December 31st, 2005

Dubie Channels Bush — With Audio!

by Philip Baruth

I did a post a few weeks back, noting that incumbent candidate for Lt. Governor Brian Dubie owes more than a little to the Bush administration and the Bush world-view.

But who knew how far that relationship would take Dubie?

bushHere’s a quick commercial spot from Dubie’s website, and I kid you not — if you close your eyes and let it wash over you, you’d think you were listening to Bush the Younger himself. And I’m not just talking about content, although Dubie parrots a low-calorie version of the Washington Republican line.

No, no, no.

I’m talking about delivery: Dubie has adopted the actual verbal mannerisms, the empty optimism, the accent even. I kid you not. If it’s not a conscious bit of mimicry, then it’s the sort of echo that kids manage of their parents, the sort brought on by intense identification and hero-worship.

He even hits Bush’s signature “working hard” line, for God’s sake.

I’ve always been something of a mimic, and I can do a decent George W. Bush, about a 6 on a 1-10 scale. But Dubie’s got an 8 going here. Give a listen. It’s a freaky thing.

December 29th, 2005

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

by Philip Baruth

After a few posts in which I took issue with the systemic anonymity over at Politics VT – arguing among other things that it encouraged a lack of civility in political discourse — Politics VT responded: by recommending VDB to their readers while they’re on holiday hiatus.

Talk about disarming.

But it’s a fact of life that VDB is a sucker for any love from anywhere at any time, even if it comes from shadowy types with the names of dead Governors and Revolutionaries. And so in a fit of holiday good-fellowship, we’ve added Politics VT to our list of VDB-Approved Sites.

And I should add that the only thing I don’t like about the site is that it allows long, anonymous screeds — other than that, it’s informative, and sharply designed.

Remember that old novelty record about Snoopy and the Red Baron, where they land behind enemy lines and share a holiday toast, before zooming off into battle again?

I feel like that, sort of.

December 28th, 2005

Washington Post Fine Print

by Philip Baruth

Blogging from Washington, D.C, for a few days, and one of the brilliant things about waking up here is that when you go to the coffee shop, there’s the Washington Post in three-dimensions.

For thirty-five cents. What a sweet deal.

And it means that I go through sections of the paper that I avoid electronically, like the letters to the Editor. And occasionally in those letters, you find something that goes by you like a brushback pitch. Here’s an excerpt from a letter that appeared on the 26th:

“While I’ve admired the Post’s overall coverage of issues related to intelligence and terrorism, the paper’s approach seems to be to shoot missiles at isolated targets — the CIA, CIFA, the National Security Agency, etc. I would suggest burrowing in and finding out what the larger picture is here.

“In particular, I have seen little of John D. Negroponte, who was supposed to bring control over and harmony to disparate, decentralized intelligence services and activities.

cheney“Where does [Negroponte] stand on CIA secret prisons and renditions and on Pentagon and NSA spying programs?”

Most excellent point. Anyone seen coverage of Negroponte in the last, I don’t know, six months? Are we talking about another secure location scenario? When only Cheney had one, I was fine with that; less of Cheney is less of Cheney, after all.

But are we moving to a system of permanently cloistered top officials in the War on Terror?

By the way, the above letter is signed, “Charles M. Franklin,” and followed by this biographical note: “The writer worked in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) from 1992 until he retired in 1996.” You know the Bush Presidency has officially reached the embattled phase when not only the front pages, not only the op-ed section, but the letters to the Editor are full of recriminations from former and current highly placed government officials.

Franklin was clearly a first-term Clinton man, but that’s the point again: Bush’s conduct has been so egregious that all traditional rules about decorum between administrations past and present have been scrapped. As they should be, in this bizarre historical moment.

You go, Charles M. Franklin. VDB has got your back. Word is bond.

December 27th, 2005

VDBea Mea Culpa

by Philip Baruth

Okay, about two weeks ago, we predicted on this page that ovoid huckster Karl Rove would be indicted by Christmas. We were pretty darn sure of it, as I remember. The headline was something along the lines of “Luxury Rove-Liner Now Inches from Iceberg.” Pretty sensational. Pretty darn cock-sure.

roveWell, that didn’t happen. VDB got it wrong.

And I’m sorry about it.

Last night, I lay awake for hours, night-sweating, feverish: Was it something I did, or failed to do, that has allowed Rove to continue to roll freely about the White House grounds? I just couldn’t say for certain, and I still can’t this morning.

But I wanted you to know that I’ve searched my heart.

Oh, don’t misunderstand: this fear-mongering tub of goo is still going down, and the shock waves will reach even the deepest of Cheney’s nested bunkers. But it might not be until Ground Hog Day. And I’ll have to live with my error every day for the rest of my life.

So be it.

With that said, can I just end with a small tribute to the genius of Marc Nadel? Look at that caricature over to the left of this post, really look at it. How many artists could conceive of four chins, let alone render them? Breath-taking.

December 26th, 2005

Monday Must-Read Sentence, Con Fidel

by Philip Baruth

While you were making merry, the News-Obsessed Ectomorphs were discovering that the Middle East isn’t the only place echoing with the soft strains of Bush-style diplomacy. Apparently we’re also making much headway in convincing Fidel Castro to help us prepare for his inevitable demise.

From the Gulf Times, Doha, Qatar:

condi rice“Cuban President Fidel Castro has called US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ‘mad’ after having condemned the head of the US diplomatic mission in Havana as a ‘little gangster.’

“The communist leader’s latest tirade against the United States came in response to Rice’s meeting last week with a US government commission intended to prepare for a democratic transition in Cuba after Castro.

“’I am going to tell you what I think about this famous commission: they are a group of s***-eaters who do not deserve the world’s respect,’ Castro told the National Assembly.”

But since VDB has a strict rule against choosing an MMRS laced with profanity, we selected Castro’s next gentle phrase. The last MMRS of 2005, then:

’In this context, it does not matter if it was the mad woman who talks of transition — it is a circus, they are completely depraved, they should be pitied,’ added the 79-year-old Cuban leader.

Think about it: the whole world has its eye on the Middle East. But Cuba is always an idee fixe in the Bush political mindset. You’re stone crazy if you think Bush intends to leave office before Fidel. So look for Special Forces destablization tricks in Cuba sometime soon!

Next year — in Havana, baby.

December 26th, 2005

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters

by Philip Baruth

My Jonas Galusha/Deep Throat post on blogger anonymity generated a good amount of mail, running about 50/50 between those who swear by anonymity, and those who swear at it.

VDB-addict NJ argues that anonymity does not escalate the rhetoric. Quite the contrary, in fact: he argues that just as often it’s the desire to promote one’s name that leads contributors to flame on. NJ continues:

“And the choice to be anonymous has many reasons. Not wanting there to be a paper trail of at-work blogging, concern for personal safety — particularly for women . . . concern over public airing of one’s political views if it might jeopordize one’s job . . .”

Well said, and sure, there are all sorts of exceptions to the rule that make all kinds of sense. But to me these exceptions don’t destroy the rule as I see it: in most situations, attaching your name to your views promotes responsible political behavior.

And there’s a long-standing procedure for granting anonymity to those who feel they need it: a newspaper or radio show or blog reports the views in question anonymously, but only after verifying the identity and the situation of the source in question.

Which is to say that what Jonas proposed — playing Deep Throat to my Bob Woodward — was ridiculous only because 1) he had no real information to share, and 2) no reason to share his non-information anonymously, other than to escape the penalties for slander.

But if anyone out there does have explosive information that will absolutely annihilate the known political wisdom — and you’re hard up against it, anonymity-wise — never fear: like a bridge over troubled waters, VDB will lay itself down.

December 24th, 2005

Extraordinarily Polite Rendition

by Philip Baruth

I guess it’s what a lot of us fear these days.

I’m walking down the sidewalk, heading over to Church Street for some chicken tikka masala, maybe an order of garlic naan, and suddenly there it is: the screeching of tires, the sudden scuffing of boots behind me, and then the sickly sweet smell of ether under my nose.

Everything fades to black.

And then I wake up with my hands and feet tied tight — tight like you tie down a roast of beef tight — in the back of a Ford Econovan with tinted windows. The van is moving very fast, so fast and so straight that you know it can only be shooting up the Interstate. Eighty miles an hour, say.

Sitting on the seat in front of me are two men wearing black pants, coats, ski masks, gloves. I clear my head, and I manage to mumble, “Who are you?”

The two ninjas say nothing. I can hear a car outside beep its horn indignantly as the van muscles past, into the exit lane.

“Where are you taking me?” I ask, with a little more fight in me now.

At first they’re quiet, and then the one on the left can’t resist, and he whispers, “Wouldn’t you like to know.

It’s about three minutes later when the van slows down, prepares to stop. The ninja on the right takes out a gun, then makes it very clear with a single gesture: If I make the slightest sound, I’m history. So I’m silent. And in that silence, I hear a voice ask the driver what his business is in Canada this evening.

Suddenly all of the pieces fall horribly into place.

When the CIA thinks you have crucial information, and they can’t get it legally in the US, they ship you to a country where the laws are looser and the techniques of extracting information are stricter, places like Egypt and Syria. This is known as extraordinary rendition.

But when they think you have information that’s not exactly crucial, but might be sort of good to have someday, they turn you over to the Canadians.

This lesser-known tactic is called extraordinarily polite rendition.

Once I’ve figured that out, my blood-pressure settles down pretty quickly: I’ve had a few friends go through extraordinarily polite rendition and while it’s not pretty, it’s not fatal.

I can tell by counting the twists and turns that we’re on Rue St. Denis in Montreal when the van jerks to a stop, and the two ninjas heave me out the door. I fall into the arms of two men who are also wearing black, but normal black, the black leather jackets and pants and shirts that every other person wears on the streets of Montreal.

“Watch your step, okay?” says the bigger of the two. “This ice here is tricky.”

The two Canadian intelligence guys take me to a Tim Horton’s, and when I say that I’m not in the mood for coffee and donut bits, they offer to take me someplace else, maybe for a smoked meat sandwich?

I tell them I’m fine.

Finally they come out with it. The CIA is concerned about a call I made a few months back to my friend Joe in Indiana. Apparently I mentioned buying a compact disc by REM titled “Green.” They want to know if the CD has anything to do with environmental organizations, especially extremist groups like the Sierra Club.

“No,” I tell the Canadians. “But it’s really a killer album.”

So then we talk music for awhile, and I’m feeling better so I get some coffee, and then some donut bits, and we talk about what a shame it was they lost their hockey season last year to the NHL strike. I’m having such a good time I almost forget that it’s a long cold way home, and that there’s no guarantee things haven’t gotten worse since I left.

But that’s nothing new, really. It’s always that way, when I head south from Montreal.

December 21st, 2005

Matt Dunne, Jonas Galusha, Deep Throat, and Blogger Anonymity

by Philip Baruth

If you missed the article in yesterday’s Free Press on the Vermont politico-blogosphere, it eventually zeroed in on the issue of anonymity.

My view boils down to this: when people don’t stand behind their words, they tend to pull their words out of their behinds.

Anonymous political discourse isn’t useless, or meaningless, but it’s nearly always far less useful or meaningful than it might otherwise be. And far nastier.

When I explained this view to Terri Hallenbeck, the reporter on the piece, I actually had in mind a very particular example: Politics VT, a site that encourages anonymity, from the publishers to the guest editorial writers, down to those penning individual comments on each post.

But even more particularly, I was thinking of a “guest op-ed” written a few weeks back that amounted to a savage hatchet job on Matt Dunne, now the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor. The piece was full of genuinely nasty ad hominem, and it was signed “Jonas Galusha,” the handle of a long-dead Vermont Governor. In fact, whenever Politics VT runs a piece on Dunne, the comment sector fills up with the same sniping, same phrases, same tone. It matches like a fingerprint.

So yesterday, a few hours after the Free Press article hit the streets, I had mail: a short note, ironically, from Jonas Galusha.

“As one who firmly grasps the left rail in all circumstances, I enjoy your material VERY MUCH,” Jonas wrote. “However, your recent comments on a Dunne/Dubie race have a fundamental flaw.”

The flaw? My belief that Matt Dunne is a decent human being. Galusha then went on to reiterate nearly verbatim the nasty personality-centered remarks about Dunne aired on Politics VT.

I had to think: was I dealing with Brian Dubie here, even Big Jim Douglas himself? There was simply no way to be sure.

So I wrote back with a deal: let me publish your comments under your real name, and I’ll run them verbatim. Until then, they remain “low gossip.”

Which produced this really wonderful response:

“Who I am is of less significance, than the accuracy what I say. Further, if who I am were to be disclosed, my access to the info I can convey would be sharply reduced.

“However, I may consider your view if we can arrive at a confidentiality agreement. I disclose who I am only to you. You treat me as Woodward treated Deep Throat. I shall watch my emails for your ideas as surely as Ben Franklyn [sic] watched to see his brother’s publications of his nom de plume letters.”

Signed, of course, “Jonas.”

So what do you think, people? Should I go for it?

The parking garage on Bank Street is a little light and airy for this sort of rendezvous, but I do know another place over by Burlington Square Mall: it’s got low-ceilings, and the cars come careening around blind corners, horns blaring. Skateboarders practice up there sometimes in the winter, but they scatter like roaches if you get too close.

Jonas and I could meet there, I suppose. And then he could explain at greater length why Matt Dunne — who puts himself and his ideas out in the public marketplace, to be judged on their merits — is unfit for office, in the jaundiced view of a dead ex-governor without a face.

December 21st, 2005

A Whole New Card Game in Iraq

by Philip Baruth

In all of the hullabaloo about the President authorizing domestic spying sans warrants or judicial review, another story got suspiciously little play: US authorities in Iraq released “Dr. Germ” (Rihab Rashid Taha) and “Mrs. Anthrax” (Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash) from custody, along with six other high-profile Baathist figures.

And another 17 or so are scheduled for release soon.

Now let’s take the case of Dr. Ammash. Here was a woman touted as a high-ranking official in Saddam Hussein’s regime, with intimate knowledge of chemical weaponry. In our haste to demonize her a few years back, we not only slugged her with the Marvel-era handle “Mrs. Anthrax,” we made her the Five of Hearts in our deck of Most Wanted playing cards. rumsfeld

And when we caught her, Donald Rumsfeld trumpeted the arrest — it wasn’t like catching Hussein, or his sons, but it was a hand of cards well played.

So what does it mean when you have to start giving the cards back?

It begs the question: does anyone out there really believe that we are releasing “Mrs. Anthrax” — giving back the Five of Hearts — from a position of strength?

No, this is what’s called a “good-will gesture,” because the phrase “negotiating with terrorists” sounds so rough-edged. Tariq Aziz, the Eight of Spades, is said to be in the queue as well, and it’s clear that the Adminstration has quietly made a decision now to offer the insurgency goods they might be willing to accept.

But it’s funny how often the Administration’s seemingly inspired media ploys — Bush’s top-gun landing, the deck of most-wanted cards that almost every American newspaper ran with because it was colorful and made war seem amusing and risk-free — have come back to haunt it. Their metaphors defy their control.

Because if you make war a card game, then it matters who wins the cards — and who’s forced to give them back in the end.

December 21st, 2005

Yuletide Love from the Free Press

by Philip Baruth

Left-wing or Right-wing, political bloggers seem to agree on only one thing: the mainstream media disrespects and ignores them, not by happenstance but as an articulated matter of policy.

Not so in Vermont, not any more.

The Burlington Free Press carried a long, playful piece on the state’s political blogosphere today — and they ran it right out there on page one, like it was an arson or a downer cow, or a triple-homicide. As news, in a word.

And even by Aretha Franklin’s particularly exacting standards, that’s respect.

Maddest/fullest props to Terri Hallenbeck, the Free Press writer who penned the piece. And for those of you who might be tuning in for the first time today because of it, a most elaborate VDB welcome.

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