January 20th, 2007

Burlington City Council Shocker: Carleton Out, Adrian Knocking on the Door (Hard)

by Philip Baruth

Fairly big news for Burlington folks: although the Free Press reported just yesterday that only three wards would be contesting City Council seats on Town Meeting Day, word went out late Friday that Ian Carleton, current Council President, will be stepping down as well.

ian carletonFrom Carleton’s open letter to the Council:


Earlier today I delivered a letter to the City’s Clerk/Treasurer requesting that my Ward One seat be placed on the Town Meeting Day ballot this year.

I have spoken to the City Attorney about the mechanics of this request, and he has explained that this request is procedurally valid.

It will result in an election in Ward One to fill a one year term which will appear separately on the ballot from Sharon Bushor’s two year seat, which is also up this year. It is my intention to continue serving on the Council through Organization Day, April 2, so that there is no interruption of representation for Ward One residents.

The letter goes on to cite family issues: aging parents, and growing children. Which are the best reasons for taking a breather from the game, no question.

But Carleton will be sorely missed; he was energetic, tough, and by all accounts notably fair. And Carleton will be back, and soon. The guy eats, sleeps, and dreams politics.

So bet on that.

Why is this fairly big news? Well, with the City Council divided 6-4 between the Democrats and the Progressives, Carleton’s resignation puts control of the Council in play, at least theoretically speaking.

Which leads us to the $64,000.00 question: Who’s on deck to pinch-hit for the Democrats on this one?

Word is it’s ace attorney Ed Adrian, now of the Secretary of State’s office, and a long-time reader of VDB.

And one thing is certain if it’s Adrian knocking on those Ward 1 doors: those people will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their doors have been knocked.

January 19th, 2007

Welch Staffers Splashed Across Glamorous, Subscription-Only Pages of ROLL CALL

by Philip Baruth

It was only a matter of time before the new Welch staffers became A-list media powerbrokers. This ensemble profile in ROLL CALL (subscription only) is just the first, trust us. Congrats to one and all: Savage, Garner, Thurber, Dougherty, Benjamin and Gray. Mmm, sounds like there’s a potential law firm in there somewhere.


roll call logo

He Is Now Official

By Jamie Weinstein
Roll Call Staff

January 18, 2007

When last we left newly elected Rep. Peter Welch’s (D-Vt.) office, we discovered that he had just named Bob Rogan as his chief of staff. And this was before he had a staff or an office (or was even an official Member of the 110th Congress).

Now, Welch not only has an office, and is a full-fledged Member, but he also has a staff for Rogan to lead.

savageTaking the helm as Welch’s communications director is Andrew Savage, 25. Savage held the same title for Welch’s campaign from 2005 until the November elections.

Before joining Team Welch, Savage worked as an aide to the President Pro Tem in the office of the Vermont state Senate President Pro Tem from 2004 to 2005. Before that, he was caucus director for the Vermont Democratic Senate Campaign during 2004.

From Calais, Vt., Savage graduated from Middlebury College with a bachelor’s degree in political science and environmental science in 2003.

Leading the legislative team in the office is Constance Dougherty, 30, who will serve as legislative director.

Previously, Dougherty worked as a trial practice associate for Jones Day since 2004. She also has worked as a litigation law clerk for Nixon Peabody from 2001 to 2003 and as legislative assistant for then-Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) from 1998 to 2000.

Dougherty earned her bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Notre Dame in 1998 and a law degree from Georgetown University in 2003. She is from Omaha, Neb.

Serving as a legislative aide and office manager is Claire Benjamin, 25. Benjamin previously worked as a legislative staff assistant for the Senate Judiciary Committee and a legislative correspondent for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). She also worked on Welch’s campaign for Congress.

A native of Topsham, Vt., Benjamin earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont in 2004.

Ches Thurber, 24, joins Welch’s office as a legislative correspondent.

Before coming to Capitol Hill, Thurber worked as a legislative aide for Welch, who was then the Vermont state Senate President Pro Tem in 2006. He also worked as a policy specialist for the Vermont Medical Society and as a legislative assistant for the United Parcel Service.

While Thurber said he will miss “sneaking [Welch’s] dog into the Vermont State House,” he said he looks forward to the responsibilities of his new job, and “corresponding daily with Vermonters about public policy issues they are passionate about.”

From Burlington, Vt., Thurber graduated from Middlebury College in 2004.

Coming to the office as its scheduler and executive assistant in Molly Gray, 22.

Gray previously worked as a scheduler for Welch’s campaign for Congress. In 2005 she interned in the district office of Leahy, Vermont’s senior Senator.

Gray, who said she “grew up on a vegetable/dairy farm in the Connecticut River Valley of Vermont,” is from South Newbury. She expects to receive her bachelor’s degree in European Studies from the University of Vermont in 2007.

Finally, Calvin Garner, 23, will work as a staff assistant and press aide in the office. He previously worked as deputy communications director for Welch for Congress.

Garner said that he will miss “dogs in the office” from his old job but looks forward to “no dog hair” in his new job.

From Middletown, Conn., Garner graduated from Middlebury College with a bachelor’s degree in political science and Russian in May 2006.

welch, obama

January 17th, 2007

Clinton Camp Jelly-Legs After Obama News

by Philip Baruth

Dana Milbank has an amusing follow-up to Obama’s pre-announcement yesterday. Apparently only moments after the Obama people went live with the news of the exploratory committee, the Clinton camp scratched a previously scheduled announcement of the findings from Hillary’s Iraq/Afghanistan tour.

hillary, having it both ways

Clearly Hillary didn’t relish having her Return from the Front relegated to page 12.

And no doubt her people decided to see exactly where Obama positioned himself on the War, before announcing their new infinitesimally adjusted position (Supported it, But Deplore the Execution, And Now Sadly Favor Phased Withdrawal).

The formal reason offered for the Clinton cancellation was that one of the Congressmen on her Iraq trip had to remain behind for a day due to dehydration.

Milbank found this excuse less than credible, apparently: “And we lost the phone number. And the dog ate my homework. And I think I hear my mom calling.”

Get used to it, Hillary fans.

Clinton’s numbers will drop in direct proportion to her serious and open engagement in the race, not only because of our conflicted national view of her personally, but because she will nuance herself right out of the nomination.

Bill Clinton could get by with endless nuancing and triangulation because he made voters feel so much in a direct, personal context.

It’s something that perhaps only Edwards in this field can do as effortlessly: nuance on the War, and yet remain somehow authentic in the feeling he projects.

Edwards let fly on the War this past week, and brought a church in Harlem to its feet. It won’t be enough to speak marginally acceptable phrases; passion will rule the day.

And the passions associated with Hillary Clinton have never been positive on the Right, and they grow less so on the Left with every passing day.

And that leaves only Lieberman, after all.

Late Update, Thursday, 7:44 am:

That was fast. Apparently Hillary’s people read yesterday’s post on the need for more passion and less triangulation. From Clinton’s interview with the Times yesterday:

“I’m really passionate about getting the administration’s attention because they hold most of the cards,” Mrs. Clinton said during an interview in her Senate office here.

Of course, the claim to passion would have a lot more zing if it weren’t followed up with a slightly refurbished version of the Lieberman war strategy: “I am not for imposing a date — certain withdrawal date . . . But don’t be mistaken, I am for ending this war as soon as possible.”

By 2008, candidates using this formulation are going to be pelted with trash in the street. Look for Hillary to execute an about-face on timetables in the not-too-distant future.

Not Joe Lieberman, though. When McCain says frog, Big Joe jumps.

January 16th, 2007

Obama Files Papers to Explore Opening Can of Whoop-Ass on Democratic Field

by Philip Baruth

The boomlet of Obama news, in escalating order of priority:

barack obama1) The inaugural meet-up of Vermonters for Obama — which we described in near-spiritual terms here — has done what inaugural meetings do: it’s given birth to a second meet-up.

Mark your calendars, especially if you missed the first gathering: 5 pm, Thursday, January 18, again at the Euro Market and Cafe, on Main Street, downtown Burlington.

That’s this Thursday. No belly-dancing — at least not this night — but all the baklava you can buy.

1) MyDD has front-paged a thoughtful overview of the maturing Draft Obama movement nationwide, with a running comparison to the Draft Clark surge of yesteryear. The upshot? Draft Obama’s got the flint and the powder.

2) And today Obama officially announced his intention to test-fire the gun. From the Times: “Senator Barack Obama is announcing today that he is opening an exploratory committee for the Democratic presidential nomination.”

3) We’ve written more than once about the mystical and eerie connections between VDB and the Senator from Illinois, and they are eerie. Wicked eerie.

But the eeriest of all? In addition to announcing his exploratory committee today, Obama set a date for ending the speculation about his run: February 10.

Which would be — wait for it — VDB’s birthday. And you know what we want.

That’s right, baby: The White House. See you Thursday.

Obama, Sanders, Welch, Bullhorn

January 14th, 2007

Hallenbeck’s Must-Read; An Embattled Governor Pines For Margaritaville

by Philip Baruth

In case you missed it today, Terri Hallenbeck absolutely knocked one into the cheap seats. The subject?

Jim Douglas, and his dramatic post-election conversion to environmentalism.

dubie, douglas, baked, fishing

This sort of pivot — from obfuscation to religion on a given progressive issue — Douglas can usually accomplish without a murmur from the press corps. No longer, perhaps.

Douglas and Dubie have got their hands full, no doubt: a legislature lousy with Lefties, and the prospect of a newly assertive Vermont media.

It’s enough to make a Governor and his Lieutenant want to cop a sak of medical marijuana, and head off in search of that long-lost shaker of salt.

To the Margaritaville of yesterday.

January 13th, 2007

Democracy for America Brings The Noise

by Philip Baruth

As much and as intimately as you think you know someone, you don’t know jack until you see them navigate a crisis. And the same is true with organizations. They reveal themselves during crunch time.

Take Jim Dean’s Democracy for America.

democracy for america

Yes, they’ve been active and successful during the election cycle. They selected 54 “fiscally responsible, socially progressive” candidates last time out, and helped leverage 31 of them into office.

Including Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders.

But with the election over, some organizations would lapse into dormancy — making them essentially useless during a sudden, off-year crisis, like Bush’s brazen escalation of the conflict in Iraq.

DFA types get loudNot DFA, though. How did they react? Their people were on the front lines, baby. (As was the unstoppable Ashley Smith, long-time Friend of VDB.)

Sheri Divers, over at Blog For America, has the scoop, as always. [Photo: Burlington Free Press]

Now look, VDB doesn’t often put the touch on you. Scan the sidebar. See any ads? No. Because the idea has always been to keep the reading experience clean, commercial-free, and pressure-free.

But every once in a while, we do ask something of you, if you’re so inclined. And today we’re asking you to take a look at Democracy for America.

It’s a beautiful operation, stripped to the fundamentals: it runs almost entirely on volunteer power. Without it, they’re just a small handful of talented people against the vast Corporate Armies of the Night; with it, they’re the progressive cavalry, digitally-enhanced.

You’re the difference.

Yeah, you. You with the mouse.

So if you’ve been toying with the idea of getting active between cycles, here’s the man to call:

Kyle Duggan, Volunteer Coordinator

Tell them VDB sent you. And tell them thanks for packing the protest last night. Front page coverage of a protest is really two separate protests, after all.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

January 11th, 2007

The Foreign Policy Implications of Ground Hog Day: Why Bush Is No Bill Murray

by Philip Baruth

Some posts just write themselves. You simply need to sit back, unwrap a pomegranate bran muffin, and let them.

groundhog day, the comedy

And that’s what we had planned to do this morning: run a still from Groundhog Day, alongside the complete lyrics of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.”

That was it.

Any further commentary on the President’s escalation speech last night would be pointless, we thought.

But we’re sticklers for metaphor here at VDB, and finally the comparison between Bill Murray’s recurring Punxsutawney nightmare and George W. Bush’s maddeningly unvarying script on the War in Iraq seemed, well, specious.

Sure, Murray wakes up each morning in hell, precisely the same hell, down to the most minute detail — and so do we. Bush’s New Way Forward is neither new nor forward (although it is, arguably, a way).

But the difference between the two is the plot arc, and of course Ground Hog Day has a brilliant one, although it’s tied thematically to sameness and repetition and the endless loop of human self-blindness.

Once he realizes that time is not moving forward, and may never move forward again, Murray reacts like a spoiled child. He pouts, he shouts, he goes mad with power, and then finally he slides into a deep, lightless despair.

And then something happens: Murray learns, in a word. And by learning, he grows, and his capacity to feel expands correspondingly.

Danny Rubin’s script shows Murray finally using his endless eons in Punxsutawney to great human advantage: he comes to know all of the small tragedies that can strike a small city in a single day, and painstakingly he builds up a single, heroic routine that can unstrike them all.

Boy falling from an oak tree; caught. Man choking on a bolus of food; heimliched. Drunk dead of exposure or alcohol poisoning or old age or all three; still dead — because when all is said and done, some things are beyond the power of humans.

And so Murray learns grief and humility as well. And for a screwball comedy, it plays with more than a touch of authentic emotion.

Sprinting around a town he originally despised, guardian for a host of townspeople he originally patronized, Murray is all of the things this President will never be: humble, self-aware, and newly determined to avoid not simply the petty mistakes of the past, but the grand mistakes of the future.

And that’s what Americans wanted last night, during Bush’s oddly mechanical speech — it’s what they still want from the new Democratic Congress. Someone who knows that a boy is right now losing his balance in the oak tree, pinwheeling his arms. Someone who will sprint forward and catch him, save him.

Not someone who will let the boy fall to the sidewalk, and then send twenty thousand more just like him up into the branches.


January 11th, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: ERIC GUNDERSEN AND DEVELOPMENT SEED CREATE HOT NEW WEBSITE; oh, and chris dodd’s apparently running for president

by Philip Baruth

The big news? Eric Gundersen (son of long-time VDBistas Maggie and Arnie Gundersen) and his culture-jamming company Development Seed have apparently broken into the very big leagues: their campaign site for Chris Dodd’s Presidential bid went live at 4:30 this morning.

chris dodd

And it’s state of the art: video, blog, and an audio upload feature so you can say hello to other visitors to the site. It’s smooth and BMW-responsive. And it had better be: Dodd was scheduled to announce his candidacy about 30 minutes ago on Imus.

Which might generate a hit or two.

In every conceivable way, then, the website rules. Every conceivable way but one.

Dodd himself. One look at the site’s inaugural YouTube video will tell you all you need to know about Dodd’s chances.

Forget the fact that Dodd’s a mid-90’s DLC middle-of-the-roader in a field moving rapidly Left. He looks and speaks like a Danbury used car dealer trying earnestly to move the last few Yugos and Pintos and AMC Pacers off the lot.

Bottom line? Eric and Development Seed have worked wonders with this site: they’ve given it a playful, hip, progressive feel, with lots of subtle blogospheric hooks. It will be a huge boon to their company, and no one deserves it more.

But Dodd is — in a word — Dodd. And for some things in life, there is as yet no technological fix available.

January 9th, 2007

Douglas’s Vermont Way Forward is Bush’s Old Way Backward: Elevate the Loyal, the Tainted and the Woefully Inexperienced

by Philip Baruth

Back in the heat of the 2006 Congressional race, Martha Rainville made a real wince-producing error: for no apparent reason, she adopted one of George W. Bush’s signature phrases as her own.

martha, in camoThe phrase was “changing the tone,” and Martha built an entire ad campaign around it, blissfully unaware that voters now associated it with Bush’s broken promise to foster genuine bipartisanship.

By early 2006, it was clear that Bush had come into office prepared to change the tone all right — but for the worse.

For a candidate trying desperately to separate herself from Bush-era sleaze and disappointments, it was a stunningly inept move.

Which brings us to Jim Douglas, circa 2007.

Having watched Rainville poke a sizeable rhetorical hole in her own boat, Douglas should know better than to borrow anything from the Decider — socks, a cup of sugar, David McCulloch biographies, anything.

But you’d think Douglas would be triply wary of shopworn Bush slogans.

After all, the Governor’s last two opponents tried — with varying success — to tie him to Bush’s failed policies.

And no doubt the next will try as well.

So after listening to George W. Bush ruminate publicly about the “New Way Forward” for three or four weeks straight, what slogan does Douglas adopt to frame his own legislative agenda?

The “Vermont Way Forward.”

Okay, granted, it’s not “The New Vermont Way Forward,” which would have been worse all the way around, but the timing couldn’t be any more unfortunate: Bush is slated to announce tomorrow that the New Way Forward entails shipping tens of thousands more apple-cheeked young kids to Tikrit and Baghdad.

Where they will Clear-Hold-Build-And-Repeat. Unless or until they’re killed.

Still, if the Douglas administration echoed only Bush slogans, the harm would be minimal.

douglas hearts dickBut Douglas seems comfortable enough in his chair now to risk a little of the real Bush Doctrine — promote your loyalists, even if they’re woefully inexperienced, even if they’re under an ethical cloud.

Bush’s crew has made history: never before in America’s storied past have so many cronies been so unprepared to handle so very much. Douglas’s efforts in this regard are only now getting fully underway.

Which brings us to one Erik Mason, Douglas’s Field Director this last time out. If Mason’s name rings a bell, it should: his particular botched campaign maneuver made it all the way to the Boston Globe, via the Rutland Herald, Times-Argus, and WCAX.

Only Christopher Potter Stewart’s borrowing of Hillary’s white papers got more ink.

Mason, for his part, was busted over the filming of a Scudder Parker event at a Community College of Vermont classroom. But it wasn’t the filming itself that produced the ruckus, but Mason’s misrepresentation of his activities to instructor Laura Rubenis, who hollered good and loud.

From the Herald, :

MONTPELIER — A community college professor whose class hosted an appearance by Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Scudder Parker says a campaign aide for Republican incumbent Gov. Jim Douglas misrepresented himself before videotaping Parker’s speech.

Douglas’s camp denied any wrong-doing, pointing out that most every candidate films or records the opposition — which was, of course, beside the point. Misrepresentation and subterfuge were the real issues.

It wasn’t the crime, in other words: it was the cover-up.

Rubenis, who has written a letter of complaint to Douglas about the incident, said Friday that Douglas campaign aide Erik Mason described himself only as a member of the public when he asked for permission to attend the class.

“Mr. Mason did not honestly present himself or his motives, nor did he state his intentions to me or the institution’s administrative staff prior to class,” she said in the letter.

No apologies from the Douglas camp were forthcoming. And now it appears that Mason has gone on to his well-deserved reward.

If you go to the national AmeriCorps web-page here, you’ll find Susie Hudson listed as the Executive Director of the Vermont Commission on National and Community Service — the state’s pass-through structure for Federal AmeriCorps funding.

That would be the Susie Hudson who ran Brian Dubie’s 2006 campaign.

The same Susie Hudson who orchestrated the primary-night release of the news of Dubie’s convenient two-week deployment to Iraq.

But if you click on the Vermont AmeriCorps website here, you find that — surprise! — the new Executive Director is Erik Mason.

It’s worth noting that there was no announcement of the switch, no photo opportunity with Douglas shaking Mason’s hand. And Douglas isn’t shy about such ops.

No, it’s been all very much on the down low — which makes a certain amount of sense, given that Mason’s service to Vermont doesn’t extend much further than his much-panned efforts to re-elect James H. Douglas.

Does Mason’s elevation rise to the supreme level of stink produced by Michael Brown’s move from Arabian Horse functionary to Head of FEMA?

No. But it hardly covers the Douglas administration with glory, either. Far from it.

americorps volunteers

Under Jim Douglas, Vermont’s AmeriCorps office has become the cushy berth of political loyalists, a place to park campaign directors for the year between elections, including those who come with the muck of the campaign still fresh on their boots.

Which is — regardless of your party affiliation — a dirty rotten shame.

Why? Well, here’s the AmeriCorps pledge:

I will get things done for America —
to make our people safer,
smarter, and healthier.

I will bring Americans together
to strengthen our communities.

Faced with apathy,
I will take action.

Faced with conflict,
I will seek common ground.

Actually, that used to be the pledge. The last two stanzas have been slightly revised in 2007:

Faced with an organization built on ideals,
I will make it a partisan outpost.

Faced with conflict,
I will elevate those who help me prevail.

Now that’s a pledge for Community Service in the twenty-first century. That’s what VDB calls the New Vermont Way Forward.

January 8th, 2007

For the Guy With the Huge Tarrant Barn Sign that Spoils VDB’s Ride Home Every Single Solitary Night of the Week

by Philip Baruth

With certain people, reality tends to induce the gag-reflex, and so these types usually gravitate toward more palatable options — fantasy, denial, high definition television, Second Life avatars, target practice out at the Gun Club.

One sub-set of this group are those who simply cannot accept the idea that Bernie Sanders is now Vermont’s junior Senator.

They refuse to take their immense Tarrant barn signs down, and fraying “Bye-Bye Bernie” stickers still cling forlornly to their bumpers.

For those people, VDB ordinarily has so little to offer, being a reality-based enterprise. But today we have something exclusively for them, thanks to regular reader Ben: proof.

bernie takes the oath

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