New Political Blog Aims to Substantiate Rumors of Shadowy Man-Like Creature Very Occasionally Haunting Governor’s Office
by Philip Baruth
A nice, new ripple in the still annoyingly placid surface of the 2008 campaign: Sam Osborne, former Vermont Dean campaign honcho, former head of the Burlington Democrats, has launched a blog called Cutting Ribbons.
As you might expect, it’s Douglas-themed, and the basic idea is to determine what precisely Governor Douglas does, other than gum up the works in the waning days of a given Legislative session.
And torture defenseless ribbons.
Think of it as a digital milk-carton, with a picture of the Governor on the side. Can you help find Uncle Jim?
You go, Sam. And let us know if you turn up any leads.
It’s taken me a while, but I think I finally understand Rudy 2008. For the last year or so, everyone I know has assumed that Rudy would implode once Southern conservatives got a good look at his actual positions on social issues. Or the cross-dressing video Rudy shot with Donald Trump.
But that implosion has not come. Yes, Thompson’s balloon momentarily crowded Rudy’s, but this cycle’s odd physics have reasserted themselves, and Rudy is again the clear frontrunner.
Conventional wisdom says this phenomenon is attributable to 9/11, first and last. And while I think that’s to understate Giuliani’s attractions to GOP voters as a standard-issue law-and-order Republican, certainly 9/11 is at the heart of the matter.
But in order to really comprehend the situation, you need to think of 9/11 not simply as a brand that the GOP wants desperately to retain. No, brands can be bought and sold, pumped or debased. They are human constructs.
In this case, it makes much more sense to think of 9/11 as a uniquely American mythic event, one that brought into being a uniquely American twenty-first century monarchy.
Certainly George Bush has used 9/11 to drive his borrowed vision of a Unitary Executive, a Democratic ruler who can wield power more or less in the fashion of a sovereign.
And this is the reason, finally, that Democrats have been unable to put a period to any of the defining post 9/11 power-grabs: even at 24% in the polls, George Bush is still viewed by Americans as the rightful inheritor of the mythic power of 9/11.
But think about what the coming election means. Suddenly the President might well be someone with no discernible, genuine, palpable connection to the Fall of the Twin Towers, for the first time in 8 years.
At that point, a President Romney or a President Edwards might invoke the attacks, and no doubt often would, but such a President would be vulnerable to constant criticism by others with better and stronger connections: 9/11 widows, or a rival like Giuliani, say.
It would be a lot like England when the Stuarts were forced off the throne. Suddenly there were very basic questions of legitimacy, bloody questions. Suddenly power seemed like something over which humans squabbled, rather than something that the Divine bestowed.
All of which is to say that the GOP has no choice but to install Rudy Giuliani on the 2008 ticket. His name doesn’t need to be listed first, but it must be listed if the Republican party is to retain its almost visceral, quasi-divine connection to the events of 9/11.
Without Rudy, they are simply one of two parties vying for power. With Rudy, the GOP is the House of War on Terror, with a legitimate prince either ready to take the throne, or waiting in the wings.
It is a principle as close to the Divine Right of Kings as we are likely to see in America.
Don’t think Rudy doesn’t understand all of this. He campaigns like an arrogant prick; if he realizes he can’t escape a blunder, a Kerik or a staged cellphone call, he admits it and all but laughs in the questioner’s face.
He acts, that is to say, like an Heir Apparent because his every political sense tells him that an Heir Apparent is exactly what his party wants and must have.
In that sense, when Democrats attack Rudy for his authoritarian tendencies and monumental ego, they do Rudy’s work for him: they prove to the world that he thinks of himself as King Shit, and of course he does. And he wants it known.
One last implication to this basic idea. Democrats understand that 9/11 will again be the driving psychological principle in the coming election, and already very sophisticated campaigns are underway to sever or drastically refashion Rudy’s connection to that myth.
But it only takes a few seconds to realize that any attempt to attack Giuliani on those mythic grounds, no matter how fact-based, no matter how incontrovertible, will only cement Rudy’s position on the ticket, because to drop him from consideration would be to hand Democrats de facto control over the 9/11 myth itself.
Another factor to keep in mind: Hillary has her own pretensions to the 9/11 throne. She was the junior Senator from New York during the attacks; she went quickly to Ground Zero; she secured vast amounts of rebuilding funds from the White House.
Hillary has yet to really assert these connections, but rest assured they will become very familiar if Clinton gets the nomination, and particularly if Rudy is not, for some reason, on the opposing ticket.
So Republicans are not simply looking at losing the Throne if they reject a pro-gay rights, pro-Choice New York Mayor, they’re also looking at allowing a genuine Pretender to assume it.
In short, get used to Rudy. His spot on the ticket is secure. Whether his name comes first or second on the bumper stickers is of little consequence.
The line of 9/11 succession will have been duly preserved.
October 17th, 2007
In Bid to Throw Off NSA Surveillance, VDB Motors to Brattleboro on a Wednesday
by Philip Baruth
We know, we know: VDB’s hour on WKVT’s “Live & Local” is Thursdays, 11-noon. So why in God’s name are we driving to Brattleboro on a Wednesday, to do the show live?
Because in these days of Total Information Awareness, it’s good to vary your routines.
And, not incidentally, we teach early on Thursdays, making the car trip and subsequent Brattleboro socializing impossible.
But tomorrow is another story: clear skies, and the new Bruce Springsteen album on the Ipod to fill the dead air space once we leave 89 and head due south.
Which is to say: if you’re a listener or a reader in the Brattleboro area, tune in during the 11 o’clock hour.
And if you’re up for ribs and some straight political talk, stop by the Top of the Hill BBQ around 12:30 and join VDB and Steve West and a glittering array of Brattleboro political luminaries for lunch.
Should be a down-home good time.
How to spot us? We’ll be the ones cursing Bush. Or wait, that doesn’t narrow it down so much in Brattleboro.
Not to worry: you won’t be able to mistake this party for anyone else, believe you us.
October 15th, 2007
In Which The Gray Lady Plays The Fool
by Philip Baruth
Rarely does the New York Times editorial board step up to the plate and whiff altogether, but today just happened to be one of those days. In an editorial titled “Iraqi Oil Spoils,” the Times sets out to make the case that oil development contracts recently signed by the Kurds are not just a clear threat to Iraq’s stability, but a sign of further Bush Administration incompetence.
The Times cites Hunt Oil of Dallas, and implies that the Bushies are effectively hamstrung because Hunt Oil is politically connected. They want to intervene for the good of a unified Iraq, but can’t quite manage to do so.
And in the absence of a strong warning to desist, Hunt and the Kurds would be fools not to forge ahead.
Please. The idea that Bush/Cheney, Inc. has lost control of Kurdish oil, only to see an overzealous Texas oil concern upset their careful plans, is patently ridiculous.
Bush and Co. have understood for years that Kurdistan is the only real estate within which the US will be welcome ten years down the road. And they would like Kurdish oil to move through their refineries.
Hunt Oil, in other words, is now engaged in exploratory negotiations on behalf of, rather than in spite of, the Bush family’s far-flung interests.
The whole tripartite idea behind the Iraq excursion was to leverage US, Republican, and Bush family interests in a world nearing peak-oil. Ask Alan Greenspan.
To argue, then, that Bush and his petroleum-based oligarchy would stand firm behind the idea of a centrally-based Iraqi government as control of Kurdish oil went begging is to speak the worst sort of nonsense.
Remember: Bush and his team are incompetent only when it comes to moving resources to serve the needs of others.
October 12th, 2007
Slippery Slope Gets Slipperier For St. Johnsbury Lawyer with Gitmo Client
by Philip Baruth
About a month ago, we brought you the story of Bob Gensburg, a St. Johnsbury lawyer representing a Guantanamo detainee. Just around the time he took the detainee’s case, Gensburg noticed that his phone suddenly seemed to be serving another master.
Just got passed a letter Gensburg’s firm is now mailing to their entire slate of non-Guantanamo-based clients, informing them that their communications are not, by logical extension, secure either:
“The purpose of this letter is to let you know that the United States government is probably monitoring our phone conversations and email exchanges, and because of that our communications are not confidential.”
This is what happens when your government creates what it swears is a single targeted category for eavesdropping: suddenly it’s not a single target, but a shooting gallery.
And everybody’s getting hit.
Hard to imagine that this batch of warning letters won’t crimp Gensburg’s business down the road. Hard to imagine that average Vermonters with sensitive legal concerns, often with cases pending in the courts, wouldn’t want to ensure their privacy at all costs, even if it means leaving a firm that’s served them admirably in the past.
Hard to believe that the Bush Administration doesn’t understand this indirect economic and social punishment.
Hard to believe, to strip it down, that this is America in the 21st century. Hang tough, Counselor Gensburg.
Clarence Thomas may make noises about his love for To Kill a Mockingbird, but as far as VDB is concerned, you are now Vermont’s one true Atticus Finch.
October 12th, 2007
Gore Wins What Clinton Always Wanted
by Philip Baruth
For those just waking up, Al Gore has indeed won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Good on Al Gore, and good on the Nobel Committee, which has managed to provide an extremely high-profile running counterpoint to the follies of the Bush Administration over the last seven years.
Awarding both Mohamed ElBaradei and Gore the gold medal post-Iraq is equivalent to endorsing a parallel history of the twenty-first century, one in which mistakes weren’t made, and VDB staunchly supports that effort.
But who, other than George W. Bush, will be doing a very slow burn today? That’s right: Bill Clinton. There has always been a deep spirit of competition between the two men, both New Southerners with a sense of their own places in history.
Clinton reached the Presidency, while Gore missed by a whisker, stolen or otherwise. Yet, Clinton has always craved the Nobel Prize for Peace, and by all accounts felt he deserved it for his efforts to resolve the Palestinian conflict during his last year in office.
And for a personality like Clinton’s, having been President for two terms is never enough. The craving for approval, on not just a national but a global scale, is never finally satisfied.
And without the ballot box to feed that need, awards like the Nobel are the only readily available reassurance.
So Bill will call Al, and his congratulations will be sincere, no doubt. But the ex-President’s emotional response will be broader and deeper than simple happiness for a friend’s good fortune.
By evening, though, Clinton will have turned this morning’s little envy to good advantage: he’ll be on the phone campaigning, ostensibly for his wife’s Presidential bid, but in a larger sense for his own second shot at History.
October 11th, 2007
The Battle Is Joined: Feeling Heat After August Tower Collapse, Entergy Throws Switch on Vermont Push-Poll Campaign
by Philip Baruth
For those of you who have been banging your heads against the wall for years now, trying to get the word out that the Vermont Yankee nuclear facility is neither “Vermont” nor “Yankee,” rejoice. You have finally been heard.
By Entergy, that is.
In the blogospheric triple-play equivalent of Tinker to Evers to Chance, we bring you this scoop via Haik over at Burlingtonpol, via Heretic at a blog called Minor Heresies: Entergy has begun push-polling Vermonters in its bid to secure relicensing in 2012.
Push polls, of course, under the guise of surveying voter opinion, attempt to push voters to one side of a question or the other. In this case, the caller’s job was to frame relicensing in terms of Entergy’s cherry-picked facts:
“Entergy has won the Blah-blah-blah Corporate Responsibility Award for an unprecedented sixth year in a row, blah blah blah. Does this make you feel more or less positive about the relicensing of Vermont Yankee? Somewhat or strongly?”
You also have to love the way the push poller limits your options to feeling “somewhat positively” or “strongly positively” about Entergy’s bid.
Heretic’s post makes several things amply clear.
First, the push-polling reveals growing corporate anxiety linked specifically to the recent water tower collapse at Yankee. The caller’s script called for her to question Heretic closely about any reaction to the August collapse, as well as subsequent inspections showing “wood rot” and “iron rot.”
Second, the company performing the polling, Charlton Research Group, has done precisely the same sort of image rehabilitation for a predictable laundry list of bad actors: oil companies, tobacco interests, etc.
And if you go to Charlton’s corporate website, you get an immediate sense of their half-bright, mystify-the-obvious approach: “In today’s complex world, a strategy should be an integral part of any organization’s plan.”
But isn’t a plan also a strategy? Is it possible to have a plan without a strategy? Isn’t it like sternly telling CEO’s that “In today’s complex world, oxygen should be an integral part of any organization’s air supply.”
But then, that’s why we don’t make the big corporate dollars.
In this case, Charlton’s proposed “strategy” does not include waiting for proponents of decommissioning Yankee to get their acts together.
Push polling is an expensive, hard-ball operation, and Entergy’s decision to invest in it now, years before the 2012 relicensing crunch, can only mean one thing: the combination of renewed activism and their own disastrous PR missteps has them sweating.
And thanks to bloggers like Heretic and Haik, as of today we can actually see them sweating.
Which is admittedly gross, but gross in a certain positive way, if you see what VDB’s saying.
Late Update, Friday, 6:35 am:
Louis Porter has the story up in the Rutland Herald, and Green Mountain Daily has a diary citing a second version of the push-poll script.
Which might seem like decent confirmation.
But Entergy spokesman Rob Williams puts all speculation to rest: “It is not a push-poll whatsoever.” So that, of course, is that.
Announcer: Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff came to Burlington recently, to tout a new form of identification known as the “enhanced driver’s license.” Commentator Philip Baruth was curious to find out just how “enhanced” his license could get.
Notes from the New Vermont Commentary #205: Enhanced Is As Enhanced Does
You’ve probably heard that starting next summer, Americans will need passports to get in and out of Canada. Even if you just slide over the border for a quick smoked meat sandwich — papers, please.
And honestly, the prospect has left New Englanders heavily bummed. Because let’s face it: we have some issues with authority up here.
So when Michael Chertoff flew in to Burlington last week to offer a compromise, I was all ears.
And the pitch sounded good: instead of a passport, Chertoff said, Vermonters will be able to apply for something called an “enhanced driver’s license” — a license containing a radio-frequency computer chip.
Of course the ACLU has challenged these RFID chips because they allow the wearer to be easily tracked. But Chertoff pointed out that I could save about 40$ bucks using an enhanced license instead of renewing my passport.
Bingo — I was sold.
Now, the enhanced Vermont licenses are part of a very small pilot program. And it turns out that even a small pilot program needs its own micro-pilot program, or at least that’s what Chertoff told me when he called to offer me my very own enhanced license, way before anyone else on the list.
In fact, the only other people getting one were Bernie Sanders and some Quaker anti-war activists, but Chertoff said the pilot-pilot program had to start somewhere.
So last Saturday, I get the enhanced license in the mail, and I’m not gonna lie to you: it was an emotional moment. I’m a guy who’s always wanted his driver’s license to be all it could be, and here it was, shiny, smart, holographic. I drove down North Avenue feeling like the bee’s knees.
And then my back pocket started talking.
At first I couldn’t make out the words, just muffled sounds. But the weird thing was they were sounds with a thick Brooklyn accent.
And that’s when it hit me: somehow Bernie’s radio ID chip had crossed frequencies with mine, and I was picking up his voice with my wallet.
And obviously his wallet was picking up mine, because when I said, “Bernie?” there was a pause, and then I heard Bernie say, “Phil, is that you? Look, apparently they’ve sold us a bill of goods with these driver’s licenses.”
I was about to agree with him, but Bernie went on. “Phil, look out the windows of your car. Do you see any police cruisers?”
Sure enough, when I looked I did see what looked like unmarked police cars, way back in traffic.
“They’re all around me,” I told Bernie, trying to direct my voice toward my back pocket, which — if you’ve never tried to do it while driving — is really hard.
“This is a huge problem,” Bernie said, “huge. I’m also being followed. They’re all over me like white on milk. We only have one hope. And you have to trust me, Phil.”
So when Bernie told me to drive to the King Street Dock, walk onto the commuter ferry for New York, and flush my license down the ship’s toilet, that’s exactly what I did.
By the time I’d snuck back off the ship, the unmarked police cars had all been loaded on, and when the ferry sailed for New York, the men in black sailed with it.
I sat down on the dock, and a minute later, Bernie sat down too, and we watched the ferry angle out toward the Adirondacks.
“Now neither of us has even a normal driver’s license,” I pointed out.
But Bernie held up a finger. “True. But we do have our passports. And you know what that means.”
I shook my head, and Bernie said, “No matter what happens with Montreal, Phil, we’ll always have Paris.”
[This piece ran first on Vermont Public Radio. Audio of the commentary is available here.]
Since late May, Turkish troops have been massing on the northern Iraqi border, and the Turkish government has been telegraphing a limited incursion, nominally to put down Kurdish rebels but clearly to firm up their general Iraq negotiating posture as well.
Today, the Turks are making it official: they’ll pretty much roll in whenever they please.
And like all horrific developments, look for George Bush to cite the Turkish threat as proof of the need to station 150,000 Americans in Iraq until 3025.
Making bloody lemonaid out of a batch of Turkish lemons, as it were.
Don, longtime Friend of VDB, checks in on the rapidly imploding Blackwater Security situation.
Do I have this right? Our troops are in Iraq to secure a peaceful government and life over there. But we had to hire a private military (Blackwater) to provide security for our government people. But Blackwater started killing civilians, so now Condi Rice has federal marshals watching Blackwater. Next step: hire another private outfit to keep an eye on these federal marshals.