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Bernie Sanders

Thinking Warm Thoughts

Inside Track


Published February 23, 2005 at 5:00 p.m.

Surprise, surprise! The biggest news story on the planet isn't on the front page this week... again.

We all know about Prince Charles' upcoming wedding, gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson's suicide, and the secret telephone tapes in which President George W. Bush acknowledges he inhaled.

Knowledge is power, eh?

But only a tiny handful is aware of the bombshell story bigger than 9/11 that broke last Thursday. Scientists from two of America's top scientific research institutes released data proving beyond a reasonable doubt that humankind has already damaged Mother Earth's atmosphere beyond repair.

And unless we humans unite and take immediate steps to save her, Mother Earth's demise will continue to accelerate. The continuing rise in ocean levels will cause devastation on a global scale no matter how many times Boston wins the World Series.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory did the study ( ).

"The debate is no longer, 'Is there a global warming signal?' The question is, what are we going to do about it?" said Tim Barnett, a research marine physicist at Scripps.

However, we couldn't find a mention of the blockbuster climate change report on the Fox News website. Surprised?

Well, we couldn't find a mention on the CBS News website, either.

How is it that in a time touted as the "Information Age," most of the information pumped out by our press is pure crap?

Maybe this is just the prelude to the "Age of Important Information?"

Let's hope so.

There are, however, some faint signs of hope.

One was the weekend-long, student-run conference on climate change at UVM last weekend. Hundreds of young'uns from across New England descended on Groovy UV with determination and purpose.

It was a bit of a flashback to our student days. The first sign was the bumper sticker on the rusted Subaru wagon parked on University Place: "Don't believe anything until it's been officially denied."

About 400 attended the Friday-night opening at Ira Allen Chapel. Among the speakers: Gov. Jim Douglas.

Surprisingly the event didn't make the Guv's "Weekly Public Appearance Schedule." Press Secretary Jason Gibbs later told Seven Days that the omission was his "mistake."

Douglas appeared to dust off an old 2002 campaign speech about his "Third Way -- the Vermont Way" and read it to the audience.

When it comes to the environment, our GOP Guv gives great lip. His political success proves it. Hey, at his Middlebury home, Jim heats with wood, cools with fans and hangs his clothes out to dry. And he used to drive a Neon.

In fact, joked Gov. Tree-Hugger, he had wanted to replace the entire Vermont State Police vehicle fleet with Neons, but the damn cops opposed it. The audience ate it up.

Afterwards, the out-of-state students we spoke with thought Vermont's governor was a true environmental champion!

Ignorance can certainly be bliss.

The offspring of the Woodstock Generation had no idea, for example, that just a few days earlier the Vermont Public Interest Group had released a little-noticed report by the New England Climate Coalition blasting the Douglas administration for its lack of action on global warming.

According to the report, "Vermont has done little so far to reduce its contribution to global warming ... and on its current policy track will be unable to do its part to reduce regionwide emissions."

VPIRG's Napoleon Bonaparte of climate change, Azur Mouleart, pointed out that the Douglas Administration's recently released 20-year Electric Plan "does not take aim at global warming, and it lacks specific plans to maximize energy efficiency and the development of clean, renewable energy sources."

The VPIRG story, by the way, got very little play. Napoleon Mouleart told Seven Days it didn't make the news cut at either Ver-mont's largest newspaper or at WCAX-TV. Hey, no big deal, just the end of the Vermont ski industry within a few decades, that's all.

Imagine if the students knew Vermont's Republican governor had used his connections with the Bush administration to get the sprawl-producing Circ Highway disaster on the presidential "fast track."

Or that a federal judge subsequently found Neon Jim had broken America's bedrock environmental-protection law in his rush to pavement.

One workshop we dropped in on was called the "Drive Ford Green Campaign."

Cars produce 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Ford has the worst fuel economy of the Big Three with 18.8 miles per gallon. Eighty years ago, when Vermont's Calvin Coolidge was president, Model Ts got 25 miles per gallon.

We wonder what the youthful climate-change crusaders would think had they known that, the day before, Gov. Douglas had cut the ribbon to open a Ford dealership?

Oh, yes. Gov. Scissorhands did the honors at Walker Motors' new facility in Montpelier. It was even broadcast live on WDEV. And would you believe that during his on-air interview with Eric Michaels, the Guv complained that "some people make fun" of him for all his ribbon-cutting events?

Now who could Gov. Scissorhands possibly be referring to?

Of course, besides using the governor's office to help out the Ford dealership, Gov. Jim was also helping an old friend and faithful supporter.

According to campaign finance reports on file at the secretary of state's office, Wade Walker gave Douglas the maximum contribution allowed in both his 2002 and 2004 campaigns.

Hey, it's a free country, right?

And Ford, after all, is No. 1 in sales at the moment -- just like Jim Douglas is number one in votes. In fact, Jim's not the only member of Vermont's successful Republican team to fancy the top-rated, gas-guzzling Ford brand.

Yours truly was sitting at the light on Rt. 15 the other day when a shiny, late-model F-150 4X4 truck slid up alongside us. A real beauty. At the controls was, would you believe, our Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie?

And two stickers on the back bumper -- one for Dubie and one for Douglas.

Small world, eh?

That's the whole point. It's a very, very small world, and we're rapidly destroying its atmosphere and creating a catastrophic future for our children and their children.

The college kids at the UVM conference get it. Let's hope they convince the old folks quickly -- especially the ones in office.

Sadly, in all the world, no government has its head buried deeper in the sand than our own. President Bush, as you may know, has refused to let the U.S. join 141 other nations signing on to the Kyoto global-warming pact.

Imagine if Vermont's Republican governor went public with a call for our Republican president to do the right thing and sign?

Now that would be front-page news.

Around the world.

P.S. One Vermonter in particular is doing his best to battle our government's intransigence.

Attorney Ron Shems of the Burlington environmental firm Shems Dunkiel Kassel & Saunders is the lead attorney on the major climate-change lawsuit of the day. It's currently before the Ninth Circuit in Northern California.

Shems represents four cities including Oakland, California, as well as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

The suit is a bold attempt to get two federal agencies -- the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank of the United States -- to simply abide by current environmental law when funding and developing huge overseas fossil-fuel-burning power projects.

The Bush administration is fighting the lawsuit tooth and nail.

This one is a biggie. For much more, check out

YMCA? -- No way, folks. Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle's proposal to move the YMCA into the abandoned waterfront Moran Plant has no more lift-off ability than his 2004 gubernatorial campaign did.

When loyal, dedicated YMCA members contact yours truly to complain about the ineptitude of the Y's current management, you know it's going down.

When Progressive Ward 2 City Councilor Jane Knodell, PhD, doesn't even mention the YMCA in her 200-word candidate pitch in the Freeps, you know it's going down.

When respected Ward 1 Independent Sharon Bushor comes out against it, you know it's going down.

When Michael Monte, Burlington's economic development director, goes to Florida for two weeks and isn't due back until the day after the vote, you know it's going down.

When The Burlington Free Press runs a glowing editorial describing the scheme as the greatest thing since sliced bread, you know it's going down.

And when project supporters such as Democrat Councilors Andy Montroll (Ward 6) and Joan Shannon (Ward 5) perfect the art of backpedaling in their Ch. 17 candidate debates, you know it's going down.

A rising political star, Shannon described the vote not in terms of approving the project, but rather as merely "saying yes to taking it to the next step."

Montroll assured viewers again and again he definitely "will listen to the voters."

The only question is: Will it go down as badly as Mayor Moonie's gubernatorial effort?

Media Notes -- One ex-Deaniac with deep Vermont roots has, like the former Vermont presidential candidate himself, landed on his feet in the swamps of Foggy Bottom.

Garrett Graff, son of AP's Chris Graff, has just started up D.C.'s hottest new political blog. It's called "Fishbowl DC" ( ), and its target ain't the politicians, but rather the Washington press corps.

Asked about his qualifications by "Hotline" last week, Graff the Younger replied, "I'm not the slightest bit qualified, but when have qualifications ever limited a reporter inside the Beltway? At least I write my own stuff. We're following in the finest traditions of Bob Woodward's reporting: We'll be nice to our friends and sources, and merciless to those who don't return our phone calls."

Can you say, "Duck"?

Trust me, Garrett Graff is qualified. In eighth grade, he served as a Statehouse page. Even then we could tell he was dangerous. You know the type -- eyes and ears wide open and mouth shut. The Harvard grad was still a student at Montpelier High School in 1997 when he created and designed Gov. Howard Dean's very first website.

Garrett told Seven Days he's also started up an Internet and politics consulting firm that grew out of the Dean for America Web team.

"All around, it's been rather fun," said Graff, "although I do miss the cozy Vermont winters. These people have no idea how to respond to snow."

As for the current state of his ex-boss Howard Dean, Graff said he attended Ho-Ho's coronation as DNC chairman at the Washington Hilton.

"The place was filled with a ton of ex-Deaniacs in various stages of shock and excitement," said Graff. "After three years and $55 million, we finally won -- granted, not the election we originally entered, but we won something!"

This just in: Ch.5's veteran news director Andy Wormser has landed a big job with AP in Washington. It involves installing new computer software for TV newsrooms.

Following the money, eh?

As Goes Vermont -- Look, we know little Vermont has a reputation for leading the nation on a number of important issues, but leading the world?

The British government announced this week that, starting in December, same-sex couples in Great Britain will be allowed to form civil unions.

"This legislation is going to make a real difference to these couples and it demonstrates the government's commitment to equality and social justice," said Deputy Minister for Women and Equality Jacqui Smith.

Perhaps one day we'll see former Republican State Rep. Tom Little get his well-deserved knighthood after all?

Sunday Bloody Sunday -- We lost two special Vermonters last weekend: Republican State Sen. Julius Canns and Burlington folk singer/songwriter Rachel Bissex. The politician and the artist were both victims of cancer.

"Jules," as he was known under the golden dome, was certainly a one-of-a-kind character, and I mean character. He arrived at the State-house 12 years ago as a crusty conservative curmudgeon from the Northeast Kingdom and quickly turned a lot of folks off. Long-winded partisan bombast doesn't fly well at the Statehouse.

But you know what?

Ol' Jules got the message. Sen. Canns changed his tune, but not his politics. He learned how to disagree without being disagreeable. The likable right-winger from St. J was even known to joke around with a certain left-wing columnist from Seven Days.

We'll miss you, Jules. Never forget you.

Then there was the sad news echoing through the Burlington arts community and beyond.

If beauty had another name it just might be "Rachel Bissex." She and her husband, jazz musician/ playwright Steve Goldberg, were cogs in the wheel of the 1980s Burlington arts scene. That's when our current congressman was our mayor and anything seemed possible.

Mayor Bernie Sanders started up a Mayor's Arts Council back then and later won a statewide following. From coffeehouses to concert halls, Rachel Bissex won a national following, too ( ).

In the post-disco, punk-rock 1980s, folk music wasn't cool anymore. Rachel was the first person we met in Burlap familiar with the late, great Phil Ochs. Ochs was the best political singer/songwriter of the '60s. He died in 1972 and quickly headed for obscurity.

Rachel's brilliant -- dare we say mesmerizing? -- 2004 CD, In White Light, was released after she was diagnosed with cancer. And it's a white light that will forever shine.

On her farewell masterpiece, she sings Phil Ochs' haunting goodbye, "No More Songs," like it's never been sung before.

The scar is in the sky, it's time to say goodbye.

The whale is on the beach, he's dying.

A white flag in my hand, a white bone in the sand

And it seems that there are no more songs.


Yes, indeed. But guess what?

Friday night at the Golden Gates Coffeehouse, Phil Ochs and Rachel Bissex will be performing their first singing duet... with "Big Joe" Burrell playing the sax!

Free admission. Limited seating.