March 27th, 2009

Palin Hits Team McCain Square in Bible

by Philip Baruth

You know, it’s a good afternoon for us here at VDB if Sarah Palin comes out and, for no apparent reason, sucker punches the McCain staff, usually over some emotional paper cut stemming from the failed 2008 election campaign. We’re not picky, though; we also like it a lot when McCain folk, including daughter Meghan, stage a rhetorical drive-by on Clan Palin. It’s all good.

But frankly, it’s most pleasurable for us if the terms of the diss are exclusively and impenetrably Republican, and hence utterly indecipherable to a New England Democrat.

It’s like watching out the window of a train passing through a foreign station, as two people argue over something you’ve never seen, in a language you’ll never know. Palin’s latest burn on the McCain folk? No one in the group she’d feel comfortable with praying in public:

“So I’m looking around for somebody to pray with, I just need maybe a little help, maybe a little extra,” she said. “And the McCain campaign, love ‘em, you know, they’re a lot of people around me, but nobody I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray.” As the crowd laughed, Palin grinned and said she meant no disrespect to the McCain campaign. She said she ultimately prayed with her daughter Piper.

Beautiful. VDB is at an utter loss. How does one go about picking public prayer partners, or rejecting them for that matter? Do you mean to tell us that there wasn’t one poor soul in the entire McCain camp who could be counted on to close his or her eyes and squeeze the candidate’s hands meaningfully for the cameras? Are we supposed to believe the McCainites are all Serpents, agents of the Evil One?

Oh, right. Carry on.

March 26th, 2009

NY-20: Obama Weighs In on Special Election With Second-Biggest Foot

by Philip Baruth

Since he was tapped by Obama to fill the VP slot, Joe Biden has been dinged pretty badly in the press. Nothing really mean-spirited; the media establishment, especially in Washington, loves the guy to pieces, really. But they wanted him in a special narrative corner, if he were to take the Oath of Office: he was to be the buffoon, and a welcome buffoon for comedians finding Obama a little difficult to zing. Now he’s the gaffe-machine, the loveable loser. And so it’s easy to forget how gifted a politician Biden is in his own right. Take a listen to this radio ad Biden just cut for the special election in NY-20. Now that’s a voice for radio. Quality stuff.

Little Joe

March 25th, 2009

Lewinsky Saga Now A Major Movie; Out of Respect for Presidency, Roger Ebert Agrees to Discontinue “Thumbs Way Up” Rating

by Philip Baruth

You knew Hollywood would eventually go there. Turns out the Lewinsky saga will not be brought to the silver screen as a third-reel twist in a biopic of Bill Clinton: it will be a movie unto itself, with sneak previews at the Gap, Starbucks, and other hip Lewinsky-related franchises. In case you were wondering, Dennis Quaid will play Bill; Julianne Moore will play Hill. Said an anonymous industry insider, and we quote verbatim: “Playing Hillary, a wife who stands by her unfaithful husband, will be something she can get her teeth stuck into.” Truer word never spoken.

March 23rd, 2009

Skip Vallee Attacks Leahy Push For Truth Commission; Defends Bush-Era Domestic Wiretapping as “Court Approved”; Receives Bowling Shirt In Lavish Ceremony, Too

by Philip Baruth

You may have missed it, and it was eminently missable, but former GOP spokesman and ex-Slovakian Ambassador Skip Vallee took to the editorial pages of the Free Press a few days ago to whip on Pat Leahy, for Leahy’s ongoing attempts to empanel a Truth Commission on various abuses of power during the Bush Administration. And in general, VDB’s take on screeds like this is the following: the fewer links the better. But one aspect of Vallee’s op-ed is so myopic, so deeply and ideologically blind, that we just can’t let it go.


Vallee, right, receives the Most Exalted Order of the Crimson Bowling Shirt, at Embassy Bratislava

Essentially, Vallee wants to argue that Leahy’s truth commission would be a dark day for America because A) JFK and FDR did worse, and no one hounded them, and B) looking into abuses of power will let the terrorists know the details of our abuses of power.

But beyond these argumentative points, Vallee moves finally to tug the heartstrings. He tells the story of a meeting with a man who felt the true whip of totalitarianism:

“During my term as Slovak ambassador, I held an emotional meeting with Slovak Cardinal Korec, imprisoned for over a decade by the Communists for daring to ordain priests. In our meeting he pulled out from behind a door a hollow tube, putting the far end to my ear and whispering, ‘This is how we used to have to talk to each other.’”

Now, aside from the shopworn feel of a tale Vallee has retailed to a hundred Chambers of Commerce, this story is powerful enough. In fact, it would seem to lead one in the direction of Leahy’s truth commission, the sort of institution countries create to examine far-reaching abuses of civil liberties, abuses so systemic that they pollute a nation’s ordinary mechanisms for self-scrutiny.

But no. Vallee follows the story of Cardinal Korec with a ringing endorsement of domestic wiretapping: “President Bush has used court approved wiretaps, sanctioned by the very Congress of which Sen. Leahy was a member, to keep us safe every day since 9/11.”

The point, of course, is that Bush did not limit himself to court approved wiretaps. And Congress did not sanction his various covert domestic intelligence operations.

Here Vallee is either willfully ignorant, or utterly disingenuous. But in the next sentence, he becomes outright dangerous.

“For Sen. Leahy to create a moral equivalency between the tormentors of Korec and the trackers of mass murderers is insulting, particularly since the president who kept us safe has also liberated 28 million Iraqis from the very same tyranny suffered by my beloved Slovak friends for 40 years.”

It is Vallee, of course, who is creating a false moral equivalency: between the Bush-era Unitary Executive — with self-declared power to torture and detain and wiretap at will, anywhere within or without US borders — and freedom fighters worldwide who resisted the efforts of the State to prey upon its citizens.

pat leahy

To his credit, Vallee served capably as an ambassador to a country with a dark Communist past. He has seen first-hand what creeping authoritarianism can do. But to return to the United States and use that experience as a figleaf for the unprecedented usurpation of very basic civil liberties here at home, in the name of anti-terrorism or anything else, is, in a word, disgraceful.

Vallee, if memory serves, ran the most expensive campaign for the Chittenden County Senate in history, spending between $100,000 and $200,000 in a failed attempt to purchase a seat. He attacked the entire Democratic slate with wave after wave of glossy four-color mailers, retailing lies of various sorts.

No one, as VDB remembers, was more pleased about his loss than the late Peter Freyne.

Vallee’s only spot of luck, in this odd little attempt to support the brave freedom-enhancing wiretapping of the Bush administration, is that Freyne isn’t here in the flesh today to bust a move himself. Because when Freyne busted a move, baby, and especially a move on Skip “Gasoline” Vallee, that move stayed busted.

March 20th, 2009

In Which We Praise Omid Mir Sayafi

by Philip Baruth

We kid here at VDB. That’s what bloggers do: kid on a daily basis, as a sharp spur to try to make politicians, and voters, do what’s right. And maybe it works, and maybe it doesn’t. But either way, no one gets murderous about it. Not so in Iran: blogger Omid Mir Sayafi just “committed suicide” in an Iranian prison, where he was being held on charges of insulting the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Peace be unto the soul of Sayafi. In his memory we insult a supreme leader of our own, to show the world that we can do it and live.

March 20th, 2009

The Invisible War Against More Marriage

by Philip Baruth

Two campaigns going on right now to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage in Vermont: the visible and the invisible, with the first centered on the hearings taking place in Montpelier, and the second happening on AM radio dials and in late-night fax bursts statewide. Since the coverage of the former has been nailed down tight by the major media outlets in the state, let’s stay with the latter, with the bad, the bad, and the ugly. Longtime-reader BP writes in with this choice tale:

Dear VDB,

Way early this morning my friend in East Calais was awakened by the phone. He stumbled downstairs to find the attached fax [above] oozing from his machine. It is not a sight that anyone should be subjected to ungirded by coffee and advance warning — or even at all.

I don’t know how widespread this fax bomb was statewide, although according to my friend, the guy who answered the phone at the VT office of the AP said they received one, too (he just threw it away).

Anyway, I thought you’d appreciate this. Puts Mark Shepard to shame, no? Imagine accusing gays of wanting a “camoflaged [sic] scenario”! I don’t know about you, but none of my gay friends would be caught dead in camo: it doesn’t go with anything.

Happy trails,

BP

We’ve been having fun with Mark Shepard’s uptight little letter-writing campaign against VDB on the marriage issue, but it’s worth remembering that as out of step as Shepard’s ideas seem in the early twenty-first century, he’s still not the worst actor out there, by a good long shot.

Get down into the weeds of this blast fax, and you’ll discover some mental iron-rot that’ll ruin your sleep for a week.

And that’s not all: the folks who brought you the Prop 8 campaign out in California, with all that sexy synergy between the fundamentalist Christian and Mormon advocacy groups, are up on the air in Vermont with a new radio campaign.

Again, sort of laughable stuff, until you really bore down into it. And then you feel like laughing all the way to the Army/Navy store, to pick up some good lightly-used Kevlar vests.

Late Update, Friday, 1:55 pm:

EG writes in to say that he too received this blast fax, and wasn’t amused: “Got it at work, and left a rather nasty message on their machine. One thing worth noting: there is no originating number on the fax header. Seems like I read somewhere, that’s illegal.”

Illegal indeed. But happening just the same.

March 19th, 2009

Welch And Big Guy From Texas Pick Fight

by Philip Baruth

Some actors are blessed with a nose for good roles, and some actors are not. And some lose it somewhere along the way: think Nicolas Cage before the Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, and after. It’s more or less the same with Congressmen. Some have a talent for seeing legs that need biting, and others don’t. Bernie was the first sort, and so we kicked him upstairs to bite bigger legs. VDB always thought Peter Welch had this same sort of rich target-sense, but it’s still a pleasant experience to watch it on the floor of the House.


It’s Wal-Mart this time out, and their plans to turn a Civil War battlefield into the Toy Department of the company’s latest expansion. Best line? Welch tells a story about some Civil War guy “with his head shot off.” It’s like Tarantino, if Tarantino played exclusively on C-Span, and couldn’t use any fake blood. Several thumbs up.

March 18th, 2009

White House Health Care Comes To UVM

by Philip Baruth

Sometimes you have to go to the politics, and sometimes the politics just come to you. Yesterday UVM officially hosted a White House Regional Health Care event, and unofficially hosted a sizeable protest rally for single-payer health care. Both events were well-organized and well-attended. Neil Jensen shook loose an engraved invite and snapped the following shots on his way into the gargantuan Davis Center, where Deval Patrick apparently wowed the crowd.

And by the way, that angst-filled debate over whether the Left should give Obama some running room or hit him really hard with big branches from Day One? Apparently moot.

March 17th, 2009

Happy Moments: Towtruck Philosophy

by Philip Baruth

Announcer: According to the old African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child. But that’s nothing: it takes an entire city to keep Commentator Philip Baruth’s aging family car on the highway. Here’s Philip.

Notes From the New Vermont
Commentary #228: Towtruck Philosophy

I have bad car karma, and when that karma kicks in, it kicks in dramatically. Case in point: the other day my wife decides it’s time to take our compact in for a routine oil change. Now, the car is running just fine, but Annika thinks ahead about maintenance, which is a good thing when it comes to cars and oil.

And so far as she knows, the oil change comes off without a hitch. She puts the car back in the parking lot where I left it that morning, and when I’m ready to call it a day, I jump in it to come home.

But once I’m out on the highway, the oil light comes on, and the car shakes violently, and then it dies. I trudge fifteen minutes down the highway to a gas station, and then fifteen minutes back. The towtruck driver, when he finally arrives, points out that what’s left of our oil is currently draining out on the blacktop.

And then this towtruck driver, a nice upbeat guy with a little goatee, this guy winks at me and says, “Happy moments, man. Happy moments.” And at the time, I think he’s being ironic, and so I’m ironic back. “Oh yeah, very happy moments,” I say.

So the car gets towed back to the garage that did the oil change, and, as you probably suspected, they’d forgotten to put the plug back when they poured in the fresh oil. But they’re really apologetic, and they say they’ll have it running like a top by 9 the next morning. Which they do, and I drive the car to work the next day.

But when I come home from work, at rush hour, this time on a different stretch of highway, suddenly it’s Bermuda Triangle time again: the speedometer starts to twitch, the engine starts to to buck and shake — and before I know it I’m stopped dead just where the highway funnels up onto Shelburne Road.

Needless to say, I can’t push the car uphill by myself, but after a few minutes, a woman in a minivan jumps out and runs up to help. And then a guy in his fifties piles out of a sedan and runs over, and then a teenaged kid with a scraggly beard appears, and together we all push the car over to the shoulder, then slowly up the incline until it levels out near a supermarket parking lot.

But it’s a long push, and the minivan woman stops first, shouting, “I have my daughter in the car. I have to go back!” I thank her, and she sprints away. Never got her name, but in a way I didn’t have to.

And then the guy in his fifties peels off, but the teenaged kid with the scraggly beard is still pushing the car like it’s a tackle sled and this is his last chance to make the Chicago Bears defensive unit. And that’s when I notice his Mom, following us slowly in a green Volkswagen Beetle, to make sure no one plows into us.

Finally, the kid stands up, face flushed, and says, “You got it, bro!” and then he gives me the hipster handclasp with the interwoven thumbs, and just like that — we’re bros.

And of course, when the towtruck comes, it’s the same nice guy with the goatee from yesterday, and he smiles. “Happy moments,” he says again, and this time I get it: this isn’t some bit of ironic griping, this is his real philosophy, a way of refocusing the world on what isn’t breaking down and nearly killing you.

Once the car’s gone, I call Annika from a video store beside the grocery store. I have twenty minutes to wait, but it’s warm and they’re showing “All The President’s Men” on the big screen in the back, and I think, there are worse places to be stranded. And that’s when there’s a tap on my shoulder, and the girl running the counter hands me this little bag of popcorn.

“I just popped some fresh,” she says.

“Bless you,” I tell her, and suddenly I really, really mean it.

[This piece aired first on Vermont Public Radio. Audio of the commentary is available here.]

March 16th, 2009

Holy Obsessively Anti-Gay Dudes, Batman: When Shepards Continue to Attack (Now With Go You Crazy Markie Mark Updates!)

by Philip Baruth

If you thought that Mark Shepard had in mind a single crazed attack on VDB over the issue of same-sex marriage, think again: apparently Mr. Shepard plans to retail his plucky little missive to as many outlets in the state as will have him. Yesterday, the Rutland Herald; today, the Bennington Banner. Well, at least we’ll have something to tell the grandkids, when they ask what we did during The Marriage Wars: “Well, Scotty, your grandpappy endured the sharp little teeth of a strange little man from down Bennington way, for many weeks . . . and by Jesus them teeth hurt, Scotty. Oh, them teeth hurt like the dickens!”

Shepard Hat-Trick Update, Monday 1:53 pm:

Sources tell us that Shepard’s shout-out will appear tomorrow in the Caledonian Record. Total hat-trick! Go Mark! You the (homophobic) man!

Later Go Marky Mark Update, Tuesday, 9:25:

Honestly we would have been offended if Shepard had somehow failed to get his anti-VDB screed posted at the True North radio blog. Compared to the Rutland Herald, True North is low-hanging fruit, frankly, when it comes to publishing conservative talking points. But not to worry, friends, Marky Mark rules again.

Today True North. Tomorrow the Mad Money Show with Jim Cramer.

Final Update? Don’t You Believe It, Tuesday, 9:33 am:

Hardest working man in wingnuttery: Shepard actually pastes his letter into the comment thread of a John McClaughry piece over at Vermont Tiger, which is just really taking it to a whole new level, if you see my point. You have to love this guy (but not in a gay way.)

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