August 31st, 2006

Obama Watch Continues

by Philip Baruth

Yesterday The World — Public Radio International’s daily newsmagazine — aired a short piece on Barack Obama’s much-discussed trip to Kenya. Reporter Matthew Bell, one-time Comparative Religion major at UVM, remembered VDB’s coverage of Obama’s March speech in Ira Allen Chapel, and called for a couple of quick bites.

It’s a fine round-up, available on a story menu here, if you happen to be following the Obama boomlet.

August 31st, 2006

The Scud: Football-Playing Folk-Rock God

by Philip Baruth

Now, goddammit, this is what VDB’s talking about.

Nate Freeman, out Northfield way, has been a fan of Scudder Parker’s candidacy from the beginning — and on all the key issues, from renewable energy to universal access to health care to the war in Iraq. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that the man quarterbacks a mean touch-football game.

scudder, at the helm

And rather than let the current polling write reality for him, Nate went at the problem actively, like Dylan: he wrote and produced an anthem for the Parker campaign.

You heard us. An anthem.

It’s upbeat, stirring, and — well, anthemic. Vocalist Amy LaPaglia has dynamite pipes, and best of all it doesn’t run away from the lyrical issues with the candidate’s name.

No, no. Instead it boldly rhymes Scudder with “rudder” and then —even more out of the box — with “butter.”

And that kind of can-do attitude cannot be taught.

Available exclusively at VDB (with generous technical assistance from Le Vermonter at What’s The Point?), here it is kids, that new smash hit, “Scudder, Scudder!” (To avoid crashing the server, please limit downloads to two per household, per hour, per country or state of residence.)

douglas hearts dickAnd why is this sort of push for Parker necessary in the first place? Isn’t Jim Douglas just a gosh-golly mushy middle-of-the-road Republican with a taste for handshaking, and a fairly genial, avuncular personality?

Isn’t Jim just a guy sort of like me with a moderately pro-business bent that — even if it won’t help an awful lot over the next two years — won’t hurt anyone all that much either?

In a word, no.

August 30th, 2006

The Fight for Internet Neutrality Heads to Jeffords’ Office — Be There

by Philip Baruth

To our eye, Channel 17 personality Lauren-Glenn Davitian leads the most enviable sort of double life: television host by day, crusader for Internet Neutrality by night (or, at noon anyway).

She is passionate and supremely well-informed on the issue of IN — which essentially involves preserving the internet’s place as the globe’s most egalitarian and democratic medium, and fighting attempts to tax it, segregate it, or slow its activist strands to a crawl.

Lauren-Glenn will be one of a host of speakers at a very important event on IN taking place during the lunch hour tomorrow in Montpelier. That’s Thursday August 31 2006 at noon at Senator Jeffords’ office in Montpelier (435 Stone Cutters Way).

Lauren-Glenn writes, “The event will be attended by community leaders who will speak to the threats posed by current legislation and the vital importance of open internet networks. They will present petitions urging Senator Jeffords to publicly support Network Neutrality, organized by concerned Vermonters, organized by and”

If you can go, do go. Jeffords should be receptive to this pitch. And go here for more info on the issue. If you’re reading this blog at this moment, then you as much as anyone stand to lose — and lose in a historic way — if the net goes the way of telecommunications or cable television.

Or worse, prime time broadcast television (shudder).

Internet Neutrality Pop Quiz, Senatorial Edition:

1) Which Senator “comes up roses” on IN?
(Go Big Chuck Shumer)
2) Which Senator’s stance smells suspiciously like the manure they used to grow the roses?
(Johnny Mac — You had to ask?)

McCain, Hillary on the War

August 29th, 2006

Sweden: Fighting Poverty, Building the Middle Class, and Swearing a Blue Streak

by Philip Baruth

Ordinarily, we can count the number of stories available on Sweden per month using the thumbs of one hand.

But suddenly today, everybody’s about the Swedes: Talking Points Memo has a nice, detailed defense of the Swedish social safety net, and Raw Story reports that Sweden — despite its relatively small size and sparse population — will nearly match the US in immediate aid to Lebanon.

Of course, VDB was there first, last night, with this commentary about Swedish swear words. Hope you enjoy the mortal piss out of it. And if you have a few minutes to kill, the audio is

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #185: When Swedes Melt Paint

Life’s a crapshoot: sometimes you lose, sometimes you lose really badly. But strangely enough, at the biggest craps table of them all — the one where you get your in-laws — somehow I broke the bank.

My wife and I eloped before I ever had a chance to meet her family, and that could have turned out really badly. She is from another country, after all, and I could have spent the first ten years of our marriage communicating with my in-laws by means of hand signals and sketches on napkins.

readers choice award 2006But how’s this for luck? My mother- and father-in-law both teach English. Even better than that, my father-in-law is a linguist with a specialty in American slang, so he really can catch pretty much anything I throw at him.

And best of all, my father-in-law’s linguistic sub-specialty is swear words.

Seriously. The guy’s a recognized world authority. Magnus Ljung is this incredibly courtly Swedish man, and he’d never, ever use any of the phrases he knows in anger.

But just everyone knowing that he knows them is what’s so effective. It’s like being in the room with a Navy Seal: you know there are forty-five separate ways he can kill you, so nobody makes any sudden moves.

Why is it so desirable to have a father-in-law who knows every Swedish and American swear word and their Finnish, Greek, German, Latin and Icelandic roots? Because much of what Magnus knows he has written down in books, books like Om Svardomer, All About Swear Words.

These books have been endlessly useful to me, because marrying someone from another country, another culture and language, means that you spend a lot of time moving around in the dark, culturally speaking, and inevitably you’re going to bark your shins on something sharp and jagged, culturally speaking.

And at those times it’s great to have the linguistic firepower to handle the situation properly.

Case in point: When I bought my laptop, I took it to Sweden thinking I could just plug it in there and put together a really important report and then bingo, just email it back to the US.

But I’d forgotten that I needed an adapter. So I waited patiently, and the next morning I must have called 15 stores before hitting pay dirt. Finally, a man answers and says they have the adaptor, but unfortunately they’re closed that day for a holiday called Pingst.

I stalked into the kitchen to ask Annika what Pingst was. She didn’t know. Her mother Birgit didn’t know. It was just Pingst, they said, difficult to translate.

But fine, whatever. If I got on it bright and early the next day, I could still have the report in on time. Next morning, I called the electronics store again.

“We’re closed today as well,” the Swedish guy said in perfect English. “Today is Annandag Pingst.”

I could feel my ears getting hot. “What’s Annandag Pingst?” I asked.

The guy thought for a second. “Well, in English, it means ‘Another Day of Pingst,’” he answered.

And that’s when reading those books by my father-in-law — who can melt paint in six languages — really paid off. Because after the guy hung up, I not only slammed that phone down, I came that close to saying “heista nupa!” which, in a phrase Swedes borrowed from the original Finnish, means that the phone could smell my bellybutton.

And I would have said it too, but it was Pingst. Or Annandag Pingst. And I thought I should show some respect.

[This commentary aired on Vermont Public Radio.]

August 29th, 2006

The Corporatocracy Knows No Sunset

by Philip Baruth

“Each Republican corporate shill hath a season; his stickers bloom, fade, wither, fall; but the corporatocracy itself knows no sunset, traveling on in light to the end of days.”

— The Book of Campaign Revelations 7:16

pepsi, tarrant, douglas

August 28th, 2006

Online Debate a Draw — No Fatalities

by Philip Baruth

Lite Governor-hopefuls Matt Dunne and John Tracy just finished their online debate over at Green Mountain Daily. It was a clean, bracing exchange.

And to our eye, it was a textbook draw. If Dunne opened sharper and cleaner (on time with his posts, less time wasted by way of cliche), Tracy closed stronger (citing Anwar Sadat as a personal hero, and stressing that he was logging off to attend a health care committee meeting).

The Scorecards:

Dunne — A clear eye on his audience, Dunne came out with a straightforward pitch to the netroots: “I believe we need to use the power of the net roots to beat someone like Dubie.” He seemed initially more in tune with the format, bringing in his responses under the assigned time limits. Most effective in talking about technology, green schools and their connection to property taxes, and the scholarship proposal he designed.

* Sleeper Move of the Debate: Pushing past the discussion of Catamount Health directly to universal coverage: “I will not wait two years or until 2011 to work on covering all Vermonters.”

Tracy — Tracy also showed himself fully conversant with the legislative and technological issues under discussion. Most crucially, he managed to make his “I’m the Regular Guy in this race” argument without framing it negatively or caustically. Ditto with his wartime experience; Tracy managed to work it in without overworking it.

* Sleeper Move of the Debate: Putting together the debate’s only fart joke, at Brian Dubie’s expense. (“I notice recently that Brian broke with the Gov. on wind, notice I did not say broke wind, and I think that shows that he is responding to our leadership in that area.”) Which more or less closes the deal on the “regular guy” question.

Well-deserved kudos to the GMD folk: Odum, Neil, Jack, and the rest for some out-of-the-box campaign thinking.

And to the candidates for dignifying the medium with their serious attention to it. Because as we all know, any debate can easily devolve into chair throwing, and if you doubt that,

Odum should have the transcript here, in a few hours.

August 27th, 2006

Lieberman Echoes Rainville Echoes Bush

by Philip Baruth

Big Joe drops the bombshell in today’s Courant: he opposes “political finger-pointing” with all the dwindling force at his command.

Which gave VDB a serious case of deja vu, and so we dug into Martha Rainville’s early months on the campaign trail.

And gosh darned if she didn’t deflect every serious question about Rainvillian or Republican culpability with Noyes-generated comments about “finger-pointing” too! (For a classic example, see “Rainville Firm: No Hand Jive” from April 2006.)

Of course, Lieberman isn’t the only plagiarist: Rainville lifted the handy phrase from the GOP leadership, trying desperately to ward off corruption coverage at the end of last year.

And the GOP picked up the tactic from the Bush administration, who tried desperately to ward off post-Katrina criticism by pre-emptively decrying the “blame game.”

That, of course, was almost exactly one year ago. Tuesday will make the anniversary official.

And in honor of that one year anniversary of incompetence and profiteering, we bring you Marc Nadel’s brilliant, epic Katrina-inspired cartoon in its entirety, rather than the clip-outs we usually offer.

Think of it as finger-pointing, taken to the nth degree.

bush crossing delaware

Late Update, Monday, August 28th, 9:51 am:

If you missed it this weekend, the editors at the Free Press gave Rainville a piece of their collective mind on the subject of continuing the current GOP Congressional leadership. The lead-in? “Rainville is Wrong.” It’s choice. Merry Christmas, Welch folks.

August 26th, 2006

Online Debate Plug — This Could Get Nutty

by Philip Baruth

A quick but serious plug for Green Mountain Daily’s online debate Monday at noon, between the two Democrats running for Lite Governor. Any debate between Tracy and Dunne — both smart, personable, and well-qualified — would be a must-watch.

But Odum has added a truly ingenious element to the live-chat format: each candidate will be closely monitored, on-site, to prevent prefabricated cut-and-pastes, the scourge of real-time chats.
readers choice award 2006
And given the time limits, these parameters promise a whole new level of fascination for viewers.

That’s right: standard political verbal skills checked at the door. Suddenly the ability to riff and jawbone mean nothing.

Each man limited to keyboard, mouse, and balls of steel.

If you’ve ever found yourself watching a stock car race just on the off chance that someone might push it five miles an hour over the limit and go careening off the tarmac, shedding rubber and shooting flames, then this should be just your sort of thing.

Monday, noon. Aloha.

August 24th, 2006

Notes from a Conservative: Is Iraq Really an “Unmitigated” Disaster?

by Philip Baruth

In response to yesterday’s post labeling Iraq an unmitigated disaster, VDB received a short communique from Charity Tensel, publisher of the conservative site “She’s Right.” Charity was one of the die-hards at the Political Barbeque this past summer: came early, stayed late, talked hard.

charity tensel

But apparently Charity takes gentle exception to our use of the adjective “unmitigated”:


It’s been too long. I just have to heckle you about today’s post on Rainville.

When you say, “Iraq is not merely a disaster but an unmitigated disaster,” is that just more of your over-the-top rhetoric, or do you really believe that the situation is in no way mitigated by the freedom, the voting turn-out, the formation of a new government, and the lack of a dictator, who tortures and kills men for even the slightest hint of dissent? I just want to be clear on your position here.

There, at least, we agree: VDB also wants to be clear on VDB’s position.

And now is probably as good a time as any to answer the “Iraqi elections as ex-post-facto justification for invasion” argument.

First, we should put aside any dreamy ideas that the Iraqis have held free and fair democratic elections. They have not.

Elections aren’t fair when the second-largest ethnic group in a country cannot vote because of full-scale violence in their neighborhoods. Elections aren’t free when they are held at the behest of an occupying army, and local militias looking to leverage this war-time referendum into battlefield gains.

Elections aren’t free when desperately frightened people blindly obey the dictates of their religious leaders. Is it an accident that Iraqis voted in a fundamentalist Shiite majority? Not at all.

What about voter turnout? Why so many purple fingers? Because in essence, it was vote or die — and often vote the right way or die.

But put all of that aside. Let’s say, for kicks, that the elections were free and fair and the sun smiled down on a democratic Iraq all the livelong day.

Was it worth 2,600 American lives, 30,000 to 50,000 Iraqi lives, a current tab of $400 billion dollars (due to reach at least a trillion with long-term military benefits factored in), an army that is both tied and broken down, a civil war and at least two nascent border wars whose participants have only begun to fight?

No, VDB doesn’t think so. And we never will. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, our stated purpose for pre-emptively invading a sovereign nation.

Exhaustive subsequent investigation shows that our sanctions — while very hard on the civilian population — had decimated Iraq’s large-scale military capacity. They were not a threat to their neighbors.

And unless the US wants to be in a position to police the internal politics and human rights records of all nations — something at which conservatives pretend to shudder — then we should never invade a nation that poses no threat to its neighbors or to ourselves.

tiny bushIn other words, the doctrine of pre-emptive war has been roundly and violently discredited. And no amount of retroactive jawboning by President Bush about “democracy” and “forward strategies for freedom” will make it not so.

So yes, Charity, we think “unmitigated” is a fair way to modify “disaster” when speaking of Iraq. But it was a great pleasure to hear from you, as always.

And to anyone out there who has yet to check out Charity’s site, it’s listed prominently on the sidebar. Trust us: it’s not the sort of conservative site that will make you throw up a little in your mouth. It’s Vermont conservative, a whole different proposition.

And Charity’s personality genuinely lights it up.

August 23rd, 2006

Rainville on Iraq: Pay No Attention to Your Television Screens, For They Lie

by Philip Baruth

Ordinarily, VDB is relatively slow to anger, and relatively quick to cool.

Because political blogging is a hard road anyway — with many potholes full of countless sharp rocks and glass shards that will wedge themselves under your toenails and make you bleed for a week and a day — and anger tends to sap your energy.

And so as far as the Rainville campaign goes, VDB has been amused, dismayed, flabbergasted, occasionally impressed, occasionally disgusted, but never once actually angry.

Until yesterday.

Why? After months of criticism for her studied opacity on the War in Iraq — far and away the most pressing issue in this election cycle — Martha offered this reponse in yesterday’s Channel 17 debate with Mark Shepard:

“A very important element has been missing, and that is good communication on what’s going on there… It’s very difficult for citizens to have an accurate perspective of the war, of our successes… Part of that is, I believe, the fault of all of those involved for not communicating more openly with Americans, or not telling the story of what’s going on in Iraq.”

rummyOf course, this response is a tepid version of the “Why doesn’t the media report the good news from Iraq” talking point that Republicans have been airing nationally for well over two years now.

It could easily have been Donald Rumsfeld or Sean Hannity speaking.

And in that, it’s hardly surprising: Rainville has elected to run on an entire series of such talking points, from the War to the deficit to tax cuts.

But when you strip it down, this particular talking point lies at the deepest heart of Republican up-is-downism. Because what it demands of the American people — or Vermonters, in this case — is that they cease trusting what they see on their televisions, what they hear on their radios, what they manage to put together by reading their newspapers.

It demands that they trust an official, minority report on the state of the world — and that, of course, is the definition of totalitarian propaganda.

This talking point would make sense if half the media in the world was awash in positive images from Iraq, and somehow those images were being denied us.

But the undeniable fact of the matter is that every media organization on the globe is reporting that Iraq is a disaster because by every measure available to us — from electricity production to the number of insurgent attacks to the number of cross-border attacks being staged by Iran and Turkey to the weekly corpse counts from Baghdad morgues — Iraq is not merely a disaster but an unmitigated disaster.

That is reality, as assembled and agreed to by everyone in the entire known world with the notable exceptions of the Bush Administration, a desperate national Republican leadership, and the tame media outlets they’ve nurtured.

And so the question “Why doesn’t the media report the good news from Iraq?” is not really a plea for balance and objectivity, as it appears to be, but the reverse: a gentle nudge toward a state of affairs in which Americans disregard foreign media services, disregard competent battlefield reporting by any American media outlets in deviation from the official story.

This is the same sort of night-is-day effort that brought us the administration’s two standard official lines on rising violence “metrics”: first, we predicted that violence would increase, and therefore the surges in violence actually vindicate our view of the war; and second, attacks are a sign of desperation, a sign that the insurgents know they’re facing imminent defeat, and hence increased attacks are actually a sure sign of victory.

Rainville no doubt thought she was just buying a moment’s time when hit with the $64,000 question; debaters often use a bit of boilerplate to think through something a little more complicated.

But it was more than that, a great deal more. It was direct evidence that Rainville — for all her insistence on being a different kind of Republican — has internalized the most far-reaching and dangerous of the talking points associated with the Bush era: that the State, and its media, should be trusted to create Reality.

cheney's got a gunWhich is fine for George Bush. He’s yet to attend a funeral for a soldier killed in Iraq.

And for Dick Cheney, who hasn’t attended a funeral and who insists that hotel televisions be pre-tuned to Fox News when he does venture out of the secure undisclosed.

But Martha Rainville has stood next to the caskets, she’s seen the creeping stop-loss and the involuntary recall of the Individual Ready Reserve, she’s personally implemented the administration’s shocking overuse of the National Guard.

She claims to care.

That’s why the talking points about how well things are going in Iraq are doubly insulting, doubly infuriating tripping from the lips of Martha Rainville.

Because she damn well knows better.

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