April 28th, 2006

Politics of Gas: The Eyes Have It

by Philip Baruth

Suddenly, the price of gas is on the frontest of political front burners. And simmering.

Put aside the fact that prices have been more or less this high for several years — VDB has argued more than once that voting oilmen into the White house is essentially voting for higher prices at the pump.

For whatever reason, it is April, gas is at 3$ a gallon, and the People are pissed.

And so GOP lawmakers, already anxious about losing their majority, have begun to crank up some appropriate political theater. Suddenly, Bush is calling for higher mileage standards. And Dennis Hastert is doing photo-ops in hydrogen-powered vehicles.

So how to see through the smoke-and-mirrors? Keep your eye on the hand with the quarter, my friends. Two photos for you today, to make things easier.

The first comes from the Associated Press, who captured the lithe and graceful Dennis Hastert leaving the vehicle marked “Hydrogen” and sliding back into his SUV after the photo-op:

dennis hastert caught in the act

And lest you think that we’ve forgotten the maxim about all politics — including the politics of gas — being local, we have this gem from Bradford, roving VDB-cameraman.

It shows a Hummer — a vehicle just smaller than an ocean liner — with the inevitable Tarrant For Senate sticker fondly applied to the bumper:

hummers for tarrant

Believe your eyes, my friends, not your ears. Major props to Bradford and the oft-maligned folks at the AP. These are absolutely classic.

April 27th, 2006

Rumsfeld, Secretary of De Fobbits

by Philip Baruth

CNN has become a pretty unstable commodity during the Bush years: regularly bending over backward to smooch the well-fed flanks of the GOP, and occasionally puckering up to the point of lasting embarrassment.

Interesting turn of events for a network once derided by Republicans as the Clinton News Network.

It’s fairer to say, maybe, that CNN is in the business of selling the Presidency, whoever occupies it.

But uncharacteristically enough, CNN is carrying a story now on the joint Rumsfeld/Rice trip to Baghdad that is about as anti-Bush administration as anything I’ve ever seen them run.

It’s slugged “Leaders Visit; Troops Say, ‘Yeah, So?’”

Here’s the lede and the pay-0ff:

“BALAD, Iraq (CNN) — As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made their surprise visits to Baghdad on Wednesday, many of the troops stationed north of Baghdad, in Balad and Dujail, say either they didn’t know about it or didn’t care.

“‘I’d ask him for a plane ticket home to see my wife. I have barely seen her in the last two years,’ said a young sergeant, who did not want to be identified. Like many of the soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division, he is on his second deployment to Iraq.

“Some joked that whenever VIP’s come to visit they just go to the main bases and meet the ‘fobbits,’ the nickname given to troops who do not go outside the barbed wire.”

Fobbits. I don’t think I’ve ever stumbled across a new bit of slang that I liked even half as much.

And it’s a word that tells you all you need to know about where this war is headed: when the US forces inside the Green Zone are actively derided not just by the Iraqis, but by the US forces outside the Green Zone, you know that what we’ve accomplished is the break up of our own Army — not Sadaam’s.

Fobbits.

Why do I have the feeling that somewhere, deep in his tidy English grave, Tolkien is deeply offended by the comparison?

rummy

April 26th, 2006

Imminent VDB/Scudder Parker Meet-Up

by Philip Baruth

A very quick and final reminder that VDB will be co-hosting a meet-up with Scudder Parker — the Democratic candidate for Governor — this afternoon, from 4:30-6:30 in the Community Room of the Fletcher Free Library, beautiful downtown Burlington.

Coffee, donuts, passionate political speech. Love to see you there. Seriously.

April 26th, 2006

In Which The GOP Loses a Stand-Up Guy

by Philip Baruth

Some days the mail brings you things that make you want to weep for joy.

The letter below comes from a reader in Buffalo, a registered Republican living in a fairly red section of a fairly blue state. A Bush voter, at least through 2004.

But bless his heart, the guy’s just had enough.

Philip,

As a registered Republican, I have been keeping close tabs on the Bush Administration as of late, and there is really no way that I can support them any longer.

And I’m not alone. I’ve been talking with co-workers out here in Buffalo, and friends in Vermont, and there is a common thread: Bush is taking this country right into the toilet.

I never liked Bill Clinton, but at least he didn’t take us into wars that we weren’t meant to enter. One of my good friends from high school (who is also an Air Force grad and Afghanistan war veteran) has said that entering Iraq would be a very bad idea. He said this before the war even began. rummy

“The public will not support this war,” he said. “It will be extremely unpopular. Many people will die, and that will turn it into another Vietnam. The only way a war in Iraq would succeed is with public support.”

That’s why when I read your blog this morning, I realized how far the mighty have fallen. I admit. I voted for Bush. I felt that he was, unfortunately, the lesser of two evils. But now, even the religious right that supported the President during the election, is angry with Bush policies.

The so-called moral and ethical Bush admin is gone now. Every Republican I talk to has agreed on this point. You can’t lie to the American people, and then try and justify it with more violence.

Bush’s mistakes are becoming very costly for this country. A 32% approval rate is embarassing. Even more embarassing is the $3.00+ gas prices at the pump. It’s high time that people start voicing their disapproval. I’m glad that you are doing that with your blog.

I wanted to e-mail you these nuggets because some people believe that Republicans are okay with Bush. We aren’t, and these are the people that progressives and Democrats need to reach in the upcoming elections, either in 2006 or 2008.

I can’t believe that I’m saying this but…even if Hillary Clinton ran for President, I would likely vote for her over any Republican with ties to the Bush Administration. I’d be interested to see how many other people out there in Vermont (readers of your blog) have similar feelings. The fence-sitting Republicans are ripe for the picking.

Have a great day and thanks for your blog.

Howie

That was beautiful, Howie. And not to worry: we got a big tent over here on the Center-Left. It’s noisy, and occasionally people throw food on each other, but everyone speaks their mind — and everyone’s welcome.

We don’t care where you’ve been. Only where you’re going.

April 25th, 2006

Bush Mocked by Immense Puppets

by Philip Baruth

We reported earlier this week that Bush has apparently fallen from his lofty 33% approval rating. CNN has The Decider at 32% as of yesterday.

bushWhat’s a lame duck to do? You got it, baby. Relentless photo-ops: lunching with GIs, huddling with children of color, and yes, mountain biking.

So with Earth Day upon us, the recently shaken-up (not stirred) White House had Bush out in Napa Valley for a series of extreme bike rides amid the lush greenery.

Of course, Northern California is one of those odd places in the United States of America where they take the environment and public policy seriously.

It wasn’t pretty.

From the Napa Register:

“A circus-like atmosphere permeated Meadowood’s normally quiet front entrance Saturday. Protesters chanted everything from ‘Impeach Bush,’ ‘Hey, hey, ho, ho, Bush and Cheney have to go,’ and ‘Honk for peace.’ Protesters also sang John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance.’

“Jes Richardson, a resident of San Geronimo, made the trip to Napa along with a 10-foot, paper-mache statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Richardson used the statue at protests throughout the Bay Area, he said, as part of the Gandhi Peace Brigade, a group that opposes the war in Iraq.

“‘I am in Napa to open (Bush’s) heart and basically have him look at this as a creation of peace,’ he said.”

That’s right, President Bush. Northern California don’t play make nice: they break out the giant puppets on your ass.

It wasn’t any better in St. Helena, where Bush attempted to kick it photogenic at a high-buck resort. From the sly editors at the St. Helena Star:

“Welcome to St. Helena, Mr. Bush. You are seeing us at our springtime best.

tiny bush“However, had you booked your trip a week or two earlier, you would have seen the tail-end of a hard winter here in the Napa Valley. At one point during the season, flooding damaged our valley to the tune of about $100 million, including more than $5 million here in St. Helena.

“Many of our residents live and work near the Napa river and its tributaries and are depending on federal funding to help finish a flood control project that has been in the works for years.

“Unfortunately, two FEMA grants worth $6 million were denied St. Helena, seriously jeopardizing the town’s flood control plan.”

Ouch.

Republican strategy, going back 15 years, has called almost exclusively for the no-holds-barred demonization of Democrats — the liberal media, the Democratic Congress, Bill Clinton, and any Democrat who looks to go all the way during the four-year cycle. So Bush climbed in the polls — briefly and minimally — against John Kerry, barely enough to eke out a victory in 2004.

Without these boogey-men, the Republicans have nothing to subsist on but their records. And those are abysmal. And so Bush’s numbers will continue to fall. And anywhere Bush goes, protests will mushroom: Bakersfield, Berkeley, Biloxi, it doesn’t matter.

But you have to love the special twist they give it in Northern California. They make it sing. Final case in point: this footage of a protest rally during Bush’s visit to Stanford, last Friday.

Special thanks to FOB (Friend of Blog) Susan, for the tips on these reports. Susan saw our call for intelligence yesterday, and got right on it.

Ever vigilant, indeed.

April 24th, 2006

Scudder Parker/VDB Meet-up: Reminder

by Philip Baruth

Just a quick reminder of the Scudder Parker/VDB meet-up this Wednesday, the 26th, from 4:30-6:30 in the Community Room of the Fletcher Free Library, beautiful downtown Burlington.

The Governor’s race will move from second to fourth gear in the next month or so, and it’s always good to know the guy driving the car. Stop by and say hello to Scudder, and take his measure.

bush doing And at the same time you can register your concerns about VDB. Not enough Cheney caricatures? You’d like us to give up sleep entirely, to allow George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to be rhetorically pummelled 24/7 rather than 19/7? We’re willing to dicker!

And by the way, a snarky insider political blog is only as good as its intelligence. We always need people who are willing to drop a dime on the bad guys.

Email, tips, story pitches, and sheer unfounded speculations are always welcome at VDB.

Your identity protected at all costs.

Humint, they call it at the CIA. We call it the food of the gods. See you Wednesday.

April 23rd, 2006

Bush: I Am The Egghead

by Philip Baruth

On a scale of 1-10, any Bush parody automatically scores a 5, because we so enjoy seeing the man parodied. But here’s a very special bit: “I Am the Walrus,” by the Beatles, but overhauled and refitted for the Bush years.

cheney's got a gun“I Am the Egghead.”

Excellent production values; enigmatic lyrics. Overall, a real feel for the jugular.

Just beautiful.

“I am me and Rummy’s he, Iraq is free and we are all together/See the world run when Dick shoots his gun, see how I lie/I’m Lying…”

A 9 on the VDB Scale of Surgical Precision. Listen here.

April 21st, 2006

Your Wish is VDB’s Command: Healthcare Update

by Philip Baruth

A few days ago, Liz in Waterbury dropped me an email with the subject line, “A Request for Healthy Enlightenment.”

Nearly deleted as spam, the note turned out to be a very heartfelt request for information — information on public policy of all things:

“I’m a regular reader of your blog, and by rights I should be more up to date than I am. But I find I’m a little muddled on what’s really happening with healthcare under the GDGD (gol-durned golden dome). Can you provide one of your wonderful posts, or point me to someone else’s? Somehow the Times-Argus news coverage isn’t really giving me enough info.”

It was a good question: could I do one of my wonderful posts on the fight in-progress up in Montpelier?
I thought about the question a lot. Well, actually, only the words “wonderful posts.”

But finally the answer was no.

Why? Because I didn’t know the first thing about the current state of play. But I do, however, know people who know people who know about it. A lot about it.

So what follows is Senator Matt Dunne’s response to Liz’s question. Currently running for Lieutenant Governor, Matt has been dubbed “The Cheetah” by VDB, in recognition of his swift, lean, and hungry campaign operation.

I’ll assume that Matt gets your vote, Liz, for going to these lengths. And by the way, your internet provider bounced back my response to you.

(Maybe Matt could look into that for you as well.)

……………

Healthcare Legislation: Current State of Play
Senator Matt Dunne

Last Friday the Senate passed what could be called a conciliatory and solid step toward healthcare reform.

Acknowledging the fact that the Governor is not interested in systemic changes that could lead to lasting cost-containment, the bill that began in the House and was then fine-tuned in the Senate accomplishes three major goals: expanded coverage, pushing large employers to cover their employees, and better ways to manage the cost and quality of chronic care.

Here are some specifics on how these three goals are met through this piece of legislation, the passage of which will be negotiated in the coming weeks by House and Senate leadership and the Governor:

1) Catamount Health Plan — Expands coverage opportunities by creating a state-subsidized, but privately administered, healthcare plan that has sliding scale premiums for Vermonters that are currently uninsured.

About 20,000 additional Vermonters are estimated to be covered, with some costs subsidized by an increase in the cigarette tax.

2) Everybody Pays, Everybody Covered — Many mid-sized Vermont employers who cover their employees have started to realize how unfair it is that some larger multinational companies do not provide coverage.

When the uninsured get sick and go to the hospital but are unable to pay, the costs are shifted to the premiums of those providing healthcare. The legislation would require those companies who do not cover their employees to do so, although it would exempt the first three full-time equivalent employees (to help very small operations and new start-ups) or individuals who can get coverage through a spouse.

3) Pay for Performance and Chronic Care — Chronic care, services for illnesses that afflict someone for a year or more, make up 80% of our total healthcare expenses. Moreover, the way we reimburse for chronic care does not encourage procedures that actually lead to healthier patients, but instead encourages hospitals to administer procedures rather than promote lasting cures.

This piece of the legislation provides the framework for changing the way we deliver and pay for chronic care treatment, to reward health outcomes and to suggest best practices for handling chronic diseases. While the savings won’t be realized until down the road, this section has the greatest potential for cost savings in the long term.

The debate on the Senate floor last Friday was educated and cordial.

The bill passed by an overwhelming and bipartisan margin with few amendments, despite continued signs of opposition by the Governor. His resistance, oddly enough, continues to be articulated through his focus group-tested mantra that we are creating a “Canadian-style, government-run system,” despite the fact that such a concept was never under consideration.

Now we hear he is displeased that our plan only requires the option of contracting Catamount Healthcare to a private insurance company, as opposed to mandating privatization of the service, even if an alternative plan for self-insuring through a collected risk pool (like General Electric or the municipalities smartly do) and then contracting out the administration to a private company, would save Vermonters money.

Ideology overcoming efficiency? Or an attempt to find any excuse to oppose the legislature’s efforts at even some minimal reform?

With premiums rising at double-digit rates and healthcare costs statewide rising at $1 million a day, there isn’t much of a choice but to support this bill.

While no one can declare “mission accomplished” or that we are leading the nation with systemic reform with this bill, it does take us in a positive direction, reduces some cost-shifting, and creates a framework for reforming government reimbursements to hospitals in future sessions.

To paraphrase Republican Senator Phil Scott’s statement on the floor last week, there is something in this bill for everyone to dislike, and many are concerned that it will not actually contain costs.

But for Vermonters, to do nothing is untenable.

April 21st, 2006

Fox News: Bush at 33%

by Philip Baruth

Oops. Looks like Bush’s Kool-aid drinking base of 35% have begun dodging the Dixie cups. And when these numbers fall from the lips of Fox News anchors, you realize why Bush has suddenly begun heaving pasty well-fed flunkies overboard.

tiny Bush“NEW YORK — More Americans disapprove than approve of how George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Congress are doing their jobs . . . . President Bush’s approval hits a record low of 33 percent this week, clearly damaged by sinking support among Republicans.”

Looks like the “Bombs Over Tehran” strategy isn’t having quite the desired effect, after all.

April 20th, 2006

Scudder Parker/VDB Meet-up

by Philip Baruth

The Parker for Governor campaign got an early start this cycle, and has been running a strong grassroots operation ever since.

And of course that encapsulates VDB’s patented “Big Dog” strategy: run surprisingly early, run surprisingly fast, and grow the pack while the opposition is sleeping.

We have always been of the opinion that campaigns traditionally kick-off late in Vermont: mayoral candidates allow themselves eight weeks to meet the voters, state Senate candidates try to pack a year’s worth of campaigning into three months.

Lite-gubernatorial prospect John Tracy — an otherwise savvy and winning candidate who seems content to wait until the corn comes up to campaign — is the current case in point. Late out of the gate, and half-hearted even then, Tracy has made a very difficult primary — and an even more difficult general election — nearly impossible for himself.

Not to worry with Scudder.

He’s approached his very tough match with Jim Douglas precisely the way a challenger must: with an extended campaign designed to win back Douglas’s moderate supporters over the long haul.

And VDB is glad to lend a hand.

We’ll be sponsoring a meet-up with Parker this coming Wednesday, the 26th of April, from 4:30-6:30 in the Community Room of the Fletcher Free Library, in beautiful downtown Burlington. Good friends Mary Lou Kete and John Howe will be co-hosting. Questions should go to John, at 425-2578.

We will shower you with all of the amenities you’ve come to expect: coffee, perhaps of more than one flavor, some with the caffeine carefully removed, cream, sugar, Sweet n’ Low — and of course stir sticks. Even, most likely, some sort of baked goods.

And those baked goods will be fresh, never day-old. You have our word.

So if you’re free, and you like coffee, or political discussion, or you’d just like to shake Parker’s hand and pepper him with questions — or you happen to be in the library anyway and you have no idea who we are or what we’re doing but you’re sort of hungry and wouldn’t mind nipping an apple tart from the table — by all means drop in and say hello.

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