October 31st, 2011

Rick Perry in NH: Live Free and Drink

by Philip Baruth

No doubt you’ve seen this video by now, as it went viral over the weekend, and occupied much of the blogosphere pre-Cain sexual harrassment imbroglio. But if you haven’t, it’s really worth a look. This is Rick Perry, speaking at a fundraiser in New Hampshire, and the flip thing to say after watching the video is that the man is drunk. But after watching it a few times, VDB has to say: he really is drunk. Happy drunk: winking, cutesy, tipsy. If you don’t have eight minutes, watch the stretch from 1:12 to 2:42. Shocking, in its way. Like Bush before he climbed onto the wagon.

October 28th, 2011

Chelsea Clinton May Well Step Up

by Philip Baruth

Best news of the week: Chelsea Clinton considering a run for Congress from Westchester County. Always had a big soft spot for this kid, and she proved she could take and deliver a punch during the 2008 primaries. That’s what VDB loves about the Democratic Party: we’re the Party of the young, and that gives us a perpetually deep bench. You go, Chelsea.

October 28th, 2011

From One Professor To Another, Elizabeth

by Philip Baruth

Don’t get VDB wrong: we’d like to dump Scott Brown and retain the Democratic Senate majority as much as the next snarky Left-of-Center political blog. But is it our imagination or is Elizabeth Warren a tad undisciplined on the stump? Recent case in point: her attempt not simply to support but to take credit for the Occupy Wall Street protests. Said Warren to the Daily Beast, “I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do.”

Let’s say you’re broadly in opposition to OWS — Warren is now the poster child for riots in the street. And if any of the protests result in burned cruisers or smashed shop windows, all bets are off.

Or let’s say you’re broadly in support of OWS — Warren sounds like the worst sort of thunder-stealing politician, claiming at least intellectual ownership from the comfort of her padded studio seat.

And to anyone of any persuasion it has more than a hint of conceit, more than a touch of Gore/Internet. Which of course makes it that much easier for a guy like Scott Brown to give a shucksy smile and win by 4%.

Enough to sour your dreams.

October 25th, 2011

VDB Goes To The Mat In Lawrence Debate Union’s “Did Fogel Earn It?” Smackdown

by Philip Baruth

Over the last six months or so, I’ve been working here and there on the issue of excessive executive compensation at the University of Vermont, as well as the related downsizing and under-compensation of maintenance and staff. And sometimes it can feel like you’re talking to yourself, for all the good it does. So when UVM’s award-winning Lawrence Debate Union asked me to participate in a full-on, bare knuckles formal debate on the topic “Did Fogel Earn It?,” I jumped at the chance. Turned out to be a fantastic exchange. Who ultimately won? VDB reports — you decide.

October 22nd, 2011

Phil Scott, Irene, And Foot In Mouth Tip

by Philip Baruth

Rule of Thumb: When you insult more than half the state via the Associated Press wire, what’s required is a public apology via the same medium. That’s basic politics, and basic manners. And the sooner, of course, the better. Enough said.

For a commentary on Irene in the proper non-partisan spirit, check out this flood-benefit music video by the Barn Band. If the voices sound sort of familiar, it may be because one of the band members is VPR’s Bob Kinzel, who also penned the tune. Photos by the incomparable Jeb Wallace Brodeur. And it all benefits the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund. Now that’s more like it.

October 14th, 2011

Not To Be Outdone By Hotdog Recently Pitched At Tiger Woods, GOP Candidate Ron Paul’s Eyebrow Makes Own Bid For Fame

by Philip Baruth

The only two interesting revelations to come out of the last GOP debate? That Rick Perry really does, like Barack Obama in 2008, seem to be flummoxed by the Primary debate formats. He absolutely cannot seem to succeed head-to-head against Mitt. Revelation the second? Ron Paul apparently wears false eyebrows, or “brow toupees.” It’s like that.

Like the famous Bush “back bulge” photos, this New York Times snap makes it pretty clear for those with eyes to see. Will that prevent Paulistas from claiming that this is actually Paul’s own actual eyebrow seeking to return physically to the Gold Standard? Of course not.

And less power to them. But boy howdee, it’s a tough world to fake it in, what with HD and all the rest of the fancy tricks the kids are into these days.

October 11th, 2011

Vermont Embeds Occupy Wall Street: WKVT’s Mighty Steve West Reports On The Early Shape of “The New Paradigm” (Now With Massive Romney Video Flip-Flop!)

by Philip Baruth

You know it’s on when WKVT’s Steve West packs the flight bag, and heads into the action zone. No video of cracked skulls or pepper-sprayed protesters here: just peaceful folks talking about how the world might conceivably be a better place if 1% didn’t have all the stuff. Take a look.

But not to worry, Steve — after first calling out Occupy Wall Street and its spin-offs as “dangerous” and “class warfare,” and after some attractive polling for OWS ideas, Mitt Romney now feels your pain real good:

October 10th, 2011

How The Mighty Have Fallen (Now With Video Of Random Putz Throwing Hot Dog!)

by Philip Baruth

Not sure if you caught this, but at the Frys.com Open this past weekend, a crazed individual slipped under the ropes and pegged a hotdog at Tiger Woods. Many ironies here, but the deepest? Tiger Woods never would have made the news at all if it weren’t for the weiner-throwing incident. “I was still bent over [reading] my putt. And when I looked up [the hot dog] was already in the air,” said Tiger. Indeed.

The Tournament’s Director of Security added, and we kid you not, “But it wasn’t a chili-dog. It could have been really bad.” This is the life, now, of Tiger Woods. Which leaves the man only one consolation: he’s not John Edwards, and his own wife wasn’t terminally ill with cancer when the various deals went down. So there’s that.

Late Update, Tuesday:

Here’s that video you’ve been dying to see: insane man, hurled dog, disgusted crowd. Is it me, or does this sound suspiciously like the scene in The Truman Show where the random guy pops out of the Christmas package to warn Truman that none of this is real?

October 7th, 2011

The Lost Italian Neighborhood, Epilogue (Now With Hawt New Free Press Update)

by Philip Baruth

For those who don’t know their Burlington history, there was once a thriving Italian neighborhood overlooking the lake, where the Hilton and Marriott and Burlington Square Mall now stand. All of it was consumed by the rush to “urban renewal” in the 1960’s. Those families were displaced, and many moved into the Old North End. I wrote about this in my novel Dream of the White Village, and later for Vermont Public Radio, arguing that the city should erect a memorial to that hijacked neighborhood. And now, a decade later, and thanks to the hard work of the Vermont Italian Club, it’s going to happen: I’ll be one of the speakers at a dedication ceremony on Saturday (tomorrow) for a plaque honoring those displaced families and their neighborhood. Starts at one, across from the Hilton. And here’s that 2001 VPR piece. — PB

Notes From The New Vermont
Commentary #22:
Filene’s Bad Karma

When I was in junior high in Upstate New York, circa 1977, the Pyramid Mall Corporation announced plans to build the area’s first full-scale shopping mall — right smack in the center of a thriving wetland. The Pyramid people expected resistance. What they didn’t expect was unbridled war.

Environmentalists jammed the courts, and when they lost in the courts, they linked arms in front of the bulldozers. My English teacher, a birdlike woman who’d been on the barricades in Berkeley in the late ‘60s, got herself arrested and showed us the pink cuff marks around her tiny wrists, which struck all of us in the ninth grade as pretty intense.

When all was said and done, the mall got built, the wetland got filled, and the birds and wildlife got what they least expected. But six weeks before the grand opening, construction workers came into the Sears store anchoring one of the mall’s four huge arms, and they found that it was ten inches lower than it should be. Sears was sinking.

Within two days, nothing was left of it above water but the roof. The wetland ate it: gummed it slowly and mindlessly for a few months and then, making up its mind, swallowed an entire Sears store, pea-green Kenmore washers and dryers and all.

Having lived through the Pyramid wars, I was prepared when Spielberg’s Poltergeist was released a few years later. In Poltergeist, crooked developers locate a housing tract over an ancient burial ground — and to put it mildly, things happen, including a scene with a clown that I find difficult to discuss, even now.

So I came out of those years a firm believer in the ability of the wrongfully displaced to reassert themselves, the ability of the evicted and the repressed to return. It’s a karmic idea, that the sins of developers can be visited on their newborn buildings, and it’s certainly not a new one. But it comes to mind every time I strap my daughter into her elaborate Scandinavian sling and walk down Battery Street to Cherry, where Burlington’s new Filene’s Department Store stands about half-finished.

Because Filene’s now occupies the space that was once a thriving Italian neighborhood in the 1960’s, before developers and pliable city officials decided that it would be best for everyone if the entire neighborhood were condemned and bulldozed to make way for more promotional tenants, including the Radisson and the Burlington Square Mall.

Bluntly put, that land — some of the most desirable commercial land in Burlington, in the entire state, in fact — was taken by legalized force from the people who lived and worked and raised families there. In the name of 1960’s urban renewal, an entire community was disappeared.

Granted, it’s been upwards of thirty years since bulldozers removed every trace of what I call the Lost Italian Neighborhood. And granted, cities grow by sloughing off their scales on a regular basis. But there is a fundamental difference between replacing tenants and buildings, and displacing them, and the difference is a moral one.

So what’s to be done? Filene’s also represents the latest and best hope for keeping the Burlington’s Church Street downtown area vibrant, competitive with suburban sprawl. In almost every way it is a good thing, a powerfully good thing, for the city.

Arthur Miller put it best in Death of a Salesman: “Attention must be paid.”

When Filene’s opens, there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the Mayor will have a few words to say. There will be music, and no doubt some wealthy people will be offered champagne, a selection of cheeses, and a preview of the merchandise. Somewhere in the fanfare, attention should be paid, mention should be made of the many lives that were moved to one side. Some respect should be shown, that’s all I’m saying, and that’s not a great deal. But the truth is that people and things not laid properly to rest have no choice but to walk.

My daughter can’t talk yet, but when I wander with her in her belly sling down past the Filene’s site, she looks at the strange, almost Egyptian facade and then she cranes her head around to look at me, and I can tell what she’s thinking: “They’re he-e-e-re.”

Late Update, Sunday, 5:29 pm:

A truly wonderful event yesterday: killer weather, a big crowd of big-hearted Italian-American Burlingtonians, and homemade meatballs. Joel Baird at the Freeps captured the nuances, if you’re interested. Abbondanza.

October 7th, 2011

You Know How This Works, Right?

by Philip Baruth

Perry has now contained the damage from the “Hunting Camp” scandal, by stating categorically that the offensive name of the property was painted over in 1984, this in spite of witnesses who claim to have seen the word “Niggerhead” in plain sight as recently as a few years ago. So how long until a picture surfaces of Perry and a bunch of smiling good old boys lounging beside an unpainted-over rock, guns on their shoulders, just about to climb into their 2003 Cadillac Escalade? And how long after that before we find that rather than hurt Perry in the GOP primaries, the flap steadies his wobbly anti-Romney trajectory? Read Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland for the answer: not long, baby, not long.