February 24th, 2011

Sticking It To The Man: VDB Makes Maiden Senate Speech, In Support of Resolution Condemning No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

by Philip Baruth

Spoke for the first time on the Senate floor today, right around the halfway point in the session. The occasion? Introducing and making the argument for a Joint Resolution condemning No Child Left Behind. And the language of that Resolution did not play patty-cake.

One of the key Wherases: “Whereas, many Vermont schools are forced to choose between losing highly qualified and effective principals and teachers or reject substantial funding, due to punitive sanctions for their failure to make adequate yearly progress under NCLB,” and of course there was more but you get the picture.

Was a school board member myself until very recently, and actually had to vote to let one of those very, very highly qualified folks go, or lose $3 million in Federal funds. One of the hardest decisions we made that year, and that principal’s position at Burlington’s Integrated Arts Academy is still unfilled.

Which would seem to, you know, leave children behind.

And that was just one of the reasons that this particular speech felt, in some small and fleeting way, like sticking it to the Man.

This one’s for you, Integrated Arts folk. You go. And for the record, the Joint Resolution passed on a unanimous voice vote. Which leads to the rule of thumb: if you want to sail through your first floor report, either support the flag or condemn No Child Left Behind.

Or ideally both.

February 23rd, 2011

God as Wardrobe Designer: Disgruntled Aide’s MS Reveals Deep Palin Thoughts

by Philip Baruth

Good news for those of us who like stories in which Sarah Palin is revealed to be simultaneously clueless and humorless: a former aide, as you’ve no doubt heard, is shopping a manuscript liberally sprinkled with stolen Palin email. And those quick Palin missives are, as you’d expect, even less grammatically structured than standard Palin-speak. In general they are so very much what you’d expect — condemnations of the press, expressions of loyalty to Fox News — that they don’t offer much in the way of novelty. Hence the disgruntled aide’s troubles peddling the thing.

But the one sweet nugget? Palin dithers over whether to accept a speaking gig at a Conservative forum in D.C. Finally, mid-dither, the organizers give it up, and invite Gingrich. And our Sarah does what she does: she attributes it all to God, who would never let her be stuck on the same stage with such a hack. “Plus,” she adds, “I had nothing to wear, and God knew that too.” What a saint, that God guy.

February 23rd, 2011

Update on Pre-K: Money Committees

by Philip Baruth

For those out there with an eye on S.53, the Education Committee bill lifting the current cap on Pre-K enrollment in the state, a very quick update. In a triumph of anti-climax, the bill passed unanimously out of Education last week, and was moved quickly to Finance, for a look at tax implications; simultaneously, S.53 was taken up by Appropriations to look at the financial impact. Education Committee Chair Kevin Mullin and I testified in both committees yesterday, and it’s fair to say that both were receptive, although clearly seeing the bill through the lens of the Great Recession.

the harvest writers workshop

But as James Carville pointed out, when he visited UVM immediately following 9/11, the Land Grant college system was created during the Civil War. Never let it be said that Americans can’t achieve in the midst of tough times. Yes, Carville later lost all credibility during the run-up to the 2008 primaries, and is now widely recognized as something of a dick.

But he had a point, back in 2001. One good point.

February 18th, 2011

Brave New World: You’re Not Paranoid If They Really Are Inventing Hummingbird Cameras To Watch You In The Shower

by Philip Baruth

VDB has a limited taste for Government surveillance, and even that limited taste is sour, frankly. We don’t like Big Brother looking in the windows, or listening in on the phone, period. We oppose the idea of vans cruising the streets with thermal imagers, looking through your walls for the heat signature of growing marijuana. We oppose the concept of data mining, pretty much in its entirety.


But all of that seems quaint next to the “Nano Hummingbird Drone” that AeroVironment has developed in conjunction with the Pentagon. This cute little bugger can literally land on your windowsill and convey the goings-on in your apartment without any of the muss and fuss of current nine-foot remotely-piloted drones.

We watched this video for about 30 seconds with a sense of wonder and not a little bit of longing: VDB always wanted a remotely piloted helicopter, and this takes the concept to an entirely different level.

Then, at about the 35 second mark, we realized that the inset in the top left of the image was actually the live feed from the hummingbird’s extremely high resolution camera. And suddenly the charm was gone.

Make sure you watch until the pilot causes the bird to hover outside an open factory door, showing the interior in great detail. Because that’s the image that will haunt your dreams. And they should be haunted.

Because this hummingbird will seem very large and very clumsy as a surveillance mechanism in about five years. At which point it’ll be nano drone honey bees.

And flies. The sort that buzz the dinner table on a Saturday night, lazily, for all the world like they have nothing better to do.

Hat tip to VDB wingman Don Shall, for curdling our dreams, tonight and many nights to come.

February 16th, 2011

John Edwards Besmirches Both Americas

by Philip Baruth

As trainwrecks go, the Edwards debacle remains in a class by itself. Not simply entirely self-inflicted, but seemingly deliberately and methodically self-inflicted. The slashing campaign book Game Change made clear the extent of the madness: Edwards was both cutting a sex tape with his very pregnant mistress and attempting to negotiate the Attorney General spot with the Obama campaign, simultaneously. All of this with a terminally ill wife driven nearly insane with rage and jealousy, tearing up the campaign from the inside on a daily basis. Fun stuff.

Millworker father; son of a millworker, below.

But count all of this as prelude: Edwards now looks likely to draw an indictment for encouraging wealthy donors to fund Rielle Hunter’s lavish lifestyle while hiding from the press, in the campaign’s last, dark days. Some of the details of that arrangement are choice, by the way. They show that in the Two Americas, some folks continue to have enough money to pour large gobs of it down the drain, every single day, and then rinse out the sink with more money, without ever missing it.

Case in point: “Reclusive heiress” Bunny Mellon, whom Edwards seems somehow to have charmed out of millions of dollars over the years, and who was the source for about $700,000 of the money used to sequester Hunter. Granted, Bunny is now 100, and in the process of being taped by authorities in the likely event of her death before trial. So maybe she gets a pass, because it’s likely she had no idea what she was funding or what this nice boy from Carolina meant when he talked so earnestly about needing “dollars.”

Still, the concentration of wealth is astounding, and a little sick-making. Especially as the checks were accompanied by little notes, with upbeat messages like “to save the nation.”

Son of a mill worker.

February 15th, 2011

This Week: A Vote On Expanded Pre-K

by Philip Baruth

Two exciting things on the schedule for this week: a vote on abolishing the caps that limit pre-K education statewide in the Senate Education Committee, and I’ve been asked to report the bill and the Committee’s opinion of it on the Senate floor. Which, needless to say, will be a first, and I couldn’t ask for it to come on a more important issue, or one I believe in more strongly. And if I screw it up and children across Vermont are denied early education as a result? Ed Harris said it best: Failure is not an option. Humiliation, yes. Failure, no. Here’s the early frame for the debate, care of the Times Argus, a nice even-handed summary. Game on.

the harvest writers workshop

February 11th, 2011

The View From Purgatory: Cheney Edition

by Philip Baruth

Dick Cheney showed up at CPAC yesterday, to introduce his old comrade in arms, Donald Rumsfeld. In many ways, classic Cheney: crooked smile, tells the crowd to “sit down and shut up” with a smile, knowing that Conservatives will eat up this arrogance with a spoon. And yet, if you watch closely, you’ll see how utterly clueless Cheney is about what’s going on in the room, or in the movement.

A vocal group of Tea Partiers, of the Rand Paul variety, begin shouting as soon as Cheney is introduced, but Cheney takes it all for adulation. Even when the rest of the crowd goes into the defensive “U-S-A” chant, trying to drown out the protesters as they’ve been taught, Cheney doesn’t understand that this room is divided in its attitudes toward him.

Only when someone shouts “War criminal!” at around the 1:25 mark does he tip to the ugliness in that corner of the room.

And then the look on his face is confused, and hunted, and at least briefly hopeless. Because he realizes that even here, even in the bosom of the base that he and W. catered to night and day, even there he remains partially in brackets legacy-wise.

cheney's got a gunIt doesn’t last long, and then Cheney’s back to chuckling and joshing and feigning impenetrability. But for that instant he’s hurt, wounded.

And look, you’ll never hear VDB argue that this is a man who’s clearly in decline, with physical ailments too many to mention, and for that reason we should go easy on him. Screw that noise, as McMurphy liked to tell the Big Nurse. Cheney had had three heart attacks when he chose himself for Vice President, and so in for a dime, in for a dollar.

So we don’t pity him for that reason.

We pity Cheney because in a very real way he’s in purgatory, on his way to Hell, and purgatory is, by definition, impossible to contemplate without a sense of the horror stealing the breath from your lungs.

February 9th, 2011

Free Press Documents VDB Goldbricking

by Philip Baruth

Blogging daily for a period of years does odd things to your psyche: you feel guilt, sometimes nagging and sometimes intense, when you don’t blog. Less than a man, to put it bluntly. So when the Legislative session started in January, and the available time for blogging shrank to the size of an Altoid’s tin, the guilt set in. But maybe no one would notice the fall-off in output, right? Of course, it doesn’t help if the Free Press runs with your failing in a post for VT Buzz.

The Good, the Bad, and the Bloggish

Actually, it’s a nice snippet, pointing out that blogging, like eating, has taken a backseat to family and committee work. Still, back in the ’80s Irene Cara told us we could have it all. Makes you long for the early days of blogging, when it was all about the stories and the sun and the barbeque.

February 4th, 2011

Big Joe Makes VDB’s Dreams Come True

by Philip Baruth

Rarely does such an almost unbearable sense of anticipatory joy pervade VDB headquarters, but then very rarely indeed does one of our favorite people contract to pen one of our absolute favorite sorts of books. But sell VDB’s shoes, because we’re going to heaven:

“Senator Joe Lieberman has inked a book deal with Simon & Schuster’s Howard Books division. Entitled Gift of Rest, the new book will focus on ‘the beauty of the Sabbath observance.’”

And to make it all the sweeter, Big Joe’s ideal readership very much includes “an audience of Christians,” that is, the sort of Christians interested in books about the Sabbath penned by politically toxic also-rans.

One disappointment: there is no chapter on religiously preferable sex practices, with family-friendly photographs of Joe and Hadassah, and “how-to” glossary. Other than that, total win for VDB.

February 3rd, 2011

Federal Government Continues To Sub-Contract All Functions of Conscience and Testicularity To Great State of Vermont

by Philip Baruth

Have been waiting to hear a “Tear Down This Wall” moment from the President, and waiting in vain. And as is usually the case in such cases, the moment does eventually come, but from Vermont. Leahy, speaking on the Mubarek-instigated violence in Egypt:

pat leahy

“Time has run out, and the options that might have been available to President Mubarak three or four years ago are not there now. It is unrealistic to think he can wait until elections in September. It also does not help his position to have people — actually thugs — in the street that appear to be government sponsores . . . . We have a lot of aid in the pipeline now. That pipeline will be turned off.”

Note well: not may be turned off. Will be turned off. End statement.

Which is to say, Republican or Democrat, Presidents tend toward timidity or caution, call it what you will. They don’t tend to speak boldly, and in this case persuasively, if your goal is to relieve Egypt of its longtime dictator.

We continue to look to Vermont for that.