July 28th, 2012

“Long Race”: The Lost 2010 Campaign Film

by Philip Baruth

Back in 2010, friend and filmmaker Bill Simmon made for me the most wonderful campaign film ever made, drawing on about a year of footage shot both by Simmon and videographer Matt Goudy. Like most films in its genre, “Long Race” can’t help but feel dated in spots — it was produced to speak sharply to a certain highly specific political moment. With that said, it’s still a gorgeous piece of work, lovingly crafted, and it still has a whole lot to say about the current State Senate re-election campaign. Just watched it now, and then called my Mom to tell her again that she’s brilliant. Enjoy.

July 24th, 2012

SEVENTH ANNUAL SUMMIT SHINES: Annual Hamburg Event Breaks New Ground, Becoming Real-Time Epicenter of The Weekend’s Political Earthquake

by Philip Baruth

It began as most Summits do: weather preternaturally sunny and mild, a small regatta of milk-white boats bobbing at the surfline. GMDers Odum and Sue Prent joined VDB for the first phase (Taking The Beach) at 9 am; table and prime spot beneath the Tree of Wisdom secured, we moved to phase two (Hunting And Gathering), and arrived back from the store at just 11:30. We unloaded the vast stores of food and drink, and prepared the grounds according to the ancient rituals. And very soon the political campaigns and the fixers began to pour in, all flying their election-year colors.

We lit the grill, and began to cook the meat as our ancestors did: slowly, over an open flame, can of Labatt’s close to hand. Well, you know, not that our ancestors drank Labatt’s. They were probably into their own super-local micro-brews.

But still, the traditions are potent, and they were observed.

And given that it’s a Presidential year, and we have one or two hotly contested primaries, there was a good deal of fat to chew: why, exactly, does Mitt Romney take a $77,000 tax deduction for his wife’s dressage horse, and when, precisely, will we be able to have a serious discussion about reviving the ban on assault weapons, if only here in the great and peaceful state of Vermont?

At first glance, it seemed like the same demographic as all the other Summits: bloggers, journalists, politicos, readers, junkies, and slightly unsettling guys who wander in from the far corners of the beach when word gets out there’s free beer. Case in point below:

But then about 30 minutes into the day, a strange thing happened. Folks began to drift in from the State Democratic Committee meeting, which had just wrapped up in Montpelier, and they were bringing with them very late-breaking, very interesting political news: Attorney General Bill Sorrell had failed to secure enough votes for an endorsement, leaving his primary opponent TJ Donovan as the only candidate endorsed by the Party.

And given that at least three or four of those Committee folks had come straight to the BBQ — where they were joined by Donovan himself — it was only logical that the reporters chasing the bigger story would wander down to the beach, and pull up a burger themselves.

Before anyone knew it, the scene suddenly looked more like the entryway of the Statehouse than the shadiest corner of North Beach: TJ was answering Terri Hallenbeck’s questions, and doing his best not to make too much of the windfall that had just fallen into his lap; GMD blogger Caoimhin Laochdha was roughing out a chin-puller for the front page and uploading it from the picnic table; fellow GMDer Euen Bear was doing a stand-up with Channel 5 at the edge of the sand; and the rest of us were trying to wrap our minds around the various local and statewide ramifications of the event.

It was an intriguing moment, with the feel of a micro-watershed: something in the physics of the Vermont political landscape had just given way, but no could be certain precisely what. But we subjected it to the standard ruthless process by which men and women in dorky t-shirts chew up political news, drain it of its nutrients and juices, and spit out the husks.

TJ was clearly the favorite at the event, partially because he has a history of attendance. In fact the first Hamburger Summit coincided with Donovan’s first hotly contested primary, in 2006, for Chittenden County State’s Attorney. So his political career and the Summit have come to maturity simultaneously.

But Sorrell was not without supporters, and the discussion rose and fell, as it should in a democracy.

It was a first, in its way, the first time the Summit had itself become the locus of breaking news, and for a while the hub-bub dominated the day’s festivities. Will the Sorrell non-endorsement eventually be remembered as the biggest story of the primary season? Probably not. But it had a certain heft, and we were glad to have had it visited upon us by the Gods of July.

God forbid political junkies should have nothing to discuss.

But finally the hot tide of news rolled back, and the breeze continued to pour through the Tree of Wisdom, and everyone forgot the tetchiness of primary season, and just gave thanks for the length and shape and quality of the summer afternoon.

As always, thanks to those who created the day, and to those who archived it for future generations: VDB photographer Yusef (photo #7 above, far right), and longtime reader Don (photo #1, smudging VDB’s smoking hot minivan with his beach shorts). The Hamburger Summit is an event that depends upon the kindness of strangers, but even more than that, on the endless and illogical generosity of friends.

Deep thanks to all in both categories.

July 20th, 2012

MORE Frequently Backassward Questions About This Saturday’s Hamburger Summit: Your Shakespeare & Surveillance Edition

by Philip Baruth

The Obama campaign has recently relaunched their Truth Team website, designed to fight disinformation about the candidate, a sign that they’re prepared for a late onslaught by GOP Superpacs. Similarly, we here at VDB have developed a War Room focused exclusively on turning back the wave of disinformation and scurrilous rumor related to the Seventh Annual Political BBQ & Hamburger Summit, on Burlington’s North Beach.

The Sign

And it is in that fighting spirit that we offer these Frequently Backassward Questions. But first mark your calendars again: Saturday, July 21, 1-5 pm, North Beach in Burlington. Which is, yes, tomorrow. Click here for obligatory

Q: I know I shouldn’t be paranoid, but the Bush years made me sort of skittish. Will I be watched or even photographed as I park my car, or have my cell-phone communications from the beach monitored and/or recorded? And I have a follow-up: if I am photographed, will the telephoto lens used by the military photographer make my ass appear to be bigger than normal?

A: Yes, and yes, absolutely. In 2003, the Pentagon fielded a clandestine domestic intelligence gathering operation known as TALON, a program now officially shuttered. TALON — which stood for Threat and Local Observation Notices — was operated under the direction of the Counterintelligence Field Activity, itself established in September 2002 by then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz.

Ostensibly, TALON was tasked with tracking the terrorist activity of sleeper cells within the US, but quickly the sub-agency became a means of tracking general domestic dissent: anti-war groups, Leftist organizations, and Quaker meetings all came under scrutiny.


The Pentagon publicly disbanded TALON in April of 2007, but a tiny four-man unit continues to operate from a small industrial park in Northern Virginia, tasked solely with monitoring the Hamburger Summit. And the covert military photographers in question are partial to two high-end image-stabilized telephoto lenses, the EF 200mm f/2L IS USM and the EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM. Either will make your ass look huge.

Or simply “uge,” in the case of Bernie Sanders supporters.

Q: Okay, maybe my question will just sort of cut to the chase. Does it ever get, you know, weird on the beach? And I think you know what I’m trying to say here.

A: In a word, yes.

everybody uses sunblock

Q: What should I bring?

A: Nothing, or anything. We’ll supply meat, buns, chips, and drinks. If you want to bring a salad or a dessert or some peanut noodles, by all means knock yourself out.

makin' patties

Q: Someone told me that there were some unsavory types who made the scene last year. Some people who, you know, if they hit you it kills your whole family. Will there be any of those sort of hard guys there, and any danger of a RICO prosecution at some later point?

yusef, and don

A: Fuggedaboutit.

Q: In Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act IV, the King’s army is in despair because they are badly outnumbered by the French. But Henry insists before his soldiers that they are lucky to be so few, in that the glory will be divided up among fewer warriors. I quote:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhood cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

My question is this: will political junkies who miss this year’s BBQ eventually hold their “manhoods” cheap? Will attending really “gentle my condition”? And what’s a “manhood,” exactly?

A: Respectively, the answers are yes, yes, and ask Odum.


July 14th, 2012

Frequently BackAssward Questions About the Hamburger Summit: Ryan Test Edition

by Philip Baruth

Dear VDB:

Longtime reader, first-time back-assward questioner here. What exactly is the “Ryan test,” and also why is it typically referred to on VDB as the “dreaded” or the “infamous” Ryan Test? Is this J.D. physically overpowering or something, and if not, how does he “test” everyone? Does it have anything to do with LSD, like the famous Acid Tests? I want to come to a Summit, but am not sure that I want to be, you know, “tested.”

Thanks for clearing this up,

Questioning in South Burlington

Dear Questioning:

You’ve really got it all wrong. The Ryan Test is a phenomenon — still more or less unexplained — that first came to light in 2006, at the inaugural Hamburger Summit. It has nothing to do with drugs or violence. The short version is this: at that event, a particularly discerning blogger named J.D. Ryan engaged in a particularly involved discussion with then-Congressional candidate Peter Welch.

Given J.D.’s reputation for straight talk and his nose for even the most refined political bullshit, those in attendance began to search Ryan’s face — as the conversation continued — for signs as to Welch’s general electoral viability.

JD and Peter
File Photo: Welch faces Ryan Test, 2006 BBQ

The ultimate consensus was that Welch had “passed,” and those of us who were watching carefully read Ryan’s expression as signifying not just a win for Welch but a big win, somewhere between 7 and 10 percentage points over Republican Martha Rainville.

On Election Night, Welch in fact cruised with 9 percent, and the Ryan legend was born.

At subsequent Summits, Ryan has continued to prove himself eerily accurate as an electoral bellwether. In 2008, for example, Ryan was approached by Anthony Pollina, who at the time seemed like a solid contender against Jim Douglas. But the consensus — again, in real time, among those present and watching J.D.’s expressions — was that Pollina would somehow fall short of the Governor’s office.

the crowd, huddled
File Photo: Pollina faces Ryan Test, 2008 BBQ

But here’s the interesting part of the Pollina story.

Later analysis of the photographic evidence led VDB-researchers to a subsidiary conclusion: J.D.’s expression in the Pollina photo signified a 2008 loss in the gubernatorial race, but a later win somewhere down the line. And when Pollina was handily elected to the Vermont Senate in November of 2010, both Ryan and VDB’s research arm were vindicated.

Has Ryan ever forecast a win below the Congressional and above the State Senate levels? That is, has he ever nailed the Governor’s race? Absolutely. Take a careful look at this photograph from last year’s Hamburger Summit, circa July 2010:

Note the way that Peter Shumlin — only one of a number of gubernatorial candidates in attendance — doesn’t shy from the Test. Shumlin had been well-prepped, and clearly knew that for all the hands he might shake that day, one mattered more than the others. One would determine nearly everything. And Shumlin stepped up, and brought it.

If you’ll look closely at J.D.’s eyes, you’ll see it all reflected there: the extremely narrow primary victory, the Dubie campaign’s scorched earth tactics, the ultimate twilight of the Douglas era and the rise of Governor Shumlin. It’s a humbling experience, seeing the political future pass across the sometimes bearded, sometimes clean-shaven face of one humble blogger. Like seeing the Virgin Mary in a piece of French Toast, or Elvis in your sunnyside eggs at the Memphis airport.

Will the Test take place this year? Without a doubt.

Does VDB have any inkling as to who or whom will be so tested? Not the slightest. But suffice it to say that the crowd will be generously leavened with future Mayors and Treasurers and Lieutenant Governors, and any one of them may well find themselves on the receiving end of J.D’s only seemingly confused stare.

And it will be a sight to see. Guaranteed. So be there: Saturday July 21st, 1-5 pm, North Beach, Burlington. And there’s free beer, so you have that going for you.

Which is nice.

July 13th, 2012

We’re Up Against a Monday Deadline, Folks

by Philip Baruth

You’re against corporate personhood and the money that underlies it; VDB is against corporate personhood and the money that underlies it. And in 2010 we went further than simple opposition — we ran for the State Senate with no corporate funds, and a record number of small-donor contributions. And once seated, we pushed every campaign finance and anti-Citizens United bill and amendment we could get our hands on. Not to mention decriminalization, migrant worker rights, death with dignity. You know, the tough stuff.

Amazingly, it’s already re-election time, and our first fundraising deadline is coming up fast, this coming Monday. And there are still funds to raise. So if you can help us reach our goal before the Monday deadline, and strike a small but sharp blow for the rights of natural persons, God bless you.

It’s fast and reliable, and the folks who run it are powering fine progressive politicians around the country. Good people.

Thanks in advance, if you can see your way clear to helping us out.