June 30th, 2006

Seven Daysies: Best Vermont Blog

by Philip Baruth

Cathy Resmer at 802 Online noted a few weeks back that the “Best Vermont Blog” category had been mysteriously dropped from the Seven Days “Best Of” list this time around.

And Cathy was not amused, to say the least.

So she went to work on the matter, and the upshot is that the contest has been reinstated. Here’s the permalink describing the contest, and linking on to the actual ballot.

Let us take this moment to ask for your vote — humbly ask for your vote.

As far as we can remember, this site has never asked anything else of you, and we’ve refused both advertising and contributions to keep the reading experience clean.

But we respect the hell out of Seven Days — always have, always will — and we genuinely covet the 7 Daysie.

Now, we realize that we may have — among our regular readers — those whose personal politics make it difficult to pull the lever for VDB. (If the truth were known, VDB has committed readers even in the camps where our artillery falls most frequently.)

But not to worry. In those cases of conscience, let us suggest a more politics-neutral alternative: the Dead Governors over at Politics VT, who have done their best over the last few years to provide an excellent web resource, with a less partisan feel.

The Governors are scheduled to ride off into the sunset after this election cycle, and a 7 Daysie wouldn’t look too shabby sticking out of their saddle bags.

But in any event, vote. Like confession, it heals the soul. Polls close July 3rd.

June 28th, 2006

Tarrant Sticker Undergoes Change of Heart

by Philip Baruth

Turns out those garish Tarrant bumper stickers are good for something, after all. Take something genuinely frightening, like this:

Tarrant Hummer

Now add a little homegrown Vermont savvy, and you wind up with something you don’t have to be ashamed of when you close your eyes at night:

car with remastered sticker

That’s what makes us all Americans, my friends — endless and unceasing innovation.

June 27th, 2006

In a Suddenly Sane World

by Philip Baruth

Funny how when things break your way, sometimes they just keep breaking. First, USA/Today reports that not only have Democrats maintained their double-digit lead in polls ahead of midterms, but they have successfully nationalized the election as well.

Second, apparently customs officials have stopped Rush Limbaugh before he could swallow medication that would have turned him into an even bigger prick.

June 27th, 2006

Lamont Up First with Bush Morph

by Philip Baruth

If you’ve been paying any attention to Joe Leiberman over the past ten years, you know that his dearest dream is to serve in a Republican administration under John McCain.

Even Joe knows the Vice Presidency would never fly, but SecDef, or even Secretary of Urban Sort of Housing Kind of Stuff — Lieberman believes this is well within his grasp.

tiny bushAnd so Lieberman’s been running hard to the Right for the last two years, trying to get with the Program before McCain makes his own last run up the mountain.

On Iraq, Lieberman has gamely echoed McCain, and McCain has dutifully echoed Bush, the only man who can put him over the top in the Deep Southern primaries. Places like South Carolina, where Bush can still talk about the War on Terror without eliciting giggles.

Trickle-down ass-kissing, we might as well call it.

But suddenly, there’s a problem for Lieberman: Ned Lamont. Lamont is a Democrat, see. He wants the US out of Iraq. And Lamont has managed to force a primary showdown with Lieberman later this summer.

LieberbushLieberman responded with some dignity, like a United States Senator.

No, just kidding: he unleashed a barrage of attack ads, and now Lamont has fired back, with an ad morphing Lieberman’s words, and George Bush’s face.

If your feelings about Bush match VDB’s, it should give you a serious case of the willies. (Quicktime is here; Windows Media here.)

It’s worth noting the historical ironies here. In 1994, the year of the Republican tsunami, Bill Clinton was deeply unpopular nationwide, yet he insisted on campaigning actively in the midterms. Clinton found it impossible to believe that his personal intervention could be a net negative for aspiring or incumbent Democrats.

But so it was, and GOP strategists morphed Democrats with Clinton’s face in attack ads from Seattle to Sarasota.

Now, history looks to be repeating itself — we hope (there was no Diebold constituency to factor in back in ‘94, for example).

Only two things are painfully clear: Lieberman must go, and he must go in the most humiliating way possible. A narrow loss to Lamont in the Democratic primary, and then — after a desperate and embarrassing run as an Independent — the final blow in November.

Then, and only then, will VDB be able to drive all the way straight down to New York City, without feeling obligated to make that double-wide circle through Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

June 26th, 2006

Hamburger Summit: More FAQ

by Philip Baruth

The First Annual VDB/GMD Political Barbeque and Hamburger Summit continues to generate intense and nail-bitingly difficult questions.

mmm, bbqSuch as: What should we bring?

Partial list: political obsessions and turn-offs; predictions and cynical dismissals; all friends and acquaintances; flip-flops; and of course, your own alcoholic beverages (in cans, no bottles) and, if you want to go hog wild, a salad or a dessert.

VDB and GMD will supply meat. And veggie substitutes. And condiments and drinks. And our own endless political scenarios and what-ifs. If you’ve yet to mark it on your calendar, do it today. Before it’s way too late.

June 24th, 2006

Santorum Hits Record Level of Dumb

by Philip Baruth

Unsatisfied with his high-profile visit to an English-only cheese steak stand earlier in the week (that’s not a joke, unfortunately), Senator Rick Santorum has decided to pump his re-election bid by claiming to have found the long-lost weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

We would take ten minutes and show why this is so very desperately pathetic, but that’s ten minutes we’ll need on our deathbed, to relive Santorum’s stinging loss to Casey in the 2006 election cycle.

But Danziger’s got it well covered.

santorum, raving

June 23rd, 2006

Bring on the Faux Midterm-Election Busts

by Philip Baruth

Screamer headline on CNN: “Arrests May Have Stopped Sears Tower Attack.”

VDB’s heart stops. The peanut butter bagel falls unnoticed from our fingers.

Then this chilling snippet below:

“FBI agents swooped down on six suspects, described by a law enforcement source as ‘possibly’ al Qaeda wannabes, who may have have been hatching a terror plot against the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Miami offices of the FBI.”

bush, in denialAnd the Attorney General will be holding a national press conference on the matter in a little over an hour.

Man, swooping Feds. And Alberto himself coming out to book ‘em.

But wait just a gosh-darned second.

There are enough qualifiers here to choke a good-sized mule: the arrests “may have stopped” an attack, by men “possibly” al Qaeda “wannabes,” who “may have been” (not actually conducting but) “hatching” a plot against both the Sears Tower and the FBI.

By VDB’s count, that’s 5. But add this from a graf buried down in the fine print:

“However, senior federal sources told CNN, ‘These people were not related to al Qaeda.’ When asked whether they were al Qaeda wannabes, he replied, ‘possibly.’”

Of course, we should have suspected it all along: the terrifying and brutally savage “wannabes.”

They look like you and me, they live in our neighborhoods, they may even attend your yoga classes — but deep inside, behind closed doors . . . they’re actually guys who sort of wish, in a way, that they were terrorists, but aren’t.

This is a very, very desperate administration, my friends. Just because Homeland Security phased out its much-mocked color-wheel doesn’t mean there aren’t plans in place to use government resources to drive voter insecurity over the next several months.

Mark VDB’s words: when these men are released sometime next year around this time — and the government has not a word to say about the collapse of the cases against them — it won’t be the tiny and pliable Alberto Gonzales who comes out to face the music.

Late Update, 12:57 pm:

Apparently a Miami Herald reporter (talking to the BBC) has already pretty much laughed off this report:

“We’ve seen previous cases where the Federal government has announced with great hoopla breaking terrorist cells. And when you start deconstructing a case, you see that there’s a lot of talk.”

And according to the Times, this morning’s press conference revealed this odd little fact: “Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the men had posed no actual danger because their plot had been caught in ‘its earliest stages.’”

VDB sees it all much more clearly now.

June 22nd, 2006

Martha Rainville’s TTI2: The Summer Sequel

by Philip Baruth

In a post a few weeks back called “Rainville’s Toilet-Tissue Issue,” we made the following admittedly unpleasant analogy:

You know how some people can’t go into a public restroom without dragging a piece of toilet paper out on the heel of their shoe? They’ve combed their hair and washed their hands, and then, yes, there it is, flickering at their heel like a nasty little flag of incompetence.

meat, politicsThis is Martha Rainville, every time she leaves the GOP’s disastrous set of leadership PACs. Every time she goes in, she manages to come out tagged by some nasty, embarrassing little . . . connection.

Okay, so it’s not the most pleasant image in the world to have to contemplate, but the comparison still seems perfectly valid: the Rainville camp has proven inexplicably unable — since its formation — to anticipate the myriad ways in which national GOP fundraising excesses would impact their efforts here in Vermont.

And let’s face it: this is not nano-technology. It’s not even rocket science.

The Democrats are running against a Republican “Culture of Corruption,” tied in large part to questionable fundraising practices at all levels. That’s the only unified talking point at this stage in the game.

So if you’re Martha Rainville, you had to know that the first three questions any smart reporter would ask would be money, money, money.

cheney's got a gunYet, the Rainvillians allowed the first three months of their campaign to be dominated by their connections to Tom Delay, Roy Blunt, a host of disgraced PACs, and Dick Cheney. (Okay, we made up the Cheney link to justify the cartoon. But the rest are well documented.)

Now — like a predictable summer sequel — comes Toilet-Tissue Issue 2 (TTI2).

Burned by fundraising in the early days of the campaign, Rainville’s people clearly spent a great deal of time trying to develop a strategy that would reverse out the politics: portray Martha as the fundraising reformer, and Peter Welch as the tool of corrupt interests.

The solution? Issue a challenge to the Welch camp: abide by a one million dollar cap on advertising, and run a campaign based solely around the issues.

It must have sounded fool-proof, sitting around the big mahogany table in Williston.

Welch would be screwed either way: if he accepted, his substantial early fundraising edge would be erased, and if he declined, they could hammer him for months about his lack of ethical vision.

And either way, the Republican National Committee and a host of ravenous 527s would flood the airwaves with ads linking Welch with Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy. It couldn’t miss, they must have thought.

But again: this isn’t rocket science, folks. Almost immediately, some very predictable problems cropped up:

1) In order to gin up an audience, the Rainville folks sent out breathless press-releases promising a “major campaign announcement,” but refusing to provide details. This is the sort of thing that Presidential candidates do when they’re slated to announce the pick for Veep.

So needless to say, when reporters rushed to Williston and found themselves on the receiving end of what has become a standard campaign ploy in races at all levels, there were ruffled feathers. This VDB knows.

2) Predictably enough, when Rainville’s gambit hit the press, the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) laughed up its collective sleeve. From The Hill:
“‘The NRCC is always going to do what the NRCC needs to do,’ a source close to the House Republicans’ campaign arm said.”

In effect, this repeats the dynamic from TTI1: Rainville speaks about the high road, but the money trail leads inexorably back down the low road.

The net effect of Rainville’s cap proposal — when you look at the coverage it’s received thus far — has been to reinforce the impression that Rainville is not in control of her own destiny. Shadowy national types hold the pursestrings, and hence the reins.

3) To their credit, upon seeing this unhappy dynamic begin to play out, the Rainvillians attempted to correct: they issued a letter from Martha telling the NRCC that she would subtract from her potential $1 million any money spent on her behalf by outside groups.

But again, it was an idea actually composed of a dense network of loopholes. Suppose the NRCC and others spend $10 million, and Martha bravely subtracts her $1 million. VDB opted out of mathematics after calculus, but that looks like plenty of dough for negative ads.

Suppose 527s run “issue ads” that compare Democrats in general to Dahmer and Gacy. Plenty of room for Rainville to demur on down the road.

4) Martha came out a day later and drew in a huge asterisk over the whole concept.

Again from The Hill:

“But Rainville appeared to undercut her pledge yesterday when she said, ‘To be very clear about this: This pledge will not include generic spending by the state party committees to get out the vote for their candidates. That spending will benefit me but cannot fairly be charged to my campaign limit.’”

Etc. and so on.

You see VDB’s point: TTI2 really is just TTI1 with better production values and a more diverting script. But when you walk out of the multiplex into the creeping summer heat, you and your friends have still picked apart all of the flaws in it long before you ever reach the parking lot.

June 22nd, 2006

Vermont Homegrown: Right-Wing Bigotry

by Philip Baruth

Daniel Henninger, opinion editor for the Wall Street Journal, made the argument several weeks back on Fox News that gay marriage could easily lead to humans marrying snakes — or maybe more cuddly animals like dogs and horses first, but animals in any event.

come one, come allStephen Colbert sends up this bizarre but persistent Republican

Of course, the smarmy Rick Santorum (still down 18 points in the latest polls) dignified this argument at the Senate level, which might have something to do with why 44% of potential Casey voters cite their disgust for Santorum as their primary motivation.

Now granted, civil unions began in Vermont, a civil rights legacy that went a long way toward erasing the stain of our refusal to put the 19th Amendment over the top when we had the chance.

But let’s not forget that Martha Rainville’s only real competition for the Republican nomination this fall comes from a Vermont State Senator arguing notions not far removed from those of Santorum.

Senator Mark ShepardIn fact, VDB dubbed Mark Shepard (R-Bennington) “Vermont’s version of Rick Santorum” after a long, odd interview we called “The Initially Amusing, Unexpectedly Queasy Interview with Mark Shepard.” [Photo courtesy of the Bennington Banner.]

On the related questions of civil unions and gay marriage, Shepard and VDB had this exchange:

Shepard: So that’s what marriage is fundamentally about [conceiving and raising children]. And we have a huge breakdown there, you’re talking about huge costs. So I think it’s important to have marriage be about that. If you move it to being about how much you love, well, government has no way of detecting how much somebody loves somebody, number one.

Number two, where do you draw the line? How can you make any defense against any type of group marriage, if you go that way? Polygamy, or whatever else?

If you use the logic that it’s consenting adults who love and care for each other, you can make no distinction between those things. And you open up the gates for anything. Is that where we want to go?

VDB: Well, that was Rick Santorum’s infamous argument: if you allow gay marriage the next step is going to be bestiality. And I think that’s just illogical.

Again, this is no Southern Baptist televangelist speaking. This is a man who has tried his best to portray himself as a Vermont conservative, yes, but one well within the mainstream of political thought here.

And VDB finds that a spooky notion.

If you haven’t read it yet, the entire interview is here. We don’t imagine many of you reading are undecided on the race for Bernie’s seat at this point, but if you are, we’re willing to lay good money that this sit-down will push you off the fence.

Push you pretty hard.

June 20th, 2006

VDB Breaks Off Ties with James Carville

by Philip Baruth

Apparently, the absolute latest thing in Right-leaning Democratic politics is to sit down to dinner — as publicly as possible — with the filthiest Republican operators available.

And not just to sit down to dinner, but to wade right out into the stagnant pool that is Republican fund-raising.

Hillary Clinton, case in point.

Clinton plans a fundraiser this summer with Rupert Murdoch, the guy who almost single-handedly drove the media’s coverage of the Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones scandals, using blow-back from his UK-based tabloids.

And now, today, comes word that hits VDB even closer to home: James Carville and Mary Matalin will be holding a fundraiser tomorrow night at their home in Alexandria for Plame-leaker “Scooter” Libby.

Now look — Carville is the Democrat in that marriage, and Matalin is the Republican, and so presumably each cringes and deals with the baggage the other totes into the house.

But some things are over the line, in any marriage.

We have to believe that Carville could have stopped this event, or at least stopped it from taking place at his residence, if he’d been of a mind to do so. No one is more cognizant of political ramifications than Carville.

Which suggests a rather risky and high-profile attempt to rebrand himself, as a consultant moving with Republican candidates as well as Democratic, along the lines of the ethically-rudderless Dick Morris. And doing so in 2006 would free Carville to migrate to the Right well prior to the next Presidential cycle.

VDB, Carville, foodNow, that’s a harsh charge to make. And we make it only very reluctantly, because the truth is that Carville has always been something of a minor hero to VDB, since the War Room days showed Democrats how to file their teeth up good and sharp.

But unfortunately, we are left with no choice today but to break off all diplomatic ties with Carville, for the forseeable future.

Pictures like that above should now be viewed as nothing more than a damning historical curiosity, something of which VDB is more than a little ashamed, like the grip-and-grin photo of Sadaam Hussein and current Secretary of Defense Donald Henry Rumsfeld.

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