July 30th, 2009

From the Voluminous Secret Files of VDB: In Stunning Corporate Tour de Force, Entergy Rebrands Incompetence as Equity

by Philip Baruth

In April of 2008, Entergy announced an ambitious new project: they would form a pair of limited liability corporations to acquire their interest in, and responsibilities for, Vermont Yankee and other unregulated nuclear assets. We called it a shell game, at the time; since then, more powerful voices have picked up the refrain, most notably Howard Dean, who refined the idea to “a Wall Street shell game” in a recent VPR interview. Which is some pretty good refining, at least to our way of thinking.

workers at VY

Just two weeks ago, Entergy announced that they would sweeten the deal, in an effort to get regulators and legislators to sign off on the transfer of the assets to Enexus, which had been widely criticized as under-capitalized. But make no mistake: the new offer is still a brazen attempt to off-load responsibility onto an essentially collapsible legal fiction. Here, from the files of VDB, is the original April post on Enexus, just to keep everyone up to speed. And because we love the phrase “cologne-scented hands.”

April 29, 2008:
In Stunning Corporate Tour de Force,
Entergy Rebrands Incompetence as Equity

Back in the day, Philip Morris really had it working: they produced the world’s most profitable brands of tobacco, the nicotine levels of which they were secretly manipulating, and they owned half the US Congress, which made it difficult for anyone to complain. But after decades of anti-smoking activism, the words “Philip Morris” became synonymous with death and wasting disease. Ouch.

Their support in Congress collapsed not long thereafter. Activists beat the brand, in other words.

And so the two words “Philip Morris,” like a blackened pair of lungs, were exchanged for something new and minty-fresh: Philip Morris became Altria.

Suddenly no one cared a whit that the maker of Marlboro cigarettes also marketed Jell-O and Kool-Aid.

Those of you in marketing (a staggeringly high percentage of the VDB demographic, actually) know this move well: bring in a neutral created term, built from partial syllables with vaguely positive connotations.

Which brings us to Entergy, owner/operator of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant, the safety record of which has become something of a running joke over the last year.

As we’ve reported at various points over that same year, Entergy is involved in a multi-stage attempt to transfer corporate responsibility away from the parent company, and in so doing, to rebrand the entire effort, moving away from the whiff of incompetence and mendacity that now drifts in when the name “Entergy” surfaces in conversation.

That effort is now seriously upon us.

In a press release last week, Entergy announced the creation of not one, but two new companies: “Enexus Energy Corporation,” which will eventually own Entergy’s six unregulated nuclear reactors, including Yankee, and “EquaGen LLC,” a joint venture between Entergy and Enexus which will operate those same plants.

Confused yet? That is, of course, the point.

Under the new dispensation, Entergy will be removed not once, but twice from the activities and liabilities of Vermont Yankee. Activists will need, perforce, to concentrate on EquaGen to influence daily practice, and Enexus to press long-term issues like transparency and decommissioning.

Corporate spokesman Rob Williams, according to industry scuttlebut, will be known henceforth as “Equabob.”

To take EquaGen as a case in point, we should offer the industry explanation of the created term first:

“The goal for the joint venture naming was to capture an identity that would stress the company’s track record of safe nuclear operations and its expertise in leading the industry in a new direction. EquaGen (ekwa-jen) gets its origins from the words ‘equity’ and ‘generation.’ EquaGen stands for a company focused on providing world-class safety, operations, security and productivity.”

not so cool
The stunning 2007 cooling tower collapse

It’s worth noting that this mass of gibberish comes from the very high-priced shop of an “international brand architect” based in California, the RiechesBaird Company.

We don’t know about you, but if we were looking for someone to rebrand our rapidly aging nuclear operation, we might select a catchier bidder than “RiechesBaird.”

But be that as it may, the new brand names would seem to fit Entergy’s pressing linguistic needs: they are vague, they are built of positive partial syllables, and best of all, neither of them is “Entergy.”

It’s interesting, though, to consider the lengths to which RiechesBaird has gone to control the pronunciation of Equagen, which might well be pronounced “EEK-wa-gen,” if the corporate press release hadn’t specifically instructed otherwise. This fixed pronunciation, of course, is designed to enshrine the word “equity” in the minds of those who find themselves using the new word.

And “equity,” for a progressive state like Vermont, is all good.

But you have to wonder how it figures, in any way, shape or form, into the corporate planning of any of the three E-themed shells now encompassing Vermont Yankee. Yes, everyone has an equal right to purchase the power produced by the plant. But equity exhausts its usefulness as a concept at that point.

bernie stares down lunch

But that’s the genius of RiechesBaird. A wave of their cologne-scented hands, and suddenly “equity” is all we talk about when we talk about Yankee.

July 28th, 2009

Is That a Facebook Page, Or Is VDB Just Happy To See Me? The Answer Is Both/And (Now With Breakthrough Shatner Update!)

by Philip Baruth

We’re shooting for 300 supporters by August 1, over at the State Senate campaign Facebook page. So if you’re only blowing 9.5 hours per day on social networking, and you want to take it into double figures, love to have you as a supporter. It’s turned out to be a pretty lively place, like VDB with comments. Y’all come, as Michael Steele likes to say.

Late Update, 1:21 pm:

Of course, you may be asking yourself, “Sure, the campaign Facebook page sounds fine. But will it be another deadly dull recitation of biographical facts and boilerplate political cliches? In short, what can I expect to see if I move my right index finger sufficiently to ‘click’ this ‘link’”?

No sooner asked than answered, thanks to VDB’s resident Canadianist Paul Martin. Now showing on the Facebook screen, the single greatest event in recent human history: William Shatner reads Sarah Palin’s farewell speech as Beat poem. Which is crazy, daddy, crazy. Dig it.

Whoops . . . The YouTube version has been 86ed, but you can click here for the NBC footage.

July 27th, 2009

One James DeFilippi Revealed To Be “Don,” VDB Accomplice and Noir Crime Author

by Philip Baruth

Long-time readers will recognize “Don” in the photo below, doing serious damage to the spread at the Hamburger Summit. And of course, “Don” is actually Jim DeFilippi, author and beloved teacher in the Winooski school system. Jim writes in the comic-noir tradition of Elmore Leonard, and if you’re looking for cheap hilarious summer reading, you’re in luck: DeFilippi has a new website where you can download his latest book, Everyday Malfeasance, for free. Every story involves what the Italians call “fregatura,” normal activity just this side of criminal behavior. Divertiti!


July 26th, 2009

BREAKING: Newly Declassified Global Warming Photos Show Bush Not As Honest And Forthcoming As Previously Believed

by Philip Baruth

Very tough for us to believe here in Vermont, given our die-hard support for George W. Bush right to the bitter end of his brave freedom-inducing Presidency, but apparently the Bush Administration had extremely clear photographic evidence of global warming and chose not to share. Which certainly doesn’t square with the W. we came to know and respect over the course of eight long years. The white stuff in these newly declassified satallite shots is polar ice. At least, you know, in the earlier one on the left.

July 25th, 2009

Palin Spokeswoman: “I Cannot Express Enough There Is No Plan After July 26.” That’s It. End of Humorous Headline.

by Philip Baruth

Today is a huge, even a sacred day here at VDB: Sarah Palin’s last full day as Governor of Alaska, before she hands over the reins of power tomorrow, unprompted by true emergency of any sort, at a big picnic in Fairbanks. What will Sarah do post-picnic? Only Sarah and her hairdresser, who tweeted recently that her client is not either going bald, know for sure. But we hope step one is finding a new spokeswoman. Why? Oh, just because. From the Times:

sarah, failin

Spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton disputed the notion that Palin is running for president or has media deals lined up. ‘’I cannot express enough there is no plan after July 26. There is absolutely no plan,'’ she told The Associated Press earlier this month. ‘’The decision (to quit) was made in the vacuum of what was best for Alaska, and now I’m accepting all the options, but there is nothing planned,'’ Stapleton said.

VDB smells 2012 bumper sticker:
Palin. There Is Absolutely No Plan.

Or maybe:
Palin. In The Vacuum Of What Is Best For America.

Either way, we’re not talking Politics as Usual. We’re talking Politics As A Place Where We Make No Sense, Ever. Which is, uh, refreshing, as Bill Kristol will rush to add.

July 22nd, 2009

Prepare To Produce A Real Birth Certificate, Pledge Your Allegiance, Or Be Shot Down In A Delaware Street Like a Yaller Dog

by Philip Baruth

Perhaps the most frightening video clip you’ll watch all week: Mike Castle (R-DE) is confronted by one of the spookiest, screechiest GOP women you’ll ever see, on the question of Obama’s birth certificate. To his credit, Castle stays within the realm of accepted fact, but his sanity enrages the crowd, and the Woman In Red enforces an immediate Pledge of Allegiance. Very spooky stuff. And of course, Congress is just now moving to make it legal to conceal weapons and transport them across State lines. Nice.

July 21st, 2009

Jim Douglas Takes Helm at NGA, Declares Health Care “Top Priority,” But Later Pleads Typo: “Of Course, I Meant STOP Priority.”

by Philip Baruth

The Free Press is reporting that Jim Douglas has taken the helm over at the National Governors Association, in the tradition of Howard Dean and Dick Snelling. Douglas wasted no time declaring health care the group’s focus for the coming year. “It’s an opportunity . . . to be a player in health-care reform,” the incoming Chairman said. Quite.

And what did the new player play first? The anti-public option card: “I don’t think a public insurance plan is necessary,” Douglas told the press.

How fortunate (for the national Republican interest) that an anti-public option Governor from the Northeast takes the Chairman’s slot at just this particular moment.

With his mild, shucksy style, Douglas is the perfect delivery vehicle, not for the vague Republican health care alternative that never quite comes into focus, but for the very clear and very real Stop Health Care Now movement.

Douglas’s first remarks were particularly telling. After roundly dissing the public option, Douglas issued a later statement clarifying that these were his personal opinions, rather than those of the group, which does not take a public stand on the issue.

Expect to see this particular two-step executed frequently over the next year.

In the past, we’ve called Douglas’s years in office a “slow-motion crusade against accomplishment,” as a way of getting at his particular governing style: remain essentially motionless for the bulk of the legislative session, and then snap into action during the end-game, to ensure that progressive legislation dies on the vine.

But never has the Governor’s flair for action-prevention been put to a test of this magnitude. Now he won’t just be stopping one small state from leading the nation — he’ll be stopping an entire nation from bettering its state.

Which is a big step. Way to (not) go, Governor.

July 17th, 2009

VDB Vows To Party Every Single Night For The Next 16 Months, If That’s What It Takes

by Philip Baruth

On Tuesday night, we held our first house party of the 2010 campaign season, out in South Burlington. A wonderful night, the sort of small gathering that allows you to drop down into the details of the things people actually care about. The hostess, Nancy, made this cake. It nearly brought tears to our eyes. If you’d like to host a house party, in your neck of the Chittenden County woods, give a shout. We intend to go to Montpelier, if we have to party every night between now and Election Night to make it happen. Yes, we’re that committed.

July 17th, 2009

Unable to Write About Anything Except Sarah Palin, VDB Leaves It to Fred Lane To Take Down Rep. Michelle Bachman On The US Census

by Philip Baruth

We’ve been preoccupied with Palin and Mark Sanford’s tragic Love Story here at VDB, and we apologize. We’ve neglected to provide coverage of something far nuttier, and far more unsettling: the Right Wing crusade against the Census, spearheaded by one Michelle Bachman, whom some of you may recognize from her Red-baiting days in the US House. Fortunately, Burlington author and privacy expert Fred Lane deals quite brilliantly with Ms. Bachman in a post we’ve lifted in its entirety from the Beacon Press blog, the Beacon Broadside. Enjoy. — PB

Bachmann’s Anti-Census Fear-Mongering is Nothing New
By Frederick S. Lane

During questioning by Senator Al Franken (what a pleasure to finally write those words!), Judge Sonya Sotomayor noted that the U.S. Constitution is a mixture of broad principles (”due process,” “free speech,” etc.) and specific commands.

While broad principles allow room for adaptation and interpretation, the specific instructions are meant to be followed. For instance, she said, the Constitution states that an individual must be at least 30 years old in order to serve in the United States Senate. There’s not a lot of wiggle room in that provision.

Another example is contained in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution (and the 14th Amendment), which states that the members of the United States House of Representatives shall be apportioned among the various states “according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.”

“The actual Enumeration,” the Constitution says, “shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.”

The use of the word “shall” is a pretty clear tip-off that the Framers meant what they said; the nation is required to conduct a head count each decade, and Congress is given the discretion to determine how the Census should be conducted.

Initially, under the direction of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Census takers limited themselves to just six questions, all of which were designed to count various categories of people in a given household.

Over the succeeding decades, however, Congress expanded the Census beyond a raw headcount by adding questions designed to collect a wide range of information necessary for creating and implementing public policy. The specific questions varied from decade to decade, but popular topics included levels of education, employment, property ownership, types of illness, national origin, and so on.

Not surprisingly, as the information collected by the Census expanded beyond mere enumeration, a tension arose between civic duty and personal privacy. In 1850, for instance, when Census takers began collecting information about individuals by name, the practice of posting Census results in public locations was stopped.

By the time the 10th Census rolled around in 1880, Congress was sufficiently worried about non-compliance that it established a $100 fine for individuals who refused to answer a census taker’s questions (the same fine still applies today).

At the same time, it also created a $500 fine for census takers who disclosed an individual’s private information without authorization. In addition, individual census responses are sealed for a period of 70 years; only the aggregate data is reported to Congress and the public

Despite Congress’s clear constitutional obligation to conduct a decennial census and its equally clear authority to determine how the Census will be conducted, there are still those who bridle at anything more than a nose count.

In the field, those individuals are troublesome enough, but every now and then, one gets elected Congress, where they have the potential to make real mischief.

In 1938, for instance, Charles William Tobey was elected to the U.S. Senate from New Hampshire; a staunch Republican and committed foe of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Tobey became one of the most outspoken critics of the 1940 Census. Among other things, he claimed that Roosevelt administration planned to use politically-appointed census takers to skew the results in favor of Democratic strongholds.

Tobey loudly announced that he would boycott the Census and actively urged others to do so, a stance that earned him strong criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Seventy years later, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, a Republican from Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, is channeling the spirit of the dispeptic Tobey. Bachmann is a darling of the Religious Right; her successful run in 2006 was aided by a Generation Joshua Student Action Team, one of a cadre of evangelical high school groups sent around the country to aid the election efforts of “strong pro-life, pro-family candidates.”

In 2008, however, Bachmann nearly lost her re-election bid, in no small part because of the controversy caused by her suggestion that members of Congress (and then-presidential candidate Barack Obama) should be investigated to determine their anti-American bias.

Like Tobey, Bachmann worries that the 2010 Census takers will be tools of a Democratic administration; in fact, she specifically alleges (erroneously) that much of the count will be conducted by ACORN, a community organizating group that has been widely criticized by Republicans for its voter registration efforts. She also said that the 2010 Census is asking for intensely private information that could be misused by the government (as happened, for instance, during World War II when Census data was used to aid in the interment of Japanese-Americans).

As a result, Bachmann said, she will only answer Census questions about how many people are in her household.

Recognizing the dubious legal ground on which she is standing (even her fellow Republicans on the House Census Oversight Committee have asked her to back off her refusal to cooperate with the Census), Bachmann and Rep. Tim Poe (R-Tex.) have introduced a bill called The American Community Survey Act.

Under the terms of the bill, the Census Bureau would be limited to asking Americans just four questions: “a)name; b) contact info; c) date of response; d) number of people living or staying at the same address.”

It is highly unlikely that the American Community Survey Act will see the light of day. Nonetheless, Bachmann’s high-profile protest against the Census is representative of two deeply disturbing trends in the Republican party: an increasingly fervent anti-intellectualism, and a growing disregard for the rule of law.

When the Republicans began wandering in the wilderness following Nixon’s crushingly narrow loss to Kennedy in 1960 and Goldwater’s simply crushing defeat in 1964, they turned to the intellectual wing of the party for renewal.

In a remarkably short time, those solons (aided by the nation’s social upheaval) set the stage for a remarkable resurgence of conservatism. Compared to the disarray of the Carter administration, Reagan’s cheerful espousal of a relatively coherent political philosophy was enormously compelling.

By the time he became President, Reagan was more a spokesperson for a movement than an intellectual leader, but he was well-grounded in the intellectual underpinnings of conservatism and particularly in the years following Goldwater’s defeat, played a significant role in the movement’s development.

But in one of the great political miscalculations of the last century, Republicans interpreted Reagan’s election as an endorsement of what can best be described as the Nuke Laloosh theory of political leadership: “Don’t think. You can only hurt the team.”

Exhibit A, of course, is the notoriously incurious George W. Bush, who boasted of how he kept himself in a bubble during his presidency. Exhibit B is the soon-to-be-forgotten former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, who might have been one 72-year-old heartbeat from the presidency if she had been able to tell Katie Couric the name of one newspaper she regularly reads (online or off).

Tragically, the party of Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, and Barry Goldwater has so elevated vacuity as a positive value that it has marginalized, perhaps indefinitely, anyone who might try to rebuild the intellectual foundations of the conservative movement.

Even more troubling is Bachmann’s suggestion that people disobey the law and refuse to cooperate with the Census. It is yet another example of how the Republicans, once the party of law and order, have increasingly been taken over by a faction that will use any means necessary to promote their goals.

The shamefully-muted responses to the slaying of abortion doctors and the hysterical calls for violence and disobedience of court orders in the Terry Schiavo case are particularly reprehensible examples of this disturbing trend.

It is not uncommon, sadly, for fringe and not-so-fringe Republicans like Catherine Crabill to talk openly of resorting to the “bullet box” if they don’t get their way at the ballot box.

Having just finished writing a new book, American Privacy, I am deeply sensitive to the possible misuse of personal information, and both governments and corporations need to do a far better job of protecting the information they collect.

At the same time, however, I am a fairly big fan of the Enlightenment. I believe that rational inquiry is an essential element of modern life and that aggregated data, if properly collected, compiled, and used, can play a critical role in the formation of government policy.

Since Representative Bachmann has undoubtedly benefited from the fruits of previous Censuses (not least of which, her artfully drawn district that so carefully avoids the Keillor-infested, latte-siping neighborhoods of Minneapolis and St. Paul), she should pitch in and do her bit to promote intellectual inquiry and respect for the rule of law.

Fred S. Lane

July 15th, 2009

Although VDB Is Dying To Campaign With Palin, Every Other Dem In World Says No

by Philip Baruth

Talk about strange: Sarah Palin announces that she’ll darn well campaign for Democrats as well as Republicans, and suddenly it turns out that no national Democrats are willing to take her up on the offer. You could have knocked VDB over with a feather. Who’d have thought? Here we’re clamouring to have Palin come to Vermont, to stump for us and progress our good campaign as the maverick that she is and we know her to be, and every other Democrat out there is taking a pass. Whatever.

How bad is it for Palin, trying to get a little love from Bluedog Senators and House members? Well, Politico asked annoyingly Conservative Dem Ben Nelson if he wanted Palin’s help on the trail, and summed it up like so:

“Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the upper chamber, might as well have been asked if he wanted self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to bring a bit of Burlington to North Platte.”

Picky, picky, picky. Not VDB. We’ll take Palin, and stump with her and Todd and Trap and Trig and Bristol and Willow and Piper and Prancer and Vixen, anybody with any sort of name, so long as they’re from the great state of Alaska. And we’ll stump with Bernie, any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Or both. Together.

Sure, that’s the ticket. Could be what Bernie might call yuge.

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