May 28th, 2009

The Slow, Painful Death of the Douglas Years: Once Again The Governor Defends Entergy’s Inalienable Right to Flee the State

by Philip Baruth

No creature, great or small, makes a pretty picture at the end of life. Things live, they flourish, and they die, but only after a prolonged period of denial and distinct unattractiveness. Political eras are no different. The Bush Years were least bearable at the end, when they were openly in collapse, no longer inflated by jingoism and hubris. And the same holds true for the Douglas Years, which are clearly still with us.

jim

Nowhere are the jobs Jim promised, and re-promised. And the Governor’s last few moves of the current session have a particularly played-out, exhausted feel. It’s as though Douglas is determined to play the same scene once more, but without feeling: shift the tax burden to cities and school boards, all the while decrying the raising of taxes, veto the budget, and then, with his last remaining erg of energy, shield Entergy from financial liability.

Only the absence of a campaign finance veto would tell you that we’re in 2009, rather than 2007, which is to say that we continue to distinguish the Douglas Years one from another according to what hasn’t happened, session by session, rather than what has.

But of all these rote maneuvers, last Friday’s veto of Decommissioning Bill II will live longest in infamy.

To call it what it is, the bill at issue (H.436) was a very mild piece of legislation — not exactly toothless, but with all the incisors filed purposefully flat, in an attempt to moot the Governor’s veto. It called for Entergy to assemble a potential line of credit, to be activated only in the event that decommissioning began in 2012, still an unlikely scenario at this writing.

It was a highly theoretical bill protecting Vermonters, as Tony Klein nicely put it, from a “potential eventuality.”

Even that, though, Jim Douglas couldn’t stomach. “This legislation’s approach is to extract money in any way possible, creating a hostile business environment,” read the press release. Put aside that no real money would actually change hands; put aside that Yankee’s physical plant, with its billion-dollar-plus potential clean-up cost, represents an utterly unique case in Vermont’s business environment.

Let’s be clear: this bill was not about the future of nuclear power.

It was much, much simpler and cleaner.

This was a bill making clear that Entergy has a legal responsibility to leave the land as they found it. And that, ultimately, is what Entergy is still seeking desperately to avoid: not the limited financial maneuvering required to satisfy H. 436, but the more essential and elemental question of corporate responsibility itself.

Having now moved many millions in profit out of state, millions that should clearly have been used to bolster the anemic decommissioning fund, Entergy would like to extricate itself from the troubles in Vernon. And regardless of his motives — good, bad, or indifferent — Jim Douglas is effectively helping them do so.

The truth is that if Entergy spins off Enexus or Equagen — or Evasion or Evacuation or any other obscure shell company — and that company folds, leaving the plant in the reluctant hands of the state, taxpayers will have one man to thank.

Literally. One man. One man at the tail end of a tired era, an era that will eventually be notable to historians mostly for its slow-motion crusade against accomplishment.

May 22nd, 2009

In Which VDB Speaks Baruth to Power: A Few Quick Notes on The Fledgling Campaign For State Senate From Chittenden County

by Philip Baruth

A short break from the cheeky political analysis and irony, for one highly serious post. As many of you know by now, I filed Monday with the Secretary of State’s office to campaign for the State Senate from Chittenden County. The Bank and Treasurer Designation form indicates that I’ve begun campaigning already, in fact, begun raising and spending funds, begun speaking with people around the County about the campaign and about what sort of message they want to send to Montpelier. Begun a whole new life, really.

In short, the form puts into practice what I’ve always argued for on a daily basis here at VDB: political candidates who are certain that they want to run should go ahead and do so, as early and as passionately as possible. No equivocating, no trial-ballooning.

In my own case, I’ve taken a leave of absence from Vermont Public Radio, and won’t be doing either Vermont This Week or WKVT “Live and Local” for the duration.

And the duration is a good long while.

At this point the 2010 general election is about seventeen months away. That’s time enough for two babies, if one is the fairly impatient sort. But it will take every minute of that seventeen months to reach all the voters in all the districts in all the cities and towns and gores that will finally decide the race. If I thought I could run and win in sixteen months, or ten, I’d gladly have done so. But there it is.

With the exception of a full-blown statewide race, a run for the State Senate from Chittenden County is the most difficult in Vermont, bar none. To make it worse, I’m not a wealthy man, and my friends and acquaintances tend to be no better off financially. Both my parents were only children. So I have no aunts or uncles or cousins. Shallow pockets and a small (yet wonderful) family — not your standard recipe for electoral success, especially in this race.

But I have some advantages. First, writing political commentary for Vermont Public Radio for the last eleven years — and writing at this site every single day for the last four — has taught me what I believe.

And it’s helped me hone those beliefs into shorter, sharper points, which never hurts.


Ines, who designed VDB, put together a word cloud representing the terms most frequently used on the site

Second, talking electronically with you all about the issues every day, both on the blog and via email, has opened me up to ways of thinking I wouldn’t have expected, and issues I wouldn’t necessarily have considered my own. Working with Steve West in Brattleboro taught me, for instance, that Vermont Yankee is not a Windham County issue or a Bennington County issue but a very pressing issue statewide.

I got religion on that issue, and it became a passionate concern for me. And I’m proud to say that this site was one of the first outlets in the state, either traditional print or digital media, to publish the now-infamous photos of the water tower collapse in 2006.

Talking every week with advocates for wind allowed me to see how aggressively Governor Douglas was closing the door to renewables like wind, even as he was backstopping Entergy’s efforts to evade its clear corporate responsibilities.

I learned from you, that is, how the issues interconnect, and why they can’t wait.

Third, we live in a very special technological moment. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know I worked nonstop to elect Barack Obama; I was part of the original planning group for Vermonters for Obama, and went to Denver as a delegate to do my own small part to make sure nothing prevented him from accepting the nomination.


Democratic National Convention, Denver 2008: Vermont Obama Delegation [Photo: Carolyn Dwyer]

And the most amazing thing about the Obama campaign was not Barack Obama himself, impressive as he is: it was the way that small donors took the nomination out of the hands of super-delegates, and delivered it personally — without party intervention — to the candidate of their choice.

And armed with that support, Obama managed the politically impossible.

I’ll be honest with you. My hopes for my own campaign rest with small donors too. And if you’re reading this, at your own computer — and particularly if VDB is one daily stop on your bookmark list — I had you specifically in mind when I filed on Monday. My thought was that if 25% of the people who’ve come to like this site over the years would send a small donation early in the process, as early as now, I could launch a very serious campaign.

One in four of you out there.

Again, if you are a regular reader, you know that I’ve never used advertising of any sort, because I wanted to maintain a clean reading experience for those who clicked in. I’ve never asked for donations, or subscriptions. I’ve never asked readers for anything, in fact, except for a vote in the Daysies each year, a nod in the Best Political Blog category. Even that I’ll be forgoing this year.

When the time comes, I’ll ask you instead to consider voting for Green Mountain Daily in the Best Political Blog category, and Bill Simmon’s Candleblog in the Best Non-Political Blog slot. They do what they do with real skill and flair.

But I will ask you now to donate to this campaign, straight out. This is a race that can’t be won without donations, and part of the reasoning behind a long campaign was to allow me to raise what’s necessary. As things go forward, I’ll be talking more about the specific issues and framing up my candidacy, trying to convince voters to take a chance.

But again, if you’re a regular reader here you already know exactly how I see the world, my take on just about every issue large and small.

You know how I’d respond to the issues, and to constituent concerns, because if you’ve ever emailed me through this site, I’ve emailed you back, pretty promptly, and we’ve had a conversation. And even if we’ve disagreed, chances are good we found a way to agree on something.

Eventually we’ll have an Act Blue page up and running, and you’ll be able to donate with your credit card. And God love you in advance if you eventually do so. But what I’m asking for now is the very earliest help: early-early, ground-floor, raise-high-the-roofbeams sort of help.

We’ve set up an old-school post office box in Burlington, and if you still know how to use snail mail, and want to donate at some point, I’ll ask you to consider doing it now. Anyone will tell you that early money is especially crucial, and I can promise you I’ll never forget the help.

Baruth 2010
P.O. Box 876
Burlington, Vermont
05402-0876

It’s so early that no campaign stationery exists as of yet, although at some point we’ll get some printed with a classy logo at the top. But for now, you’ll get a plainer, simpler thank-you in the mail, making clear how much I appreciate not only your support in this race, but your support as a reader in the grand digital scheme of things, over the last four years, and as a listener for the last decade.

More soon.

May 18th, 2009

GQ Dishes Aggressively on Rumsfeld, Rewriting the Second Coming of the Bushies (And Prepping the World For the Third)

by Philip Baruth

A very long, detailed piece by Robert Draper on Donald Rumsfeld in the current online edition of GQ, and in many ways it’s pure political crack: lots of incendiary characterizations of Rummy by those who knew him best, Assistant Secretaries calling him every name in the book. And sure, read it during your lunch hour and enjoy. Few things taste better than the crunchy, toasted remains of Donald Rumsfeld’s reputation.

But don’t be fooled for a minute: this is active Bush revisionism every bit as much as an attack piece aimed at Donald Rumsfeld.

We learn at the outset of the piece that it’s drawn from the sotto voce tattling of “more than a dozen Bush loyalists, including several former cabinet-level officials and senior military commanders,” and not surprisingly, Bush comes off as relatively decisive and relatively caring and smart.

rummy, now long goneHis tragic flaw? Affection and awe for Donald Henry Rumsfeld.

The heart of the article’s revisionism involves, of course, Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration’s Waterloo. Turns out, according to our Bush insiders, that it was essentially Don’s fault.

And author Robert Draper uses all the tools in the Woodward toolbox to dramatize Bush’s righteous anger and Rumsfeld’s obstructionism.

“Having only recently come to grips with the roiling disaster, Bush convened a meeting in the Situation Room on Friday morning. According to several who were present, the president was agitated. Turning to the man seated at his immediate left, Bush barked, ‘Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what’s on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I’m watching? What the hell are you doing?’”

Rumsfeld’s response is still obstructionist, holding back a troop deployment already prepared, and so Bush has no choice, in this stirring account, but to “cut Rumsfeld to pieces” and demand boots on the ground.

Expect more of this, as the years go by. Katrina was Rumsfeld’s fault, and no doubt the torture memos and push will finally be ascribed almost entirely to Cheney. Condi and Colin will take the rap for the Middle East, and Greenspan for the economic meltdown.

Bush will be left all but untouched, poll numbers climbing slowly but impressively into the low-40’s. More or less the minimum necessary to undergird a successful late surge by Jeb in the Iowa Primary.

Because that’s the two-fold strategy here, when all is said and done: all of these anonymous Bush loyalists dishing on Rumsfeld clearly miss the White House dearly, and would like another crack at the apple.

Which, when you think about it, very accurately described both Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney back in 2000, when George Bush was just a likeable chucklehead talking about compassion and education and saving the world from Clintonian lust.

May 15th, 2009

Palin Commissioned to Commission Memoir

by Philip Baruth

Sarah Palin has apparently contracted to write a Big Chapter Book. Although her publisher refuses to disclose the size of the advance, insiders have leaked a figure of 11$ million dollars. Only fair, given the workload, and that insane writerly pressure to produce.

May 13th, 2009

On Leaving BarackObama.com

by Philip Baruth

Did something this morning that made me feel conflicted and strange: I set up a filter to screen out messages from Organizing for America, once the campaign and now the political arm of the Obama Administration. Not that these filters are anything new. I set four or five a day, to help thin the stream of unsolicited communications and spam. But not so long ago, email from BarackObama.com felt different and necessary, and I read it with real pleasure.

There was a nice immediacy to the notes; they reflected very recent political victories, or immediately impending events. They felt like real communications, personal yet historic. And so filtering felt faintly — just faintly — like betrayal.

But only for a minute.

Because then I read a very coherent post on this precise topic by Ari Melber, linking to an even sharper Personal Democracy Forum post by Zephyr Teachout back in January, making the same case about the way the Obama administration was then attempting to deploy its online activists in support of the stimulus package.

Teachout’s take? This massive, homogenized email effort coming now from within the White House is doomed to failure. And that’s a very good thing. Well worth the read.

May 13th, 2009

Santorum Was Right: Suddenly Symbiotic Relationships Are All The Rage In America

by Philip Baruth

There is a high-profile article in Roll Call today slugged, “Dodd, Lieberman Enjoy Symbiotic Relationship.” VDB has nothing special to say about this article. But we were mildly grossed out by the title, not to mention the extensive segment on their “personal rough patches,” and of course misery loves company. So with that said, have a nice day.

May 11th, 2009

On That “Doomsday Strategy” To “Blow Up” The Edwards Campaign? Cry VDB A River

by Philip Baruth

Until recently, the Edwards affair/love-child scandal had produced only one of the most ludicrous bits of self-justification in American political history: Edwards’s admission that he did have sex with that woman, but only in the narrow window of his wife’s remission from cancer. But now, suddenly, that number of absurdities has doubled.

edwards, in his element

Apparently, former senior Edwards campaign staffers, the folks who knew their candidate was cheating on his cancer-stricken wife one minute and emoting about poverty the next, are telling the press that there was a “doomsday strategy” in place, an inner circle plot to “blow up” the campaign if it were somehow to catch real fire.

In other words, these folks were not craven political hacks but principled plotters, willing to take down their own handiwork to save America from the threat of an Edwards Presidency.

How long, Lord, how long? How long will these half-bright lickspittles trouble the nation?

We’re supposed to believe that after years of planning and organization and monotonous toil and sweat, these well-connected and ambitious staffers would deliberately sabotage the whole enterprise if, and only if, it looked as though it might actually result in cushy White House jobs for one and all? Please.

To point out the obvious, if they were unwilling to pull the plug when the campaign was limping along, it’s all but impossible to see them acquiring a group conscience if it had begun to soar.

They were well-paid, and they decided to remain well-paid, until such time as they could be well-paid no longer.


This sort of desperate revisionism is always distasteful. But again, as in the case of Edwards’s own cheating and lies, this particular bit of storytelling sours even more when you consider that it wasn’t just John Edwards plotting to conceal a semi-public affair from his cancer-stricken wife.

It was a conspiracy. A small conspiracy, but a conspiracy just the same. And no amount of earnest tattling to George Stephanopoulos will ever change that fact. Ever.

May 8th, 2009

The Brothers Boswell: What’s Happening

by Philip Baruth

Some news on the book front, for those of you out there who happen to double as book junkies: The Brothers Boswell picked up a nice review in the Washington Post this week, and seems to have clawed its way onto the roster of June 2009 Indie Next List Notables, compiled by the American Booksellers Association. But rest assured: we will weather this brief storm of encouragement, and come out fully as ignored and disrespected as ever before. Bank on it.

May 8th, 2009

Speaker Brings It on Yankee Clean-Up

by Philip Baruth

Can we just take a minute here and tell you how absolutely delighted we are to see someone in Montpelier finally begin to play a little hardball on the decommissioning issue? Douglas and the GOP minority have made it amply clear that they are willing to backstop Entergy’s drive to evade its obligations where Vermont Yankee is concerned. That being the case, it’s either hardball or game over, with taxpayers potentially on the hook for a billion in clean-up costs.

vermont yankee

Republican rumblings that the Speaker’s procedural tactic will bruise relations between the parties reminds VDB of the national Republican talking point on budget reconciliation: an attempt to turn the discussion away from the issue and toward the eye-glazing specifics of procedure. Because it’s very hard to believe that offending the opposition will make much difference when they’re standing four-square against you anyway.

And it’s very hard to believe that taxpayers won’t ultimately stand with the party protecting them from the delayed tax-increases implicit in a future taxpayer-funded clean-up. You go, Shap Smith.

May 8th, 2009

Bristol Palin and Hayden Panattiere Team Up To Either Fight Or Promote Sex Before Marriage Or On The First Date, No Biggie

by Philip Baruth

You’re thinking very, very seriously about 2012, but what to do about Bristol and that whole mess, especially given that Levi is out spilling to Larry King every time you turn your back to shoot a wolf out the open door of your helicopter? Answer: celebrity abstinence promotion. It nudges Bristol into the media eye, but in an arguably chaste and wholesome posture. Problem? Celebrity abstinence promotion is an oxymoron. Not the “promotion” part. The “abstinence” part.

Which is to say that Hayden Panattiere, famous for playing a nubile super-powered cheerleader, joined Bristol Palin on the abstinence trail, to talk to audiences about how they might not want to end up like Bristol Palin.

Asked to describe the advantages of Bristol, Panattiere offered this: “Teenagers get to look at her, and she can say, ‘This happened to me.’ This is all politics aside.”

And then of course it turned out that Panattiere finally didn’t seem to be promoting abstinence at all, but rather sex education for those who are interested in pre-marital sex: “There’s a lot of different viewpoints on sex, and I’m not someone who will ever boo-hoo anything or say, ‘This is not right,’ or, ‘This is wrong’ . . . . You’re going to do what you’re going to do, but at the end of the day, it’s okay as long as you educate yourself, as long as you’re safe, as long as you’re smart.”

You know, the GOP has been looking for a new slogan, something to move them beyond the sour-faced social values of yesteryear, and by God VDB thinks they’ve found it: You’re going to do what you’re going to do, but at the end of the day, it’s okay.

Thank you, Lord, for Palins. They are endless fun, and we love them dearly. Please send more.

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