September 28th, 2007

All The Larry Craig News That’s Fit to Print

by Philip Baruth

There are many beautiful aspects to the Larry Craig saga, but more than anything we love it because it just keeps on giving. Not since OJ marched out to find Nicole’s real killer has America witnessed anything like Craig’s legal fight to right the wrongs done him in that Minneapolis bathroom.

Craig in boa

But to cut to the chase: Craig’s bid to overturn his guilty plea for Way Disorderly Conduct seems to be headed nowhere fast.

Hennepin County District Judge Charles Porter Jr. did everything but spin his index finger next to his temple in the universal “crazy sign” when Craig’s lawyer rolled out his case yesterday.

But that wasn’t the beauty part. No, the best action was out in the parking lot, among the protestors.

Those would be the pro-Craig protestors. From the Star-Tribune:

A couple of pro-Craig demonstrators came in costume and carried signs. One read: “Fight terrorists, not toe-tappers” and “Next time pee, don’t plea.”

Jason Gabbert, of Apple Valley, was dressed as an airport police officer. Anthony Wright attempted to dress as Craig. They said they brought toilets for a full-on demonstration, but were told to put them away by security officers. The two say they are political centrists, but Gabbert said Craig “shouldn’t have been arrested. There was no evidence to make an arrest.”

Now, that took courage. Almost like the civil rights protests of the early 60’s, except that Gabbert and Wright took off from work, rented toilets, and fought for an aging Senator’s right to frottage. [Cue up “We Shall Overcome”]

Craig, Wolfie

Senator Craig, center, outlines his vision for a Really, Really New American Century to a sympathetic Paul Wolfowitz, right.

It’s all good with this story, and it’s a bit gooder every day. And the best of all is taking a look at the totality of Craig’s output in the Senate, in light of recent events. It gives most of his statements a whole new dimension: width.

Here is Craig, speaking on the floor of the Senate in 1993, about whether the Ethics Committee should be empowered to issue subpoenas:

“We have argued for over two centuries, and very exclusively, that the right of the Member to serve rests only with the citizens he serves or she serves and not with this body.”

Amen, Larry. Although we would imagine that at this point, your constituents back in Idaho would rather not have the right of the Member resting quite so closely.

If you know what we mean.

September 26th, 2007

New Yankee Speak

by Philip Baruth

Announcer: While the collapse of a water cooling tower at Vermont Yankee last month produced riveting news images, commentator Philip Baruth has been far more interested in the language arising from the event.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #204: New Yankee Speak

vermont yankee

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been a big collector of political euphemisms and deliberately indirect language. Part of that interest was touched off by the discussion of Newspeak in Orwell’s 1984, but another part had to do with the high stakes of the game itself.

Unlike cross-word puzzles or Boggle, the euphemism game can have millions, even billions of losers.

But lately, I’ve become fascinated by another distant offshoot of political euphemism: the reflexive euphemism used by the nuclear industry to contain public relations damage when a power-plant malfunctions.

Linguistic case in point: our own Vermont Yankee, and the way its various recent slow-downs and break-downs have been carefully un-described.

On August 21, a 50-foot cooling tower at the Vernon facility collapsed in a heap of splintered wood and metal piping. Pictures taken at the site of the accident show a broken pipe some 6 feet in diameter spewing thousands of gallons of uncooled water.

But when the first examination of the site attributed the collapse to “sagging and deformed wood” — and even when a state investigation later found not just “wood rot” but “iron rot” — Entergy Corporation insisted that the event was “not safety-related.”

not so cool

Then, a week later, Yankee experienced an emergency shut-down — something known inside the industry as a “scram” or “scramble” — due to a large valve that had gone inexplicably unlubricated.

This alarming event Entergy managed publicly to refer to as “Safe Shutdown Mode.”

Now, by stressing that the tower collapse was “not safety-related,” Entergy obviously meant to convey that the event would have no effect on the nuclear core at the plant. But it seems just as obvious to me that they also sought to mask the incident’s disturbing implications with a one-size-fits-all bit of reassurance.

If your mechanic told you that your 35-year-old Chevy just lost a chunk of its frame to iron-rot, but insisted that it wasn’t a safety issue, you wouldn’t just find a new mechanic — you’d call the Better Business Bureau.

But the tendency toward veiled language isn’t limited to Entergy itself. When the State’s own nuclear engineer inspected the collapsed tower, he stressed there was no “smoking gun” linking the collapse to Yankee’s recent and controversial 20% power increase.

Instead, the engineer waxed Orwellian: “There is nothing obvious (smoking gun) to point to so it may be that the failure was due to a combination of failure modes.”

A combination of failure modes — brilliant! And we’re left with the distinct impression that none of these failure modes has anything to do with safety.

The grand irony here is that a “Yankee” used to refer to someone who didn’t use five sentences because he could be very clearly understood with one. But Entergy’s performance over the last year or two has morphed the word “Yankee” into its opposite.

And in that way, the phrase “Vermont Yankee” has somehow become for me a strange and unsettling oxymoron.

[This piece aired originally on Vermont Public Radio. Audio of the commentary is available here.]

September 26th, 2007

The Vermont Connection: Obama’s Foreign Policy Advisor Due to Ship Out for Iraq

by Philip Baruth

Just imagine, for a second, that you’re a foreign policy advisor for a major Presidential candidate — for the sake of clarity, let’s say that you’re the chief foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama. And imagine that even as you’re advising Obama on a strategy to pull the US out of Iraq, you’re simultaneously an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve.

mark lippert

Then imagine that you get called up for active duty, quickly shipped off to California’s Coronado Naval Base, and there you begin training to join a Navy SEAL team now operating in Iraq.

Something like an ironic nightmare, more or less, except without the waking up part.

Of course, this scenario is no idle hypothetical: this is the current life of Mark Lippert, one-time Leahy policy advisor and Vermont political organizer. And the Wall Street Journal captures his singular story in an article that hit stands last weekend.

Lippert now lives, essentially, in two parallel dimensions.

So on the one hand, Obama is emailing on a daily basis, messages like, “I miss you, brother.” And on the other, Lippert is a uniformed professional whose first allegiance is to President George W. Bush.

Bush being the guy Obama has been castigating since Day 1 for creating “the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation.”

Why Lippert’s head has failed to explode thus far, VDB has no idea. It makes our own head throb badly just thinking about it.

Especially having to put it in the most explicit terms, as Lippert does when he sums up the situation, very carefully noting none of the odd cross-currents: “My job is to serve my country and to execute the decision of the commander-in-chief.”

The Journal story on Lippert is excellent, full of sharp, human detail, and we recommend it today if you have the time.

And we here at VDB wish Lt. Lippert both an uneventful tour of duty and a safe plane ride home. Particularly as he and his intended are due to be married, here in Vermont, sometime next year.

September 24th, 2007

Hillary Clinton Does Five Sunday Shows, But VDB Hears Only One Message: Ending The War Is Just One More Hypothetical, George

by Philip Baruth

Looks like somebody’s national poll numbers are beginning to go to her head, just a wee bit. Hillary Clinton has managed, thus far, to finesse her early support of the War with anti-war constituencies. Among other things, she’s managed to mute calls for an apology, and to subsume specifics under a very general pledge to end the War.


To wit, Hillary Clinton’s loudest applause line, as of February 2007: “But let me be clear, if George Bush doesn’t end this war before he leaves office, when I’m President, I will.”

But here in September, things look a shade less clear. In fact, murky. When asked this past Sunday by George Stephanopoulos whether she’d pledge to have the troops out by 2012, Clinton had this to say:

“You know, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals and make pledges, because I don’t know what I’m going to inherit, George. I don’t know and neither do any of us know what will be the situation in the region.”

Are the two quotes fundamentally at odds? Not if you’re willing to parse what the definition of “will” is. Hillary no doubt comforted herself that Stephanopoulos limited his question to a hypothetical first term; she could reconcile the statements, in her own mind, by saying that she would end the war by 2016.

But the point is this: Hillary is now sure enough of her footing to tell anti-war voters to keep their powder dry. She’ll address their concerns and bring troops home if that’s what seems most opportune once she’s sworn in.

In other words, she’s moved silently into believing that activist Democrats now want her specifically, Hillary Clinton, rather than any general candidate whose positions track their own on their number one issue.

In other words, so much for Listening Tours and those primaries that were supposed to pull Hillary to the Left: if she gets the nomination, she will campaign as a slightly watered-down version of Giuliani, with much grave talk of bombing Iran and very little talk indeed about immediate withdrawal.

But no one should be surprised, this time out.

hillary supports surge

We all know what it means when we vote for a Clinton, in 2007. Some of it’s good, and some of it’s bad, but we know the general way of it. And what it doesn’t mean is fundamental change from the progressive grassroots, any more than Bush’s inauguration meant the advent of so-called compassionate conservatism.

No, as with Bill Clinton, Hillary’s would be a Centrism with a corporate gloss and a deep anxiety on defense issues, an anxiety that must express itself as de facto militarism, lest the President be mocked for draft-dodging, or in this case skirt-wearing.

Just so we all have our eyes open.

Interesting choice of phrase, by the way, that bit about “what I’m going to inherit.” Makes VDB all nostalgic for Linda Evans and Larry Hagman and all the fun and games of Dynasty, back there in the ’80s.

September 21st, 2007

Play of the Week: Sanders Taps Will Wiquist

by Philip Baruth

Apparently moved by our coverage of last July’s Hamburger Summit — featuring Will Wiquist’s dramatic and ultimately poignant search for sunblock — Senator Bernie Sanders has tapped Wiquist as his new Press Secretary, with Will packing his bags for DC come November 1st.


Well-deserved, and a smart move all the way around. Sanders acquires a very savvy aide currently under-utilized, and Will links up with Bernie’s team just as they’ve begun to figure the long political angles in the Senate. We expect great things.

Godspeed, Mr. Wiquist.

September 21st, 2007

Return of the Totten: In Which A Former Jedi Warrior Rejoins the Battle Against Evil — Every Thirty Days Or So

by Philip Baruth

The fall of the Vermont Guardian this past spring was a bleak turn of events. Bleak and winter-shadowed.

shayEditor Shay Totten had managed, by dint of hard work and sweat equity, to occupy a crucial niche in Vermont’s media landscape: the Guardian wrote up stories on a daily basis that larger papers were willing to cover, but not break. Crucial, especially during the extraordinarily active 2006 election cycle, when those larger outlets were often extraordinarily cautious.

But this week, Shay rises from the ashes of the Guardian with a very intriguing project indeed: he’s teamed with Vermont Public Television’s Vermont This Week to produce a monthly political column, which he’ll supplement with regular appearances on VTW.


All of which looks like a win-win-win, for VPT, Totten, and you and me. The first piece is here, and well worth a read. And you can catch Shay on VPT tonight at 7:30.

Only thing not to love about this venture? The almost criminal pun in the title of the column. VDB may well need a good month to recover from that.

September 21st, 2007

Memo to Harry Reid: Nobody’s Buying It

by Philip Baruth

As recently as a few days back, Harry Reid was tapping his foot to known GOP Iraq-flirts: break with the President, Reid whispered loudly, and we’ll strip out rigid timelines and substitute goals instead.


How adopting goals amounts to breaking with the President, VDB isn’t entirely sure. But that was the play.

Then, just two days ago, Reid’s signals abruptly changed. Sam Stein, from “Reid’s Inner Circle Shifts Stategy on Iraq,” a column in the Huffington Post:

This past Monday, Reid’s tactics changed. Rather than petition for a bipartisan approach, he decided instead to push Iraq legislation that - echoing war-critic demands - called for an immediate withdrawal of a large number of troops and a firm deadline for a nearly-complete redeployment. According to party insiders who spoke to the Huffington Post, there is now almost complete unanimity among Reid’s circle that this is the best way forward.

“If the money is going to the President it is important that Democrats show they are trying to get the troops out of Iraq,” a well-connected foreign policy advisor told the Huffington Post. “They need to have the fight. It’s more than just appeasing anti-war constituents.”

The key line here, of course, is the first sentence of the second paragraph: “If the money is going to the President it is important that Democrats show they are trying to get the troops out of Iraq.”

In other words, if the fight is already lost, it’s important to show that you’re still willing to fight.

The absurdity here is too visible, and too risible, to ignore any more. The time for kabuki is over.

House and Senate Democrats who vote to fund the war at this point assume a proportionate degree of ownership. End of story. These apologists and military fan-dancers deserve to be challenged, each and every one of them, by primary contenders funded with anti-war dollars.

If you think it was a coincidence that was censured this morning by the Senate, with a high number of Democratic votes, you’re bonkers: MoveOn just two weeks ago reluctantly suggested that challenging Democratic incumbents was moving onto its action-agenda. And that clearly made squishy Democrats nervous, nervous enough to launch an oddly self-destructive pre-emptive strike against their own ally.

But MoveOn has it precisely right. No more song and dance.

No more fight-the-good-fight anti-war bills, followed not just by what the President requests, but significantly more in the way of war funding, lest the GOP paint Democrats as stingy with the troops.

No more of any of this shit.

In the ’60s, the watchword was, “Never trust anyone over 30.” It’s less age-specific now.

It’s about behavior this September: “Never trust anyone who appropriates funding for the war in Iraq without binding withdrawal language after September 2007.”

And in addition to mistrusting them, work against them until their careers in Congress are history.

Especially Democratic leaders who decry the same funding bills they move to the floor for quick action.

Because such people look good on the TV. But they lie.

Late Update, Friday, 9:17 am:

Rarely does a local headline so badly misrepresent the actuality of events in Washington. Anne Flaherty’s AP feed, as slugged by the Rutland Herald: “Democrats Charge Ahead, Say Republicans Now Own War.”

If only.

September 19th, 2007

Someone Is Reaching Out and Touching St. Johnsbury Lawyer With Client at Gitmo

by Philip Baruth

As states go, Vermont has fairly good reason to doubt the Administration’s word on suspension of civil liberties: Vermont-based Quakers and anti-war organizations were targeted by the Pentagon under their now-infamous TALON program (Threat and Local Observation Notices).


But those suspicions intensify markedly when you’re representing a Guantanamo detainee, and your phone suddenly goes batshit.

VPR’s John Dillon has of St. Johnsbury lawyer Bob Gensburg, just your average crusading defense attorney suddenly beset by all of the tell-tale signs of electronic eavesdropping: dead lines, buzzing sounds, and VDB’s favorite, lines “literally crossed.”

It’s cloak-and-dagger stuff, with the emphasis currently on the cloak, but with the dagger always theoretically in play. Check out the audio today.

It won’t make your lunch sit any easier, but then that’s the point. Well done, John.

September 19th, 2007

You Talking To VDB? De Niro Meets Fox

by Philip Baruth

Just because Fox News is a fact of life, doesn’t mean any one of us has to like it. Especially not Bobby De Niro. Here’s a brilliant little out-take: De Niro cutting a spot for his Tribeca Film Festival to air on Fox. He does everything but flick a cigarette in the director’s eye.

you talkin' to me?

Favorite line: “Yes. Excuse me. No.” And not only does he get the line out, he sells it.

September 18th, 2007

Mainstream Media Sees Dream Consensus in Michael Mukasey; VDB Sees the Cold, Flaccid Yet Grasping Hand of Lieberman

by Philip Baruth

So after the Olson trial-balloon abruptly sagged, Bush opted for the moderate New England Republican. Very simple. Or at least this is what the mainstream media would have you believe. But trust VDB, there are two very chilling issues trailing the Mukasey nomination for Attorney General.

lieberman as adult baby

Chilling Issue the First: Bush has slyly seated a hard-core loyalist as Acting AG, one Peter Keisler.

Keisler had, in fact, announced his resignation several weeks ago, but will now stay on in a singular capacity: he is designed to be so annoying to Democrats that they will seat Mukasey without getting satisfaction on their various requests for documents, witnesses, etc.

Not likely that Leahy will be taken in on this one, but Bush wouldn’t be Bush without trying it.

And Chilling Issue the Second: Judge Mukasey has apparently donated to only two candidates since retiring from the bench.

Either of these names would be chilling, but taken together, they really make VDB’s political spidey sense tingle.

The two: Rudy Giuliani and — yes, you knew it in your blood — Big Joe Lieberman.

We see it all, the grand plan, the vision, Rove’s final revenge.

Weeks before Giuliani takes the nomination, Big Joe switches parties; a grateful GOP accepts Lieberman as its VP nominee by acclamation; Lieberman works his smarmy magic on “values conservatives” and Florida retirees. Then, on Election Eve, amid vote-rigging allegations, Judge Mukasey steps in to halt all investigations until after the Supreme Court places Rudy in the White House.

And Big Joe in Dick Cheney’s old undisclosed location.

Fiendishly clever, but put nothing past Lieberman. It is no accident that he looks like a petulant two-year-old in the above photo. His post-2000 career has been based almost entirely on throwing tantrums and avoiding voter time-outs.

And starting wars, when he doesn’t get his nap.

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