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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after months of tacit approval, Vermont Democrats made it official: Bernie Sanders is one of them, at least for this election season.
Despite the endorsement — and the campaign cash is likely to follow — Sanders still keeps the Democratic Party at arm’s length.
As recently as December, Sanders laid the blame for the lack of organized outrage at the agenda of the Bush administration squarely at the feet of Democrats, who, he said, weren’t providing a “real alternative” to the Republicans.
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Critics say a new federal measure to standardize the nation’s drivers’ licenses could be a precursor to a national ID system linked to a giant database of personal information. But according to one influential Republican congressman, the structure already exists and is in full use today by every state and the District of Columbia..
The May 3 conference committee report on the Real ID Act by Rep. Jerry Lewis, the California Republican chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, points to the Problem Driver Point System (PDPS), which is used to check drivers’ records before issuing a license, as the precursor to a national database.
“When the REAL ID Act becomes law, [federal law] will need to be substantially revised by [the Department of Transportation] to add details to the pertinent sections, as determined through the Department of Homeland Security established regulations implementing the act,” according to the Lewis report. “The primary process by which states will share information regarding the identities of driver’s license holders will be the PDPS, once upgraded and with complimentary [sic] system capacity upgrading by the states.”
Vermont’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) began clearing drivers through the national system in August 2002, according to Donna Earl in the DMV’s Department of Driver Safety. The agency runs the checks weekly, 90 days in advance of each driver’s license renewal deadline, resulting in approximately 100 hits each time, she said.
Halifax resident Rick Gay’s number came up in March, when he got a letter from the DMV informing him that unless he resolved a 1987 New York driving suspension by May 15, he would lose his Vermont license. Gay acknowledges that he got three speeding tickets in New York 17 years ago, all of which were paid. What he didn’t know, and what he said Albany never told him, was that a law at the time required the suspension of his driving privileges in New York because of three tickets in two months.
When Gay’s license came up for renewal this year, Vermont ran his name through the national PDPS and it came up as a hit. Only after dozens of phone calls to both Montpelier and Albany, and lengthy periods on hold, was he able to get the issue resolved.
“It was Orwellian,” said the 27-year Vermont resident. “All of a sudden, out of the blue I had a suspended license for nothing.”
George Orwell’s totalitarian “Big Brother” is exactly the image to which pundits and critics compare the Real ID Act.
Robert Dreyfuss, contributing editor to The Nation and Mother Jones, calls it “a step toward a chilling, privacy-violating national ID card system that could one day have Americans being asked, Nazi-style, to ‘show us your papers’ wherever they go.”
That’s not so far-fetched, says Jeff Weaver, chief of staff for Rep. Bernie Sanders, one of only 58 House members to turn thumbs down on the measure.
“There is a real concern on a lot of people’s part that this is the first step toward a national ID card,” said Weaver. “To the extent that you create a federally mandated standardized driver’s license process, you are certainly moving in that direction.”
Aside from the cost to states to comply with Real ID requirements — a figure the National Conference of State Legislatures puts at about $700 million — Weaver said Sanders’ concerns center on technology currently being introduced in U.S. passports, which will include a remotely readable chip that delivers information to electronic scanners anytime the bearer passes through a reader.
But unlike passports, most people carry their driver’s licenses with them daily, Weaver points out, which means that anyone with an electronic reader, whether it’s for government or commercial purposes, could track the bearers’ movements.
Virginia already is considering incorporating the remote chip technology into driver’s licenses, Weaver said. And although the Real ID Act doesn’t require the technology be included nationally, he points out that “it doesn’t preclude it, either.”
“From our standpoint, we can fight and win the war on terror without surrendering all of Americans’ hard-won constitutional rights,” Weaver concluded.
A congressional 1977 report issued as a result of the 1974 Privacy Act cautions that “Americans must … be concerned about the long-term effect record-keeping practices can have not only on relationships between individuals and organizations, but also on the balance of power between government and the rest of society.
“Accumulations of information about individuals tend to enhance authority by making it easier for authority to reach individuals directly. Thus, growth in society’s record-keeping capability poses the risk that existing power balances will be upset,” the report stated.
Even after Sept. 11 softened citizens’ historic resolve to protect their privacy, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich testified in congressional hearings that he “would not institute a national ID card because you do get into civil liberties issues.”
Almost four years after the national tragedy, Real ID finally found a champion in Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who shepherded the measure quickly through Congress as a postscript to an $82 billion military spending bill, by arguing that it would help this country combat terrorism.
But even right-wing pundits dispute that notion. “The Real ID Act is going to be a pain in your ass — not Mohammed Atta’s,” writes columnist Jonathan David Morse on the website Conservative Voice. “If a guy wants to knock down a building, which is illegal, you think a legal document’s going to stop him?”
The measure has created strange bedfellows out of more than 600 organizations lining up to oppose it, from pro-gun groups to immigrants’ rights organizations, many fearing the collection of vast amounts of personal information in one large government database.
“It could vastly accelerate the creation of one giant, government-owned database storing nearly unlimited quantities of personal, financial, medical, and other records on citizens and non-citizens alike,” cautioned Dreyfuss.
Costs to Vermont
The Real ID Act requires that within three years, driver’s licenses in all 50 states comply with federal standards. DMV officials will be required to verify that supporting documents are authentic, but it allocates no money to help them do so.
“They’re making the states responsible for navigating the 100-plus type visa system of the federal government. That puts a huge burden on the staffs of the Department of Motor Vehicles as they turn into immigration enforcement centers,” said Cheye M. Calvo of the National Conference of State Legislatures in an interview published on the Free Congress Foundation website.
The measure gives the Homeland Security secretary discretion over grants to assist the states, but requires that state databases be linked to the Problem Drivers system in order to qualify for those grants.
Early estimates indicate that Montpelier will have to scrape together at least $2 million to implement the system, according to Motor Vehicles Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge.
But the act will also cost Vermonters dearly in terms of their closely guarded privacy. It eliminates the state’s protection for victims of domestic violence, who currently are allowed to use a mail forwarding address on their licenses to thwart the ability of their attackers to find them.
According to Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, who maintains the confidential files in her office, 110 women and children have participated in the Safe at Home program since it started, including 87 current participants.
Real ID also will mean the end of licenses without photos, which about 20 percent of Vermont drivers still carry, Rutledge said.
“Vermont was one of the last states not to require a photo on a driver’s license, and I think that tells you something about how highly people value privacy in this state,” said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“One of the wonders of the American republic from the day it was formed was the fact that you could travel freely within the borders of the country,” Gilbert added. “People don’t realize that technology … works in both ways as an enabler. It can give somebody else access to vast amounts of information about individuals. If we thought theft was available before, think of the information that could be had” through the theft of high-tech driver’s licenses, he said.
“It could be a hacker’s dream come true,” opined Florida Today in a May 13 editorial. “Imagine what a clever criminal could do with a database that held the name, digital image, signature, Social Security number and address of every licensed driver in the country.” best
Somewhere in the back of the former Colodny Surprise building, a circular saw screeches as its blade digs into a piece of metal. Elsewhere, an irregular tattoo of hammers provides a backbeat to the dusty din of construction. Interior walls are rising. Light is flowing in the windows. The Center for Cartoon Studies is coming to life in White River Junction.
Ever since the automobile supplanted the railroad as transportation’s top dog, White River Junction has been struggling to maintain its downtown area. Like other Vermont village centers that grew up beside the Connecticut River, White River Junction’s fortunes have languished while its cross-river cousin, Lebanon, New Hampshire, snagged all the big box retail business destined for the Upper Valley because of the Granite State’s no sales tax status.
In the past two decades, White River Junction has languished. Its buildings grew frowsy, many of them became vacant, and it seemed that no matter how hard the town of Hartford tried, the old railroad village was a permanent candidate for life support.
But in an unexpected twist of fate, White River’s problems have now become its promise.
Kim Souza, who opened a trendy vintage clothing store called Revolution in White River nearly three years ago, calls the downtown “the last great place to do business in the Upper Valley.”
Its late-19th- and early-20th century architecture is attracting a lot of attention from folks in the “creative economy” and the village is becoming something of a mecca for artists of all stripes. The formerly dank Tip Top Bakery is now a vibrant center for artists and creative businesses. A professional theater company performs well-reviewed productions in an opera house that once served as dorm space for troops going overseas in World War II. In addition to Revolution, there’s a costume design shop (Fancy Felix), a store with hand-painted lampshades (Lampscapes), a one-of-a-kind food co-op, and a bakery with great bagels. The old fire station is being renovated for apartments and a funky museum. The severely dilapidated warehouses closest to the railroad tracks have made way for attractive new office buildings. And in September, a man with a vision enhanced by pen and ink will open a new art school in White River Junction.
How the Center for Cartoon Studies ended up in a former department store in one of Vermont’s oldest downtowns is a story of karma colliding with serendipity. For fans of the graphic novel, James Sturm is a familiar name. In 2001, he published The Golem’s Mighty Swing, an account of a 1920s baseball team made up of Jewish players on a barnstorming tour of the U.S. Since its publication, Sturm’s book has been translated into several languages and was chosen as Time magazine’s graphic novel of the year. Just last month, Hyperion Books (a division of Disney) agreed to team up with Sturm and the Center for Cartoon Studies to produce a series of graphic biographies for young readers.
In addition to drawing and writing his own books, Sturm has also taught cartooning within the framework of traditional art schools. But he’s long felt that there should be a way for serious students of the graphic novel to get training in their profession, much the same way that writers work on their craft while earning a master’s of fine arts.
He’d been carrying that vision around in his head for a couple of years when he and his wife moved to Hartland, Vermont. Eventually, the couple met Democrat Matt Dunne, one of Windsor County’s state senators, who also lives in Hartland. A few years hence, when the Center for Cartoon Studies celebrates its tenth anniversary, the meeting of Sturm and Dunne will be seen as the pivotal event in the school’s founding.
“James told me about his school idea and that he was planning to start it in Minnesota,” Dunne said in a recent interview. “And I asked, ‘Why not do it here in Vermont?’”
Why not, indeed? Years earlier, Dunne and others explored the possibility of bringing a movie theater back into White River Junction. The idea faded away but not before Dunne discovered the Colodny Surprise building. The former department store is owned by the Vermont State Housing Authority, which maintains nine rental units on its second story for tenants with low incomes or disabilities. But the main part of the building, the wide open street floor and full basement, has been mostly vacant since it closed in the early 1980s.
“When James toured the building, he asked Matt if the state would be willing to help with funding to get the school off the ground,” Michelle Ollie said. She’s the managing director of the Center for Cartoon Studies. Sturm recruited her from her marketing position at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. “The state doesn’t provide funding for private enterprise, but it was willing to give us a grant [$30,000] to improve a building it already owned.”
That grant, which Dunne said was helped along by another Windsor County state senator, John Campbell, did double duty. According to Ollie, its bulk was used to remove the asbestos flooring on the building’s main floor, an improvement to safety, health, and aesthetics — there was a nice hardwood floor underneath.
But maybe even more importantly, the state funding gave Sturm’s idea an immediate visibility and credence that made other fundraising possible. In addition, Dunne introduced Sturm to the folks at the Vermont Arts Council who agreed to act as the fiscal agent for the grant. The networking connections didn’t hurt, either.
The center is currently in the midst of a $600,000 capital fundraising campaign. Approximately half of that amount has been raised, sometimes with some very surprising donations. For example, Ollie was in White River Junction one night in January when a fire leveled a building in the downtown area. When firefighters blocked off some of the streets, Ollie offered a ride home to a stranded couple. A few days later, they sent a check to the center’s fundraising campaign. There have been lots of in-kind donations such as accounting, permitting, legal and architectural services as well as books from publishers that will fill the center’s library. Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons televison show, donated an autographed cell from the show that was auctioned on eBay. Peter Laird, one of the co-creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, donated $150,000.
Local financial and government agents have also stepped up to the plate to make sure the school succeeds, Ollie explained. A consortium of four banks — Merchants, Mascoma Savings, Ledyard National, and Chittenden — plus the town of Hartford have agreed to back a two-year, $250,000 line of credit for the center. And Ollie reports that employees of the state department of education “couldn’t be nicer” as she and Sturm make their way through the accreditation process so that the center can confer an associate of fine arts degree and eventually a master’s of fine arts.
Which brings us to the students. So far, 16 of the first class of 20 students have been accepted for the premier semester that begins in September. When the school is in full swing, it will have 80 students. The average age of the incoming “freshman” is 24, students hail from all over the U.S. There’s even one coming from Europe. But as it turns out, these 20 won’t be the very first to settle into the desks or use the new Macs destined for the computer lab. Because construction at the Colodny is ahead of schedule and under budget, Sturm and Ollie decided to start off with a set of summer classes geared for younger students. Those will begin in June.
Longtime residents of White River Junction may be holding their collective breath as they watch the downtown work its way toward a new life as a center of Vermont’s creative economy, hoping that this time, the revival is for real. But Sturm and Ollie are breathing just fine. They’ve got a school to open.
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Auditor’s race recount may take longer than anticipated
BURLINGTON— The outcome of a statewide recount in the race for Auditor of Accounts might not be known for several weeks, largely due to the volume of ballots to be hand counted in Chittenden County.
Full Article: Auditor’s race recount may take longer than anticipated
Posted November 29, 2006
Highlights from this week’s Vermont Guardian
(November 17-23, 2006)
Cover: Inventors go for green
Local: Vermont Yankee, state spar over radiation limits
Commentary: The media’s new Iraq War offensive
Culture: When is a news article not a news article?
Editorial: With rights come responsibility
Letters to the Editor: Prison health provider responds, history repeats itself and more
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Vermont Daily Briefing (weekly edition): A vice president is like a president only emptier
Amy Goodman : Rumsfeld’s Mount Misery
Local: Citizen activists seek the truth
Books: Forgetfulness, Lisey’s Story
Comics: Opus & Beekman
Posted November 24, 2006
Vermont soldier returns home, continues call for Iraq troop withdrawal
BELLOWS FALLS — A Vermont soldier at the center of a national effort to help military personnel call on Congress to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq, says war opponents must “step outside their comfort zones” if they want political leaders to take action.
Full Article: Vermont soldier returns home, continues call for Iraq troop withdrawal
Vietnam’s communist government knows that it is impossible to monitor the country’s 5,000 cyber cafes, so it’s forcing the cafe owners to be its eyes and ears. Last July, a government directive informed cafe owners that they will have to take a six-month course so that they can better monitor their cyber customers. The Vietnamese government is justifying its move for reasons of “national security and defense” — that is, to protect itself against online journalists who, it says, “provide sensationalist news and articles while others even publish reactionary and libelous reports and a depraved culture.”
Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the Paris-based media watchdog group that monitors press freedom worldwide, condemned the Vietnamese government’s directive. “It is individual freedoms that will suffer dramatically as a result of a law like this,” RWB warned in a press release. “These measures are a complete negation of the free enterprise principles espoused by the World Trade Organization (WTO), which Vietnam is trying to join.”
But whether the WTO will consider Vietnam’s censorship move a strong enough reason to deny Vietnam membership remains to be seen. The fact is that many of the WTO’s members are erecting significant barriers to the free flow of information and communication online.
Currently, there are 70 cyber prisoners worldwide who have run afoul of the repressive rules set by certain governments, according to the RWB, and these numbers will surely grow. In one incident last April, Tunisian journalist Mohammed Abbou was sentenced to three-and-half-years in prison by a Tunisian appeals court for publishing an article on a website that compared the torture of political prisoners in Tunisia to abuses committed by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. The Tunisian government offered Abbou a deal: In exchange for your release, give us an apology and request a pardon. Abbou responded by going on a hunger strike.
The culprits involved in censoring the Internet include not only the usual dictatorships but also Western countries that preach the virtues of democracy, an informed citizenry, freedom of speech, and the other platitudes we’ve been hearing lately from George Bush, Tony Blair, and their allies. Moreover, some of the world’s biggest multinationals and high tech companies are complicit in this trend.
First, let’s look at some of the usual dictatorships, or as RWB has labeled them, “the habitual human rights violators.” They include small fry like Cuba, Burma, the Ukraine, and Belarus, but the biggest offenders in this category are China and Iran.
The Internet may seem like a medium that can democratize China, but the Chinese authorities have developed effective ways to sabotage online dissent. In fact, the RWB believes that “the way the Chinese government has stifled online dissent offers a model for dictatorships in all corners of the world.”
Moreover, the Chinese have help from the West to achieve their repressive objectives. Several large multinationals, including Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo!, have been willing to allow China to censor ideas and stifle free expression in exchange for profit. Last June, Microsoft began blocking consumers of its new China-based Internet protocol from using such “dangerous” words and phrases as “freedom,” “democracy,” “human rights,” “demonstration,” and “Taiwan independence.” Users who fail to comply get this message: “This item should not contain forbidden speech, such as profanity.”
In a society as tightly controlled as China, Microsoft has become a willing participant in sustaining one of the world’s most repressive regimes. The newspaper USA Today eulogized about the bitter irony: “What’s actually profane is a company that built its future on the freedom provided by the American system helping a repressive regime censor such ideas.”
Microsoft certainly has company. In 2002, Yahoo! China signed a pledge not to allow the placement of “pernicious information that may jeopardize state security,” while in 2004 Google launched a new search engine in China that omitted sites the Chinese government didn’t like, such as the BBC and Voice of America.
In an ominous sign for Internet users anywhere, Yahoo! seems particularly eager to please the ruling class by providing information about its customers. The RWB reports that Yahoo! supplied information to the Chinese government regarding an IP address, which led to Hong Kong journalist Shi Tao being sentenced to 10 years in prison this April. “We already knew that Yahoo! collaborates enthusiastically that the Chinese regime in questions of censorship, and now we know that it is a Chinese police informant as well,” RWB said in a press release.
U.S.-based companies are also supplying commercial software to help countries “filter” — that is, censor information. Last June, the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) released a report titled “Internet Filtering in Iran,” which documents how the Iranian government has used the commercial filtering software SmartFilter to control every aspect of its citizens’ cyber experience, from websites and e-mail to blogs and online discussion forums. Made by the U.S. based company Secure Computing, the software is helping the Iranian government block internationally hosted sites in English, as well as other sites hosted in local languages.
In its report, ONI accused Secure Computing of complicity in helping Iran violate the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Ronald Deibert, one of the report’s authors and directors of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, charged that the “thriving Internet censorship market — spread like a virus from China to Iran to an increasing number of countries worldwide — calls into question not only the trumpeted slogans of high tech firms that the Internet represents ‘freedom’ and ‘connectivity’ but simplistic divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ as well.”
As developments in Western countries show, the line between the “us” and the “them” is blurring when it comes to censorship and the Internet. In what is perhaps a first for a Western country, the British government announced in August that it would outlaw the downloading or viewing of violent sexual images on the Internet. For the British government, offensive material will include “extreme pornographic material which is graphic and sexually explicit and which contains actual scenes or realistic depictions of serious violence, bestiality or necrophilia.” Those convicted could receive three years in prison.
Chris Evans, a spokesman for the group Internet Freedom, summed up the feelings of the opponents of the proposed legislation: “The idea that you can prevent violent action by banning such images is nonsense.”
Meanwhile, in the United States, a series of congressional initiatives threatens freedom of expression and what people will see, hear, and read on the Internet. The strategy of the Internet censors is to apply the FCC’s so-called “decency” standards to cyberspace. David Mason, a republican Federal Election Commissioner, told the Washington Post last March what it means: “We are almost certainly going to move from an environment in which the Internet was per se not regulated to where it is going to be regulated in some part. That shift has huge significance.”
According to reports by CNET and the LA Weekly, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is even considering regulating political bloggers by using the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law as its authority. In response, bloggers have organized a group called the Internet Coalition, which is petitioning the FEC to “grant blogs and online publications the same consideration and protections as broadcast media, newspapers or periodicals by clearly including them under the Federal Election Commission’s media exemption rule.”
Given the current political climate, however, it is doubtful whether anyone on Capitol Hill will listen, let alone act. The days of the free and unfettered Internet may well be numbered.