February 28th, 2006

Dubie’s Brother Wins Secret Ballot

by Philip Baruth

Politics Vt is reporting that the race for Adjutant General is over. The winner? The Lieutenant Governor’s brother, Brig. General Michael Dubie.

While in general I don’t like the concentration of power in the hands of a single political family, I don’t like it in this case either.

But who is VDB, really? Just the guys who backed the highly qualified Lt. Col. Judith Sheehan, early, before anyone else knew her name.

And you know what, Jude? We always will.

February 28th, 2006

All Hail Horrific Bush Numbers

by Philip Baruth

Some days the sun comes up over Lake Champlain, and it’s gorgeous and all, but you just can’t get geared up for life in twenty-first-century America. You’re prickly, and disaffected, and you couldn’t say why.

Alito and Roberts tag-teaming the Clean Water Act? Bush and Cheney conspiring to quash the charges against Scooter Libby? Who knows, but those days the sun always looks ready to set somehow, no matter the hour.

bushAnd then there are those days when you pick up the morning papers, and find that Bush’s numbers have moved significantly — straight down. Way down. Like, from the mere bowl of the toilet, down through the fixture gasket and the floor flange, and finally out the evacuation pipe itself.

Those days the sun doesn’t just rise — it executes a plié.

The latest digits from CBS:

“Bush’s overall job rating has tumbled, too, to an all-time low in this poll. It is now 34%, down from 42% last month. 59% disapprove. The previous low came last October, one month after Hurricane Katrina, shortly after the withdrawal of Harriet Miers from a Supreme Court nomination and just after U.S. deaths in Iraq reached the 2,000 mark. Not since November 2004 has a majority approved of the President’s overall performance.”

And of course, there’s this numerical ice-pick in the heart of Bush’s signature issue: “Ratings for the President’s handling of the Iraq war have also plummeted, to their all-time low of 30%.”

A solid foundation on which to build a wonderful day.

But wait. How much would you pay for even worse numbers? Don’t answer yet! Nicholas Kristoff (Times Select) breaks a new Zogby poll of troops serving in Iraq:

“The poll is the first of U.S. troops currently serving in Iraq, according to John Zogby, the pollster. Conducted by Zogby International and LeMoyne College, it asked 944 service members, ‘How long should U.S. troops stay in Iraq?’

“Only 23 percent backed Mr. Bush’s position that they should stay as long as necessary. In contrast, 72 percent said that U.S. troops should be pulled out within one year. Of those, 29 percent said they should withdraw ‘immediately.’”

In other words, nearly 30% of American combat troops favor cutting and running immediately, while nearly ¾ favor giving aid and comfort to the enemy by setting up a timetable for withdrawal.

And they laughed at our man Murtha.

So let’s summarize: George W. Bush lost favorable opinion in the world long ago — even England now calls Guantanamo a human rights nightmare. Bush never had Democrats. He has now lost Independents, and a good slice of his base. He has clearly squandered even the reflexive support drilled into soldiers from the moment they put on the uniform.

All Bush has left now are his hard-core Kool-aid-drinking crazies. And let’s face it: this Dubai Ports deal has even the Kool-Aid types starting to dodge their Dixie cups.

Now, look, VDB has a strict policy of following bad Bush poll numbers with the lyrics from the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme song. It’s not that we enjoy posting the lyrics necessarily; we feel it’s our duty as God-fearing Americans.

But these aren’t just bad poll numbers. These digits are utterly horrific for Bush, and for election-year Republicans, and frankly they deserve more than just lyrics.

So we’ve gone the extra mile. Here’s a rare Sponge Bob audio clip — the dance remix, no less. No expense has been spared.

Work out, people. You deserve it today.

Especially you, Rick Barba, eating your toast in the Colorado sun and plotting the Democratic renaissance.

February 28th, 2006

Monday Must-Read Sentence: Hands Off the Guard

by Philip Baruth

Given that tomorrow the Legislature will select a new Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard by secret ballot, it’s only right and fitting that this week’s MMRS address the challenges of the 21st-century Guard.

Especially as we’ve endorsed a candidate in that race — Lt. Col. Judith Sheehan.

So address the Guard’s challenges VDB intends to do. And most of them come directly from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, turns out.

The nation’s governors — Republicans and Democrats alike — released a letter yesterday, deploring the Bush administration’s policies as they affect the Guard’s general readiness. The letter, signed by all fifty governors, allows the New York Times to say with perfect frankness what it has broadly hinted at over the last two years:

Governors of both parties said Sunday that Bush administration policies were stripping the National Guard of equipment and personnel needed to respond to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, forest fires and other emergencies.

For “hurricanes . . . and other emergencies,” of course, read Katrina and Rita. Clearly bad blood lingers, even with Republicans like Governor Haley Barbour. For an organization still dominated by a Republican majority — at least until the 2006 election cycle — this letter is a pretty open-handed slap.

And a pretty neat little MMRS.

It used to be that when Bush said jump, Republicans at all levels said: how high. But that was then. Now when the President says jump, apparently, Republicans at all levels say: you’re high.

And VDB is absolutely loving it.

So, yes, this week’s MMRS ultimately went to the New York Times, but an organization with a tiny fraction of the budget ran all but neck-and-neck.

BurlingtonPol.com, written by Burlingtonian Haik Bedrosian, ran a highly detailed and amusing post this morning on an event with Progressive Mayoral candidate Bob Kiss: “Kid Friendly Breakfast with Bob Kiss.” Haik’s coverage of the campaign has been sharp in general, but this piece is choice.

The highlights? In a pinch, Haik is driven to taking notes with crayons. And this bit near the end:

“Just when it seemed the dealy-o was going to wrap up without any surprises, my wife’s friend Autumn asked Bob how his platform differed from [Democratic candidate] Hinda Miller’s. ‘Oooh,’ I thought. ‘This ought to be interesting.’

“And it was. Because for an answer Kiss repackaged the litany of experiences he would bring to the corner office, while failing to enumerate any differences between his platform and Hinda’s.

You can read the whole enchilada at the link. Interesting stuff, regardless of your political stripe.

February 25th, 2006

Rumsfeld’s Own Private Idaho

by Philip Baruth

The latest stomach-churning news on Guantanamo, from the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau:rumsfeld

“WASHINGTON - Military interrogators posing as FBI agents at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wrapped terrorism suspects in an Israeli flag and forced them to watch homosexual pornography under strobe lights during interrogation sessions that lasted as long as 18 hours, according to one of a batch of FBI memos released Thursday.”

Why, you ask?

Because if we didn’t detain them indefinitely without trial, shine painful lights in their eyes and force them to watch homosexual pornography, then the terrorists would win.

Why not, you ask, show them heterosexual pornography?

Because 9/11 changed everything.

February 24th, 2006

Bob and Liddy — Sad, Sad, Sad

by Philip Baruth

So Bob Dole is brought in as the closer for the Dubai Ports World deal in the Senate. Looks pretty good for Bob Dole. Nice chunk of change, yes sir. Kind of a change of pace. Good to get some respect again.

But when he gets home to the Watergate, Liddy isn’t pleased. Damn article in the Washington Post, talking about conflict of interest:

“The lobbying of former Senate majority leader Robert J. Dole on behalf of the Dubai-owned company set to take over management of terminals at six major U.S. seaports is creating a political problem for his wife, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.).

“The chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Jerry Meek, yesterday called on Sen. Dole to remove herself from ‘any congressional oversight’ of the Dubai port deal. ‘The fact that Dubai is paying her husband to help pass the deal presents both a financial and ethical conflict of interest for Senator Dole,’ Meek said.

“Former senator Dole (R-Kan.), 82, said in a written statement yesterday that he is not going to lobby his wife or members of Congress.

“Dole’s statement said he will confine his lobbying to the Bush administration. ‘I have not nor will I lobby Members of Congress on this issue, not even at home,’ he wrote.”

You know, for me, the Doles’ marriage has been an icon of the dismal for as long as I can remember. The thought was already all but unbearable: the two of them puttering around their Watergate condominium — she all steel and no magnolia, he famously erectile dysfunctional — watching Wheel of Fortune, then C-Span, maybe having a brief caustic argument over the rules of cloture, then calling it a night just before eight-thirty lights out.

All but unbearable.

But knowing that now even their last tiny sclerotic vein of companionship — Senate shop-talk — will be forbidden, I feel myself almost moved to something like genuine pity.

Liddy: Robert? Robert, dear? [She turns to Bob in the Craftmatic Adjustable bed but, since her half is prone and his cranked up to reading height, she encounters only mattress. The symbolism strikes her powerfully enough to bring tears nearly to the surface, but she holds them back. Liddy reaches for the wireless remote and brings her half of the top-of-the-line Craftmatic Monaco even with his. Dole is brooding over a dossier marked “Dubai Ports World.”] Robert, we need to talk.

Dole: [After a long pause] Call Bob Dole Bob Dole.

Liddy: Robert, I will not call you Bob Dole. You know that. We agreed on that long ago.

Dole: [Eyes still on the file, but clearly no longer focused, as though it is the past — rather than charts showing DPW’s US assets — passing before his eyes] You used to call Bob Dole Bob Dole. When he married you. Another story then. The condo in Florida. I remember a margarita with no salt, maybe more than one. And I remember you calling Bob Dole Bob Dole that day. That night. [Dole turns to look at her, a hard look, one that reveals deep hurt, a hurt that’s scabbed over, and maybe a little blackish at the edges.]

Liddy: Robert — [Her voice drops to a whisper although they two are the only ones in the hermetically sealed condominium] Yes, you’re right, there was that one night when I thought, well, that helping you live out a dream, a fantasy, might . . . enliven things. Romantically between us. I called you Bob Dole in the heat of that one moment. But it never felt right. And you said you understood that.

Dole: [With intensely biting and deeply bitter sarcasm] Oh, sure.

Liddy: Robert. Let’s turn to something a little more pleasant. [Desperately, as though a new subject, any subject, might be the only thing between the Craftmatic and divorce itself] What about that folder? What is it you’re reading? May I look on, Dear?

Dole: [Almost savagely] You’re not allowed to see. Bob Dole can’t share it with you. He has ethics, see? Want to start an investigation? Leave it alone. [Pulling the folder back from her, like a half-gnawed bone]

Liddy: All right then, darling. [Lying back, all hope drained from her, lacquered hair holding her finally an inch or two above the pillow, and beginning the fall into a deep sleep that will be interrupted only several times by dreams of the White House.] All right then. I’ll just leave it alone.

February 24th, 2006

Bush Family Values

by Philip Baruth

Listening to George W. Bush is nearly always an enlightening experience. That enlightenment is almost never intentional on Bush’s part, of course, but it’s the best that can be managed under the circumstances.

Today Bush attempted to quiet the furor over the Dubai Ports World deal:bush

“The more people learn about the transaction that has been scrutinized and approved by my government,” Bush said, “the more they’ll be comforted that our ports will be secure.”

Maybe it’s picking nits, but the last I heard it was our government, all of us collectively. Bush had an administration, at the head of the executive branch of our government, but that was supposed to be it.

But let that go for a second. For me the central conundrum of the Dubai Debacle is this: Bush seemed suddenly livid, not that the deal would be scrapped, but that it might be marginally postponed, for a few weeks, while Republicans in Congress made an appearance of doing due diligence. The threat of a mere postponement was enough to elicit a nasty veto threat.

Only three things make Bush that angry that fast: 1) A threat to his re-election, 2) a threat to his family, and 3) a threat to his wallet. Given that re-election is no longer among the options, that leaves #2 and #3. And wouldn’t you just know it: here comes CNN with a well-researched segment arguing that it’s actually both — a threat to the family’s wallet.

“CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT [voice over]: The oil-rich United Arab Emirates is a major investor in The Carlyle Group, the private equity investment firm where President Bush’s father once served as senior adviser and is a who’s who of former high-level government officials. Just last year, Dubai International Capital, a government-backed buyout firm, invested in an $8 billion Carlyle fund.

“Another family connection, the president’s brother, Neil Bush, has reportedly received funding for his educational software company from the UAE investors. A call to his company was not returned.”

Suddenly Bush’s pugnacity makes a certain low-rent sense — as does his ditching the standard rhetoric about security and evil-doers, and talking suddenly and indignantly about people that “work hard and play by the rules” and shouldn’t be penalized.

He wasn’t talking about DPW, or the United Arab Emirates. He was talking about Dad and Neil. People want to keep them from making tidy new piles of money. And that makes W. angry.

And brother Jeb too: he came out with his own statement in favor of the Dubai deal yesterday.

Bush Senior has taught them all well, the whole sprawling, rapacious extended Bush clan.

“The parents are a child’s first teacher; the home a child’s first classroom,” his son George wrote in his 1999 campaign autobiography A Charge to Keep.

Truer word never spoken.

February 23rd, 2006

There! In the Sky! It’s . . . Bob Dole!

by Philip Baruth

You just can’t write this kind of humor: Dubai hires Bob Dole to lobby Congress on behalf of its bid to acquire six US ports.

First, Cheney shoots an old man. Then Bush promises to make his first veto in five years a veto upholding the sale of major US ports to a country that laundered funds for the 9/11 hijackers.

And now, yes, Bob Dole himself limps over the horizon. As the Cavalry, no less.

There will come a moment next November, when you’re sitting over a plate of turkey and squash and mashed potatoes and gravy, and you’re going to close your eyes and try to bring to mind all of the things you have to be thankful for in the last year.

All of these old tone-deaf Republicans will come to mind, one after the other. And you will find that your chestnut stuffing tastes chestnuttier than it ever has before, or ever will again.

February 22nd, 2006

Clavelle Downed by Cheetah

by Philip Baruth

As regular readers well know, VDB has little patience with statewide candidates — especially Democratic statewide candidates — who insist upon not campaigning.

Why? Because we think it is an excellent way to lose. A Rose Garden strategy works best, after all, when you already occupy the Rose Garden.

Consider the fledgling candidacy of John Tracy. Tracy is an impressive candidate in almost every way — excepting his insistence on not campaigning.

Tracy has said that he’ll be happy to campaign statewide, but in the sweet by and by, once the Legislative session has ground to a halt. This against a fairly popular incumbent, and a very amped-up primary challenger.

From a post several weeks back:

“Tracy’s bet is clearly that work in the legislature will translate into free media, and an air of statewide leadership. As VDB recalls, that was Bob Dole’s strategy in ‘96. Until the Democrats tied the Senate in knots.

“Bob Dole got angry. Bob Dole fought back. Bob Dole felt sorry for Bob Dole for a while, and then quit the Senate. But by then it was far too late.

“So you have to wonder about Tracy’s hole-up-in-Montpelier strategy.

“Because when you’re facing a primary against a candidate like Matt Dunne (D-Windsor) — who’s been up and running like a cheetah for months now, and who just happens to be hosting John Edwards this week in Burlington, Tracy’s own backyard — that may well be ballgame.”

Well, today the cheetah struck — and not for the last time. Dunne held a noontime press conference and announced a slew of endorsements, some national, some statewide, including Madeleine Kunin, whose support saved Hinda Miller in the Burlington Mayoral caucus some weeks back.

But the real news was the endorsement of the man standing beside Dunne in Conference Room 12, City Hall: Peter Clavelle, outgoing Mayor.

To put it in Arthur Miller’s terms, Clavelle is not only liked in Burlington, but well-liked: he’s currently in that slow sentimental victory lap that long-serving public officials are granted in America, once they announce retirement. The lap during which even your enemies admit that you’ve done well, that you’ve made life better for your people.

And that glow is something that can be shared with others, by proximity. It was Dunne, not Tracy — and incidentally not Pollina — that Clavelle chose to stand beside.

In response to the 64,000$ dollar question by the Free Press’s Sam Hemingway, Clavelle demurred: “This endorsement is about Matt; it’s not about John.” The mayor went on to express respect for Tracy, and then indicated that the endorsement was all but locked up by the time Tracy announced his firm intention to sort of run for Lieutenant Governor.

Imagine that.

Look, if you’re Tracy, you need massive Democratic primary turnout in Burlington, to have any hope of offsetting Dunne’s clear strength in the rest of the state. Without Madeleine Kunin, without Phil Hoff and other party icons, that starts to look less likely every day.

And without Progressive Pete, it starts to look like a pipe-dream.

VDB has said it before and we’ll no doubt say it again: these statewide offices are important — people should know they want to run, and they should then actually do so.

Hunger is the sort of thing no one has to explain to a cheetah.

February 21st, 2006

Your Daily Devotional

by Philip Baruth

Drove to Montpelier this morning to — wait for it — deliver the morning devotional to the Vermont House of Representatives.

I know; it seems odd to me too.

But it’s the second time Speaker Symington’s office has called, and each time I’ve been honored. And each time I’ve done my very level best to be devotional. This morning I read a true story about God throwing a Bible at me.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #86: The Truth Shall Set You Free

In 1974, when I was twelve, I separated from the Lutheran church in what I like to think of as a schism of one. The church I attended with my mother and my brother and sisters was called Ascension Lutheran, and it was run by two very strict, bible-reading grandmotherly women.

The schism involved a disagreement between these two ladies of the church and myself over when I should be allowed to take my confirmation. Their argument was that I’d paid so little attention during my two-year training that I’d need to repeat the entire sequence.

My argument was that four years was a lot to ask in exchange for a metal detector, which is what my mother’d promised me at the other end of the tunnel.

So I broke with the church, as the theologians say, but God and I remained on the best of terms and I never had any reason to feel that He held a grudge of any sort until a few years ago.

Now, I know that occasionally I mix fiction with truth in these commentaries, and I know that doing so makes it hard for anyone to believe me when I say that what I’m about to tell is completely and utterly factual. But that’s the case: this story is absolutely true.

Three years ago, on a Sunday morning, I’m driving on Battery Street in Burlington, coming toward the intersection with Pearl. I’ve got my three-year-old daughter Gwendolyn strapped in the carseat. Suddenly church bells start going off somewhere in the city, and Gwendolyn asks me what the noise is.

I tell her that those are church bells. Then she wants to know what church is. I say church is a place where some people go on Sunday morning.

She’s satisfied with that, and we pull up to the intersection of Pearl and Battery and I stop the car at the red light.

Suddenly — and again, I’m speaking the truth here — a big four-door sedan comes roaring around the corner from Pearl. As the car negotiates the turn, the back door flies open briefly and a book comes hurtling out. The door closes and the sedan powers past me down Battery, disappearing around Battery Park.

Now, I can tell from the trajectory of the book and from the noise it made sliding along the blacktop that the book is sitting just outside my driver’s side door. And let’s face it, I’m a book guy by trade, so there’s never a question but that I’m going to open the door and look.

And there’s the book, sitting precisely outside my door — I don’t even have to lean out to grab it. I pick it up, toss it on the passenger seat, and close my door just as the light turns green. I negotiate the turn onto Pearl, and then I have a chance to flip the book over.

It’s a Read With Me Story Bible for Children, suitable for ages 3-7. Gwendolyn, again, is three.

And Gwendolyn is no dummy; she knows we picked up something. “What’s that?” she asks.

“It’s a bible,” I tell her. “That’s what people read in church on Sunday mornings.”

She gets right to the point. “Is it for me?” she asks.

Now while it’s true that I need to have a bible physically ejected from a moving car and slid to within several inches of my hand, I don’t need to be hit hit over the head with it.

“Yes,” I say, “yes. This book is without a doubt for you.”

I pass it over the seat to her, and she opens it up to a picture that looks like Samson and Delilah. Delilah’s got her hands on the guy’s hair, and Gwendolyn gives the image a long look, and it isn’t five minutes before the whole back seat begins to take on the thoughtful air of a chapel.

[This piece aired originally on Vermont Public Radio.]

February 20th, 2006

MMRS: Hubris Fashions Its Own Hell

by Philip Baruth

The older I get the more firmly convinced I become that Greek mythology had it right.

In Greek myths, the number one sin is hubris, the punishment is always tailored poetically to the crime, and you pay for your sins eternally. You get your entrails eaten by vultures during the day, say, then the entrails grow back at night, and then the birds flock over your ravaged body again at first light. bush

Over and over again, without end. That sort of thing.

Consider George W. Bush. George was going to go his father one better — prove his father a wimp — by going All the Way to Baghdad, something George Sr. famously avoided. George Jr. was going to do it without a true international coalition, opting instead for a light-weight portable plastic Coalition of the Willing.

And he was going to do it by thundering on endlessly about non-existent weapons and the torture prisons of Saddam Hussein.

It all had a whiff of the overweening to it, shall we say.

And look where W. stands today: he has supplanted Saddam Hussein in the global imagination as the Butcher of Baghdad. Last week a new wave of pictures surfaced from Abu Ghraib, demonstrating conclusively that US forces also re-created Saddam’s “rape rooms,” Bush’s other favorite phrase in the run-up to war.

And Guantanamo Bay has become an international rallying cry. Just this past week, the United Nations demanded its closure, a call backed up quickly by Kofi Annan and Tony Blair’s Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain. Even Tony Blair, or a sickly-pale version of the progressive statesman he used to be, called Guantanamo “an anomaly” and said that “sooner or later it has got to be dealt with.”

But on Saturday came the sharpest blow of all.

In a British radio interview, Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered the most withering Monday Must-Read Sentence in recent memory: “I never imagined I would live to see the day when the United States and its satellites would use precisely the same arguments that the apartheid government used for detention without trial. It is disgraceful.”

Now, that’s gotta sting. Not a lot — Bush has a tough skin and very little appetite for newspapers. But a little. And that little pain won’t go away, ever.

For as long as George Bush is President, and long after, his every attempt to reach for the rhetoric of liberation will be met with firm reminders that he approved various methods of torture, that he carefully and willfully designed his own lawless prisons in which to disappear his own chosen enemies.

The world will not forget. Neither will the history books. And don’t ever think Bush doesn’t feel that sting — he even started, a little desperately, to talk about Darfur last week.

Darfur.

If you listened carefully, the word left the man’s mouth like a small cry of pain.

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