November 30th, 2007

And So It Begins: The Ancient and Cryptic Dance of the Would-Be Vice Presidents

by Philip Baruth

Primary season has long been called the silly season; and the tail-end of the silly season is generally understood to be the savage season. And then comes the semaphore season: the moment when candidates and near-candidates begin signalling to the stronger runners that they’d be willing to fall into step as Vice President.

edwards, in his element

These signals are necessarily subtle.

No one still on the ballot can shake the sense that events might yet catapult them to front-runner status. And those off the ballot generally want to seem attractively modest about their willingness.

But two pieces today caught our eye along these lines. First, John Edwards made the argument recently that while he has more profound differences with Hillary Clinton, on Iraq and other issues, he’s not all that far from Obama.

“The differences between Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.) and myself are much more dramatic than the differences between Sen. Obama and myself.”

Is that more than a hint? Not much. Still, for a candidate campaigning against Obama, and one who needs to move past him to have a shot at the Presidency, the hint seems broader than might otherwise appear.

And let’s not forget that Edwards has successfully negotiated this dance once before.

The second signal? Chuck Hagel, the Vietnam Vet who now understands — having seen Ron Paul ride an anti-war stance to sudden fame and campaign riches — that he may well have missed his best chance at the White House.

hagel, in his element

Asked yesterday whether he’d consider running second on a Democratic ticket, the Republican Senator called Hillary Clinton “capable,” and went on at some length about how he’d give it serious consideration.

We’ve said all along that if Hillary wins the nomination, she will almost certainly double-down on machismo: she will pick a General, or a decorated war-vet, no doubt one with solid Red-state credentials.

Jim Webb would be the proto-type, but Hagel might just fit into a suddenly Right-veering Clinton campaign headed for the general election.

Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice used to say.

Late Update, Friday, 1:35 pm:

VDB-reader Chris writes in to suggest that we’ve missed the boat entirely: that Edwards is actually looking to be the second choice for Obama voters under Iowa’s recondite caucus system, rather than looking squarely at the VP slot.

A point very well-taken. But who’s to say the man’s not actively engaged in both? The two goals aren’t mutually exclusive. And those two goals may be only a fraction of the number Edwards currently has scrolling through his mind.

He’s nothing if not nimble, we’ll say that.

November 30th, 2007

Established Corporation With Clean, Safe Reputation Seeks Self-Starter to Prevent Shit From Falling Down Anymore (Plays Well With Independent Inspectors a Plus)

by Philip Baruth

vermont yankee

Always something interesting in the Help Wanted ads. Like, just today, VDB ran across this intriguing opportunity:

Coordinator, Preventive Maintenance
Location: Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, US-Region I (North East)
Wage: Unspecified

Not a bad sort of coordinator to have around, of course, especially if you have an Independent Safety Assessment in the offing — one that will focus partially on lax maintanence that led to the actual collapse of part of the plant in question.

The listed duties are many and varied, but one of them is to develop “what if” schedules. Which seemed confusing at first, but eventually we realized it meant gaming out multiple schedules, each tied to unforseeable future events.

For example, “what if” Entergy creates a limited liability corporation, hands off Yankee altogether, and the LLC in turn declares bankruptcy?

That, presumably, is when the successful applicant’s required “conflict resolution” skills come into play.

[Hat-tip to Lawrence Auclaire, whose website Evacuation Plans first wrote up the job ads noted above.]

November 28th, 2007

A Classical Vermont Tragedy: In Which Jim Douglas Faces A Tangled Prophecy, and Sick Buildings Do Come to Dunsinane

by Philip Baruth

Incumbent executives tend to develop an aura not simply of power, but of invulnerability. Each re-election adds another layer of varnish to the exterior. Forget that the human being in question was once seen as utterly unelectable by a vast chunk of the state’s voters; after two years in a Governor’s chair, anyone comes to project attitude.

uncle jim

But inside, these men and women worry.

Not continuously and not to the point of paralysis, but these executives come to fear certain issues and situations in the way that Macbeth fears Birnam Wood: in his heart, and in his gut, long before he sees it actually march on Dunsinane.

Something about the very insolubility and impossibility of the problem bears the stamp of prophecy, of inevitability and doom.

Now take Jim Douglas, and take the Bennington Sick Building situation.

You know, the building where some state workers developed a rare disease called sarcoidosis, and others developed asthma.

Douglas’s last re-election party soured almost immediately with the worsening of conditions at the Bennington State Office Building; what had been a straightforward commitment to move all workers out in a 45-day period soon turned into a nightmare of bureaucratic delay and moldy temporary trailers.

The building pressure culiminated in the infamous “testy” press conference of last February, during which Douglas accused the media of parroting Democratic talking points — only to call the press into his office a bit later and apologize for his bluster.

But suffice it to say that here in late 2007, with a nascent re-election campaign underway, Douglas can only view the Sick Building issue with genuine anxiety.

And as though part of some tangled prophecy, that level of anxiety is due to begin climbing again soon: the State has just signed off on a rehabilitation of the “sick” Bennington Office Building, rather than the more expensive process of siting workers downtown.

How much will unsicking the building cost? 9 million.

Moving workers out altogether? 18 million.

Not surprisingly, Douglas has opted for the cost-effective course, and he has the State Health Department report to back him up.

But as Robert Stannard of the Better Bennington Corporation, a backer of the move to downtown, put it:

“I think you’re really rolling big dice,” Stannard said of the plan to renovate the existing building. “By sticking with the old ways, it might work, but it might not. If it doesn’t work, boy oh boy, let’s get the names right now of those who are going to be on the hook for that.”

Really big dice indeed.

Look for this move toward rehabilitation to generate opposition not only from the involved workers and their union, but on the campaign trail as well. And look for Governor Douglas to come less than eagerly to his public discussions of same.

Think about it this way: Macbeth confesses to Lady Macbeth that his mind is full of scorpions — and that’s just at the threat that a distant forest might suddenly get up and march on the buildings making up his royal seat.

But even Macbeth never had to confront an invisible threat from within the actual buildings themselves.

November 27th, 2007

On The Trail With Barack Obama: From the Rapid-Fire Dispatches of One Bill Stetson

by Philip Baruth

Norwich notable Bill Stetson has been a fixture on the campaign trail this year, from Dartmouth to Des Moines, never far from the fast-moving operation of Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Bill’s latest dispatch, along with a birds-eye view from his tiny point-and-shoot Canon, follows. For the record, we’re just weeks out from NH.

— PB

obama, jj dinner

Dear VDB,

Yesterday morning, after dropping my daughter at school up the Conn River valley, I realized that I must keep driving north. I flew through the fog up I-91 to I-93 South.

Littleton High School, which takes a dowser to find, sits atop a nameless hill in this odd but interesting town — just a few miles east of the sign: “Gateway to the White Mountains.”

After signing in, waiting, chatting with the pleasant North Country folk, we herded ourselves into the gym, and listened to a local veteran nervously but passionately introduce his candidate.

Then the smiling high schoolers screamed in delight as this seemingly strange man with an even stranger name bounded onto the runway and stage before them.

These are good kids who want a better life than that of the generations that followed the timber and mill booms and busts — their grandparents, parents.

They responded honestly — quietly to references on foreign policy, louder to a reference to the freedom offered by the Second Amendment, louder yet to references to the failures of “No Child Left Behind.”

North Country values.

obama in littleton

There was not much sentiment in that room for the war, but tears for a family (introduced) who had recently lost a son — and pride for that local young man.

Obama, looking rested and energetic, unlike a month ago, used words we’ve all heard for the last few months — hope, positive, fair, (we’re) back. But he added phrases like: “I’m raring to serve my country as your President” — sporting a big, big smile.

Barack brought the crowd to its feet with the “Fired up! Ready to go!” chant, and then, suddenly, it was over.

Then it happened.

I had slipped in to get a feel for the candidate’s message and state-of-mind. As a somewhat peripheral adviser to the campaign, I feel I need to get a glimpse of these rallies — I love them. So, I thought I was a speck in the crowd.

But Obama seeks out those who help him, and he loves Vermonters (his biggest supporters per capita in New England, probably the nation).

He bee-lined over to me: “How’s Jane? How’s Vermont?” Then it came, not a New England thing — a big bear hug.

I love this guy.

obama in littleton

November 27th, 2007

Forget Oprah v. Bill in Iowa: Al Gore’s Coming to the White House, And President Bush is Laying Out the Cookies and Milk

by Philip Baruth

Several large battles of the titans in the offing. First, Oprah has announced plans to barnstorm in Iowa and New Hampshire for Obama, this to neutralize the inevitable Bill/Hill high-voltage tour Hillary will announce in a few weeks. Oh, to be a midge in the corn when that goes down.


But that’s nothing compared to this match-up: Al Gore will attend a White House ceremony honoring this year’s Nobel Prize winners. And there, unless he’s really lucky, he’ll wind up shaking the sweaty palm of the guy who filched the Presidency from him seven long years ago.

Already pundits are figuring odds for the meeting: 3/1 says Gore head-butts Bush just as they join hands.

No, not really. Here is the early forecast, via Donna Brazile and ABC News:

“This is going to be a very uncomfortable moment for both of them,” says Gore’s former campaign manager Donna Brazile. “I think after the president looks at Al Gore and says ‘congratulations,’ Al Gore will probably depart the room.”

Don’t you believe it. Bush’s people are not that stupid, or at least not recently. It’s no accident they’re currently filling a conference table in Maryland with all of the folks they’ve been demonizing and baiting for the last 7 years.

Bush has kicked off a “Lessons Learned” year, taking in his response to the Surge, to the California fires (pointedly contrasted to his handling of Katrina), and if you think he’ll pass up a chance to be seen doing the human thing by Al Gore, you’re less cynical than you might otherwise be, by a good piece.

Look for the story out of the Gore meeting to be this: George W. Bush shakes Gore’s hand, offers nice remarks publicly, and asks Gore to stay a moment and chat.

Not an hour. A moment. Sixty seconds. But enough to let a thousand memes bloom.

This is a President who plans to pardon 60 or 70 hard-core white-collar criminals before he leaves office, and he has only mere months left to raise his poll numbers enough to withstand the public’s outrage.

So head’s up, Al.

(And if they offer Kool-Aid, say you’re diabetic.)

Late Update, Tuesday, November 27, 9:05 am:

Just as VDB suspected: After the somewhat awkward photo op, Bush pulled Gore aside for “a private tête-à-tête with the president, which lasted more than 30 minutes, provoking intense speculation about just what the two talked about.”

And during the inevitable post-mortem of the private meeting, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino acted as if this sort of thing goes on pretty much every day at the White House.

“This president does not harbor any resentments,” Ms. Perino said. “He never has.”

VDB: 1
Brazile: 0

November 25th, 2007

In Fairness to Leprechaun Dennis Kucinich

by Philip Baruth

Dan DeWalt of Newfane is a 100% certified stand-up guy. Whatever you may say about his current particular cause, impeachment, DeWalt has pursued it with conviction and passion. So if you’re looking for someone to fight the good fight when all hope seems lost, Dan’s your man.


But whatever you do, don’t sign the guy up as your campaign communications director. Here is DeWalt, defending Dennis Kucinich in Sunday’s Rutland Herald:

“He’s the only one talking about impeachment in the campaign,” DeWalt said. “But just because he is a little short, squeaky and admits to once seeing a UFO, he apparently has been eliminated from being a serious presidential contender.”

Apparently so.

November 25th, 2007

Howard of Australia Given Bum’s Rush; Begins Forced Walkabout By Declaring, “Krikey! Should Have Thrown That Drongo Bludger Bush Right in the Damn Dunny”

by Philip Baruth

PM Howard has gone down, Down Under. And not just by a hair’s breadth. Thus far the defeat is being called “humiliating” and “embarrassing,” but if Howard winds up losing his own seat, odds of which seem even, other harsher adjectives will be pressed into service: “mortifying,” “ass-reddening” — and yes, even “Santorumesque.”


But there’s a silver lining for the White House: no one apparently sees this rout as linked to Howard’s buddies-for-life relationship with the President.

For instance, the Post slugs the story: “Bush Ally Howard Defeated in Australia,” and the Times downplays the connection with “Ally of Bush is Defeated in Australia.”

We were kidding about the silver lining, of course.

At this point, with one year to go in Bush’s Presidency, all clouds have 100% pitch-black linings: every major ally, all four of them, successively retired by voting populations looking for a lot less Bush in their lives.

And that’s not even counting Poland.

The new Labor Prime Minister in Australia will spend his first days in office signing on to the Kyoto Protocol, removing Australian troops from Iraq, and engaging with his Chinese counterparts in their native Mandarin.


So let’s all raise our glasses one final time to the Coalition of the Willing: to Aznar of Spain; to Berlusconi of Italy; to the disgraced Howard; and to kamikazee statesman Tony Blair, who threw away the most promising career of any politician of the last two hundred years.


You, gentlemen, provided the international fig-leaf for Bush’s overt unilateral aggression, and you each deserved precisely the drubbings you received. May your roast beef always taste of ashes, and your wine carry the faint acrid tinge of white phosphorus.

God’s blessings on none of you.


November 21st, 2007

The Worst Meme of the Primary Thus Far

by Philip Baruth

After a potentially damaging poll out of Iowa, showing Obama up by 4, and running evenly among female voters, Hillary Clinton has perhaps understandably hit the Bill Button again, reminding Iowans of her husband’s successes.

hillary, obama, spat

But whoever’s writing her ad-libs at this point needs to be pulled from the game, and a closer brought in.

In speaking of Bill’s success in leading the US out of debt and into an economic surplus, Hillary advanced this cute new meme: “As someone said the other day, there seems to be a pattern: it takes a Clinton to clean up after a Bush.”

Get it? Bush, then Clinton, Bush, then Clinton: they screw things up and we step in to fix them.

But as much as anything else, this little slogan serves to re-emphasize the dynastic nature of the race, as Hillary perceives it. Family on family, which is to say a Presidency that remains all in the families. Two families, to be exact.

Not exactly the sort of thing you want to stress in a race that will turn on the notion of change, we wouldn’t think.

But what do we know? We thought Dean was a lock.

November 20th, 2007

Sanders Update: Vermont Yankee’s Bad Week Now In Eighteenth Straight Bad Week

by Philip Baruth

The news for Vermont Yankee and its parent corporation Entergy has been bleak since this past summer. Public suspicion up, water cooling towers down — it’s all been one savage blur of bad publicity. And the news Sunday that VY transferred some very hot machinery to Pennsylvania in 2006, and had their safety rating quietly lowered as a result, doesn’t help matters much.

bernie stares down lunch

Enter Bernie, packing epistolary heat.

A few months back, Sanders took the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to task for failing to ride herd on Yankee. And now Bernie’s back, with a letter to the NRC designed to maintain the pressure for the Independent Safety Assessment.

That would be the same ISA Jim Douglas strenuously opposed in the days before the cooling tower collapse, and now tepidly supports.

Imagine the sinking feeling in the gut of Dale Klein as he spots the name “Bernard Sanders” on the return address.

NRC chairman Dale Klein

Dear Chairman Klein:

I am writing regarding the continued — and growing — concern in Vermont about safety issues at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

It was deeply disturbing to learn of a newly-disclosed problem at Vermont Yankee. Yesterday, Vermont’s largest daily, the Burlington Free Press, reported that Vermont Yankee transferred a piece of machinery with abnormally high radiation readings, well above the allowable 200 millirems per hour limit, to a Pennsylvania plant in August 2006. As a result, the US NRC lowered Vermont Yankee’s safety rating last year.

This revelation only heightens anxiety that Vermont Yankee suffers from safety deficits, including some that may remain undisclosed — or undiscovered. It also provides additional justification for the performance of an Independent Safety Assessment.

There’s more, but you get the flavor: biting, with a pinch of salt. For the NRC’s wounds, that is.

Late Update, Sunday, November 25th, 11:09 am:

Turns out that this news story about VY’s hot Pennsylvania machinery is no news: before closing its doors, the Vermont Guardian had the story back in September of 2006.

Now that’s a scoop. Makes you long for the old days.

November 20th, 2007

Lt. Governor Brian Dubie Shrugs Into Action With Dynamic New Red Cross Radio Spot

by Philip Baruth

You wouldn’t exactly call Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie the hardest working man in Vermont politics. And yet he’s done all right in life. As a tall man, often in a well-pressed uniform of one sort or another, he is easily mistaken for an action-figure, and for many voters that’s more than enough.

Dubie, hard at work

You know you’ve hit the sweet spot when your Wikipedia entry notes your “laid back approach to campaigning,” and yet you manage consistently to shrug your way to re-election.

If the Douglas recipe for re-election is elementary (tough talk on drugs and taxes), the Dubie recipe can’t even properly be called a recipe at all, because it contains only a single basic ingredient: Brian in uniform, served up as late in the campaign season as possible.

Garnish with 9/11, and serve.

Who could forget the harrowing two-week deployment to Iraq during Dubie’s last campaign, news of which was held to compete with the news of Dunne’s big win over Tracy in the Democratic primary?

And sure enough, like clockwork, Dubie’s at it again: He’s starring in a pretty convenient Red Cross commercial, a radio spot that opens with a modest reference to Dubie’s yeoman’s work on the Governor’s Homeland Security Advisory Council.

The pressing reason for the spot? To urge all listeners to “create an emergency plan” in their own homes.

How long, Lord, how long? How long before 9/11 is allowed to rest in peace, rather than being pressed into service by every sweaty-palmed down-ballot Republican from Boise to Bangor?

How long before we drop this odd phrase “Homeland Security” altogether, which sounds like something lifted straight from World War II propaganda — propaganda aired by the losers, not the winners?

And how long before we set some sort of decent standards limiting public service announcements that double as campaign spots for nervous incumbents?

The rule could be a simple one: for every heroic Red Cross spot, or empathetic spot linked to cancer, the sitting incumbent must do a matching campaign spot for irritable bowel syndrome or hemorrhoids or erectile dysfunction.

These people can’t continue to pick their causes, and the timing of their public service spots. If they’re going to get involved, then VDB wants them flogging the bad and the ugly as well as the good.

And we want it 24/7/52.

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