April 27th, 2012

WINDHAM COUNTY PROSECUTOR DROPS CHARGES AGAINST MARCH 22 YANKEE PROTESTORS; Some 136 Individuals Will Not Be Tried; VDB Now Apparently Free At Last, To VDB’s Mother’s Very Great Relief

by Philip Baruth

You may remember that VDB had a brush with the law some weeks back, in which we were arrested with 135 other people for civil disobedience down at Entergy’s corporate headquarters on March 22. Now, fortunately this was prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling that any American may be strip searched if brought into custody, and the hours we spent in the Brattleboro jail weren’t so terribly bad.

Still, having the trespassing charge hanging out there wasn’t comforting — especially in that we were all scheduled to be arraigned over the summer of 2013, more than a year from now.

But yesterday’s news changed all of that. Sell VDB’s shoes, we’re going to Heaven: the Windham County State’s Attorney has decided to drop all charges.

Why the decision to avoid 136 separate caseloads? Money, predictably enough. Said Tracy Shriver: “By engaging in civil disobedience, these protesters violated Vermont’s criminal laws in an effort to obtain access to, and then use, our criminal courts as a forum for discussions about nuclear power and the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. However, our limited resources, and those of the court, are stretched thin.”

In other words, we are all serious criminals, but the County is more seriously strapped for cash.

What will we do with our freedom and suddenly spotless criminal record? Maybe run on the beach dressed all in white linen, like at the end of The Shawshank Redemption, sand between our toes, safe from the spitter’s cell forever.

But the fight to shutter the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will go on. As always. Guaranteed.

[Thanks and a hat-tip to longtime reader and fellow protestor Ed Anthes for the good news.]

April 27th, 2012

If A Body Catch Abadi (Coming Through The Rye): It’s VTBlogosphereTV Episode 39

by Philip Baruth

Michael Abadi’s VTBlogosphereTV is slowly but surely becoming the Vermont blogosphere’s version of Phantom of the Opera: with the exception of Eva Sollberger’s Stuck in Vermont, it may well be the longest running webshow in the state. In this episode, Abadi and VDB go mano a mano, on everything from out of control Senate freshmen to the untimely death of Julie Waters. Thanks again, Michael.

April 25th, 2012

Best. Lower. Student. Loans. Pitch. Ever.

by Philip Baruth

Nothing we dislike more, here at VDB, than high student loans. And of course the rates on Stafford loans are scheduled to skyrocket come summertime, if Congress doesn’t act to keep them low. And let’s face it: 3.5% is not really low. Something like 1% would be low, still above the rate at which the Government lends to banks. But keeping rates down is key. Cue Jimmy Fallon and Obama slowjamming the news.

Will this cause heads to explode in the Right-wing talk-radio-sphere? Yes. Some heads will explode several times, over the course of a week.

But VDB can’t remember a more effective bid to drive the news cycle. Folks in the White House are high fiving today, folks, so look for Mitt Romney to screw up precisely the same sort of segment in [squints at watch] 72 hours or so.

April 20th, 2012

Of Eyeball Kicks and Columbian Tricks — And Palin Palin Palin Palin Palin Palin

by Philip Baruth

VDB takes more than a passing interest in the construction of news, the way some stories develop legs and crawl into the public mind, there to nest until a general sense of overkill and disgust sets in and allows the country to turn its attention away almost as one. And of course in the age of internet and mobile news delivery, these effects are all quantifiable via clicks, what draws the eye on a page crowded with links, what serves as an “eyeball kick,” to use a term of art from cyberpunk. Case in point: the current Secret Service scandal.

Although it’s clear that the activity at issue included members of several branches of the Armed Forces, from special forces to Marines, VDB has no doubt that it will remain “the Secret Service scandal” in the public awareness.

And for straightforward linguistic and political reasons.

Politically, the Service is regarded as the President’s private force; their lapses are his. And vice versa: remember that the Lewinsky affair drew several SS members into Ken Starr’s very wide net, and Starr managed to get a Supreme Court ruling declaring a public interest in forcing agents to testify against the President –the implication being that the bond between the agents and the President was so strong that only another Supreme force could overcome it.

Linguistically, and in terms of internet clickability, “Secret Service sex scandal” is a four-way winner. “Secret” and “sex” don’t even seem to need the word “scandal” to clarify their connotations, and in light of those three, the word “service” takes on another sense entirely.

But yet, there was something missing, another sort of mouse bait necessary to join this new scandal with some durable longstanding narrative. And now we have it: the surname “Palin.”

Various outlets are now reporting that one of the Secret Service agents in question once guarded Sarah Palin, and yes, posted a photo of the two of them surreptitiously on his Facebook page (add more eyeball kicks for New Media taking a sudden part in the scandal).

David Chaney was a member of Palin’s detail during the 2008 campaign, and apparently had a badly concealed case of the hots for her — he not only posted the photos, but joked that he was her “stalker,” a reference to his position in the background of the photos, we hope.

That revelation, of course, takes us to click-mageddon: “secret” plus “sex” plus “scandal” plus “service” plus “Palin.” Cue several weeks of Fox-fomented outrage at the President, whose culture of arrogance and leering hip-hop disregard for women led a cadre of apple-cheeked Secret Service agents down the path to ruin, and who in fact owes Palin an abject public apology for treating her — and America itself — like some cut-rate Columbian prostitute.

April 18th, 2012

Announcing The Winners of the VDB Still-Coherent Concert Experience Story Contest

by Philip Baruth

As you know, two weeks ago VDB put out a classic edition of a long-ago first novel about the Grateful Dead experience, called The Millennium Shows. And in the spirit of concert miracles, we offered a free copy to the best two concert stories sent in by email — presuming, of course, that the hard-core concert goers involved could still tell a coherent story. Or even, you know, semi-coherent.

Admittedly, the thought was that these would be Grateful Dead stories — but of course, if you’ll parse the language above, we never exactly said that the concerts had to have anything to do with the Dead. And they didn’t.

First runner-up? Nuclear wizard Arnie Gundersen. Why did Arnie come close but no cigar? Well, the story includes both too much information and way too few details:


At RPI, we had exams every Friday AM — 700 engineers taking the same test. A big weekend was coming that Friday night . . . but Thursday night my girlfriend called and said she was on the pill . . . I flunked the exam, but had a great concert weekend!

Still, a fine effort on Arnie’s part, and if he didn’t win a copy of the new book, he’s still the guy who’s called every mini-debacle at Vermont Yankee years before they actually happened.

Our two winners, neither of whom mentioned the Dead but both of whom wrote killer stories? The inimitable Doris Rose and longtime-VDB-consiglieri Don. First Doris’s tale:

In 1957 my parents drove me and two of my friends to Passaic, NJ to see Della Reese in concert. I wore a proper dress and the boys wore suits. During the concert my friend Frankie and I got up to dance in the aisle. A security guy told us if we didn’t sit down we would have to leave the theater. I sat down like a good Presbyterian Republican.

Fast forward to 2009, Hyde Park, London, the final night of the Proms concerts, an Agnostic Independent jiggling to a Rolling Stones cover band, slobbering over the real Barry Manilow with a full orchestra behind him, and belting out a “Yes, I’ll have another glass of Champagne” version of “Rule Britannia.”

And the beat goes on.

And then, of course, there’s Don, who apparently stalked Bob Dylan, with varying amounts of success:

I’ve idolized Bob Dylan since the 1960s. When my son was in college, a work-study assignment was to prepare Bob’s dressing room for an on-campus concert. My boy of course let me know and I drove six hours to the campus. We spent the entire day preparing the room from Bob’s roadies’ many instructions (the first time I had ever heard of Balsamic vinegar).

Then: Heartbreak. Security cleared us out as the tour-bus pulled up. Hinckley-like, I figured out Bob’s route from the bus to the dressing room and snuck to a spot at the bottom of a staircase. Soon, Bob descended, looking like a tiny Tusken Raider from Star Wars (dark and hooded with glowing eyes).

I screwed up all of my courage and called out, “Have a good show tonight, Bob” (I had decided that “Do a good show tonight, Bob” would come off as too demanding).

In the best corner-boy tradition, Bob nodded his chin up toward me as if to say, “Got it.”

My life was complete.

Killer stories, one and all. You have to love it when your readers include writers like this. Don and Doris, your books are in the mail, for you to do with what you will. (We hear they make excellent re-gifting choices.)

April 14th, 2012

In Case You Thought You Imagined The Conservative Disdain For Uppitty Women

by Philip Baruth

This is rich. GOP Speaker of the Virginia House William Howell is politely confronted by one Anna Scholl, representing a watchdog group known as ProgressVA. At issue: hundreds of thousands spent to send lawmakers to conferences put on by ALEC, a shadowy right-wing corporate-influence group currently making news. But the best part is when Scholl stands firm on her facts, only to have Howell tell her, in all seriousness, “I guess I’m not speaking in little enough words for you to understand.” Hilarity ensues. Worth your two minutes.

April 13th, 2012

Far Worse In Japan Than We Know

by Philip Baruth

Occasionally someone writes in with information that’s just staggering, the more so when that information directly contradicts the official story perpetuated in the mainstream media. Here, then, is a long, excerpted email kindly forwarded by longtime reader JK, passing on an account of current radioactive facts on the ground in Fukushima. Sobering. One last note: the photos below are not meant to illustrate the specific structural concerns described, but they do show the general devastation at the Japanese site. — PB

Dear VDB,

Jeff Cline is a friend of mine from Seattle. He and his partner are Japanese Art dealers and travel to Japan numerous times a year. Jeff is fluent in Japanese and has been in touch with the Gundersons and has been helpful in getting the Gunderson material translated into Japanese.

I just received this email from Jeff with its frightening revelations.

Keep up the great work.

JK

Begin forwarded message:

Dear Friends and Clients,

Bill and I have just returned from Japan and wanted to get you this new report on the Japanese nuclear disaster. As well, we want to ask you all to consider taking a few minutes to sign the White House Petition (information on that is below), requesting the foundation of an international advisory team to propose practical methods for dismantling the unstable fuel pools at the plant.

Unfortunately, the situation at Fukushima Daiichi is anything but stable. The Japanese Government and TEPCO both certainly would like everyone to believe that all is well and that we can all ignore the Fukushima nuclear problems while living life as it was.

Recently, some scattered reports in the United States news media contradict this policy line. However, they remain so few and random that hardly any people seem aware of the actual situation.

As some of you may know, we were all told in December by the Japanese government and TEPCO that the reactors were in a state of “cold shutdown” (i.e. below the threshold of 100 degrees Celsius).

I’m afraid that this pronouncement gave many the impression that the situation was somehow stabilized and under control. There remains great skepticism in the International community about those claims, and it was recently confirmed that there is less than two feet of water in the Unit 2 reactor (compared with TEPCO’s assertion of 33 feet).

This matter of water level is tremendously significant, as the greater depth of water is desperately needed to cool the melted cores. Units 1 and 3 are so highly radioactive that it is impossible to get electronic equipment (or robots) into them, as the staggering radiation levels disable electronic equipment.

It will take new technology, skills and machinery not yet on the drawing boards to deal with the situation.

Unfortunately, information even more distressing has come to light. Bill and I have been reading for some time now that nuclear experts were worrying a lot about the Unit 4 building, not because of the reactor but because of its spent fuel pool. Its design (an American one used in our country as well) put the fuel pool on the upper levels of the reactor building.

During the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the Number Four Unit experienced very heavy damage as a result of the quake and explosions. It now leans precipitously and no longer has intact walls. To deal with the structure’s near failure, TEPCO has tried to reinforce the building with exterior beams and attempted to shore up the floor of the fuel pool.

What worries many, however, is the level of structural damage to Unit Four. Even a far smaller quake could crack the floor beneath the fuel pool, draining the cooling water from it and igniting an even larger fuel pool some 50 meters away.

Basically, if anything drains the water from the spent fuel pool at the Daiichi Plant’s Unit Number Four, then the fuel rods will catch on fire within a short period of time and cause a huge explosion likely affecting other spent fuel stored at the plant. Such an explosion would release unimaginable amounts of radioactivity into the environment.

Should that happen, Japan and the world would face an unprecedented nuclear holocaust.

The link to the White House petition is here.

Thank you once again for your time and concern.

Best,

Jeff Cline & Bill Knospe
Kagedo Japanese Art

April 12th, 2012

BREAKING: Entergy Now Says Vermont Yankee Will Be In Operation For At Least Five Years, No Matter What; On Saturday, Thousands Will Gather in Brattleboro To Say What Really, Really, Really Loudly

by Philip Baruth

Turn your attention away from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant for a moment or two, and everything changes. What does VDB mean by everything? The plant is running at 58% power or so, due to ongoing steam condenser issues, the sort of issues we all have with our steam condensers as we reach old age.

And also, apparently people have had enough of said aged plant with said ongoing issues, and they are now gathering in increasing numbers to say so.

To wit: on April 14th, this Saturday, on the Brattleboro Town Common, between the hours of noon and two, what looks to be thousands of people will gather to call for the plant to be shuttered for well and for good.

The idea is to build on the historic March 22 event, and to keep the momentum on the rise.

And when you look for momentum, you make sure you have the following folks on the bill: US Senator Bernie Sanders, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, and Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who is, as you no doubt know, pursuing the State’s appeal in the court-based effort to close the plant.

There will be music. There will be theater. There will oratory. But mostly, there will be a huge group of people headed in the same direction on one of the most compelling environmental issues of our time.

And it will be a direct response to Entergy’s new corporate line, as of this morning: that they will be in the power-generating business down in Vernon for the next five years, no matter who says what in the State of Vermont. Entergy was immediately upbraided by the Department of Public Service for what it called “premature and presumptuous” comments, but nothing can take the place of thousands of people voicing their discontent at the precise same time.

In fact, they say that if you get a few thousand folks together on the Brattleboro Common, and everyone shouts at the top of their lungs, you can hear the noise loud and clear at Entergy HQ, some three and a half miles away.

So we got that going for us. Which, as Bill Murray once so eloquently put it in Caddyshack, is nice.

April 11th, 2012

Farewell, Rick Santorum, We Hardly Knew Ye, Except For the Comically Sanctimonious and Frighteningly Atavistic Parts

by Philip Baruth

The news was not unpredictable, but heart-rending nonetheless: Big Rick has made the decision to clear the field for the Establishment candidate who’s spent, oh, $100 million dollars painting Santorum as a hopeless tool of the Establishment. Which means several things at once: 1) we won’t have Rick Santorum to kick around anymore, until two years from now; 2) we will now have to watch Romney’s inevitable transformation into a Choice-loving, immigrant-hugging, Spanish-talking proponent of universal healthcare; and 3) we will have far fewer occasions to run this choice photograph of Rick, in trademark sweater vest, sharing a breakfast bagel with now-former Santorum svengali Mark Johnson.

And just let VDB say this about that: some will want to lay this defeat at Johnson’s feet, in spite of the fact that his canny strategic advice powered Santorum’s dramatic turnaround post-Florida.

But it may be that Johnson was dealt the impossible hand, in the form of a client not even Vermont Coffee Company coffee could render recognizably human. Because that is the nut of it — Rick Santorum remains a construct of the Far and Religious Right, built for mega-churches and institutionalized 1950’s nostalgia. He does well on Fox News, and he does well in pockets of the country with 50% or more evangelical voters.

Other than that, he’s a ludicrous figure who subsists on pride in his own priggishness. And yes, good riddance.

The look-out for Johnson? Spin-doctors at that level don’t waste much time: look for a Johnson-enhanced Newt by this time next week. You heard it here first.

April 10th, 2012

Beyond Thunderdome: Natural Persons v. Corporate Persons in the VT State Senate (Now With Predictable Delay Update!)

by Philip Baruth

Today is the day for those among us who oppose the Citizens United decision and the suddenly overweening presence of corporate personhood in American life: the Senate will be voting on JRS 11, which calls on the US Congress to amend the Constitution as a remedy to the situation. How cool would that be, to instruct the Roberts Court via Amendment that corporations do not, in fact, have the right to unlimited political speech? Promises to be a lively floor debate, if you happen to be stuck at your desk around 10 am or so. And of course VPR provides a live stream — for which you have to love them. The rallying cry? Vivan las personas naturales!

Sort of Predictable Delay Update, Wednesday, 5:00 am:

This resolution has a history of delay — why, who can say? To VDB it seems straightforward enough, but there it is: the bill was held over until this afternoon, Wednesday, because apparently several amendments are to be offered. Will they be crazy and unworkable amendments? No doubt. But again, as we said yesterday, your live stream is available at Vpr. net and the potential donnybrook should be interesting, if nothing else.

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