December 22nd, 2009

Senate Democrats So Mean And Despicable That Even That Wonderful Band of “Sympathetic Republicans” Left With No Choice But To Unfriend Them On Facebook

by Philip Baruth

Politico often seems like one of those push-me pull-you political websites: they do enough straight up reporting occasionally that you tend to forget how consistently they spout the GOP line. And that’s aided the site in its quest for readers of both political stripes.

But over the last six months or so, Politico seems to have decided, like Beck and Palin and Huckabee and those with an eye on internet traffic and free-floating rage dollars, that the GOP line is their lifeline. In Politico’s world, the Senate Republicans are trying like heck to be bipartisan but the darn partisan Dems are determined to rend the comity of the Senate.

And we know what that means. Now that Dems have followed through with their threat on healthcare, the GOP has no real choice but to oppose them on everything else, ever:

“With a united Democratic Caucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was able to get to cloture on health care without a single GOP vote. But Democrats aren’t united on climate change, and the bitter battle over health care has left even sympathetic Republicans with little desire to help — a dynamic that would likely doom the bill to legislative failure.

“’It makes it hard to do anything because of the way this was handled,’ said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).”

As though the GOP hadn’t very clearly decided not merely to oppose but to filibuster every single major piece of legislation under Senate consideration, including, most recently, bills to fund the troops.

Gosh darn that Harry Reid. Now we’ve lost that small, mavericky band of “sympathetic” Republicans, like good old John McCain and his buddy Lindsey Graham. Not to mention good old mavericky Joe Lieberman, the three men who would be running the country right now if that darned Barack Obama hadn’t been so mean to Sarah Palin and denied his ties to Bill Ayres and invented a time traveling device to insert a fictitious birth announcement into an unsuspecting Honolulu daily.

December 17th, 2009

Okay, Connecticut, We’ll See Your One Conscience-Free Joe Lieberman And Raise You One Very Hacked Off Bernie Sanders

by Philip Baruth

Sweet: Bernie comes out against the Liebermanized Senate Bill. Had we written the following sentences we might have added a few choice adjectives to describe the Senator from Connecticut, but otherwise Bernie said precisely what needed to be said, on the heels of Dean’s recent move:


Fellow Vermonter Jim Douglas learned long ago to give Sanders a wide berth when health care is at issue.

“I’m struggling with this. As of this point, I’m not voting for the bill. … I’m going to do my best to make this bill a better bill, a bill that I can vote for, but I’ve indicated both to the White House and the Democratic leadership that my vote is not secure at this point. And here is the reason. When the public option was withdrawn, because of Lieberman’s action, what I worry about is how do you control escalating health care costs?”

Absolutely.

Add to that the idea that the bill’s mandates and penalties were always predicated on the idea that we’d not only subsidize purchase of care, but ensure a basic, less-expensive option, whether it be a newly formed public option or an expansion of Medicare.

That’s why the Medicare buy-in could be substituted so quickly and seamlessly for the “public option” notion in Reid’s now-failed compromise: they performed the same essential function, not just in the minds of liberals, but in the real world of regional insurance industry monopoly.

In any event, Vermont (in the persons of Bernie and Dean) is one of the last pegs holding this legislation to any reasonable progressive standard. As one might expect, looking over the last decade of politics in America.

Hang tough, Bernie. Even tougher than usual.

December 16th, 2009

Health Care Bill: Moldy Bread Isn’t Half a Loaf, and It Sure As Hell Isn’t Penicillin (Now With Howard Dean-Powered Update)

by Philip Baruth

Probably as good a time as any to lay VDB’s cards on the table, as regards the much-discussed health care bill currently shaping up in the Senate. At last report, Joe Lieberman had helped craft a bill almost entirely in his own image: a solid smooch on the backsides of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Public Option? No. Public Option opt-out? No. Medicare buy-in? No. Mandated insurance coverage for every man, woman, and child in the US, with penalties for non-compliance? Absolutely, friends.

In short, far from being an imperfect start that can be fixed on the way to affordable universal coverage, this is an imperfect start on the insurance industry’s own dream bill: one that mandates coverage but leaves private companies essentially in charge of setting rates.

And the fact that Joe Lieberman has dictated much of this final, inedible form serves the Democratic Party right. Lieberman should have been stripped of his Chairmanship in early 2007, and given time and attention only as he moved nearer the Party’s goals. With his thirst for the limelight, we might well have seen Lieberman move significantly to the Left.

Perhaps even as far as the position on the Medicare expansion he himself espoused last September.

Had Big Joe been counted out from the beginning, we might be looking at a triggered public option, granted. But as it is, we’re staring down the barrel of an insurance industry gun, with Lieberman’s finger on the trigger.

So if the bill moves forward in this denuded form, don’t be hoodwinked. This is not a historic bill representing half a loaf. The subsidies in the bill are entirely inadequate, if we’re going to mandate coverage; the competition represented by the bill is deliberately ineffective, if we’re serious about bending the cost-curve down.

That’s not half a loaf. That’s moldy bread being sold as penicillin. And VDB isn’t buying. If Lieberman can kill this bill, in his exalted capacity as a single US Senator, then so can Bernie. Everyone is necessary at the end.

Imagine that world: Bernie announces that Big Joe’s compromise is, in Bernie-ese, “an obscenity.” And he promises to prevent it from coming to a vote. Would we risk getting no bread at all? We would.

But better that, in the final analysis, than a world where buying bread is mandatory, and Archer Daniels Midland sets the price of every loaf.

Late Update, 4:20 pm:

Dean weighs in to say much the same: “Kill the bill.” Actually, Dean says scotch this version, and get what we need through reconciliation. Which, last time VDB checked, did not include the need to monitor Lieberman’s opinion hour to hour.

And the calls for Big Joe’s big head are starting in Connecticut.

December 14th, 2009

For The Literary Folk Out There

by Philip Baruth

An early Christmas present: The Washington Post included The Brothers Boswell on its list of the Best Books of 2009. My old friend Andy Levy also shows up with his brilliant migraine memoir, A Brain Wider Than The Sky. If you have ever suffered from a migraine, or wondered about those who do, you’ll find Andy’s book absolutely captivating.

December 11th, 2009

Burlington School Board: The Painful Cuts

by Philip Baruth

Don’t ordinarily write much about life as a School Commissioner on the Burlington School Board. Because let’s face it: for most of VDB’s readership, it’s either patently irrelevant or painfully boring, or both at once. Still, as a window into the state of the economy it’s worth taking a very quick look at the budget we just put together on the Finance Committee, and then approved through the full Board.

It was a year of very painful cuts: we cut teachers, and behavioral specialists, and parent involvement coordinators, and athletics. We cut supply budgets, and administrative positions. We cut things we swore we’d never cut. We cut a total of $1.24 million out of existing programs and services. We cut so much that everyone on the Finance Committee felt queasy, and said so.

Even so, once health care spending and other numbers out of the Board’s control are figured in, we’ll need to ask the voters for an increase of 3.6% next year.

And although that increase is tiny compared to the increases of the last five years, it’s fair to say that some taxpayers in Burlington will be prepared to vote down any increase of any size. A harbringer of the coming state budget debate, and, not incidentally, the way the 2010 midterm elections will be fought out nationwide.

In short, there is light at the end of the economic tunnel. But for now, it only serves to illuminate the muddy, bloody ground we’ll need to cover to get there.

December 9th, 2009

In Which VDB Says Several Nice Things About A Republican Candidate, And Western Civilization Does Not Crumble

by Philip Baruth

It would be incorrect to say that VDB always promotes candidates and ideas from the Left. Over the years, we’ve corresponded productively with more than a few Republican candidates, and occasionally (okay, very occasionally) we’ve promoted them. For example, when Martha Rainville took off her uniform to run for Congress, leaving the AG slot open, we lent our support to a would-be General from Franklin County named Judith McLaughlin, aka “Jude.”

Jude was already a Lieutenant Colonel, with serious experience in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps in Eastern Europe. And she was also a longtime reader of VDB, with a pragmatic, non-ideological bent.

The upshot of VDB weighing in on that race? The AG is now named Dubie.

Okay, whatever. Still and all, it turns out that Jude is now back from making peace in Eastern Europe, retired, and looking to get seriously into the politics business: she announced last week that she would be a candidate for Vermont Senate from Franklin County.

As a Republican. And in this case, VDB has no problem with that. Best of luck, Jude. Make peace here too.

December 9th, 2009

Rick Santorum Finds That He’s Only Allowed To Inflate His Own Trial Balloon If He Blows Up Ex-Governor Palin’s Too

by Philip Baruth

Ah, memories. Back in the day, when Rick Santorum and Katherine Harris had each lost a high-profile election by historic margins, we wrote a post speculating about a joint venture in irrelevancy. The post was slugged “After Twin Losses, Santorum & Harris To Wed and Produce A Clutch of Huge, Frightening, Sanctimonious Offspring,” and although that partnership never came to pass, the prospect of it was enough to frighten a generation of impressionable young Independents into becoming Yellow Dog Democrats.


Since losing in 2006, Santorum haunts city parks, draped with bunting, picking fights about various slippery slopes.

But of course, there might be worse scenarios. To wit: Rick Santorum went on a little-known ABC news show recently to squeak his own Presidential trial balloon, and was immediately asked to speak at some length about Palin.

And like all the would-be GOP alpha males, Santorum was forced to do the little linguistic dance Palin makes necessary. In 2009-10, a Presidential contender must admire the ex-Governor’s spunk, chutzpah, looks, book sales, energy, independence, and web traffic, but must also manage to convey a shadow of hesitation, but just little enough to make an eventual joint ticket possible, in some distant, hazy, values-heavy future.

And so the question of Palin’s qualifications for the White House produced this bland, yet nicely calibrated response:

“I’ll let the people decide that. I think, you know, she’s done a lot to draw attention to herself that’s positive. She’s done some things that, you know, certainly are going to cause her to have to do some explaining if she runs for president. But right now I think she’s on a roll, she’s having a good time, she’s having an impact.”

You have to love the way Santorum alternates between avuncular colleague and Ricky Ricardo: exactly what ’splainin’ Sarah has to do remains unclear, but certainly ditching the Governor’s chair mid-term would seem to be high on the list. And even the positive is rendered negatively, you could argue, as no one wants to be charged with drawing attention to themselves.

All fond speculation, of course. Palin may not run; Santorum may savage her if she does. But it would be the crowning achievement of VDB’s life if it comes to pass, and we are able to engage the two in a cycle to end all cycles.

Like if Frodo, just before he went off to the Gray Havens, found out that Saruman was back, and had joined forces with the ex-Governor of Mordor. And they’d put together an army of Becks and Hannities that dwarfed anything previously assembled.

VDB can dream.

December 7th, 2009

Poor Joe Lieberman Unfairly Targeted By Horrible Group Demanding That He Curtail Sales of Sad Posterior To Highest Bidder

by Philip Baruth

Given Joe Lieberman’s tenuous hold on his Senate seat back home in Connecticut, this new air assault can’t be good news. For Joe, that is. VDB, however, says play this ad every 30 seconds on every channel in every Connecticut household until the voters say Uncle. And then run it a few more times.


December 4th, 2009

Tom Salmon, Anonymous Spin, And The Lurid Specter of “Ninja Teabagging”

by Philip Baruth

Not to bust anyone’s bubble, but it’s common practice for political campaigns and parties to try to manage the comment section beneath any online story key to their current objectives. Presidential campaigns have folks devoted to the practice full-time, on the down-low. When this sort of astroturfing is done well, it passes unnoticed; when it’s done ham-handedly, it makes you wince.

Now, yesterday was Auditor Tom Salmon’s day in court for DUI, a story that Salmon has been laboring mightily to manage for the last several weeks. Any telling spin in the comment section of the Free Press? You be the judge.

Following the report of Salmon’s conviction, and the details of the court’s judgment, we come immediately to a comment by “jbtrevor,” who finds Salmon’s conduct in court worthy of high praise:

Admirable, someone who has taken responsibility for his actions and suffered the consequences.

Not to mention saved the tax-payers money by not “fighting” his charge.

Thanks, Tom

Now, look, there’s no way to know that this particular comment was written by Salmon’s people or the Vermont GOP’s people, for that matter. Just no way. Period.

On the other hand, claiming the first spot in the comment section is classic spin-shop behavior, for obvious reasons: anyone reading the story to the end can’t help but absorb the first comment in the string as well. (The Free Press software moves each new comment into the top slot, so to find this one you’ll have to scroll down a bit. You’d also have to expect more spin as the comment string pushes “jbtrevor’s” first effort down the rabbit hole.)

And let’s face it, this particular bit of spin reeks of spin. Admirable? Saving the taxpayers money? Thanks, Tom? Let’s not forget that “Thanks, Jim” was the Democrats’ way of rallying behind Jim Jeffords when he switched parties; clearly “jbtrevor” is making an allusion, and at least tacitly encouraging Republicans to rally round Salmon.

And who knows, maybe “jbtrevor” is just some average working guy out there, Republican in his leanings but just honestly impressed with Salmon’s approach to the DUI charge. Just a stand-up guy who happened to be the first to read the Free Press story, and wanted to send a message of support. Like Joe the Plumber, but with a license.

But of course, maybe not. If you Google “jbtrevor,” you find that s/he also authored the definition of “Ninja Bagging” for the Urban Dictionary. What is “ninja bagging”? Writes “jbtrevor”:

1. Ninja Bagging

When your significant other is asleep on the couch and or bed, you approach with the utmost stealth, t-bag them, photograph the event and escape without detection. “Johnny sent me a photo of him ninja bagging his old lady last night!”

You get the unattractive picture. And if you don’t, you’ll need to look up “teabagging” on your own time.

Okay, so maybe the “jbtrevor” from the Free Press comments section isn’t the same “jbtrevor” who penned the teabagging entry in the Urban Dictionary. But you have to admit: an extremely odd coincidence, given the GOP’s current obsession with the term.

If nothing else, some interesting material to ponder over the duller moments of the holidays. So thanks, Tom.

December 2nd, 2009

In Which Pat Leahy Does Something Very Cool To the Insurance Companies, And Joe Lieberman Is Likened To Street Grime

by Philip Baruth

Sometimes your favorite things are wound up inextricably with your least favorite. Like let’s say you spend 4$ for a Ben and Jerry’s Peace Pop, and you drop it on Church Street and even though you wipe it off pretty good, you know there are probably tiny molecules of dirt and even less attractive filth now attached to the tiny molecules of cream and cherry and chocolate. You still eat the Peace Pop, is what VDB is saying.

pat leahy

Which brings us to today’s top story, involving Pat Leahy and Joe Lieberman (Connecticut for Lieberman-CT).

Following the lead of the House, Leahy has introduced an amendment to the Senate Health Care bill stripping insurance companies of their long-standing anti-trust exemption. Who knew insurance companies even had an anti-trust exemption? Pat Leahy, which is the point.

It’s been too long in coming, but finally Democrats have brought a little serious leverage to bear in the fight against terminally high health care costs. And all of that is very much to the good. It’s why Vermont returns Leahy to the Senate: he takes it to those to whom it should be took.

But here’s the strange and slightly gross part: Joe Lieberman has publicly jumped on Leahy’s bandwagon. This is strange because Lieberman is such a reliable water-carrier for the insurance industry, and it is slightly gross because he is in point of fact Joe Lieberman.

What’s going on here?

Long answer: VDB’s take is that Lieberman fully intends to murder the public option; along the way, he’s betting that Harry Reid will strip the bill of the anti-trust exemption, if only to please the likes of Ben Nelson. So by standing four-square with Leahy now, Lieberman can then stand four-square with Nelson on killing the public option, and mitigate charges of insurance industry favoritism.

Short answer: Lieberman is so deeply crooked that he needs three Senate aides to help him screw his pants on in the morning. That is all ye know, and all ye need to know.

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