June 29th, 2007

Yes, It’s Time For The Second Annual Political BBQ and Hamburger Summit: Frequently Ass-Backward Questions

by Philip Baruth

Good afternoon. As many of you know, only a little more than two weeks remain until the Second Annual Political BBQ and Hamburger Summit will become reality.

The date and time again: July 15, 1-5 pm. The place: North Beach in Burlington.

makin' patties

Now, you and I both know that if you’re serious about attending, and you have a family of any sort, especially if some members of that family are less than three feet tall, you need to start moving a bill through committee now.

And to help you out in that process of clarifying and committing, we’ve assembled these Frequently Ass-Backward Questions and responses:

Q: Isn’t this BBQ really just for politicians and political bloggers?

A: No. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, a good cross-section of the crowd will be made up of office-holders and office seekers. And yes, political bloggers will be out in force, as will their readers, especially hard-core readers of Vermont Daily Briefing, Green Mountain Daily, What’s The Point?, and Rip and Read.

But the greater point of the gathering is to bring together any and all politically minded individuals. People from all parties, and all demographics. And friends of those people, and the children of the friends of those people.

In short, no one in America is excluded from the guest list. It’s a wicked big tent.

Q: I’m a current office-holder, and worried about attending a gathering featuring beer and loose political chatter. Can you give me some assurance that my casual remarks won’t be edited out of context, uploaded to YouTube, diffused across 10 or 15 mega-blogs, and then viewed by 60,000 or 100,000 people as far away as Japan and American Samoa?

A: No.

The Sign

Q: Let’s say that I find myself standing next to someone whose conversation with regard to the upcoming primaries is so scintillating, so entrancing, that I forget to chew the bolus of burger that I have in my mouth. Can my saliva, unaided by any ripping or tearing from my incisors, eventually dissolve the ground beef and fragment of Hannaford’s bun resting on my tongue?

A: That would depend on the duration of the conversation. But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that you get locked in a serious conversation about the relative merits of Barack Obama with Neil Jensen, head of Vermonters for Obama. And let’s further stipulate a running time of eight or nine weeks for said conversation. It’s theoretically possible that the enzymes in the mouth, such as amylase, which renders starches into maltrose and dextrin, could clear your palette and allow you to answer Neil sometime in early October.

Q: Is it true that candidates sometimes demonstrate leadership skills by quarterbacking a touch-football squad down on the beach?

A: Good question, and yes: several of our pick-up captains went on to bigger and better things. Case in point: T.J. Donovan, whose performance at last year’s BBQ connected with voters, driving him to an impressive electoral take.

TJ looks down field

(Donovan has already RSVP’d to say that he wouldn’t miss this year’s event. Which is the sort of attention to detail you want in a State’s Attorney.)

Q: What should I bring?

A: We’ll take care of meat, chips and drinks. So if you’re hassled that day and simply want to drop in commando-style (bare-handed) feel free. As much as anything, this gathering is to thank readers for reading, politicos for politicking, and everyone else for making Vermont the least-Bush-friendly state in the Union.

But if you have the time and the inclination, and you feel like going hog wild, you might bring a salad or a dessert.

Q: Can I bring my kids?

A: We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Odum fights off dog

Q: I’m a, well, a Republican. It isn’t like a lifestyle choice or anything of that sort; I feel as though I was born Republican, but didn’t really discover it about myself until recently. Will there be a brat with my name on it at the BBQ?

A: Damn straight. We here at VDB have always believed that what consenting adults do in the voting booth is their own affair. In fact, we encourage what we call an “Ask, Tell” policy at the Hamburger Summit.

Enough said.

June 28th, 2007

The MSM is Ready for Fred Thompson’s Close-Up — As In Ready, Aim, Fire

by Philip Baruth

Anybody who thinks that Fred Thompson can vault into the race at more or less the last minute, and avoid withering media scrutiny in so doing, couldn’t be more mistaken.

fredAs a rule of thumb, the mainstream media really wants to use the negative info it has collected on all the candidates, for the same reason that campaigns run negative ads if they can get away with it.

Negative sizzles.

Of course, ethics and a given media outlet’s need to project objectivity do a great deal to stem that impulse, to temper and filter it.

But if mainstream reporters can tell themselves that Candidate X is actively attempting to avoid scrutiny, then the gloves can come off in service of those same ethical principles.

And that’s when you see some real heat in a CNN profile, for instance.

Check out this analysis of Fred Thompson’s outsider image. It might easily have been written by Josh Marshall or Wonkette, which is fine by VDB.

But it is unusual to see this level of open MS blood-lust so early, and worth noting for what it foreshadows.

Clearly the reporters and editors involved with the piece feel that there’s something a bit funky about sidestepping three debates, entering the race with explicit refusals to discuss policy, and soaring to the top of the polls.

And they mean to quickly correct the imbalance.

Expect more of this on Thompson, including a long eye-popping piece in either the New Yorker or Salon, running down some choice anecdotes from Thompson’s skirt-chasing years.

Take a good look at that bald head in the above photograph again. If you can’t see the infra-red targeting dot there yet, give it a week or two.

Late Update, Monday, July 2, 6:59 am:

Right on time. The New York Times does CNN one better: a profile pointing out that not only is Thompson himself a Gucci-wearing lobbyist, he’s raised a brood of same.

Looks like this is the rap on Thompson for the forseeable future: not just lazy, but on the take.

June 27th, 2007

Blair Leaves Downing Street; Bush Lauds Disgraced Prime Minister as “Best in Show”

by Philip Baruth

Ah, Tony Blair. Time was we couldn’t get enough of the man’s silver-tongued oratory; time was when the sight of Blair and Clinton glad-handing at the G8 made us feel as though the entire globalized world was finally ready to Give Peace a Chance.

poodle Tony

This morning, however, as Blair left Number 10 Downing, we could manage only a passing tepid thought: Don’t let the door hit you in the arse, Tony.

Sure, he needs to be whipped on for his adventuring in Iraq and his toadying to Bush. But we don’t have to do it anymore.

No, the President himself will take care of punishment: Blair will have to endure Bush trying to help him until the day he dies.

Case in point: Bush marks Blair’s last day in office by arguing that Blair is not his poodle. No, Bush maintains, Tony is “something larger than that.”

Like, say, a Labrador Retriever.

June 27th, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different: Motherhood, And How Might the World Be Different If Only Cheney’s Mother Had Used Danish Wool Nursing Pads

by Philip Baruth

Look, we know you look to this site for hard-hitting analysis and cold-blooded political fisticuffs. And so the accompanying photo of a child swaddled in white wool may seem confusing.


But two friends just happened to launch complementary projects nearly simultaneously. And so even if each is at odds somehow with VDB, each is entirely in synch with the other.

So we wanted to take a moment to introduce them to one another, and you to both of them.

Rebecca Holt, Features Editor at the Free Press, has just launched a site called Green Mountain Moms, and it features precisely the sort of content you might imagine: nurturing, parenting, surviving as a twenty-first-century mother.

GMM enters a niche already well-served by a variety of local bloggers, of course, among them the inimitable Charity Tensel, but clearly GMM has in mind a larger, more overarching function.

The other project? Nurse-midwife Janice Emanuelsson — a good friend from the Swedish-American mafia VDB joined back about ten years ago — has been making a splash importing Scandinavian woolen products for infants and children.

The company goes by the name Danish Woolen Delight, and it imports everything from Swiss long-johns to ultra-soft Danish breastfeeding accessories.

(Without getting too graphic, suffice it to say that Danish wool produces a nursing pad altogether superior to anything available on this side of the Atlantic. Extremely high lanolin content, from what VDB understands.)

Okay, that’s the extent of our estrogen for today. Please see the next post, which features Dick Cheney, and fairly oozes testicularity and manly partisan spirit.

June 27th, 2007

Richard “Dick” Cheney Brings Down The Hammer, Accidentally Producing Highly Classified Damage to Own Testes

by Philip Baruth

To the extent that hard-nosed Republicans like to boast about wielding the hammer, bringing the hammer down, or, in the singular case of Tom Delay, actually personifying the Hammer, it’s satisfying when they occasionally swing way wide and lambaste their own nuts with the damn thing.

dick and rummy

Consider the current case of Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney.

As SecDef during the first Gulf War, Cheney elevated the information embargo to a high art. For that reason as much as any other, the Gulf War is remembered somehow by most Americans as a relatively bloodless affair.

And when Dick Cheney selected himself to serve as George W. Bush’s running mate, he seems to have had a full-scale expansion of this information embargo in mind from the very first.

And it has led Cheney, and the hapless Bush, into some very strange places.

But none stranger than the Vice President’s current assertion that he need not comply with orders issued by the President — in this case, an order to ensure proper handling of classified material — because he is not technically a part of the Executive Branch.

You can’t teach that sort of chutzpah.

This logic marked a full 180-degree turn from Cheney’s previous position: that he need not comply with orders issued by the Legislative Branch, because he was clearly covered by Executive Privilege.

Overall it was a wily strategy, if a bit in the “I’m Rubber, You’re Glue” mold. But it worked just fine under one-Party rule.

It’s taken roughly four years, and the fall of both chambers into Democratic hands, but Cheney has finally exhausted his ample running room on the issue.

Why? Because Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois plans to amend funding legislation to strike Cheney’s staff and office from the budget allotted to the President to run the Executive Branch.

“The Vice President needs to make a decision,” Emanuel said.

And good for Emaneul, whose record has been mixed since he tried, along with James Carville and Charles Schumer, to muscle Howard Dean out of the limelight immediately following the midterm elections.

But this move VDB loves to death. And we’re not the only ones: Peter Welch is on board, and apparently ready to mix it up as well.

cheney's got a gun“Congressman Welch plans to vote for the amendment to illustrate the point that Vice President Cheney can’t have it both ways,” says Welch spokesman Andrew Savage. “He is either in the executive branch and must follow the law or if he isn’t, as he claims, he shouldn’t be funded as part of the executive branch.”

Word very much up.

Now, no one should get overly excited by this looming exchange. As with the Valerie Plame case, Bush will almost certainly wave his magic wand and retroactively validate Cheney’s strained logic.

That is, he will produce Presidential writ to the effect that Cheney was never covered by the Executive Order in question, Cheney will quietly admit to being covered by the Executive Branch, and the ploy’s actual purpose — buying years out from oversight — will have been effectively achieved.

Still, it’s satisfying to see Congress brandishing the whip. Because let’s face the abundant facts: it’s the only thing this particular crew understands.

Late Update, Wednesday June 27, 11:56 am:

Right on schedule: Cheney passes word that he’s back in the Executive Branch, and that the whole “Cheneiary Branch” theory was the work of slipshod lawyers.

Rahm still wants a piece of the Veep, however. So we may yet see even more casual simulations of obedience to the Law. We’ll keep you posted as details warrant.

June 25th, 2007

POLLS CLOSE AT 5 PM IN 7 DAYS DAYSIE AWARDS; VDB Needs You to Take 3 Minutes Out From Playing Texas Hold ‘Em at Your Office Computer Now More Than Ever

by Philip Baruth

We joke around a lot here at VDB. In fact, some people feel that we joke around too much: people like Paul Wolfowitz, and Dick Cheney, and Rich Tarrant and Martha Rainville and yes, the evil beetle-browed Rick Santorum and his entire frightening clutch of children.

santorum and brood

But sometimes it’s time to be serious, and this is one of those times. The online polls for Seven Days 2007 Daysie Awards close at 5 pm today, a little under six hours from now.

We asked a few weeks back for your nod in the Political Blog category, but for some reason you haven’t voted yet. And sure, we understand: we blow stuff off too, lots of stuff, everyday.

Some days we devote entirely to blowing stuff off.


But if you have a minute, and you like this site for whatever reason — the satire, the cartoons, long sit-downs with interesting politicos, the breaking news — please vote.

The link to the rules and the ballot is here.

Just two tricks to it: you have to vote in at least 23 categories, and you have to use our URL (vermontdailybriefing.com) for the ballot to count.

Why go to the effort? Why deal with the pressure? A couple of reasons, but here’s one especially good one: every night, while you sleep, we’re banging on the Bush Administration with all of our might. All day, and all night, 24/7/52. And we don’t get paid a dime, either. VDB is purely a labor of love.

And it’s always brilliant when love is a two-way street.


June 25th, 2007

Howard Dean Dons Dorky Yellow Shirt, Endures Softball Drubbing For Democracy

by Philip Baruth

Apparently it was a Democracy for America reunion weekend in Burlington, with current and former staff, interns, pioneers — the pure of heart, generally speaking.


That’s Sheri Divers, tireless DFA blogger, holding the cup; a visibly graying Howard Dean scrutinizes the opposing softball lineup.

We missed it, unfortunately: VDB was at a Swedish Midsummer party, dancing around a huge pole covered with aspen leaves and eating pickled herring.

But the shocking, graphic images have been streaming in since late Saturday night, and they are enough to give any right-thinking Vermonter pause. Who are these t-shirted hordes plotting Democracy in the woods of Oakledge Park?

And, more ominiously, why are they all carrying baseball bats and coolers?

the game

Oh, right. Actually, it was a semi-organized event: the DFA contingent v. the Vermont Democratic Party. And you would expect that DFA, drawing on a nationwide base, would make short work of the VDP.

But no: one small state did pummel the nation. Badly. Accounts differ as to score, but estimates range between 15 to 6 and 18 to 6. Either way, DFA topped out at six.

That hurts. Especially when Selene Hofer-Shall compounds the loss by appearing to mock your wardrobe.


And yet, even a glance at these photos will tell you that it was about more than a softball game, more than winning or losing. It was about changing America by any means necessary.

deansmileAnd that means any means necessary, including the wearing of huge, dorky t-shirts in heinous colors. This is why VDB harbors such respect for Howard Dean: a successful Governor of a tiny state, he survived full-scale media immolation and went on to lead the Democratic Party out of the electoral desert.

And yet the man’s not too grand to wear chartreuse, if it’ll help in some small way.

More to the point, Dean has made an iron-clad commitment to attend the Second Annual VDB/GMD Political Barbeque on July 15th, down at North Beach in Burlington.

Actually, it was more like aluminum-foil-clad: Dean actually said, “I have no idea what I’m going to do right now, but that’d be a fun thing for me to do.”

You cynics parse it; we prefer simply to have faith.

save us AlWill Dean break burger with us on the 15th? No one truly knows.

But as the famous Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palma used to say, before he was gunned down on the streets of Stockholm, “Politik ar at vilja.

Politics is to want. Or maybe more poetically rendered, Politics is a yearning.

And let’s face it: nobody yearns more than this lone dude at the DFA reunion, wearing the T-Shirt that millions of Democrats are wearing secretly, in their heart of hearts, right now.

Rock on, Al Gore t-shirt dude. VDB salutes you.

[Photos by wingman Don Shall]

June 22nd, 2007

Looking for Sense in the Senseless: Michelle Gardner-Quinn and Carmen Tarleton

by Philip Baruth

From my window overlooking the main green at the University of Vermont, I can see the central fountain, and beside it a small memorial to Michelle Gardner-Quinn. The memorial is a temporary thing, a posterboard with some photographs and bunches of fresh flowers, but at this point the green would seem altogether incomplete without it.

michelle gardner-quinn

In case you’ve forgotten, Michelle Gardner-Quinn was kidnapped in Burlington, on the night of October 7. Her body was later found near Huntington Gorge, and evidence suggests that she died one of the most brutal deaths imaginable.

If I look off to the south out my office window, toward the leafy streets of the Hill section, I can almost see the spot where she vanished.

I was thinking about Gardner-Quinn the other day because another horrific attack was in the news, this one in Thetford. Carmen Tarleton, a young woman in the midst of a divorce, had been attacked by her estranged husband, Herbert Rodgers, and burned over most of her body with lye.

Doctors rate her chances of survival as exceedingly slim.

But in the article I read on the Tarleton attack there was a quote from Thetford Police Chief Jim Lanctot that stuck with me. Lanctot had apparently spoken with Carmen Tarleton before the attack, and he’d offered her help without being asked.

I was so struck by that that I decided to call Chief Lanctot and ask him about his conversation with Tarleton personally.

Lactot told me that, at first, he and Tarleton were talking about something else entirely — he no longer remembers exactly what — but when he asked Tarleton about life in general, she mentioned that she was in the middle of a divorce.

At the time, she didn’t sound worried or threatened, but Lanctot did what he routinely does: he mentioned the Women’s Information Service, a hotline network that goes by the acronym WISE and draws together many of the area’s support services for battered women.

Tarleton was a nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and she already knew about the WISE hotline. And again, she gave Lanctot the impression that there was nothing to worry about in her particular case.

Still, before letting the subject drop, Lanctot quickly mentioned both 911 and the possibility of a restraining order, if either ever seemed necessary.

That was it. I thanked the Chief, and I hung up.

The call seemed to confirm some of the things I’d been thinking: that in this case, in spite of the tragic outcome, the social network itself seems to have been working. Quality services were available; and although he hadn’t been asked for the information, Chief Lanctot provided it anyway — made it clear that he was ready to help.

In that way, the system was not only prepared but proactive, in ways that other police forces might envy — even in large metropolitan areas.

Of course, none of that prevented the Thetford attack. Herbert Rodgers told police that only the actual word of God would have stopped him. And it’s unrealistic to think we could ever rid ourselves entirely of bouts of insanity, or homicidal rage.

But Lanctot’s attempt at intervention struck me as the one lone ray of hope in the entire sad story. This was not a case where no one stretched out a hand, or where people ignored a woman’s screams.

And when you work in an office that overlooks the memorial to UVM’s own Michelle Gardner-Quinn, you have to take your rays of hope where you can find them.

[This piece aired first on Vermont Public Radio. You can listen to an MP3 of the ]

June 21st, 2007

Kathy Blume Wants to Chill The Planet

by Philip Baruth

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Kathy Blume is our favorite Vermont-based actress. Why? Well, in addition to acting, she crusades for peace and a cooler planet.

kathy blumeAnd she provides the voice of Gaye Symington in our latest edition of Audio Dream Theater. That would be the episode in which Symington wields “the Birkenstocks of Death.” A gripping scene, to say the least.

Kathy’s newest project? An updated version of Lysistrata, this time aimed at global warming.

The show is called The Boycott, and a jazz benefit is in the works to take it nationwide: this Friday the 22nd, 7:30, Shelburne Town Hall, tickets 10$ at the door.

Now that’s pretty chill.

But if you need a sample of Blume’s talent before you shell out the ten bucks, the embedded player for the Audio Dream Theater piece is below.

Five minutes that will change the way you look at Jim Douglas and his youthful ward Brian forever.


June 20th, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Clinton Camp Rolls Out Celine Dion Theme; Unrest Reported in 12 American Cities; Canadian Embassy Menaced In NYC; Stay With VDB’s Coverage Throughout This Difficult Time

by Philip Baruth

Seven different emails, pointing us to a development we’ve already been monitoring closely on the lucite maps in the VDB situation room: apparently, at some time late last night, the Clinton campaign threw the switch on a Celine Dion theme song, a tune sources peg as “You and I.”


What we know thus far:

Sources are hazy on Dion herself, but reports seem to agree that she is, in point of fact, Canadian.

Initial coverage that the song produces light bleeding from the eardrums seems to have been overblown, but doctors recommend limiting exposure until the Center for Disease Control gets its arms more completely around the problem.

Clearly this is an issue that excites strong passions, and police departments nationwide are calling in officers on leave, beefing up existing resources.

But apparently it is the lyrics, rather than the actual mind-numbing melody, that worries officials most.

There is the rote quality of the rhyme scheme, for instance, the sort of thing moody seventh graders quickly etch into school bus windows with their diamond nose studs:

You and I
Were meant to fly
Higher than the clouds
We’ll sail across the sky
So come with me
And you will feel
That we’re soaring
That we’re floating up so high
‘Cause you and I were meant to fly

But beyond that lies a larger problem: this theme, after all, will blare into the stands at each and every gathering Hillary Clinton attends. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans will be exposed to the implications of the lyric.

Which makes this final quasi-erotic verse all the more disquieting:

Sailing like a bird high on the wings of love
Take me higher than all the stars above
I’m burning, yearning
Gently turning round and round
I’m always rising up I never
Want to come back down

With Bill Clinton’s own illicit history so thinly veiled at this point, any light hint of eroticism would be too much. But this lyric goes far beyond suggestion: it reads like a cross between Barry White and a how-to treatise by Doctor Ruth.

Don’t get VDB wrong: admittedly there was a time, long ago, during the ‘92 campaign, when we might have been somewhat more accepting of these come-hither implications where Hillary is concerned.

Let’s just say that change was in the air.


But that was then. And this, undeniably, is now.

Granted, as theme song snafus go, the Dion pick can’t hold a candle to Rich Tarrant’s botched selection, but that’s thin comfort, thin comfort indeed.

Stay tuned to VDB during this difficult time. And hug your children tonight.

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