August 31st, 2007

VDB Finally Agrees with Entergy Ministry of Truth: After Yesterday’s Emergency, “Safe Shutdown” Sounds Pretty Damn Good

by Philip Baruth

On the heels of its characterization of the spectacular cooling tower collapse as “not a safety issue,” Entergy somehow manages to up the Orwellian ante: yesterday’s emergency left the aging Vermont Yankee facility in “safe shutdown mode.”

homer, x-ray

Imagine VDB’s relief.

Because we’re alarmists here, as you know, the sort who tend to regard “all four steam line valves start[ing] to close, throwing the plant into an emergency shutdown, or scram,” as a red flag. Especially when plant employees have no idea what caused said scram.

But that’s why we look to Entergy to supply our clean, safe nuclear needs: even without a clue as to the cause of the emergency, they understand instinctively that safety is not a factor.

In fact, given that we’re now in “safe shutdown mode,” VDB feels almost safer than we did day before yesterday, when the plant was operating at heightened capacity.

That would be the same heightened capacity that didn’t — and we want to stress did not — have anything to do with the collapse of the “sagging and deformed” tower last week.

not so cool

No, given the options, VDB is pleased as punch with “safe shutdown mode.” In fact, if a little safe shutdown is good, then certainly a lot of safe shutdown would be better still.

Food for thought in 2012.

August 30th, 2007

One Not-So-Small Senator Can Lead the Nation (In Being Least Like Larry Craig)

by Philip Baruth

The Sunlight Foundation sponsors a searchable database called OpenCongress, and among other nifty features, you can track voting trends for individual Senators. Which makes it child’s play to figure out which other Senators your target Senator most often votes with, and vice versa.

bernie

And speaking of Larry Craig, OpenCongress shows that he most often votes with a guy named Mike Crapo (R, Idaho). Only makes sense, given that they both represent Idaho, and look to present a unified front.

But who is Craig least likely to vote with? That would be Bernard Sanders (I, Vermont).

To recap, then:

Larry Craig most often with Crapo.
Pretty much never with Bernie.

Just so we’re all clear on that.

August 29th, 2007

VDB Begs to Differ: Herald Prejudices the Vermont Yankee Relicensing Discussion

by Philip Baruth

The Rutland Herald has an interesting Vermont Yankee editorial up in today’s edition, interesting in the bark-worse-than-bite sense. It’s called “Yankee Failure.”

vermont yankee

After some mild tut-tutting in the passive voice about the now-infamous water tower collapse (”Cutting corners seems to have happened”), the Herald goes on to predispose the 2012 relicensing question in its entirety:

“The company will be seeking to extend the plant’s operating license beyond its expiration date of 2012, and state officials and utility executives are all expecting that Yankee will continue to be a major source of power for the state.”

The only question remaining, as far as the editorial board is concerned, is the amount of money Entergy is willing to pour back into Yankee to restore the corners previously cut. The last line of the editorial warns that relicensing is “not a foregone conclusion,” but of course it is, at least within the structural assumptions of the editorial itself.

But to state the obvious, not all state officials are blithely assuming that Yankee must go on cracking and sagging into perpetuity. (See Paul Heintz’s piece in the Reformer today on the way the cooling tower incident may make its own impact on the legislature.)

Yes, Jim Douglas has made it clear that he sees no reason to shutter the plant, and thinks of it suddenly as a green energy option.

But Peter Shumlin has been outspoken in his opposition to the Yankee set-up as currently configured, particularly the storage of waste in-state, and most particularly on the banks of the Connecticut River.

Shumlin has also hinted that 2012 will be a key moment to either shutter the plant, or renegotiate Entergy’s deal in fundamental ways.

Still, the Herald’s editorial won’t be the last of its kind.

All of the major media outlets will enter the relicensing window framing the issue as a question of repair and upgrade, rather than one of outright licensing or refusal to license.

Not because they are corporate lackies, or in the pay of evil Entergy officials, but far more simply because it is very difficult to imagine a way to supply the state’s power needs without Yankee.

The sheer difficulty of the task, and the prospect of higher energy costs, will concretize the conventional wisdom. The question will narrow quickly to how to keep Entergy honest, a continuation of the cat-and-mouse watchdog games of the last twenty years.

Until such time as anti-Yankee protests become a statewide, rather than a Brattleboro-based, phenomenon. Until such time as responsive candidates come forward with aggressive proposals for reworking the state’s energy portfolio.

And they will. Why?

Because Vermont Yankee is an accident waiting, not very patiently, to happen.

Because it is an offense against Vermont values to ship nuclear waste elsewhere in the nation, and it is an offense against common sense to store it here.

And because Entergy has itself evolved into the anti-Yankee faction’s dream public relations team: their message that the collapse of “sagging and deformed” cooling towers is “not a safety issue” — and the way that media outlets have duly repeated the assertion — says all that needs to be said.

not so cool

As with the war in Iraq, we always seem to be making fine progress down at the Yankee site. We always seem to be on the verge of more and cleaner electricity, with no piper to pay for greatly increased strain on the clearly aging facility.

And in the same way that the Bush administration is now attempting to prejudice the September discussion of the Surge — by insisting that the most basic case has already been made prior to the discussion proper — the Herald seems to have made the default assumption that a nuclear-free Vermont is not an option, and hence the relicensing question is no real question at all.

VDB begs to differ.

August 29th, 2007

Post Has It Both Ways in Katrina Anniversary Story, Without Much Success

by Philip Baruth

As you might remember from Monday’s post, we’re keeping a sharp eye on Bush’s trip to New Orleans for the second anniversary of the Katrina debacle. But the only oddity thus far is the bizarre logo the Post has developed to head their Katrina coverage.

new orleans coverage

Sure, the fleur-de-lis is a recognizable NO symbol. But they’ve pixelated it in an odd way, almost to suggest fireworks.

Is it us, or is the Post shooting for something wedged uncomfortably between hopeless devastation and way-cool partytown USA? More just as soon as the Decider decides to embarrass himself utterly down there.

August 28th, 2007

The VT Connection: What Goes Around Comes Around for Senator Larry Craig, And No, We Don’t Mean That In a Hot Way

by Philip Baruth

By now you’ve read more than you probably care to read about Idaho Senator Larry Craig, airport bathrooms, and the complicated semaphore of anonymous inter-stall sex. But if not, you’ll find the arrest complaint here.

Craig in boa

Now, rest assured that VDB isn’t above jumping up and down on the guy for sheer hypocrisy as a legislator, just because he’s down. We’re not.

It’s just that several hundred thousand outlets have already beaten us to the punch.

And so we content ourselves with bringing you, as always, the generally unreported Vermont connection. In this case, there’s a nicely karmic twist.

singing senators

Above, from left: Ashcroft, Lott, Jeffords, Craig, pictured here with vocal coach Renee Grant-Williams

Senator Craig was of course a member of the Singing Senators, an admittedly hokey but good-natured PR vehicle that also included John Ashcroft (currently lionized as the hapless invalid in the US Attorney scandal), Trent Lott (currently undergoing media rehabilitation after pro-segregationist remarks led to his ouster as Senate Majority Leader), and the now-retired Jim Jeffords.

The four friends traveled and sang together, occasionally hooking up with name acts like Charley Pride and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Until Jeffords jumped, that is.

In 2001, after Jeffords announced his clearly agonizing decision to leave the GOP, he was cut very little slack by anyone in the Republican Party, but the least slack of all came from Larry Craig.

According to the Conservative Media Research Center (a low-rent version of Media Matters), Craig had only one thing to say when asked about Jeffords and his decision to caucus with Democrats:

“I will not sing with Senator Jeffords anymore.”

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth, the scorn of a desperately closeted gay family-values Republican.

It’s taken six or seven years for the worm to turn, but it’s fair to say that if Trent Lott or John Ashcroft had their druthers today, they’d undoubtedly prefer to play the Grand Old Opry with Jim Jeffords than with Larry Craig.

And when it comes right down to it, wouldn’t we all.

GOP screwed

August 27th, 2007

You Can Run From Pat Leahy, But You Can’t Hide From Pat Leahy: Bye Bye Fredo

by Philip Baruth

For those of you who have been wondering when Pat Leahy was finally going to hang Alberto Gonzales’s hide up on his office wall, the answer is August 27, 2007: AG calls it quits.

leahy, gonzales

A brilliant development. Absolutely brilliant.

Late Update, 11:50 am:
TPM has video posted of the micro-resignation speech. It is notable for its complete lack of explanation for the resignation, but for another line as well. Gonzales, in touting the American Dream and the way he has been privileged to live it, remarks that, “Even my worst days as Attorney General were better than my father’s best days.”

Is it VDB, or is that minimizing and dismissing his father to an almost shocking degree?

In other words, one of Gonzales’s worst days — like being called a perjurer by both the senior Democratic and Republican members of the Judiciary Committee — is light years better than anything Gonzales Sr. ever experienced: marriage, family, love, anything.

Sure, the old man had it hard. He was a migrant worker. But certainly there were days where he felt a sense of youth and boundless promise, like the day his wife gave birth to little Albertito . . . oh, now we get it.

August 27th, 2007

Bush in for Classic Media Black-Jacking: Decider Risks Massive Karmic Discharge in Planned Katrina Anniversary Visit

by Philip Baruth

There was a moment, back in June of 1992, when I realized that Bill Clinton was the odds-on favorite to become President. George Bush Senior had decided to make a triumphal return to Panama, whose people he had freed from the crushing, US-sponsored embrace of Manuel Noriega in 1989, by blowing up and disabling a good portion of their country.

bush sr., triumphant

Oddly enough, many Panamanians seemed to resent this, especially when the destruction had not been addressed three years later.

And so rather than cheering crowds, the Bush Presidential victory tour sparked widespread anti-American riots. Finally, Panamanian authorities decided to tear-gas protestors very near the site of Bush’s only public speech.

A heavy dark cloud of tear-gas eventually wafted over the podium itself, prompting Secret Service agents to brandish semi-automatic weapons and spirit Bush the Elder to safety.

And it was that tear-gas cloud — looming in suddenly like some vast shot of karmic flatulence — that convinced me that Bush Sr. was not simply vulnerable, but doomed.

I thought of that ill-fated visit when I read in the Post that Bush Jr. will be jetting into New Orleans tomorrow for a two-day visit. It gave me a very strong feeling of foreboding, and I think it’s fair to say that Bush will face some strong and vocal pushback on his faltering efforts to address the problems in the Gulf Coast: there is, of course, a Presidential campaign underway that will drive media scrutiny to new heights.

Bush’s advisors know this well; the visit is the best of two bad options, the other being to ignore the anniversary and head out to Crawford. Kennebunkport wasn’t an option: Sheehan and the anti-war Left have occupied crucial swaths of Maine.

So that left a high-profile visit to a sweltering New Orleans, meeting with angry homeowners and outraged local politicians, poking through musty basements and axe-battered attics and promising more and better support than the support Bush promised last August but subsequently failed to deliver.

bush jr., at a loss

A brand-new disaster waiting to happen, this visit.

In short, expect George W. to be soundly blackjacked, one way or another — by the media, events on the ground, or more likely both, acting in concert.

Bush has never paid the full price for his curiously blithe response to Katrina, and the aftermath. But this visit, his last as a force of any lingering power in the White House, has the potential to bring it home to him in a way previously unimaginable.

And will VDB shed even one crocodile tear for this man who so desperately wants to climb back aboard his cushioned jet and return to the air-conditioned world of wealthy GOP donors and sycophants?

Dream on, baby. Dream on.

August 25th, 2007

Hillary Clinton, Having Echoed Bush on the Surge, Now Echoes Rudy Giuliani on Terror

by Philip Baruth

For whatever reason, Hillary Clinton’s relatively charmed campaign has just recently begun to feel the frontrunner’s media hex: over the last month or so, she has been dramatically wrong-footed on more than one occasion, issuing more denials and explanations than she’d had to do in the previous year.

hillary, obama, spat

First there was the odd defense of lobbyist money at YearlyKos; a few days ago she was caught on tape telling an audience of veterans that Bush’s Surge “is working” — then claimed to have been misquoted, a counter-claim the transcript quickly knocked down.

Today the story in question surfaced in the New York Post, and Clinton’s quote has been roiling the blogosphere all afternoon. The relevant portion of the article:

“It’s a horrible prospect to ask yourself, ‘What if? What if?’ But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world,” Clinton told supporters in Concord.

“So I think I’m the best of the Democrats to deal with that,” she added.

Let’s face facts: all of us on the Left have had a conversation, in the run-up to 2004 or 2006, in which we bit our nails over much the same thing. An attack on the Sears Tower two weeks before the 2006 election might theoretically have saved the Republican majority.

So that’s not in dispute: Democrats fear that Republicans will immediately capitalize on any terrorist incident, and demagogue the issue for personal, electoral gain.

What is in dispute is the efficacy, or the ethics, of touting this potential dynamic as a potential nominee of the Democratic Party. If you read the quote carefully, Hillary is saying, in effect, “Republicans control the terrorism brand, and I am best positioned to wrest that brand from them.”

Why Hillary is so positioned remains unarticulated. Maybe the thinking is that since she has positioned herself closest to the GOP on military issues, she would benefit from an attack to some extent as well.

hillary supports surge

Maybe it’s more a revision of her “Bill and I have beat them before” pitch: no attack from the GOP — even one on their signature issue — will catch the Clinton team napping.

But whatever Hillary meant by the aside, it strikes a very odd note. First, why advertise the GOP’s putative advantage? Why portray it as the common wisdom?

Second, this marks perhaps the first time that a Democratic Presidential candidate has attempted to coopt the Republicans not merely on terrorism, but on security fear-mongering, because we don’t see any other way to read this, finally.

What else to call it when a candidate for President says, in sum, “A terrorist attack may well happen before the election, in which case, you’d best have me in the saddle.”

That’s Rudy Giuliani’s pitch, in a nutshell. Sure, Clinton has thrown in an additional dynamic or frill — because the GOP can’t be trusted should an attack happen, and because the public is just weak enough to turn to them, you’d better plan ahead and nominate me — but the central equation is very, very familiar.

It’s a scary world. So cover your ass: Vote Clinton.

And really, when you strip it down, that’s the subtext of Clinton’s campaign since the get-go: I can co-opt Republican ideas, rhetoric, positions, and at the same time turn back and top their nastiest attacks.

I’m your them, in short.

Which brings you, on the other hand, to the now nearly unified messages of Obama and Edwards. Edwards delivered a very razor-edged speech yesterday, referring obliquely to Clinton as a “corporate Democrat,” while Obama parried Clinton’s attack on his experience a few months back by calling her approach “Bush/Cheney lite.”

It’s no accident that the other two candidates in the top tier have settled on that message. Hillary’s climbing poll numbers over the last month have led her, inch by inch, to begin the sort of triangulation she very clearly plans to negotiate the minute she has the nomination in hand.

God and terrorism and war, with a promise of “improved” rather than universal health care, and that only in the sweet bye and bye: that is what we’ll hear from Clinton should she sweep the February 5th super-primary.

Which is upon us in less than six months.

For those of you who have been sitting on the sidelines, pulling your lip meditatively, and certainly you know who you are, it’s time to choose. Choose and then put your back into it.

Because by the time the snow really flies, your back won’t matter any more.

August 23rd, 2007

Brattleboro Reformer Takes It To The Tube

by Philip Baruth

Paul Heintz of the Brattleboro Reformer has a solid article in today’s edition on the YouTube phenomenon, Vermont style. The hook is the recent (and clumsy) Republican short dramatizing the privacy issues involved with the release of tax prebate information. A good take on the current state of technological play between the parties, and within the grassroots.

you tube

Which reminds us: Green Mountain Daily has announced a contest to develop the most compelling independent ad to target the follies of the Douglas/Dubie administration. There won’t be any money, from what we understand.

But when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.

Which is nice.


August 23rd, 2007

The Historical Record Is a Mother: Arnie Gundersen vs. Vermont Yankee Edition

by Philip Baruth

The Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith’s employer in Orwell’s 1984, is engaged on a daily basis in the dirtiest, most necessary work of totalitarianism: altering the historical record to bring yesterday’s facts into line with today’s official story.

vermont yankee

Only through an assiduous editing of history can Eurasia become Eastasia, and vice versa.

Fortunately for you and I, in the early days of the twenty-first century, facts and histories and documentation can still be pesky things.

Case in point: Vermont Yankee’s decision yesterday to reduce power output by 50%, after staff found significant problems in one of the cooling towers at the facility — problems that may well have been worsened by VY’s recent power upgrade.

An NRC spokesman described the problems like so: “I don’t know if I’d characterize it as rotting, but more sagging, deformation in some of the wood.”

not so cool

Indeed. [Photo courtesy of The New England Coalition]

So where does the historical record come back to bite Yankee in the ass? Here is Arnie Gundersen, former nuclear industry engineer and now one of the industry’s most outspoken critics, testifying before the Public Service Board in July, 2004:

better?Based upon my review of the discovery material, the history of Ecodyne “wounded knee” designs, and the failure of Ecodyne cells due to the imbalance of a single fan, it is my opinion that there may be unintended consequences to an asymmetrical loading of the entire structure when one fan has a different horsepower rating than the others in the same series of cells.

Therefore, I remain concerned that the reliability of the existing towers will be significantly compromised by the modifications that have been proposed for Vermont Yankee’s cooling towers. In my opinion, the board should require structural certification by an Independent Professional Engineer of Vermont Yankee’s towers to assure that Ecodyne’s “wounded knee” design will withstand the additional horsepower increase in the fans and the asymmetrical load cause by the one dissimilar fan.

We’ve said it before and we’ll no doubt say it again: “Arnie Gundersen knows from whence he speaks. He is not some crank with an irrational fear of nuclear energy. Rather, he is a highly skilled watchdog, whose views the State should begin actively soliciting rather than fighting or disparaging.”

Sagging, deformed wood? And this dinosaur got greenlighted to ramp up its power output with nary a murmur from state officials?

We smell a campaign issue here, one that will grow more potent as we count down to 2012 and relicensing. And those who don’t lead on the issue may very well find their own poll numbers — that’s right — sagging and deformed.

Because there’s one thing we know here at VDB, and that’s words.

And the word “deformed” never, ever polls well, no matter what the noun under discussion.

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