January 31st, 2007

The Real McCain Is The New Bob Dole

by Philip Baruth

If you’ve yet to check out The Real McCain website, by all means do. Often these sorts of targeted sights take slight, questionable issues and puff them up into huge histrionic arguments.

johnny mac, evil eyeAnd as a result they’re less than effective, overall.

The Real McCain uses very clear, all but indisputable footage of McCain speaking first out of one side of his mouth, on every issue imaginable, and then the other.

And it’s difficult to leave the site without concluding that Johnny Mac has simply hung up his personal honor for the 2008 contest.

Best get: McCain on camera talking about Iraq as a day at the beach, and then blasting Bush for not leveling with the American people. The new Bob Dole indeed.

McCain, tanking

January 29th, 2007

Question: Should Vermont Help Steal What Remains of New Hampshire’s Presidential Primary Glory? Correctamundo!

by Philip Baruth

I spent a fairly large chunk of the 1970’s watching an insipid half-hour program called Happy Days. This program was dominated by a short, homely little man with a ducktail named Arthur Fonzerelli, a.k.a. the Fonz.

Fonzie and the gang

The beauty of the character, though, was that no one noticed he was short and homely. In fact, everyone acted as though Fonzie was the last word in cool, and mystically sexy.

When Fonzie snapped his fingers, women in poodle skirts sprinted to his table.

Henry’s Winkler’s over-the-top Italian hood became a national sensation, filled some deep-seated cultural need, so much so that no one ever wanted Henry Winkler to act in any other role, ever again.

NH Is Fonzie/VT Is Richie Cunningham

Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can never watch the build-up to the New Hampshire primary without thinking of Arthur Fonzerelli and Happy Days.

The winner in New Hampshire usually gets a boost half-way to the White House, and the voters there know this, believe me. Candidates swoop in and fist-fight each other over the privilege of shoveling wet New Hampshire snow from clogged New Hampshire driveways.

Every four years, every man, woman, and child in the Granite State becomes Arthur Fonzerelli incarnate, and the country tunes in for the same reason they watched Happy Days: it’s fun to see average people given the power to run absolutely amok.

It’s fun, that is, for everybody except the other geek, the one always standing directly to the left of the Fonz. Richie Cunningham always looked on with a pressed shirt and a Howdy-Doody smile but there was a real sliver of envy lodged in his heart.

Just a stone’s throw across the Connecticut River from us, any moment can become a defining moment, one that speaks volumes about America.

But here in Vermont, a moment is just sixty more seconds in which nobody cares what we have to say.

We tell ourselves it could be worse: it could be Texas parading through the klieg lights every four years.

But it eats at us, this surreal state of affairs in which our next-door-neighbor, so like us, so seemingly insignificant in the grand electoral scheme of things, can do no wrong, in which everything New Hampshire does is somehow correctamundo.

Of course, Happy Days eventually died a necessary death, and a number of states have now leapfrogged their primaries to within striking distance of New Hampshire. Not just one but two caucuses now precede its first in the nation primary, Iowa and Nevada.

The calendar has changed forever.

The only question left, at least for you and me, is this: Are we just going to sit back and let New Hampshire be openly stripped of all its former glory — or are we going to jump in and cart some off for ourselves?

The New Vermont Primary:
Everybody Free January 23rd, 2008?

The folks who worked out the new front-loaded primary calendar had a lot of lines in the sand to address, to put it mildly.

New Hampshire vowed to advance its primary date to make sure it stayed at least a week ahead of any other state, no matter how much advancing that took. Iowa vowed the same as regards its first-in-the-nation caucus status.

But California, and other Western states, cried foul. New Hampshire and Iowa are overwhelmingly white and rural in their outlook, they argued, hardly representative of America as a whole.

The solution? A dangerously front-loaded calendar that only technically meets everyone’s demands.

As of today, Iowa holds its caucus the 14th of January; Nevada, a strongly Hispanic state, caucuses five days later. Then, on January 22nd, New Hampshire holds its inarguably devalued first-in-the-nation primary, followed closely by South Carolina, which holds its primary exactly one week later.

Then on February 5th, American voters get more or less pig-piled: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Utah — and quite probably Florida, California, New Jersey and Michigan — will all go to the polls, effectively ending the primary season.

Let’s save for another day the obvious implications of this front-loaded nightmare, and focus on what it means for Vermont: we still don’t count for jack-shit.

And frankly, it’s because we’re too nice, too much the Richie Cunningham of electoral politics. So let’s bring it, people: let’s move our primary to January 23rd, the day after New Hampshire’s primary.

In fact, let’s open the polls at a few minutes after midnight, just to ramp up the tension.

That way, the national press corps and the gaggle of candidates will have no choice but to treat New Hampshire and Vermont as a de facto single primary.

McCain as lickspittleReporters will ping back and forth across the state line.

John McCain and Bill Richardson will have to come here and shovel our driveways and bag our groceries and beg us for our votes too.

We wouldn’t be first in the nation, but we sure as heck wouldn’t be last.

Not anymore.

Oh, sure, New Hampshire would threaten to advance their primary by a week. And granted, that threat’s been fairly effective in the past. But now it’d be us they’d be trying to stare down, their next-door neighbors, not South Carolina or California.

And maybe it’s just me, but I’m betting we’d win that little staring contest. It’s hard to get too indignant and high and mighty with folks who share your border, and know your secrets.

Yes, eventually New Hampshire would grudgingly go along.

And not a moment too soon: I’ve got a basement that needs finishing, and Hillary Clinton’s just the woman to do it, too.

hillary, having it both ways

[This piece ran first in the Vermont Guardian.]

January 27th, 2007

Don’t Miss Audio Dream Theater II: “Crouching Douglas, Hidden Shumlin”

by Philip Baruth

the league of 2 xtraordinary gentlemenIf you’ve yet to hear the second installment of Audio Dream Theater — “Crouching Douglas, Hidden Shumlin” — the set-up, poster, script, and embedded audio player are available here.

Readers tell VDB that the Dubie origin story, involving the crash of a giant Helen Reddy puppet, and the cameo by Al Gore may well be the highlights. But drop us an email and let us know your favorites.

The origin of Peter Shumlin’s super powers? Antonin Scalia getting savaged on the paintball course?

Enquiring minds want to know.

January 26th, 2007

Obama-As-Invader Meme Burrows Deep — Into Children’s Toy Shelves

by Philip Baruth

Liz points out that the anti-Obama meme — Barack as muslim, terrorist, invader, traitor, deep mole, Manchurian jihadist — isn’t just for adults anymore. Heck no, let’s get the kids involved! From Lego, the company that brought you the ubiquitous and annoying Bionicles phenomenon:

attack of barrack1

The accompanying text reads, in part: “Merciless and armed to the fangs with Squid ammo, the Barraki know what they want and stop at nothing to get it!”

Squid ammo, indeed.

January 26th, 2007

Breaking: Ace Attorney Ed Adrian Notches Narrow Victory In Chic Fur Hat

by Philip Baruth

For those following the Carleton resignation, and the sudden race among Burlington Democrats to fill his shoes, here’s the current state of play in a nutshell: Ed Adrain took the Democratic nomination last night by a razor-thin margin of nine votes.

ed adrian and family

We told you that a carload of eligible voters could swing the thing — and given that the average mini-van seats 8+, we were right as rain.

Haik Bedrosian has been doing yeoman’s work, covering all of the city’s caucuses, and he was on the job last night as well. Good coverage on Burlingtonpol, and an excellent photo montage, featuring Adrian in what looks like an early twentieth-century Kossack hat. Check it out.

And congratulations to Adrian, and his lovely family. We’ll be updating you on this race next week, as the final field comes into focus.

January 26th, 2007

The Must-Read Article On Escalation

by Philip Baruth

From the Times: the most amazing article on the escalation — and what it means on the ground for US troops — you’re likely to read. Hagel was right: it is a ping-pong game.

January 25th, 2007

Douglas/Dubie Satire Hits WKVT (Hard)

by Philip Baruth

As regular readers know, every Thursday we team up with WKVT 1490 AM, Brattleboro’s Air America affiliate, for an hour of fast-paced political banter (11:00-12:00 am).

Steve West and Gorty Baldwin, the hosts of “Live & Local,” seem to have worked out the ideal talk-radio format: 50% local politics, 30% national politics, and 20% discussion of the sweeping cultural impact of Bill Murray.

Which covers all of VDB’s bases, frankly.

Today we’ll be debuting the Douglas/Dubie audio satire we posted Tuesday: “Crouching Douglas, Hidden Shumlin.” You can stream the show itself here. Which is nice.

January 25th, 2007

VDB Says Hillary “Liebermaniacal,” You say “Credible” — Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off (And Yes, McCain is “The New Bob Dole”)

by Philip Baruth

Admittedly, we jumped on the Obama bandwagon early here at VDB. Before there were any horses, as a matter of fact. And that’s something of which we’re proud, rather than ashamed.

Obama, Sanders, Welch, Bullhorn

But it does truncate our Primary coverage in certain ways. For instance, it makes it difficult to cover the Clinton campaign in anything other than lukewarm terms.

And for all of her Liebermaniacal positioning on The War, Hillary is, after all, a Democrat.

Solution? Long-time reader Rick writes in with his take on Hillary, Obama, and their various responses to the State of the Union. He came away unexpectedly impressed with HC.

We yield the floor to the Gentleman from Colorado.


Dear VDB,

I flipped channels last night after the speech and watched what, to me, was the more interesting and ultimately important “exchange” of the evening — the Barack-Hillary Response Contest.

And I hate to say it, but Hillary won hands down.

Barack appeared back to back on CNN and ABC — appeared on ABC right between McCain and Hillary, so the comparisons were easy to draw — and he sounded way too rehearsed and vague, although articulate as always.

Articulate murkiness, is how I’d put it.

He repeated the exact same four or five sound-bite platitudes in both of his interviews. He hovered in that murky middle that he seems to be staking out for himself, the Post-Boomer Young Guy New Candidate New Politik-Speak that sounds neat but feels fuzzy, especially right now when sharp lines need to be drawn.

Hillary, on the other hand, seemed far less-rehearsed yet satisfyingly specific in the ABC interview I saw.

In essence, of course, she and Barack were saying the same thing — draw down the troops responsibly while simultaneously engaging regional partners in diplomacy to find a political solution. But Hillary had the balls last night, man, and Barack didn’t.

obama, hillary

She wanted to hold Iraqi feet to the fire; she talked about finding “leverage” and making credible threats and she trashed that snake Maliki and she slapped down Charlie Gibson (who SO wanted to nail her) by talking in intelligent specifics, making him seem kind of bumbling and burbling after his initial “tough questions.”

She sounded like a person who knew the facts and had formulated a plan.

In comparison, Barack sounded almost slick. I was disappointed. Especially after Jim Webb had spoken (a perfect choice for The Response) and kicked some Bush ass again, I wanted a little fire from Barack.

In fact, last night I responded more to Webb than Obama. I think Webb has a real future.

I think people who support Barack right now are a little giddy with the Newness Factor. The same goofy fear of “non-electability” that knee-capped Howard Dean and supposedly cripples Hillary if she goes up against Manly McCain is a chimera.

Did you see McCain last night? Holy crap he’s old. He’s the new Bob Dole. I think the Hillary-McCain debates would be a blast for us.

And I think Barack supporters who support him by tearing down Hillary are making a huge mistake.

The Barack Backlash is beginning; if he handles it with grace AND a little kickass fire, my feelings will change. But there’s a long slog ahead, and I think Hillary is almost fireproof by now.

Plus I think she’d be a great freaking president.

— Rick

hillary, in a nice clean shot

January 23rd, 2007

Audio Dream Theater, Episode the Second: Crouching Douglas, Hidden Shumlin

by Philip Baruth

As regular readers know, we launched an audio component to the site a few months back, in partnership with production-wizard Alex Ball of Rip and Read, and the mighty Neil Jensen of What’s The Point?

the league of 2 xtraordinary gentlemenWe call the new joint venture Audio Dream Theater, and the idea is to take satire to the next level — and then up the ante again once we get there.

Episode One, “The League of Extraordinary Republican Gentlemen,” followed the adventures of Jim Douglas and his youthful ward Brian Dubie, two down-on-their-luck GOP superheroes trying to block passage of the New England Wilderness Bill.

(Episode One is always available on the sidebar if you missed it somehow.)

In Episode Two, The League battles a new veto-proof Democratic majority and an old nemesis — Peter Shumlin, master of martial arts. Global warming, of course, is the crisis at hand.

And as an added bonus, we learn the origin of Brian Dubie’s powers, and their deep, tragic connection to Helen Reddy.

It’s called “Crouching Douglas, Hidden Shumlin.” And like the last episode, Alex’s production-quality is absolutely brilliant. Listen with a nice pair of headphones, dude. You’ll be glad you did.

As always, the script follows the embedded player, which follows Neil’s full-sized poster below. And the player itself is just click and go.


the league of 2 xtraordinary gentlemen

Audio Dream Theater

The League of Extraordinary Republican Gentlemen
Episode Two: Crouching Douglas, Hidden Shumlin

Voice Over:
The year: 1974. The place: Bread and Puppet Theater. Young Brian Dubie is orphaned in the freak collapse of a giant Helen Reddy puppet.

Vowing to fight the left-wing politics that ripped his family apart, Dubie joins forces with another victim of tragedy — Jim Douglas. Together, they form the League of Extraordinary Republican Gentlemen.

We join them now, in the Cave With the Golden Dome, where Douglas has frightening news for his youthful ward. [Water dripping; bat wings, etc.]

Douglas: Brian, I want you to sit down, son. [Sound of chair being pulled out] I have some bad news, I’m afraid. It’s just that — well, you know that on your birthday, it’s always just you and me and Auditor Randy Brock eating cake and playing games.

Dubie: [Fondly] Yeah, last year Randy creamed that two-headed Ben & Jerry pinata!

Douglas: Well, Randy won’t be coming to the party this year.

Dubie: [Breathlessly] Is he dead, Jim?

Douglas: [After a beat] Yes he is, Brian. But look, never mind about Brock — we’ve got ourselves to look out for now. The Democrats now have a veto-proof majority.

Dubie: Good thing Democrats can never get organized like Republicans, right Jim?

Douglas: Usually so. But an old nemesis of mine has come back to lead the Senate Democrats. He’s strong, and shrewd. There was a time when my eerie monotone was more than a match for him. But I’m afraid his own powers have doubled in strength.

Dubie: Powers?

Douglas: He’s a warrior, Brian, raised in a temple high in the mountains of Putney — the Shum-Lin monastery. Shum-Lin priests are taught discipline, all of the ancient martial arts. A young priest can’t leave until he’s passed the Ultimate Test.

[Flashback music, leads into soft Chinese music; intermittent soft gong sound]

Old Shum-Lin Master: Ah, Grasshopper. You are clever, and learn fast. But there is much more to learn, Peter. Before you may leave the monastery, you must snatch the pebble from my hand.

Shum-Lin: [No hesitation] Just gimme the freaking pebble.

Old Shum-Lin Master: [Totally cowed] Okay, okay, Jesus.

[Flashback music brings us out]

Douglas: So you see, Brian, Peter Shum-Lin is our worst nightmare.

Dubie: We’re all gonna die! We’re all gonna die!

Douglas: [Meaty slapping sound] Get a grip, man! Look, I still have my powers: the eerie monotone, the ribbon-piercing scissors . . . and say! We haven’t ever really put your powers to work. [Pause] Uh, what exactly are your powers, Brian?

Dubie: [Proudly] People like me against their better judgement.

Douglas: That’s your power? I might as well be partnered up with a pot-bellied pig.

Dubie: I’m sorry, Jim. I’m worthless.

Douglas: [Bucking him up] No, no, Brian — don’t say that. Why, you’re a swell partner. And a credit to the League.

Dubie: [Brightening] Really, Jim?

Douglas: Why sure. It doesn’t matter if — wait a second! You just used your likeability powers on me, didn’t you?

Dubie: [Smugly] Sure did. No one’s better judgement can withstand ‘em.

Douglas: Well, by gosh, maybe we do have a fighting chance after all. [Sound of fists pounding on a huge wooden door]

Douglas: Who can that be? Let me activate the Cave’s security monitor. [electronic tuning noise] Dear God in Heaven! It’s Shum-Lin, and he just put a wad of gum over the security camera! We’re flying blind!

Dubie: Don’t open the door, Jim!

Douglas: I’m afraid with a Shum-Lin warrior, it’s not really a matter of opening anything, Brian. [Sound of wood crashing, splintering]

Shum-Lin: Governor Douglas, I was hoping we could take a meeting.

Douglas: Meeting? You have violated my cave, Sir.

Shum-Lin: Yeah, well, we’ve got a global emergency going on, my friend. It’s called Global Warming.

Dubie: Global what?

Shum-Lin: Warming. Look, I used to go deer hunting when I was ten years old, forty years ago, okay? And the biggest thing we had to worry about then was freezing our asses off. Last year, I shot a buck wearing just my t-shirt. And this year, I’m out there running around in the woods in just my tightie whities. There’s something really wrong with that picture.

Douglas: Indeed there is. But look: there’s a bright side of global warming too. We spent almost none of the money in the Low Income Heating Program fund this year. So we can use that money to recount the Auditor’s race again.

Shum-Lin: I didn’t think you’d listen to reason. Hey Al, get in here! [Heels on floor]

Douglas: It’s Al Gore!

Gore: Hello, everybody.

Dubie: Oh my God, Jim, did they recount his race too?

Gore: No, no, Brian, the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount in my case, in violation of their strong Federalist principles. [Laughs good-naturedly] It was about as vigorous a screwing as any Presidential candidate has ever received. [Laughs again, voice very upbeat] And deep inside I remain absolutely livid about it, of course. [Chuckle]

Shum-Lin: Enough with the civics lesson. Just tell him the freaking inconvenient truth.

Gore: Well, Governor Douglas, you were speaking of the so-called “bright side” of global warming. And of course that’s simply a new and improved Republican talking point, designed to obscure the need for urgent action. [Chuckles]

Douglas: [Using the Eerie Monotone; accompanying sound effect] But Al, any legislation to fight global warming will slow the economy, and we’ll lose jobs.

Gore: [Chuckles, then in a bit of a monotone himself] Nice try with the eerie monotone. But I’m afraid I have a sort of genetic immunity to that.

Douglas: Damn!

Gore: No, I’m excited that Peter here has made global warming his first priority as Senate President Pro-Tem. [Another chuckle] It’s what I would have done if the [bleep-bleeping] Supreme Court hadn’t [bleeped] me like a two-dollar [bleep].

Dubie: You know, Al, even though we disagree, I’ve always respected you for speaking your mind.

Gore: Thank you, Lieutenant Governor Dubie. You’re shockingly misinformed but . . . but I find that I really like you, Brian.

Shum-Lin: He’s using his likeability powers again. Step back, Al. [Martial arts noises; smacking sounds of kicking/punching]

Voice Over:
Tune in next time, when we’ll hear Al say . . .

Gore: [Laughing] And of course if I could ever get that piece of [bleeping] Associate Justice Antonin Scalia out on the paintball course I’d [bleeping] him right in the [sustained bleep and out]

Voice Over:
Same Audio Dream time, Same Audio Dream channel.


Alex Ball: Sound; voice work
Philip Baruth: Script; voice work
Neil Jensen: Graphics; voice work

January 22nd, 2007

The Berkman Center’s Martin Luther King Day Conference: Sunlight Foundation Makes The A-Team Look Weak and Pathetic

by Philip Baruth

The Junkies

I am a Left-wing political junkie, and at this point in my life I’m comfortable enough with the ravages of my addiction: the compulsive newspaper reading, the post-cycle depression, the endless handicapping of a Presidential election still nearly two years away.

2006 Readers Choice AwardNot to mention the blogging, a hideous compulsion of another order entirely.

And by and large I’ve tended to herd with my own, as a way of normalizing my obsessions. We get into endless arguments about percentages, third-party challenges and front-loaded primaries.

In a crowd of junkies, I will appear to be a healthy man. So I’d never had much contact with other types, including political geeks, until this past weekend.

And apparently my life will never be the same again. Because the geeks have changed me. Forever.

The Geeks

Political Geeks fetishize political data, see, and the need to manipulate that data results, over time, in a powerful software jones that can only be satisfied through full-scale innovation.

True political geeks will use Google to perform a task — the way you might use a credit card to scrape ice from your windshield if you had no other choice — but they’d much prefer to invent an utterly new way to make the data do exactly what they want it to do.

If political junkies dream of controlling voters and elected officials, political geeks dream of controlling the data concerning the voters and elected officials. Pollsters are one sort of geek, of course, and I was familiar enough with pollsters and their ways.

But it turns out that there is an entire species of which I was unaware: the transparency geek.

the a-teamTransparency geeks begin from a seemingly simple proposition: political information — of any and all sorts — must be free. If it is not, then it must be busted out of whatever institutional lock-up currently confines it.

Once free, the information will then rat out its captors — expose potential corruption, in other words.

It’s pretty much the plot of every A-Team episode from 1983-1987.

Except, you know, with software instead of Mr. T.

The Sunlight Foundation:
Helping Geeks Arm Junkies

The mission of the Sunlight Foundation, according to their website, is to “reduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy. We are unique,” they go on to add, “in that technology and the power of the Internet are at the core of every one of our efforts.”

No joke.

Under National Director Zephyr Teachout, Sunlight has spent the last year engaged in what can only be called a landmark experiment in geek aggregation — bringing together as many transparency geeks as they could to create a clearinghouse for new technologies aimed at making political information both free and user-friendly.

zephyr teachoutWell, this past weekend Sunlight decided to show off their collection.

It was Martin Luther King day, and it was a long Martin Luther King day: from 8:30 am to 6 pm, we watched one stunning demonstration after another.

In fact, for a good part of that time, we speed-geeked: seven minutes watching how a new searchable database opened up a previously closed field of political information, and then BAM! on to the next database.

Case in point: Maplight.org.

Maplight illuminates the connections between money and politics, in utterly simple ways, by tying money to actual votes on actual bills. For the last year, the site has been limited to California data, but by the end of the year, you’ll be able to search Congressional information from St. Albans to San Jose.

OpenSecrets.org tracks everything being exchanged by government and private interests, including the travel of individual legislators; Fedspending.org breaks down federal spending by Grants or Contracts. And lest corrupt lawmakers seek to evade all of the above by funneling money to relatives, The Congressional Family Business Project knows who’s got family on the payroll.

And then, my personal favorite: Metavid. Mash up Google, YouTube and C-Span, and you get Metavid: a searchable archive of C-Span clips that you can easily embed into your blog or web page.

Okay, you pose a good question: who in their right mind wants to search C-Span, which is, after all, a camera pointed at lawmakers droning on hour after hour after hour about nothing in particular?

Answer: junkies.

The Beauty Part

And here’s the beauty part.

Let’s say you’re an enterprising citizen, and you decide to use several of the tools mentioned above in concert with one another.

Working with your cell phone and a spare half an hour, it is now possible to do the following: 1) create a timeline of a bill moving through the House or Senate; 2) create another matching timeline of a given legislator’s actions on that bill; 3) create a third timeline tracking contributions from special interests looking to influence the bill; and 4) retrieve C-Span clips of the legislator in question speaking against the bill one day, and for it the next.

What have you got? A vivid, compelling, nearly three-dimensional reconstruction of a quid pro quo.

Maybe not enough to get a conviction in a court of law — given the intentionally high bar set in corruption cases — but more than enough to make the dirty lawmaker’s next election a grueling exercise in accountability.

And there’s no smack quite like that, I can assure you.

[This piece ran first in The Vermont Guardian.]

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