Tag Archives: Seven Days

What We’ve Lost

“Why doesn’t the press cover __________?” is a question I’m often asked. There are a few answers, depending on context. Sometimes the press has covered it, but not as extensively or impactfully as you’d like. Sometimes there’s no coverage because it’s not that much of a story. But the most accurate answer is, “WHAT press?”

We all know the media business has shrunk, but I don’t think we realize exactly how far the shrinkage has gone or how deeply it affects the quality and quantity of news.

Go back, say, ten years. Not that long ago. The Associated Press had three reporters. The Burlington Free Press had at least two reporters at the Statehouse and covering state politics. The Times Argus and Rutland Herald had a three-person Statehouse bureau. Seven Days had three, and they’d deploy more if the need arose. VPR had two. WCAX and WPTZ each had a deeply experienced Statehouse/politics reporter full-time, and WVNY/WFFF usually had a young reporter on the beat most of the time.

On the other hand, VTDigger was barely more than a glimmer in Anne Galloway’s eye.

Well, actually, it was Galloway by herself, working her ass off. No time for glimmering.

Now, Digger has three Statehouse reporters plus issue specialists who frequent the Statehouse when their beats are involved. So that’s an improvement over the good old days. But look at the rest of the landscape.

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Molly Gray, Campaign Finance Hypocrite

👏👏👏👏👏 to Seven Days’ Sasha Goldstein for doing what few reporters have bothered to do: He took a deep dive into Congressional candidates’ campaign finance reports. Those filings are more than a month old, but as he discovered, there was still plenty of meat on them old bones. Let him serve as an example to us all.

What did he find? Turns out Lt. Gov. Molly Gray has a f-ton of D.C. lobbyist money behind her campaign for Congress.

I don’t begrudge her raising money wherever she can. Running in a competitive primary for Congress is an expensive proposition, and I don’t really think she’ll be at the beck and call of big-money interests any more than St. Peter Welch has been. He’s taken loads of money from lobbyists and corporate interests. And we know he’s not compromised.

Don’t we?

Anyway. Gray is cashing in on her D.C. connections and her very real ties to the Welch/Pat Leahy orbit. Fine. Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale has received max contributions from quite a few AAPI donors, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint has the support of LGBTQ+ contributors and organizations.

They’ve all got their affinity groups. Gray’s happens to be D.C. insiders. But the trouble starts when this recipient of Beltway Bucks attempts to claim the moral high ground on campaign finance. She doesn’t have a leg to stand on, or a pickup truck to ride in.

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When “Opportunistic Investors” Grab a Chunk of Your Town

Is it just me, or is something slightly… off… about the sale of South Burlington’s University Mall to a global investment firm?

On the surface it seems like good news. Taconic Capital Advisors and Eastern Real Estate will buy the Mall for a tidy $60 million, which happens to be $26.2 million north of its assessed value.

Let’s stop there. A big investment fund buying a declining property in a dying industry for nearly double its assessed value?

Things that make you go hmmmm…

Taconic describes its traders as “opportunistic investors” looking for market inefficiencies. That’s usually Wall Street-speak for “we buy low on assets and squeeze every last dollar out of them.” See: Every time an investment firm buys newspapers.

The above chart, courtesy of the investor-information website “WhaleWisdom,” shows a damn high churn rate for Taconic. The different colors represent different market sectors. As you can see, Taconic specializes on diving into market sectors where they see potential profit and getting out just as quickly.

Given that history, it’s a little hard to credit Taconic’s stated intention to “reenergize” the mall and “build on its success.” First of all, long-term stewardship of an asset doesn’t seem to be Taconic’s game. And second, success?

“That does not compute,” said Mr. Spock when asked for comment.

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A Curious Erasure

Chelsea Edgar didn’t have an easy assignment. The Seven Days reporter was given the task of writing a comprehensive take on the life and times of the late Peggy Luhrs, pioneering feminist, antiwar activist and, in her later years, a loud and unapologetic TERF. Luhrs lived a long time and accomplished many things. But she was a source of hate for the transgender community.

Doing right by all of that is a tough balance to strike. But there was one big area where Edgar and her editors absolutely fell down on the job.

Not a single transgender person was quoted.

Five friends were quoted, as well as five community activists, some of whom work in the LGBTQIA space. Luhrs herself was quoted at least seven times, and there were multiple examples of her harsh rhetoric. (One of her friends uttered a toned-down version of the TERF point of view.) The conservative Republican Bradford Broyles even got the chance to call trans women “biological males.”

But no room for transgender people. We should have heard from trans women at least; many of them were directly affected by Luhrs’ hateful actions.

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Time to Break Down the Box and Send It to Recycling

Past Occupants of the Freyne Chair (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

What ought to be the most coveted perch in Vermont journalism is once again vacant. After a mere four months on the job, Mark Johnson has relinquished the Peter Freyne Chair in Instigative Journalism, d/b/a the “Fair Game” column in Seven Days.

One could be forgiven for wondering if this position doesn’t have a curse attached to it. Johnson’s predecessor, Dave Gram, lasted only five months. The guy before him was rather spectacularly fired after 2 1/2 years on the job.

That would be me.

My predecessor Paul Heintz held the job for almost five years. Otherwise, what ought to be the most coveted perch in Vermont journalism has been a revolving door with only one consistent thread: We’ve all been white males.

It’s time for a change, and not just in race and gender expression. Not that anyone at Seven Days is likely to heed my advice, but hey, I’ve had first-hand experience with the ups and downs of the job, and I do have some hard-earned insight.

First of all, I’d definitely keep the column. It’s the heart and soul of the paper, and it occupies a unique and valuable position in the Vermont media landscape.

Otherwise, the Powers That Be need to not only think outside the box; they need to stomp the box flat and toss it in recycling.

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R.I.P. GMD

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… Green Mountain Daily, which was for many years Vermont’s most influential political blog, has officially joined the Choir Eternal. Site founder John Odum did the honors on Saturday, in a post that recalled some of the site’s finer moments.

GMD was a group effort involving a small number of activists, political insiders and sharp-eyed observers. During its prime, GMD did yeoman’s work in keeping liberal politicos honest (well, a bit more honest) and reining down mockage on those who deserved it. The site also broke news more often than you might think. It was taken seriously by Our Betters and was widely read in political/journalistic circles.

And it had a significant impact on the arc of my own, such as it is, career.

For better and for worse, I wouldn’t be doing this Political Observer thing if it wasn’t for GMD. Way back in 2011, during a spate of underemployment, I started posting occasionally on the site. My posts were often promoted to the main page, which encouraged me to continue. (Posts by regulars automatically hit the top of the queue; posts by guests would go into a box along the side, but could be promoted to the queue by any of the regulars.)

After a few months of this, Odum contacted me about becoming a regular. At the time, I still had pretensions of resuming a career in journalism, and I thought that joining GMD would probably kill any chance I had. But after a few months, I decided to sign on.

And boy, did I have fun. I didn’t make a dime, but I could write whatever and whenever I wanted. and I was good at it.

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A Republican Lawmaker Hops On Board the Klar Klan Kruiser

The wonderful folks who brought you the CovidCruiser bus to the January 6 insurrection are back in business, baby! Now it’s the KKK Traveling Road Show, featuring a select group of speakers who are convinced that Critical Race Theory is the worst thing since, I dunno, Sputnik?

No, Burisma. Let’s go with Burisma.

The Klar Klan Kruiser is the brainchild of Gregory Thayer, a Rutland accountant and QAnon-adjacent conspiratorialist. It’s making stops tonight (Wednesday 7/14) in Barre and Friday in St. Albans. In each venue, a series of speakers will rant and rave about CRT for what’s likely to be a small audience of like-minded folks.

So who’s on the guest list for tonight? Well, Thayer himself, former gubernatorial candidate John Klar, Our Lady of the CovidCruiser Ellie Martin, “Former Educators” Martha Hafner and Alice Flanders, and first-term Rep. Samantha Lefebvre (R-Orange).

The latter is the subject of this post.

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It’s So Hard to Find Good Republicans These Days

Amidst the endless parade of articles bemoaning the plight of poor businessfolk who can’t find enough workers to fill their low-paying, no-bennies jobs, let us take a moment to pour one out for the group that has by far the hardest time finding a few good people: The Vermont Republican Party.

You almost have to feel sorry for the VTGOP. They’re so underfinanced and disorganized, so out of touch and few in number, that their every ticket features a frightening quantity of blank slots. They’ll take almost anybody with a pulse who’s willing to step out in public with an “R” next to their name.

Two cases in point today. First, we have Christopher-Aaron Felker, the surprise entry into Burlington’s special election to fill the seat of former councilor Brian Pine. Second, Gov. Phil Scott’s latest nominee to the Vermont Commission on Women.

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Ain’t No Cure For the Dumbertime Blues: The Veepies, Hot Weather Edition

Here at theVPO Institute for the Study of Political Inadequacy, we have yet to establish a causal link between the weather and incidences of stupidity, but it stands to reason that our current heat wave would fry a few synapses. Anyway, here’s a rundown of what’s new in the land of busted neural connections.

First, and we’ll have to put the Award Factory on double shifts to crank out enough Veepies for these honorees, is the No One Was Driving, Officer, We Were All In the Back Singing Award to the Scott administration, the Legislature, and members of a special “working group” for cutting way back on the “motel rooms for those experiencing homelessness” program without actually, uhh, creating an alternative. Members of the working group have my sympathy; they were given an impossible task and did their best. As VTDigger’s Katie Jickling reported back in March, the working group was established because no one could think of a halfway decent solution. It was a convenient receptacle for a very hot potato.

And the group, faced with the same set of dismaying facts (federal funding going away, not enough state dollars to carry forward, and an overheated real estate market), came up with this little cluster: Eligibility has been significantly tightened, which means that several hundred Vermonters could be tossed out of motel accommodations on July 1 without anywhere else to go. Eligibility will be further tightened on September 22, leaving hundreds more on the streets.

In many areas, rental housing just doesn’t exist. Elsewhere, it’s way too pricey. Homeless service organizations are trying to prepare, which includes arranging supplies of camping equipment. Because hey, nothing says “summer fun” like homelessness! Maybe we can give ’em discount rates at some of the less popular state parks.

There are no easy answers here. But given the fact that we’re currently awash in federal Covid relief funds, is there really an excuse for this massive policy failure? Veepies all around!

After the jump: Burlington Dems need a calendar, a plea to not use a veto session for its intended purpose, a once-respected journalist enters the Conspiracy Zone, and a new low in far-right commentary.

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The Evidence of Things Not Seen

Ah, if only it were so

There is so much to say about the pair of dueling events that took place in Essex last Friday. The first was a cauldron of conservative outrage concerning Their Latest Bugaboo, critical race theory, about which they know nothing. The second was a counter-event across the road, featuring supporters of the school district’s anti-racism efforts.

There’s what it says about the Vermont Republican Party that its chair attended Hate Night. There’s the ideological connection to recent events in the Mill River school district, where conservative outrage has also reared its unsightly head. There’s how the event was covered: Badly by VTDigger, and with manufactured both-sidesism by Seven Days. There’s the complete unmasking of a prominent conservative “journalist,” and the rise of a new contender for Worst Lawmaker in Montpelier.

But let’s start with Hebrews 11:1. In the King James Version favored by many evangelicals, it says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This verse has multiple applications here.

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