January 29th, 2010

Barnes & Noble Settles Debt With VDB

by Philip Baruth

Unexpected dividend from last year: Barnes & Noble selects Brothers Boswell for their Best Books of 2009 list. Came in at #92, which could have been worse. And which they owed me, let’s face it, for taking my kids there every weekend of their lives for hot chocolate and Dora the Explorer books.

January 28th, 2010

Madame Speaker, The State Of Our Current State Senate Fundraising Drive Is Strong (But Could Be A Bit Stronger, Of Course)

by Philip Baruth

An update on the fundraising push we launched on Monday. As it stands, we’re on pace to raise about half of what we set as a goal: if contributions continue at the same rate we’ll reach about $2,500 by February 10, rather than the $4,800 we were hoping to see. But this is America, after all, and failure is still not an option. The State Senate race is too important, this year of all years, and we’ve come too far.

So as a way to help pick up the pace, we’ll make you this offer: for every donation over $25 made between now and Monday morning, we’ll send a copy of The Dream of the White Village, a long-ago novel about dirty politics in a small, charming city in northern New England called Burlington, Vermont.

Are these copies rare, out-of-print collector’s items?

Um, sure.

But in any event, we will inscribe them to order, making them perfect Valentine’s Day gifts. Or if not perfect Valentine’s gifts, then at least gift-horses which cannot be looked in the mouth. Here’s the Act Blue link, which is fast, easy, and utterly secure.

Thanks in advance, if you can help.

January 25th, 2010

One Small Challenge to the Coming Flood of Corporate Cash: The State Senate Campaign Hopes To Raise $4,800 Before I Turn 48

by Philip Baruth

The older I get the less I believe in coincidences. To take one choice example: Howard Dean showed the Left – and the world – that it was possible to fuel an insurgent, progressive political campaign with an outpouring of online donations. Barack Obama took that tactic to its logical conclusion: neither the Clinton nor the GOP machines could match the resources Obama drew from small-dollar donors. And so now the Supreme Court has green-lighted unlimited expenditures from multi-national corporations.

Coincidence? Please.

The first answer to the Left’s online fundraising prowess was the attempt to allow telecommunications firms to tier their services – that is, literally to slow the information feed to small-scale websites, sites like VDB. But the net-neutrality campaign, and the Democratic majority of 2006, stopped that effort, at least momentarily.

So the Roberts Court picked up the ball, and ran with it.

It was a troubling decision for everyone in America, but for me it was troubling in a fairly direct way. I’ve spent the last eight months talking about Entergy-Louisiana’s deceptive corporate behavior, and the need for Montpelier to rein it in. Part of the reason I want to represent Chittenden County in the Senate is specifically to introduce legislation that will affirm Entergy’s responsibility to pay for clean-up of the Vernon plant once it’s taken off-line. Because it’s either their bill, or the taxpayers’, and I’m not okay with the latter.

As the Senate President Pro Tem will tell you, the Senate votes will be close indeed.

And so now a split High Court has given Entergy the ability, should it so choose, to directly and overwhelmingly influence the election of the Senators and the Governor who will make the key decisions about decommissioning.

In fact, if you follow the Court’s logic – that corporate money is vigorous political speech, and democracy depends on good citizens speaking early and often – then Entergy would be ignoring its civic duty if it didn’t attempt to influence the coming 2010 elections.

So what do you do if your own speech is limited to one plain human voice? You go to house parties thrown by people with very big hearts. And extremely big dogs.


The wonder that is Hobbes.

You go to pancake brunches thrown by devoted party committees in neighboring villages.


Good as her word, early supporter Sue Grab (with her son here) wore her fashionable long-sleeve campaign shirt to the Underhill-Jericho brunch. Thanks again, Sue.

This past weekend I did both. And it was great fun. But I’d be a fool to think that this race can be won simply by talking with people in living rooms, and eating home fries with people in middle school cafeterias. We’ll need the money to do direct mailings, and to advertise on a County-wide basis.

That’s expensive stuff. It can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 just to put a single piece of direct mail into the hands of the universe of voters you need to reach in Chittenden County.

So I sat down with my campaign advisors, and we came up with an admittedly corny idea: trying to raise $4,800 by the time I turn 48, which is to say by lights-out on February 10th. That gives us just 17 days from today.

Which is not a lot of time.

What we’re hoping is that if you’ve been planning to give to the campaign at some point, you’ll consider giving now, or consider nudging a like-minded friend.

The Act Blue link is here. Just click and it will take you through an unbelievably simple 3-minute process, a process that ends with a longish note telling you how much I appreciate your stepping up to the plate.

Given that we started this campaign very early – on May 18, to be exact – it’s now actually half-over, with the heavy lifting left to go. As we did with our first fundraising push, we’ll track this one over the next two and a half weeks on VDB, and let you know where we are, and how sunny or how dire the situation becomes.

And if you want to see where we’ve been so far, you’ll find that the campaign’s main website – Baruth2010.com – has been updated with new video, and a new navigation tab at the top. If you’re tuning in to the campaign for the first time, and you’d like to know what sort of wild-eyed insurgent drive you’d be funding, you’ll find most everything you’d need to know.

But if not, drop a line with a question, and I’ll do my best to answer it quickly. And if you visit please sign up at the top of the page, or join the Facebook group, so we can keep you in the loop.

And here’s the link to contribute quickly online again.

Elections are about to get much more costly, and much more contentious, because the biggest players will not actually be human beings. They’ll be far-flung corporate entities with no real ties to the community, and no hesitation about overpowering smaller opponents.

But even a pebble can stop a tank, if it gets wedged in there just right. That’s all we’re asking for really is the pebbles. And, if you have the energy come door-knocking time, a little help doing the wedging. More soon.

January 22nd, 2010

So Busted: VY Disappears Dave McElwee

by Philip Baruth

Now this is beautiful. You might remember a week or two back VDB mocked Entergy’s slick new website, IAmVY.com, as a blatant attempt to hide behind a few of their more telegenic workers. But in the interim, of course, Entergy has had to admit to more than a few lapses in both safety and honesty, with Entergy VP Jay Thayer himself admitting that the company had misled investigators on tritium piping.

It turns out that another company employee who misled investigators was a Chief Engineer by the name of David McElwee, who just happened to be one of the folks profiled on IAmVY.com. Well, guess what’s changed at the website since the revelations about leaked radioactivity?

Dave’s gone. Vanished. Disappeared.

And along with Dave, a line from his profile that pretty much said it all, had we only known how to read it at the time: “not for one second of one day . . . has Dave worried about the safety of Vermont Yankee.”

Indeed.

And that’s not all. When it launched IAmVY.com, Entergy also decided to make a heartwarming human interest story out of the fact that Dave’s daughter, Beth, had come to work at the plant too. So her original profile played up that connection: “Beth’s dad, Dave McElwee, is a 28-year Vermont Yankee veteran . . . . And she couldn’t be happier working side by side with her dad.”

But if you’ve disappeared Dave, you can’t very well warm viewers’ hearts with him when you’re profiling Beth. So the connection between father and daughter has also gone down the memory hole, as no longer operative or desirable from a corporate standpoint.

The new profile sort of cools your heart, in other words.

But it makes you really appreciate the Supreme Court’s bold defense of the First Amendment yesterday, its decision to allow corporations to spend as much as they please as often as they please in support of candidates who serve their particular bottom line.

Because if you can’t trust corporations, who can you trust? Ask Dave McElwee. Assuming you can find him. Or ask that happy and attractive all-American financial analyst Beth, who used to be Dave’s daughter, once upon a time.

January 22nd, 2010

Breakfast Sit-Downs: Join Us In Milton This Saturday For Politics and Some Fattening Breakfast Meats And Maybe, Like, A Waffle?

by Philip Baruth

Read more than one pundit attributing Scott Brown’s win to the fact that he drove his state in a pick-up truck, which VDB thinks is the worst sort of hooey, especially in that Brown’s pick-up seems to have cost more than VDB’s house. Be that as it may, our campaign also believes in traveling the district, early and often. So we’ll be in Milton this Saturday, the 23rd, having breakfast at the Diner with a few early supporters.

If you live out Milton way, we would love to have you drop in for breakfast with us, say, 9:30 am? Drop a line to say you’re coming, or just show up. It’s all good, as the kids used to say before Scott Brown won Massachusetts and the much-feared 41-vote Senate majority put an end to all laughter.

Hope to see you there.

January 20th, 2010

Shots From The Trail: Moulton Edition

by Philip Baruth

Sat down today at the Skinny Pancake for a long talk about socially responsible business with Main Street Landing developer Melinda Moulton, but before I could order she pulled me out into the hallway behind the Pancake, to show me the Hall of Endangered Species being painstakingly created by artist Ron Hernandez. Just goes to show: behind every side door you think you know in a city like Burlington lies a universe of Change, and Change for the better, more often than not. At least slightly more often than not.

January 19th, 2010

The Bad News Out of Mass. Is Mitigated By The Awesome Polling Out of Connecticut

by Philip Baruth

Look, today’s going to be real rough, no two ways about it. Polling out of MA suggests that if Coakley wins, it’ll be by a hair’s breadth; if Brown wins, it may well be an epic mother of a blowout. And while a Brown-out might not kill any healthcare bill, it will certainly kill any bill that might bend the cost curve substantially. So let’s concentrate on some other polling: Lieberman’s up against the wall in CT, baby. In a head-to-head race, even H1N1 beats Big Joe by 35%, which is very much as it should be. If you haven’t called in to help Coakley, you can get it done here. Fingers crossed.

January 15th, 2010

The Penultimate Tipping Point On The Drive To Close Vermont Yankee Was Reached On January 14, In The Year Of Our Lord 2010

by Philip Baruth

Anyone who doesn’t believe that Heaven itself wants Vermont Yankee shuttered in 2012 just hasn’t been paying careful attention. Let’s just quickly run over some recent developments. Five Democrats are running hard for Governor; over the past five years, anti-Yankee activists have slowly made the Democratic primary all but unnavigable for anyone who refuses to commit to decommissioning.


The anti-VY walkers reached Montpelier yesterday. Walker photos by David Shaw.

It gets better. Just in the last several days, Entergy all but admitted to misleading the State about the extent and condition of its underground tritium piping, just as a horde of anti-VY activists completed their statewide march on Montpelier.

Maybe best of all, Jim Douglas, the man from Entergy himself, now has no alternative but to attack the Louisiana-based corporation for breaches of truth that have clear consequences for the health and safety of Vermonters.

And why does Douglas have no alternative now?

Because after demolishing the crumbling Crown Point bridge in an eerie parody of his ordinary ribbon-cutting ceremonies, Douglas can’t allow himself to take the fall for a major safety breach at a crumbling nuclear plant. No one wants disintegrating infrastructure as their signature legacy.

And while Douglas isn’t on the ballot this time out, his Lieutenant Governor most certainly is, and Dubie will have to answer for the Administration’s eight long years of shielding Yankee from real scrutiny.

Which is to say that Douglas knows Dubie could jelly-leg on the Yankee issue at any moment. Because people are paying attention, suddenly.


The scene at the State House.

All of which leads inexorably to today’s headline in the Free Press: “State Rips Vermont Yankee.” Which was the best Douglas could have hoped for, really. The worst would have been something along the lines of “Entergy Admits Misleading State; Douglas Hastily Disavows Former Ally.”

But as we wrote in the post below, all of this has the vertiginous feel of tipping point, as though we’re all falling into a new era suddenly: post-Douglas, post-Yankee, a genuinely twenty-first century era where we’re not dependent on slide-rule nuclear technology from the 1950’s to power our almost unbelievably powerful desktop computers.

If the collapse of the cooling tower was the First Tipping Point on the Yankee issue, this past week unquestionably marked the Second.

And make no mistake: the Third is coming.

Late Update, 1:55 pm:

And right on schedule, all sorts of election-year hell is now breaking loose for Entergy: Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders are suddenly focused on the issue, and the Shumlin/Shap tag-team has announced the re-empaneling of the same Vertical Audit oversight team that was fed a dose of bogus information on tritium piping during the original investigation.

Popcorn, please.

January 12th, 2010

Tick-Tock of a Small Victory: In Which One Robert Millar Makes Good, Brings Winooski Into Yankee Town Meeting Day Push

by Philip Baruth

One of the most beautiful things about politics is the way it often depends on individuals, pushing on key issues at key moments. You might remember that a while back, Newfane activist Dan DeWalt announced another Town Meeting Day push on whether to decommission the Vermont Yankee plant. Now, of course that general push depends on specific individuals in given towns finding a way to place the question on their own town’s Town Meeting Day agenda.


Robert Millar at the Nectar’s Senate campaign kick-off.

Who would these specific individuals be? DeWalt had no real way of knowing. Like a Quaker meeting, those who speak up are those who are so moved.

Enter one Robert Millar of Winooski.

Robert is an early supporter of my Senate campaign, and a stalwart in every category. He called last week to say that he was having some trouble navigating City Hall in Winooski; it was unclear whether the VY question needed to be introduced with signed petitions, or whether it could be put on the ballot with a simple majority vote of the Winooski City Council. Robert had asked the Town Clerk to forward the issue to the Council, but it wasn’t clear if that would or could happen.

And so the two of us made plans to go door to door in Winooski, to hunt up the necessary signatures.

But then on Monday, Robert wrote to say that the Clerk had put the ballot question to the Councilors, and it would be taken up at last night’s meeting. Which, it turns out, was covered by more than one television outlet. Which is where the story gets good, and so I’ll shift to Robert’s narrative:

“The big conflict was over, supposedly, whether going about it by presenting the resolution to the council was the proper process, or if we needed to go back and get the 100 signatures. The first thing the Mayor (who is the tie-breaking vote in Winooski, but otherwise doesn’t vote) said after I introduced the resolution was that if it were up to him the Council would vote against it but leave it open for us to go get the signatures and come back.

“I thought that would be the end of it, but Jodi Harrington immediately jumped to our defense and Erik Heikel more or less did the same, though both Michael Mahoney and Sally Tipson seemed to side with the mayor.


Councilor Jodi Harrington, right.

“There was a lot of back and forth amongst the Council, then my partner Rachel came and sat next to me and had her say. She was pretty upset because the Clerk and (indirectly) the City Manager had both suggested this route for getting the resolution on the ballot, yet here the Council wasn’t even debating the resolution, but rather whether they should even be debating it at all.

“Everyone in the audience put in their two cents, including the camera man from the public access station, who was a Winooski resident and from Eastern Europe and talked about how awful it was when the Chernobyl disaster happened in Russia. I think that was probably the best moment of the night — besides the final vote, of course.

“I think what finally turned Sally Tipson was the fact that there really was nothing in the Winooski charter about a nonbinding resolution, so therefore state law takes precedence, which does allow for bringing a resolution before the Council.

“One last thing: shortly before I went up, the Council was discussing options for replacing a fire truck they have that’s no longer safe to use. It was built in 1970, so it’s just slightly older than Vermont Yankee. An interesting parallel.”

What’s not to love here? Even though most of the hurdles were procedural — arguments about how to argue, and how much voice individual citizens will have — Robert hung tough and brought his town along.

And in that way, you have to see Dan DeWalt and Robert and Jodi Harrington performing an intricate democratic triple-play that makes anything Tinker, Evers and Chance ever did look elementary by comparison.

Beautiful.

And the camera man from the local access station testifies about the fallout from Chernobyl? If you need any more evidence that the opposition to relicensing Yankee has become an honest to God movement, look no further than the man who drops the video camera to speak from the heart. That’s not just a great story.

That’s Spielberg-caliber, friends. Spielberg at his best.

January 11th, 2010

GOP Talking Points Fare Poorly Worldwide

by Philip Baruth

Longtime VDB operative JC is spending the year in Hong Kong, on a Fulbright. Among other side trips, he made his way to Jakarta, to sample world opinion, and reports:

Dear VDB,

In Jakarta we saw a new restaurant going up called “Obama Cafe.” And a couple of people in Yogyakarta, when we said we were from America, replied, “Obama!” No one tried to suggest he is a radicalized Muslim.

JC

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