Tag Archives: Vermont

Book Review: Back to the Land by Dona Brown

When most people think of the “Back to the Land” movement, the image that generally comes to mind is of hippies retreating to rural communes in the early 1970s. However, in her new book entitled Back to the Land: The Enduring Dream of Self-Sufficiency in Modern America, Dona Brown effectively shows how those back-to-the-landers were simply the latest manifestation of a very old American cultural tradition. As she powerfully demonstrates, the impulse to return to the land can be traced to the era when Americans first began to leave it for life in industrial cities.

A professor of history at the University of Vermont, Dr. Brown buttresses her narrative with numerous examples drawn from her extensive knowledge of the primary sources, beginning with the very first back to the land book. Published in response to the economic crisis of 1857, Ten Acres is Enough initiated a pattern that would continue for more than a century. In moments of crisis when unemployment became rife in the cities, many people came to see owning a farm as a powerful buffer against the vagaries of the market economy (in particular, the movement seems to have appealed to the higher echelons of blue collar workers and the lower middle class). In the time from the panic of 1893 to the First World War, the back to the land impulse became an actual movement, with powerful backers, several magazines, and an extensive number of published books.

The War and the prosperity of the 1920s moderated the movement’s goals and vision, but its radical side reemerged with a vengeance in the 1930s, when some aspects of it were incorporated into the New Deal. Partially in response to that institutionalization, a decentralist, alternative back to the land movement, which was very suspicious of the central government, also emerged during this period, centering in Vermont. This, in turn, laid the groundwork for Vermont to be one of the main stops for the subsequent generation’s own back to the landers.

Outlining in great detail the projects and personalities that characterized the back to the land movement over the course of the past century and a half, Dr. Brown’s book is not only a rich source of information about the past, but also casts many of the projects of the present in a new light. As her work demonstrates, things like food sovereignty and the local food movement exist are not wholly new developments, but descend from a long and venerable lineage. Even Vermont secession, which most contemporary advocates trace back to Frank Bryan’s work in the late 1980s, is shown to have reared its head in previous iterations (Vrest Orton, the founder of the still extant Vermont Country Store, was advocating a second Vermont republic as early as 1928). As such, this book is not only of great interest to those with an affinity for the history of social movements or of Vermont, but it is also essential reading for anyone involved in contemporary projects inspired by the back to the land spirit. Understanding the motivations and experiences of one’s intellectual ancestors is essential to fully comprehending the meaning of one’s own work, and Dr. Brown’s book is the best tool I’ve encountered for cultivating that consciousness. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Back to the Land!

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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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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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Perennial Attorney General Candidate Karen Kerin Advocates Lynching

While on Facebook recently, regular Libertarian candidate for Vermont Attorney General Karen Kerin made the following remark:

Karen Kerin Advocates Lynching

For those of you whose mob-violence slang is a bit rusty, “Necktie Party” is defined by Dictionary.com as “a lynching or other execution by hanging.” Now, regardless of your opinions of Wikileaks, the advocacy of extra-judicial mob murder is absolutely morally indefensible. What makes this a particularly horrifying case, however, is that Kerin has long-standing aspirations to be Vermont’s Attorney General. It was the endorsement and complicity of elected officials which allowed the terrorism that propped up Jim Crow to flourish, and a statement like this demonstrates that she is singularly unqualified and undeserving of that job. If she herself is advocating “necktie parties,” how can she be trusted to prosecute people who commit violent acts of which she approves?

It pains me to write this, since Ms. Kerin has been an ally on many issues, but I believe that she should not be allowed to make such an irresponsible and harmful statement without consequences. Though I identify as an independent, I find the Libertarian Party to be quite close to me ideologically, and I find it horrifying that, as the LP’s most visible candidate in Vermont, Ms. Kerin has had a large role in shaping peoples’ perceptions of my beliefs. As such, I advocate the shunning of Ms. Kerin until she apologizes for her statement and makes restitution by donating to the legal defense fund of the man whose murder she advocated. This shunning will take the following forms, and I hope other Vermonters will join me in this:

-Defriend Ms. Kerin on Facebook after sending her a note explaining your disgust with her behavior and calling on her to make restitution. Additionally, send all of your mutual friends notes encouraging them to do the same with a link to this post.

-If you are not a Facebook Friend of hers, send her an email (keringhost@gmail.com) or give her a phone call (802-282-3225) to register your disapproval of her incitement to violence.

-Uninvite her from any events you might host, and, if you encounter her at an event, tell her that you are waiting for her apology and restitution and then refuse to acknowledge her presence thereafter. If she is a speaker, leave the room for her talk.

The goal is to make it absolutely and publicly clear that the advocacy of lynching is utterly unacceptable behavior, and to do so will engender social consequences. And Ms. Kerin, if you want to make amends for your statement, I’ll be happy to post your apology on the ASR blog and to receive your donation or evidence thereof. You have my contact information.

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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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Peter Shumlin Brings Iraq War Cheerleader to Stump for him a Day Before the Election

Over the course of this year’s race for Vermont Governor, Dennis Steele’s presence in the contest and debates has had the effect of forcing the issue of America’s crippling involvement in no-win wars half-way around the world into the discourse around the election. At one debate, Peter Shumlin, while hedging himself by claiming that the Governor lacks the power to have much impact on foreign policy, stated that he would use the bully pulpit of the Governor’s office to publicly oppose the wars.

As such, it was profoundly disconcerting that Mr. Shumlin should choose to have Iraq War cheerleader and Vice President Joe Biden come to Vermont today in order to stump for him. In 2002, Biden used his immensely powerful position as Chair of the Senate Foreign Policy Committee to shepherd the war authorization through the Senate, and his Committee’s hearings were widely criticized as more of a farcical propaganda campaign than a legitimate attempt to objectively assess the threat posed by Iraq. Joe Biden was one of the key Democrats in Congress whose collaboration made it far easier for the Bush Administration to sell the false premises of the Iraq War to the American People. (1)

If Mr. Shumlin is serious about his support for a foreign policy of peace, he owes Vermonters an apology for bringing a man whose hands are irrevocably stained with the blood of the 115 Vermonters (2) who’ve been killed or wounded so far in the illegal and immoral Iraq War. If he doesn’t have the strength of character to stand up for the people of Vermont against an influential member of his party, it will only go to show the shallowness of his commitment to achieving true justice for Vermont. It’s time to end the wars and bring our friends and neighbors home safe; to do so, we need a Governor who will stand up to the Federal Government, not one who’ll kow-tow to the very people who’re responsible for this mess. If you agree, please vote Dennis Steele for Vermont Governor tomorrow; Imagine… Free Vermont.

(1) http://www.fpif.org/articles/biden_iraq_and_obamas_betrayal

(2) http://icasualties.org/Iraq/USCasualtiesByState.aspx

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The Health Care Debate and the Suppression of Lodge Practice

This is a talk that I delivered to the Vermont Campaign for Liberty’s annual convention last January; I just realized that I’d neglected to post it to the blog, so enjoy:

Recently, the health care debate has been one of the most salient issues for both Statists and advocates of liberty. As a result, it has become far more meaningful than as simply a legislative struggle over the way health-care is delivered to consumers; it has become the prism through which the assumptions and fundamental beliefs of each side are communicated to society at large.

In such a struggle, the primary weapon is not the bullet, or even the ballot, but is, instead, the story. Narratives are the mechanism through which we transform the “buzzing, blooming madness” of undifferentiated experience into the meaningful framework which we navigate and call our lives.

In the health care debate, each side uses certain kinds of stories to bolster the policies and world-view it advocates. On the statist side, we hear tear jerking stories of people who, because of their lack of health insurance, were forced to sacrifice limbs that might otherwise have been saved, and we hear about health insurance companies colluding with government officials to institute the current structure which has led to spiraling costs and the cartelization of the insurance industry. From these stories, the statist narrative concludes that, if the Government had total control of health care, costs would come down and no-one would have to go without an arm because of the greed of for-profit insurance companies. Continue reading

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Heads in the Sand: The “Democratic” Forums and the Attempts to Silence Dennis Steele

The events of the last month have powerfully revealed the descent of the campaign for Vermont Governor into the realm of farce. While the anointed Republican Brian Dubie sits idly on the side-lines waiting for a Democratic front-runner to emerge, the five Democrats have initiated a whirlwind “consensus-fest” tour of the Vermont, holding forums across the State during which they agree with each other for ninety minutes in front of a live audience. This has, obviously, led to some incredibly boring and near meaningless public meeting, which have only been spiced up by the presence of independent candidate Dennis Steele.

This is despite the fact that, due to a somewhat fishy sequence of events, Mr. Steele has not been invited to participate in any forum. At the first event of the campaign season, invitations were sent out to all of the candidates who’d made campaign treasurer filings with the Secretary of State; Dennis had just announced his candidacy and hadn’t yet made that filing, so his exclusion was understandable, if annoying. Soon after-wards, however, it became clear that Mr. Dubie was not going to engage in any forums until the Democratic candidate was determined. As a result, all of the subsequent candidate forums have been labeled Democratic candidates forums. This change made it quite simple to justify organizers’ exclusion of Dennis (or any other independent candidates) from the debates, thus sending the message to voters that only the Democratic candidates (and their opinions) matter.

In spite of this enormous hurdle, Steele has made his voice heard and challenged the weakness of principle and resolve that seems to plague the whole field of Democratic candidates. At the first forum (at which the topic was education), Dennis stood up during the question and answer session and pointed out the deep responsibility the Federal Government has for the erosion of local school control. He then inquired as to what the Democratic candidates would do as Governor to reverse that trend and, if the Feds were unresponsive, if they’d consider political independence. His question stimulated a spirited discussion among the “official” candidates, and expose the whole audience to the idea that we have more options available to us with which to solve our problems that those that the Democrats and Republicans discuss.

Having met with success, Dennis continued this strategy at further forums, confronting the other candidates about such things as bringing the National Guard home from the wars and the fact that, in spite of a Vermont statute legalizing the growing of hemp, the Federal Government still prohibits the production of that valuable cash crop by Vermont farmers. However, the Democrats were catching on to Dennis’ strategy, and began to throw up barriers to having to answer his hard questions. First, at the UVM College Democrats debate, they required that all questions be submitted to the moderator rather than being taken directly from the floor. However, one of the selected questions had been submitted by Steele supporter Steve Liable, and Dennis rose to clarify it when the Democratic candidates deflected its essence. The next event was not open to the public, but was instead peopled by invitees of the sponsoring organizations. Steele was able to circumvent that roadblock by getting a press pass, but when he challenged the candidates about the reality of the budget crisis when $1.5 billion Vermont tax dollars are spent each year on a failed foreign policy, the police pounced and Dennis was escorted out in handcuffs.

Dennis Steele removed from the "Democratic" candidates forum.

This elaborate song and dance powerfully communicates the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of Vermont’s political “leadership”. None of the answers they’re willing to consider even come close to addressing the problems we face: a corrupt, out of control financial system, an empire that is forcing our whole society into bankruptcy, a growing governmental disregard for civil liberties, and the wholesale destruction of the autonomy of local communities. The solutions to these problems require serious resolve, creativity, and a willingness to stand up to the Federal Government; the Establishment candidates, however, want people to keep believing that their stop-gap, band-aid fixes will make everything better. The truth scares them; so much so, in fact, that they’d rather see its messenger led away in handcuffs than take on the heavy responsibility of actually leading Vermont to a better future. Dennis Steele, on the other hand, is ready to take on that task without apology, and deserves your vote this coming November.

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Dennis Steele Confronts the Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates on Bringing Home the National Guard

Dennis’ question sparked a quite interesting discussion; check out the podcast on Radio Free Vermont!

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