May 5th, 2010

Totten Handicaps the State Senate Race

by Philip Baruth

Weve said it before and well say it again: the race for the Chittenden County State Senate is the toughest in the state, shy of a statewide campaign. Maybe the toughest thing about it? Its way too large to cover door-to-door, and way too small to attract pollsters. So how do you know when youre making headway, given that no one has cast a ballot yet? You know youre making headway when Shay Totten says so. This weeks Fair Game takes a look at the field and argues that this campaign now leads the pack. Which is fitting, for a campaign that adopted the sled-dog team as mascot a year ago this month. Long race, fast team. Check it out.

May 3rd, 2010

BREAKING: All Train Travel Halted In Essex Junction For One Hour; The State Senate Campaign Choppers In For Intensely Rewarding Neighborhood Clean-up Effort

by Philip Baruth

You have to love it: a neighborhood that borders the train tracks in Essex Junction decided it was time for a major spring cleaning, and after intense negotiations with Amtrack, they got an agreement to shut down all rail traffic for one hour this past Sunday. All traffic halted. Boom. Amtrack calls this Track Protection, this grant of time to the local community. Amazing that the Junction got that time, and typical of the Junction that they didnt waste it.

Of course, operatives on the ground had contacted the State Senate campaign in advance, and wed gone into full-scale volunteer mode. The network was activated. The big ugly gloves were pulled out. We got our game faces on.

And at the scene we hooked up first with Dave Crawford, the Village Manager, for a little serious talk about how the Village is building a revitalized rail system into their plans going forward. Great guy, Dave. Big into trains.

Jim Douglas rides into town this coming week to celebrate the infusion of money to upgrade tracks north to St. Albans, but the Village has another plan to complete an upgrade to Burlington. A brilliant idea, we think.

More and better and faster rail, thats our motto.

And then at the stroke of one, Track Protection kicked in, and the volunteer contingent fanned out. It was a fantastic crew, maybe a quarter from our campaign and three-quarters from the neighborhood bordering the rail yard. Wonderful people, and very dedicated to reclaiming this spot. Maybe even expanding to a bike/walking path.

Because really, do neighbors ever look any more cool and heroic than when theyre pitching in to make the larger neighborhood new again? Not likely.

Do kids ever look more worthy of eventually inheriting the planet than when theyre tending to it with their parents?

Not to brag, but I scored the best find of the day: an extremely sharp pocket knife, a green plastic-handled knock-off of the Gerber Mini-Magnum. Found a couple of other things that cannot be mentioned in a family campaign blog, but suffice it to say that the railroad continues to occupy a romantic corner of the American heart.

Even the Swedes got into the picture, good friend Marie in this case, who came early, stayed late, and made her stretch of track as clean as the Swedish countryside. Which is saying something.

And miracle of miracles: somehow we wound up in possession of a photograph of Kathy FitzGerald, campaign photographer, and the woman responsible for the fantastic photos you see here and in other campaign related materials. Many, many thanks to Kathy, for making the picking up of trash seem so photogenic.

Heres looking at you for a change, kid.

April 27th, 2010

That Damn Arnie Gundersen Ruins Another Perfectly Good Turtle Egg Breakfast With His Constant Harping On Safety And Science

by Philip Baruth

As with drilling in ANWAR, the push to expand nuclear power in the US rests on an industry-driven idea of next-generation technology. Bush liked to say that we could drill in ANWAR and leave no footprints; the nuclear industry likes to say that tomorrows nuclear plants will not only be goof-proof, but capable of more or less consuming their own waste, leaving us with plants that can pass the white glove test. Case in point: Westinghouses newest reactor design.

The AP 1000 is supposed to be light-years ahead of Vermont Yankees reactor in terms of basic safety; its unusual containment structure is designed to allow air flow between the concrete shield wall and the stainless steel liner.

Of course, air flow and radioactivity are not normally concepts you want to pair in a single sentence, and sure enough, turns out theres a tiny potential problem with the design: small metal baffles direct the air flow, but could also potentially collect moisture, leading to what scientists call rust, leading to what are referred to technically in the industry as holes.

And since the whole structure is in effect a 130-foot high chimney, radioactivity could then be vented directly into the atmosphere at levels potentially ten times the NRC limit.

better?Or so says Arnie Gundersen, the guy who called the cooling tower collapse and revealed the extensive underground piping at Yankee, the existence of which plant officials had repeatedly denied.

Reading this latest write-up at one of the New York Times blogs, VDB could only imagine a certain breakfast scene down in Louisiana, home of Entergy Corporation:

A BREAKFAST TABLE, fine linen and silver, at the edge of a terrace overlooking the ocean. The CEO is multi-tasking: checking stock valuations and overnight spikes and troughs, browsing the New York Times business section, and spooning poached TURTLE EGG absently into his mouth. The wind ruffles his hair lightly.

The turtle egg is done to a turn. Life is quite good.

And then he sees the DIAGRAM of AP 1000 (CUT TO DIAGRAM), depicting the potentially fatal flaw in design. Camera DOLLIES IN to EXTREME CLOSE-UP, as CEOs eyes narrow, lips tighten, teeth grit. BEAD OF SWEAT suddenly visible at hairline.

Gundersen, the CEO mutters finally, under his turtle breath.

April 27th, 2010

Shots From The Trail: Jonesville Edition

by Philip Baruth

Never let it be said we didnt climb that extra mile when this election is over. Had a house party out in Jonesville on Sunday, a glorious sunny afternoon, way up the mountain on Stage Road. The address was 1690, in fact, and the air starts to thin out after 1200 or so. But talk about a gorgeous spot.

My hosts, Daniel and Angela, are both poets, Daniel hailing originally from the Midwest and Angela from Dublin. And they live in this spot now where fishers yowl in the night, and bears knock down the bird feeder and then feast on it, holding it upright like an ice cream cone.

And their friends are all concerned, active people, with questions about special education funding, and single-payer health care, and how Democrats can field five major candidates for Governor and yet come together on the day after the election in November.

My friend Erik Filkorn brought his two very cool kids, and they contributed in their own very cool ways: his son blew a duck call as counterpoint through my living room spiel, and his daughter drew this fantastic campaign poster for me, because she really wants me to win.

Thanks much, Daniel and Angela and all who turned out. A very nice time. Lovely, in fact, as the Irish would say.

April 23rd, 2010

Shots From the Trail: New Moon Edition

by Philip Baruth

It started as a glimmer in the eye of one Charity Tensel: why not put together an event for all the online and new media types out there, people who have connected up with the campaign digitally but not physically? Why not reach out to Facebook folks, Twitterites, the digital film people, the bloggers and online marketers. So we decided, why not?

And so yesterday we finally got it together, at the New Moon Cafe in Burlington, what we hope will be the first of a series of casual get-togethers for people interested in the digital side of Vermonts future.

And in one way, it was like getting the band back together.

We got to hook up with old friends from the early days of blogging, back through the mists of time, circa 2005. People like Haik Bedrosian, my new fellow Commissioner on the Burlington School Board, and Charity herself, whos back at the blogging with a very nicely designed new template under the name Shatter Nicely.

And people like top Washington blogger Steve Benen, of Political Animal fame, who also happens to double as just another regular guy from Essex. Benens latest smash hit? Coining the phrase Former half-term Governor to refer to Sarah Palin, a meme that dropped into an SNL skit just a few weeks back. Which is not easy for a meme to do.

And this State Senate campaign wasnt the only people-powered new media campaign represented: NTodd Pritsky, currently running hard for the House up in Franklin County, brought his youngest by for a muffin. A child raised in the ancient ways of the Grateful Dead, this boy will run all electronic media in Vermont by the year 2025.

Many smaller, nimbler, hungrier digital start-ups represented. Two cases in point: Anna Palmer (left) and her company WinWinApps, facing off against Rich Nadworny of Digilicious, a marketing firm specializing in new and social media. Very smart folks making their way in a very competitive field. And doing it with style.

Matt Goudey, our campaign videographer, doubles as a consultant on computer issues, turns out. Matt and Selene Colburn, campaign social media maven, swapped stories about applications and code and plug-ins that no one else could quite understand.

And we had some folks who were drawn in by other, more traditional media, and God love them: Joel, left, has for no apparent reason read a couple of my novels, and Dan, right, came because he was intrigued by the mailing our campaign sent out to Essex voters a few weeks back. Nice to know that three-dimensional objects still have their place.

Of course, it wasnt one big electronic utopia.

As mentioned earlier, the online world is a hyper-tough, competitive environment in the Year of Our Lord 2010. So occasionally its like a shoot-out at the OK Corral: somebody inadvertantly insults somebodys operating system or cellphone cover, and things get tense.

Actually Trav (left) and Steve (right) got along just fine, but if they hadnt, tireless intern Mark (middle) was prepared to throw himself into the scrum.

In all it was a great night, with a lot of conversation about digital access in the state; communication between Montpelier and voters; how the school board, in Burlington and elsewhere, should or shouldnt communicate, should or shouldnt use cameras in hallways; and finally, how small digital start-ups can power a resurgance of jobs in Chittenden County, and how we can help them help us.

Thanks to all who helped organize: Rich, Charity, Selene. Thanks as always to star campaign photographer Kathy FitzGerald, for all the fantastic shots, only a fraction of which are shown here. And thanks to all who ate more than their share of muffins, thus saving me and my own family from pastrying ourselves into a stupor.

Look for AWOL II sometime in July.

Thats right. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the coffee shop.

Late Update, 11:15 pm:

Haik has a write-up of the New Moon event up over at Burlingtonpol, and NTodd gives his over at Thats what VDB calls rapid response politics.

April 23rd, 2010

Candidate Dubie Reaches Predictable Tipping Point on Debate Avoidance; Diss To 7th and 8th Graders No Standard Diss

by Philip Baruth

Brian Dubie is famous for a few things, but most famous for a slack campaigning style. Credit where credit is due: that slack style has worked spectacularly well. Why would those two things both be true, and true simultaneously? Because while Vermont Democrats perennially make an issue of Dubies pronounced debate avoidance, the Vermont press corps generally does not. And of course thats all that matters in matters political: how they are portrayed.

Dubie, hard at work

So when Dubie ducked a series of early debates with his potential Democratic rivals, we didnt bat an eye. It was as business as usual as business as usual usually gets.

But when Dubie finally agreed to accept an invitation, so long as the questions would be posed exclusively by middle-schoolers, our ears perked up. Surely this would get him roundly mocked, and then pressured by the mainstream press to give primary voters due diligence.

But no. It passed essentially unremarked. Until now: Dubie has dissed the middle-schoolers too.

His campaign is making noises about a prior engagement with his family, but make no mistake: gubernatorial candidates place their feet very carefully, and if they refuse to place their feet somewhere, anywhere, it is because that place has been deemed a cost-prohibitive environment.

That is, the negative press from the middle school event could conceivably overwhelm the positive press. Hence now no Dubie.

But heres the thing: the Vermont press corps knows that this has been Dubies style, and they know further that theyve been at least partially complicit in the past on allowing the Lieutenant Governor to avoid head-to-head match-ups in front of voters. And they will want to make clear, VDB predicts, that this time out of the gate they will hold Dubie to the higher standard.

Which is to say that dissing the 7th graders is the tipping point, especially in that Dubie is running a series of Facebook ads touting the idea that hes the front-runner.

A front-runner who wont debate is a huge target, and rightly so. So expect some target practice, and relatively soon.

George Bush Jr. learned the hard way that you dont diss librarians. Governor Schwarzeneger learned that you dont diss nurses. And soon Brian Dubie will learn that even a sitting Lite Governor with no primary opposition disses middle-schoolers at his peril.

And high time too.

April 21st, 2010

We Knew You Were Coming Tomorrow, So We Baked A Whole Bunch Of Free Muffins

by Philip Baruth

A reminder about the event tomorrow at the New Moon Cafe in Burlington, from 4-6. We timed it to coincide with getting out of work, being hungry for some sort of small treat and a cup of coffee before you make your way home and deal with making dinner and the kids homework and the broken garbage disposal, that sort of thing. And everyone is welcome. And the muffins and the wifi are free. Be nice to say hello and talk over the issues of the day in person.

April 17th, 2010

VDB Winds The Ancient Online Horn, Calling All Digital Folk and Social Mediators To Gather And Break Free Pastry Together

by Philip Baruth

Lets imagine for a second that youre someone whos been following this State Senate campaign, maybe youre even a Facebook or Twitter supporter, and yet youve never hooked up with us for an event around the County. If youre in fact, theres a great chance we havent had a chance to talk in person yet. So were out to rectify that situation. This coming Thursday, on April 22 from 4-6, the campaign is hosting an event called After Work Off-Line (AWOL) at the New Moon Cafe in Burlington. The idea is to bring together all the digital stakeholders weve met over the last year, as well as all the social media types whove signed on digitally but whose hands we havent shaken in the physical sense.

Should be an interesting group: , Twitterites, bloggers, digital designers and software CEOs, as well as a few digital filmmakers. Come say hello after work, and sit a spell. The coffee will be hot, the pastry free, and the wifi powerful. Youll see top political blogger Steve Benen, of Political Animal fame, and blogger turned House candidate NTodd Pritsky, and of course the charming Charity Tensel, formerly of Shes Right.

Oh, and why should people like us unite? Take a closer look at the Vermont download speed map above. Clearly we need to send some sort of message this cycle. Be nice to get together on that.

April 16th, 2010

Shots From the Trail: Parima Edition

by Philip Baruth

Had a great event at Parima in Burlington last night. Parima has a back room that the restaurant claims is designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and who is VDB to say? Its an excellent place to unwind for a few hours in any event: deep couches, low lighting, eggrolls. Oh, and these very cool cakes donated for the event, all with appropriate branding, of course. Nothing more touching than branded baked goods.

VDB-wingman Don Shall was there with camera in hand, but it was a test of any photographers chops. The lighting was treacherously low, and every shot morphed immediately into Art House. Still you have to love it.

Thanks to Don, and to everyone who turned out last night, but with special thanks to our four co-hosts: Tony Magistrale, Beth Mintz, Bob Taylor and Harvey Amani (pictured above in stripes). Thanks as well to the Theseus folks, and to Mark Bateman, tireless intern, who worked the sign-up table from start to finish.

April 15th, 2010

Why Is Smartness Banned in The Senate?

by Philip Baruth

Just a guess, but Shay Totten seems to have had enough of the effective double standards in place with regard to the use of electronic devices in the Vermont House and Senate. How do we know? His piece in this weeks Seven Days is slugged, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Why are radio and television permitted to stream audio and video on the floor of the Senate, while I have to scratch notes on a steno pad?

A long title but tough to miss the point.

And of course theres another double standard: the House allows all smart devices all the time, unless theres a roll call vote underway. Not so in the Senate. Not so by a long shot.

Its a great short piece for wrapping your head around the issue, and for highlighting the occasionally self-defeating aspects of Senate tradition. Added bonus? Since this State Senate campaign has championed on-line outreach and digital democracy, Totten ends the piece with our take on the controversy.

One guess which way that conversation went.

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