April 19th, 2011

Our Good Neighbor Entergy Louisiana Files Suit, In Defiance of Vermont Legislature; Fate Of The State Now In The Hands Of Attorney General; Cyberdyne Terminators Enter Time-Stream Right On Schedule

by Philip Baruth

If you’ve read VDB for any stretch of time, Entergy’s announcement yesterday of a lawsuit against the state of Vermont should come as no surprise. We’ve said for years that litigation would, as a matter of course, figure strongly in the Louisiana giant’s endgame. To repurpose some of the better lines from Terminator: this is what nuclear power companies do. It’s all they do.

And neither is it a question as to whether Vermonters will organize resistance to this seemingly unstoppable and now openly hostile Machine. We have been organized for years, and no one we know is planning to cease resistance any time soon.

No, the only pressing question now is whether the person who has to take the lead for us at this point can truly take us all the way, without being taken out along the way.

Which means, VDB supposes, that it’s now time to send an expedition time-traveling back to the early 1960’s, to stand guard over a disarmingly bookish 15-year-old kid who is suddenly the key to the entire struggle.

A kid named, yes, Billy Sorrell.

April 15th, 2011

Vermont Medical Marijuana: Soon You Just Might Be Able To Legally Acquire Your Meds

by Philip Baruth

No doubt about it: the Senate has gone headlong into the endgame this week. Next week will be even more substantial, but even now the pace and distance covered each session is impressive. One day we vote out a telecom bill that directs and structures the spending of over $400 million in combined state and stimulus dollars, bringing the wiring of Vermont seriously within reach.

The next day we pass out a bill allowing the creation of up to four marijuana dispensaries, potentially ending that strange state of affairs under which Vermont legalized the medical use of marijuana — so long as it was purchased from an illegal source.

Both of these things were things I talked about a lot on the campaign trail, in livings rooms and church basements around the County. Can’t tell you how satisfying it is to have the opportunity, when asked the $64,000 question in a roll call vote, to be able to say “Yes” as loudly as decorum will allow.

April 13th, 2011

Savvy Michelle Bachmann Climbs Aboard Bandwagon of Bachmann Discontent

by Philip Baruth

Michelle Bachmann has now committed to serving only one term if elected President. To quote, “I’m a principled reformer, and my goal is to see the country turn around. I’m also committed to being a one-term president if that’s what it takes in order to turn things around, because this is not about personal ambition.”

In other words, if less of me will help in any way, I swear to leave sooner than you might fear.

VDB has never understood the logic behind offering voters a single-term Presidency. McCain thought it might take the specter of a Palin Presidency off the table, to promise a McCain era only four years long. Ditto for Bob Dole. And of course both reinforced their advanced age by so doing. There’s a highly technical term for this strategy in political science: “dumb.”

But in the case of Bachmann, and Palin before her, there seems to be a sort of half-conscious admission that along with the telegenic qualities of the candidate, there’s also something undeniably polarizing and annoying.

sarah, failin

So Palin promised to “progress the great state of Alaska” by leaving early, and Bachmann promises to turn things around by injecting only half the possible amount of Bachmann into the national bloodstream.

Which at least gets them cheering at the Republican National Convention: Four less years! Four less years!

Pretty sweet music to VDB’s ears. Consider us sold at this point.

April 11th, 2011

A Friendly Word Of Advice From VDB To Governor Shumlin: Beware The Deal

by Philip Baruth

Now look, Governor Shumlin has done yeoman’s work on single-payer: he ran on it, made it a staple of mainstream political discourse, and now his administration is moving that legislation forward every single day in Montpelier. Shumlin has major cred on the issue. Still, certain things make VDB nervous — and they happen to be the two things that nearly killed health care reform at the Federal level.

First, a prolonged period where there is no specific legislation to defend, a period in which every feverish bit of misinformation takes on a durable life of its own.

And second, the tendency — in the bleak hours of the end-game — to start cutting deals that ultimately become not merely counter-productive, but ruinous to the reform’s public image as reform. Think “Cornhusker Kickback,” the insanely sweet deal that Ben Nelson demanded in return for allowing legislation to come to a Senate floor vote.

The first of these threats has been institutionalized by this point: the House and Senate have agreed to move the Administration’s single-payer plan in a two-stage process, with the empty structure and the resulting questions on the front end, and all of the details, figures and final answers on the back end. That leaves pro-reform elected officials defending against anything and everything for a period of 18 months, minimum.

And during those 18 months attack ads playing on the unanswered questions will almost certainly drive down support for single-payer dramatically.

But that die is cast, and that strategy is still supportable, assuming that the second worrisome trend doesn’t take hold: the individualized deal-making. To wit:

“IBM officials said Friday they came away from a meeting with Gov. Peter Shumlin reassured they could agree on a way the state could move forward with planning for a more consolidated health care system while respecting IBM’s desire to manage its own health benefit program.”

Why is it troubling to see IBM muscling its way into an arrangement that will allow IBM to control its own costs, and by logical extension, to determine whether those costs have in fact been controlled? Because it begins at the state level what came to be called “opt-out” at the federal level: individual entities, in this case companies, bargaining to be left out of the grand bargain.

As John O’Kane put it for IBM: “We want to be able to manage our own health-care program, and we have a track record of good success holding down health-care costs.” To which Shumlin responded: “IBM is one of the companies that has figured out how to control costs.”

Not too hard to imagine, from that exchange, a provision that would allow IBM to carve itself a place outside whatever system results from the next two years of reform. And that would be a dangerous precedent, to allow one large employer to set its own terms, to be treated in effect as a stand-alone entity.

Because the whole point of single-payer, the philosophy that has brought it to prominence and to the verge of passage, is that no one stands alone, and that we’re better off both morally and financially when we recognize that central truth, and organize a reformed system accordingly.

Which is to say to the Democratic Governor that VDB helped elect: beware the deal. Remember, Ben Nelson was eventually shamed into voting to rescind his own sweet carve-out, but only after being publicly humiliated and becoming a national poster-child for all that is unsavory in Washington.

And as Sinclair Lewis was known to maintain, it can happen here, too.

April 6th, 2011

No Child Left Behind Tragi-Comic

by Philip Baruth

April 5th, 2011

VDB Rematches With VT Blogosphere TV

by Philip Baruth

Who thought that when Michael Abadi developed Vermont Blogosphere TV he’d string together a run of over thirty episodes? VDB did. Because we were Michael’s third guest, and it was obvious at that point that this was a guy who knows the media, and how to leverage one element of it compellingly against another. So we’re back for Episode 31 here, a wide-ranging conversation from the perspective of an extremely junior State Senator: Yankee, Budget Gap, Committee Work, and so on. Is it in the same watchable train-wreck media category as Sheen’s Torpedo of Truth tour? Admittedly not but, you know, winning all the same.

April 5th, 2011

The Vermont Blogosphere Gets Gorgeous

by Philip Baruth

Longtime VDB-reader Jim Kelso is hands down one of the most talented artists working in Vermont in the early 21st century. Partially trained in Japan, Kelso works in wood and metal, and espouses a return to what he calls “ecstatic naturalism.” What does that mean? Fortunately, he’s just launched one of the most gorgeous websites I’ve seen in a long while, called Tatters’ Realm, the purpose of which is to answer that very question. If you love fabulous objects that blur the line between nature and craft, click “portfolio” at the top of the page. This work is the stuff of dreams.

April 4th, 2011

Obama Campaign Kicks Off 2010 Campaign With Least Stirring Campaign Video Ever

by Philip Baruth

Are we cynical here at VDB? Yes. Have we grown disillusioned with the way that President Obama has governed, after supporting Candidate Obama so fervently in the run-up to 2008? Yes. So are we the most dispassionate judge of the new video launching the 2012 re-election effort? Hell no. Still, even with all of that stipulated, you’d have to admit: whoever put together this substance-free, low-energy, demographic-driven bit of visual flatulence should not merely be whipped and then fired, but forbidden from work in the campaign sector for life. Harsh? Watch it again. It makes you yearn for a Tim Pawlenty action trailer.

April 1st, 2011

VDB Dodges The Long-Feared Freshman Hazing; Pre-K Education Bill Advances

by Philip Baruth

A busy week, so busy that we neglected to update you on very significant movement on the Pre-K bill: VDB reported the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, to general yawns and a positive voice vote when all was said and done — a best-case scenario, given that Freshman hazing and death by a thousand questions were both very real possibilities.

the harvest writers workshop

So after third reading, the bill will move to the House, and if all goes well, in no time at all some apple-cheeked Vermont kids who might otherwise have missed out on Pre-K and taken to a life of crime will be comfortably esconced in a quality early education program, and much will be righter with the world.

More as details warrant.