eh?
But it's not.
So what's your answer? Which chapter in The Rise and Fall of the American Empire do you think this is?
The Clavelle Mystery -- It's looks like this gubernatorial campaign will be remembered as one of the strangest ever conducted by a major party challenger.
We thought Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle had been pointing toward this moment for years. The man Mayor Bernie Sanders passed the torch to in 1989 has jumped through all the hoops, including switching from Prog to Democrat. Then why is he running such a green-as-grass campaign?
Since Friday, the Jim Douglas campaign has been having a great laugh as it aired a deadly 30-second spot starring Peter Clavelle. The footage was captured by the Douglas camp's man behind the camera, James Candido. It shows Clavelle at his big press conference last week where he unveiled his bold, progressive Vermonters First health-care initiative.
The screen shows Clavelle bobbling a question from Freeps reporter Candace Page. Candy asked the obvious: Does the $90 million in health-care costs Moonie says his plan will "capture" result from a $90 million tax increase?
The answer is "no," but in the 20 seconds it took Clavelle to get there, he didn't exactly exude gubernatorial confidence.
Douglas campaign director Neale Lunderville told Seven Days, "The ad shows Clavelle's got a plan he can't explain. It says all we need to say without saying anything ourselves."
Clavelle's immediate response to the ad?
Zippo. Zilch. Nada.
It's as if he wants to keep his name out of the newspapers and off the evening newscasts. In fact, in the last five days, the only missive from the Clavelle Campaign has been a skimpy, one-page campaign appearance schedule. It lists seven "events" for Monday through Friday, two of which are candidate debates/forums with Douglas.
At times Clavelle seems to be just going through the motions. Then there are
times like last week's kickoff debate in Montpeculiar.
Pedro played a superb "Daniel in the Lion's Den," appearing before the solidly pro-Scissorhands audience of Associated Industries of Vermont. Utility execs, business lobbyists and folks such as Rep. Kurt Wright, Douglas media buyer Steve Smith and Kirby think-tanker John McClaughry made up the attentive crowd.
Clavelle surprised many by eagerly going right after Gov. Jim Douglas on leadership, or rather the lack thereof.
"I want to lead this state," said Mayor Moonie, "but I want this state to lead the nation!"
Clavelle was all fired up. It was the best we've ever seen him. The Winooski French-Canadian pummeled Gov. Scissorhands with peppery economic left jabs and solid health-care right hooks. Clavelle was landing, but the audience sat on their hands like the loyal pro-business Republican soldiers they are.
Meanwhile, every Douglas comeback was treated as an oration from the lips of Caesar and met with hearty applause.
This Wednesday evening the second debate will be held before a much different audience at the Barre Labor Hall. It's sponsored by the Livable Wage Campaign. With about 40 days to go, time is quickly running out for Peter Clavelle.
P.S. Not dead yet! Tuesday afternoon, just before deadline, the Clavelle Campaign suddenly awoke from its silence and released a snappy, out-of-the box attack ad featuring Betsy Ferries (a.k.a. Mrs. Clavelle), and her skinheaded hubbie sitting in a row boat with fishing poles.
"There's something fishy going on," says Betsy, referring to what the narrator calls "Jim Douglas' Bush-League attack ad."
Then Peter gets a bite on his line.
"You wanna know the catch?" he asks, lifting a fish out of the lake. "It's bull... It's a bull head!"
OK, OK. It's not over yet, even though sources say the Fat Lady has been seen entering the building.
Rivers Whacks Dubie -- Cheryl Rivers wasn't horsing around Monday at the Gov-Lite debate sponsored by Vermont's World Trade Office. Ma Rivers politely and firmly raised a world-trade issue that made one of the participants uncomfortable: incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie. A "foreign government," Rivers noted, paid all the expenses on his trade junket to the Far East last fall.
Dubie totally ignored Rivers' dart, as if the audience hadn't heard her, and stuck to his unique, "Aw shucks, ain't it great being Vermont's lieutenant governor" rap. It's worked for him so far and, with another Progressive Party contender to split the vote of Vermont's left, why not stick with it?
Dubie's gotten 41 percent of the vote in each of his races. Two years ago, Prog messiah Anthony Pollina's 25 percent made Dubie's 41 percent golden, and Democrat Peter Shumlin bit the dust with 32 percent.
As Brian joked, "I'm proud I had more of a percentage of the vote than Bernie Sanders and Abraham Lincoln had when they first got elected."
Indeed, Sanders won the 1981 Burlington mayor's race -- a three-way-affair -- with 40.1 percent.
Honest Abe won the presidency in 1860 with just 39.8 percent of the popular vote. Anyway, thanks for the history lesson, Brian. Now back to the trade junket.
"I never felt it was appropriate," Rivers told Seven Days afterwards, "for an elected official to to accept a free trip from a foreign government. I was worried a little bit," said Ma Rivers, "when we're hearing about jobs going to China."
Rivers said she learned last week that one of the companies on Dubie's junket, "an over 100-year-old Vermont company, is closing and moving 80 Vermont jobs to China.
"For heaven's sake, Vermont Tubbs snowshoes -- I have a pair myself!" exclaimed Rivers. "I wondered why a foreign government would pay for a trip, but it appears they got their money's worth."
Dubie stoutly defended his Far East freebie, claiming previous state officials such as Govs. Madeleine Kunin and Howard Dean had also gone on international trade junkets free of charge.
The Dubester admitted, however, that to date, his trade mission to Taiwan and China hadn't produced even one new job in Vermont.
Asked if he'll handle trade junkets the same way if reelected, Dubie replied, "Probably not. Probably in the future I'll work with the Appropriations Committee and I'll say, 'If this is an important trip, I'll work it with the Appropriations Committee.'"
Live and learn, eh?
P.S. Commerce Sec. Kevin Dorn was also on the China trip.
Dorn told Seven Days his travel tab was also picked up by the Taiwan Cultural Affairs Office. A representative of Tubbs of Stowe was on the trip, he said. Tubbs had recently been bought out by K2. A K2 rep, Dorn recalled, was on the flight from San Francisco to Shanghai. Sec. Dorn did not recall her name.
"It was widely known at the time that K2 would eventually move the jobs out of state," he told Seven Days.
WCAX Bash -- Sources say about 200 revelers had a bang-up great time Friday at Shelburne Farms as WCAX-TV celebrated its 50th anniversary. Lots of fun and humor, led by Vermont's number-one standup comedian, Jim Douglas. Gov. Scissorhands, we're told by reliable sources, had everyone rolling in the aisles.
Jeezum Jim Jeffords didn't make it. But Jeezum's press secretary, Diane Derby, was on hand to ask Ch. 3 to please destroy their old Jeffords tapes! And Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders were in fine form, too.
St. Patrick reminisced about his good old state's attorney days when Mickey Gallagher and Tony Adams were the news hounds. And Ol' Bernardo humorously implored conservative owner Red Martin to quit giving "huge campaign contributions" to his opponents every two years!
Also on hand was Plattsburgh's dynamic and openly gay Republican Mayor Dan Stewart, who, we're told, brought down the house with a hysterical "personal" tribute to that "cute anchorman," Marselis Parsons.
Yours truly, too, was there in spirit, as GM Peter Martin, son of Red, followed the pols and joked that the tri-partisan political tributes demonstrated how "fair and balanced" WGOP, er, sorry, WCAX's news coverage is -- something one wouldn't know, said Martin, "by reading Seven Days!"
Thanks for the plug, Pedro!
Good time had by all.
A correction of last week's WCAX item: Owner Red Martin did not marry the boss' daughter. Rather, Red's mom married the boss, Charles Hasbrook, making an already-grown Red Martin the owner's stepson!
As Dan Rather would say, "I'm sorry."
And yes, the original license was owned by UVM's College of Agriculture, but Hasbrook bought it in 1954. The rest is history.
Dr. Voodoo Eyes -- When the U.S. Attorney issued a press release last week announcing a rare press conference, everyone thought the indictment of former Mary Fanny CEO Bill Boettcher was imminent.
Instead, it was Dr. David Chase, a.k.a. Dr. Voodoo Eyes, who was indicted. Chase is accused off performing cataract surgery on hundreds of patients who didn't need it. The 100-page indictment reads like an episode of "The Twilight Zone." It's available online at www.vtd.uscourts.gov. Click on "Decisions/Filings of Interest."
As for Boettcher, the investigation continues. One possible difficulty for the government may be demonstrating Big Bad Bill of Hospital Hill made any personal financial gain by sneaking $200 million of construction costs past state regulators. Many of the fraud statutes that U.S. Attorney David Kirby is likely looking at appear to require that a defendant profit by the fraud.
The only party that appears to have profited by the fraud is the medical-industrial complex called Fletcher Allen Health Care.
Media Notes -- The good news is that all you Anya Huneke fans will still be able to catch her on New England Cable News. The bad news is, Anya's moved to Beantown.
Back when WVNY-TV tried to restart its news operation in 1999, Anya was the blonde environmental reporter. Despite the new faces and new blood, Ch. 22 was unable to crack the stranglehold WCAX and WPTZ have on the local TV news market. Ch. 22 pulled the plug after almost three years of trying. Everyone got pink slips.
Anya bounced back by signing on with NECN as their Vermont reporter, reincarnated as a brunette with glasses. A more intelligent look, perhaps?
It's working. The talented New York City native is NECN's new medical beat reporter. NECN already has former Ch. 3 reporter Kristin Kelly. The two former Vermont TV newswomen demonstrate that beauty and brains make for a powerful combination.
Best wishes, Anya!
Also on the Vermont news front, there's a new columnist at the Rutland Herald/Times Argus. Familiar face, too. That's because Barrie Dunsmore used to appear in The Burlington Free Press.
Dunsmore, the retired ABC-TV foreign correspondent, was dumped by Freeps editorial page editor David Awbrey last spring. In fact, Awbrey's dismissal email to Dunsmore appeared in this column. He kindly informed Dunsmore that the man who wanted Dunsmore gone was right-wing Publisher Jim Carey. Carey's famous for muzzling the paper's editorial page in 2000 and preventing the publication of editorials on civil unions.
Ironically, the Rutland Herald's editorial page won a Pulitzer for its editorials supporting the very thing Carey outlawed.
Awbrey was himself made redundant, as they say, a few months later following publication in June of his infamous, factually inaccurate editorial slamming Rep. Bernie Sanders for something the congressman did not do.
Dunsmore's column will run every other Sunday.