January 31st, 2006

SOTU Parody: This One’s Choice

by Philip Baruth

On Friday, I put up the first of the yearly crop of State of the Union parodies, one I graded A-/B+.

Here’s a solid A: chillingly close to real life, using fairly sophisticated technology to splice Bush’s words into what you can only imagine are his actual thoughts.

But it’s not a parody of this year’s SOTU. It’s a look back at the SOTU that gave us the War in Iraq. And it’s brutal and true and funny all at once.

Tremble, evil-doers.

January 31st, 2006

Peak Oil, Peak Profits, Peak Stupidity

by Philip Baruth

The New York Times confirms what most of us have long suspected: “Exxon Mobil Corporation said today that its 2005 earnings totaled $36.13 billion, an increase of 42 percent from the previous year. The amount is the largest annual profit ever for an American company.”

Largest profit for an American company ever.

Any company. Ever.

And let’s face it: American companies are pretty much synonymous with obscenely big profits.

The Republicans in Washington are fond of pointing out that elections have consequences. Here is a consequence — on a scale that beggars the imagination.

Two gung-ho oil industry boosters team up in the White House. Largest profit ever.

When he was selling us the War in Iraq, Vice President Cheney promised us cheap, plentiful gas post-invasion. If that prediction had come true, of course, Exxon and other crude-oil types would have recorded historically low profits.

Stock prices would have tanked, bonuses receded. Some most excellent friends of Bush and Cheney might have lost their jobs, their homes, their most recent wives and the plastic surgeons and personal trainers who tend them.

So let me ask you this: Do you actually believe that at the same time Cheney was promising us gas as cheap as water, he was promising the same thing to those best friends whose escalating lifestyles depend on the reverse?

Hard to imagine.

More likely he was quietly saying something like the reverse would be true, at least in the short-term: war and resistance and outmoded equipment would shrink Iraq’s output dramatically for a year or two, pumping up US oil profits.

Any thinking person would have reached that conclusion, but especially oilmen with experience in war zones like the Persian Gulf. That record profits continue with no end in sight three years into the war must exceed even Cheney’s true best guesses.

In any event, the fortunes of America’s oil company executives were not left to chance. They were protected nine ways from Sunday, like the Iraqi Oil Ministry during the invasion.

And now the saber-rattling over Iran is sending the whole profit-spiral skyward yet again. This time they’re talking seriously about 100$ a barrel. It’s maddening if you allow yourself to think about it for even half a minute.

So let me direct this last line to anyone in America who voted for Bush — even once — and who has ever — even once — complained about the price of gas:

Welcome to the world that stupidity built. And that would be your stupidity, in case you were still confused.

January 30th, 2006

Chafee Geeks!

by Philip Baruth

Republican Lincoln Chafee geeks on Alito: will vote against the nomination, which is a surprise only to those who missed this post last week.

And although Chafee has shown himself during this process to be craven, cowardly, and driven only by a late-blooming sense of animal survival, nevertheless we offer him a qualified VDB salute.

Because finally it’s about votes, not motives. And a nay is a nay is a nay, as Gertrude Stein once famously remarked, debating Pat Buchanan on Crossfire.

January 30th, 2006

Monday Must-Read Sentence: GOP Types Duke It Out

by Philip Baruth

The VDB Monday Must-Read Sentence is a highly competitive affair — that we knew. But only the News-Obsessed Ectomorphs who slave from Friday dusk to Monday dawn, culling that precious single line from ton after ton of raw journalistic ore, know exactly how competitive.

Case in point: CNN this past Sunday.

First came Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb and bit-chomping Republican candidate for President), speaking on Sunday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

Asked the hot Abramhoff question — should the Bush administration release details of White House meetings with the disgraced lobbyist, including photos — Hagel served up some USDA-Choice MMRS: “‘Get it out. Get it out. Come on,’ Hagel said, adding the photos will eventually leak out anyway.”

In his excitement, of course, Hagel broke out the MMRS into three nominally independent units, but VDB read it as a single impassioned statement of disgust.

And we were impressed. It looked like a done deal — MMRS to Hagel.

But Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett came out to play Sunday.

And he waited until the wee hours, and then pounced. Speaking on CNN’s Late Edition, Bartlett unleashed a line that was not only breathtakingly Nixonian, but fiercely indeterminate in its grammar.

This time the issue was warrantless wiretaps: Should we have an honest debate about the warrantless wiretapping program, about whether Bush embodies extra-Constitutional power?

No, Bartlett argued — additional briefings and debate with Congress could risk security by tipping off the enemy.

There’s no way that we can confidently say that by having a debate about changing the law would not unearth new operational details that would only tell the enemy exactly how we’re surveilling them — and that’s something that is just unacceptable.

Hagel made news, but Bartlett made history — for arguing outright that Americans no longer have the ability to challenge the Executive Branch in any forum, or through any representative, and this for their own collective good. cheney

So hearty congratulations to Dan Bartlett. You pulled it out in the clutch, and you’ll always have that to remember — after you’re eventually sidelined by the Vice President’s inner-circle for making an infinitesimal slip in doctrine, forced to retire, audited relentlessly by the good docile folks at the IRS and the Justice Department, and then thrown into a death-like coma when your local pharmacist misreads your Medicare D eligibility, a coma from which you slip unaware into death itself, as into a soothing dream of a better, kinder, quieter world.

January 27th, 2006

Let the SOTU Parodies Begin

by Philip Baruth

Let the State of the Union parodies begin. This one is anchored by high production values, and a dead-on impersonation of Bush. At one point, Dennis Hastert eats what appears to be Chinese food behind the President, and the final Texas anecdote is a good closer.

VDB Parody Score: A-/B+

January 27th, 2006

The State of the Union is . . . Pissed

by Philip Baruth

CNN releases some pre-State-of-the-Union numbers.

They indicate that support for Bush — his policies specifically and his second term generally — hovers in the range normally associated with point-shaving athletes and people who leave their dogs in hot, closed cars during summer months.

bush“WASHINGTON (CNN) — A majority of Americans are more likely to vote for a candidate in November’s congressional elections who opposes President Bush, and 58 percent consider his second term a failure so far, according to a poll released Thursday.”

We frown on gloating here at VDB; it’s counter-productive, and it conveys a political attitude that can verge on the childish. But we make an exception — always and unfailingly — when desperate Bush numbers come hot off the press. And then . . . yes . . . we sing the theme from Sponge Bob Square Pants:

Who-o-o lives in a pineapple under the sea?
SpongeBob SquarePants!
Absorbant and yellow and porous is he!
SpongeBob SquarePants!

And as to that State of the Union, Mr. President: Bring it.

January 26th, 2006

Rich Tarrant 2006: Bumble of the Century

by Philip Baruth

The Tarrant Senate campaign — like no other campaign in Vermont history — is banking on image to close the deal: both the biographical (local basketball hero hits IDX jackpot) and the purely graphical (top-end campaign commercials, strung out in interlocking narrative sequence).

Much money has been spent on planning these images, and the relationship between them. Much money.

More than I make in a year, more than you make in a year, just on planning, drafting, story-boarding these long imagistic sequences. Leaves, lay-ups, long shots of a tall gentle man surrounded by children.

It’s against this backdrop that Rich Tarrant seems so breath-takingly clumsy thus far. His little residency/homestead snafu has done more to link him with the carpetbagging ghost of Jack McMullen than Bernie’s people could have ever dared dream.

“This is the stuff that I guess as a newcomer I should have expected,” Tarrant said by way of mea culpa.

Newcomer: arguably the single-most expensive word ever uttered in Vermont politics. Rough estimate: that one word unwrote a hundred thousand dollars of I’m-your-neighbor campaign roll-out.

But it gets worse. If you go to Tarrant’s website, you are confronted immediately by a slick banner featuring a smiling Rich Tarrant — an almost aggressively smiling Tarrant.

There’s something vaguely unsettling about it, but it takes you a minute to put it together.

The banner is a composite: fall leaves, a church and a barn on the left; icy winter and a large Tarrant on the right. Tarrant is way out of scale; judged against the barn, for example, he seems about 19 feet tall.

And then suddenly you realize why this picture is giving you the willies: it’s the abominable snow monster — the Bumble — from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

If you think I’m exaggerating, refresh your memory of the Bumble here.

That’s the story buried in the Tarrant website banner: the Bumble lurching out of a frozen forest to attack a sleepy village that doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s about to strike.

Of course, this Bumble has already labeled itself a “newcomer” — hobbling itself for no apparent reason — so the people of the village can probably afford to go on sleeping.

But not too deeply. Never forget: Bumbles bounce.

January 25th, 2006

Iraq: The Slush Fund Revelations

by Philip Baruth

rumsfeldIf you ever wondered how the 8.8 billion dollars missing in Iraq got to be missing in the first place, the NY Times has a story today that will make it abundantly clear: uncatalogued millions hidden in floor safes, gambling in the Philippines, and every base in Iraq awash in packs of shrink-wrapped hundred-dollar bills called “bricks.”

You tell me: how long before we find out that some of this untagged booty made its way by long, long circle into the pockets of prominent Americans, even into PACS that funded the crucial attack-ad blitz here or there in 2004?

Answer: when we get a Democratic House, or Senate, or both.

Subpoena power. That’s what’s at stake, and don’t think the people who took the money don’t know it.

January 25th, 2006

Love from Politics VT? We Report, You Decide

by Philip Baruth

A nice thing to note over a coffee roll: Politics VT has added VDB to their short-list of Vermont Political Commentary Sites.

Very much appreciated, especially in that their site has quickly become a standard resource, albeit an occasionally anonymous and inscrutable one.

But clicking on the new link takes you to . . . the homepage of Microsoft. What was the message, I had to wonder. Some deeply nuanced corporate threat? The dark work of Jonas Galusha himself, master of the seven cryptic veils?

We may never know. But as always, VDB appreciates love in whatever form it may take — even the occasionally dysfunctional.

Late Update, 8:36 pm:

The link is functioning smoothly at this point — the dead Governors have worked their magic. Again, many thanks for the listing.

January 25th, 2006

I, Pod: We Will Rock You

by Philip Baruth

Edmund Burke believed that it was impossible for humans to imagine anything fundamentally new — what we really do, he argued, is combine and reassemble old things that have been around for centuries.

I don’t know if that’s right in general, but I know it’s true in the case of Steve Jobs and Apple computers. The genius of Steve Jobs is not that he gives you the utterly new, but that he packages and recombines the old in ways that seem utterly new.

Take the Ipod, for instance. There’s a reason it feels homey and familiar and comforting in your pocket, and that’s because it combines two wildly successful technologies from the ‘70’s: the portable sound of the Walkman, and the unconditional love of the Pet Rock.

Because the Ipod is a Walkman that remembers and learns and communicates, and never ever tells anyone that you downloaded “The Pina Colada Song” or Barry Manilowe’s “Mandy.” No, the Ipod will never talk.

Except to you. With you it communicates the way an infant communicates, and you feed it with a little umbilical that connects it to your computer terminal.

When I first got my Ipod, I figured I’d store it in my glove compartment — that way, my kids wouldn’t get their hands on it, and it’d be waiting for me when I went to work in the morning. But it was cold that night — near freezing — and when I picked it up in the morning, it wouldn’t play a single song, just cycled crazily through my playlist. It didn’t know who it was.

I panicked.

Now, I’m no technician, but I’ve raised a couple of kids, and I know that when they’re really sick, sick with things that threaten their mental stability — high fevers, bad bumps to the head — they need their mother. If they’re infants they need to nurse, but even older children need to huddle in and recharge their emotional batteries, bring their map of the world back into true.

And so I did the only thing I could think of: I took the icy-cold Ipod into my office, and plugged in the umbilical.

And in an hour, the Ipod knew who it was again, it knew me. Same thing happened when my dog snagged one of the lines to my headphone, and sent the little blue machine crashing to the floor. After an hour on the umbilical, it came out of its tiny coma and it remembered all of the songs associated with all of my best memories. It was ready to be the soundtrack of my life again.

Of course, that soundtrack has its admittedly weird aspects. Since Apple’s ITunes program allows you to buy songs rather than whole albums, you can jettison the four or five songs from Queen’s classic album News of the World that you never really liked that much, and keep just “We Are the Champions/We Will Rock You.”

That way you can walk around reliving that high-school basketball game where the coach finally sent you into the game in the last three minutes and — even if you didn’t score or anything, and your team eventually lost — it was still really cool just to be up off the bench.

The problem is that since you’re only reliving songs attached to highlights in your life, those highlights get played with no build-up, and no tail-off. It’s just highlight after highlight. And after awhile it begins to seem like Groundhog Day, or really, Groundhog minute.

And so you develop a habit: you need new memory highlights every day, or at least as often as you can afford them. Pretty soon you’re taking an extra job just to buy new songs, just to feed the Ipod. But you never count the costs.

Because emotionally it just feels so very right, when you look down into your Ipod’s trusting little screen, and you see you yourself looking back up at you.

[This piece aired previously on Vermont Public Radio.]

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