August 15th, 2008

Symington Fights to Stand-Still on Predators

by Philip Baruth

Have to say that I’m really enjoying watching the Symington campaign fight Douglas to a stand-still on the now greatly overexposed sexual predator question. When Douglas picked up Jessica’s Law as his rallying cry du jour, there was a real danger that Symington would find herself on the losing end of a single equation: he said longer sentences for predators, she said no. Never a good thing, really.

the crowd, huddled

But Symington’s consistent focus on Special Investigative Units, and the failure of the Douglas Administration to staff them, has reordered that equation, balancing it to something like a wash.

Of course, if you’re challenging a popular incumbent, you generally need to do better than a wash. But it was probably as much as the Symington campaign could hope for here, and this little bit of campaign ju-jitsu shows that they’re fighting, thinking and evolving.

One further note: Jessica’s Law is a winner, politically. Democrats deny that at their peril. Experts tend to dislike the legislation as counter-productive, arguing that it makes convictions more difficult to obtain, but the measure has legs at the ballot box, and long ones.

It’s simple, crisp, and makes immediate intuitive sense. The argument against it may hold true intellectually, but it is a longer, counter-intuitive pitch, and one few politicians can sell convincingly.

Whether it ever becomes law here or not, Jessica’s Law will aid tough-on-crime candidates for years, most of them Republicans.

But the Free Press had a revealing little moment a few weeks back, when it covered a meeting of the State’s Attorneys. All the law enforcement officials at the meeting agreed on a package of remedies to the sexual predator problem, and that package, while it tracked Symington’s position more or less, did not include Jessica’s Law.

But one State’s Attorney found a different place to stand, apparently:

Although Jessica’s Law didn’t make the prosecutors’ list of priorities, not all state’s attorneys were ready to dismiss it as an option.

“I think it should be considered,” said Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan. Part of that consideration should be a thorough look at how the law works in other states, he said.

Interesting, as Peter Freyne used to like to say.

August 14th, 2008

Pelosi Has the Knives Out for Big Joe

by Philip Baruth

We’ve always been a bit lukewarm on Nancy Pelosi, but yesterday her voice hit a note that really made VDB’s heart go pitty pat: the Speaker agreed that Big Joe’s comments about Obama have been “totally irresponsible,” and strongly suggested that he will lose his Chairmanship after November. “[Senate Democrats] won’t need him to make the majority,” as she bluntly put it. Damn straight.

big joe

It always leaves us with a warm feeling, finishing a post lambasting Joe Lieberman. But today there’s something more, an odd feeling of recognition, even deja vu somehow.

Oh, right: yesterday’s last post was about a huge airborne dogturd that had everyone running in circles. No wonder all this has a familiar ring this morning.

August 14th, 2008

Huge Errant Swiss Dogturd Puts VDB In Mind Of Current McCain Attack Strategy

by Philip Baruth

What you are looking at below is a picture of something called “Complex Shit,” an inflatable dogturd produced by American artist Paul McCarthy. The house-sized installation was until recently located on the grounds of the Klee Centre in Switzerland, but then it blew away, and crashed into an orphanage. And while critics are still debating the aesthetics of the work, everyone everywhere seems to agree that it is, in fact, a big piece of shit.

Which puts VDB in mind of the McCain campaign of late.

Building on the oddly positive press Johnny Mac received for his “Celebrity” attack ads (Newsweek’s Periscope, for example, gave him a rising arrow for going on offense), McCain’s strategists and supporters have been adopting what we’ll call a “Vanishing Turd” strategy over the last several days.

First, McCain’s people put together an ad with almost no connection to the policy parameters of the race; instead, they construct a web video from the detritus of popular culture or otherwise unremarkable bits of campaign footage, something aimed purely at Obama’s personality or image, an attack ad with a slick, breezy throw-away feel.

This flimsy bit they’ll then lace with just enough controversial material to spark controversy. But then, once the bit has served its purpose, it’s either allowed or made to vanish, perfectly in line with what it has seemed to be all along: a silly ephemeral little piece of campaign crap.

Case in point: the much reviled “Hot Chicks” ad.

In this iteration of the scam, boilerplate tax accusations cover up the spot’s real function, which is to make explicit the idea that “hot women” (all of them white here) dig Obama. And vice versa.

Precisely the sort of thing that kept Harold Ford out of the Senate last cycle: the insinuation that the African American candidate in question may seem to care about your healthcare or your failing mortgage, but in reality he’s after nothing but tail.

White tail, mind.

How to deal with this “strategy” on the part of the McCain campaign? Well, in Switzerland they just waited for the huge airborne turd to crash into an orphanage, and then they carried it away at that point.

Which may work. McCain is skirting a thin line, and his press pals may eventually desert him on this one. Given enough rope, his Rove-trained strategists may eventually hang themselves.

But don’t count on it. Remember: no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the global art world, or the campaign standards of the average American voter.

August 13th, 2008

“You Talking to Me?”: The Wee Small Adventures of a Tiny Little American Man

by Philip Baruth

Announcer: Recently, Commentator Philip Baruth traveled to Sweden to spend some time with his wife’s family there. As always, he felt physically smaller surrounded by the descendents of Vikings. But this time, that feeling of smallness led to some large problems.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #218: The Wee Small Adventures of a Tiny Little American Man

I like to think of myself as someone who can face facts, and the fact is that when I travel to Sweden to visit my wife’s parents, every single person I come into contact with, male or female, is about four feet taller than I am.

I’m a tiny little man in Sweden — a tiny, wee little man who speaks the native language at a pre-school level. I accept those facts, but that sort of realization still does strange things to your head.

For one thing, because I feel so physically inconsequential, I also feel this constant compulsion to prove myself in ways I never would in America.

For instance, if no one can decide whether or not the crayfish from Tuesday are still good to eat on Friday, I’m liable to eat a big heaping plate just to show everyone in that dining room that the diminutive little American visitor can handle his crayfish, spoiled or not.

But it gets weirder. Because I’ve learned over time that this phenomenon occurs when I go to Sweden, I now overcompensate. I start second-guessing myself in almost every situation. To take the crayfish example, as I reach for the plate of Tuesday’s catch, I’ll stop myself half-way, and I’ll ask myself: Am I about to eat these possibly spoiled crustaceons because I’ll enjoy eating them, in some way? Or am I doing it because the police occasionally stop me on the street here, thinking I’m a kid playing hooky from school?

All of this came to a head this last trip, when we decided to take our two girls to an amusement park in Gothenburg called Liseberg.

Unfortunately, in the days leading up to the trip, one of the park rides called the Rainbow had a pretty serious accident, and about 30 people had to go to the hospital. And then, a few days later, another ride at Liseberg malfunctioned, stranding a bunch of people at the top of a huge tower for about two and half hours.

Now in America, Annika and I would talk these developments over, and we’d make a rational decision about whether to skip this amusement park or not. But in Sweden, I’m useless because I can’t tell whether my judgment is being affected by my relative tininess.

First I thought we should cancel the trip; then the next day I told Annika that after these two incidents the park was probably safer than it’s ever been because of all the new focus on safety.

Basically, I went back and forth right up until the moment when we got to the park, and my daughter Gwendolyn wanted to ride a thing called Balder, Liseberg’s all-wooden rollercoaster, which pulls about 4 g’s.

“Can I, Daddy?” Gwendolyn asked.

I froze again. Gwendolyn was looking at me. Annika was looking at me. All of my Swedish relatives were looking down at me.

But that’s when my love for my daughter cut through all the second-guessing somehow, and I thought, even if everyone in the park thinks that I’m small and spineless, never in a million years is my daughter getting on this rickety contraption made out of wood and glue.

The most important consideration of all, I realized, was to make sure that nothing happened to her, partly because I love her more than life itself, and partly because she was the only one in the park shorter than me.

So instead, I personally took her on the Teacups. I don’t know why, really, but for some reason I really enjoy the Teacups when I’m in Sweden. They seem so big and thrilling, somehow.

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

August 10th, 2008

Let The Games Begin: Bush Travels Thousands of Miles to Observe US Athletes

by Philip Baruth

A political blogger likes to think that he or she can add value to any content, make a telling article tell more, make a confusing document dump less so. We like to think that we can make a picture worth not just a thousand words, but a thousand and ten. Maybe even a thousand and twenty.

But these photos of George Bush zeroing in on the glutes of celebrity beach volleyballers must be allowed to speak entirely for themselves. Yes, indeed.

And so we pass them on without comment, except to note that nothing says lame duck like a Presidents Gone Wild photo series, snapped with women in only thongs and sports bras.

Clearly George W. Bush doesn’t much care about what Middle America thinks anymore. Not that he ever did. But now, in late 2008, the pretense is over.

Let the games begin.

August 10th, 2008

Bob Williamson Lights Up Woodstock

by Philip Baruth

Tireless Obama supporter Bob Williamson has put together an absolutely killer event down in Woodstock tonight (Sunday the 10th) at 6pm. Billed as “United for Change,” the pro-Obama bill features Madeleine Kunin, Gaye Symington and Chuck Ross, as well as a cast of thousands.

Place: South Woodstock’s Fire Station (on Route 106, about 6 miles south of Woodstock). If you’re in the area, it’s clearly a must-attend.

August 10th, 2008

Final Thoughts on the Edwards Affair

by Philip Baruth

Back in April of 2007, when the Democratic field still contained three strong candidates, I wrote a long piece about John Edwards. It was called, ironically, “The Piece I Never Wrote About John Edwards.” And in it I talked about seeing Edwards speak at Ira Allen Chapel in 2006, seeing him in person and being oddly underwhelmed.

edwards, in his element

What struck me most at that Vermont appearance was the way that the man talked so fluently and movingly about his concern for his sick wife, while clearly devoting the bulk of his actual schedule to nationwide travel — ostensibly to combat poverty, but clearly with an eye on a second run for the White House.

The key grafs:

And as he described his restless movement across the map of America, I grew more uncomfortable, because he seemed to have no idea that the first picture he had presented of himself — the caring husband of a woman with life-threatening cancer — was at least partially overshadowed, even contradicted by the second — that of a man obsessed with winning the next election, even if that meant little or no down-time between elections.

I didn’t write about the Edwards visit at the time, which was strange; when Barack Obama came, I wrote several long detailed posts about it. I wrote a similar long post about Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. when he passed through Vermont.

But somehow when Edwards left the state, I liked him less than before he arrived. I trusted him less.

john edwards, thinking about how to spank McCain

I got more negative feedback on “The Piece I Never Wrote About John Edwards” than any other post I’ve ever written. Some of it I published on VDB; some of it I stewed over in private.

But it’s fair to say that everyone who complained thought I was selling Edwards short, selling his love for his wife short, selling his wife herself short — and more than a few openly questioned my motives for writing the piece in the first place, implying that because I supported Obama, I was out to assassinate the character of a chief rival.

the way they wereFor all of those folks, let me recommend the illuminating ABC interview Edwards sat down for the other day with Bob Woodruff.

It is an amazing portrait, but the most amazing thing of all is the way it recontextualizes the memories of this past primary campaign.

Looking back, Edwards himself now describes the man I saw in 2006 as deeply narcissistic and untrustworthy.

It’s like the end of The Sixth Sense, when you find out that Bruce Willis has been dead all along, and you’re forced to replay every scene in your mind from an entirely new and chilling perspective.

Of course, Haley Joel Osment knew all along. And in the highly political and dispiriting case of John Edwards, apparantly, so did VDB.

August 8th, 2008

Another (Yawn) Yankee Disaster Photo

by Philip Baruth

Cleaning off my desk, which got piled high while I was away, and came across this photo of the latest Vermont Yankee snafu. Funny thing: there was a time when photographs of water cascading out of broken nuclear components and into the Connecticut River really seemed like breaking news here at VDB. But by now they just seem so, well, common. Almost comforting in their regularity, even. Yeah, that’s it.

August 6th, 2008

VDB’s Readers Come Through Again: Blog Completes Daysie Hat Trick, Picking Up Third Straight Reader’s Choice Award

by Philip Baruth

Seven Days, which managed to keep an impressively hermetic seal on their results this year, just announced the winners of the 2008 Daysie Awards: powered by some of the state’s most loyal readers, VDB won a third Reader’s Choice Award for Best Political Blog. Green Mountain Daily scored the silver in the political category, while Bill Simmon eased Candleblog in for the gold in the Best Non-Political Blog division. Full kudos to both.

Thank you all for voting. Thank you all for reading. Please accept this odd but strangely alluring photo of a woman’s lips as a mark of our affection and deep appreciation.

It’s a little strange, we know, but of course it was either the lips above or Rick Santorum’s family again, and we figured if there was a risk of over-sexualizing on the one hand, and, you know, over-Santorumizing on the other, it was best to go with the lips.

If you see our point.

Oh what the hell, it’s 2008. We can have it all.

santorum and brood

August 6th, 2008

VDB Manages Political Punditry Podcast for PRI’s THE WORLD From Messy Upstairs Bedroom in Isolated Swedish Stuga

by Philip Baruth

One of the delayed fruits of VDB’s time in Sweden: while over there, we did some work with Matthew Bell from PRI’s The World, a radio show bringing together the resources of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH down in Boston.

Bell draws together an excellent weekly podcast of election coverage and commentary, with an emphasis on global perspective. The production values are top notch, in spite of the fact that the whole was recorded on a bad cellphone in a tiny broomcloset of a spare bedroom, in a little stuga just outside Gothenburg.

As an unexpected bonus, Bell himself sounds almost indistinguishable from Monkton’s Neil Jensen.

The VDB segment is a little longish, 13 minutes or more, but it’s all crucial subject matter: Obama’s European Road Trip, the increasing presence of Afghanistan as an issue on the trail, the increasing low-road tenor of the McCain campaign.

Not saying it’s what you want blaring out of the speakers if you happen to be in an M6 BMW convertible tearing toward the beach at 85 MPH.

But if you should happen to find yourself eating a cold Buffalo Chicken Wrap and a bag of stale Tostitos at your desk this afternoon, and you’ve already watched this clip of McCain doddering his way through a softball question down in Florida, maybe you might consider giving it a listen.

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