The heat is on: Vermont aims to cool the impact of global warming
The Douglas administration has signed on to an aggressive regional plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but some environmentalists say it may be too little, too late.
The regional initiative — embraced by nine states and several Eastern Canadian provinces — would reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2012; 50 percent by 2028; and a minimum of 75 percent by 2050.
Gov. Jim Douglas announced his support of the measures Dec. 5 at a UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal, where the Bush administration made a stir by continuing to claim that a voluntary approach was better than the mandated reductions spelled out in the Kyoto Treaty.
Long known for its funky character and progressive values, residents in Brattleboro hope to marshal this image into economic policy.
A campaign is currently underway to obtain “fair trade” status, which would make Brattleboro the second such town in the nation, and the first in New England and Vermont.
Fair trade promotes equitable standards for international labor, environmentalism, and social policy in areas related largely to the production of consumer goods, ranging from handicrafts to agricultural commodities.
More specifically, exports are sold and traded for by developing countries to developed countries. Fair trade’s aim is to empower marginalized producers and workers.
Coffee, teas, spices, and bananas are fair trade products commonly sold on the market today and FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organization) statistics indicate that 2005 fair trade certified sales were estimated at more than $2 billion worldwide.
The idea for Brattleboro to become a fair trade town took root with Tami Stenn, the owner of Kusikuy Clothing Company in Brattleboro, a wholesale fair trade organic clothing company.
For the last three years, Stenn has co-organized the “Muna Fest,” an annual fair trade bazaar featuring more than 15 local fair trade vendors. Just before last year’s event, Stenn heard about fair trade town efforts in Media, PA, and thought it would be a great idea to pursue.
Joining her in the effort was Sara Stender, a graduate student at the School for International Training.
“[W]e wanted to establish more projects and the fair trade town came to me about a week or two before and we thought the Muna Fest event would be a great place to introduce the initiative,” said Stender.
Brattleboro is also home to the Brattleboro Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ), which offers users exemption from import duties and customs tariffs. In late December 2005, Brattleboro received approval to create the zone. The key difference between trade zone and the fair trade efforts is that some fair trade goods and services will be traded, and the town must meet the Fair Trade Foundation critieria (see sidebar).
Joe Famolare, president of the Brattleboro FTZ, welcomes fair trade efforts and also sees it as complementary to the trade zone. “I think it would be perfect. We’d love it,” said Famolare. “The object of our foreign trade zone is individualized organizations doing business. We’ve got the Central American Free Trade Agreement [being implemented] and I feel that in the foreign trade zone, we’d like to work with small countries like Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, they do big business with coffee. There is fair trade coffee coming in with Mocha Joe’s and such. So I think it suits Brattleboro.”
U.S. fair trade towns
In June 2006, Media became the first town in the nation to adopt Fair Trade Foundation standards. Hal Taussig, founder of Untours, Inc., got together with his staff to talk about whether Media could become a fair trade town. Only Taussig was familiar with the concept.
“[Hal] said two summers ago to a bunch of us, ‘Let’s make Media the first fair trade town,’ and we responded as any self-respecting people would — we all laughed at him,” said Liz Killough, associate director of the Untours Foundation, a provider of low interest loans to individuals and organizations for job creation and low-income housing and a supporter of fair trade products.
“I did a little research and found that Britain has over 200 fair trade towns and Europe has hundreds of fair trade towns, so I humored Hal by starting the process of doing some community organizing and was amazed that the campaign got a life of its own,” Killough added.
The Media Business Authority loved the idea and fast-tracked it to the Media Borough Council where the measure passed. Killough credits Media’s progressive business climate for the fast passage, but believes such a campaign could fly in many communities.
“It wouldn’t fly at all if the town wasn’t progressive to a certain degree. On the other hand, fair trade appeals very much to all places on the political spectrum. The right likes fair trade, in part, because it can keep people on their land and keep them from immigrating to the United States,” she noted.
Brattleboro: The ideal place to start
To get the idea rolling in Brattleboro, Stenn and Stender brought together a diverse group of people who have an interest in promoting social justice and Brattleboro’s economy.
The group’s first meeting was two weeks ago, and included local business owners; Famolare; Vern Grubinger, director of the University of Vermont Sustainable Agriculture Center; and Alex Wilson of Green Building magazine, said Stender.
Stender believes a fair trade zone in Brattleboro would work because it already meets most of the criteria put forth in the Fair Trade Foundation’s standards.
“Brattleboro has a very good foundation for fair trade consumerism. There are already a number of businesses here familiar with fair trade and selling products that are fair trade certified, so I think it’s a relatively educated community as well and a forward thinking people,” she said.
The Brattleboro Selectboard has not yet indicated whether it would approve such a measure, but one Selectboard member believes it’s a good idea.
“Poverty is a condition that no one should have to suffer and anytime that we as individuals or as a community can help raise people anywhere out of poverty it improves everybody’s quality of life,” said Audrey Garfield. “What Brattleboro is saying is we will not tolerate working conditions for people in other countries that we would not tolerate or accept for ourselves and I think it’s a really positive thing for anybody to get behind.”
Make it sustainable
Although there may be no direct opposition in Brattleboro, the crux of the matter is to ensure it will succeed in the long run.
“I think right now this really needs to be community-based in order for this movement to work,” said Stender. “We need to be spreading the word, we need more people at these meetings, but just to spread the word and get people talking. I don’t really see that as an obstacle but more of a challenge to get more people involved.”
“I just think that the hardest thing is working in an industry that’s not 100 percent formulated yet exactly what is fair trade. It’s still forming itself, which I think is fine,” said Stenn. “But I just think that ambiguity might be the thing that could stall us, so I think our biggest challenge is to keep clear and keep things moving and not get bogged down in too much ambiguity.”
For his part, Grubinger wants to ensure that local farmers are part of the process, and are considered as fair trade partners.
“You want to help people in developing countries get a fair price for their product but their situation is a similar to a lot of farmers here,” said Grubinger.
Others believe time and resources can make or break a fair trade endeavor.
“It’s not just financial resources but time and people able to commit to this because in order for anything to get off the ground and to be sustained you’ve got to have people working on it all the time,” said David Funkhouser, strategic outreach director of TransFair USA, who works with community and faith based organizations promoting fair trade products.
Garfield said that shouldn’t be a problem. “Brattleboro is really lucky to have very committed people serving on all types of committees. So I don’t think a [fair trade town] committee would be any different.”
“I think it goes along with ‘think globally, act locally’ as well,” said Stender. “I think that it’s really a Vermont value to support local businesses and smaller businesses and we are in a rural area and we need to continue to support that and to help benefit the economy locally. I think this is a great opportunity to really market Brattleboro.”
Becoming a fair trade town
To be recognized as a fair trade town the following must occur:
A local council passes a resolution supporting fair trade and agrees to serve fair trade tea and coffee at its meetings and in its offices and canteens;
A range of (at least two) fair trade products is readily available in the area’s shops and local cafes/catering establishments;
Fair trade products are used by a number of local workplaces and community organizations;
There is media coverage and popular support for the campaign; and,
A local steering committee is convened to ensure continued commitment to fair trade status.
QUANTICO, VA — A Vermont soldier at the centre of a national effort to help active-duty military personnel find ways to tell members of Congress they want the United States to pull out of Iraq is now handing out care packages at several military bases around the country that make it easy for troops to speak out.
The care packages include informational flyers and baked goods, as well as copies of the movie, Sir No Sir, a documentary about military resisters during the Vietnam War, and The Ground Truth, which follows soldiers from basic training to deployment to Iraq to their homecoming and reintegration.
“The main purpose of the care packages though, is to carry an appeal for redress in a pre-addressed envelope to the troops,” said Liam Madden, a Bellows Falls native, and U.S. Marine sergeant.
Madden said if 100 care packages can be distributed at each of the bases, he would consider that a success. The idea was kicked around on a conference call regarding the appeal for redress several weeks ago.
An “appeal for redress” is a legal means by which service members can appeal to members of Congress to urge an end to a U.S. military occupation. Under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, active-duty military, National Guard and reservists can send a protected communication to a member of Congress regarding any subject without reprisal.
“We saw the holidays as a great opportunity to reach out to the troops and simultaneously show our support and deliver our message to the active duty,” Madden said.
There are volunteers working at the following bases: Fort Carson in Colorado; Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona; Dover Air Force Base in Delaware; Groton Naval Base in Connecticut; Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia; and the cluster of bases in southern California, as well as bases near Washington, DC.
“We are working with a few dozen volunteers. Some are getting their first taste of this type of participation,” said Madden. “The project is a coalition of active service members who have submitted appeals for redress, veterans and veterans organizations, military families, and concerned citizens throughout the country.”
Madden said he has not received any hostile responses from his fellow service members or his chain of command.
“I’ve found that very few people support the occupation, but that many have reservations about us withdrawing too quickly or they feel we now owe the Iraqi people our help,” said Madden. “I also get the impression that the idea of being socially and politically involved is something very foreign to most of the fellow service members I’ve encountered.”
Madden hopes the packages will be delivered before the new year, and hopefully before Christmas.
Madden, a 2002 graduate of Bellows Falls High School, is currently stationed in Quantico, VA, after serving in Iraq’s Anbar province from September 2004 until February 2005. He currently has two months left on duty and does not plan to re-enlist.
To date, more than 1,200 U.S. servicemen and women have signed these appeals, which state: “As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.”
The idea for the redress appeals originated in January when Seaman Jonathan Hutto of Atlanta, GA, was deployed to Iraq.
An old buddy of Hutto’s, who was a member of the G.I. movement to resist the Vietnam War back in the early 1970s, sent him a 30th-anniversary copy of Soldiers in Revolt written by David Cortright. The book chronicles the movement within the military during the Vietnam War who advocated to end that war and bring the troops home. One of the avenues they used was appealing to political leaders in Washington.
By 1971 more than 250,000 of these active duty servicemen appealed to Congress. Reading this gave Hutto an inspiration to speak out.
During the Vietnam War era, many credit the outspoken words of veterans and active-duty soldiers for bringing about an end to that war, rather than any politician or citizen-led movement.
Madden, and others hope that their speaking out will help bring a quick end to the Iraq War.
For more information
The group is looking for contributions to help pay for the packages and is looking for additional volunteers.
To donate, checks can be mailed to: Appeal for Redress Holiday Project, P.O Box 53052, Washington, DC 20009-3052, or at www.appealforredress.org.
The ingredients of the care packages are:
• An appeal for redress in a pre-addressed envelope;
• The “bait,” otherwise known as baked goods and other treats;
• Where they are available we are incorporating DVDs of the films Sir No Sir and The Ground Truth; and,
• Each regional team is in charge of all other “gifts” in the care packages such as informational flyers about the supporting organizations.
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With none of the controversial touch-screen voting systems that have raised red flags in other states and a safeguard mechanism in place, Vermonters can be assured of secure election results come November, according to Secretary of State Deb Markowitz.
Or can we?
A handful of local activists have their doubts, and last week a national voting watchdog pointed to what they say are serious problems with the Diebold optical scanner system used in Vermont.
Calais resident Jim Hogue, who helped propel the state’s ban on paperless electronic voting in 2003, said he thought at the time that the battle was over. “I thought ‘OK, we’ve won’ … and then I started discovering how vulnerable the optical scanners were.”
Optical scanners read text or illustrations printed on paper and translate the information by digitizing an image. Vermont town clerks themselves opted to use the Diebold 1.94w system, not only because it’s user friendly but because it’s compatible with existing printers, said Markowitz.
Seventy-three of Vermont’s 246 towns use them, representing more than 50 percent of the state’s approximately 417,000 registered voters.
The system allows voters to mark paper ballots, typically with pencils or pens, independent of any machine. Voters then insert their ballots into the scanner, which optically records the vote.
“It’s not just me feeling that way. What the security minds nationally are looking at as people are talking about concerns with touch-screen technology, they’re really suggesting in large part going to an optical scan technology,” said Markowitz.
She said her confidence is bolstered by Vermont’s longstanding relationship with a Massachusetts company, LHS Associates, which has been configuring Vermont ballots for 20 years. ”With an optical scan, no matter who’s producing the machine, it’s being configured by people we know; we know their names, we know which machines they’re dealing with,” said Markowitz.
“When they configure Vermont’s races, every ballot is different in every community. It’s done in an open process by people working on freestanding machines. … Nobody can make a change without others being aware of it. From there it goes to a mailer that can only be accepted by the signature of the clerk. So our security starts as soon as the fingers are touching the card-setting of the ballot, and under our chain-of-custody rule the town clerk knows exactly who has touched the card.”
To top it off, the scanners are kept in a locked vault until Election Day, Markowitz pointed out. And finally, under the state’s 2003 legislation, the secretary of state may conduct a random audit of election results.
“The last piece of the security cycle is to have the ability to say if you do something funny we can catch you. We have this new law that allows us to conduct random audits and we plan to do that in this coming election,” she said.
But Richmond resident Gary Beckwith of the group Vermonters for Voting Integrity said Vermont election officials are placing blind faith in a system that has been proven vulnerable.
“We’ve got a problem in Vermont: Our system is not secure and that’s indisputable at this point,” Beckwith maintains. “Several independent tests have confirmed it’s not secure, and the real problem, in my mind, is that the people responsible for keeping our system secure are not concerned.”
According to the website electionline.org, Vermont is one of only four states that require a paper ballot system; seven more states use no electronic equipment whatsoever.
Beckwith ticks off a list that includes the California secretary of state refusing to certify Diebold voting machines after they failed in 10 security tests, and Leon County, FL, officials who banned the machines because of security flaws.
In a letter this summer to Kathy DeWolfe, director of elections in Markowitz’s office, Beckwith demanded to know what Vermont was going to do “now that we have obvious and credible evidence that Diebold as a company cannot be trusted.”
$12 and four minutes
Last week, the national voting advocacy watchdog group, Black Box Voting, announced that a pair of middle-aged, computer savvy women working with the group bought $12 worth of tools and in four minutes penetrated the memory card seals of the Deibold 1.94w system, removed and replaced the memory card, and sealed it up again “without leaving a trace.”
The group said it purchased an optical scanner and made the attempt after two Florida studies “proved that election results can be altered in such a way that the supervisor of elections cannot detect the tampering.”
The hackers removed five screws to unfasten the sealed memory cards, the group said in a press release. “Inside, all that stands between a poll worker (or an insider at the warehouse or elections office) and the open-for-business memory card is a washer which you can unscrew.”
The group’s latest test comes a year after computer expert Harri Hursti determined that the Diebold design incorporates “the mother of security holes.”
“This design would not appropriately be characterized as ‘a house with the door open.’ The design of the Diebold Precinct-Based Optical Scan 1.94w system is, in the author’s own view, more akin to ‘a house with an unlockable revolving door,’” Hursti wrote.
Because the system’s removable memory card contains an executable program which acts on the vote data, changing the program on the memory card can change the way the optical scan machine functions and the way the votes are reported, Hursti wrote.
“The system won’t work without this program on the memory card. Whereas we would expect to see vote data in a sealed, passive environment, this system places votes into an open active environment. With this architecture, every time an election is conducted it is necessary to reinstall part of the functionality into the optical scan system via memory card, making it possible to introduce program functions (either authorized or unauthorized), either wholesale or in a targeted manner, with no way to verify that the certified or even standard functionality is maintained from one voting machine to the next.”
Diebold: Get real
In a real-world election setting, the Black Box Voting scenarios are implausible, according to Diebold. “Everything they throw out is a what-if scenario that isn’t reflective of a real election environment,” said Diebold spokesman David Bear. “They haven’t been able to do any of these things in a real election scenario.”
“They’re trying to perpetuate this inaccuracy that the technology has made it more likely for someone to corrupt an election,” Bear charged. But even if you believe in a “cabal of people that are nefariously corrupting an election,” he said, paper ballots are far more vulnerable than electronic polling.
Black Box Voting’s four-minute, $12 hack is predicated on the “sleepover” concept, in which voting machines are sent home with poll workers for days or even weeks before an election, giving someone ample time to break the seal and reprogram the cards.
“This experiment shows that the seals do nothing whatever to protect against access by insiders after testing, and the seals also are worthless in jurisdictions like Washington, Florida, California, and many other locations where voting machines are sent home with poll workers for days before the election,” the group contends.
DeWolfe said under Vermont’s chain-of-custody procedure, the memory cards are either locked in the machine and locked in a vault, or, when sent out for configuration, are sent only by Fed Ex or UPS with a signature required.
“The analogy is that is I give you my hard drive, you can corrupt my computer,” according to DeWolfe. “If you don’t have access to my hard drive, you can’t corrupt it. Similarly, in Vermont only clerks have access to memory cards.”
But even without a sleepover, with some planning the process could be done in the time it takes for one of two poll workers to take a bathroom break, said Black Box Voting Director Bev Harris.
“You would have to have another memory card available to put in as a substitute, but you can buy memory cards on the Internet. The recipe for hacking has been on Internet for more than a year, and the source code has been on the Internet for six years,” said Harris.
Diebold’s Bear scoffs at the notion that local election officials would risk a federal criminal sentence.
“I don’t think a lot of people believe this stuff. I think quite honestly most people don’t think about it, most people are honest, fair people and their intent is to go to the polls and vote for the candidate they prefer. And most people who work at the polls just want to perform their civic duty,” he said.
Beckwith warns observers not to be too quick to discount fraud potential just because Vermont is a small state. “Vermont was the second highest deviation in 2004 election of exit polls in the country,” he said. “We were 10 percent off from the exit polls, even though [Democratic presidential candidate John] Kerry did win Vermont.”
It’s not the Vermont end that worries him, Beckwith said, but what happens when the memory cards go back and forth.
“I trust the town clerks; I understand the memory cards are kept secure. But before every election, the cards are sent back to these companies and they have unfettered access to the memory cards,” he said.
The response from Markowitz and DeWolfe that these are trustworthy companies is asking Vermonters to put “blind trust in these two private companies, and we know that they have the ability and the access to do something like this,” he said.
In June, a yearlong study on electronic voting released by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law concluded that the three major electronic voting systems used in the United States — including Diebold’s optical scanners, touch screen with paper trails, and those without paper trails — have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities.
“All three systems are equally vulnerable to an attack involving the insertion of corrupt software or other software attack programs designed to take over a voting machine,” according to the study, which involved government and private-sector scientists, voting machine experts, and security professionals.
But the report also said the vulnerabilities can be overcome by auditing printed voting records, which is Markowitz’s security fallback.
Hogue said even that is not enough. “If random clerks would do random audits, that for me would take care of it; random clerks making up their own minds with their own people, and it’s public and transparent … I would be thrilled. And there is nothing preventing that in Vermont law, a redundant count, as distinctly different from an audit, which happens after the fact.”
Beckwith also wants to see a hand-counted audit on a significant percentage of the ballots. “There is no test that can be done on the memory cards to ensure they don’t have malicious code; the only way to determine the election has been counted correctly is to do a hand-counted audit, an audit comprised of randomly selecting a certain percentage of the voting precinct,” he said.
The percentage of votes that should be counted is also debatable, he said. California law requires 1 percent of the ballots must be hand-counted. A discrepancy would trigger a more extensive hand count.
“Most people do not think 1 percent is enough, and some think we have to hand count all of them … I’m not a statistician or a mathematician; I don’t really know statistically how much we would have to count to have confidence, but from the research I’ve done most statisticians say somewhere around 5 percent would give you 95 percent assurance the election was counted correctly.”
At Black Box Voting, Harris said given the nation’s recent history of apparent discrepancies, U.S. voters should not be satisfied until they can exert control over the counts.
“A panel of citizens should be able to say we’re going to pick something, put a lockdown on it and count every ballot … . That would go a long ways toward satisfying people; people need to be able to oversee the whole thing, not 1 percent that someone else chooses.”
Harris is calling for a shift in how U.S. voters think about elections.
“It is no longer enough to observe and tell stories about what you saw — even if you sign an affidavit. The sad fact is, anecdotes don’t produce change, even when they are very well organized,” she writes on the Black Box Voting website. “It’s time to shift your thinking from watching elections to collecting evidence” through audio and video recordings, photographs, and public records requests.
The group has a voter’s toolkit posted on their website, www.blackboxvoting.org, to inform voters of their rights, and help people decide what to do and how to do it.
NEWFANE — Voters in this postcard-perfect town didn’t like the resolution asking Rep. Bernie Sanders to start impeachment proceedings against Pres. George Bush. So they made it broader.
After three hours in a crowded, creaky town hall discussing bridges and budgets, 121 voters endorsed by paper ballot a measure to ask both Sanders and the state Legislature to set impeachment wheels in motion. A proposed amendment to impeach Vice Pres. Dick Cheney was voted down, as was an effort to delay the original resolution indefinitely.
“The purpose of this meeting is to discuss town business, not a national business,” asserted Gunther Garbe, moving to postpone.
But Selectboard member Dan DeWalt defended his measure.
“What is happening today in our name, even though it’s on the other side of the world, affects us locally in the numbers of our sons and daughters and mothers and fathers who are dying, in our tax dollars, in the number of people who are rapidly becoming our enemies and plotting to destroy us,” he said. “We see the results of these policies locally and directly, and as a result, it is incumbent upon us to address these policies.”
Unlike voters in Marlboro, Putney, Dummerston, and Brookfield, who spoke mainly with their votes in favour of impeachment, Newfane residents took nearly an hour to debate and vote on the measure, which ultimately passed 121-29. In Brookfield, where the measure passed 59-38, voters stood for a count. In Newfane, emotions ran high on both sides.
“My ancestors in Germany were silent during the time of the atrocities in Germany,” and Newfane resident Norm Kuebler, “I’m not comparing Bush’s actions to Hitler’s … all I’m asking is for discussion.” Calling democracy a privilege, he continued, “We have this privilege. I suggest we take advantage of it; we should discuss this and any item that may come up in the future, whether it’s abortion or whether you like the Red Sox or the Yankees.”
Sanders issued a quick response to the Newfane resolution, saying it would be impractical for him to pursue impeachment in a Republican-controlled Congress.
“The difficulty that we face is that with Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate and serving as a virtual rubber stamp for the White House, they have consistently refused to even hold serious hearings or investigations on any of Bush’s abuses of power or misguided decisions,” he said in a statement.
But Leland & Gray drama teacher Ann Landenberger said the town’s actions send an important message, not just to lawmakers, but to young people, many of whom feel powerless to confront their government’s policies. “A lot of my high school seniors believe what they do is pointless,” she said. “This is a very important symbol; we’re saying that right here we can initiate change.”
A handful of residents defended the president, including some comments that served as a testament to the power of the White House message machine, which has consistently attempted to implicate Iraq in the 9/11 events, despite the absence of any evidence to support such a claim.
“On 9/11, I stood in my office and I watched the planes go into the buildings; I watched my friends and colleagues jump from their office buildings to their death,” said an emotional Lenore Salzbrun, her voice cracking with tears.
“I am so grateful that my president didn’t put his head in the sand and he didn’t ignore what happened,” she continued. “He did go out and fight for our safety and continues to, even though it is a very unpopular thing for him to do.”
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ST. ALBANS — Adj. Gen. Martha Rainville made it official at a scripted campaign rally before more than 100 cheering supporters and the media: She’s a candidate for U.S. Congress.
At a morning rally kicking off a two-day campaign swing through the state, Rainville told the crowd, “I want to serve in Congress as your advocate, as your voice on issues affecting you and your families, on issues affecting Vermont and America. Too much time and energy in Washington is being spent on finger-pointing and bickering across party lines.”
“The focus seems to lie not on resolving issues, but on discrediting those who disagree,” she told an energized crowd, who at times broke into chants of “Martha, Martha, Martha.”
“Congress needs to re-focus on serving Americans. Together, you and I can begin a journey to make that happen. Progress comes when people rise above their own biases and personal agendas and commit to working cooperatively on solutions.”
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