May 30th, 2008

From THE COURT AND THE CROSS, Fred Lane’s New Book On the Supreme Court

by Philip Baruth

While a lot of my friends write books, very few write books on politics. So when that happy coincidence does occur, I’m always psyched to sit down with the book in question. The Court and the Cross is the latest work by Fred Lane, a Burlington writer who has quickly made himself a national authority on issues from workplace privacy to the Right’s war against obscenity. Here Lane puts his finger on issue #1 for November: the tilt of the Supreme Court. —PB

Of Prayers and Proselytizing

While the debate over what can be taught in public school classrooms (particularly science) is perhaps the longest-running battle between secularists and the Christian Right, the battle over prayer in the public schools is easily the most intense.

The rulings by the Supreme Court that declared government-sponsored prayer and moments of silence unconstitutional are routinely cited by Religious Right leaders as the cause of most of the nation’s social ills.

In the wake of the tragic 1999 shooting at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado, for instance, Jerry Falwell described the Supreme Court’s decision to ban state-sponsored prayer as “one of the greatest mistakes in our nation’s history,” adding that he believed the ruling “was our nation’s first step toward our present-day environment of violence and disregard for life.”

Falwell’s comments, however were mild compared to those of his fellow televangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson, who told his 700
audience the morning after the shootings:

When the Supreme Court of the United States of America insulted Almighty God, and said our Constitution wouldn’t permit children to pray in the schools, and when we lifted the religious restraints off of our society in that fashion and suddenly the worship of God becomes unconstitutional, and the thought that we would have an even hand between atheism and theism in society, it has begun a spiral that hasn’t stopped yet.

You say, why are kids killing themselves, and why are they killing each other? Well, you just look back about thirty-some years and you find, in my opinion, the principal reason.

But Robertson did not accurately describe the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Supreme Court never declared the worship of God unconstitutional; what the Court said was that the government cannot draft a prayer and require children of all faiths (as well as nonbelievers) to sit and listen to it each morning before the start of school.

The much-despised case to which Robertson was referring, Engel v. Vitale (1962), involved a challenge by a group of parents in Hyde Park, New York, to the daily recitation of the following prayer in the public school: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.”

Twenty-two states filed amicus curiae briefs supporting the State of New York, and the Supreme Court received thousands of letters asking it to uphold prayer in school. But the Court firmly rejected the New York prayer, voting 6-1 that the prayer was “composed by government officials as part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs.”

Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Hugo Black said that New York had violated the First Amendment prohibition against the establishment of religion. The establishment clause, Black said, has two main purposes: “Its first and most immediate purpose rest[s] on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion.” The “inevitable result” of an alliance between government and religion, Black wisely noted, is “the hatred, disrespect, and even contempt of those who [hold] contrary beliefs.”

The second purpose of the establishment clause, Black said, is to avoid the tendency of governmentally established religions to result in religious persecution.

As he pointed out, England’s Act of Uniformity of 1559, which made it a crime for individuals to attend any religious service other than the Church of England and fined those who did not go to church weekly, was passed just a few years after Elizabeth I declared the Book of Common Prayer the only acceptable form of religious service. (The passage of the Act of Uniformity was one of the things that eventually led the Puritans to flee England and, eventually, brave the Atlantic crossing to America.)

The conclusion of Justice Black’s opinion rejected the persistent argument that the Court was demonstrating hostility to religion or prayer by declaring the New York statute unconstitutional. “Nothing, of course, could be more wrong,” Black said:

It is neither sacriligious nor antireligious to say that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers and leave that purely religious function to the people themselves and those the people choose to look to for religious guidance.

Notwithstanding the clarity and thoughtfulness of Black’s opinion, the decision by the Court was greeted with cries of outrage from members of Congress and much of the public.

The Court, however, did have some influential backers. At a news conference a few days afterward, the first question posed to President John F. Kennedy asked for his reaction to the school prayer decision. Kennedy, the nation’s first Roman Catholic president, said that he hoped people would support the Supreme Court, even if they disagreed with the decision, given the Court’s valuable role in preserving the country’s constitutional system.

And for those who do disagree, Kennedy said, “We have in this case an easy remedy, and that is to pray ourselves. And I would think it would be a welcome reminder to every American family that we can pray a good deal more at home, we can attend our churches with a good deal more fidelity, and we can make the true meaning of prayer much more important in the lives of all our children.”


Frederick Lane is an expert witness, lecturer, and author who has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. His next book will be People in Glass Houses: American Law, Technology, and the Right to Privacy (Beacon 2009). For additional information, please visit

Reprinted from The Court and the Cross: The Religious Right’s Crusade to Reshape the Supreme Court
By Frederick S. Lane
Copyright (c) 2008 by Frederick S. Lane
By permission of Beacon Press.

May 29th, 2008

Stop the Clock: Entergy Caves in 7 Days

by Philip Baruth

Just a week ago we posted about a very revealing Freudian slip on the Vermont Yankee web site, an invitation to the reader to “learn more about our current energy options and the challenges of our entergy [sic] future.” And given that plant-owner Entergy has more than a few challenges in its future, the line worked just fine for VDB, just as it stood.

homer, x-ray

But by pointing it out publicly, we knew that corporate spokesman Rob Williams would be left with two choices: leave the gaffe as it stood, thereby exposing the fallibility of Entergy’s PR operation, or correct it, and make clear just how closely the folks down at corporate HQ follow the blogosphere.

And we started the clock running.

Well, the clock has officially stopped: an eagle-eyed VDB-reader just wrote in to say that the error has been scrubbed, and Entergy’s facade is once more what one would expect at a URL like

But VDB readers know the truth now, too: Goliath is watching the boys with the slingshots a good deal more than he lets on. And that knowledge, in turn, may well entice more folks to pick up more slingshots.

Which is the blogosphere in a nutshell, really.

Late Update, Thursday, 7:32 am:

Saw the NYT article on VY yesterday, but managed to miss the money quote at the end of it. It’s Rob Williams, of course, attempting a triple semantic dismount from the cooling tower collapse of last summer:

“Rob Williams, an Entergy spokesman, said the cooling tower, along with other recent incidents, ‘certainly impacted reliability, but the safety was not at all impacted.’”

And he stuck the dismount!

bernie stares down lunch

Actually, this is maybe one of the silliest formulations yet, topped only by the assertion, a few months back, that the Vernon plant’s maintenance woes were a sign of its natural and healthy “evolution.” But now we have the admission that the cooling tower collapse and other plant mishaps “certainly impacted reliability” — Williams simply wants to draw a bright line between reliability and safety.

Which is borderline silly in any everyday context — imagine a used car dealer telling you a sedan is unreliable but not unsafe — but it’s sheer madness when you’re discussing critical systems of any sort.

And if we’re wrong about that, we suggest a scuba diving holiday for the overworked Rob Williams, at whatever distant Club Med the executives at Entergy favor, and we’ll send him down with a nice set of tanks that are perfectly safe, but certainly unreliable.

And then it’s aloha Rob.

May 28th, 2008

Of Shoes and Oranges and Blind Ambition

by Philip Baruth

This Saturday, members of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet at a Washington Hotel. Their agenda? To help unmuddy the waters swirling around the Florida and Michigan delegations. And that’s a task that will require careful thought, sound judgment, and a little peace and quiet. Which is what makes the potentially chaotic “Count Every Vote” rally, slated to take place at the locked doors of that same hotel, so very, very special.

Clearly, the organizers of Count Every Vote are looking to pressure the Committee into seating their delegations at full strength. But equally clearly, they are intent upon replicating the aggressive scenes outside Florida polling stations during the 2000 recount process.

The goal is a sense of cultural deja vu: someone is once again trying to steal Democratic votes, and this time we won’t let them get away with it.

Sure, it involves an odd reversal of roles, with Democratic party officials cast as poll-taxing, vote-stealing GOP types, but no matter. Bill and Hillary have been hitting that talking point for weeks — that the GOP is “more enlightened” when it comes to the integrity of the ballot than Democrats, unless and until the DNC rules their way on Michigan and Florida.

A classic Florida vote riot, circa 2000. Analysts have since identified nearly all the participants as GOP operatives.

But beyond the specific parallel to Florida, the rally seeks simply to invoke chaos itself. And that is the Clinton’s last remaining argument, for whatever it is they still want from this process: there is a steep price for harmony.

And some over-the-top Hillary supporters have been more than happy to oblige, threatening to lead entire delegations to the land of McCain. And now comes word of the final threat: they’re mailing shoes to Committee members. From the AP wire:

“Saturday’s meeting is expected to draw a large crowd, with Clinton supporters among those encouraging a protest outside demanding that all the states’ delegates be seated. Proponents of full reseating have mailed committee members Florida oranges and pairs of shoes to get their attention.”

No word on whether the shoes are new or, you know, not new. But if they really want to get attention, these folks, and threaten the breakdown of the social order, you’d think they’d go with the well-walked summertime shoe.

It makes not so much sense to us, of course, especially the shoes (the tie in is apparently the idea that the Committee should walk a mile in the shoes of angry people from Michigan and Florida with too much time on their hands and lenient local postmasters).

But one thing is certain. That talking point from the Clinton campaign, that Hillary will bow out gracefully and heal the Party following Montana and South Dakota? It is a delaying tactic to prevent calls for her to withdraw from the race, and nothing more.

Once those contests are complete, the talking point will shift to an emphasis on “completing the intraparty procedural contests,” the last of which will fall, oddly enough, on the first day of the Convention itself.

And then there will be a long final embrace by the Clinton camp of the underappreciated divided Convention, as a counterintuitive sign of Party strength, as the seat of true American Democracy. Bill Clinton will wonder aloud, in every appearance, at the shocking attempts to “stage-manage a Convention that should be a way to give expression to the hopes and dreams and good judgment of every delegate there.”

Which is fine. Bring it on, as someone said once. Go ahead and send us our own pair of shoes, if you must.

Just one thing, though, and this is non-negotiable: you make damn sure they never belonged to Bill or to Hillary, because whether they’re wingtips or heels, the low road is absolute hell on a good pair of shoes.

May 27th, 2008

Blair “Barracked Over Iraq” During Yale Speech, Which We’ll Assume Is A Bad Thing

by Philip Baruth

A cautionary tale for those on the world stage who still believe that they can enable the Bush Administration’s militarism, and then waltz off that stage to gentle applause: Tony Blair’s Yale commencement speech was laced with catcalls and anti-war protests from the audience, the second of two major speeches since his retirement to be so marred. Students smuggled banners under their robes, apparently.

poodle Tony

A woman in a headscarf stood throughout, not ten feet from the former Prime Minister and poodle, holding a sign reading “Peace Now.” The Daily Mail sums up the incident by saying that Blair was “barracked” at the event. VDB has no idea what that means, frankly.

But it sounds like it smarted some, and that’s the important thing, in this particular case.

May 26th, 2008

VT STATE CONVENTION A MOB-SCENE; Donkey’s Lack of Opposable Thumbs Tips Race to VDB, Five Others; You Had The Power, and Generously Opted to Share

by Philip Baruth

What if we told you that when all was said and done — after months of strategizing, after tutorials on the delegate process, after candidate forums in all corners of Vermont, and after an unprecedented GOTV effort involving hundreds of die-hard VDB readers — what if we told you that the most hotly contested National Delegate contest in memory would hinge on a donkey’s lack of opposable thumbs?

Chuck Ross counts votes. Ross won re-election as DNC Committeeman by an overwhelming margin.

It’s a story of split second timing, mistaken venues, tragic mute donkeys, blown speeches, and blueberry pie. But before the narrative, some key facts.

What you knew already: the race for spots on the Vermont Obama Delegation was very hotly contested, with something like 110 die-hard Obama supporters vying for 6 slots, 3 reserved for men, and 3 for women. Ultimately between 600 and 700 ballots would be cast in the Obama sub-caucus.

VDB’s final margin of victory? Six votes. You heard us. Six votes. And we will keep our promise: we will bring you imaginative and in-depth coverage of the Denver Convention the likes of which you’ve never seen before.

But it was a very near thing.

Another way of expressing the margin is this: if you wrote in to offer your vote at the convention, you represented a smidgin over 16% of that margin; if you convinced a friend, you accounted for a full third.

Some dedicated readers who whipped votes in the days before the Convention — Don, Tim Briglin, Susan Beard, Jack McCullough, Odum, ALG, Steve West, Allison Carroll, Rubenis, Jill Michaels, Karen Speerstra, Wayne Granquist and Kate Schubart among others — each single-handedly brought in enough votes to make the difference.

A nail-biter, to say the least. The slate as it finally stood, around about 2:37 pm Saturday:


Carolyn Dwyer
Rachel Weston
Daria Mondesire
Arshad Hasan
Taylor Bates


Mary Sullivan
Michael Gaffney

Dan Barlow has a nicely detailed story here, including the very strong speeches by Leahy, Welch, Shumlin and Symington. Odum has a brilliant 9-minute video montage up now, that perfectly captures the flavor. The key news angle that only Green Mountain Daily has reported thus far? It was the Year of the Young.

Unless we miss our guess, VDB is the hoariest member of the delegation at 46. The youngest? Taylor Bates, the hottest 18-year-old political property in the state. The top vote-getter? Arshad Hasan, mid-twenties, Executive Director of DFA who partnered successfully with Rachel Weston, herself the youngest member of the Vermont House.

Arshad, in his element.

With Alternate Michael Gaffney, a college student making some very fast electoral tracks, you’ve got hard evidence of the sort of Wave that most Democratic strategists see forming to help carry Obama to Washington in November.

In 1972, when 18-year-olds got the right to vote, 25 million were supposed to come out for McGovern and end the War. They never showed. But Saturday proved one thing, friends: they’re here now, and apparently they’re looking to make up for lost time.

The other insider angle no one else will cover? Of the eight eventual Delegates and Alternates, six were profiled here on VDB in the week before the race. Given that we only profiled ten candidates total, that’s a 60% success rate. Not too shabby.

But at the beginning of the day, we knew none of this. We knew only that the day would be long, and the metaphorical climb steep, and that people would paper us with random stickers as we entered the Convention Hall. And that all proved to be so.

But there was more, the unpredictable. The unknown.

Team VDB formed up at the On the Rise Bakery in Richmond. We were three-strong, and deliberately overbalanced on communications and marketing skills: both Erik Filkorn and Liz Schlegel, in addition to being exceptionally good sports, could sell dead cats to the Board of Health. And for all we knew, that might be necessary.

But in a rush of optimism we all ate a double-sized portion of French Toast, involving super-thick Portuguese white bread. It would prove to be a key blunder. Only later on the convention floor would we on the Team realize our error, when the ability to actually maneuver our bodies through space would be at a premium.

Best decision of the day? Sharing a table with Carolyn Dwyer and Mary Sullivan. By the time the crack VDB team had fumbled the venue and gone mistakenly to the Old Labor Hall in Barre, instead of the Civic Center, Carolyn and Mary had commandeered a prime location and covered the wall with Obama memorabilia.

And then it was time to drink bad coffee and work the floor.

Little did we suspect that the man in the donkey suit also working the floor was not, in fact, hired by the Party to liven up the event. He was, rather, an extremely enterprising would-be Delegate named Ken Cook from Bennington.

And he was about to stage a PR coup that would shock the convention. Which brings us to the candidate speeches — 30 second speeches, mind you.

On the way down to Barre, Erik, whose job involves speeches and communications, offered good, succinct advice on how to boil an address to the Convention down to 30 seconds, a time limit that was to be strictly observed.

We thanked him for the advice and then ignored it, opting instead to launch into something that seemed almost sort of negotiable in just 30 seconds, but on reflection would have needed about 92 minutes. Chairman Chuck Ross politely but firmly hustled us off the stage about a third of the way through the botched speech, and it was from the audience that we saw Ken Cook make his move.

Remember, Cook had been wearing the donkey suit the entire two and half hours leading up to the speeches, but most people no doubt hadn’t pegged him as a would-be delegate himself.

So when his name was called, and he walked slowly to the microphone, it dawned on the entire audience at once: the donkey is in the mix. It was a brilliant and bold move.

Slowly it became apparant that the donkey also had a stack of signs in his hooves. He held up the first one, which read: “McCain =”

Slowly he flipped it in the air, and the reverse read: “100 Years War.”

Devastating mix of humor and politics and silent theater. But that was when tragedy struck: Cook of course had no thumbs, and so when he went to turn his second sign, he found that he couldn’t. His hooves scrabbled helplessly on the shiny signboard. He pawed at the stack.

Slowly, the stack slid to the ground, and Cook kneeled slowly with it, still trying valiantly to make semiotic and political history, to string together the chain of signs that would carry him to Denver.

Finally, another delegate couldn’t watch the mute spectacle any longer, but threw protocol to the wind and stepped in to do what both his politics and his sense of human decency required: save the donkey.

But it was too late.

The thirty seconds had elapsed in the meanwhile, and Chuck Ross gave the donkey the hook too. No one knows what those other four signs would have communicated, but that message might well have taken the convention by storm.

Six votes. Of mice and men. Of Democrats and donkeys.

All a way of saying that we are deeply honored to have made the slate, and honestly as grateful as we can possibly be to all of you who wrote in or called or stopped by for a chat or a handshake or a hug on the Convention floor, but we recognize the power of the Donkey, even if that force went tragically awry.

And when we do finally touch down in Denver, keeping the Sacred Vow we swore so long ago, we won’t be doing it only for Vermont, and not only for Barack Obama.

We’ll be there for you, Ken. And we honor your fighting spirit.

With that, the State Convention was over. Karen Speerstra and her amiable husband John had given us a blueberry pie (or “Blue Barry Pie,” as she preferred to call it) and we went to a dark Barre pub and cut it open right there on the long wooden table, young and old Democrats alike, like nothing so much as a ragtag bunch of hobbits at an Inn on the distant edge of the Shire, looking for one last homely meal before taking the Fellowship out on the road.

[Many thanks to Paul Carnahan and Christopher Millsap for the killer pictures accompanying this post. And a bit belatedly, we notice that the Northfield Dems have some excellent coverage here.]

May 24th, 2008

Lone Hobbit Seeks Help Joining Ragtag Band Traveling West To Save The World

by Philip Baruth

I had planned a long pitch to you here, but the preparations for the Convention tomorrow have sapped my last few ergs of energy. It has all been said by this point, in any event. I couldn’t be any more committed to the Obama campaign, and I have done everything in my power to advance it; but I can’t join the delegation to Denver without the support of every single VDB reader who shows up in Barre.

frodo and sam

It’s basically the end of the Lord of the Rings, if you think about it.

Frodo finds, in that final book, that he can’t make it to the summit of Mount Doom. It isn’t in him, for whatever reason. He needs to be carried that last mile, and only then can the Fellowship of the Ring — that small delegation of hobbits from the green hilly country of the Shire — complete their mission: turning back the Darkness, and paving the way for the return of the King.

And except for the furry feet, that’s basically where I am right now. In need of being carried.

So in addition to your vote, if you plan to be in Barre, allow me one last additional favor.

It’s called Each One Reach One, and it works like this: if every committed reader manages to convince just one person in the Hall tomorrow before the voting starts, that will put it over the top.

Philip Baruth

In exchange, I promise you coverage of this 2008 Convention like you’ll never see again, for the rest of your natural-born lives. My goal will be to act as your eyes and ears on the ground, to forward your questions and to flash the answers back as quickly as I can.

And I promise my undying gratitude.

See you tomorrow in Barre — in three dimensions, of all things.

May 24th, 2008

The Parade of Prospective Denver Delegates Ends Here: The Hasan and Weston Edition

by Philip Baruth

The State Convention is tomorrow, which means that the Parade of Prospective Delegates must end. But not before we find room for two of the more dynamic young organizers to happen by in quite a while: Rachel Weston and Arshad Hasan. Rachel is the youngest member of the Vermont State Legislature, Arshad is the Executive Director of DFA, and neither of their accelerated career trajectories can be seen with the naked eye. —PB

Parade of Delegates: Weston and Hasan Edition
Rachel Weston

There I was, spring of 2006 in my final year at UVM, packed shoulder to shoulder into a steamy, overflowing Ira Allen Chapel, simultaneously tearing up and cheering my head off.


The man at the podium had me mesmerized. His words of change, real change, and understanding of the economic and social challenges facing us were inspirational and a call to action. Barack Obama was the first mainstream politician who made me believe that the youth movement was no longer alone in our cries for change.

westonI am beyond ready for a new President.

I have actively protested the Iraq war, advocated for renewable energy, and sparked debate about a failing economy since long before these issues were popular.

I am ready for a President who embraces the values of the younger generation.

For almost my entire adult life our country’s President has wielded power in such a way that it has left my generation with significant economic problems including weak job prospects, unmanageable student loan debt, and no health care security.

The past eight years have thrown our country into reverse. Indeed it is a much different climate than when my parents and grandparents started their adult lives.

Despite the mining of the foundation of our future by the Bush Administration, I am not cynical or apathetic. Quite the contrary. I believe that government can be a force for good if used properly. I have never been content to sit back and watch the world go by.

Much like Obama, I began my career in community organizing. After a few years of working with projects on food security, youth, and low income housing I realized that the grassroots needs powerful advocates working from within government. The decision to run for State Representative came in 2006. I ran a successful grassroots campaign by knocking on almost every door in my district. Democracy is a trickle up venture in my book.

For far too long the hooligan in the White House has forced us to accept trickle down. I know that it is time to take our country back and Barack Obama is going to lead the charge.

Obama will work hard to make this country great once again. I firmly believe that the key to my generation’s ability to prosper lies squarely with the election in November. I have personally registered over 500 voters in the last two years, encouraged people to think of the political possibilities, and lent my time and service to Barack Obama’s campaign in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Young Vermonters overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama. Send me to Denver to support Barack Obama and you will reaffirm the hopes of a generation of Young Vermonters.

Parade of Delegates: Weston and Hasan Edition
Arshad Hasan


You know this story.

It’s the story of a man whose parents come from two different cultures. A man who struggled with race and identity and wanted to fit in with people who did not look like him or come from where he came from.

It’s a story of a man who went to a fancy Ivy League school, but decided upon graduation that he would devote his life to community organizing — working to help people with issues that affected their lives.

It’s a story about a man who found that his calling to public service would bring him into electoral politics. It’s an exceptional story.

It’s Barack Obama’s story. It’s also my story. My name is Arshad Hasan.

If Barack Obama’s story is compelling to us, it makes sense that we should seek out others who find themselves on a similar path. Obama’s message of hope resonates with me, not because we see it on TV, but because I’ve walked in the same shoes.

After college, I became a community organizer. My first assignment was Arkansas. I organized residents living near coal-fired power plants to oppose the Bush Administration’s attempt to force more pollution down their lungs. After years of environmental work in Arkansas and four other states, a certain Vermont governor incited my interest in electoral politics in 2003.

I now work for Democracy for America, the group that Howard Dean founded in 2004 to change politics in this country. One of DFA’s first endorsements in 2004 was Barack Obama. We endorsed Barack, not when he was about to win his Senate election in November, but back when he was running against an establishment Democrat in a contested and bitter Primary — before his famous speech to the DNC Convention, before he was a rockstar.

In October I became the Executive Director of DFA. I run a 3 million dollar national organization with over 800 local groups organized all over the country. But I don’t run it out of DC. We’re based here because Vermont politics are the politics of hope — well before “hope” was hip.

I think it’s exceptional that Vermont hosts organizations such as ours. I’m really into “exceptional”. My story is exceptional. You’re just not going to meet many young gay men of color who grew up in North Dakota — it’s just not going to happen. You’re not going to meet many 27-year old Executive Directors.

But my unusual, exceptional experiences have shaped how I see the world. It’s how I know that America needs someone with Barack’s exceptional background. It’s just time for something different.

I ask you to send me to Denver because I can help tell Vermont’s exceptional story to the assembled delegates from all over the country.

May 23rd, 2008

The Parade of Prospective Denver Delegates Nears Inevitable End: Jensen Edition

by Philip Baruth

On the morning after Vermont’s primary, a big night for Obama as predicted, I wrote a long diary trying to make clear why I thought the Senator had done so well in the Green Mountain State. Half of that diary revolved around the abilities and highly productive obsessions of a friend of mine named Neil Jensen, who took the time to really understand the software powering the Obama campaign and who then helped make local history with it. — PB


Parade of Delegates: Jensen Edition
Neil Jensen

Hello Obama Delegates!

Over the past 17 months — aside from family and work — I’ve had little time or energy for anything other than helping Barack Obama become the Democratic nominee and the 44th President of the United States.

It has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And I am deeply proud to have had the opportunity to assist the Obama campaign in any way that I could.

I would be deeply honored if you would consider casting your vote for me to represent Vermont as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Throughout the last year and a half, I’ve tried to keep focused on the central idea of the Obama campaign — that there is far more that unites us than divides us.

And to this end, I’ve worked to try to break down barriers, actively attempting to bring together young and old, on-line and off-line organizing, top-down Chicago HQ and state-based bottom-up structures, field volunteers and fundraisers, the politically connected and the newly energized.

Some of you may already be familiar with aspects of the work that I’ve been involved with. But, I’d like to try your patience just a bit if I could, to help demonstrate why I believe I played an important role in building and maintaining the citizen-based Obama campaign in Vermont.

* In late 2006, I was one of the lead Vermont participants in the national Draft Obama movement, organized the first Obama supporters meeting in December, and launched I designed the Vermonters For Obama logo, now on many T-shirts throughout the state. And, much to my amazement, a modified version of the logo — along with the Vermonters For Obama web address — appeared on the side of Ben & Jerry’s vans (see below).

cow car

* On February 10, 2007 — the day the Obama campaign officially launched — I created the Vermonters For Obama group (540+ members) on, which along with the companion website mentioned above has served as a central clearing house for Vermont’s Obama volunteer community.

* For the majority of 2007, I took the lead in organizing monthly Burlington area meetings, highlighted by the widely covered endorsement event at Club Metronome on September 12th, 2007, featuring Bill Sorrell, Jeb Spaulding, and Peter Clavelle.

* I’ve fielded questions from the local press, assisted with press releases, and exchanged thousands of emails and phone calls with supporters and Obama campaign staff to ensure that useful information got to the people that needed it. I spent five days volunteering on the ground in January for the New Hampshire primary — and led the canvassing effort in Bristol for Vermont’s March 4th primary.

* In February, I had the privilege of representing Obama supporters in an online debate with Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, hosted by Vermont Public Television.

* I’m a member of the Obama campaign’s Grassroots Fundraising Committee Leadership Circle having helped channel over $3,600 through the Vermonters For Obama group fundraising page.

* I’ve continued to try to facilitate democratic communication among Obama supporters by helping to promote Damian Sedney’s amazing work in hosting the delegate candidate forums — and providing delegate candidates the opportunity to post candidate statements at:

* In addition to my work here in Vermont, I’m an active organizer in the online community — creating and moderating three of the longest-running and most active groups, Obama Rapid Response (920+ members), Citizen Strategy Think Tank (560+ members) and Website Feedback (280+ members). All three have helped build community and communication among supporters and the Obama HQ Web Team.

And I’ve worked with online activists from across the country since 2006 to help ensure that Barack’s message was heard as widely and clearly as possible, including assisting with the creation and editing of One Million Strong, a nationally-focused Obama supporter website.

OK, well, there you have it. There’s probably not much more I should add except to say that I’d really, really love to go to Denver.

It would be an experience of a lifetime for me — after such a long journey — to be in that convention hall, representing Vermont and the ideals of this historic campaign, and to hear Barack Obama accept the nomination on August 28th, 2008, the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks so much for taking the time to allow me the opportunity to make my case.

However, there are certainly many other dedicated people who’ve put in days, weeks, and months and months of hard work for Barack Obama. And we Vermonters should be proud to have so many deserving candidates to choose from.

See you all on Saturday!

May 23rd, 2008

The Saturday Convention Looms, But the Parade of Delegates Continues: Speerstra and Gaffney Edition

by Philip Baruth

Parade of Delegates: Speerstra and Gaffney Edition
Karen Speerstra

I would love to think of myself as the ” Obama Girl,” but alas, I’m more of a Hillary demographic. And “Grandmas for Obama” just doesn’t have the same pizzazz. But I’m running to support Obama in Denver because I know how torn and hurting women are right now. As a writer and fighter for women’s rights since the 70’s, I’ve been longing for a woman in the Oval Office. I wore a pin around Boston in 1992 that said: “Vote for Hillary’s Husband.”

Thanks to Hillary having come so close, a woman will be at that desk before too long.

But now, it is the time for Obama and a national coming together. It’s time for fresh young voices. Obama’s the articulate thinker we’ve been starved to hear. He’s the one the whole world is waiting for. I’ve been supporting Obama long before he announced.

Given the level of animosity (dare we say bitterness) right now, among Hillary’s supporters, I’m hoping to be a healing voice and a strong presence in Denver.

I’m an officer and delegate from Tunbridge (Orange County). That’s the Tunbridge Mill Bridge, photo by Dave MacKenzie, below. I’ve spent several decades in the book publishing world and am myself an author. Stop by my table — you might win one of the books — or the Blue Barry Obama Pie!

My husband John and I moved to central Vermont in time to be active participants in the Dean for President campaign. This fall, we’ll be tireless advocates for Gaye Symington for Governor and Louise Barreda for Orange-Windsor State Representative.

Pick up one of my “Bridge Cards” in Barre — and please help send me to Denver.

Parade of Delegates: Speerstra and Gaffney Edition
Michael Gaffney

Why a Young Democrat?

It’s critical that the Vermont delegation reflect one of the groups that has helped contribute to Senator Obama’s success. Young people need to see that our role in the campaign is one that was not taken for granted and our delegation should send the same message that Senator Obama has sent to young people all across America: young Americans have a role to play in politics, not just by knocking on doors, sending money, and attending rallies, but by actually casting the votes that will select our Party’s nominee in August.

Why this Young Dem?

Way back in September, I decided that I needed to do my part. I knew work needed to be done in the Green Mountain State, but I wanted to see if I could help out elsewhere too. I started by just interning at this political consulting firm in DC. After a few weeks, they hired me as a full-time staff member and I teamed up with other Obama supporters to help evaluate the political landscape and provide Democrats on the national and local levels with advice about how we can be sure that Democrats succeed in November.

So for the past eight months, and until the last votes are counted on Election Day, I’ll be working day and night to make sure we’ve got a Democrat (and if I have it my way, Barack Obama) in the White House.

I don’t get paid too much for the long hours, but it is all worth it. The only reason I wish I were making more would be so I could send a bigger check than the small contributions I’ve made to Obama’s campaign (a few friends of mine and I helped host a small fundraiser for Obama on the night of the Potomac Primary, when VA, DC, and MD all gave Obama huge victories!!).

Even when I’m not working long hours, I’ve spent time on the weekends knocking on doors in northern VA, doing visibility events (honk and waves!) in the neighborhood, and have helped make calls and handed out literature in Pennsylvania.

I’m lucky that when I go to work, I know that I’m helping get Democrats elected in November — it is really the only payment I need.
When I told my parents I wanted to push back graduation to get Barack Obama elected, they soon realized the importance of the moment. They grasped what you and I do — that this election is too important to sit on the sidelines and that we’ve found our candidate and we’ll stay up all night (and we’ll even push back our college graduation) to be sure that we finally bring change to Washington.

I’m looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow and in the meantime, feel free to visit this site I threw together (nothing special, but I wanted to try to introduce myself a bit further):

I’ll be using the site to blog (not as well as Phil on VDB, but I’ll do my best). I was also on Charlie and Ernie’s radio show this morning and I made a pledge to do brief radio updates each day from Denver if I am so fortunate to represent Vermont there in a few months!

May 22nd, 2008

Bill Sets Out on 1000 Mile Walk From Hillary’s Attack Dog to Obama’s Soulmate

by Philip Baruth

Regardless of what anyone in Hillary’s campaign may demand or desire, Bill Clinton will reveal himself on the campaign trail. That is a fact of nature, and this primary has underscored it too many times to count. But nowhere has the ex-President said as much in so few words as he says in an interview due out tomorrow in People magazine.

The interview is studded with off-hand comments destined to make news, but most deeply revealing are these few seemingly simple remarks about the “immensely talented” Barack Obama:

“I think I understand him. There are enough similarities in our childhoods and things that I think I get what he is doing. But I do think it’s better to have made a lot of decisions before you get to be president.”

On the surface, it would seem to be a very smooth, diplomatic way of making Hillary’s case: Obama is wonderful and talented, but given that we’re so much alike, I know better than anyone that he should have waited a few years to run for President, like Hillary.

But that isn’t the way it strikes me at all.

Clinton’s own biography, his own painful history as the son of a single mother, and as a son in constant search for an absent father, is sacred to him — not only because it fitted him for his own miraculous climb to the White House, but because it actually became an integral part of the image his 1992 campaign created along the way.

So when Clinton confides that “there are enough similarities in our childhoods and things,” it represents a landmark every bit as telling as Obama’s accumulation of a majority of pledged delegates: without coming right out and saying it, Bill Clinton is placing Obama’s personal history on a par with his own, and implying fairly directly that their shared biography is shared destiny.

Far from making a case for his wife as President, Clinton is slowly beginning to inch closer to the opposite. He is making the case that he and Obama are in many ways remarkably alike, Presidential timber produced by very similar defining circumstances.

And when you think about it, this is a very predictable evolution. Bill Clinton will not sulk if his wife is denied the nomination; he will want to be a very visible presence in an Obama era; he will want to erase any lingering suspicions about his tactics in the South and in Appalachia; and he will want, as Bill Clinton always wants, to bond with this new nominee, to advise him and befriend him.

passing of the torch

But make no mistake. This is the birth of the New Post-Primary Meme: that far from being implacable enemies, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are actually strikingly similar, both deprived in childhood, both driven to seek reassurance at the ballot box, both destined for political greatness, each with a deep intuitive understanding of the other.

And I have no problem with that, really. It’s true enough, at least in the meat of it.

But of course I’m not the one Bill has to worry about.

Next Page »