June 19th, 2007

Obama Receives Secret Service Code Name; Also, VDB Reveals Own Rumsfeld Handle

by Philip Baruth

So back a few months ago, the Obama campaign quietly announced that the candidate would be receiving Secret Service protection. It was both a hopeful and a depressing sign: good that the Service would extend the protection historically early, bad that Obama needed it in ways that other candidates didn’t.

Race runs deep in America.

obama II, 2/10/07

And as of today we know Obama’s code name as well: “Renegade.”

A bit of a back-handed compliment, but on balance a handle in which a guy could take some genuine pride.

And apparently the Service is not always so light with its touch. “Tranquility,” you’ll remember, was Barbara Bush’s moniker, and straight irony seems to be the only way to read that choice, given Barbara Bush’s queenly tempers.

bush, as el diabloBarbara’s son George W. received his code name back in his drinking and driving days, when his father was Vice-President: it remains “Tumbler” to the present day.

Hillary Clinton? “Evergreen,” a nice tribute to Clintonian political staying power.

And then of course there was Donald Rumsfeld, who had no Service code name that we know of, but who always went by the designation “Cold-Hearted Bastard” here at VDB.

Because we don’t care who knows who we’re talking about.

June 19th, 2007

Big Joe Lieberman “Denies War-Mongering,” Also Categorically Disputes Significant Distinction “Between Shit and Shinola”

by Philip Baruth

As you know by now, Big Joe Lieberman has begun openly advocating for war with Iran. His stance is that Iran has already “started military action against us,” by aiding those who kill US troops in Iraq, and that therefore we should return the favor.


Put aside the fact that according to multiple credible sources, US special forces have been staging attacks and marking targets in Iran for well over a year. Big Joe will not be deterred in his campaign to broaden the Iraq war.

Unfortunately, the backlash from his Face the Nation saber-rattling was a little more severe than Joe anticipated.

Which is bad for Big Joe. But sweet for VDB. The headlines say it all: “Joe Lieberman Denies War-Mongering.”

Related story on the jump-page: “Lieberman Insists Reddish Tint on Hands Unrelated to Human Blood; Wife Mistakenly Packed Red Rather than Green Gummy Worms with Lunch.”

How long, Lord? How long will the Democratic Party be strung up on this rack? How long before Big Joe takes us all down with him?

Curse him for his torrid good looks, and earnest demeanor. The man puts on a flak vest and a helmet, and he looks like a combination of General Patton and The Rock.


No wonder the world brandishes its swords at his bidding.

June 16th, 2007

Don Shall and the Emerald Gypsy: A Tale of Heroism That Will Have You in Tears, Unless You Have A Cinder Block Instead of a Heart

by Philip Baruth

What follows is the story of Don Shall and the Emerald Gypsy. It is the story of one VDB-reader, his quest for personal enlightenment and freedom, but it is also the story of all VDB-readers everywhere.

Their passion and their loyalty, their madcap spirits and their nerves of steel. Their willingness to go a little insane and buy stuff on Ebay.

the van

It is the story of one man’s quest to attend the second Political BBQ and Hamburger Summit on July 15 in Burlington, and his refusal to let anything — even a heart-attack — stand in his way.

Don Shall you know although you’ve never met him: his photos crop up on VDB on a regular basis. So regular that we put him on the masthead last year as an official site photographer.

His images have a certain unshakeable reality, like this shot of Bernie, engaged in the act of being Bernie.

bernie, doing his thing

So when the date for the BBQ was finalized a while back, we dropped Don a line, asking whether he’d be able to make it.

Now, Don lives in Cornwall but his email response came from Oregon. What’s he doing in Oregon, you ask?

Seems that Don had an epiphany about a month ago. He realized that he needed open roads and new experiences, and he did what any reasonable man would do: he bought a 1949 Ford F5 schoolbus motorhome conversion on Ebay, and then bought a plane ticket for Yakima, Washington to pick it up.

Which would have been fine, except that three days later, Don had what he modestly calls a “medium heart attack.” He was rushed from Middlebury to the Cardiac Unit in Burlington, and there the doctors performed a routine miracle: “balloon-work and a pair of inch-long stents.”

Forty hours later, Don is out of the hospital and on a plane to Yakima, Washington, because heart attack or no heart attack, he means to seal the deal on the Emerald Gypsy.

gypsyThe Emerald Gypsy, of course, is the ‘49 motorhome conversion rig from Ebay.

And it is a thing of beauty, no question: sleek and well-appointed, yet spartan enough to allow a man to find his Inner Beat Poet on the highways of America.

Fine, so Don is a madcap, devil-may-care sort. Why should that melt your heart?

Well, here’s the beauty part.

Once he got word of the Hamburger Summit, Don made a call from the Pacific Northwest — where he and the Emerald Gypsy now sit — to the RV park at North Beach in Burlinton.

And he reserved the last remaining camp site for the night of July 15th.

And that’s not all: he’s having the Gypsy loaded on a lowboy trailer, and he and it are traveling back together across the continent and timing things to arrive very precisely the morning of the Hamburger Summit.


So let’s just sum up quickly: here’s a guy who plans to travel across the entire length and breadth of America, with two new stents in his dauntless heart, just to make this year’s Political BBQ.

Which begs the question, gentle reader: if you’re not planning on making the trip, what is it that’s stopping you again?

But all of this wasn’t what really brought tears to VDB’s eyes. No, it’s even deeper than that.

Don also writes that while on the road back to Vermont, he will find the time to fill out Seven Days Readers Choice ballot and give us his nod for Best Political Blog.

He has time on the road, it seems. “I will wade through the survey,” he writes. “I’m happy to testify.”

Spoken like a true American, and a die-hard VDBisto. We’re getting choked up again, just thinking about it.

And we’re getting fairly stoked, of course, about partying after the BBQ in the Gypsy. Take a look at this interior.


If people wonder why you blow hundreds of hours a year, surfing political blogs instead of acquiring an additional degree or learning a new language, show them these photos of the Gypsy.

Because it is the heaven to which political junkies go when they die. Or when they refuse to die, because they insist upon living a dream.

June 15th, 2007

Expelled From Paradise: A Disgraced Blair Forced To Exit Covering Naughty Bits

by Philip Baruth

So the world as we know it is essentially in chaos, chaos directly attributable to the disastrous interventions and inexplicable avoidances of the Bush Administration, and its handful of enablers on the world stage.

Like canis disgusticus, Tony Blair.


Due to our intervention in Iraq: Increasing violence, despite an influx of 30,000 additional US troops. Cross-border incursions by Turkey. Wide-spread ethnic cleansing.

Due to our studied avoidance of the Palestinian question: Hamas has now captured more or less the whole of Gaza, displacing Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas.

Who will pay for all of this madness? Well, Bush may outlast the electoral backlash, but several governments around the world have already fallen, and Tony Blair is slated to join their ranks in mere days.

And not only is Blair being forced out, well before he’d like to leave, and in disgrace, but as he exits there will be a very high-class exhibition opening at the Royal Academy, openly mocking him.

It’s a triptych called “Expulsion from Paradise.”

“Expulsion from Paradise, by the sculptor and academician Michael Sandle, 71, shows Tony and Cherie Blair standing in front of No 10, confronted by brutality and chaos.

blair, nude

“In an allegorical reference to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the Blairs are shown cowering on the front step of the prime ministerial residence while, to their right, a British soldier beats Iraqi civilians, and, to their left, body parts rain down on a pile of Iraqi corpses.”

Sounds about right. And we might begin thinking along similar lines for Bush’s last helicopter ride out of the White House.

Maybe the Smithsonian for the venue. Of course, a triptych won’t come near to making the nut in Bush’s case.

Maybe a polyptych. Apparently that’s four or more panels, depicting the subject in question.

Or come to think about it, maybe a diptych is the best bet. Sure it’s only two panels, with correspondingly less space to depict Bush’s various sins.

But it just sounds right. Diptych. Hear what we mean?

June 15th, 2007

At Least We’re Not Uzbekistan: Considering The Merits of Being the Dominican Republic

by Philip Baruth

Yesterday, VDB-reader Tom sent an image that could have consumed an entire afternoon, if we’d let it. It’s a map of the United States of America, but with each state renamed for a country with a very similiar gross domestic product.

Texas is Canada. Enough said.

Vermont, in this particular case, becomes the Dominican Republic. Which feels simultaneously really good, and vaguely bad. On the one hand, the DR is gorgeous, and they gave us Julia Alvarez, now jealously guarded as a Vermont writer.

Here’s the detail of New England.

new england

On the other hand, the DR isn’t one of the world’s flourishing economies either. Which leads you to glance down the list of states to check Vermont’s relative position.

And yes, there it is, second from the bottom.

Rich only in comparison to Wyoming, so desperate a place that Dick Cheney — he of the two DWI’s and multiple draft deferments — seemed like an optimistic bet for Congress.

Of course, in this map Wyoming is Uzbekistan, which brings us back to feeling pretty darn smug about the whole Dominican Republic thing.

We may not have much, but we got our dignity.

June 13th, 2007

Feingold Cuts Through Fog-Filled Top-Tier

by Philip Baruth

Every once in a great while, a single quote manages to clarify an entire convoluted political struggle. When last we checked in on our three top-tier Democratic candidates, they were locked in a death-struggle not simply over Iraq policy, but over their own records with respect to the timeline of that policy.

obama in keene

To hear Barack Obama tell it, he’s opposed the war from the start, and pushed hardest to end it in the Senate.

Hillary Clinton sees her own record as all but indistinguishable from Obama’s, but claims herself to have led Senate Democrats on the issue.

And John Edwards repeatedly paints both Obama and Clinton as cautious followers rather than strong leaders in the anti-war push.

So who to believe? What about VDB’s man, Russ Feingold?

Feingold has distinguished himself during the Bush Presidency as the Democrat Most Likely to Get It Right, on issue after issue. But most especially on the Iraq War, he has brought an astonishing clarity and conviction to Senate debate. One by one, the Senate is clearly moving to his once-radical position.


Feingold’s take on the top three? It’s fairly blunt, and all the more bracing for that directness. Russ is an Obama man on this one. From yesterday’s Chicago Tribune:

“I regard him as clearly stronger [on Iraq] than Sen. Clinton, indeed than [former] Sen. Edwards,” Feingold said. “Of all the people I’ve worked with that are running for president, I think Sen. Obama probably made the proposal that was most helpful in moving the [Senate Democratic] Caucus in the direction I would like to see it go.”

Now that’s clarity.

Worth remembering mid-way through the next debate, when the moderator says the word Iraq, and all three candidates move instantly into their respective, comfortable grooves.

Worth remembering that the issue doesn’t have to be so complicated. And that for Feingold, who knows the grooves better than anyone alive perhaps, it apparently isn’t.

June 12th, 2007

What Arnie Gundersen Says About Yankee Eventually Becomes Truth About Yankee

by Philip Baruth

Before I started VDB, I believed in a vague, unhurried way that nuclear power was fundamentally at odds with core Vermont values. That is to say, I was against it, but had other things to think about: the shredding of the Constitution, the institutionalization of torture, electronic ballot tampering.

vermont yankee

But that’s the inconvenient truth about this business: you get religion on other issues from your readers, and the people you meet through the site.

On the Vermont Yankee issue, I got religion in the North and I got religion in the South: Arnie Gundersen, my neighbor in Burlington’s New North End, and Steve West and Gorty Baldwin, WKVT radio hosts in Brattleboro, all began schooling me in the issues and the various dangers.

better?But today, let’s take Arnie’s story.

Arnie was an executive in the nuclear industry, back in the late ’80’s, but in 1990 he came forward as a whistleblower and was fired the same year. Over the next several years, his case got a great deal of attention, and he testified before Congress during hearings on ways to protect whistleblowers.

Fast-forward to 2007. Arnie is now a prominent nuclear safety expert witness. And he’s also a longtime reader of this site.

And so this past February, on the 24th, Arnie sent me an email that I hung on to because it had the unsettling feel of a bad prophecy destined to come true. He was very worried about the power boost at Yankee, and what it might mean immediately down the road.

Dear Philip,

The first Vermont Yankee outage since the uprate will start soon. Rather than be a Monday morning (or is that mourning) quarterback, I thought I would go on record with someone outside of the nuclear crowd whom I respect to identify my concerns. I honestly hope I am wrong, because the forces we are dealing with at VY are terrifying. Anyway, I think we need to watch out for three potential problem areas during the outage:

1. Steam Dryer issues: All of VY’s sister units have had serious Steam Dryer problems after uprate, and VY’s uprate is larger than any of theirs. Not only was the Steam Dryer measured to be vibrating excessively after the “uprate”, but VY also measured excessively high moisture content in the steam, indicating problems like cracking. It would not surprise me if VY already ordered a new Dryer and it is sitting at the manufacturer’s facility waiting for the rate payer protection clauses here in Vermont to expire before its purchase is even announced.

Of course, it would be an admission of a problem if they announce too early, opening them up to warranty claims under the deal Entergy cut with the State of VT.

Arnie goes on to list two other major areas of concern in that February email, but his number one worry was Steam Dryer cracking. Cracking directly due to the increase in output.

Which rang a bell when I read last week’s Rutland Herald. The piece was slugged, “State Concerned about Cracks at Vermont Yankee.”

The lede:

“The Department of Public Service wants more information about new cracks in a key component at Vermont Yankee that it suspects developed since the nuclear reactor boosted power production last year.

“Sarah Hofmann, director of public advocacy for the Department of Public Service, said Tuesday the state is concerned about five cracks on components of the steam dryer and wants additional information about them from plant-owner Entergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

The fact that Arnie’s very specific projections so closely mirror eventual reality at the plant says several things to me:

1) Arnie Gundersen knows from whence he speaks. He is not some crank with an irrational fear of nuclear energy. Rather, he is a highly skilled watchdog, whose views the State should begin actively soliciting rather than fighting or disparaging.

2) Rather than discussing the merits of a windfall profits tax on Yankee, we should be openly debating its closure. That’s the best and most effective way to frame the issue in the coming cycle: where do the candidates stand not on the rate boost, or taxation, or waste disposal, but on closure itself.

If candidates plead scarce energy resources, they should be pushed to develop specific alternative plans and sources that will make closure feasible in the short term, not the long.

Don’t get me wrong: reading Arnie’s email is not always a chilling experience. Sometimes he’s more humorous than unsettling.

For example, when he writes that “Governor Douglas and Commissioner O’Brien don’t know the difference between a neutron and a crouton.”

Now that’s funny.

At least until you start to think about it.

June 12th, 2007

In Which Odum Tracks Down Howard Dean, Nails DNC Chairman Down on BBQ Invite

by Philip Baruth

Must be Sweeps Week: Odum managed to nab Howard Dean for a very revealing little back-and-forth over at DemocracyFest. It’s Dean at his most relaxed, cracking wise about the upcoming campaign, Vermont bloggers, and way his critics have embraced the 50-State Strategy, but under the name of the “enhanced field” approach.

dean, doing his thing

On the Internet and netroots campaigning: “I think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

Precisely. And in a moment of supreme focus, Odum forces Dean to actually write down the time and date of next month’s Political BBQ and Hamburger Summit. Well struck, as they say in England.

And well worth a read today.

June 11th, 2007

Bush Enmeshed in G8 Incident; Said to Involve “Non-Alcoholic Head” Gone Wrong

by Philip Baruth

Certain people should never go certain places. Like David Duke showing up at the NAACP convention, or Jeffrey Dahmer walking into the community pool your kids use in the summer.

Something bad is pretty much bound to happen. For George Bush, it’s the G8 Summit. Always the G8 summit.

g8 madness

At previous summits, Bush has more or less routinely embarrassed himself. He’s been overheard cursing while eating a sloppy handful of peanuts, all the while treating Tony Blair like an unpaid summer intern.

Last year, in a bid to initiate another special relationship of the sort we enjoy with England, Bush unexpectedly grabbed newly-elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel and began feeling her body, smiling as he did so.

bush attacks

This year, following the pressure of endless rioting outside the summit gates, Bush seems to have decided to let it all hang out: VDB-reader Karl sends this of Bush pouring himself a non-alcoholic beer, with Merkel and other leaders of the ostensibly Free World.

Two problems:

1) Bush misjudges the head, and floods the table, despite a last minute attempt to wedge his head in the glass;

2) Bush is an alcoholic, and last time VDB checked, most alcoholics avoid even non-alcoholic beverages. They do so because many non-alcoholic drinks do contain some alcohol, and because the experience is so close to the real thing that it diminishes the sense that they’ve made a break with the past.

VDB reports, and you decide.

But look at the way Bush handles that glass: there’s a bit of the surreptitious to it, a bit of intense relish that doesn’t necessarily sit well with sobriety.

Especially when the ex-drinker has a history of stepping in various and sundry forms of diplomatic dog-shit whenever the G8 comes together.

Never a good thing, in the Bush years. But most especially not a good thing when you’re trying to cram a missile shield down the throat of a Russian autocrat who seems, for some odd reason, actively to resent it.


June 8th, 2007

VDB Needs You, Now More Than Ever

by Philip Baruth

When Seven Days announced their Readers Choice awards last year — including one for Best Vermont Blog — we came to you straight out, hat in hand, and asked for your vote. A group of dedicated Satanists were rumored to have the contest in hand, but your response eventually powered VDB to a total not even the Devil himself could match.


And when Cathy Resmer contacted us to say that we’d gone over the top, we here at VDB shouted Hallelujah.

But as Miss America well knows, a year is only 365 days long.

It’s that time again, and Seven Days is now seeking votes in 80 categories for their summer Seven Daysies issue. In a sensible move, they’ve broken the Best Vermont Blog category in two this year: you can now vote for Best Vermont Political Blog, and Best Vermont Non-Political Blog.

Which means that VDB needs you now, more than ever.

Only you can say if we’ve earned your vote, but since last year we’ve tried our best to refine the quality of the site still further: to bring you the analytical and the absurd, the local and the national, full-length interviews, high-quality cartooning and sound-rich political satire.

We’ve tried to make the site look good, and read well, obsessing about the language so you won’t have to.

Also, we recently brought you video of a bird pooping on the arm of George W. Bush.

And we’ve worked to bring the Vermont blogosphere together, in the third dimension, with events like the Political BBQ/Hamburger Summit and the wintertime Bloggers’ Bistro.

(Second Hamburger Summit July 15th, don’t forget.)

The Sign

If these things leave you unmoved, email us and we will make up more things, better things. We will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of a second Daysie.

It’s that important.

Clink the link for Cathy Resmer’s description of the contest; the ballot is at the end of her post. But just a few cautions before you zap off:

1) You need to vote in at last 23 categories to have your ballot counted. We know: it’s a little Floridian. But please hang in there with it.

2) You must use VDB’s entire URL for your vote to count. So “Vermont Daily Briefing” won’t count; only “Vermontdailybriefing.com” takes the cake.

2006 readers choice awardPlease encourage your friends and co-workers and family and people you see hanging out by the liquor store to vote too, though only once each (apparently they’re going to be checking that sort of thing).

Thanks in advance.

Blogging is a cursed vocation.

There’s no paycheck in it. It’s inherently lonely and draining, especially at a site run by a single proprietor. All of which is to say that winning the contest last year meant a lot to us.

No joke.

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