November 20th, 2007

President George W. Bush: How About the Soft Bigotry of These Low Expectations?

by Philip Baruth

Bush came into office as the man who would hold America to not just one but a host of higher standards. Not just in the Oval Office, but in our workplaces and churches. Even our children would be tested relentlessly, to prevent what he famously labeled “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

bush jr., at a loss

And seven years later, we are a nation eminently capable of fucking up a free lunch. So capable, in fact, that if we don’t fuck up the free lunch entirely, but only to a certain extent, we’re ready to break out the champagne.

The Post, on Bush’s recent spate of so-called good news, from Iraq and elsewhere:

“In many ways, the shifting political fortunes may owe as much to the absence of bad news as to any particular good news. No one lately has been indicted, botched a hurricane relief effort or shot someone in a hunting accident.”

Don’t get VDB wrong: we’re grateful each day we don’t have to pick bird-shot out of our face and heart.

But good Lord, just what have we come to?

November 20th, 2007

Christian Avard, This Generation’s Tim Crouse, Interviews Matt Taibbi, This Generation’s Hunter S. Thompson

by Philip Baruth

Always nice to see the plums fall to the people who work hard for them. Christian Avard, aka Brattlerouser of iBrattleboro and Green Mountain Daily fame, just landed an interview with neo-gonzo journalist Matt Taibbi, for Huffington Post’s “Off the Bus” series.

Christian, right, smooches a toothsome Charity Tensel at last summer’s hamburger summit.

Taibbi is one of the hotter writers on the circuit these days, and yet still something of an unknown quantity personally. A perfect opportunity for a revealing sit-down, and kudos to Christian for landing it.

Best line: Taibbi makes reference to an extremely horny but methodical old bull when attempting to characterize the Senate legislative style of Bernie Sanders. No joke.

November 16th, 2007

This Is VDB: The Price Edition

by Philip Baruth

When I saw that a blog called From The Wilderness had linked to this site, I dropped in for a quick look around. It’s no exaggeration to say that I was stunned by the blog-roll: fifteen or twenty religious-themed links, many of them churches, and VDB.

Turns out the proprietor, Ryon Price, is a Baptist minister in Colchester with a taste for politics, a yearning for social justice, and — not incidentally — a way with words.

— PB


This Is VDB: The Price Edition

Name: Ryon Price

Location: I live in Winooski and am pastor of a church in Colchester. I feel like both places are home. I think that is important. As these geographic lines continue to blur, what it once meant to be from Colchester or Winooski or wherever else may no longer necessarily be true. So what we mean by “community” becomes increasingly more complex — especially for native Vermonters.

Interests: I’m a Baptist minister and I admit I actually like reading the Bible. I also enjoy good jokes, hiking, riding my bike, and reading anything by Frederick Buechner. I love to make my kid laugh. It’s amazing what a grown man will do to make a seven month old smile . . . I really ought to be ashamed of myself.

What Brought You Home to VDB: Relevant writing, shaken not stirred, with a twist of acerbic wit. I get a sideways glance into the news here . . . the perspective is sometimes a little strange but never without meaning.

And a lot of VDB is local, which is really important to me.

Current Political Talking Points: First off, we have to get to the point where we are no longer antagonizing leaders we don’t agree with. What we are seeing in the world is a great levelling. The last great war has been won with guns. We have to start winning with diplomacy.

We also need to rethink the way we farm here in America.
Right now the Senate is debating the Farm Bill. The status quo is an unfair system that is a boon to large operations but leaves the small family farm behind. Plus, our program creates huge incentives for the overproduction of commodity crops. We then take the excess and dump it in the developing world. This make it almost impossible for farmers there to survive.

What we need is a more equitable system that stops rewarding mega-farming operations and starts helping local farmers connect with local markets. What is amazing is that both the Left and Right agree on this, but traction for reform has gotten almost nowhere. I wish Senator Leahy were showing more leadership for change on this.

On health care, the average American is getting to the point where he or she can’t afford insurance. Premiums are just too high. And employers are cutting back on coverage for families and dependents. I think the solution is going to have to be some kind of balance between private and public coverage.

Finally, I just want the world to know that Jesus didn’t get us into this war.

Last Word On The Presidential Race: In a world where Pat Robertson is endorsing a pro-choice, pro-gay rights candidate, and Barack Obama and Dick Cheney are cousins, who could claim to say anything intelligible about 2008? I’ll be voting for the candidate I feel is least likely to pick up the football and go nuclear.

November 16th, 2007

Update on the Obama Effect: Post-JJ Dinner

by Philip Baruth

The single best piece of news in weeks for the Obama campaign was the reaction to the Senator’s speech at the recent Jefferson Jackson Democratic Dinner in Iowa. David Yepsen, possibly the state’s most noted political columnist, raved about the speech in the Des Moines Register the next day, calling it one of the very best of the campaign.

obama, jj dinner

“Should he win the Iowa caucuses,” Yepsen wrote, “Saturday’s dinner will be remembered as one of the turning points in his campaign in here, a point where he laid down the marker and began closing on Clinton, the national frontrunner.”

You can see the speech It’s twenty minutes, but if you’ve ever wondered what the fuss was about with this particular candidate, it’s twenty minutes very well spent.

And the waves from that one event, that single excellent performance under singularly heavy pressure, are still spreading in Iowa.

Bill and Jane Stetson of Norwich were among the 4-5000 supporters who marched with Obama to the dinner that night, and Bill writes in to say that the energy unleashed at the JJ dinner has become an additional aura that now moves with Obama wherever in Iowa he goes.

Case in point: check out the following photo of a post-JJ Dinner rally in the Hawkeye state.

post jj dinner

Now look again, a little more closely, at the stunned attendees the guy leaves in his wake. These two look like they got some powerful religion.

obama, jj dinner 2

It’s called the Obama Effect, but what I’ve always liked about the man’s style is his ability to modulate his tone. He’s not always on, not always pressing the crowd for crazy display. Sometimes, much of the time, the tone is quiet, and contemplative, but shot through with flashes of passion.

A post-JJ Dinner rally in Lebanon this time.

obama, post jj dinner3

Stetson was moved by both rallies, and at the last he had the firm inner sense that Obama had the room, to a person. “No one left a non-believer,” Stetson writes, “and many came up to me to say, ‘That’s it, he’s my man.’”

A lot has happened since Hillary’s now infamous stumble on immigration in the last Democratic debate. Her poll numbers have tumbled in New Hampshire, as much as ten points in some surveys, and other polling shows the top-tier Dems now all within the margin of error in Iowa.

Which means it will come down to passion there. And that’s been the Obama campaign’s long suit all along.

[Many thanks to Bill Stetson for the boffo action photos accompanying this post.]

November 14th, 2007

BREAKING: Earth-Shaking Vermont Yankee News, on Several Fronts; Governor Douglas “Flip-Flops” on Independent Assessment; and Yes, The Gundersen Report Cometh

by Philip Baruth

If you felt the ground shake this morning, it wasn’t a melt-down at Entergy’s Vermont Yankee facility in Vernon. No, those tremors you felt came from much higher in the power structure than that. Several strong forces are now moving in the direction of decommissioning, and we want to just flag those here and now. While they’re hot, so to speak.

workers at VY
Anonymous photo shows VY workers in full regalia

First, and most publicly, the Douglas administration (via the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel, and Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien) has now reversed its longstanding opposition to an independent safety assessment. O’Brien’s stated view is now that a standard Nuclear Regulatory Commission review would be “insufficient” by itself.

See the excellent coverage by Reformer reporter Paul Heintz here. It’s slugged, “Governor Flip-flops on Inspection of Vermont Yankee.”

Now that smarts.

Granted, it remains to be seen what precisely the review contains, and who is eventually tapped to administer it. But the only other such review to go forward led to the closing of Maine Yankee in 1996.

Uncle Jim likes to be liked, and voters don’t like pictures of collapsed water towers spewing thousands of gallons of unsightly run-off. C’est la vie.

not so cool

In 2003, nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen told the Public Service Board, “Again, the Board needs better information than it is being given. I strongly recommend that the Board engage the Governor and/or the legislature in insisting that the NRC perform a full independent safety assessment; the equivalent of one performed at Maine Yankee in 1996. The licensee should of course welcome such a vetting in order to restore public confidence in the safety of its operations.”

And now, only four years later, someone’s listening. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

And speaking of Arnie, and his wife Maggie, we come to our second earth-shaking development. The Gundersens are not the type to take corporate happy-talk as truth; instead, they do their own homework. (Which works particularly well when the couple in question combines nuclear expertise with paralegal training.)

And the homework this time involved the following word problem: If Company E were to decommission Plant VY in 2012, would Company E have the money to see the process through?

The answer: not on your life.

To quote from their white-paper, which is now circulating at the highest levels in Montpelier:

The data supplied by Entergy indicates that the Decommissioning Fund does not contain adequate funds to dismantle Vermont Yankee after a permanent shutdown in either 2008 or 2012. Since Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee is a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) and not a public utility, Entergy, VY’s parent company may:

* Declare bankruptcy and leave cleanup of the reactor and storage of spent nuclear fuel to the State of Vermont and its ratepayers OR

* Delay the environmental cleanup for decades leaving this extremely toxic radioactive material stored on the banks of the Connecticut River until interest in the decommissioning fund has accumulated to the point that this LLC can afford to pay for a complete dismantlement.

vermont yankee

How significant is it that two high-profile VY critics have issued a report highlighting the quite possible default of the company on decommissioning?


A group of top lawmakers, Shumlin and Ginny Lyons included, has asked the State Auditor to investigate. And Salmon has made it clear he will do so.

Expect to hear more about the Gundersen Report as the weeks go by. It’s more than enough to undo a hundred full-page ads of the sort Entergy ran in yesterday’s Free Press, yammering on about safety, safety, safety.

Late Update, Thursday, 11/15, 3:45 pm:

That sure didn’t take long. Entergy has apparently decided to admit to the conclusions of the Gundersen Report. They tell the Herald it’ll be another 12-15 years, assuming VY were decommissioned in 2012, before they could scrape up their pennies and clean up their mess and go home.

And that’s only if the stock market booms. If the next President has the Bush touch, it might be 25-30.

Round One: Gundersens.

November 14th, 2007

What Do Larry Craig and Anthony Pollina Have In Common? No, Not That. Or Even That. (You Guessed It: Good Intentions.)

by Philip Baruth

Terri Hallenbeck — not content to take Anthony Pollina’s non-announcement over the weekend as anything more than a non-announcement — gave Pollina’s trial balloon a serious tweaking in this morning’s Free Press. In fact, Hallenbeck just about rubbed that balloon in her hair and stuck it up on the wall with static electricity.


For this who missed it, here is the much-dissected passage from Pollina’s address to the Progressive faithful: “I do very much expect, and I do very much intend to be a candidate for governor next year.”

And a paragraph of Hallenbeck’s understandable confusion:

“[Pollina’s] words left a number of people scratching their heads. Was he announcing his candidacy, as the applause from the audience seemed to indicate? Or was he merely restating his interest?”

An excellent point. This cycle seems cursed by timidity, and a general aversion to plain-speaking. If only we had some way of interpreting Pollina’s signals, some pre-existing key to this particular language of expectation and intention, some sort of ultimate political Rosetta Stone.

Of course it does bring one recent case to mind.

Larry Craig, September 1, 2007: “Therefore it is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intent to resign from the Senate, effective Sept. 30.”

Couldn’t be plainer. When a man of substance says he intends to do something, by God he gets it done.


Except when he doesn’t. Larry Craig, just minutes before the same speech, in a misdirected voice mail to someone named Billy, making clear that the resignation speech has now become a high-stakes media ruse built precariously atop the word intent:

“We have reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on Sept. 30 . . . I think it would help drive the story that I’m willing to fight, that I’ve got quality people out there fighting in my defense, and that this thing could take a new turn or a new shape.”

In other words, the best laid plans of mice and men may still go awry, especially when one has no especially firm intention of carrying them out in the first place.

Of course, Pollina’s no Larry Craig, and he’s flirting with running not resigning. Still, the intention gambit can’t escape its recent checkered political history.

And it turns out that Pollina may well have been trying to give himself every bit as much wiggle room as Craig — that is, the freedom to do the very opposite of what he claims to intend to do. Hallenback again:

“Progressive Party Chairwoman Martha Abbott put Pollina’s Saturday comments this way: ‘I think it’s the next step in this delicate little dance.’ Pollina plans to run for governor, she said, but if Democrats come up with a ‘top-tier’ candidate, he could change those plans and yield to that person. Pollina said he agreed with Abbott’s characterization, suggesting that such a candidate has not surfaced.”

A delicate little dance, indeed.

All VDB can say is someone better get in this damn race soon. We’re burning political daylight, and voters on the center-left are losing patience.

All this waiting has got more than a few of us tapping our toes, to put it in terms Larry Craig might understand.

November 12th, 2007

Ben Cohen Speculates on Edwards Flavor

by Philip Baruth

After some early flirtation with Obama, Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen has finally settled on John Edwards. And those of us in Vermont know what that means: it won’t be long before an Edwards-themed ice cream hits the shelves.

edwards, in his element

But Cohen is denying any imminent tie-in, for the time being. Still, in a press conference two days ago, Ben did allow himself to speculate on what such a flavor might taste like, if such a flavor were in fact to be brought to market (from Real Clear Politics):

“Pressed on what an Edwards flavor might be, Cohen stuck to message. ‘It’s not going to be a very fluffy flavor,’ he predicted. ‘It’s going to be a very solid flavor.’ Cohen speculated that the flavor might be called ‘Captain Courageous Crunch,’ though he may want to run that by lawyers for Quaker Oats, which makes the cereal, before production begins.”

And to be honest, after the renewed aggression and backbone Edwards has shown on the trail, VDB would have no problem with downing a serving or two, no matter what the name. The man won’t go down without a fight, and that characteristic cannot be taught.

Still, “Captain Courageous Crunch” is hardly one of Ben’s more memorable monikers. What about “Cherry/Edwards 2004″? Or something more November 2007, like “Chunk-Yard Dog?”

You know, with little chewable candy opponents as a mix-in.

November 9th, 2007

Paul Weyrich, Statesman of the Religious Right, Burdens Romney With Endorsement

by Philip Baruth

Paul Weyrich, arch-Conservative and so-called “elder statesman of the Religious Right,” explains to the Globe why he has finally decided to get his Mitt on:

“I believe that he has flip-flopped in our direction, if you will — the direction of the values voters — and I think he will stay there,” Weyrich said in a telephone interview.


Indeed. Tough to say who looks weaker and worse, after this sad little bit of spin, Mitt or Paul. But that’s their story, and damned if they aren’t sticking to it.

Imagine Rudy’s relief that he paired off with Pat Robertson at the Evangelical Endorsement Ho-Down, rather than Weyrich. It’ll be a short-lived relief, of course, as Pat Robertson has been proven time and again to be crazier than a shit-house rat.

And even worse than that: a shit-house rat who 9/11 on the ACLU. But in the GOP primary, especially in 2007, one takes what one can get.

rudy on the cross

November 7th, 2007

This Is VDB: In Which Vermont Daily Briefing Readers Are Revealed To Be Themselves (The McLaughlin Edition)

by Philip Baruth

Studies show that the average VDB reader is many things: savvy, brave, politically driven, good with children, bad with automobiles and small machines, given to laughter. And corresponding with readers has become more and more the highlight of my day. Like one big happy family.

bush and company

But the problem is that you never get to meet you. And you really should, because you’ve all become collectively my favorite person in the world.

So beginning today, I’ll be running a new occasional feature: This Is VDB. A short profile of one reader, picked more or less at random, answering a few very short questions. Hopefully, you’ll begin to recognize one another at the grocery store and the grout aisle at Home Depot.

Which will allow you, of course, to flash the secret sign.

— PB


This Is VDB: The McLaughlin Edition

Name: Colleen McLaughlin

Location: Burlington, Vermont (4th Generation Vermonter on my father’s side, 1st generation on my mother’s side, so when you add it up, that makes me a 5th Generation Vermonter)

Interests: Listening to music, making music, art, history, philosophy, good Literature, Vermont, common sense, nature, putting ellipses at the end of a sentence, science, movies, funny jokes, South Park, songs that include hand-clapping, my family, metaphysics, ghost stories, and of course, politics, but only because I love a good debate . . .

What Brought You Home to VDB: Good writing. Relevant writing. Clever writing. The ability to address issues with a bit of a “sting” without being down-right vicious. VDB has class. The publisher always responds to your email, and that’s just plain old-fashioned politeness, if not damn good PR!

The fact that VDB humorously relays the absurdity of any given situation makes things seem a bit more tolerable.

Current Political Talking Points: Another reason I have stayed with VDB is to keep afloat of what’s happening here in Vermont. For the last six years, I have been tuned in to events on a more national/global scale.

The number one issue for me is the continued occupation of Iraq and the present “war on terror.” I do believe that “All politics is local,” and the blowback from the illegal and disastrous policies of the Bush administration are going to come back to bite us on our proverbial “arses” for some time to come.

I have family in the military, but I do not define myself as being “from a military family.” My son, and now my daughter, are part-time members of the Vermont Army and Air National Guard. I am very concerned as to who the next “Commander in Chief” will be.

The act of taking a nation to war is momentous, and the decision to send young men and women to the battlefield to kill and be killed should be an agonizing one, a decision made when all avenues to avoid war are depleted (which is rare).

We all now know the real story, and there are still more unbelievable events coming to light — the lies, the arrogance, the propaganda, the fear-mongering, a sycophantic media, a supine, bought-and-paid-for Congress, the public’s gullibility and lack of historical knowledge related to American Foreign Policy.

I have tried to rationally sort out my feelings and thoughts as events have unfolded, and without fail I am centered on one thought only: “Betrayal.”

On a more positive note, I will say that our Vermont Congressional delegation makes me proud to be a Vermonter.

Last Word On The Presidential Race: As one might have gathered by now, he/she who presents the sanest foreign policy will get my vote.

November 7th, 2007

Entergy Readies Corporate Shell Game, Abandons Newspeak For Brutal Honesty

by Philip Baruth

So Entergy, owner-operator of the Vermont Yankee nuclear facility, has apparently decided that it’d like a bit more distance from its unregulated nuclear assets. The company wants to create an entirely separate entity to hold the bag on Yankee, and plants in Massachusetts, New York and Michigan, and they’ve asked the NRC to fast-track the plan.

vermont yankee

One concern for the NRC? That this new company might not have — what’s the polite corporate term — the “financial wherewithal” to support decommissioning.

Funny, that. But the new company’s working title is even funnier: SpinCo. We could just about die laughing.

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