December 29th, 2006

VDB Crashes Fox News; Wreaks Ideological Havoc; Pulls Sheehan from Jaws of Wolves

by Philip Baruth

Apologies for light posting. VDB is on the road, moving from one political hot spot to another, putting out fires, stoking others, but due back in Burlington later today. Currently holed up in the lovely home of a dear but inexplicably Right Wing cousin, and so couldn’t resist blogging this particular piece from his home computer.

Sorry, Paul.

fox, simpson-style

Got a call last week from a Fox News reporter named Kelley Vlahos, who wanted to chat about a number of issues. At the tail end of the conversation, she casually mentioned Cindy Sheehan, and we talked about the anti-War movement for a minute.

It’s fair to assume that Sheehan was the topic all along, and the first 15 minutes of talk just a bit of journalistic misdirection.

And the story that came out of the conversation is predictably biased. But Vlahos was fair to the spirit of our conversation, surprisingly so, in fact.

In any event, if you can handle the cognitive dissonance (VDB/Fox mashed up in one window on your computer screen) check it out.

cheney's got a gunIt’s a near-textbook example of Fox journalism: Is Cindy Sheehan a Complete or Merely a Partial Whack-Job? We Report, etc. and so on.

Late Update, 5:16 pm:

Turns out the above Sheehan post is more relevant than we knew: Sheehan was apparently arrested yesterday in Crawford, outside the Bush compound.

Cheney’s motorcade was said to have been slightly delayed. And hence, VDB can be said to be slightly pleased.

December 27th, 2006

The Return of the Mirror 3000 Meme

by Philip Baruth

Back in May, we wrote a post called “9/11 Is Not Iraq: The Mirror 3000 Meme.” It made the case that casualties in Iraq would probably reach 3000 just before the Midterms, and that Bush — egged on by a nervous GOP majority — would need to spin that horrific number in some shameless, counter-intuitive way.

coffins, coming home

As it turns out, we reached the number in question this past week — the point where casualties in Iraq equal the number lost in 9/11.

And, although the timing is a bit different, we’re still convinced that the White House and Fox News will opt for the rhetorical Hail-Mary outlined in that post back in May. It’s reprinted below, nearly in full.

3000. And that’s with the rather insane status quo.

God help us if we, in fact, surge.

9/11 Is Not Iraq: The Mirror 3000 Meme

As of this morning, the number of US casualties in Iraq is 2,415, after eleven troops died this past week. Last month saw a spike in deaths, to 70.

If you look into the future a bit — not too far at all — it seems surreal and horrifying but altogether inevitable that the total will reach 3,000 troops killed. There’s no reason to believe it will stop there, but reaching 3,000 seems all too assured.

Now, drop back mentally to the 9/11 attacks. Initially we thought some 5,000 had died — but in one of the only small consolations of that day, that first number turned out to be high.

Best estimates now place the 9/11 dead at 2,986, a hair under 3,000. But most of us carry the round number in our heads, and hearts.

You see where this is headed: soon we will have expended fully as many lives in Iraq as perished in the Pentagon and the Twin Towers.

And if you do the math, something unavoidable suggests itself. At an average of 55-70 casualties in Iraq a month, the November midterm elections mark — with something like precision — the point at which the “9/11 3,000″ and the “Iraq 3,000″ figures will either synchronize or come near enough that it won’t really matter, for purposes of public discussion.

Don’t imagine that you or I are the first to realize this, not by a long shot.

The question then becomes: how will an extremely cold-eyed and cornered White House, working in concert with desperate GOP majorities, spin that numerical reality?

Think John Kerry, war hero. Think night-is-day.

My best guess is that by late summer, right-wing commentators (first Coulter, then Savage, then O’Reilly, then Rush) will begin to suggest that 3,000 dead in Iraq is in fact the only appropriate tribute to the 3,000 dead on 9/11. The synchronized numbers represent the only true measure of seriousness in the War on Terror, they will argue.

We’ve shown the world — the meme will run — that we’re ready and willing to sacrifice as many to preserve Freedom as the terrorists killed on 9/11 to extinguish it.

And soon, the more outspoken of the Administration — Cheney, Rumsfeld, others — will softly echo that line.

And finally, just before the election, Bush will begin marketing a version of the message that says as much without appearing to say nearly so much.

Talk of casualties and strategy is inherently cold-blooded, and I apologize for feeling the need to do so.

But let’s face facts: it was a sense of fair play and good intentions — the feeling human heart of the Democratic Party — that allowed Bush and Cheney and Rove to harness 9/11 like a draft horse in the year following the attacks.

And there’s plenty of hard evidence to suggest that the GOP has systematically exploited both 9/11 and the Iraq War for gain at the polls.

The Downing Street Memo, you’ll remember, spoke not only of the “intelligence being fixed around the policy” but of the number of weeks between the invasion and the Congressional mid-terms. Driving the election was clearly as key to the war plan as removing Sadaam Hussein.

So this “Mirror 3,000″meme is coming. Watch for it. And be prepared to push back. If you see examples of it popping up over the summer, send them in. We’ll post and track them.

For as long as it takes.

December 27th, 2006

Rezko Scandal Mushrooms to Include — Well, An Unpaid Internship of “Several Weeks.” Which Works Out to . . . Okay, Zero Dollars Paid Out Over One Month. But Still.

by Philip Baruth

Clearly Obama’s boomlet has only days in which to finish booming: the muckrakers at the Chicago Sun-Times have found a second Rezko connection, this even more sordid and unethical and Chicago-landish than the first.

welch, obamaWhich wasn’t too tough, given that the first Rezko scandal concerned the mowing of grass.

The dreaded Apparently Obama took on an unpaid intern at Rezko’s recommendation, and that friend of a friend worked in Obama’s office for “about a month.”

We know — we too found it hard to square with our general impression of Obama, that he was fairly open, honest, and above board.

And the Lord knows that there are a lot of things VDB will accept in a Presidential candidate — draft-dodging, philandering, the blatant waste and environmental implications of not inhaling.

But we cannot and will not tolerate a man who would hook up a friend’s kid with a fat job paying a cool $00.00 a year, for the cushy span of 30 days.

Bill, Unleashed(Well, minus the weekends. But still, call it 22 or even 23 days fattening on the public teat. Except for there was no milk. But still. It’s unconscionable.)

All irony aside, can we all just very quickly cut to the chase here? This story — like the first Rezko teaser — has media legs for one very obvious reason: Adding “real estate scandal” to “intern scandal” equals “Bill Clinton” in the minds of reporters, pundits and voters.

In other words, if every story between now and Primary Day includes those two phrases, Obama’s charismatic touch with crowds will be re-framed as grade-A Clintonian bamboozlement, as self-serving, narcissistic seduction. [Photo: C. Resmer]

Just wait. Within a few weeks we should get the first round of Time and Newsweek stories, hinting that Hillary has her work cut out for her because — that’s right — she’s essentially running against a younger, better-looking incarnation of her own husband.

And if you follow that line out, it doesn’t take you long to see that Obama will eventually have to face the unapologetically racist meme that took down Harold Ford: Obama is charismatic, therefore sexy, therefore sexually predatory, therefore a threat to what are usually referred to as “traditional values.”

Arkansas, Chicago. Two ethical swamps. Clinton, Obama. Two ethically-challenged swamp things. And they’ve come for your women.

Coming soon to a meme near you.

December 22nd, 2006

Obama Effect Reaches Iowa; A Vermont Alliance Both Clandestine and Creamy; And VDB’s Cheapskate Holiday Wishes to You

by Philip Baruth

Interesting movement in the polling out of Iowa. Obama now runs neck and neck with Edwards, with Hillary an increasingly distant fourth place behind the incorrigible Tom Vilsack.

obama, pensiveResearch 2000 Group
December 18-20, MoE +/- 4.0%*

* John Edwards: 22%
* Barack Obama: 22%
* Tom Vilsack: 12%
* Hillary Clinton: 10%

Only weeks ago, Edwards topped the field (36%), with Clinton a strong second-place finisher (16%).

What does this trend mean? Well, almost jack. Almost being the operative word here.

Because even with all the normal caveats in place — early shifting dynamics, inconsistent methodologies, dark sides of the moon — the polling does suggest some general possibilities, if not probabilities.

Hillary Clinton may well fade dramatically as the reality of her candidacy comes into focus, which would be in keeping with VDB’s long-term forecast.

Edwards’ early lead seems tied directly to the fact that he never stopped campaigning post-2004; as other candidates take the field, he may well drop back to the strong labor base.

But one thing is certain: the Obama Effect has reached the Heartland. [Photos: Don Shall]

And that effect will only grow stronger into the coming year. Obama, BenExpect Obama to eventually top out polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

And expect Obama’s recent covert, clandestine meeting with behind-the-scenes political kingmaker Ben Cohen to bear delicious fruit.

That’s right, baby, the ultimate in buzz: Ben & Jerry’s secretly stages a boffo roll-out of an all-new flavor in the last weeks leading up to the Iowa Caucuses.

Cookie Dough-Bama.

And the slogan: More dough. Less vanilla. Oh Bama!

Late Update, 1:34 pm:

VDB-stalwart Don (not to be confused, of course, with emerging photojournalist and VDB-wingman Don Shall) writes in to up the ante a bit:

Dear VDB,

The attached Christmas card might give some idea of
the size of the dogs I’m runnin’ with these days.

— Don

an obama christmas

Which pretty much closes out our week here at VDB.

If there’s not something inherently immoral or criminal or downright cheap about repurposing someone else’s Christmas card, please accept the Obama family’s greetings as VDB’s own, to you and yours.

Happy holidays, friends.

December 22nd, 2006

How Jim Douglas Got Religion on Global Warming, Saved a State, and Thrilled an Entire Nation [Cue Up, “Kumbaya”]

by Philip Baruth

The secrets to Jim Douglas’s success are not, in fact, secret. They’re out in plain view, and generally speaking they don’t produce a lot of hand-wringing here at VDB.

douglas hearts dickSecret #1: In a very liberal state or city, the Executive often succeeds to the extent that s/he projects order, stability and fiscal discipline.

Given that the GOP has long been associated in the public mind with at least two of these issues, Republicans do surprisingly well in highly liberal areas, often serving multiple terms.

Examples: New York City (see, Giuliani, Rudy), Massachusetts (Weld, William), and Vermont (Douglas, Jim).

How to explain the 10-year reign of Howard Dean?

Dean was viewed with some genuine suspicion by members of the Democratic Party for much of his time in office, because he made a public point of stressing fiscal discipline, sometimes to the exclusion of a more progressive agenda.

Dean sister-souljahed Democrats on a regular and predictable basis, in other words.

As we say, this “law-and-order” effect is no secret. And Democrats should work hard to address the pre-established frames disadvantaging them in this dynamic, no question.

But it’s hard to blame Douglas for taking advantage of this dynamic, for playing it well. He wins re-election by selecting one hot-button law-and-order issue (heroin, sexual predators) and running one ad insinuating that his opponent can’t hold his fiscal water.

It’s quick, cheap, and predictably effective.

And if VDB were Jim Douglas, we’d do precisely the same thing.

But there is another secret.douglas fishing

Secret #2: Because a Governor or a President signs legislation, reporters will eventually credit them with both its origin and its passage. This effect has nothing to do with short attention spans; excellent reporters eventually fall into the same trap.

Why? Because broad-brush history is easier to write, and tastier to consume.

Examples: Last year’s Catamount Health bill (which the AARP’s house magazine infamously attributed to the tireless efforts of Douglas).

For a rare glimpse into the workings of this last effect, take the issue of global warming. By placing global warming at the top of his Senate to-do list, Peter Shumlin defied the conventional wisdom, defined the legislative agenda, and defined himself — as a more courageous and committed leader than some might have expected.

It was a bold move, and a canny move.

And on December 8, under the headline, “State Lawmakers Ready to Tackle Warming,” the Free Press wrote a well-researched and accurate piece about Shumlin’s reframing of the issues:

“Peter Shumlin sounds more like a preacher than a politician when he talks about why global climate change must top the Lgislature’s agenda in 2007.”

And midway through the piece, reporter Candace Page fleshes out Douglas’s position:

“Gov. Jim Douglas declined this week to say what climate-change proposals he will offer. He said he is ready to work with lawmakers, but would be reluctant to support any policy change that would raise the cost of living in Vermont.

“For example, he said, he would continue to oppose any gasoline tax increase, and probably a gas-guzzler tax, because Vermonters are so dependent on their cars.”

As is his wont, Douglas brings to the table no options, no policy rubric; his only additions to the process are subtractions, and pre-emptive negations.

But here’s where the magic kicks in. crombie, puppet

Today, only two weeks later, the Herald’s Louis Porter all but re-reframes the issue as a Douglas initiative, in the course of reporting the hiring of Crombie to head up the Agency of Natural Resources.

“The agency is in the middle of a ‘rethinking’ process, which will determine if large-scale changes should be made in agency operations; farms are struggling with new rules on agricultural pollution; and Douglas and members of the Legislature are considering the best way for Vermonters to reduce greenhouse gases in the face of global warming.”

The truth is that Douglas’s main contribution to the debate thus far has been to praise the unseasonably warm weather — for sparing the Low Income Heating Program fund.

But after reading today’s Rutland Herald, anyone not paying attention might be excused for believing that it was Douglas, rather than Shumlin, forwarding the issue.

Which is to say that in a year and a half, Douglas will be telling audiences around the state the story — Shumlin’s story — of how he shot deer in his t-shirt and got religion on global warming.

And audiences will applaud, and no one will bat an eye.

December 20th, 2006

Bush Accepts Poke in Eye With Snark Stick

by Philip Baruth

Missed this classic snippet from the Bush WaPo interview this morning. Can you spot both the Post’s in-your-face to Bush, and the President’s clueless yet self-aggrandizing response? Holiday fun for the whole family.

bush, reportersBush: I do want to say something about the press. I hope you realize that, one, I enjoy the relationship, and two, know it is vital for my presidency. You can’t exist without me, and I can’t exist without you. And I generally respect the hard work of the press corps. I don’t necessarily generally respect every word you write, but nevertheless, I do respect the fact that you’re a hardworking group of people seeking the truth. And we’re necessary for each other.

And that relationship can either be a positive relationship or a suspicious, harmful relationship. And I have worked hard to make it a positive relationship. And I think it is, generally, I do believe it is. And I bear no ill will, and I don’t think you do, either.

The Post: We appreciate that, and you’ve certainly been good for business —

Bush: Good. That’s what decision-makers do, Peter, people who seize the moment and make decisions to lead give people things to write about.

December 20th, 2006

Bewildered and Besieged, Bush Takes Refuge in Lieberman’s “Happy Place”

by Philip Baruth

The Washington Post is running what passes for a major headline these days: the President has admitted that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq.

bush, as el diablo“‘We’re not winning, we’re not losing,’ Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, ‘Absolutely, we’re winning.’”

As the Post rightly notes, this is the first time Bush has admitted the “not winning” half of the “not-winning but somehow not-losing” binary.

And so in that way, on a purely technical basis, it counts as news. But look — just for a moment, put aside the nearly explicit admission in the above quote that Bush deliberately misrepresented the state of affairs in Iraq to win an election. Put aside the petulant elementary-school feel of the “But Not Losing” formulation itself.

What Bush has described is simply not possible.

Two armies — or three, or four, however many currently occupy the field in Iraq — cannot face off over a course of years, and achieve perfect stalemate.

Either the number of enemy fighters is decreasing or increasing; either the amount of territory controlled is larger or smaller; either you are nearer your goals in waging war, or more distant.

By every single conceivable measure, the US is losing, if we have not lost already. And yet, the media is content to accept Bush’s grudging, absurdist formulation as half a loaf.

It puts VDB in mind of another Iraq War stalwart — Big Joe Lieberman.

Pressed hard by Ned Lamont’s candidacy, Lieberman finally developed what we refer to as the “Happy Place” formulation: Lieberman claimed to support neither “an open-ended committment in Iraq” nor a “fixed time-table for withdrawal.”

Which is — in both the English language and the reality it purports to describe — an impossibility. Open-ended simply means “unfixed,” after all.

It would be as though Lieberman claimed to be neither altogether dead nor really quite alive — which might explain some aspects of Lieberman’s face, voice, and political posturing, but would be otherwise nonsensical.

LieberbushOnly in Lieberman’s happy place does such a possibility exist. And now Bush has joined him there, content to not win as long as everyone will agree that he isn’t losing.

Ned Lamont ran ads morphing Lieberman into Bush — a move that looks absolutely prophetic in December, 2006.

But why is the Post reporting this self-serving nonsense with a straight face? Every media outlet in the country should have called Joe Lieberman on the cycle’s most outrageous dodge, regardless of their various positions on the war.

That sort of denial gets people badly killed.

They didn’t. By and large, Lieberman skated to victory by making noises about wanting “to bring the troops home as quickly as possible” — only to wag his tail frantically when McCain pushed a troop surge after the election.

But here’s another opportunity: every editorial board in the nation should blast Bush into 2007 for this latest attempt to subvert the language.

We can only go one of two ways, at this point. Tell the widows of the soldiers that their husbands are not whole, but not really in pieces. Or tell George Bush to speak English like an adult. Especially as it impacts the big stuff, like war and peace and life and death.

Anything else is simple linguistic co-dependency.

December 20th, 2006

VDB Acquires High-Level Photojournalist; And Let’s Check In On Middlebury’s Bernie Sanders Send-Off, Shall We?

by Philip Baruth

It is with great fanfare that VDB announces the acquisition of yet another highly talented, regrettably unpaid photo-journalist, Cornwall’s own Don Shall.

bernie, doing his thing

Bidding was heavy between VDB and several other major blogs who also couldn’t pay Don a freaking dime. In the end, it was our benefits package that tipped the scale: we list our photographers under “Site Credits” on the sidebar.

So Don has that going for him, which is nice.

Above and below you’ll find Don’s take on the Middlebury Bernie Send-Off. We’d add only one thing to these images, because they speak admirably for themselves.

Take a look at the guy in the photo above, the one with the white hair and thick glasses. That would be Bernard Sanders, who recently defeated a multi-millionaire for a seat in the United States Senate.

Bernie is in — as in as it’s possible to be, shy of the White House — for the next six years.

And where is he? Conducting town hall events in tiny venues on his way out of the state. Does anyone believe, even for an instant, that Rich Tarrant would be listening to you, or to me, or to anyone, really, if he were the one shuffling off to D.C.?

We thought not. Bring it home, Don.

the irony of it all

December 19th, 2006

Who Benefits with Indiana’s Evan Bayh Out? One Guess, Baby, One Guess

by Philip Baruth

Who wins big with Evan Bayh out of the running? According to Chris Cillizza over at The Post’s best blog The Fix, that would be — right, Obama.

obama, pensiveWhy? Well, as Woody Allen once said, stay with us on this, because it’s brilliant. [Photo courtesy of VDB wingman, Don Shall]

According to Cillizza, the logic runs thusly:

1) A candidate needs 50$ million to look serious about a run, 2) Obama is starting more or less from scratch, and 3) Obama’s Illinois fundraising territory overlapped more than a bit with Bayh’s Indiana base of operations.

Ipso facto, no Bayh means more bread for Obama.

Which is more than a bit ridiculous, especially coming from someone as solid as Cillizza: geography is the least of Obama’s worries, and will continue to be. He will not be limited to traditional political spheres of influence should he decide to run.

Obama will coin money, from all corners of the country, indeed the globe.

Still, you have to love the buzz, cheap and wrong though it may be.

Speaking of which, keep an eye on, as it should bear fruit any time now. The good Lord willing, of course.

December 19th, 2006

Bush Leans Toward “Surge”; Iraqi Police Respond by Picking Noses With US-Made Equipment. No Kidding. Really.

by Philip Baruth

We live in genuinely absurd times, my friends.

George W. Bush, responding to a midterm clarion call for change in his Iraq policy, is now looking to beef up US presence in Iraq by as much as 30,000 troops.

bush, in denialTheir core mission: to stand up Iraqi troops and police, and secure Baghdad.

In other words, to accomplish precisely what we’ve been unable to accomplish thus far, by going at it in exactly the same fashion.

And if you want to know why it hasn’t worked thus far, look no further than a truly, phenomenally enlightening Boston Globe run-down of last week. We meant to post it then, but the urge to save a good nose-picking story is strong.

The Globe on Iraqi reaction to the latest US attempts to bolster their infrastructure:

“In February, US military headquarters in Baghdad introduced a computer tool to help Carter and his team assess Iraqi police stations.

“If the Police Station Management Report was a model for anything, however, it was the cumbersome US bureaucracy. It was a 55-page Excel spreadsheet with a total of 794 questions to measure police readiness.

“The Iraqis were noticeably annoyed.

“‘The acting police chief at one station went so far as to start picking his nose with his radio antenna to show his boredom or displeasure,’ Carter wrote.

“But when Carter included the anecdote in an official report, his commanders rebuked him.

“‘It’s unclear how high the nose-picking story actually went; it might have made it all the way into the dispatches which get sent back to Washington,’ Carter wrote. ‘What I do know is that I got a very blunt phone call from the brigade operations officer.’”

They pick their noses in our general direction, is what it boils down to, my friends. And who wouldn’t?

But imagine being a 24-year-old recruit from Newark who just wanted some money for college, and you get shipped to Tikrit, and they stick you in a down-armored humvee and they ship you to some provincial Iraqi police training site, and you show a 45-year-old Iraqi how to navigate his new Excel spreadsheet, and he takes the antenna of the radio your unit provided him, and he jams it up his nose at you.

And then you have to get back into your down-armored humvee and drive back to base, dodging IEDs, and email your kids good-night because they’ve stop-lossed you into the middle of next year, and you may, in fact, never get home at all.

Funny? Well, not so much.

Bush, dithering on Iraq

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