Nothing lasts forever. It’s a simple idea, but very often true. Like experts are saying these days about the so-called good economic times: They won’t last. It may even apply to the American Dream. Is it over yet? Donald Trump said so in 2016, part of his call to scare the hell out of white America. And only he could revive it, remember that? But it hasn’t gone very well so far.
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Take this statistic from CBS News just the other day — CEOs rake in 940 percent more than they did 40 years ago. Meanwhile the average workers earn 12 percent more. This news, like so much else, just popped up on my phone without warning — like a creepy un-birthday message. The Bummer of the day.
Trump may be a master con artist, but the harsh realities are piling up, even for those living in the Trump-Fox bubble.
Every day we get more examples showing how nothing is certain and almost everything is in flux. Even Bernie Sanders status as the top Democratic candidate fundraiser. Four years ago Bernie built an unrivaled progressive war chest with small donations. This time two other candidates beat him in fundraising for the last quarter. Of course, the others leaned on high dollar donors and Bernie still has more individual donations than any other candidate. But... even though the pace of donations picked up in August, the average Sanders donation has dropped — from the old rallying cry -$27 — down to $16. Someone needs new signs.
One more example of change as the only certainty — the F-35s, 18 of which are on their way to the Burlington area — despite a City Council resolution, in a unanimous vote, opposing any nuclear weapons delivery systems at the airport. A similar resolution has been passed by the Vermont state senate.
The local resolution, written by four Progressives on the City Council, calls on Mayor Weinberger, Gov. Scott, and Vermont’s congressional delegation to let the U.S. Department of Defense know that Burlington definitely doesn’t want any nuclear weapons delivery system at the Vermont Air National Guard Base.
Well, Who would? But this does not mean that Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy and Peter Welch will do or say anything about it. And it does not actually represent total opposition to the jets. Any victory lap would be premature. The Pentagon still won’t talk about what their warplanes carry, and neither lawsuits nor a public referendum have forced the military or the political establishment to reconsider.
But things will change in time. It took decades to force the closure of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant The F-35 related resolution passed in the Vermont Senate, likely to be taken up in the House next year, included testimony from a retired Air National Guard lieutenant colonel. He told a Senate committee that aircraft based in Vermont in the past had carried nuclear weapons! And neither the Air Force nor Defense Department told state officials.
The resolution also mentioned Vermonters’ long history of opposition to nuclear weapons, dating back to Town Meeting Day in 1982 when 88 percent of 180 cities and towns approved a nuclear freeze between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.
In addition, the jet’s problems have not been solved. According to documents obtained by Defense News, the F-35 continues to be a boondoggle, full of flaws and glitches that, if left unfixed, can create risks to pilot safety — and any community where they are based — and they also call into question the fighter jet’s real capabilities.
Perhaps even more important, the opposition in Vermont has not peaked. Hundreds turned out for a recent protest across the road from the airport. So, the jets may start to land, but the opposition will continue to grow. As I said, nothing lasts forever.
Return of the Culture War
Earlier this summer, I attended the opening of Fields of Change, an exhibit at the Bennington Museum featuring images, artifacts and stories of the 1960s, with a focus on southern Vermont. Since I lived there 50 years ago, and worked as a reporter and photographer for the local daily paper, some of my pictures and experiences made it into the exhibit.
And the story they tell is about observing the beginning of a culture war in that small Vermont community. I some ways, it was a perfect place to live — for the artists who had been moving there for decades, for the local citizens who had a decent job. But under the surface their was conflict and inequality — between what I came to view as middle class modernists and the tradition-bound, conservative working class.
One of the first eruptions involved the poster for a high school production of Brecht on Brecht. It was banned, and the play was only the first flashpoint. Now the poster on display at the museum, part of the story about how a fight over progressive education led to a cultural counter-revolution.
There are also photos and memorabilia from alternative businesses we started during those heady times, and the places where we tried to live our own American Dream. But it was a fragile paradise and, like most memorable, vivid times, it could not last forever. But today, in the midst of another culture war, at least we can begin to better understand what happened back then, as real life turns into history.
The exhibit — Fields of Change: 1960s Vermont — runs until November 3 in Bennington, Vermont. It’s still only four hours from New York City.
Schools Without Walls
The first time I heard the phrase “a school without walls” was in 1973, shortly after the launch of the Vermont Institute for Community Involvement. Or VICI, as we called it then. Later it was renamed Burlington College.
The basic idea was that instead of accumulating physical assets — bricks and mortar was the phrase — a school could instead mainly use existing spaces, thus contributing to the economy, fostering exchange and community. Along with that came the idea that college students could design their own course of studies, within a general discipline, and that their progress could be evaluated rather than graded.
It was a great vision of progressive education, and it worked. Hundreds of students graduated from BC over the next 44 years. But the desire to grow is seductive. The college never had more than about 250 students. And after a while they attended classes mainly at the college’s modest building in Burlington’s Old North End.
But in 2010, under the leadership of Jane Sanders, the Board of Trustees decided to go big and buy 33 acres of land and buildings owned by the Catholic Diocese. It was a risky move, and it didn’t work. I won’t go into the details now, let’s just say “mistakes were made.” And yes, we are talking about Bernie Sanders’ wife.
But the point is that, in forgetting its own history, the college lost its way. It closed in 2016. But some people say they want to bring something like it back.
The attempted revival is called the Vermont Institute for Civic and International Involvement. That’s VICI with an extra I. Or maybe VIC 2. Anyway, its first official step is a series of Issues Forums, in Burlington throughout the Fall. The topics include downtown development, Burlington Telecom, privatization, open spaces, the F-35s and a forum called “Homeless in Paradise: The Housing Crisis in One of the Most Livable Cities in the USA, Burlington.”
At first I thought it was a political platform. And in a way it is. The purpose of this project is pretty far from the original VICI vision, which focused on diversity, self-design and self-direction. In fact, the brochure specifically states that the idea developed in response to “a crisis in politics.” So, here is a new form of education. Designed to counter corporate models, it suggests an openly ideological alternative, one that welcomes those who already think alike — but may wall off the rest.
The new VICI won’t have any buildings for now, instead using the Old North Community Center. Still, those aren’t the only walls to worry about.
Meltdown on Planet Pacifica
In 2006 I became Executive Director of Pacifica radio, the listener-sponsored network founded in 1949. It’s a progressive media enterprise with a legendary history and a great founding vision of what media can be. But by the time I arrived it had been through almost a decade of internal struggle. Worried about a possible corporate take over, staff, board and volunteers at the five owned stations fought back, in court, in the studios and on the streets, and eventually created a new, more democratic structure.
But that didn’t prevent factions from forming at various stations, contested board elections and charges that the process was unfair — even rigged. When I became CEO, the organization was battle-weary, but recovering. Its next two years would be more peaceful and financially positive than most. We launched new shows and settled old lawsuits. But the factions and tribalism did not go away.
After two years, rather than become the center of yet another power struggle, I stepped aside to make way for another chief executive, someone who had been fired years before. But she did not appreciate the new governance structure and left within a year. And one of her successors resorted to barricading herself in the national office rather than accept a replacement.
It’s been a period of retrenchment, and Pacifica stations have lost some ground in an increasingly diverse, digitally-driven audio world. At the start of the Iraq war, being a radio voice of opposition helped Pacifica to expand its audience and revenues. But Trump has so many enemies that it’s harder to stand out. Nevertheless, you might expect that the danger of Trumpian fascism would bring people together.
Think again. Last September a new CEO was hired after a lengthy search. But within nine months Maxie Jackson was forced out. That was in July. Board Chairman Grace Aaron became CEO, a job some say she would like to keep. But a new chief had actually been lined up, in secret. Finally, the board had to issue an announcement. And the new man, John Carlo Vernile, promised to focus on “activity that engages audiences, expands opportunities for financial support and stabilizes national operations.”
Who is Pacifica’s new leader? A former Sony Music and EMI executive, basically a salesman and promoter who was a premiums vendor for a Pacifica station. Unfortunately, he brings no experience in managing a democratic rather than a corporate enterprise. So good luck with that.
One crisis he will face is WBAI, once a great station but long in debt and listener freefall. According long-time supporter Steve Brown, a faction of WBAI’s local board, together with some national board members, wants to lease the station to a corporate division of Time Warner. The goal, ostensibly, is to “stabilize” the station. Brown claims the move will destroy it. So the fighting continues.
Yes, nothing lasts forever. Even the vision of what it means to be a progressive. But that’s an argument for the future. Right now I think we should focus on winning back the country, the world and the narrative from the biggest, longest con in modern political history. In that context, the fact that nothing lasts forever is good news.
(From the August 19, 2019 podcast)
(From the August 19, 2019 podcast)