December 21st, 2010

Patti Casey Is Gifted

by Philip Baruth

Back in the dark days of the State Senate campaign, when all hope might well have been lost, we decided to roll the dice on a questionable proposition: a performance benefit to raise much-needed funds, and to showcase our support in the creative community. It was dicey because July is July, and both performers and potential audience-members have much better things to do. But we knew we were halfway home when folk icon Patti Casey agreed to headline.

And now, here it is almost 2011, and Patti has a brand new record on store shelves: The Heart of a Waiting Boy. Like all of Casey’s material, it’s rich and powerful and palpably Good, not just as music but as food for the soul. You can sample all the tracks by clicking here.

If you haven’t finished your gift-giving yet, she’s local, she’s wildly talented, and it’s the sort of music that will stand by you in the darker days of winter.

December 14th, 2010

When You’ve Got Halliburton’s Deep Pockets, The Whole Dang World Starts To Look Like Sunshine and Lollipops

by Philip Baruth

You’ll remember that Nigeria recently announced it would issue criminal bribery charges against former VP Dick Cheney, and call for his arrest on same. Halliburton was also implicated in the charges, and its spin-off KBR. Today comes word that Halliburton has reportedly offered to “settle the charges” with Nigeria, for a cool $250 million. cheney's got a gunWhich is sweet enough, but the deal got even sweeter when Nigeria quickly emailed VDB, offering us a 15% stake in the $250 million settlement, if we will take a couple of simple steps, like set up a US bank account and “prime” the account with $1000 on our end. So everybody wins. Now if Halliburton can manage to buy off the folks down in Brattleboro, get Cheney’s charges there dropped, and loop us in on that deal, we’ll be willing to consider the Bush era formally ended. Except that Obama will continue his tax and eavesdropping policies. But still. Sitting pretty.

December 9th, 2010

When Barry (Sub-Consciously) Met Sarah

by Philip Baruth

Found the President’s press conference the other day strange in a number of ways. This is a man not generally given to flights of illogic, but here he was riffing about hostage-takers, and making it clear that you don’t negotiate with them ever — unless they threaten to harm their captives. As hostage-takers have a pesky habit of doing. In fact, as hostage-takers are defined, in the dictionary, by their penchant for doing. And Obama was angry, for one of the first times in his Presidency, but with those who actually brung him to the dance, with you and me. Craziness, from a re-election standpoint. But that wasn’t the weirdest part.


No the weirdest part, by far, was a stray line near the end of what is now the signature video clip of the event, a line in which Obama references the North Star, seemingly out of nowhere. Near the 3:20 second mark, if you’re pressed for time.

Not sure what anyone else heard there, but VDB heard one name loud and clear: Sarah Palin. Vanity Fair’s recent and much-discussed profile of the former VP-candidate goes into great detail about her love of the North Star metaphor, to the extent that she travels under the name “North Star,” references it in her paid speeches, and (the profile speculates) might one day have it applied by the Secret Service as her code name.

So what’s up with this reference? VDB can only assume that the Obama folk have a policy of downplaying Palin; so it can’t, under that assumption, have been a deliberate tweak, or bait for the media.

We can only assume that Sarah’s gotten so far into Barry’s head that he doesn’t realize he was borrowing from her, doesn’t realize he was telegraphing the fact that he’d read the Vanity Fair piece, and closely.

Which is to say that he’s already worried about her. More than Mitt. More than Huckabee.

And it’s already starting to show.

Dismiss her at your peril. Here was the President of the United States of America in full-dress press conference mode, and when he needed a metaphor, a way out of his immediate dilemma, he took hers.

Res ipsa loquitor.

December 7th, 2010

VDB NOW OFFICIALLY OFF OBAMA BUS; Current Administration Now Officially Indistinguishable From That Of A “First-Term President Lieberman”

by Philip Baruth

Whether Obama’s deal with the GOP wins passage in the House and Senate, he’s made his own modus operandi abundantly clear: bitch and moan about the unfairness of it all, but govern from the Center-Right. Not appreciably different from the way the health care negotiations were handled; not appreciably different from the way national security issues are being conducted currently, really.

And not appreciably different from the way that Bill Clinton governed, during the boom-boom 1990’s: force-feed Wall Street, give the GOP 9/10 of what it wants and make a Broadway-style production of your efforts to secure what’s left over. Never forget that the economic collapse, what we now still-gingerly refer to as the Great Recession, owes much of its size and impact to deregulation during the Clinton years.

Clinton, of course, understood the importance of resistance as theater, and so reliably every year or so his Administration picked a fight over abortion (a fight that pro-Life Conservatives were delighted to provide) and held more or less fast to Democratic Party doctrine.

Obama has yet to offer his base anything they truly want, anything unalloyed, unsullied, anything uncompromised or unadulterated or untrampled.

Look at it this way: Bush came into office riding a 500-vote landslide. Pundits agreed that he would need to be humble, perhaps put together a Unity government with Democrats. Instead, he rammed through his Party’s signature legislative priority: massive tax cuts that would almost certainly consume the Clinton surplus, and more.

And Congressional Republicans, as their first post-election act of 2010, have made good on their promise to do whatever it takes to protect those same windfall tax cuts.

Put aside that the GOP uses tactics that Democrats find distasteful. The truth is that national Republicans are honest as the day is long about what they plan to achieve. They tell you up front, before each election, that they plan to cut taxes for the rich and deregulate us into a corporate-controlled wasteland, and then damned if they don’t get it done.

National Democrats, on the other hand, seem constitutionally disposed to dissemble.

If you want to know all you need to know about Obama’s deal with the devil here, here’s what Joe Lieberman had to say: “I applaud President Obama and the Congressional leadership for agreeing on a compromise on taxes and moving our economy forward. This tentative agreement is an example of Washington working across party lines to confront the challenges facing our nation.”

Ouch.

Lieberman nearly single-handedly killed both the Expanded Medicare and Public Option versions of health care reform, and here he makes clear that continuing Bush-era tax policy is right up his economic alley.

So think of it that way. It’s not just that Obama hasn’t differentiated himself substantially from George W. Bush. On domestic spying and increased drone attacks and Gitmo and now extending the Bush-era tax cuts, Obama is choosing to govern more or less like a first-term President Lieberman.

Which means that VDB is now officially off the bus. And if any other recovering former Obama delegates out there want to join us, there’s plenty of room. And wifi.

December 7th, 2010

Who Says Dems Can’t, On Occasion, Avoid The Opportunity To Screw Up A Free Lunch?

by Philip Baruth

During the mind-bending 2010 Vermont gubernatorial primary, Democrats cried in their beer morning, noon, and night. Why? Our very deep bench had emptied onto the field simultaneously, making it all but certain that our most gifted players would defeat, injure or even kill one another in mortal combat. But not to worry. Suddenly they’re all on the same team. Today’s stand-out Cabinet addition: former Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, who’ll take over at Natural Resources. A brilliant move. And the mark of a Governor-elect very secure in his own skin. VDB likes.

December 3rd, 2010

How’d VDB Do With That $$ You Donated?

by Philip Baruth

Broadly speaking, the coverage of the Chittenden Senate race this past cycle was non-existent, a brief squib here or there every four or five months. Which is strange, given that 20% of Vermont’s incoming Senate was produced by that single event, an event with greater consequence for legislation than, say, the race for Lieutenant Governor. But a couple of weeks ago, Ken Picard put together a sharp little graphic treatment of the spending in the State Senate races overall, designed to show how much each candidate spent per vote.

Somehow we managed to miss it at the time, but it’s choice. And the beauty part? It illustrates graphically which campaigns maximized their resources, got the most bang for every donated buck. Who spent the lowest total for the highest return, of the campaigns broken out?

You got it, friends.

Now, does all that talk about dollars per vote have the side effect of making VDB feel just slightly whorish, or maybe johnish, when all is said and done? Admittedly, yes.

But like a thrifty whore. So we got that going for us.

Which is nice.

December 2nd, 2010

The Day Obama Caves On Bush-Era Tax Cuts Is The Day VDB Goes All In On A Primary

by Philip Baruth

Everyone has a unique tipping point, when it comes to dropping a once-beloved President. Here at VDB, we can see ours in the near-distance, at least a prospective tipping point: the fight over Bush-era tax cuts. And this needn’t be a long post, because the physics of betrayal don’t get any clearer. Or more painful for a former Obama delegate.

Along with every other candidate for President in 2004 and 2008, Barack Obama pledged to eliminate the Bush tax cuts, which serious economists will tell you are one of the largest single causes of the ballooning Federal deficit. The tax cuts didn’t work to stimulate job growth; they served to widen the gap between the very rich and everyone else; and they continue to fly in the face of everything for which the Democratic Party has traditionally stood.

Fortunately, the original tax cut legislation included a sunset provision, so that the tax cuts do not need to be actively eliminated. Rather, they can very easily be allowed to expire, simply by not taking up a bill to extend them.

And fortunately we have a Democratic President who could veto such a bill. Assuming one could make its way through the (still) Democratic House and Senate.

This passive approach to scotching a hated piece of legislation is very familiar to the GOP: they got rid of the ban on assault weapons merely by turning to other business as the clock ran out. No muss, no fuss.

Sure, they were warned by the Democrats and the media that there would be a price to pay for allowing assault weapons back on American streets.

And the GOP yawned, accomplished something they’d vowed for years to accomplish, and moved on, spinning the move aggressively as they went.

Which brings us back to the can’t-lose situation Obama finds himself in currently. No one, anywhere on God’s green earth, can stop those tax cuts from expiring if one man, Barack Obama, insists that they expire. And once they’ve expired, Obama can dictate exactly how much of a substitute tax cut he’d like to see put into place. Limited to income below $250,000, that is, if we’re to believe what the man has said for the past year or so.

That achievement, and the massive deficit reduction that comes with it, is his for the asking.

Not even for the asking. Obama doesn’t even have to ask. The achievement will be his unless he actively moves to reject it, in favor of a stinging loss.

And it looks as though he’s lining up to do precisely that.

If that happens, there will be only one reason: Obama does not personally want to repeal the Bush tax cuts, no matter what he promised again and again, and he has instructed his entire team to enact a months-long kabuki dance to conceal that basic fact.

And you know what? VDB isn’t interested in discerning Obama’s motivations, craven, cowardly or otherwise. Suffice it to say that if those higher-end tax cuts are extended it is a deliberate and pro-active piece of policy that Barack Obama is enacting, an achievement in his Administration’s eyes.

Which is to say that there will be nothing particularly important to distinguish this Administration from the last, on economic policy.

And since economic policy is the order of the day, in this grinding recession, then there will be nothing particularly important to distinguish Obama from George W. Bush on what concerns VDB most.

So to frame it simply enough: if and when those Bush-era tax cuts for income above $250,000 are extended, VDB begins the hunt for a viable primary challenger in 2011.

Basta.