September 30th, 2009

You There At the Monitor. Yeah, You.

by Philip Baruth

Okay, you’re fixing to leave work in, like, an hour. Or maybe you’re home, nursing a cup of tea. This is the key moment: you’ve thought three or four times this week that you’d like to come to our kick-off party tonight at 6 at Nectar’s, but now you’re wondering if it’s worth it, if you’ll even be missed. It is, and you will. We need you there tonight. Yes, you. You, sitting in front of the computer. You can stop by.

Yes. You. Can.

the metronome

September 29th, 2009

Shocking Terrorist Seniors Flummox Yankee Security, Armed With Only Birkenstocks and Gnarly Tees and Stuff

by Philip Baruth

VDB had made a solemn oath not to post today, in order to avoid stepping on the front page story begging people to come to the State Senate Kick-off tonight at Nectar’s, from 6-9. But sometimes journalistic reflexes will not be stilled, and a story Must Be Told. Case in point: four women, ranging in age from 66 to 90, decided yesterday to demonstrate the porous quality of the security at Vermont Yankee. Basically they walked into the plant, but there was one moment of high drama. Made for TV drama, really.

At the last moment, faced with the advancing protestors, the guard snapped to attention and attempted to close the huge automated gate — but the senior ninja ladies used their catlike reflexes to come in anyway, and the gate wound up being a measure of their distinct insideness rather than an impediment to it. Round one: senior ninja ladies.

Now, VY spokesman Rob Williams will no doubt point out that the system worked beautifully: the guard had apparently not been drinking, and the lock actually functioned, albeit a bit after the point where it would have made a serious difference.

Still, it’s worth asking, and inquiring minds want to know: if a quartet of concerned seniors can penetrate security this far in sensible Birkenstocks, what could the terrorists manage — in close-toed shoes?

September 28th, 2009

Hope You Can Make This Party Tonight

by Philip Baruth

A last reminder about our kick-off party for the 2o10 State Senate campaign: tonight, Tuesday September 29, 6-9 pm, at Nectar’s. Everyone is welcome, and not just welcome, but very cordially invited. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you and I have spent quite a lot of time together in the last four years, and I’ve invited you to more than a few political events. But this one is special. Very special.

Not just because suddenly my own political butt is on the line, although there is that, of course. But no, this party is special because we all know for a fact now that we’re out to design the post-Douglas era this cycle, and it’s high time we started putting our heads together on that.

Hope to see you there, alone or with your posse. And many thanks to Bailey Cummings, ace photographer.

September 27th, 2009

Your Gubernatorial New Media Update

by Philip Baruth

The Markowitz campaign has released a very stylish, long-format campaign video (long in the sense of over 5 minutes), and it’s well worth a look. Why? Always worth seeing how a potential Governor frames him or herself, as well as the issues at hand. But for a novelist like VDB, there’s a better reason: the story of Markowitz actually finding a baby abandoned in the forest. A real, newborn infant. No doubt somewhere in the past we’d heard that tale, but never told in its entirety. Politics aside, it’s just gripping story.

The Racine campaign, for its part, announced the hiring of new media specialist Brendan Bush (Original Gravity Media). Bush worked on the Kerry campaign (okay, that sentence does sound a little odd so far), which came within 100,000 votes in Ohio of winning the Presidency, people tend to forget.

Nice to see both camps serious and methodical in their approach to the web. Augers well for a hard-hitting and diversified general campaign.

September 26th, 2009

From The Highly Disordered Files Of VDB

by Philip Baruth

The thing about Vermont is that not only is someone always doing something brave and spectacular and intriguing, but five people are always doing something brave and spectacular and intriguing. Which makes it tough to update your readers, without eventually running up a BSI (brave, spectacular, and intriguing) backlog. And Friday seems like the best day to haul all of these events out into the light.

1) The ACLU will be teaming up with Pen New England to bring you “An Evening Without . . . Giving Voice to the Silenced,” to celebrate the First Amendment during Banned Books Week. The idea is to read publicly from banned books, and then have the audience fall silent in order to hear the distant screams in Hell from all the deceased zealots who banned them. Norwich Congregational Church, 9/30, 7 pm.

Now, the ACLU has been a lifelong favorite of VDB’s, never more so than when Poppy Bush accused Michael Dukakis of being a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” and we shouted at the TV: “And proud of it!”

If you feel the same way, and want a little more attention to civil liberties in your life, the current Director Allen Gilbert has begun to pen a highly readable blog, called The Vermont Civil Liberties Journal. Well worth reading, if only to find out how your freedom is vanishing like the glaciers.

2) What happens when you lay off a critical mass of journalists and muck-rakers at the same time and in a small area like Vermont? They band together and launch their own investigative news site, with the drive and the talent and the skills to make it look easy.

Welcome to, and let VDB suggest that you bookmark it. Because it will make news, and you will wind up a regular reader. How do we know? The list of board members (Cheryl Hanna, Con Hogan, Bill Porter, Terry Allen, Josh Larkin, Daphne Larkin and Mel Huff) and the names of the actual journalists thus far (Huff, Wally Roberts and Anne Galloway). A high proportion of old Times/Argus folk in that group. Which is to say heavy hitters, practicing hard journalism. Purely on the web.

Now that’s a business plan.

3) Voices From Chernobyl is coming to northern Vermont, specifically Shelburne Town Hall, October 4th at 4:00 pm. An immensely influential production, hitting Vermont at an inarguably crucial moment, given that both Peter Shumlin and Shap Smith have agreed that Vermont Yankee will be the most pressing issue of the coming legislative session.

We know time is short, and the list of inane things you need to do to pay the rent is long. But all of these productions and people are guaranteed to pay sizeable mental dividends in return for the smallest investment of time. All worthy, all wonderful. Enjoy.

September 24th, 2009

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

by Philip Baruth

Burlington is the largest, most metropolitan city in the state of Vermont. Church Street is the undisputed heart of Burlington. And VDB is currently coming to you from a coffee shop ranged along the western side of that pedestrian marketplace. Here’s what the MacBook senses in the morning air, by way of wireless possibility:

It’s a pretty good emblem for the state’s wireless situation, generally speaking: extremely small wireless zones, locked by their owners, with a major multi-national providing the only “open” web access through another major multi-national.

That is, if you want to surf the web on Church Street, you ask Starbucks to put you in touch with At&T, and they’ll hook you up, for a fee. A fee for each of them.

Why isn’t Burlington Telecom, launched and sustained with public money, providing a three-block zone of free wireless access the length of Church Street? Why aren’t they advertising it as one of the many benefits of their new model of telecommunications?

Why aren’t we insisting that they give back, in that way, to the community that created them?

If any downtown should be digital, in the state of Vermont, it should be Burlington’s downtown. That we leave access to the tender mercies of AT&T is ludicrous. We have the means and the money to make Church Street a digital enterprise zone; and if we extended that zone to Pine Street, we’d do more to promote small business there than has been done in the last ten years. Period.

Time to start asking why we can’t get online, when we can’t. Time to start asking why we need to pay, every time, when we do manage to find a provider.

Most highways aren’t toll roads, after all. And the various information superhighways shouldn’t all be pay-to-play either.

Because among other things, VDB doesn’t want to have to read about the new pumpkin spice latte every time we post. That way lies madness.

September 23rd, 2009

A Beautiful Little Mini-Fundraiser: You Took Us Past Our Goal, And Made Shopping Locally Gospel At This Senate Campaign

by Philip Baruth

Many, many thanks: between Friday noon and Monday lights out, we were able to raise just shy of $900, and put in an order to a vendor in Winooski for all the campaign materials we need for the kick-off. Your response was clear and unambiguous, confirming the impulse here at the campaign to buy locally, as a matter of course. So thank you for your contributions, and your political guidance.

One additional upside? If you make it to the Nectars kick-off this coming Tuesday night, the 29th, you can take away as many free bumper stickers as you’ve got rides to decorate. Thanks again.

September 18th, 2009

A Knotty and Extremely Focused Problem in Netroots Karma: We Need To Raise Between $500 and $800 By Monday To Buy Locally (Now With New “Almost There” Update)

by Philip Baruth

Hard to know where your money goes, when you contribute to a political campaign. But as I’ve said before, online campaigns with a strong commitment to transparency work differently: I believe that the more you know about this campaign for the State Senate, the more invested you’ll feel, and the more help you’ll feel comfortable giving. As a result, your ideas, your expertise, and your contributions will structure the way the campaign can be run. Simple.

Here’s today’s focused campaign problem: we need to order bumper stickers so that they can be printed in time for the campaign kick-off, on Tuesday night, September 29. Nothing fancy, just a rendition of the campaign logo, but very necessary as a way to deliver message in a far-flung county like Chittenden.

Two basic options available: we can have an initial run of 1,000 bumper stickers printed out of state, maybe even out of the country, for $442.71 (386.07 + $56.64 shipping to deliver on the 28th).

Or we can have them printed locally, in Chittenden County, for $577.58 with no shipping charges.

The difference isn’t huge, but it’s a fairly large percentage of what we’re spending. The truth of globalization is that whatever a campaign needs can be produced cheaper elsewhere, even with stiff shipping costs.

But regardless of what seems initially to be the bottom line, my thinking is always this: buy locally wherever and whenever possible, because the intangible benefits will accrue the more of it we manage as a society. Not to mention that we opt out of the race to the bottom that keeps wages and benefits low elsewhere in the world.

But that begs the question: Can this particular State Senate campaign afford to buy locally?

My answer: you tell me.

I’m wondering if we can raise the second total between now and Monday, online. If so, that’ll allow the campaign to shop locally, which is to say that supporters will be shaping not just the policy structure of the campaign, but the actual nuts and bolts as well.

So that’s 577$ to buy 1000 stickers locally, at a minimum.

But for $802.o2 we can buy 2,500 stickers locally, and for $1206 we can stock in 5,000 stickers and not have to worry about this sort of thing for a good long while.

The Act Blue link is here. Just click this link, and the whole process will take under three minutes.

You tell me what’s possible. Contribute if you can, and if the local economy is something you care about and want to boost. And we’ll go from there. I’d love to able to write a long, satisfying piece on Monday saying that the will and the way exists. Out there, somewhere.

Where you are.

Upbeat Mid-Saturday Afternoon Update, 9/19:

A wonderful response so far: 10 contributors, for a total of nearly $400. At that pace, we can certainly shoot for the higher end of the goal by lights-out on Monday. Remember, this is about buying locally and buying in bulk, as much as possible: being a smart Vermont shopper, with a conscience.

So if we can double the low-end total and raise the $802.02 mentioned above, we can make the best use of everyone’s precious resources.

One last note: a significant portion of the help so far is coming from those who already gave once, or even twice, earlier this past summer. And that’s a beautiful thing; those people have serious heart, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

But I am hoping we can convince others to make their first contribution now, when there’s time enough for the effects to be leveraged and multiplied. That’s the way I think of this first shipment of bumper stickers: a year’s worth of advertising at pennies on the dollar.

Pennies on the dollar spent locally, where it’s needed most.

Monday Morning Almost There Update, 6:25 am:

Picked up three more contributors over the weekend, bringing us within closing distance. We need $300 more, over the space of a single Monday, which is admittedly not the day anyone feels most optimistic or idealistic [Cue Boomtown Rats, “Tell Me Why/I Don’t Like Mondays.”]

Another way to look at it: we reached 100 donors to the campaign back in July, but a good chunk of those were traditional, check in the mail donors. So our Act Blue donor number has been below 100 to date, but it now stands at 95.

Love to push that to 100 today as well. Click here if you can help.

So if you were one of those kids who liked to watch 6 numbers roll over on the odometer at once, when you were off on a car trip with the family, maybe you can help us out for old time’s sake.

Monday Semi-Final Lunchable Update, 11:47 am:

Brilliant. We’ve crossed the 100 donor mark on Act Blue, but we’re still just 150$ or so shy of the 800$ mark. With five hours or so to go. Many, many thanks to those who have kicked in so far. Heroes, one and all.

September 16th, 2009

VDB Brought To You This Week From Merry Old England, Where They Force Universal Health Care On Those Least Able To Resist It

by Philip Baruth

VDB is in England this week, and you might ask why. Because we will spare no expense to track down the truth behind the GOP health care misinformation campaign. Okay, and we had to come anyway. But still, everyone we talk to here is openly thunder-struck and appalled, not only that we in America don’t cover the health expenses of all our citizens, but that we systematically attack and degrade industrialized societies that do. Today’s guest columnist Helen Scott now lives in America, but she grew up in England, and she too is appalled. Great reading. – PB

When Health Care Is A Right
By Helen Scott

WHILE I was recently visiting England, my country of birth, my 79-year-old mother fell ill. Worried by her worsening condition, my sister and I contacted her health center and were told to call the emergency number, 999, as her symptoms indicated heart failure.

Almost before we put the phone down, we heard the ambulance sirens, and within minutes, two efficient and friendly medics had moved our mother in to the ambulance, where they proceeded to take her vital statistics and make her comfortable.

When we reached the hospital, a bed with her name on it was ready, and a registered nurse performed a physical check-up and took an exhaustive medical history, asking my mother and me, as her next of kin, a myriad questions about her current and past health. Next came an examination from a doctor, a diagnosis and prescribed medications to stabilize her.

For almost two weeks now, she has received constant care from a team of remarkable orderlies, doctors and nurses. Not only the immediate condition, but also an unrelated chronic hip complaint, has been treated.

Having lived in the U.S. for over two decades, this encounter with Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) was in stark contrast to my usual experience with health care.

First, never did anyone mention health insurance or bills for service or drugs. Even though I currently have what is considered to be one of the best employer-based Blue Cross/Blue Shield health plans, trips to the hospital or doctor are always circumscribed by time-consuming referrals, paperwork and co-pays. A shocking one-third of all health care spending in the U.S. goes to such bureaucracy.

In the past, when I had an inferior health insurance plan, my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis – which was traumatic enough on its own – was made even worse by constant battles with a hostile insurance company, and then the steady accumulation of debt as I struggled to cover one-third of the costs of MRIs, consultations and treatment.

It is common knowledge that for the almost 50 million uninsured Americans today, getting sick can be an economic catastrophe. But this is also the case for many millions more of the “underinsured.”

In England, in contrast, no one referred to the cost of ambulance, X-rays, blood tests, doctors, hospital beds or medications. We were assured that my mother would not be discharged until she was medically fit to cope at home, and that they would provide an assessment and a care package – including such services as a visiting home aide, physical and occupational therapy, meals-on-wheels, etc. – to enable this.

The doctors didn’t restrict themselves to the particular health problem that led to the hospitalization, but rather were interested in the overall picture, including mental and social well-being–again, in stark contrast to the hyper-specialization that defines health care in the U.S.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

SO IT was surreal to follow the right-wing propaganda against “socialized medicine” in the U.S. while experiencing the benefits of a government-run national health care system.

The lunatic right-wingers stacking town meetings and monopolizing the airwaves warn that a government-run system would mean death panels to decide whose Granny gets to live or die, inefficient and substandard care, no choice, long waits, cumbersome bureaucracy and soaring costs.

In reality, it is the U.S. for-profit system, dominated by the big pharmaceuticals and insurance companies, that produces the kind of horrors conjured by right-wingers.

Countless studies have confirmed that while the U.S. far outspends other industrialized nations that have national health plans, including the UK, it ranks at or near the bottom in terms of access, quality, equity and public health. While death panels do not exist here any more than they do in the UK, whether or not someone gets necessary treatment in the U.S. is determined by ability to pay, unlike in the UK where provision of medical care is universal.

The NHS is not perfect. One of my criticisms of Michael Moore’s otherwise brilliant critique of for-profit health care, Sicko, is that the documentary fails to mention the cuts and creeping privatization that have eroded health care in the UK and elsewhere. As underfunding has created long waiting lists for routine procedures, those with the money, or workplace-provided plans, have turned to the growing private health care system.

There is also some regional unevenness in health care provision (both within and between the separate health authorities in Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland). And fees have been introduced for some prescriptions and dental care.

But even so, the NHS provides health care that is vastly superior to, and far less expensive than, that in the U.S. This is why it has retained immense public support, to the degree that none of the major political parties dare to attack it, and neither Margaret Thatcher nor New Labour under Tony Blair succeeded in privatizing it.

The overwhelming majority of Britons believe that health care is a fundamental right that should be guaranteed by government, not something that corporations should control and make money from.

The right-wing slander in the U.S. produced an outpouring of support for the NHS in England, with local and national news outlets running stories about the difference in care in the two countries, and glowing personal testimony from countless individuals.

But there was also a lot of misinformation about the debate. Many people are under the illusion that the “Obama plan” offers universal government-provided health care, and that the American people “just aren’t ready” for such radical reform.

In reality, U.S. public opinion polls for years have consistently found that around two-thirds of Americans do favor a national health plan akin to Medicare, run by the government and supported with tax money. As David Sirota writes in a recent article, Obama in the past publicly favored a single-payer system – for example, in a speech in 2003, at which time “ABC’s 2003 poll showed almost two-thirds of Americans desiring a single-payer system ‘run by the government and financed by taxpayers,’ just as CBS’s 2009 poll shows roughly the same percentage today,” Sirota wrote.

It is certainly true that support for Obama’s health care reform has dropped precipitously, but this has happened as the debate in Washington has moved further and further away from the proposal for a single-payer system – and as it has become increasingly evident that the pharmaceuticals and insurance industry are overrepresented in the Baucus committee. (For a good overview of this, see Chad Terhune and Keith Epstein’s August 6 Business Week cover story, “The Health Insurers Have Already Won.”)

We desperately need fundamental health care reform in this country, but for that to happen, the terms of the debate need a drastic reorientation. As Physicians for a National Health Program wrote in an open letter to the president:

Only single-payer, by redirecting the vast sums wasted annually on bureaucracy and paperwork back into care, can assure high-quality coverage for everyone with no net increase in U.S. health spending. Only single-payer can rein in costs. Lesser reforms, with or without a “public option,” won’t fix our broken system.

– Helen Scott

September 11th, 2009

The 9/11 Attacks: Thoughts Then and Now

by Philip Baruth

I can’t help but remember that the first attack on the World Trade Center took place on February 26, 1993, just a month or so after Bill Clinton took office. And 9/11, after years of planning, was executed in the first months of George W. Bush’s term. The pattern suggests three things to me: 1) Al Queda prefers to debut their current tactics as we debut a new President, to offer the world an extremely high-profile counterpoint; 2) their largest plans in this country germinate over long periods, but roughly 8 years in the last instance; and 3) it’s now been about that long, again, and we happen to have a shiny new President in D.C.

Not to be an alarmist, but Al Queda is a terrorist organization with a strangely compulsive attention to pattern, repetition, spectacle and detail. It makes me just a little jumpy today, thinking about it, maybe especially since I’ll be getting on a trans-Atlantic flight this weekend. You have to hope that the Presidential Daily Briefings are actually being read, and pondered, in the White House these days.

In any event, here’s a piece I wrote for Vermont Public Radio just a few days after the attacks of September 11. Stay safe, all of you. — PB

Announcer: Commentator Philip Baruth has been struck by the stories that we tell one another in the face of tragedies like those in NY and Washington, how those stories seem part of a larger plan.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #67: Bracing the Buildings of the Mind

I can tell you exactly, to within five or six inches, where I was when I heard about the Oklahoma City bombing — I was in my old 1986 silver Toyota pickup, stopped at the red light at the head of Church Street in Burlington. It’s one of those red lights that chirps to tell pedestrians it’s safe to cross, so there was this safety chirp in the background.

The radio announcer said only that there was a report of a terrorist leveling the Murrah Federal Building with a truck bomb, and that maybe as many as a hundred were dead.

I remember also that from where I was idling I could look down the length of Church Street at the people shopping and loitering in the sun and I remember thinking that probably I was looking at about the same number of people, about a hundred, give or take.

Later I found out that the death toll in Oklahoma City was 168, and that the blast was touched off by a Persian Gulf veteran named Timothy McVeigh. But none of the information that came later matches the strength of that first memory: where I was when I heard, what I was doing when the news reached me.

It was the same with the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington. By the end of the day, I’d told the brief story of where I was and how I’d heard ten or fifteen times — to my sister in California, my mother in New York, my friend Joe in South Bend, Indiana, to the people I work with at the University of Vermont.

And all of those people had told me their stories, where they were, precisely where they were and what they were doing.

By the end of the day all of us, everyone I know, had their story written and rehearsed and committed to memory. And I started wondering about these little “where I was” stories, wondering why they’re so universival and so seemingly crucial at a moment like that.

And the nearest I can figure is that it’s a process a lot like the way the body stops bleeding, through coagulation, blood clotting. When your skin is torn, individual blood platelets start attaching to the wound, releasing chemicals to constrict vessels and staunch bleeding. Eventually enough platelets join together to close the injury.

And when your view of the world is ripped open by the sight of an airliner plunging into a skyscraper and the skyscraper then collapsing, impossibly, to the ground, the mind responds just like the body: with small overlapping stories in which you know where you are, in which you are safe, and in which the world is a stable place.

Sure, the stories seem to be about your first experience with new trauma and chaos, but they’re also a way of reinforcing the stable aspects of the world.

A “where I was” story is also just an “I was” story: I was alive, I was okay, even though elsewhere in the world far too many others were not alive and okay. A “where I was” story is immediate mental self-preservation.

By the end of the day your small story has been added to the many small stories of your friends, and together they form a combined story in which the trauma at the center is surrounded by a suddenly vast and reassuring margin. And that frees us as individuals to return to help those in greater need.

I’m a writer by trade, and stories are what I deal in day to day, but the power of story itself had never struck me quite as forcefully as it did last Tuesday night.

I thought about what I’d seen all day — the cell-phones that were suddenly everywhere, people talking and gesturing to networks of invisible friends, and the little knots of people stopped at odd places in hallways and on the street, everyone occupied in something both perfectly natural and perfectly miraculous: the telling of reality, and the necessary retelling of normalcy.

Some people see the divine in the petals of flowers, or the super-subtle mechanics of childbirth. For me, the divine is a story. It’s a story that comes unbidden, and braces the falling buildings of the mind.

[This piece aired first on Vermont Public Radio.]

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