March 31st, 2006

The Zombie Presidency

by Philip Baruth

With these guys, it’s never really over until it’s never really over.

Social Security privatization, putting ideologues on the Supreme Court, cutting veteran’s benefits, going to War, or selling port security to countries that also provided support to the 9/11 hijackers: any defeat is really only a set-back. They’ll try again and again and again until they get their badness done.

They just keep moving forward on these things, slowly, staggeringly, blindly, mindlessly. Like zombies.

Danziger knows that the Dubai Ports World deal isn’t really dead. It’s just moving into zombie phase. To wit:


March 30th, 2006

Iraq: The Semi-Final Solution

by Philip Baruth

The next stage in the Administration’s carefully modulated plan for post-war peace: Balkanization. The Post has the story:

“BAGHDAD, March 28 — Sectarian violence has displaced more than 25,000 Iraqis since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine, a U.N.-affiliated agency said Tuesday, and shelters and tent cities are springing up across central and southern Iraq to house homeless Sunni and Shiite families.

“The flight is continuing, according to the International Organization for Migration, which works closely with the United Nations and other groups. The result has been a population exchange as Sunni and Shiite families flee mixed communities for the safety of areas where their own sects predominate.”

What an upbeat term: a population exchange. Everyone likes an even trade. But it’s a funny thing — wasn’t that sort of forced migration called ethnic cleansing in Serbia a few years back?

And yet, not a murmur from Washington, except the brain-dead “the parties must form a unity government” meme.

Which leads to one very interesting possibility — that the Administration has formally but covertly opted to close its eyes as the three main factions in Iraq violently reorder themselves into de facto sub-nations, each more or less religiously and ethnically distinct.

The Semi-Final Solution.

Yes, it has its hitches. In the natural course of things, some blood will be spilled, the rest of the world will wring its hands, and we’ll soon be unwelcome in most of the former Iraq.

But the beauty part is that we’ll always have Kurdistan. And our bases there will let us project force at will. And project we will, baby.

Mission accomplished, after all.

March 29th, 2006

Martha Can’t Make Up Her Mind

by Philip Baruth

Let’s suppose for a minute that Roy Blunt — a slippery Republican Congressman with ties to Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay — shipped a $2,000 PAC check to Mark Shepard, Martha Rainville’s opponent in the upcoming Republican primary.

Now let’s suppose that Shepard first denies that he ever received the check. And then — when Blunt doggedly sends him a duplicate — Shepard says he had no idea that Blunt’s PAC is a conduit for money amassed by Delay and Abramoff, both currently facing trial and potential jail time.

In this scenario, Shepard also says that he had no idea that Blunt’s fund leans heavily on money from Big Tobacco — a source of funds Shepard has previously said he will reject. And he begins to float the idea that everyone is washing everyone’s back in Washington, so everyone is tainted and no one can be held accountable: “All the members in a sense are associated with each other in Washington . . . There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on and I’m not going to pre-judge anybody.”

Finally, let’s suppose that once cornered about the Blunt-Delay money, Shepard chooses — quite bluntly — to delay: “This is something we may well need to look into,” he says, to which his campaign spokesman adds a little hotly, “It’s a personal decision for Mark, as to who he wants to accept money from and who he does not want to accept money from.”

And finally, let’s say this delaying tactic goes on for months.

What would be the conventional wisdom about Mark Shepard, at the end of those months of dithering? Let VDB hazard a series of guesses:

1) The mainstream media would agree that Shepard’s campaign was not ready for prime time. Stories would begin to appear leaning heavily on the words “stumble” and “bizarre.”

2) Shepard would be characterized personally as either indecisive or stubborn, even pig-headed. Having said previously that he would not accept campaign money from tobacco interests, his public shilly-shallying over the Blunt PAC cash would be taken for outright hypocrisy.

3) A second wave of stories would then appear, comparative in nature, pointing to the relative competence of Martha Rainville’s campaign. Where Shepard — on the strength of the Blunt/Delay/PAC debacle — would be figured as either too willful or not willful enough, Rainville would be drawn in bold, even heroic lines. Rainville runs an ethical and competent campaign, this sort of story would argue implicitly, and therefore she’ll bring a new broom to a dirty Congress.

Right. Now, let’s get real.

The narrative above is, of course, a pretty accurate summary of the Rainville camp’s actual handling of actual PAC money from actual Washington insiders under actual indictment.

The campaign’s treatment of the issue has swerved from laughable denial, to delay, to odd claims of personal privilege (“It’s a personal decision for Martha”). It seems fairly clear that the campaign will ultimately reject the donation; they’re clumsy, but not stupid.

Which begs the question: Why drag it out? Why allow it to appear and re-appear in the Free Press and the Guardian (both of whom have been fairly dogged on the issue)?

The answer: Martha can’t make up her mind.

And her campaign staff is too inexperienced or thumb-fingered to push her to do so.

Only when that second wave of stories appears — not stories about the donation itself, but stories in which the donation becomes a metaphor for a stumbling campaign — will Martha get off the dime and do the right thing.

And that’s the heart of VDB’s opposition to her candidacy: Bernie Sanders’s seat has become synonymous with speaking truth to power, and Rainville’s risk-averse campaign — including her inability to speak out on the War, permanent bases in Iraq, or the ongoing lunacy of US-sanctioned torture — fails what amounts to a simple test of courage.

In the first days of February, we predicted that once Rainville finally made up her mind about a run for Congress, “the uniform will be removed, and something unaccountable will appear — a woman of relatively little experience with public policy, operating uncertainly and tentatively outside the bounds of self-imposed silence.”

Arguably, that prediction has come to pass. But where are the stories stating the obvious?

Where are the profiles of Mark Shepard, pointing out his relative competence and probity? Where are the editorial chin-pullers, arguing that in spite of the military air she cultivates and brings to the campaign, Rainville has thus far been popularly associated with a single character trait — indecisiveness?

Don’t look at us. Because VDB has no earthly idea.

March 28th, 2006

An Elaborate VDB Welcome

by Philip Baruth

An elaborate VDB welcome to any Burlington Free Press readers who may be clicking into the site for the first time today.

We offer politics and satire, piping hot, on a daily basis. Not to mention top-shelf caricature by in-house artist Marc Nadel, and the occasional Danziger mini-masterpiece. Not to mention in-depth interviews with intriguing 2006 candidates (see sidebar). And not to mention that you can email us at any time day or night.

Finally, deep thanks to Geoff Gevalt, creative guru of the Free Press’s Young Writers Project, for introducing a whole new generation to VDB.

Now that’s a vision for the future.

March 28th, 2006

Cheney Parties Like A Big Dog — Not

by Philip Baruth

Since The Smoking Gun managed to obtain and publish Vice President Cheney’s standard “tour” rider — a list of required items and conditions for any hotel suite Cheney will be using on the road — much has been made of the stipulation that all televisions must be “tuned to Fox News” before the Big Guy arrives.

Danziger, for one, has effortlessly captured both the anti-intellectual and the weirdly narcissistic aspects of this requirement:

cheney to fox to cheney

But if you click over to the reproduction posted at TSG, you’ll notice something just as intriguing near the bottom: scrawled in over the standard form is a request for “Newspapers — New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, local papers,” and then, yes, what looks suspiciously like “Wash. Post.”

In other words, the closeted image that Cheney and Bush have been so forward in projecting — declaring that they never read the papers, and get all their news from Fox — is as authentic as the Healthy Forests Initiative.

Cheney reads the papers, clearly compulsively. Even the Washington Post. cheney's got a gunWhich is to say he’s read all of the brutal editorials they’ve run about his energetic support for allowing torture by the CIA, and other US forces.

Like the one on October 26, 2005, where they dubbed him “The Vice President of Torture.” The one where they wrote, and we quote, “As for Mr. Cheney: He will be remembered as the vice president who campaigned for torture.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re the Vice President of the United States of America. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting with your socks off in 68 degree comfort, drinking your pre-positioned Diet Caffeine Free Sprite. If you read that about yourself in the country’s premier political newspaper, it hurts.

As well it should.

March 27th, 2006

In Which Rumsfeld Gets Cuffed

by Philip Baruth

Peter Welch had a straight-shooting editorial in the Times Argus yesterday, on the pressing need to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

It was particularly impressive when laid side by side with the mush-mouthed stuff dribbling from the Rainville camp on this and other Iraq-related issues. Rainville feels that firing Rumsfeld might cause “turbulence” — which is funny, because VDB might be tempted to call the situation we have now (2300+ dead and 17,000 wounded American soldiers, civil war brewing) somewhat turbulent.

Especially given that as of today, the insurgency is suddenly only the second largest problem for US forces in Iraq. “American officials are now saying that Shiite militias are the No. 1 problem in Iraq, more dangerous than the Sunni-led insurgents,” according to the Times.

In any event, below is my own take on the issue — decidedly roundabout, as always.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #178: Rumsfeld Gets Cuffed

Like a lot of people, I almost never remember to shop ahead of time or in bulk. Instead, I tend to shop when I’m fresh out of work, late for dinner, and ravenously hungry — utterly defenseless.

The big chain grocery near my house knows this about me, and they put out cheese cubes and bits of roast beef and smoked turkey in a little glass case in front of the deli. This case stands just at hand-level, like an oversized mouse trap, and I’ve bought hundreds of pounds of smoked turkey over the years.

But over those same years, I’ve also developed counter-strategies. On my first run past the sample case, for instance, I pick up what looks like one cheese cube and one slice of turkey. But really each cube and slice is holding a duplicate cupped against my palm.

After eating these, I’ll make a long looping turn at the Dairy section and come back to work the same pathetic magic trick one more time.

Only then do I break down and buy a pound of each.

I know the store still wins in the end, but the point is: It’s wicked good turkey.

The other night, though, as I’m about to strafe the sample case for the second time, something catches my eye as I pass the Pharmacy. It’s an older man in glasses and a sharp pinstriped suit, gray at the temples, and at first I think he’s having some sort of a seizure. He’s sitting at the automatic bloodpressure machine, after all, and as I glance over he yanks hard once, and then twice, three times, on the arm locked into the beige plastic cuff.

But then the guy slumps back in the chair like he’s winded, and it dawns on me: he’s trapped in there. The blood pressure machine sits behind a little ficas tree meant to provide privacy — and obviously once it inflated, the cuff never deflated.

Maybe he’s been there for hours.

So I roll my cart over to the ficas, and as I come around the little branches, I get my second epiphany: this trapped guy is not just a guy, it’s Donald Rumsfeld.

rumsfeldSecretary of Defense Donald Henry Rumsfeld.

There’s this awkward pause, so I introduce myself and then I say, “How are you, Secretary Rumsfeld?”

And he looks up and gives this tight grin, and then he says, “Never better, son. This is one hell of a grocery store. I don’t get up this way much, but I’m enjoying this place. Produce selection is just first-rate.”

There’s another pause. He hasn’t mentioned the cuff, and so I feel odd mentioning it for him, but he’s clearly trapped. The hand sticking out of the cuff has gone bloodless and white.

“Can I help you out of there, Mr. Secretary?” I ask.

He squints through the glasses. “Out of where? I’m afraid I don’t follow you.”

“Your arm,” I say. “It seems like you’re — you know, stuck in the blood pressure cuff.”

He follows my gaze, as though I’ve pointed to a quarter someone dropped on the floor. Then he squints up at me again. “These machines take time, Phil. They deflate at their own pace.”

“I know, but you look stuck,” I say. “I mean, you were really yanking on it before.”

Rumsfeld thinks, then says, “I like to simulate stress. Just to make sure the circulatory system’s battle-ready.”

I figure I should just leave, but my conscience nags me, and I say, “So you’re all right, then?”

Rumsfeld squints, and this time all of the wrinkles on his face seem to surface at once. He seems simultaneously old, and impassioned, and desperately tired. And then he just starts asking questions, and answering them, one after the other. “Is this blood pressure cuff operating at peak efficiency, Phil? No, clearly it isn’t. Do I wish I were free to get up now and finish my shopping? Darn right I do. Will I eventually be roaming the aisles and picking out some fresh herbs and arugula for my salad tonight? Absolutely, Phil. Oh, absolutely.

And that seems to be all there is to say. So I sort of shake the hand sticking out of the pressure cuff, and Rumsfeld nods and looks quickly away, and I leave him there, behind the ficas tree in the Pharmacy.

I start my loop back to the sample case, but as I near it, I sort of lose my appetite and wheel past. I try to convince myself that it’s someone else’s job, ultimately, to get the guy out of there.

But still — there’s a little voice in my head that says I should just have hauled him out when I had the chance, whether he wanted the help or not.

March 26th, 2006

Barbara Bush Mortification Update

by Philip Baruth

Josh Marshall points out that Barbara Bush’s philanthropic alley-oop (donating money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Relief Fund, but specifying that it be used only to purchase a product sold by her son’s company) is actually even more unconscionable than it might appear — and let’s face it, it already seemed like a hanging offense.

Marshall notes that George Sr. and Barbara are themselves investors in Ignite!, Neil’s pampered little start-up.

And that would make Barbara Bush’s earmarks on the money not just a way to enrich one of her wayward boys, but not incidentally a way to see a healthy return on her own investment. The news coverage of the gift and the company involved already exceeds any start-up’s dreams of free media.

Nearly all of it has been bad press, of course, but still it beats utter obscurity.

Ever the innovators, these Bush types. Not merely an alley-oop, but a philanthropic triple-play, coming right back to Kennebunkport: Tinker to Evers to Cash.

March 24th, 2006

Rove Launches New Talking Point: Defeat

by Philip Baruth

A satisfyingly venemous profile on Karl Rove’s waning influence in the White House in today’s Times — but remember this is the Times, so the venom is very genteel and slow-acting.

But read the piece through to the end, especially if you’ve had a long hard day with rich and powerful people stepping all over you and leaving footprints.

The nuggets? Two choice bits to savor on the drive home:

Nugget #1:

rove“In a brief interview, Mr. Rove dismissed the notion that he was fatigued or had lost his touch.

“‘We’re all energized,’ Mr. Rove said. ‘Whether we’re on our game or not — I’m an idiot one day and a genius the next — that’s the way it is. You can’t pay attention to that.’”

Read that quote again — noting the way the thread just snips half way through the answer — and remember his point was to prove that he’s not punch-drunk and error-prone.

Nugget #2:

“Mr. Rove has assured worried Republicans that the party will endure just minor losses in the midterm elections.”

Again, just let yourself meander through that sentence again — he’s “assured” panicky Republicans that they will be defeated, but only in a small way.

Dangerous incompetence, indeed.

March 24th, 2006

Barbara Bush: The Mortifying Years

by Philip Baruth

And you thought that Barbara Bush had made the gaffe of all time when she toured that overcrowded Katrina-relief station and remarked, “So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this — this is working very well for them.”

Oh, ye of little faith.

BabsBarbara has now gone herself one better: she’s donated money to the Katrina Relief fund — but stipulated that it go in roundabout fashion to son Neil.

From Raw Story via the Houston Chronicle:

“Former first lady Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund with specific instructions that the money be spent with an educational software company owned by her son Neil.

“Since then, the Ignite Learning program has been given to eight area schools that took in substantial numbers of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.”

Can it get any more creepy and self-serving and unhumanitarian and nepotistic? Wait! Don’t answer yet: Neil’s company Ignite Learning, you will remember from the Dubai Ports World scandal, has been heavily and very personally underwritten by . . . yes! The United Arab Emirates.

That would be the same UAE who were seeking commercial control of six major US ports. The same UAE interests who received the oddly full-throated support of the President of the United States and the Governor of Florida.

Thank you again, Barbara Bush, for showing America the way out of tragedy.

Your husband and President Clinton put aside partisan politics and joined forces to create a fund aimed squarely at the needs of the least fortunate among us — and you’ve found an impish way to use that fund to advertise and enrich your wayward son’s pet start-up.


We can only hope that millions take your example, all over this nation: giving whatever undisclosed amount they can easily afford, earmarking it very precisely, and watching that seed finally return on the gentle winds to bloom in their family’s own tight and loving little economy.

March 22nd, 2006

Gale Norton Ideologically Punk’d in Airport Bathroom

by Philip Baruth

Traveling the last few days in Colorado, and currently blogging from the public library in Telluride, where they take information technology pretty damned seriously.

Three-dimensional newspapers can be tough to come by, on the other hand. At least the Denver papers. And so if you sit down in a cafe without doing your homework beforehand, you can easily wind up with nothing to read but a local daily-shopper like the Telluride Watch.

Which happened to me this morning: Six a.m., breakfast burrito, sun smirking over the mountains that circle Telluride like God’s own castle wall — and nothing but the Telluride Daily Planet to pore over.

Nightmare scenario.

But even a daily-shopper runs something semi-precious every once in a while. There on page two was an op-ed called “Seeing Gale Norton’s Legacy,” by Terry Tempest Williams. And it was a beautiful piece of work: Tempest tells the story of running into Gale Norton, Bush’s soon to be former Interior Secretary, in the bathroom at the Denver International Airport. A bit awkward, as Williams had written a savage critique of Bush energy policy a few months earlier.

Really awkard, in fact: Norton wouldn’t even shake William’s hand at the sink.

“Withdrawing my wet hand, I said, ‘I realize this is an awkward sitution, but surely there must be some way to find a common point of conversation between us two women from the American West.’

“She wrung her hands and walked over to the wall behind us to dry them. I did the same.

“There was nothing in Secretary Norton’s demeanor that said she was under any obligation or courtesy to engage with a citizen, particularly this one. Granted it could be strongly argued that I was infringing on her privacy, but given the lack of access with anyone in this administration, I took my chances.

“What I do remember is Secretary Norton saying to me something along the lines, ‘If you knew what we knew, you would think differently.’

“This was a familiar response to me, growing up in a religious background where authority was respected, not questioned. If your testimony of God was not as strong as that of the true believers, it was because you were on the other side of goodness.”

To me, Williams captures the nub of the problem: whether in questions of government policy, or in questions of faith, the Bush administration pushes submission. Fortunately, of course, Williams wasn’t having any of it, and she continued to press Norton through the hand-drying and skirt-straightening phases of their bathroom encounter.

I’ve always disliked Gale Norton because she seems to me a classic Bush enabler: a smart, get-ahead type who realized early that backing the program (anti-environmental policies pushed as “reform”) was all that was required of her.

Williams doesn’t seem to like her much either, but she clearly detests what the last five years have done to environmental policy in the West. The close of her piece is genuinely poignant:

“Flying over southwestern Colorado, all I could see out my window was a spider web of roads, crisscrossing the desert, each one leading to Gale Norton’s legacy of black well pumps, designed by the oil and gas companies who paved her way into American history.”


Next Page »