August 31st, 2009

The Speed Matters Interactive Map: The Most Dramatic Proof to Date That Douglas Was Blowing Smoke On Universal Access

by Philip Baruth

One of the beautifies of announcing you won’t run for re-election? You won’t be held accountable for broken promises. And in the case of Jim Douglas, the promises have been many and basic. Case in point: in 2007 Douglas announced his “E-State Inititiative,” a basic promise of universal digital access within the state’s borders by 2010. Let’s check in on where we are, here in late August 2009, with some graphic help from Speed Matters, an organization promoting higher-speed broadband nationwide.

Okay, running at a sixth of the capacity they enjoy in South Korea is no huge shock. Ditto for falling well behind Japan, Sweden and Germany. After all, these were countries who understood the global economy from the get-go, places where their more progressive visionaries weren’t fighting a constant isolationist backlash.

And a relatively poor, lightly populated, mountainous state like Vermont was always going to have to work twice as hard to establish itself in the new Information Age.

But take a longer, second look at that county-wide map of Vermont. Now you can see just exactly how far we are from achieving the goals of the E-State Initiative. In truth, at the pace Douglas has fostered, we’ll be lucky to have all of Chittenden County at basic broadband speed by 2010.

One more long look at that map. Every time we have the same old discussions about why companies won’t relocate to Vermont, you should see that image. Every time we debate the reasons why 20-34 year olds move out of state, that map should come to mind.

And if you want to supplement that image with some others that will blow your mind completely, download the Speed Matters interactive map.

In an information economy, you either position yourself to provide or manage information, or you are downwardly mobile as a nation. Or a state. Or a county. Or a person.

Of course, Jim Douglas has four more months until his marker on the E-State Initiative gets called. Maybe he’ll get it done by Christmas. So if you live in one of the many white zones on this broadband map, you have that hope to cling to.

Depressing Update, Monday, 3:46 pm:

Got to thinking about those small spots of dark red on the map, and wondering why they had such blazing download speeds. Seemed worth knowing, so that we could replicate the successes in those areas. But the Speed Matters folks had this to say about that:

“Examining the map, most of those small pockets of dark red come from the results of a small number of tests. As such, depending on the time of the day or the type of connection that the user has speeds can fluctuate and provide a higher than anticipated result.”

Translation? Even those dark red areas are sitting much less pretty than they may seem to the casual observer. In case you needed a nudge toward solid depression on this issue.

August 29th, 2009

The Sinatra Question: What Will Dubie Do?

by Philip Baruth

Various people have asked VDB over the last 24 hours to enter into the mindset of Jim Douglas, to try to divine his real reasons for stepping away from the Governor’s race. But it’s funny: it matters so little that the imagination just won’t function. He was tired, or he wasn’t tired; worried about losing, or not at all. Only two things bear remembering: he’s going, and he won’t be gone for a good long while yet.

Dubie, hard at work

But a mental task much more to VDB’s imaginative liking? Gaming out various and sundry Scenarios Dubie.

First things first: Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie cannot, and will not, run for re-election as Lieutenant Governor. Why? Right or wrong, he would be perceived as cowardly, lazy, lacking in seriousness, or all three. No good could come of it, and any decent politician would know that in his gut.

So it’s up or out for Dubie.

Up: Dubie knows very well that this election will not be like the last several. Both Markowitz and Racine will have the capacity and the financial resources to fight a long, tough fight. Douglas Democrats will not automatically become Dubie Democrats; many will come home, for a host of reasons, but suffice it to say that Dubie would be scrambling to hold together a crumbling coalition.

The days when Dubie could duck debates would be over. Tough to execute a Rose Garden strategy when you’re not an incumbent. Which is to say that this race will mean very serious work, and that commencing sooner rather than later.

Out: By taking a pass on the Governor’s seat, Dubie would reinforce the idea that he’s a half-hearted campaigner, a man only sort of interested in holding office, assuming that the road isn’t steep and the demands aren’t strict when he gets there.

dubie, douglas, baked, fishing

Taking a pass, then, makes a later win in a race for Governor or Congress or U.S. Senate significantly less likely. Especially as Democrats in the top two statewide seats could mean that all higher office would be locked down tight for most of the next decade, given past incumbent histories.

So there is the question in a nutshell: if Dubie wants to advance in political life, this is a race he can’t duck.

With those considerations in line, our bet?

Dubie runs, on the calculus that infighting on the Left will cut his work by a third, if not in half. He comes out relatively late, given the entry dates of the Racine and Markowitz campaigns. He presents himself as George Bush Sr. to Jim Douglas’s Ronald Reagan, and builds his campaign around some version of “Read My Lips.”

And finally he loses, friends.

And that’ll be a sad, sad day in VDB’s opinion: we lost Quayle, we lost Bush, we lost Sarah, we lost Uncle Jim, and now if our pundit’s aim is true, we’re due to lose Dubie too. Which will leave those of us on the Left with no one to satirize but ourselves, and that way, of course, lies madness.

dubie plants a seed

August 27th, 2009

Today’s Boffo News That Governor Jim Douglas Will Not Run Again Is Mourned By Just About Everyone. Just About Everyone.

by Philip Baruth

August 26th, 2009

PLEASE NOTE DATE CHANGE: Campaign Kick-Off Now Scheduled For 9/29/09

by Philip Baruth

If you already marked your calendars for the Senate Campaign kick-off party, then please remark them: we’ve rescheduled for the 29th of September, 6-9 pm, in order to accomodate town committees working through their organizational meetings. So that’s 9/29/09, which has a nice mnemonic ring to it. Same venue: historic Nectar’s, Main Street, downtown Burlington. Same special guest: Chittenden County State’s Attorney T. J. Donovan. Same stated goal: to shake the county to its very foundations.

the metronome

August 26th, 2009

One Final Bad Photograph of Ted Kennedy

by Philip Baruth

Snapped this picture of Ted Kennedy last summer, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, on August 25th, exactly one year to the day before his death. Not the best picture in the world, not a Leahy-class photograph, but when I hauled it out of storage this morning it reminded me of the speech he gave. Not the best speech either, his voice cracking occasionally, but full of the old Kennedy rhetorical force. What I most remember is how grateful I was to Kennedy at that point, for throwing his weight behind Obama’s candidacy, for giving it the Camelot seal. It was crucial, I still believe, and distinctly generous. Rest in peace, Senator.

August 25th, 2009

Stolen Fruit, Always The Sweetest: Enjoy These Dick Cheney House Party Photos

by Philip Baruth

Thought these photos might be of interest: they come from the inside of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s undisclosed civilian location. Some very tasteful items here, if you lean toward cutesy, violent kitsch. Best part about these? They were located on a public site by Wonkette, in a gallery of photos from a wedding reception, and then very quickly pulled from the Internet. But the usual round-robin began, the photos popping up around the globe, and now the Internet has made sure that Dick Cheney cannot pull these visual nuggets back to the Dark Side. So let us view them.

The Cheney brand here is pretty standard and predictable fare. But the nesting dolls are beautiful, because even in that weird format, in the hands of some Russian or Middle Eastern knock-off artist, Cheney comes off looking like the creepiest of the bunch. Including Sadaam Hussein. And what’s with the book display? No copy of Gingrich’s 1945 or Lynne Cheney’s Sisters? Not out in the open, anyway.

August 24th, 2009

The McCain Administration Weighs In

by Philip Baruth

Pretty much every source agrees that John McCain really wanted to offer Joe Lieberman his VP nomination, and that Lieberman desperately wanted to accept. But the Southern Conservatives quashed all that, and McCain responded by selecting Sarah Palin, who was not a maverick at all, as far as those same Conservatives were concerned. But even now, we get the occasional bright flash of What Might Have Been.

For instance, over the weekend McCain and Big Joe rolled out a coordinated effort to drop the public option. Just two loveable Centrists, you know, talking about our inability to cover the uninsured at this point in time, even as each calls for a sharp increase in military spending. Look on this lovely photo and weep, Mr. and Mrs. America: you could have had this, with just the tug of a lever.

August 21st, 2009

NRC Now Openly Asserting That States “Have to Negotiate” Clean Up Costs, But VDB Says Vermonters “Have To Fight” That Entire Notion Until The Cows Come Home

by Philip Baruth

Let’s review how Life and Politics work. For years, under the Bush Administration, critics on the Left pointed out the obvious: the color-coded Homeland Security threat assessment was clearly being used to juice fear in the electorate at key political moments. Now, years later, Tom Ridge admits same. Call it Life Imitates Dissent. Not always the way, but the evidence in the case of the Department of Homeland Security was undeniable, and predictably it can now no longer be denied. Except by Donald Rumsfeld.

vermont yankee

Let’s play another round. For years, critics of Entergy’s handling of Vermont Yankee have pointed out the obvious: that the company’s deliberately underfunded decommissioning fund will leave taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up costs. Entergy and the Douglas Administration have stoutly maintained that the Fund will magically grow to cover all costs.

But yesterday, in a teleconference on the decommissioning question, NRC officials essentially gave up the game: “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in a teleconference Thursday on nuclear power plant decommissioning funds, said states have to negotiate part of the cleanup costs with plant owners; the minimum amount the federal agency requires doesn’t cover everything.”

There it is, folks, from the mouth of the NRC: if you buy their version of events, ratepayers and taxpayers are already on the hook for substantial clean-up costs. And that’s before Entergy hands off to Enexus and exits stage right. Before we’re left with an unusable stretch of Connecticut Riverfront and a curio shelf jam-packed with radioactive dry casks.

But let’s follow out the logic a bit here.

If, according to the NRC, the state is already essentially in negotiations concerning clean-up costs, then how should we view the Governor’s efforts to shield Entergy from liability? How should we view his two vetoes on the decommissioning fund bill?

The NRC’s statement of August 20, 2009 makes it painfully clear that Jim Douglas has been and is now negotiating on behalf of Entergy — not the ratepayers he claims to be defending. Because they are the ones who will eventually be forced to close what we’ll call “the decommissioning gap,” as envisioned by Entergy and the NRC.

How big will that gap be, now that the NRC admits it exists? In a very real way, it depends upon Jim Douglas. So far he’s done what he can to make sure it will be as small as possible — for Entergy.

This is one really important reason I’m running for the State Senate: there is a large-scale corporate effort in place to transfer vast wealth out of state, and then gentle Vermonters to the idea that they and their children are obligated to bear most of the costs of decommissioning.

It is a pressing threat, and state government has thus far been unable to counter that threat.

Another Senator willing to go to the mat on the issue, especially from the Northern part of the state, can’t hurt.

I’ve been told more than once that the issue of Vermont Yankee is a loser in this election cycle, at least in Chittenden County. Voters don’t care, I’m told, and those that do want cheap power from the Southern end of the state. Better to avoid this particular fight.

I couldn’t disagree more. Vermonters are being lied to, and that fact is becoming clearer every day. And it will become clearer still as Entergy attempts to pivot and hand off its corporate responsibilities. No voter — Republican, Democrat, or Progressive — wants taxpayers saddled with these clean-up costs. And no voter likes a lie, large or small.

So I intend to use this election to try to keep awareness of these realities high. Let’s make this the acid test: if you don’t support a decommissioning fund bill with teeth, what’s your plan to shield taxpayers from the hundreds of millions in costs even the NRC now claims the states must negotiate?

Which is to say that I have only two words for anyone who thinks this issue is a fight that no Chittenden County candidate should pick: bring it.

August 19th, 2009

About That Unrefreshed Tree of Liberty

by Philip Baruth

Not too long ago, we had a piece up drawing connections between the raucous gun and health care debates, and Timothy McVeigh. Well, Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo has closed the evidence gap: TPM has a very well-researched post up about direct connections between the armed anti-reform protestors and the ’90’s militia groups that spawned McVeigh. Well worth a look today.

August 18th, 2009

Inherit The Wind, Part II: The Trial of the Century, In Which VDB Refutes Charges of Inappropriate Political Potty-Mouthing

by Philip Baruth

We have before us today a thorny and vexing question, friends, a question spanning the separate but constantly overlapping realms of campaign conduct, journalistic ethics, ideological fortitude, semantic definition and yes, everyday civility. It is a question that speaks to the heart of the matter, in so many ways. From the Free Press blog, Vermont Buzz, in the course of a roundup of current campaign websites:

“Speaking of candidate Web sites, Philip Baruth, a Chittenden County state Senate candidate, launched his last week, Baruth2010.com. Baruth, of course, has another site at vermontdailybriefing.com, where he blogs. He links the two by referring from one to the other. The blog tackles mostly national issues, but with a tone that can be quite different from what a candidates might choose. Last week in the blog, for example, he called former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum a name that is not printable here.”

First, thanks to Terri Hallenbeck — the first reporter in Vermont to take the political blogosphere seriously way back in 2005 — for linking to two of the Senate campaign’s three primary websites. That’s worth a great deal, and we’re honestly grateful.

But thanks aside, the question here is one of perfect accuracy: did VDB actually “call former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum a name that is not printable” in the pages of the Free Press? Had we done so, we might well argue that certain times and political types call for strong words.

However, scrupulous ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we will argue that we did not.

Let’s be coy no longer. The phrase to which Hallenbeck refers is this mock-definition of the proper noun Santorum: “Latin for asshole.”

Strong words, as we said.

Did we use this mock-definition in the course of titling our August 14th post on Santorum’s deeply unsettling new Presidential ambitions? We did. On that point there can be no question. We did it, and we can’t say with any certainty that we might not do it again.

But the true question lies deeper still. Did VDB “call” Rick Santorum, darling of the Christian Right, a name unprintable in the pages of the Free Press?

It depends, of course, on what the definition of “call” is.

Exacting readers will recall that our headline surrounded the offensive language in quotation marks, this because the language was borrowed from another and we wanted to intimate that credit was due elsewhere.

There lies the crux of the deepest question: who actually “called” Rick Santorum That Which Cannot Be Printed In The Pages Of The Free Press?

Good men and women of the jury, it was Bob Kerrey, former Senator of the Great State of Nebraska and current President of the New School. [Pandemonium erupts in the courtroom; judge gavels all to silence.]

And of course Theresa Heinz-Kerry, wife of John Kerry, who is unrelated to Bob Kerrey, “called” Rick Santorum “Forrest Gump with an attitude.” But that is neither here nor there.

To recap thus far: 1) yes, VDB did in point of fact use the now-common mock-definition of the proper noun Santorum, to wit, “Latin for asshole,” in titling an August 14th post expressing due horror at the thought of a Santorum Presidency; 2) yet no, VDB did not therefore “call” former Senator Santorum an “asshole”; because 3) former Senator Bob Kerrey was the man who actually already “called” former Senator Rick Santorum an “asshole” at a previous point in time.

All of this being so very demonstrably the case, do we think Terri Hallenbeck should be thrown in the docket for journalistic Crimes against Humanity?

Not at all.

For Terri Hallenbeck still has a good point: the tone of our August 14th blog post is, in fact, different from the tone of the Senate Campaign’s main website, Baruth2010.com. Regardless of the origin of the phrase “Latin for Asshole,” that phrase contains the word “Asshole.”

Yes, it does. This there can be no denying, and no Senate candidate would splash such a word across a painstakingly designed campaign homepage.

And that speaks, finally, to the Senate campaign’s three-part electronic structure.

VDB can only be VDB. It has always bridged the sometimes raw discourse of the blogosphere and the less risky discourse of traditional media, both broadcast and print. And by continuing it through this campaign, we hope to preserve a place for very plain speaking, and a conduit for the energy and drive and raw will that powers the blogosphere.

The Facebook page, which takes a semi-regular content feed directly from VDB, allows us to edit that content slightly, and to take comments on it.

And the campaign’s main site, Baruth2010.com, situates itself more firmly in recognizable campaign discourse, but with a direct, unvarnished quality that we hope comes off as “outspoken” rather than ill-advised.

Hallenbeck, on this score, is absolutely right: three markedly different tones. But of course it takes different tones to achieve an ultimate harmony. And wherever we’re writing or campaigning, we’re all about the harmony.

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