October 5th, 2007

BREAKING: Craig Cannot Plead Unguilty

by Philip Baruth

In perhaps the cruelest blow of all, a Hennepin County judge in Minnesota has ruled that GOP Senator Larry Craig cannot withdraw his guilty plea, filed in relation to charges of disorderly conduct.

Craig in boa

In related news, the judge also ruled that Craig’s toe could not be untapped, nor the GOP’s chances of regaining their Congressional majorities unscrewed.

Unfilm not at eleven.

October 4th, 2007

Thompson Admits Candidacy Baseless

by Philip Baruth

Very occasionally, you pick up the newspaper and you read where a political candidate has, for whatever reason, spoken a horrible, brutal truth. They have thrown off artiface entirely, and said something genuine. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, there’s an almost surreal tinge to it.

thompson as superman

In this case, it was Fred Thompson, bored actor turned reluctant Presidential candidate. When asked about the slow start to his campaign by the Times, Thompson bridled, blaming the negative coverage of his launch on a punditocracy deeply invested in the long campaign.

His own stealth campaign, he argued, had offended their writerly sensibilities.

But somewhere on the way to this self-serving explanation, Thompson lost his bearings, and spoke truth:

“Some may be vested in the notion that you can’t get in this late, that I’m trying to just say, ‘Well, they’ve seen me on “Law & Order” and that will carry me to the presidency.’ They just don’t think that is right.”

Please, read that quote again, because it’s breathtaking. Even more breathtaking is that Thompson doesn’t seem to know it’s breathtaking. It genuinely puzzles him that the media “just don’t think that is right.”

Ronald Reagan, all right, just not quite as brainy.

October 3rd, 2007

SANTORUM ALERT: Rick Santorum To Drag His Entire Frightening Brood Back Into The Limelight; This Is Not a Drill, People

by Philip Baruth

Before we begin our discussion of Rick Santorum’s impromptu gubernatorial trial balloon, let’s just take a minute to refresh our memories of Rick and his wholesome Pennsylvania family. Note the wild mood swings, the cross-draped girls, clutching strange matching dolls, and of course the Manchurian son.

santorum and brood

Now look at the photo once more, closely. See that distant star-struck look in Santorum’s eye? That’s the look of a man with a political jones no single ass-beating — no matter how public and severe — will ever cure.

Which leaves us with today’s news: yes, Rick Santorum looks to be awkwardly shouldering his way toward the GOP nomination for Governor in 2010. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is term-limited, leaving an open shot for someone with the right amount of chutzpah.

Let’s face it: no one out-chutzpahs Santorum. That 18% loss to Bob Casey, Jr. last November? Forget about it. Santorum will run, evangelical dollars will flow, and the attack ads will commence almost instantly.

And that means battle stations here at VDB. We’re not going to wait while storm clouds gather. Consider this a pre-emptive strike. And consider this new battle against Santorum the most important struggle of our generation.

If we waver in this struggle, Santorum will become Governor of Pennsylvania, and revive his stalled Presidential dreams. And of course, he may breed again.

Not on VDB’s watch. We swear it. Stay tuned.

October 1st, 2007

Breaking Shamelessness: Entergy Attempts to Institutionalize Yankee Bamboozlement

by Philip Baruth

Last week we brought you a fairly comprehensive round-up of Entergy’s recent attempts to convert disturbing facts on the ground into vague and comforting euphemism.

If only we’d waited a week.

vermont yankee

Today’s Times Argus reports that Entergy is now insisting that Yankee’s spectacular cooling tower collapse and related cooling system issues be taken off the table when the NRC considers relicensing in 2012.

“In a brief letter and engineering report dated Thursday sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Entergy Nuclear said that because the cooling towers are not strictly considered ’safety’ equipment at the nuclear reactor, they are outside the scope of federal review and should continue to be so.”

In other words, not only will Entergy continue to wage its campaign of linguistic bamboozlement against an increasingly skeptical public, it now wants that sort of bamboozlement to structure the federal safety review itself.

not so cool

To put it as bluntly as possible, Entergy wants the above image, the damage it depicts, and the neglect it suggests all barred from federal regulators.

But of course, it is 2007, and Entergy must now reckon with that pesky series of tubes, the Internets. This image isn’t going away, boys.

Depend on that above all else.

October 1st, 2007

The Things People Say Before An Election

by Philip Baruth

Bill Clinton, speaking on This Week about whether the ex-President would hold out for an office in the West Wing should his wife become President: “I’ll have an office wherever I’m given one. If they want to give it to me in the basement of the White House, I’ll be happy.”

bill, hill

If you believe that, then VDB has some spam concerning sub-prime mortgages and penis enlargement that we’d like to forward you.

The beauty part is that it’s George Stephanopoulos on the receiving end of this malarkey. Stephanopoulos was Clinton’s right-hand man from New Hampshire on into the White House, and he was also, not incidentally, the man who dubbed Clinton’s primal rages “the Wave.”

And yet, rather than bust a gut laughing, Stephanopoulos nods and moves on. Now that’s professionalism, people.

September 28th, 2007

All The Larry Craig News That’s Fit to Print

by Philip Baruth

There are many beautiful aspects to the Larry Craig saga, but more than anything we love it because it just keeps on giving. Not since OJ marched out to find Nicole’s real killer has America witnessed anything like Craig’s legal fight to right the wrongs done him in that Minneapolis bathroom.

Craig in boa

But to cut to the chase: Craig’s bid to overturn his guilty plea for Way Disorderly Conduct seems to be headed nowhere fast.

Hennepin County District Judge Charles Porter Jr. did everything but spin his index finger next to his temple in the universal “crazy sign” when Craig’s lawyer rolled out his case yesterday.

But that wasn’t the beauty part. No, the best action was out in the parking lot, among the protestors.

Those would be the pro-Craig protestors. From the Star-Tribune:

A couple of pro-Craig demonstrators came in costume and carried signs. One read: “Fight terrorists, not toe-tappers” and “Next time pee, don’t plea.”

Jason Gabbert, of Apple Valley, was dressed as an airport police officer. Anthony Wright attempted to dress as Craig. They said they brought toilets for a full-on demonstration, but were told to put them away by security officers. The two say they are political centrists, but Gabbert said Craig “shouldn’t have been arrested. There was no evidence to make an arrest.”

Now, that took courage. Almost like the civil rights protests of the early 60’s, except that Gabbert and Wright took off from work, rented toilets, and fought for an aging Senator’s right to frottage. [Cue up “We Shall Overcome”]

Craig, Wolfie

Senator Craig, center, outlines his vision for a Really, Really New American Century to a sympathetic Paul Wolfowitz, right.

It’s all good with this story, and it’s a bit gooder every day. And the best of all is taking a look at the totality of Craig’s output in the Senate, in light of recent events. It gives most of his statements a whole new dimension: width.

Here is Craig, speaking on the floor of the Senate in 1993, about whether the Ethics Committee should be empowered to issue subpoenas:

“We have argued for over two centuries, and very exclusively, that the right of the Member to serve rests only with the citizens he serves or she serves and not with this body.”

Amen, Larry. Although we would imagine that at this point, your constituents back in Idaho would rather not have the right of the Member resting quite so closely.

If you know what we mean.

September 26th, 2007

New Yankee Speak

by Philip Baruth

Announcer: While the collapse of a water cooling tower at Vermont Yankee last month produced riveting news images, commentator Philip Baruth has been far more interested in the language arising from the event.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #204: New Yankee Speak

vermont yankee

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been a big collector of political euphemisms and deliberately indirect language. Part of that interest was touched off by the discussion of Newspeak in Orwell’s 1984, but another part had to do with the high stakes of the game itself.

Unlike cross-word puzzles or Boggle, the euphemism game can have millions, even billions of losers.

But lately, I’ve become fascinated by another distant offshoot of political euphemism: the reflexive euphemism used by the nuclear industry to contain public relations damage when a power-plant malfunctions.

Linguistic case in point: our own Vermont Yankee, and the way its various recent slow-downs and break-downs have been carefully un-described.

On August 21, a 50-foot cooling tower at the Vernon facility collapsed in a heap of splintered wood and metal piping. Pictures taken at the site of the accident show a broken pipe some 6 feet in diameter spewing thousands of gallons of uncooled water.

But when the first examination of the site attributed the collapse to “sagging and deformed wood” — and even when a state investigation later found not just “wood rot” but “iron rot” — Entergy Corporation insisted that the event was “not safety-related.”

not so cool

Then, a week later, Yankee experienced an emergency shut-down — something known inside the industry as a “scram” or “scramble” — due to a large valve that had gone inexplicably unlubricated.

This alarming event Entergy managed publicly to refer to as “Safe Shutdown Mode.”

Now, by stressing that the tower collapse was “not safety-related,” Entergy obviously meant to convey that the event would have no effect on the nuclear core at the plant. But it seems just as obvious to me that they also sought to mask the incident’s disturbing implications with a one-size-fits-all bit of reassurance.

If your mechanic told you that your 35-year-old Chevy just lost a chunk of its frame to iron-rot, but insisted that it wasn’t a safety issue, you wouldn’t just find a new mechanic — you’d call the Better Business Bureau.

But the tendency toward veiled language isn’t limited to Entergy itself. When the State’s own nuclear engineer inspected the collapsed tower, he stressed there was no “smoking gun” linking the collapse to Yankee’s recent and controversial 20% power increase.

Instead, the engineer waxed Orwellian: “There is nothing obvious (smoking gun) to point to so it may be that the failure was due to a combination of failure modes.”

A combination of failure modes — brilliant! And we’re left with the distinct impression that none of these failure modes has anything to do with safety.

The grand irony here is that a “Yankee” used to refer to someone who didn’t use five sentences because he could be very clearly understood with one. But Entergy’s performance over the last year or two has morphed the word “Yankee” into its opposite.

And in that way, the phrase “Vermont Yankee” has somehow become for me a strange and unsettling oxymoron.

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

September 26th, 2007

The Vermont Connection: Obama’s Foreign Policy Advisor Due to Ship Out for Iraq

by Philip Baruth

Just imagine, for a second, that you’re a foreign policy advisor for a major Presidential candidate — for the sake of clarity, let’s say that you’re the chief foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama. And imagine that even as you’re advising Obama on a strategy to pull the US out of Iraq, you’re simultaneously an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve.

mark lippert

Then imagine that you get called up for active duty, quickly shipped off to California’s Coronado Naval Base, and there you begin training to join a Navy SEAL team now operating in Iraq.

Something like an ironic nightmare, more or less, except without the waking up part.

Of course, this scenario is no idle hypothetical: this is the current life of Mark Lippert, one-time Leahy policy advisor and Vermont political organizer. And the Wall Street Journal captures his singular story in an article that hit stands last weekend.

Lippert now lives, essentially, in two parallel dimensions.

So on the one hand, Obama is emailing on a daily basis, messages like, “I miss you, brother.” And on the other, Lippert is a uniformed professional whose first allegiance is to President George W. Bush.

Bush being the guy Obama has been castigating since Day 1 for creating “the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation.”

Why Lippert’s head has failed to explode thus far, VDB has no idea. It makes our own head throb badly just thinking about it.

Especially having to put it in the most explicit terms, as Lippert does when he sums up the situation, very carefully noting none of the odd cross-currents: “My job is to serve my country and to execute the decision of the commander-in-chief.”

The Journal story on Lippert is excellent, full of sharp, human detail, and we recommend it today if you have the time.

And we here at VDB wish Lt. Lippert both an uneventful tour of duty and a safe plane ride home. Particularly as he and his intended are due to be married, here in Vermont, sometime next year.

September 24th, 2007

Hillary Clinton Does Five Sunday Shows, But VDB Hears Only One Message: Ending The War Is Just One More Hypothetical, George

by Philip Baruth

Looks like somebody’s national poll numbers are beginning to go to her head, just a wee bit. Hillary Clinton has managed, thus far, to finesse her early support of the War with anti-war constituencies. Among other things, she’s managed to mute calls for an apology, and to subsume specifics under a very general pledge to end the War.


To wit, Hillary Clinton’s loudest applause line, as of February 2007: “But let me be clear, if George Bush doesn’t end this war before he leaves office, when I’m President, I will.”

But here in September, things look a shade less clear. In fact, murky. When asked this past Sunday by George Stephanopoulos whether she’d pledge to have the troops out by 2012, Clinton had this to say:

“You know, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals and make pledges, because I don’t know what I’m going to inherit, George. I don’t know and neither do any of us know what will be the situation in the region.”

Are the two quotes fundamentally at odds? Not if you’re willing to parse what the definition of “will” is. Hillary no doubt comforted herself that Stephanopoulos limited his question to a hypothetical first term; she could reconcile the statements, in her own mind, by saying that she would end the war by 2016.

But the point is this: Hillary is now sure enough of her footing to tell anti-war voters to keep their powder dry. She’ll address their concerns and bring troops home if that’s what seems most opportune once she’s sworn in.

In other words, she’s moved silently into believing that activist Democrats now want her specifically, Hillary Clinton, rather than any general candidate whose positions track their own on their number one issue.

In other words, so much for Listening Tours and those primaries that were supposed to pull Hillary to the Left: if she gets the nomination, she will campaign as a slightly watered-down version of Giuliani, with much grave talk of bombing Iran and very little talk indeed about immediate withdrawal.

But no one should be surprised, this time out.

hillary supports surge

We all know what it means when we vote for a Clinton, in 2007. Some of it’s good, and some of it’s bad, but we know the general way of it. And what it doesn’t mean is fundamental change from the progressive grassroots, any more than Bush’s inauguration meant the advent of so-called compassionate conservatism.

No, as with Bill Clinton, Hillary’s would be a Centrism with a corporate gloss and a deep anxiety on defense issues, an anxiety that must express itself as de facto militarism, lest the President be mocked for draft-dodging, or in this case skirt-wearing.

Just so we all have our eyes open.

Interesting choice of phrase, by the way, that bit about “what I’m going to inherit.” Makes VDB all nostalgic for Linda Evans and Larry Hagman and all the fun and games of Dynasty, back there in the ’80s.

September 21st, 2007

Play of the Week: Sanders Taps Will Wiquist

by Philip Baruth

Apparently moved by our coverage of last July’s Hamburger Summit — featuring Will Wiquist’s dramatic and ultimately poignant search for sunblock — Senator Bernie Sanders has tapped Wiquist as his new Press Secretary, with Will packing his bags for DC come November 1st.


Well-deserved, and a smart move all the way around. Sanders acquires a very savvy aide currently under-utilized, and Will links up with Bernie’s team just as they’ve begun to figure the long political angles in the Senate. We expect great things.

Godspeed, Mr. Wiquist.

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