January 24th, 2006

Scalia Caught Sulking in Dorky White Shorts

by Philip Baruth

This is the sort of story I almost have to hug to my chest, because I just love it so much. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia failed to attend the swearing-in ceremony of newly-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts a few weeks back.

Why? Scalia cited a previous committment, one he “couldn’t break.”

Turns out he was playing tennis, on the Federalist Society dime, with Federalist Society members who ponied up big cash. And yes, for the masochists in the audience, Nightline has photos of Scalia in his tennis whites. (RawStory has the scoop.)

Top five most embarrassing aspects to this story:

5) Clearly snubbing John Roberts out of pique at being passed over for the job
4) Accepting expensive junkets from interested parties
3) Allowing interested parties to retail access to a sitting SCOTUS member
2) Preferring a racket sport — any racket sport — to seating a new Chief Justice

and the #1 answer:

1) Near-complete lack of muscle tone!

January 24th, 2006

America Run Mad: Chapter 96

by Philip Baruth

From the Washington Post: “A military jury in Colorado issued a reprimand last night to an Army interrogator who was convicted of negligent homicide for using an aggressive technique on an Iraqi general who died during questioning. Jurors decided not to impose any prison sentence for what originally was charged as a murder.”

The “aggressive technique” in question was taping the detainee’s mouth, binding him with cords, putting him into a sleeping bag, closing said bag, and then sitting on it — and no doubt kicking and punching it — until the detainee suffocated. This the military jury ruled “negligent homicide.”

This is a technique? An American technique?

For this you get a reprimand? This is negligence? It would be hard to imagine a more purposeful death, I guess, if you were the guy in the bag.

Let’s not kid ourselves: this is the sort of thing we expect from serial killers. Only the intense fear and wounded pride of 9/11 has us saying anything different.

January 23rd, 2006

Monday Must-Read Sentence: Paging P.B. Shelley

by Philip Baruth

Nine times out of ten, the VDB Monday Must-Read Sentence is the most newsworthy bite from the weekend’s crop of bites. But on rare occasions, a line makes it through on raw, wild, unanticipated poetic power.

The Sunday Boston Globe ran one of those “Iraq in Transition” stories that have become an identifiable sub-genre over the last two years or so — a detailed run-down, in this case, of the harried Iraqi oil industry. The meat of it was familiar stuff; production is less than it was pre-invasion, insurgents have been fabulously successful in choking off the flow through sabotage and direct attack, etc.

Still, some of the figures were potent and new: “The oil industry . . . has been hit with nearly 300 major attacks since 2003,” for example.

That’s just major attacks.

But Farah Stockman, the reporter on the piece, is apparently made of finer stuff than your average journalist. In describing the near-daily attacks on the Kirkuk pipelines, she captures the hopeless nature of the battle with an MMRS that reads like Romantic poetry, like Shelley, or Byron. She’s describing the aftermath of an insurgent attack:

“Even when the pipeline is cut, the fields must keep pumping — ‘like a heart,’ Maquire said — so engineers must put the oil back in the ground, a practice that ruins the oil fields’ underground reserves.”

The image is stunning, and multi-tiered: not only a massive heart pumping helplessly onto the surface, but engineers then routing the oil back into the sand from which they’ve so laboriously drained it — only to make their own task far more difficult in the future.

All of this with the bleak sense that the oil in the ground, like the blood in the body, is finite, and non-renewable.

It made me think of Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” and because the poem’s fourteen lines have more to say about the sheer lunacy of Iraq than any of the best-selling non-fiction currently available, VDB suggests reading it in full:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said–”Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart….Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

VDB memo to Farah Stockman: Love your work, really. But you might think about giving the sonnet form a shot.

Because clearly you’ve got the chops.

January 23rd, 2006

Will Ferrell Savages Bush, Take 2

by Philip Baruth

During the last campaign, Will Ferrell did a parody of a Bush campaign commercial that set the gold-standard for Presidential mockery. Ferrell’s back with Round Two, a send-up of Bush on global warming.

The pop-up book absolutely slayed me.

Many thanks to VDB-patriot Yozev for the tip.

January 20th, 2006

Jim Douglas: The Nixon Files

by Philip Baruth

Man, you take a minute out to sneeze and make a sandwich — and when you look back a blogospherian controversy is in full blossom.

Vermonters First has posted an amazing blast from the past: a profile of the young Governor Douglas published in Middlebury College’s student newspaper, The Campus, on Friday October 9, 1970.

The title doesn’t mince words: it’s called “Nixon’s Man on Campus.”

Sounds like hyperbole at first. But Douglas was president of the Vermont Young Republicans then, and his quotes in the article will snap your head back. The rhetoric was clearly sharpened on Nixon’s oilstone. The best paragraph:

“In relation to Vermonters, Douglas’ conservative outlook might pass unnoticed, but on a college campus Douglas is somewhat of a political loner, defending Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees (‘It was too bad for the Northern Liberals to get together and block a nomination like that’), his segregation policies (‘I’m not sure there is segregation’), Vietnamization (‘a very admirable plan’) and even the Cambodian invasion (‘I personally would have liked a little more’).”

I personally would have liked a little more.

In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter Thompson refers to 1970-1971 as “this foul Year of Our Lord.” Now I know why.

There are many things to think about with this piece, or even just with the above paragraph. There are the eerie parallels, Nixon to Bush, and Douglas’s support of each: on packing the Supreme Court, on military aggression overseas, on “Vietnamization” as a way to draw a temporary veil over mounting casualties, the same sort of veil Bush is now working in Iraq.

But those parallels aren’t the most thought-provoking element of this 36-year-old paragraph, not by a long shot. Notice in that first line that author Ted Hobson takes it for granted that Douglas’s views in 1970 almost perfectly mirror the views of the average Vermonter.

That’s what I find really intriguing. The demographics and the politics of this state have shifted as dramatically as any state in America over the last four decades. We’ve gone from being one of the most reliably Conservative states in the country, to one of the most reliably Liberal. On all of these issues — race in America, packing the Supreme Court, wars of choice and the toppling of overseas governments — the majority of Vermonters have experienced a sea-change.

Yet our Governor tends to share George W. Bush’s conservative political outlook, and our Lieutenant Governor tends to share the President’s taste in flight gear.

So it’s worth asking: Have we experienced true political change as a state, or were we just flirting with ideas like social justice?

Another way to think about it is this: Why isn’t Ted Hobson the governor of Vermont in this foul Year of Our Lord, 2006?

He’s the one that got all of it right, way back when it all meant something.

January 20th, 2006

Emerging Bush Dogma: “Demand the Military Sooner”

by Philip Baruth

Admittedly, Brownie is pathetic. But he may also be a leading indicator, and an unsettling one at that.

Clearly Brown has never really ceased communication with the White House; it makes sense to look to him for both emerging revisionist history and creepy future trends.

In September, during Congressional hearings on Katrina, it was revisionist history. nullBrownie blamed the Democrats in Louisiana, and asserted that FEMA’s role was minimal. “FEMA doesn’t evacuate communities. FEMA does not do law enforcement. FEMA does not do communications.”

Yesterday, it was creepy future trend time.

“’I should have asked for the military sooner. I should have demanded the military sooner,’ Brown told a gathering of meteorologists at a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada.”

I don’t know about you, but if I’m a meteorologist from Dubuque on a ski junket at a resort in the Sierra Nevadas, the last thing I want is a two-hour plenary session on “How You Too Can Fail The Nation” with Michael Brown.

But my point is this: if you put together this new military line, with the earlier FEMA-doesn’t-do-disasters line, you wind up with Bush’s emerging Homeland Security philosophy: empower the military in time of natural disaster or security crisis, almost any disaster or crisis.

Look at Bush’s plan on avian flu, to take another example. It amounts to getting on the phone to the Pentagon, and having the four-star types run the operation like a military engagement. Quarantine, curfew, etc. You know the drill.

If you’re Bush, it makes perfect sense: nothing that the military does is open to genuine public scrutiny, and you are suddenly both Commander-in-Chief and a civilian with no real culpability should the operation go sour (see, Iraq, Occupation of). Once it’s in the hands of the military, your options multiply exponentially.

But I’m funny that way: I don’t like the government sifting domestic telecommunications and internet traffic, and I don’t like scenarios for military administration of American cities — and more than anything else, I don’t like the two strategies pursued simultaneously.

Part of the reason I’m funny this way is that I picked up Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here this summer, and believe me, if you read that novel in the Time of Bush, it will chill your blood.

Because It Can’t Happen Here begins with FDR losing the Presidential election of 1936 — just like Roth’s Plot Against America — but this time to a glad-handing Senator named Buzz Windrip. And Windrip is also a crypto-fascist, although much less crypto than was Lindbergh in Roth’s book.

Upon taking office, Windrip elevates his personal jack-booted militia — the Minute Men — to official army status. The other stark difference between Roth’s nightmare and Lewis’s, though, is that Lewis’s takes place right here, in Vermont.

Or in the land once known as Vermont: Windrip and his minions eliminate state borders and refashion the country into eight Federal provinces. The northeastern provincial governor has his headquarters on the old Dartmouth College campus.

It is from Dartmouth that the orders to construct the local concentration camps are eventually issued. Prisoners are never charged, and allowed no due process. They are tortured relentlessly.

And it is Vermonters patrolling them, Vermonters selling them food and supplies, Vermonters participating both actively and passively in the liquidation of the unwanted.

The point is that we are all at risk, and we are all responsible.

There should be a word for the opposite of “escapist fiction,” a word for fiction that won’t let you escape, that finds its way to you and forces you to deal with unpleasant contradictions in your life, and in your country.

Maybe “confrontist fiction.”

Reading stuff like It Can’t Happen Here is not the most pleasant way to structure your reading time, granted. Neither, of course, is keeping a weather eye on Michael Brown.

But these days I begin to suspect that we no longer have much choice in the matter.

January 19th, 2006

Zuckerman Eyes Used Subaru

by Philip Baruth

Representative David Zuckerman at last year’s Progressive Party convention, talking about the need to challenge Democrat Peter Welch in this year’s Congressional election:

“I have envelopes over there and ask that each person give a little something towards the campaign. Peter Welch was excited that in his first quarter of fundraising he had 600 Vermonters donate. If each couple can donate as individuals and if each of you can take a couple of envelopes to give to folks that might give $5 or $10 or $50 that would be great. If I can get more than 600 donors from Vermont by the end of the year…it will make Peter Welch think twice about whether he can really win against this kind of grassroots campaign.” [emphasis mine]

From Zuckerman’s press release yesterday:

“Progressive State Representative David Zuckerman raised $7,400 from 317 donors before December 31st according to a campaign finance report his exploration committee filed today with the Federal Election Commission.”

Now, you guess the actual title of this January 17 press release (multiple choice):

A) Rep. Zuckerman Misses Target Number of Vermont Donors by Nearly Half

B) Rep. Zuckerman “Thinks Twice About Whether He Can Really Win This Kind of Grassroots Campaign,” Joins Sanders in Endorsing Welch

C) Rep. Zuckerman Raises Nearly Enough to Purchase Used ‘97 Subaru — Runs Excellent, Some Rust

D) Rep. Zuckerman’s Exploratory Committee Generating Significant Support

Even though I wrote the questions, I still picked C. But apparently the answer is D.

Again, as with the ad “blitz,” all of the indicators are that this trial ballon is in no danger of rising any time soon. At this rate, Zuckerman is on track to raise maybe 25k from Vermonters, not even enough to fund a decent Chittenden County State Senate race.

The only thing that has allowed Zuckerman to stay on the radar screen at all is the threat of the Third Party challenge, the threat to Bernie’s reliably liberal seat. That threat generates free media, enabling continued threat on down the line.

If anyone is running on fear, then — and almost entirely on the center-left’s fear of losing that seat — it’s Zuckerman himself.

So to all of the other serious reasons not to run this race — Bernie’s explicit discouragement of Zuckerman and encouragement of Welch, a two-month-old infant in the house, all of the duties that go along with representing his district and chairing a major committee in the Legislature, the clear danger of adding the seat to Tom Delay’s stolen majority — add in a pretty tepid response at the fundraising grassroots.

What’s the logic of continuing to explore a run, then? VDB has said it before and will no doubt say it again: Z’06=4PSB.

You do the math.

January 18th, 2006

Only Rhode Island Disapproves More

by Philip Baruth

Survey USA releases their state-by-state Bush polling data, and in general it shows widespread discontent.

bushBut for those of us in Vermont, there’s something particularly disturbing: apparently we take a backseat to Rhode Island in our disapproval of Bush’s performance in the White House.

That’s right — we’re #2, people. Only #2. And not even #2 on the approval-side of the question, but tied for the second-lowest approval rate. With Delaware.

Only man in America more bummed than I am to see Rhode Island top out this list? Lincoln Chafee, squishy R.I. Republican up for re-election. Lincoln’s sweating bullets.

Now look, I went to school in Rhode Island, spent four fantastic years there, and I love the place — Providence and Newport in particular. But with that said, there’s no way in hell this poll is accurate.

I find it impossible to believe that any state in the Union — even a place as right-headed as the Ocean State — harbors a deeper mistrust of, or a more pervasive sense of discontent with, George W. Bush than does Vermont. You will never convince me of that.

But fore-warned is fore-armed, I always say. The next time those pollsters call, we’ll be ready, ready to kick out the jams. And we’ll be #1 next time around, oh yes, you can bet your sweet Ashcroft we will.

Word is bond.

January 17th, 2006

Don’t Forget the Welch Sit-Down

by Philip Baruth

Below this week’s MMRS post is a biggie from Friday: a long interview with Congressional candidate Peter Welch, in which he disses James Carville and Nader, gives full props to Bernie and Feingold, and presents his infected thumb as a postmodern cautionary tale.

Not to be missed, if VDB does say so itself.

January 16th, 2006

MMRS: Stephanopoulos & Specter Skate an Old Impeachment Program

by Philip Baruth

The news-obsessed ectomorphs had it wicked easy this weekend.

There was no question as to the Monday-Must-Read-Sentence: Arlen Specter dropped it Sunday on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos. At this point, it’s a very much-blogged line (MMRS in italics):

Stephanopoulos: “You know if the President did break the law or circumvent the law, what’s the remedy?”

bushSpecter: “Well, the remedy could be a variety of things. A president — and I’m not suggesting remotely that there’s any basis, but you’re asking, really, theory, what’s the remedy? Impeachment is a remedy.

“After impeachment, you could have a criminal prosecution, but the principal remedy, George, under our society is to pay a political price.”

Impeachment is a remedy.

Not exactly the sort of thing Bush wants falling from the lips of the Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in advance of hearings on his warrantless wiretapping program. Not the sort of thing Condoleeza Rice — now floating her own Presidential balloons — wants to hear.

But wait, you say: if this MMRS is “much-blogged” why am I reading it on this site? Don’t I have an inalienable right to expect new and different — and more than occasionally ground-breaking — material from VDB?

You do, my friend. Rest easy.

The reason I come to this story this morning is to fill in some very intriguing background that I haven’t seen pictured elsewhere.

Let’s go back to the conversation above and remember who exactly is asking the questions: George Stephanopoulos, once Clinton’s 24-hour campaign aide, then his White House spokesman, then a right-hand man for domestic policy.

And yet, after leaving the White House, Stephanopoulos is perhaps most famous for his own Sister-Souljah moment: he was the first prominent Democrat to use the I-word following the revelations about Monica Lewinsky, a seemingly calculated move for which Clinton has never forgiven him.

Here’s Stephanopoulos, in his autobiography All Too Human, discussing his infamous appearance on “Good Morning, America,” January 21, 1998:

“When anchor Lisa McRee questioned me, I said that I didn’t know much about Monica or her relationship with Clinton, then added my assessment of the situation: ‘These are the most serious allegations yet leveled against the president. If they’re true, they’re not only politically damaging, but it could lead to impeachment proceedings. But they’re just questions right now, and that’s why I think we do all have to take a deep breath before we go too far here.’

“I didn’t think I’d gone too far. Saying that proven charges of perjury, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice by the president of the United States ‘could’ cause Congress to begin the impeachment process seemed to me like an understatement. But to the rest of the political world, it was a leading indicator” (ATH, 434).

With that in mind, go back and reread the exchange between Stephanopoulos and Specter above. Remember, Stephanopoulos is a man who will never, ever forget the way that the I-word resonates, even when explicitly cast as theory. It’s burned into his muscle memory. So when he walks Specter into a theoretical imagining Sunday, George is obviously trying to recreate his own 1998 experience, with Specter as Stephanopoulos.

And for obvious reasons: if Specter uses the I-word, in any way, shape, or form, the headlines will be tremendous. And the ratings for “This Week” have never been all that ABC originally hoped.

The only remaining piece here is Specter. If he were a novice, you might be tempted to say that the wily young Stephanopoulos got the better of him. But this is a man who’s right in the middle of a Supreme Court confirmation process. He’s parsing every word, no matter where he is, or with whom he’s conversing.

When Specter says “Good morning” to his wife these days, he thinks long and hard about the implications of both “Good” and “morning.”

And in this case he’s on a Sunday show explicitly designed to drive Monday headlines. So Specter clearly wanted to shock the world.

Why? I think he’s livid about this NSA power-grab. (And his constituents in PA are increasingly disenchanted with Bush and the far-Right, of course.) This appearance, this dropping of the I-word, ensures widespread coverage of the coming NSA hearings, ensures that both parties in Congress will be pressured into treating it as Issue #1 post-Alito.

The conclusion: Stephanopoulos and Specter discussed this very carefully before the cameras rolled, scripted it between them: a deliberate and calculated echo of the Clinton Impeachment roll-out, a win-win for two guys who happened each to need a headline.

Not since the days of Tai Babalonia and Randy Gardner has VDB seen a program executed so flawlessly.

Even the East German judges score it . . . yes . . . a perfect 10.

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