June 30th, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: One-Time WCAX Pollster, Longtime DailyKos Standard, Disavowed As Fraudulent; Question Now Begged, Whither Polling In Vermont?

by Philip Baruth

Some fairly heavy news just broke: DailyKos is disavowing their standard polling outfit, Research 2000, as a result of an investigation conducted by several outside researchers, an investigation which determined that the firm’s conclusions could only have relied on fabricated data.

Markos, while clearly in damage control mode, makes it clear that he’s thought through the implications and is more than ready to let the chips fall where they may.

Preferably on the heads of those running Research 2000.

A shock wave, given that I and millions of others relied on the DK/Research 2000 tracking poll through the last election cycle. As a blogger myself, I took a small but measurable bit of pride in the idea that a national left-wing blog had reached the point where it could field polls where they were needed, for all the world like the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times.

But here’s the deeper shocker. In pointing out that DailyKos wasn’t the only outfit duped by Research 2000, Markos notes the firm’s reputation for veracity and accuracy:

“I want to feel stupid for being defrauded, but fact is Research 2000 had a good reputation in political circles. Among its clients the last two years have been KCCI-TV in Iowa, WCAX-TV in Vermont, WISC-TV in Wisconsin, WKYT-TV in Kentucky, Lee Enterprises, the Concord Monitor, The Florida Times-Union, WSBT-TV/WISH-TV/WANE-TV in Indiana, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Bergen Record, and the Reno Gazette-Journal.

That’s right: WCAX, right here at home.

Now, couple of things: WCAX does not rely exclusively on Research 2000, and their association with the firm was never as tight as was the relationship at Daily Kos. Still, WCAX will be obliged to note the problem, and announce it to their viewers.

But to my mind, it raises a further question, and one more pressing in the current cycle. Thus far, Rasmussen polling has utterly dominated the news in the 2010 six-way gubernatorial race. Sure, the news accounts have qualified Rasmussen’s Right-leaning results by noting the thoroughgoing skepticism with which the firm is viewed on the Left.

But frankly, that’s just not good enough.

Rasmussen’s polls have allowed Brian Dubie to claim frontrunner status for the last six months or better. No single sentence disclaiming their well-documented tilt to the Right can match the import of a winner’s headline.

Especially a headline repeated at regular intervals.

So in the wake of this Research 2000 story, which is only now breaking in Vermont, I think it’s fair for the larger state media outlets, which have been having great fun sniping at the candidates and their gaffes and stretches and foibles, most especially in the gubernatorial race, to ask themselves some genuine, deep and searching questions regarding the nature of polling in a state the size of ours.

Fair is fair, folks.

As a candidate this cycle, I’ve taken my share of probing and ribbing in the media, but it’s been nothing compared to what the Democrats running for Governor have taken, and all five of them have kept smiling. Dubie, pumped up by Rasmussen’s questionable numbers, has stiffed both the press and voters interested in debate, yet the press has more or less allowed Dubie to do so because, in a strangely circular logic, that’s what Dubie does.

But turnabout is fair play.

This story is the mainstream media’s own moment of transparency and full disclosure, journalism’s own test of vision and honesty and fire in the belly. Will the Research 2000 melt-down lead to a reassessment of polling in the state? Will Rasmussen continue to write the cycle’s gubernatorial narrative almost single-handedly?

Tough to say at this point. But one thing is clear: if nothing comes of this revelation, and polling in Vermont maintains its current flabby, know-nothing quality, the voters won’t get a say in the matter come August, or November.

Just doesn’t work that way.

June 21st, 2010

Senate Update: On To The General (Now With Emily Litella “Never Mind” Update!)

by Philip Baruth

A quick update, for those of you who don’t follow the news out of the Secretary of State’s office quite as religiously as VDB: this past Thursday at 5 pm, the window for this election cycle closed, and the field for the 2010 State Senate race is now set.

The upshot for our campaign? Only six Democrats filed for six spots on the November ballot, meaning that the August 24 primary is now more or less pro forma, with all six candidates moving automatically to the general election.

How psyched are we? Pretty psyched.

Primaries have their value, and they give Party faithful a much stronger hand, which is fitting, given that the faithful nearly always provide the winning margin. But it’s a lot tougher to run a marathon if you have to sprint twice before you’re finished, rather than once, in the home stretch.

So a brief moment to give thanks, to the political fates and to all of you who have been helping us raise this barn now for well over a year. It doesn’t get any easier from here on out, but it gets lots more interesting.

Lots more. Stay tuned. And thanks again.

Late Emily Litella Update:

Apparently the Secretary of State is inclined to allow a late filer onto the primary ballot, which would pretty much rewrite the jubilant state of affairs outlined above.

Never mind.

June 15th, 2010

Shots From The Trail: Essex Edition

by Philip Baruth

We all carry our previous incarnations around inside us, no matter who we happen to be today. That’s why Tom Delay will always feel at home in a bug exterminator’s office, or out spraying a dank rooming-house basement with pesticide. That’s why no matter what higher office she does or doesn’t attain, no matter which term of office she does or doesn’t finish, Sarah Palin will always be able to relax in an open helicopter, with a pack of timber wolves fleeing below.

For my part, I love a bookstore, and always will. Logged a lot of hours in bookstores, browsing, buying, and reading to small groups of people who had nothing better to do. So doing a candidate event in-store made immediate, intuitive sense. And old friend Mike DeSanto (below, right) was generous enough to open up Phoenix Books in Essex to the campaign, and a nicer independent bookstore you will not find in the County. Best selection of Vermont authors going.

It was one of those groups that know the issues, know the candidates, know the ropes, and want to talk about how, knowing the ropes, we can avoid being strangled by them.

How do you enhance bike travel in a road-mad 21st-century American culture? How can train travel be rendered economically viable, and built in such a way as to enhance, rather than destroy, Vermont’s traditional small villages?

Best part? The question-and-answer session became a real discussion, with one questioner addressing another, rather than just letting a good issue die after an initial response. All of it, of course, themed around bringing Vermont not just into the 21st century on broadband, wind, education and health care, but into the version of the 21st century we choose to inhabit.

Thanks again, Essex. Your hospitality is much appreciated, as always.

June 9th, 2010

Hot Time This Saturday Night in Essex

by Philip Baruth

Scratch the surface of this campaign, and you’ll find it powered by diehard word people: writers, activists, librarians, crossword puzzle junkies. And of course, booksellers. We more or less kicked off the campaign last summer at the Flying Pig in Shelburne. And now that things are heating up, we’re taking it to the streets of Essex and one of the state’s finest independent bookstores, Phoenix Books.

Owner Mike DeSanto and I go way back, and he’ll be hosting a meet-the-candidate event this Saturday night, the 12th, at 7 pm. He promises snacks. And if you should happen to come and say hello and hear my spiel and have a glass of wine and leave with a hot new bestseller by a Vermont author, who loses? Hope to see you there.

June 6th, 2010

The Douglas Legacy on Yankee Clean-Up

by Philip Baruth

As Jim Douglas prepares to leave office, it’s good to remember one key fact about his gubernatorial legacy: the Governor twice vetoed decommissioning bills that would have done a good deal to make sure that Entergy foots the bill for the eventual clean-up of Yankee Nuclear down in Vernon. Now, to be clear, neither of these two bills in question were strong pieces of legislation, and the second was weaker than the first. But both required Entergy to show the financial wherewithall for clean-up. And both passed the House and the Senate.

vermont yankee

Only Jim Douglas prevented them from acquiring the force of law. And it’s worth asking, now that the Douglas legacy is beginning to come slowly into focus: to what end?

Yes, sure, Douglas attached a statement to each veto saying that it was designed to shield Vermonters from higher electricity rates. But that was always a disingenuous explanation at best: the bills only called for Entergy to put together a series of financial instruments that would demonstrate their ability to manage the clean-up. That is, the energy giant had to show a line of credit, not a pile of cash. No reason why that would cause rates to spike, or at least no good reason why that would cause rates to spike.

But Douglas twice used that standard excuse, as he did in every instance involving any issue related to Yankee, to fig-leaf what were actually very troubling decisions. Douglas now leaves office without a decommissioning bill in place, and that was clearly his long-term goal.

But again, to what end?

The country is rivetted now on the BP spill, and why not: it’s spectacular and horrifying and there’s a live video feed straight from a mile beneath the ocean. Robots are running massive hydraulic equipment, and pelicans are dying in the surf. It’s reality television minus the scripting.

But it’s good to remember that even though it’s not happening at the same breakneck speed, Vermont Yankee is slowly, over time, becoming a profound environmental hazard in its own right. That’s written into the equation with a nuclear plant, that the plant itself will eventually need to be disposed of as highly deadly toxic waste. And of course in the case of Yankee, you have all of the additional collateral damage: the leaking radioactive piping, the tritium and strontium plumes, the fish now testing positive in the Connecticut River.

Imagine that Governor Bobby Jindal decided to veto a bill mandating that BP pay for the clean-up of his state’s beaches and marsh land. And then imagine that Jindal vetoed a second bill the following year, and claimed he was doing so to protect the people of his state from higher prices at the pump.

Unimaginable of course.

But the paired Douglas vetoes on decommissioning are equally upsetting and unimaginable, if you wrap your mind around the time-lapse nature of the disaster unfolding at Vermont Yankee. That plant is a profound danger to Vermont’s people and its environment, and it will without a shadow of a doubt result in a toxic clean-up currently estimated at somewhere around $1.5 billion.

In the absence of a decommissioning bill, Vermonters are most likely on the hook for a good portion of that staggering expense. That is the Douglas legacy on decommissioning. And Brian Dubie should need to answer, as have all the Democratic candidates for Governor many times over, what he plans to do to protect Vermonters from the crippling liability Jim Douglas insisted time and again that they bear.

June 2nd, 2010

Maybe The Sweetest Deal Of The Day (Now With The Eagle Has Landed #1000 Update!)

by Philip Baruth

Okay, here’s the thing. We’re at 990 supporters on the and that means we need 10 more to be completely happy on a day like today. On the other hand, it’s summer, and that means you need beach reading material to be completely happy on a day like today. So, the deal: hook up 4 or 5 new supporters for us by 5 pm, drop a line at with your address, and we’ll send you a signed copy of The Brothers Boswell, just out in paperback. Oh, and a free copy for whoever turns out to be #1000 too. Love it when a plan comes together.

Eagle Has Landed Late Update, Thursday, 2:43 pm:

We crossed the four-digit mark this morning, thanks to one Sarah Lyons of Burlington, who will be shipped a copy of The Brothers Boswell whether she wants one or not. Thanks to everyone who has made this Facebook page a success over the past year, but most notably Selene Colburn, social media visionary, who conceived the page, the strategy, and who has probably personally recruited half the people on it.

That’s vision. That’s dedication.

And of course that’s another way to increase the amount of time Facebook sucks from your life. But such are the times in which we live. Thanks again, Sarah and Selene.