Tag Archives: Burlington

Song of the Vermonters, 2011

(The original poem, “Song of the Vermonters – 1779” by John Greenleaf Whittier can be found here)

Ho–all to the Wall-Street! Vermonters, come down,
With your breeches of Carhartt and jackets of brown;
With your twittering smart-phones and your picket-signs come,
To the gathering summons of trumpet and drum.

Come down with your backpacks!
Leave school and leave work
Safe in the hands of some cowardly jerk;
Let the bear feed securely from pig-pen and stall;
It is time for the banksters to finally fall.

Ho–all to the rescue! For Satan shall work
No gain for his legions of D.C. and York!
They foreclose on our homes–the pitiful warts–
The tribute we pay shall be prisons and torts!

Let Obama and Bernanke with bribes in their hands,
Still seek to divide and parcel our lands;
We’ve coats for our traitors, whoever they are;
The warp is of feathers–the filling of tar:

Does the ‘old Fannie Mae’ threaten?
Does BoA complain?
Swarms Citigroup in arms on our borders again?
Scheme the derivative traders of Goldman aloud on the lake–
Let ’em come; what they can they are welcome to take.

What seek they among us?
The pride of our wealth
Is comfort, contentment, and labor, and health,
And lands which, as Freemen we only have trod,
Independent of all, save the mercies of God.

Yet we owe no allegiance, we bow to no throne,
Our ruler is law and the law is our own;
Our leaders themselves are our own fellow-men,
Who can handle the sword, or the scythe, or the pen.

Hurrah for Vermont! For the land which we till
Must have sons to defend her from valley and hill;
Leave the harvest to rot on the fields where it grows,
And the reaping of wheat for the toppling of foes

From far the Mad River’s wild valley, to where
Kingdom-folk steal down from their wood-circled lair,
From Highgate Center to Brattleboro town
Ho–all to the rescue! Vermonters come down!

Come York or come Washington, come Banksters or knaves,
If ye rule o’er our land ye shall rule o’er our graves;
Our vow is recorded–our banner unfurled,
In the name of Vermont we defy all the world!

I’ve decided that if the protest seems to be going strong on Monday, I will follow my own advice and make my way down to NYC to join them. It’s been several years since the criminality of the banks, Fed, and government ran our country’s economy into the ground, and the crooks have gotten away with it with minimal consequences (unlike in Iceland, which recently indited its former prime minister for his role in the financial crisis). Hopefully there’ll be a few Vermonters at my side as I enter the heart of darkness that is the Big Apple to demand that the criminals be held accountable…

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2011-03-20 Gary Flomenhoft Interview

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKvlHYA%5D

In which I  discuss public banking (i.e. the State Bank of North Dakota), monetary sovereignty, and the fate of the dollar with UVM Gund Institute Fellow Gary Flomenhoft.

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2/13/2011 Jessica Bernier talks Food Sovereignty on ASR

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKkwgsA%5D

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2/6/2011 Kevin Hurley Interview

An interview with Vermont filmmaker and anti-fluoridation activist Kevin Hurley, in which we discuss his upcoming documentary, Safe and Effective, as well as the history of the issues surrounding the use of fluoride as a tool of public health policy.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKh9x8A%5D

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Standing With Wikileaks: A Reflection on a Vermont Demonstration

As the Wikileaks drama has continued to unfold, my level of concern has steadily increased. Public figures (both nationally and locally) have called for the extra-judicial murder of the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, and members of Congress have begun using its existence as a justification to implement Internet censorship systems akin to those used in China (with Senator Lieberman going so far as to publicly hold China up as a model for emulation). Such horrifying realities brought me to realize that simply promoting and defending Wikileaks from behind a computer screen is no longer sufficient – the stakes are just too high.

After some reflection, I came to the conclusion that the most effective thing to do would be to organize a public rally in support of the right to a free press and in solidarity with Wikileaks in my community of Burlington, Vermont. Such an action would be especially effective, I reasoned, because it seems that the majority of people have yet to develop hardened opinions of the topic which have been integrated into their identities. Instead, as an almost totally novel phenomenon, undecided folks are looking to their environment for cues as to how they should feel about it. They’ve been hearing the drum-beat of “treason, egomanic, putting the troops in danger, etc.” from much of the mainstream media and political elite, so it is urgent that supporters of Wikileaks provide a counter-narrative. For all of the fence-sitters who feel sympathetic (but isolated, because the neo-McCarthyist mass media they consume is attempting to equate such sympathy with treason), to see fellow supporters publicly demonstrating (in the most literal sense of the word) their feelings could be just the nudge that is needed to push them into action. Continue reading

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A Possible Way Out of the Burlington Telecom Debacle: Mutualization

The shaky position of Burlington’s city-owned telecommunications company, Burlington Telecom, has been publicly apparent for quite some time now, but recent events have powerfully highlighted its uncertain future. It’s been in negotiations with its creditor, Citi Capital, to restructure its debt load for months, but, according to Seven Days, those talks have recently broken down and Citi Capital is demanding the either the repossession of BT’s infrastructure or the repayment of the lease from Burlington’s general fund. As a BT customer, this definitely has me concerned since I have little desire to find myself suddenly sans Internet as a result of the crisis.

As such, it is vitally important to find a just resolution to this problem, but I’ve been unimpressed by the ideas that have been floated thus far. A straight-up bailout from a City or State funding source seems to be (and should be) off the table since it would be profoundly unjust to the taxpayers who don’t utilize BT’s services. Similarly, selling the service to a private company with the cash on hand to quickly resolve the debt issue is equally problematic. Substantial public resources have gone into building Burlington Telecom, and to turn over the value embedded in that investment to a private concern while in a state of crisis (and thus likely not receiving a fair-market price) would be equally irresponsible and as much a theft from the taxpayers as a bailout. Finally, simply letting it fail due to what is essentially an artificial scarcity of capital would again be a disservice to the taxpayers and citizens of Burlington.

However, I believe there’s another route out of the BT crisis that has not been sufficiently explored: mutualization. By selling the service to its users in the form of a consumer co-operative (similar to Vermont Electric Co-op), BT could continue serving them while, at the same time, it would eliminate the risk and burden placed on non-BT subscribing taxpayers. Furthermore, selling Burlington Telecom to the “Burlington Telecom Co-op” would open new sources of capital to BT that would allow it to lessen its dependence on out-of-state financing.

The first source of capital would be member equity; each subscriber would be required to hold an ownership stake in BT and, depending on the number of subscribers, this could easily put several million dollars into its coffers right off the bat to get itself back on track with Citi and retire some of its out-of-state debt. Second, it could sell bonds to its members. Paying a greater rate of interest than most individuals can find for their savings while still keeping them lower than those paid to Citi, such bonds would create three benefits. First, they would allow BT supporters to put their money where their mouths are and pony up the capital necessary to support BT’s solvency and success. Second, they would allow for the retirement of a substantial portion of BT’s outstanding debt with debt at a lower interest rate, thus reducing the financial pressure on the company. Finally, such bonds would mean that the interest payments would accrue to BT’s stakeholders in Burlington and be fed back into our local economy rather than feeding an out-of-state banking conglomerate that has sucked up billions in Federal bailout money.

Additionally, the new co-op could also potentially obtain capital from a wide variety of sources that exist specifically to assist co-operatives. Indeed, one of seven guiding principles of the co-operative movement is “cooperation among co-operatives.” The mutualization of Burlington Telecom would be an excellent opportunity for Vermont’s co-operative movement to publicly honor that principle by purchasing BT bonds. Our state has more food co-ops per capita than anywhere else in the country, many of Vermont’s credit unions have assets in the hundreds of millions, and utility co-ops are omnipresent. If those institutions act according to their principles and step forward to invest in a fellow fledgling co-operative institution, the benefits would accrue to both their institutions and the people of Burlington. While the details of such a plan must still be worked out, I sincerely believe BT’s mutualization is the only just path forward; it deserves serious public consideration before the taxpayers are ripped off, one way or the other, in a corrupt and/or exploitative resolution of the Burlington Telecom crisis.

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Patronage Refund! *or* Why Everyone in Burlington Should Be a Member of City Market.

Many of the folks I know who live in Burlington, Vermont have a mixed perception of our co-operative grocery store, City Market. Though they appreciate the convenience of the downtown location, it’s often perceived as an overpriced natural foods store which might be nice for specialty items, but would break the bank if you did the bulk of your grocery shopping there. The attitude can ultimately be summed up by the epithet that some Burlingtonians apply to the store: “Shitty Mark-up.” Recent events, however, have revealed the utter falsehood of that impression; in fact, it has gotten to the point where anyone who lives in Burlington and doesn’t do the bulk of their shopping at City Market is clearly acting against their own economic self-interest.

There are several reasons that this is so, but they all derive from the fact that City Market, unlike all of the other grocery stores in the Burlington area, is not a joint stock corporation, a partnership, or a sole proprietorship, but a consumer co-operative. When many people think of food co-ops, what often comes to mind is organic, fair-trade, expensive but high-quality food. While it is true that City Market stocks a wide variety of such items, so does Healthy Living and Fresh Market, which are not co-ops. Instead of being defined by what it sells, the core of a co-op’s identity lies in its ownership structure.

A traditional corporation is owned by shareholders, who are entitled to a share of the profits commensurate to the amount of stock they own. A consumer co-op, by contrast, is owned by its customers (or, in co-op parlance, members). Each member may only own one “share” of “stock,” referred to as equity, and that share entitles him or her to a refund of the profits that were generated by that member’s patronage. As a result, the co-op operates on a non-profit basis in relation to its member-owners.

In concrete terms, this is what that looks like:

Sweet City Market Dough

The above is a picture is the patronage refund check that I received in the mail today from City Market, which refunds the profits the co-op made on my purchases between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010. It breaks down as follows.  Over the course of that time period, I spent $2105.60 at City Market, and the co-op returned about 7.3% of that sum back to me.  Half of that took the form of cash (hence the check is for $76.80), and an equal amount was retained in reserve to make sure the co-op has operating cash, money to pay for capital improvements, etc.  However, I retain a claim to that sum: it (along with the retained money from previous years) is in an account under my name, and if I ever leave Burlington and close out my membership, I’ll receive that a check for the total amount.

Now, someone might object that such benefits come at the cost of a $15 per year membership fee; even if that were true, membership would still be worth it. However, the $15 yearly required payment is not a membership fee, but the payment for a piece of your share of “stock.” Each share has a value of $200, but the co-op doesn’t require new members to pay the full lump sum right away. Instead, one only has to fork over a minimum of $15 per year until the total reaches $200, after which no further payments are necessary. And, as in the case of the retained patronage refund (but unlike the fee paid to a company such as Costco), if you ever leave the co-op, you get that money back.

As such, I believe that it’s financially irresponsible for anyone living in Burlington to buy their groceries anywhere but City Market. Not only do you get a portion of money you spent there back in cash and build a bit of a nest egg in the form of your retained patronage account, but the prices for staple grocery items (even excluding the dividend) are, according to the Burlington Free Press, roughly on par with other area grocery stores. Add in the financial benefits of cooperative membership, and shopping anywhere else is literally throwing your money away. So, next time you need a gallon of milk, head over to the Customer Service counter at City Market and become a member; your credit union account will thank you!

P.S. Credit unions are also organized as consumer co-ops; why put your money in a bank someone else owns when you can own your own bank and keep the profits! A list of Vermont credit unions can be found here if you want to make the smart switch!

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On the Question of Instant Runoff Voting (I.R.V.)

For those readers who neither live in Burlington, Vermont, nor are political junkies, IRV stands for Instant Runoff Voting, and it has been the center of some local controversy recently.  A few years ago, Burlington voted in a referendum to change its voting system by which the mayor is elected from requiring a plurality of at least 40% to IRV, and the most recent mayoral election was the first [*correction* second, though the result of the first election was less controversial.  Hat-tip to UVM Prof. Gary Flomenhoft. */correction*] in which the mayor was elected by the new system.  That election has been at the center of the aforementioned controversy, and there is now an item on the upcoming ballot proposing IRV’s repeal.

Before I get into the controversy, however, we’ll first run over the whys and hows of Instant Runoff Voting.  The traditional voting system with which we’re all familiar usually gives each person one vote, and if the candidate with the most votes fails to reach the required threshold (usually 50%, in the case of Burlington, 40%), a run-off election is held between the top two vote-getters a few weeks later.  However, there’s a glaring problem with that voting system; namely, the “spoiler effect”.  Instead of allowing people to vote their consciences, they are incentivized to vote for the least personally objectionable of the two most popular or visible candidates; hence in the 2000 election, people could claim that, by voting for Ralph Nader, people on the left were helping the right by “spoiling” the election for George Bush.  For folks who aren’t happy with having a two-choice political system, the spoiler effect is deeply problematic.

IRV was designed to eliminate the spoiler effect by allowing people to express their opinions about the full slate of candidates by ranking them.  To use a hypothetical example to illustrate this, let’s assume that the Presidential election had been conducted by IRV, with John McCain, Barack Obama, Ron Paul, and Ralph Nader on the ballot.  In a traditional election, if most people supported Barack Obama and John McCain, voting for Paul or Nader could be considered helping the other side.  However, under IRV, a hypothetical conservative might vote: Continue reading

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Breeding Better Vermonters

In my Graduate Historiography class, we’ve been assigned a wide range of books. Each professor in the History Department has chosen one, and comes in as a guest facilitator for the class discussion of their chosen text. It’s a great way to meet the professors, and also means that we’re reading a selection of texts that’s extremely diverse, both in terms of subject matter as well as format.

The book I read for this week’s class was quite interesting and enlightening for a number of reasons. It’s about both Vermont (my enthusiastically adopted home), the provision of child welfare (my job for the past few years with HowardCenter), and was written as the expansion of a Masters thesis done by a student of UVM’s History MA program (what I’d ultimately like to do). Entitled Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State, this book by Nancy Gallagher traces the life and times of Eugenics Survey of Vermont director and UVM Zoology Professor Henry Perkins as he both instigated and responded to developments in the field of eugenics in the 1920s and -30s.

In the process of telling Perkins’ story (a tale littered with backdrops familiar to anyone who lives in Vermont or has gone to UVM), Gallagher exposes the flow of eugenic thinking within the agendas of the Progressive movement of the early 20th century. Beginning with a general sense of “Race Suicide” (as promulgated by such illustrious figures as President Theodore Roosevelt) in which the poor, dumb, and therefore less fit were out-breeding the superior white Anglo-Saxon race upon which America’s prosperity was based, eugenics developed as a science with the mission of investigating and reversing this trend. Eugenics researchers thus took the very basic knowledge of heredity of the time and set out with the purpose of determining the exact nature of well- and poorly-bred people with the intent of then encouraging public health initiatives that favored the former over the latter. To this end, eugenicists encouraged the passage of Sterilization Laws for the “unfit” and “feebleminded”, the expansion and professionalization of a social work/human services bureaucracy that could mediate and control “unfit” groups, etc.

It was with this agenda initially in mind that Perkins obtained support and funding for the Eugenics Survey of Vermont. In the beginning, the Survey investigated families with reputations as problematic with charity workers and their communities. These families existed at the fringes of “respectable” society, and Gallagher indicates that some of them might’ve been Abenaki native Americans who’s “antisocial” behavior was their attempt to preserve some semblance of their identity and culture as a tiny minority, while others were French Canadians against whom the Anglo-Saxon elite of Vermont held many prejudices.

As the survey progressed over the years, however, the American academic community’s opinion of Eugenics began shifting, and a sociological explanation for poverty and deviant behavior as the result of poor living and developmental conditions began to gain credence at the expense of hereditary justifications. Perkins responded to this change by shifting the Survey’s focus in that direction, and ultimately, as the Nazi racial hygene discredited eugenics in many folks’ eyes as a pseudo-science, came to embrace the position that social injustices were so confounding that it was virtually impossible to parse out hereditary contributions to “anti-social” behavior.  In the meantime, however, Vermont passed a “voluntary” sterilization act in the early 1930s, in which institutionalized people could be released into society in exchange for agreeing to be sterilized.  Perkins’ supposed “change of heart” wasn’t sufficient motivation for him to change his opinion on (or call for the repeal of) those sterilization laws, and poor and indigenous Vermonters continued to be reproductively handicapped by the State into the 1960s.  The effects of this regime still resonate to this day; a classmate of Abenaki descent mentioned during our discussion of the book that older people in her community still refer to neutering a pet as “giving it the Perkins treatment”.

For anyone with an interest in Vermont, Eugenics, or the unintended consequences of middle-class do-gooderism, Breeding Better Vermonters is a profoundly enlightening look into a dark, rarely discussed chapter in Vermont’s (and America’s) history.  With our society’s increasingly deep knowledge of genetics and heredity that would leave the eugenicists of the 1930s in awe, Gallagher raises vital questions, issues, and experiences that we can lose sight of only at the risk of grave peril.  It’s a history that we cannot afford to repeat.

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Fluoride, Cash for Clunkers, and a Marek Hirsch Update!

In which we interview Kevin Hurley of the Safe Water Advocates of Burlington about his work on water fluoridation, discuss the insanity of the Cash for Clunkers program, and get an update from former ASR host Marek Hirsch about the housing and economic situation in Miami, Florida.

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An AIG “Counterparty” in Our Own Fair State.

According to this article from The Street, the Royal Bank of Scotland is one of the major beneficiaries of the bailout of AIG.  If you’re curious as to how a foreign bank that has already received heaping servings of bailout money from its own government is getting its paws on U.S. taxpayer dollars, here’s the skinny.  AIG is (?was?) an insurance company that, in the go-go days of the bubble, decided that it would be a sound policy to offer insurance for the speculative derivative games that the big banks were playing.  Things were good for a few years, and everyone was making money hand over fist.  Then suddenly it became clear that the “wealth” of that period was speculative and imaginary, and the value of the derivatives that the big banks had been throwing their dough into suddenly went *poof*. As AIG made the bright choice to insure these investments, it became suddenly obligated to pay for the losses.  The losses were so staggeringly large that AIG posted the largest loss in U.S. corporate history, and the government has come in several times to inject more money into it, with the total now above one hundred and fifty billion dollars.

One result of this particular bailout is that it rewards the companies that made the most irresponsible decisions during the boom, paying off their losses with the taxpayer dime through the intermediary of AIG.  This means that the very folks who have proven themselves least capable of pursuing sustainable business practices in a period of economic growth will still be calling the shots for our economy the next time a bubble emerges, setting us up for further calamities.  The corollary of this state of affairs is that the folks in the financial industry who saw their role as providing capital for real economic expansion would be at the top of the heap if the big boys were allowed to fail.  Instead, those folks will be on the sidelines as the gamblers eagerly wait for the next bubble to start the process all over again. This is brought home to Vermont in the form of Citizens Bank.  While once a regional bank, “Citizens Bank” is now merely a regional brand name much like “Chittenden Bank”.  Both are wholly owned subsidiaries of larger institutions, Citizens bank’s owner being the Royal Bank of Scotland.  So when taxpayer money is given to AIG, it flows ultimately to benefit the shareholders of RBS and the British Government (which now has a 70% stake in the company).  The same thing happens when you deposit money in Citizens Bank: the profits made from the money don’t benefit us in VT but are instead shipped across the Atlantic.

We’re organizing a picket of Citizen’s banks in Vermont at noon on Tuesday, March 31st to “thank” the taxpayers for their generosity.  If you’re interested in participating or helping out, shoot an email to vermontbankstrike@gmail.com.  If you a to really fight back against the corruption that’s engulfing our political and economic system, sign the Vermont Bank Users Strike Pledge at bankstrike.org.

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Bank Strike Meeting

Tomorrow (Jan 12) at 5:30p in the library of the Bank Street Infoshop (117 Bank Street, Burlington, VT) there’ll be a meeting to discuss possible tactics, strategies, and organization for a bank strike. Be there if you’re interested in punishing the financial giants who’re stealing our money (oops…I mean, receiving bailouts and  “loans”) and corrupting our government, and are interested in discussing potential alternatives.

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