December 19th, 2005

Monday Must-Read Sentence(s)

by Philip Baruth

As regular readers will know, each week VDB saves you the drudgery of combing through the weekend newspapers and transcripts — our News-Obsessed Ectomorphs do the work for you by selecting Monday’s Must-Read Sentence (MMRS).

This week, however, the NOE’s were SOL on the MMRS: turns out there were two must-read sentences, of equal jaw-dropping bogosity. And the two dovetail nicely when it comes to describing the increasingly spooky America in which we live:

MMRS 1: The Miami Herald reported on Thursday that Ion Sancho, election supervisor of Leon County, Florida, scrapped his county’s use of Diebold voting machines after computer experts managed to change vote results and the number of ballots cast on Diebold’s optical-scan machines.

This feat the hackers pulled off without leaving a trail of any sort. You will remember, I’m sure, that Ohio — the Florida of the 2004 elections — is the home of Diebold, and relies heavily on their technology.

When confronted with the test results — and the possibility that previous elections might theoretically have been altered — Diebold Inc. issued a letter containing the weekend’s first MMRS: the Leon County test itself was a “very foolish and irresponsible act.”

Got that? It’s testing the machines that’s irresponsible, not using machines without a paper component in the first place. Up-Is-Downism at its most breathtaking.

bushOr so one might have assumed, until Saturday.

MMRS 2: At the end of an eight-minute radio address explaining to the American people why he authorized the NSA to electronically eavesdrop on American citizens without warrants of any sort, and in contravention of pretty much all existing law and practice post-1978, George W. Bush delivered MMRS the second: “The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties.”

Would that the Iraqi people could experience the bracing rush of liberty I feel at this moment, Monday morning, coming down.

Late Update: Monday, 11:40 am

The Rutland Herald — which won a Pulitzer for its editorials on Vermont Civil Unions — isn’t a paper to rest on its laurels: they have an absolutely blistering piece up today called “George Bush’s Secret Police.” It takes the NSA spying revelations as its takeoff point, and lands finally on the words “Saddam Hussein.”

Worth a long look today.

December 17th, 2005

It’s McCain/Bush in 2008: All Torture Wedgies Forgiven

by Philip Baruth

A nightmarishly plausible scenario:

John McCain has made himself the early frontrunner for the GOP nod in 2008. Nobody can deny that, especially in the light of Bush’s capitulation on a torture ban yesterday.

The operative question will be, as it was in 2000: Can McCain navigate a series of Southern primaries dominated by hard-core Conservatives, largely Christian-activist?

This is a guy who’s defied his party on major issue after major issue, and who openly attacked Christian icons like Jerry Falwell in his final stand of 2000.

No way to be certain, and remember that this is undoubtedly McCain’s last trip up the mountain: he is not a young man, and being hung by your broken arm for days on end in your youth will age you prematurely in any event.

So if you’re McCain, you don’t — you can’t — leave this one to chance.

And so you need what you more or less despise: George Bush. In the same way that McCain saved Bush’s bacon when independent voters were flirting with Kerry in 2004 — when Abu Ghraib had Bush on the ropes — McCain will need Bush’s stamp of approval south of the Mason-Dixon line come January of 2008.

Hence the famous shots of the two hugging and making nice last cycle.

bushBut if you’re Bush, what prompts you to work for McCain, or at least avoid opposing him? Seemingly nothing; you have no more elections to face, and let’s face facts — McCain gave you a real nasty political wedgy on this torture ban thing, a wedgy that went on for month after month after month.

And that really smarted.

So as much as anything you’d be inclined — if you’re Bush, a real stickler for winning and punishing people who prevent it — to actively undercut McCain in 2008. And with your rock-star quality in the deep South, as well as the inevitable nostalgia that envelops a departing two-term president (especially one who’s padlocked himself to 9/11), you could no doubt find another more conservative candidate and carry him bodily over the finish line.

Which would seem to make another Bush/McCain dust-up inevitable in 2008. Except for Jeb.

Little Brother isn’t on track to run this time out — he’d pay the price for Bush fatigue in the same way that Gore paid the price for Clinton fatigue. It would look too much like dynastic politics, and Americans will support a dynasty only as long as it’s careful to take a few years off every now and again.

But suppose John McCain agrees in advance to select Jeb as his running mate. This solves one of Bush’s problems — how to advance rather than hinder his brother’s presidential aspirations.

It allows Jeb to bask in the reflected glory of both his brother’s militarism and McCain’s, no small consideration for a Southern Governor without any significant military experience post-9/11.

It makes McCain a lock in the South: he’ll have the perfect VP candidate for religious conservatives, and he himself will sweep the Veteran vote. Given McCain’s own strength in the West, and his attraction for independents in the rest of the country, a McCain/Jeb ticket could make Reagan’s totals look anemic.

And no doubt McCain would think long and hard about a second term; chances are at least one in five he’d opt out after four years.

barbara bushIt makes a great deal of sense on paper. The question becomes: Could McCain stomach Jeb, and all of the extended Bush family dropping by for horseshoes and pork rinds on Fourth of July weekends? Could he stomach George W. hanging around the Oval Office looking wistful?

Even more crucially, could he stomach Barbara Bush continuing to tour disaster areas in order to point out the good fortune of the destitute?

Put it this way: Ronald Reagan didn’t have much of an appetite for Bush Sr., but he took Pappy on because when a man is looking at the last decades of his life, and one last shot at the Presidency, he’s more than likely to hold his nose and force it down.

Hence, these long-long-long-term predictions:

1) McCain runs in 2008; Jeb, after drumming up suitable speculation, does not.

2) George W. belatedly campaigns for McCain in South Carolina; it’s billed as the final healing of the wounds opened during the 2000 election, when operatives push-polled McCain with nasty stories about his adopted child.

3) McCain takes the GOP nomination in near-record time.

4) Jeb is added to McCain’s short list for VP, in a seemingly pro forma manner, but is quickly rumored to be the favorite; begins appearances on Good Morning America, etc., before the pick is final.

5) Democrats run _______ and _________ (insert any names here), but come up drastically short.

Can Democrats hope for nothing? Not to worry. We can always hope that deep down, in the dark secret petulant recesses of George W.’s heart — the place where he broods about the size of his father’s legacy as compared to his own — he doesn’t want his little brother to be President any more than we do.

December 16th, 2005

MSNBC Features VDB

by Philip Baruth

MSNBC brings the love.

Given that I don’t have a working television — let alone cable access — it took a few weeks for me to tip to a significant bit of mainstream media play: On November 17, MSNBC’s Connected Coast to Coast (hosted by Monica Crowley and Ron Reagan Jr.) linked up to VDB for a story on the Bush administration’s politicization of the Food and Drug Administration.

Here it is, in case you weren’t glued to the set. You’ll see that VDB played the “left” side of a typical left/right, he-said/she-said. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

And here’s the original post on the FDA, and why the morning-after pill is now the never-ever pill.

So, much love back to MSNBC.

And let me just throw this out there: if any of you executives over there at the network are toying with the idea of buying VDB outright and combining it with your regular programming as VDBMSNBC, I am all ears.

December 15th, 2005

Pound-Cake and Zephyr Teachout

by Philip Baruth

So I’m sitting in a living room in the New North End of Burlington last night, with nine other die-hard Democrats, talking about how to elect our guy, Russ Ellis, to the City Council. We figure we need about 850 votes to take this thing.

(For those of you in Los Angeles or Tampa, stay with me on this because — as Woody Allen used to say — it’s brilliant.)

Now, one of the nine turns out to be Zephyr Teachout, who along with Joe Trippi ran Howard Dean’s net-roots campaign in the run-up to 2004. And if you’ll remember, the net-roots fundraising was the only aspect of the Dean campaign that was universally hailed, and later widely imitated.

Teachout moved to the North End of Burlington from Montpelier just recently, and she’s now plugging into city politics. But she’s polite: she says hello to everyone, and she listens a lot.

So we’re about halfway through our two-hour meeting, and we begin to talk about communications beyond lawn-signs, beyond door-knocking, beyond even parking a Chevy out in front of Hannaford’s with your name painted on the side.

Someone tentatively suggests an email list might be useful. Someone else says they don’t know how to put an email list together.

Everyone takes a bite of pound cake, and we chew and muse silently.

And at that point, very politely, almost diffidently, Teachout speaks up. Before she’s done, she’s offered a crisp little five-minute synopsis of the Internet communications strategy that made an obscure Vermont governor the financial powerhouse of the 2004 primaries.

When she’s finished, Russ looks at her for a second. Russ is retired, white-haired, favors Jimmy-Carter-style sweaters, a thoughtful guy, ex-minister. He doesn’t know this woman or her work from Adam, clearly, but he likes what he heard.

“Would you be willing,” he starts, then asks, “I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”

“Zephyr,” says Zephyr. “Zephyr Teachout.”

Russ absorbs that, nodding. “Well, that sounds like it might work. Do you think you could do something like that for us? Take that on?”

Teachout says she’d be happy to help.

And just like that, in the same way that people had signed up to knock on doors and collect torn lawn signs, our guy Russ Ellis — City Council candidate for Ward 4, with a campaign budget of around $275 dollars not including the free ad every candidate gets in the North Avenue News — acquired one of the country’s hottest net-roots specialists without really lifting a finger or paying one thin dime.

And then everybody had another slice of pound-cake and a warm-up on their coffee, as though to seal the deal.

December 15th, 2005

Novak Cracks Like April Ice

by Philip Baruth

Talk about the effects of torture.

Apparently the legal and media-related pressures on Bob Novak — the same pressures that caused him to curse and walk off the set of CNN’s Inside Politics back in August — have had their desired effect: Tuesday he fingered Bush in the Plame affair.

No, seriously. In public. At a Republican think-tank. In front of God and everyone.

“‘I’m confident the president knows who the source is,” Novak told a luncheon audience at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday, according to an account published yesterday in the Raleigh News & Observer. ‘I’d be amazed if he doesn’t.’

“‘So I say, don’t bug me. Don’t bug Bob Woodward. Bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is,’ Novak said.”

Read that last paragraph again. Is it me, or did this story get unbelievably little play? Bob Novak — Lord Dracula of the right-wing media empire, keeper of secrets, hatcher of plots — not only tells the world that Bush knows the source of the Plame leak, but actively encourages the mainstream media and the Special Prosecutor to hound him about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I ate it up with a spoon. But it’s weird and politically unnatural, like finding a salamander born with three heads. You wonder what it can possibly portend.

P.S. When I’m feeling low and blue sometimes, I like to pull out the footage of Novak’s tantrum with James Carville on that infamous Inside Politics segment. Novak looks so petulant and yet so much like he stumbled out of a second-rate Anne Rice novel. If it’s been awhile, go back and watch it again. Like Thelma and Louise, or Amadeus, it just gets better and richer with each viewing.

December 13th, 2005

Howard Dean is Ours, And We’ll Decide When to Hang Him

by Philip Baruth

Michael Reagan, slow-witted son of Ronald Reagan, apparently told his Radio America listeners the other day that “Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war!” This because Dean explicitly compared Iraq to Vietnam, bushBush to LBJ, and indicated that in each case American troops pay the price for their civilian leaders’ fantasies of long-shot victory.

Memo to Michael Reagan: Dean is a Vermonter, and we’ll decide when it’s time to hang him, thank you very much.

And that time is not yet. This last set of elections came out just fine — ask the people of Virginia and New Jersey — and that’s why you hire a chairman of the DNC.

Frankly, I’m far less worked up about Dean — whose media problems almost always involve the niceties of political nuance rather than substance — than Joe Lieberman, who seems well on his way to elbowing Zell Miller aside as chief yes-man and lickspittle for the administration on the War.

Speculation has been rampant that Lieberman will take over as SecDef once Rumsfeld accepts the Medal of Freedom and settles down to clipping coupons. Anyone who believes that this President would appoint a Democrat of any stripe to that particular position — the locus of his self-image, such as it is — is hopelessly naive.

No, what Lieberman has in mind is John McCain.

Lieberman’s been chasing the dream of a buddy-picture run for the Presidency on a McCain ticket for almost a decade now, and he — like most of America — senses that McCain is the GOP frontrunner at this point. So expect nothing from Lieberman but cheerleading on Iraq and the facts on the ground there. Which means, to my mind, that Lieberman rather than Dean is the Democrat’s problem child for the foreseeable future.

So heads up, Mike Reagan: Vermont was just selected as the Second Healthiest State in America, in case you missed it, and we got that way not only by speaking our minds, but by speaking the truth. And that includes our ex-Governor, with all of his occasional political pratfalls.

In short, as Stephen King would say, please close your pie-hole. Thank you very much. And have a special day.

December 13th, 2005

Dunne Takes on Dubie — Place Your Bets

by Philip Baruth

Heads up, my friends — the race for Vermont Lieutenant Governor just got interesting.

Way interesting: in addition to empty-suit Republican incumbant Brian Dubie, and perennial Progressive Anthony Pollina, Hartland Democrat Matt Dunne has just entered the race. Official kick-off down the road, but the unofficial e-announcement went out this morning.

The highlights:

“Good morning. As winter arrives in our beautiful state, I am delighted to announce my intention to run for Lt. Governor.

“Many of you have strongly encouraged me to pursue this office. At this early stage of the campaign season, I am delighted to have so many legislators endorsing my campaign.

“During more than 10 years in the legislature, first as the representative of my home district of Hartland and West Windsor and then as a Senator from Windsor County, my most satisfying work has been convening diverse groups of Vermonters to identify opportunities that can move our state forward or solve problems. My role has been to take Vermonter’s ideas, translate them into legislation and then use my experience in the legislature to translate them into law.

“Using this approach, I have successfully sponsored legislation on a wide variety of issues ranging from hiring preferences for veterans to creating the Vermont Film Commission, from improving healthcare information to a grant program for small schools. I’ve helped strengthen workers’ rights and sponsored programs to turn polluted brownfields into thriving locations for jobs and community activities. Vermonters have been the source of each of these ideas. Those of you who have worked with me in business, in the fight against poverty, in training the next generation of civic leaders, or as a legislator, know that I work hard at everything I do. I promise you that I will bring that same commitment to serving you as your Lt. Governor.

“Most of you know that I’ve always run hard fought, grassroots campaigns. I’ll campaign tirelessly in this election.”

A couple of things to point out here.

First, the last sentence I quoted is far and away the most important: Dunne campaigns like a house on fire, and when he says he’ll be “tireless” that’s no bit of boilerplate. He won his first race at 22 — in a traditionally GOP district — because he typically measures his door-knocking in the thousands.

He can close, Dunne can.

Granted, statewide races don’t hinge as directly on doorstop conversations, but the metaphor translates: Dunne will work retail politics as hard as they can be worked, and in Vermont, that’s the ball game.

Why is this so very key in this particular race?

Well, Dubie snuck over the 50% margin last time out only because he faced a kind-hearted Democrat with negligible stump skills — and Progressive Steve Hingtgen, a little-known quantity who managed about 7%.

So throw a lean, very hungry Democrat in this race, with broad institutional support, and I think Dubie begins to look more and more like lunch.

Second, Dunne is the leading curl of the Next Wave in Vermont politics. Two or three times in the last handful of years, he has indicated an interest in statewide office; two or three times the older generation of politicians above him on the ladder have asked him to be patient. This is nothing new; older always holds back younger, until younger is no longer willing to take no for an answer.

And of course once the door is open, it doesn’t close again. So even as we speak, Dunne is out knocking on a door, and whatever else you might want to bet on in this race, you can make bet he’s not going to stop. And then behind Dunne will come a whole slew of thirty- and forty-somethings whose time is now offically here.

Why “officially” here? Click the link Dunne includes to legislators endorsing him. That’s a lot of hard-core political proboscises all picking up the same scent.

Check out Dunne’s website and get the early read on him for yourself. Or Time magazine — if you want to see how the words “Democrat” and “entrepreneur” fit together these days.

Let’s strip it down: Does Brian Dubie need ousting from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office? Check out this post from a few days back. Am I happy then that a Center-Left Democrat is in the hunt?

Oh baby yeah.

December 10th, 2005

Bill Opens Can of Rhetorical Whoop-Ass

by Philip Baruth

So Bill Clinton spoke today at the UN Conference on Climate Change, in Montreal, just a stone’s throw across the Canadian border from Burlington. And apparently the Bush people got just a wee bit — what would be the word? — tetchy about the whole thing:

“Bush-administration officials privately threatened organizers of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, telling them that any chance there might’ve been for the United States to sign on to the Kyoto global-warming protocol would be scuttled if they allowed Bill Clinton to speak at the gathering today in Montreal, according to a source involved with the negotiations who spoke to New York Magazine on condition of anonymity.”

It’s even more pathetic when you read the whole story. New York Magazine’s got it.

What do you suppose got under W’s skin? That Clinton is far more popular, both at home and abroad? That Clinton understands the underpinnings of the policy positions he advocates? Those bumper stickers reading, “When Clinton Lied No One Died”?

Or maybe it was just an inkling that the ex-President would say exactly what he said: “In his Friday speech, Clinton blasted the Bush administration’s opposition [to Kyoto] as ‘flat wrong.’”

There’s that I guess.

In any event, if you’re a fan of middle-school-level political cat-fights, don’t miss this article. Because apparently all the claws came out.

December 10th, 2005

Brian Dubie: Behind the Flight Jacket

by Philip Baruth

Perhaps no one in Vermont has benefitted more from the Bush administration’s post-9/11 military posturing than Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie.

bushLike Bush, Dubie is fond of citing his experience at Ground Zero; like Bush, Dubie has cultivated a quasi-military air whenever possible. If you go to Dubie’s official state website, you start to feel a bit like you’ve stumbled into a uniform supply warehouse — jet pilot uniforms, commercial pilot uniforms, executive blue power-suits, all draped over the same blandly inoffensive model.

And there’s the real similarity. In the twin cases of Bush and Dubie, the uniform is always also a veil for a distinctly unimpressive domestic policy record.

Hurricane Katrina, of course, parted the veil on the Bush administration. Behind the thrilling pictures and the bomber jackets was an administration that knew very little about a lot of crucial government functions.

Not surprisingly, if you go to Dubie’s official state website, you find much impressive talk about security and safety and such. And if you click on “Homeland Security,” you get a Top-Gun glossy of Dubie in a flight jacket, looking tousled and determined. This page is really just a links page, taking you to some boilerplate from various Vermont agencies.

brownieBut one more click on “Be Ready” (because let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be?) takes you into the weird Wonderland that is FEMA, Michael Brown’s old sinecure.

And that takes you, finally, to “FEMA for Kids.” FEMA for Kids is, as you might imagine, bizarro.

There is the “FEMA Rap for Kidz,” which some crack political appointee seems to have designed to reach inner city youth.

Disaster . . . it can happen anywhere,
But we’ve got a few tips, so you can be prepared
For floods, tornadoes, or even a ‘quake,
You’ve got to be ready - so your heart don’t break.

Disaster prep is your responsibility
And mitigation is important to our agency.

Okay, so the last couplet doesn’t rhyme — the important thing is that it teaches children early that it’s their fault if rising flood waters carry away Aunt Sadie.

And the whole lyric is seasoned with so-much FEMA hubris that it’s almost painful post-Katrina:

“When disaster strikes, we are at our best
But we’re ready all the time, ’cause disasters don’t rest.”

But my vote for most-bizarro bit from FEMA for Kids? It’s the cautionary tale of Mary Ann:

“Mary Ann lived near the Gulf of Mexico in 1969 when Hurricane Camille struck her three-story apartment building. Mary Ann was one of 24 people who didn’t leave the Richelieu Apartments when they were warned. When the storm surge hit, the building began to creak and the windows broke out. Water started flooding in and was all over the apartment in a matter of two minutes . . . .

“The winds and waves were so strong that every time Mary Ann grabbed hold of something it would be ripped from her hands. She kept getting hit by the wreckage and was bloody from head to toe from the nails in the boards. This went on for 12 hours before Mary Ann was found 4 1⁄2 miles from her house. She was taken to a hospital where she stayed for three weeks.

“Today, Mary Ann is grown up. She still lives in Mississippi. She tells her story over and over so people will listen when they’re told to evacuate.”

I don’t know about you but that’s precisely my idea of how to keep children calm in an emergency: feed them cute stories about people who ignore FEMA warnings and as a result are treated to a scourging like something out of The Passion of the Christ.

Who knew that Brian Dubie’s website was perched atop all this FEMA-mania? Who knew the Douglas/Dubie approach to health-care was just a gussied-up version of the Bush approach?

Anybody who bothered to look behind the flight jacket.

December 8th, 2005

Kevin Curley, Joan Baez, and Instant Runoff Voting

by Philip Baruth

In case you missed it, last year Burlington became one of the first major American cities to experiment with Instant Runoff Voting. Under IRV, voters rank their preferences; after the first round, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated, and their voters have their second-place preferences added to the remaining candidates’ totals, until one cracks the 50% mark.

Of course, this scrambles much of the prevailing wisdom about how to run a campaign — under IRV, you need to appeal to the bases of the candidates who will be eliminated, as well as your own.

The problem is knowing which candidate will be eliminated, and hence which voters to court.

At its best, this institutional uncertainty leads to greater civility during a campaign. Being an all-around nice guy is a decent strategy for winding up #2 on most people’s lists.

But at its worst, IRV produces an oddly blatant form of political cross-dressing. It takes pandering to a whole new level.

So let’s take the case of Kevin Curley, the newly-minted Republican candidate for Mayor of Burlington. Curley is one very blunt, hard-nosed Conservative from the most Conservative end of town, with a historical penchant for running full-tilt against the policies of a Progressive City Hall.

But in a three-way race with a Democrat and a Progressive, victory will depend on being the second-choice for voters whose candidate is eliminated in the first round. And it looks at this point as though any Progressive who jumps into the race will be not only a late entrant, but a lesser-known candidate overall.

In a punishing irony worthy of Greek mythology, then, Curley will need more than a few Progressive votes to cross the finish line.

Which means that as soon as he had the nomination in hand, Curley came out sounding like Joan Baez. His campaign slogan so far? “Working Class Values for a Better Burlington.”

Up next: Curley dons hemp shirt, leads Rally to Free Mumia Jamal, is photographed by the Burlington Free Press sharing a plate and a wet-nap with Bernie Sanders at the KFC All-You-Can-Eat Buffet out on Shelburne Road.

Stay tuned, my friends. This one won’t just be political theater — it’ll be IMAX political theater.

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