October 18th, 2006

VT Senate Debate Turns, Well, Batshit-Crazy

by Philip Baruth

Granted, three weeks out from any election, and people get exercised. Maybe a lawn sign gets dragged off in the middle of the night. Maybe a candidate talks a little trash about his opponent’s foreign-made sedan.

2006 Readers Choice AwardBut this is no ordinary election, my friends. We are entering the electoral end-times, apparently.

Nationally, the GOP and its subsidiaries have taken to running mind-bogglingly racist ads in a desperate attempt to peel off African-American voters.

And here at home, well, there’s last night’s Vermont Law School Senate debate, intended primarily as a forum for Bernie Sanders and Rich Tarrant. But according to the Valley News, “the atmospherics at a Vermont Law School debate came with four lesser-known candidates who sought to steal the spotlight.”

Atmospherics? Well, say, that doesn’t sound so bad. But of course the devil is in the details:

“At least two called the Bush White House ‘terrorists,’ with one later being handcuffed and being cited for disorderly conduct. He had earlier directed an expletive to two student questioners.”

According to reliable sources, the questioners were referred to as “these two shits.” Think that borders on batshit-crazy? Well, don’t answer yet! Let VDB toss in the kicker:

“[Liberty Union candidate Peter] Diamondstone then refused to stop talking after his allotted time, and, at the request of student organizers, was escorted from the stage by Windsor County sheriff’s deputies. In a hallway outside the debate, Diamondstone continued his protest to return to the debate. At one point, he was pinned face down on the floor in a law school hallway by two officers and handcuffed.”

Electoral end-times, folks. Tomorrow’s forecast: toads fall from the sky in a driving rain. Hang tough.

October 18th, 2006

In Your Face, Simon Callow: VDB Officially Changes Blog Handle to “Vermont Idol”

by Philip Baruth

They wanted only to help a good man become Governor. They wanted only to Rock the Scud. But they found fame, and fortune, and heart-ache, and eventually redemption.

the scudNate Freeman and Marianne Donahue, two politically active types, each with a musical gift. Each penned a song for Scudder Parker, though Freeman called his an “anthem,” and Donahue liked to think of hers as a “jingle.”

And they sent them to VDB, because they knew that we care too.

(You’ll find those now-famous tracks here.)

Then, this morning, they woke up to find their lyrics splashed across of the Rutland Herald. In fact, Darren Allen’s story about their political ditties ran on the web as the Herald’s top story of the day.

Within the next few hours, their lives would be turned upside down. By 9 am Nate Freeman had the number one album in the country, and he had agreed to perform at this year’s Super Bowl XLI event.

By 10, Freeman had developed a deep addiction to pain-killers (so-called “hillbilly heroin”) and had constructed a sprawling, gaudy 21-room mansion in Northfield called “Nateland.” However, some 11 minutes ago Nate found rehab, and as of this writing he is leading a clean, sober existence, and working on a stirring anthem for T.J. Donovan.

For her part, Marianne Donahue spent this morning fighting vicious rumors that she had become visibly anorexic since the Herald piece catapulted her into the limelight. And when it rains it pours: she and her husband Andrew began to feud over her lavish new tastes in sports cars and fitness trainers, and they separated, divorced, remarried, and are now — at a little before lunch time — again deliriously happy.

american idol is deadAnd therein lies the moral of today’s Herald story.

Yes, VDB has now replaced the flagging “American Idol” franchise as the launching pad for the nation’s musical dreams. Yes, doing good works — like getting active on behalf of your chosen candidate in the last weeks of a tough election — may be rewarded with good karma.

But celebrity is a harsh task-mistress. Before you email us that hot tip, snarky photo, or MP3, make damn sure you’re prepared for the consequences.

You make damn sure you’re ready to be a star.

Because we bring the noise. And once it starts, baby, nobody knows when it’s going to stop. VDB out.

October 17th, 2006

Not To Worry: Tarrant’s Bile Is Generic

by Philip Baruth

If we were to rank the topics of our incoming email this campaign cycle, in reverse order, the top three would be:

3. Conspiracy theories linking frequently-in-the-air Brian Dubie to the infamous Mena landing strip in Arkansas, through which Bill Clinton allegedly moved cocaine, live hookers and dead bodies.

2. Conspiracy theories arguing that Martha Rainville’s entire campaign staff consists, exclusively, of Welch campaign plants, down to and including Rainville herself, because nothing else can adequately explain the near-total collapse of message.

And the number one VDB email topic:

1) The way that Rich Tarrant’s ads have methodically recast a self-made millionaire and well-regarded philanthropist into one of the most hated figures in Vermont political history.

Without doubt, anger over Tarrant’s negative ads has eclipsed every other topic of political discussion. Nothing else even comes close.

attack on FordAnd so VDB offers this soothing thought: It’s not just Tarrant, and it’s not just Vermont. Take a look at this ad being run against Harold Ford in Tennessee, one of three Senate races with which the national GOP has decided to build its final firewall.

bernie, slandered againAnd then, if you can stomach it one more time, watch this ad in which a hunted looking Bernie Sanders plots the exploitation of all innocent children everywhere.

Same piano, same voice-over, same micro-focus on a single fact, taken wildly and deliberately out of context.

It’s not just Tarrant, friends. Not just Tarrant who is losing this election with obscenely expensive and ineffective attack ads. It’s happening nationwide.

And VDB is loving every minute of it. (Hat-tip to compulsive-reader Chris for the eerie similarity.)

GOP nosejob

October 15th, 2006

Creative Writing Workshop, With Donuts

by Philip Baruth

Creative writers: One last plug for the Harvest Fiction Workshop, October 20-22, at the Rock Point Conference Center on Lake Champlain. Craft talk, a roaring fireplace, and enough donuts between and during sessions to carry you easily into April. All skill levels welcome and encouraged.

Email me at for more details. Last chance to join a writing group like this before the snow flies.

the harvest writers workshop

October 13th, 2006

When the Place Went Mad: The Deeply Satisfying Anger of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

by Philip Baruth

The latest polling continues to suggest that Peter Welch will fill Bernie Sanders’s seat in the United States Congress, and VDB’s own scarred political nose says that the margin will be fairly decisive.

Americans seem to have slowly committed to structural change, and they now want to vote for those willing to embrace it — shout about it — rather than those merely pretending to it.

robert f. kennedy, jr.But even if tomorrow Martha Rainville were shipped by the Bush Administration straight to the border region of Pakistan — where she single-handedly tracked, overpowered and bound Osama Bin Laden — and she somehow managed to sneak into Congress, VDB would still be a clear winner this election cycle.


Because thanks to the Welch campaign we’ve seen some of the most amazing political theater in the politically star-spangled history of Vermont: first Barack Obama, and today Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Kennedy came for an environmental rally in UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel, and not a moment too soon: the ordinarily savvy Jim Douglas has left himself wide open with his opposition to last session’s Wilderness bill, and both the Welch and Parker campaigns have been looking for an effective way to dramatize the environmental stakes.

Effective and dramatic it was. Oh, yes.

It doesn’t hurt that the rally came at the tail end of a campaign season in which righteous anger is available almost exclusively on the Left. Even the soft-spoken and the statesman-like are growling these days.

And so the rally began with Madeline Kunin, and she was up in arms. She talked for a second about her work on behalf of women candidates both in Vermont and nationwide, and then she dropped the bomb: “Frankly,” she said, thin hands clenching the sides of the podium, “I would love to vote for a woman in this election.

“But I also love to vote for the right man.

It was a passionate line, and the undertone was anger — a genteel anger of the sort Kunin can generate, but anger just the same. And in the words of Scudder Parker, and Bernie Sanders, and Pat Leahy, and then Peter Welch, there was that same anger, a little less refined and rougher-edged as it built, something beyond frustration and almost close to gospel.

But it took Robert Kennedy to give it complete expression. In appearance, Kennedy is every inch — well, a Kennedy. He is very tall, a good half an inch taller than Leahy, ram-rod straight, and he looks as though he were born in a crisp blue suit. The forehead is high, the hair full, the eyes dark, the nose dropping sharp and clean over the dynasty smile.

As he waits to speak, Kennedy taps his heels, jiggles his knees, a nervous energy playing over him and through him, down finally into his clasped hands and terminating in the thumbs, which twiddle relentlessly, as he waits his chance to say what he has come to say.

When he stands and begins to speak, the blue-suited, red-tied body looks so straight and tall and perfect, and the hands gesture so fluently, that you expect the voice to match.

And it does not match, not even remotely.

The voice of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is strangled and weak, and it is more than a bit nasal, and sometimes it’s plain difficult to hear for a second. The voice is tortured, as though Kennedy were continually struggling through a cough, struggling to swallow something too dry or too large to pass his windpipe, struggling always to recapture his full volume.

But there is no full volume, no moment when the voice comes clear and strong; it is always, every second, the sound of a man fighting to be understood.

And it’s overwhelming, devastating, for precisely that reason.

Because when it comes to his area of policy expertise, Kennedy is fighting to be understood and has been for years, and he’s clearly as angry as he can humanly be about George W. Bush and “his corporate paymasters,” and the “science-fiction nightmare” they have made of the state of Vermont, and the Adirondack mountains near Kennedy’s own home in New York.

And so in that way, the voice comes to seem as though it couldn’t be any more perfectly suited to his particular ends, in the way that the voices of Neil Young or Bob Dylan seem absurd only until you listen long enough to recognize them as the sound of your own heart.

robert f. kennedy, jr.Kennedy is so angry that the words roll together, and there isn’t even a glimmer of daylight between the sentences. He talks very fast, compulsively, as though someone or something might burst through the door at any moment and haul him away before he has a chance to finish. [Photo: Don Shall]

Without thinking, in his moment of anger, he uses all of the tools of the trade he’s picked up unconsciously over the years: the waving finger, and the thick, chowdery Massachusetts accent, and the way that a great speaker will demand applause, rather than ask for it.

The facts and figures are so familiar to him, so dear to him, that they roll off effortlessly, and he drives them home in that strangulated voice.

And he names names. It’s not a thing you’re used to hearing, because somehow it breaches decorum and because most politicians aren’t deep enough in the weeds to know the names and titles and crimes of all those they’re facing off against. But Kennedy knows them, and he calls them on the carpet, one after the other, and tells you the monstrous things they’ve done and he lets you know that he’s angry and disgusted with these people.

In All The King’s Men, Willie Stark is a seductive and a horrible figure at the same time, and when he stands before a crowd, when he’s really worked up, eyes bulging, he shouts, “Gimme that meat axe!” to the people gathered before him. And the crowd roars every time.

Kennedy’s pitch is never that violent, never that blunt, but it draws on the same deep populism. Of Martha Rainville, Kennedy said that she wants to treat “the planet as if it were a business in liquidation,” and of GOP cronyism and corporate welfare, he said “they want capitalism for the poor, and socialism for the rich.”

He was angry, this Kennedy, and his voice was moving so quickly, and against such natural obstacles — but for all that so deeply in synch with the emotions of the crowd — that when he finally stopped, and drew a breath, he seemed not to realize that he was finished.

The crowd seemed not to realize he was finished.

Then he did realize, and he gave the shy Kennedy smile, and walked straight to Peter Welch and shook his hand.

And that’s when the place went mad.

October 12th, 2006

Rocking the Scud, Again: VDB’s Battle of the (Really Really Small) Bands

by Philip Baruth

Hunter Thompson once said that every campaign feels hot — from the inside. You move in a bubble of supporters, everyone is waving a sign bearing your name, and there’s always a staffer there with a hot cup of coffee, ready to tell you that the internals are on the upswing.

So around this time every cycle — mid-October — nearly every candidate everywhere feels the Big Mo.

the scudOf course, three weeks later, half of those candidates will be feeling the Big No, but you can’t tell them that in the heady days leading in to Halloween.

So how is a candidate or a die-hard supporter supposed to know the Truth? That’s where VDB comes in. And we’re here to tell you this, without reservation: Scudder Parker’s momentum is building, baby.

How do we know? Savvy independently-funded polling, run by dispassionate out-of-state actuaries? An in-depth analysis of the whimsical voting patterns of so-called Douglas Democrats?

Better: we just received a second Scudder anthem.

You’ll remember that back in August we brought you an audio exclusive — Nate Freeman’s folk-indy anthem “Scudder, Scudder!” Powered by the voice of Amy LaPaglia, Freeman’s tribute to the Scud went on to become VDB’s top audio download of the week — and then of all time.

Partially because we only had the one. But now, VDB-reader Andrew Perchlik sends us another Parker tribute, this one written and produced by Perchlik’s multi-talented wife, Marianne Donahue. Marianne hooked up Colin McCaffrey to provide some sweet mandolin, and the result is genuinely charming.

Which allows VDB to stage what we’ve always wanted to stage (but were prevented by not knowing anything about music or knowing any musicians, or even any roadies, except that one guy that sacked out on our couch that time after the Highgate show and then stole a loaf of bread and a jar of Skippy and hit the road before we woke up the next morning): A Battle of the Bands.

You’ll find Freeman’s now-classic anthem here.

And Donahue’s hot new property over here. [Technical assist from Le Vermonter, who has now been added to our official site credits — a move long overdue.]

Give both of them a listen, maybe two. And then you tell us that this guy Scudder Parker isn’t a football-playing folk-rock god. You tell us this guy isn’t setting up to catch the Hail Mary, and then drill it in the end zone.

scudder, at the helm

October 11th, 2006

Charity Tensel Calls Republicans Butt-Ugly

by Philip Baruth

With so much happening nationally and internationally, and with so many new polls out showing Democrats moving in for the mid-term kill, it’s easy to overlook a 4.5 earthquake close to home.

Burlington’s own Charity Tensel — who runs the Right-leaning and always-scrappy She’s Right — has publicly repudiated the Republican party.

No, it wasn’t Foley — though VDB imagines Charity was genuinely ripshit when that went down. No, it was governmental intrusion.

charity tensel

If you were looking for evidence that the Republican coalition has begun to shed its disparate strands, look no further. Because this is the face of a classic GOP security mom, and she done hit the highway.

October 10th, 2006

Foley: The Perfectly Ironic Storm

by Philip Baruth

The Perfectly Ironic Storm:
When It Comes to Republicans Reaping the Whirlwind, VDB Likes to Watch

VDB prides itself on being well-versed in the odd physics of political scandal. How they happen, why they happen, when they’re likely to reach Category 5, when they will suddenly die away without a murmur — we love and study it all.

But more than anything, it’s the ironies generated by these political snafus that we appreciate and treasure. Scandals are like ice storms: no one wants to get hit by one, and they’ll curse the heavens if they do — but everyone brings out their camera the morning after.

serious ice-storm

And not just to document the storm’s damage for the insurance company, but to capture the eerie, delicate ice-works left in its wake.

And that’s VDB — always searching for the glittering ironies as the storm moves past.

So the fact that Bill Clinton’s entire administration was nearly toppled by one woman’s taped sexual confessions is worth remembering — but the fact that the woman running the tape recorder was named “Tripp” is worth cherishing.

Speaking of recordings, Nixon was brought down by his own compulsive need to record every working moment of his Presidency. He taped himself, and then erased himself, right out of office.

And Iran-Contra would be simply one story among many about the White House evading the will of Congress — if the Reagan administration hadn’t subsequently funded “freedom fighters” by originally arming terrorists.

Which brings us to the current Foley scandal. Foley, of course, is the now-disgraced Florida Congressman who wrote the GOP’s high-profile children’s protection legislation by day, and then preyed on underage male pages — also by day.

No one knows yet exactly what he was doing by night, but clearly it wasn’t good.

Of course, there are a whole nested series of ironies at the national level. Foley was the go-to guy for protecting children, even leading a House caucus on exploited children. And the same GOP leadership that has for years used the image of the sexual predator to supercharge opposition to same-sex marriage did nothing when confronted with evidence of a predator in their own midst.

It seems fairly clear at this point that Hastert, Boehner and others in the Republican leadership understood they had a dire problem years ago. Their response? To call in the head of the National Republican Campaign Committee to protect something really small and threatened: their own majority.

No shortage of ironies closer to home, either.

Rich Tarrant has spent well over five million dollars of his own money — more money than VDB will make in VDB’s entire, short, pathetic life — arguing that Bernie Sanders is a coddler of child molesters, a pedophile-phile. Now Tarrant’s badly lagging campaign will be further burdened by his own party’s rapidly increasing liabilities on the self-same issue.

And it just couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, in our opinion.

For her own part, Republican Martha Rainville has spent countless hours arguing — in print and in public — that voters shouldn’t waste time wondering whether she’ll vote to continue the current House leadership team in power. It’s a distraction, Rainville claims. And beyond that, the leadership is really only “decoration,” and “changing faces” will produce no reform to speak of.

Now it turns out that Hastert and Boehner — in addition to covering up gross malfeasance and profiteering in Iraq — knew at the very least about “overly friendly” emails from Foley to pages, and covered up that information as well.

The real irony? Rainville began her campaign with a controversy over whether to accept large sums of money from the ethically-challenged GOP leadership. After months of public deliberation, Rainville finally opted to accept the funds — and to argue forcefully for the high moral character of the leaders in question.

But we’ve saved the best for last.

Bill O’Reilly, back in January, devoted one of his highly nuanced and subtle “Talking Points Memos” to Judge Cashman’s now infamous sentencing of Mark Hulett. It was called “Vermont’s Shame Continues,” and in it O’Reilly characterized the entire Green Mountain State as one large, leafy, mountainous pedophile breeding ground.

“Where are activists Ben & Jerry, the ice cream guys who constantly scream about human rights? Where is former Governor Howard Dean? Senators Jeffords and Leahy? Where is socialist Congressman Bernie Sanders? Surely, he cares about the victim’s rights . . . . If Judge Cashman is not removed from criminal cases, will you boycott Vermont?”

That’s right: boycott an entire state, and all its produce and chattels, because of the questionable actions of one lone judge.

And so when Republicans suggest to VDB that we show a bit more temperance on this issue, a bit more cool-headed reserve, we have one word for them: Cashman. Under O’Reilly’s logic we should boycott the home states of every GOP Congressman in the Republican caucus.

Which is to say, the entire United States of America. Which would be really twisted.

But still not as mind-blowing as this surreal new reality.

Although Republicans have already chosen a stand-in candidate for Foley — a central-casting Conservative named Joe Negron — Florida election law is clear: Foley’s name must remain on the ballot, although any votes tallied will be transferred to Negron.

Which means that if they want to keep Foley’s seat Republican, Conservative Southern Evangelical “values” voters will have to file in, one by one, and physically mark the ballot for an avowed pedophile.

VDB has always said that when it came to shamelessly demogoguing the sex crime issue — when it came to exploiting the exploitation of children — Republicans could go screw themselves.

And now, just like that, they have.

[This piece appeared first in The Vermont Guardian.]

October 10th, 2006

News for Rainville — and Surprise! It’s Bad!

by Philip Baruth

More bad news for Martha: Jeffords is way pissed. Shay Totten, as per usual, has the goods.

martha hearts georgeIn a nutshell, Rainville’s plagiarism troubles resulted from an attempt to put together a political commodity on the fly. And this Jeffords snafu is the fruit of her campaign’s deliberate attempts to blur the edges of those various, quickly drafted political stances.

In short, she didn’t know what she stood for at the beginning, and she won’t admit what she stands for here at the bitter end. It’s sad, in a word.

October 9th, 2006

All The King’s Men Live In Vermont

by Philip Baruth

Some books just keep on giving, no matter how many times you read them. For instance, All The King’s Men. Reading it again in October of an election year, you find it has a lot to say about the current state of play. More with every page.

There’s a deeply strategic Governor in the book, for instance, and a lazy, good-for-nothing Lieutenant Governor named Duffy — a name which can start to sound real familiar-like, if’n you roll it around in your head a bit.

all the king's men — the original

Robert Penn Warren, then, on why a very smart man picks a half-bright running mate:

“Maybe,” he said. “And it ain’t any secret that Tiny Duffy is as sebaceous a fat-ass as ever made the spring groan in a swivel chair.”

“He is an S.O.B.,” I affirmed.

“He is,” the Boss said cheerfully, “but he is a useful citizen. If you know what to do with him.”

“Yeah,” I said, “and I suppose you think you know what to do with him. You made him Lieutenant Governor.” (For that was in the Boss’s last term when Tiny was his understudy.)

“Sure,” the Boss nodded, “somebody’s got to be Lieutenant Governor.”

“Yeah,” I said, “Tiny Duffy.”

“Sure,” he said, “Tiny Duffy. The beauty about Tiny is that nobody can trust him and you know it. You get somebody somebody can trust maybe, and you sit up nights worrying whether you are the somebody. You get Tiny, and you can get a night’s sleep. All you got to do is keep the albumen scared out of his urine.”

Take that, Joe Klein.

Late Update, 11:26 am:

We took the mainstream media to task last week for allowing Brian Dubie a pass on skipping debates and skipping campaigning and — well, skipping the job he’s been elected to do.

But Darren Allen has a nice, sly piece up today, putting all the major items on the table. Best nugget? Dubie’s argument that giving the Lite Governor’s office half his attention or less is actually the thing Vermonters love about him. They “like the fact that they have a lieutenant governor who has a world outside of elected office.”

Sebaceous? VDB reports; you decide.

Way Late Update, Tuesday, 10/10, 7:31 am:

Darren Allen writes to say that while he agrees that “Shay often has all the goods, in real time,” in this case he, the sly Darren Allen, had the Jeffords story up a good hour before the Guardian.

Ordinarily, VDB would demand a time-stamp or notarized statement from a — well, from a notary. But in this case and with this reporter, we figure Allen is good as his word.

Point Hall Monitor.

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