Sweet!?! Obama accepts a pay day from Wall Street

After returning from well-deserved vacation,  former President Obama may really have struck a sour note. Only months after leaving office, he has joined the Wall Street big-speaking-fee club. For a $400,000 fee from Wall Street investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald, Obama agreed to deliver a keynote speech at an annual health care conference the investment firm runs.paydayblues

In response to this news the longtime critic of the outsized influence big money plays in politics, Senator Elizabeth Warren, didn’t mince words. She said: “I was troubled by that. The influence of dollars on this place is what scares me. I think it ultimately threatens democracy.”

But it seems former press secretary Josh Earnest (a paid MSNBC contributor since this March) is quick to defend his former boss and was quite dismissive of any objections. Earnest recalled that Obama’s closeness to Wall Street had been brought up before, and it “didn’t in any way limit his ability to put in place the toughest reforms of Wall Street that we had seen in multiple generations.” I seem to remember many people thought President Obama and congressional reforms weren’t all that tough on Wall Street.

He will not be running again but the optics of the most well-known Democrat accepting sizable  speaking fees from a giant investment firm can’t be helpful in luring back blue-collar voterseven in the face of the ethically challenged Trump gang. And it’s an unfortunate footnote to the recent unity tour DNC Chairman Perez and failed presidential candidate  Senator Bernie Sanders just completed.

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations against big banks, greed, and financial excess are now ancient history. The huge speaking fees from Wall Street banks Hillary Clinton  received over the years had a negative impact on her campaignSanders turned it into a major issue in the primary. But that too appears to be swirling down the memory hole. So, other than Senator Warren, which Democrats will speak-up now? But good for Senator Warrenthe smart money says she persists.

Freeze-dried Fear and Loathing

Everyone has seen the commercials.

Scene 1:  Gathered in the kitchen and bathed in sunshine streaming through the window, a family casually prepares fresh fruit and vegetables.

Scene 2:  The same family, gathered around the dining table on which a feast has been spread. They seem to be enjoying lively conversation and ambient music, oblivious to the fact, glimpsed through the window, that their house now appears to be submerged in the ocean with the occasional sea creature swimming past.

The voice-over calmly extolls the virtues of a freeze-dry device that preserves food up to twenty-five years, “No matter what happens.”

I only once saw a harrowing variation on this commercial that substituted a hoard of zombies, hammering on the window glass, for the ocean scene. I suspect that one was a bridge too far.

Whatever the future presented through that window, the message was pretty clear: apocalypse approaches, whether environmental or spiritual; and the smart family will want to take measures in advance to ensure that they are only minimally inconvenienced.

I experience a tiny shock every time the commercial airs. It reminds me of my childhood during the Cuban missile crisis, when people were building secret bomb shelters, stocking up on bottled water and canned goods; and preparing to defend their preparations from invasion by less-prepared neighbors.

Instead of bringing out the best in people, like legendary Londoners during the Blitz, all that the threat of nuclear war brought out in Americans was paranoia and selfishness.

Have we gone so far as a culture since the 1960’s, only to turn back to the worst of our selves , sixty years on? Racism, sexism and environmental exploitation seem to be back in vogue under Donald Trump. Now, flirtation with nuclear war once again darkens the horizon.

Someone has already decided that the threat of famine and environmental disaster could be good for the food preserving industry. The big warehouse stores have been advertising survival food packages for a number of years now. How long before the commercials for “popularly priced” bomb shelters show up on TV, and sample models join the lawnmowers and patio furniture in aisle seven?

The likes of Donald Trump and Elon Musk fantasize about escape from oblivion through the colonization of Mars! They’ve already given up on Earth, but so have the preppers.

Tribalism is on the rise, thanks to the internet. Preppers and survivalists are invested in seeing their worst fears become reality. They’re no longer interested in making the sacrifices and commitments to common sense that are necessary to forstall any number of disasters that threaten the future of the planet.

This climate of selfish pessimism is poisonous for democracy, which depends for its success on an assumption of community goodwill and confidence in a shared tomorrow.

If we cannot rekindle that sense of common good, I am afraid that the democratic experiment in America is all but over.Wal-Mart_Riot

 

 

 

 

FCC boosts Trump favorite Sinclair Broadcasting’s merger

The FCC, headed by Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed under President Obama and recently named by Trump as chairman, has eased restrictions in order to make it easier for media companies to own more stations in more markets:

The Federal Communications Commission, on a 2-1 Republican-led vote on Thursday, restored the practice of counting just part of some stations’ audience.[…] The change adds room to grow for companies including Sinclair, Nexstar Media Group Inc. […] Sinclair, with 173 TV stations, is working to finalize a deal to buy Tribune, which owns stations in major markets including New York, Chicago, and Miami.

Sinclair Broadcast Group  is a family-owned business based in Maryland. They own and operate 173 stations in 81 markets covering 24% of American households mostly in the South and Midwest. Their local affiliates include Fox, ABC, CBS, and others.trumpcast2

SBG has a history of using its stations to promote a conservative message and also attempted to influence the 2004 election in favor of the Republican Party, says Media Matters. Days before the 2004 presidential election the network pre-empted regular programming to run an anti-John Kerry film.

More recently the Washington Post published: How the nation’s largest owner of TV stations helped Donald Trump’s campaign. In it they document Sinclair Broadcasting’s intentional tilt toward Trump. This included directing their stations toward favorable to neutral coverage of his campaign and an emphasis on negative reporting regarding the Clinton campaign.

Trump’s right hand man, son-in-law Jared Kushner, reportedly acknowledged that the campaign struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting, providing them access in exchange for wide coverage. The agreement gave Trump’s campaign a local edge over national networks in swing states such as Florida and Ohio where SBG dominates. With a greater local audience assured Kushner said simply “it’s math.”

After their planned merger, when finalized Sinclair will have added 26% to their existing nationwide coverage. Factoring in overlapping market share between Sinclair and the company it plans to acquire new coverage will reach 42%. Think how effective the newer bigger stronger Sinclair propaganda could be for Trump and other GOP favorites the next time around.

And don’t expect PBS news reporting to pick up the slack. Trump’s “skinny” GOP budget doesn’t just target the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (the major funding arm for PBS) with sizable cuts but with total elimination. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney broadcast his administration’s plans to “unwind our involvement in CPB” loud and clear: […] [the budget] will see a zero next to it; the policy is we’re ending federal involvement with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Trump may continue his 100-day stumble-and-flail at day-to-day governinghis new role. But it’s just not his world. His most successful role was as reality TV star, playing a caricature of himself as a world’s best deal maker/businessman.

But he does know brand marketing is all about grabbing control of the largest friendly market-share coverage. For Donald it is not about fair or balancedfact or fiction. As his right hand man, son-in-law Kushner admitted “It’s math.”

Of course, the next generation might have trouble with understanding that concept once Sesame Street’s “The Count”  isn’t around to teach them their numbers.

Earth Day 2017

Earth Day (April 22) arrives, this year, shrouded in a veil of pessimism.

Tomorrow, the March for Science will take place on the national mall in Washington, D.C. It is anticipated to be the largest anti-Trump demonstration to date.  Donald Trump will claim they’re all paid demonstrators and probably say something incredibly inappropriate and inflammatory.

Been there, done that.

Plenty of events will take place here in Vermont, in California and elsewhere in the blue states, observing the green holiday as has become customary. After years of incremental progress, there will be less to celebrate this year.

As ineffective as Donald Trump’s “first hundred days” in office have been in many ways, the one place where a real impact threatens is on nearly two generations of hard-won environmental gains.

Deprived of both public confidence and the expected easy ride of a Republican dominated Congress, the spiteful child-president has used the executive order to reverse every Obama initiative that is within his reach and directed Congress to strip away decades of regulation protective health, safety and environmental integrity.

Those are easy targets because the big money that is the only thing Donald Trump respects almost always comes down on the other side from those interests. So he goes about merrily dismantling the EPA before moving on to food and drug regulation.

Anyone who held out the hope that Donald Trump would miraculously be transformed by the gravitas of his office, or that his daughter might temper his worst instincts, has been rudely disappointed. All that’s left to those dreamers is to hunker down and hope his many flirtations with unconstitutional, possibly treasonous behaviors will finally culminate in his downfall before irreversible tragedy strikes.

Thank goodness market forces will prevent him from delivering on his big promise to bring back coal; but that won’t stop the collateral damage that deregulation will do.

It’s like a very bad dream.

Randolph Exit 4 I-89 development land conserved

Sometimes with the right combination of co-operation, money, power, and influence things can be made to “click” to preserve open land here in Vermont.vermontlandsave1

An agreement has been made involving developer Mr. Jesse “Sam” Sammis and his wife Jean “Jinny” Sammis, the Castanea Foundation, and a Vermont goat farm that will result in the conservation of hundreds of acres almost two hundred acres of land which will remain open and farmed. Sammis’s now-abandoned  development proposal  along Exit 4 from I-89 in Randolph as planned would have included 274 residential units, 280,000 square feet of office space, 236,000 square feet of light manufacturing space, and a 180-bed hotel and conference center.

As reported in a press release last week from the Preservation Trust of Vermont:

The Montpelier-based [Castanea] foundation is acting as an intermediary to hold the land to allow time for the sale of a conservation easement with public funding, private fundraising, and the eventual sale of the conserved land to Ayers Brook Goat Dairy for agricultural purposes.

In addition, Sam and Jinny Sammis have agreed to sell the remaining 22 acres that they own at Exit 4 to the Preservation Trust of Vermont. Working in conjunction with Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the citizen group Exit 4 Open Space, the Preservation Trust of Vermont will have the opportunity to purchase the remaining 22 acres. The groups will need to raise $1 million dollars – substantially below the assessed value for the property – over the next 60 days to complete the deal.

The original sprawling undertaking had the backing of the Shumlin administration. Part of the proposed project was an agreement with the state for developer  Sammis to build and run an officially sanctioned state welcome center. The center and a 30-year lease on state-owned land would have provided  exceptionally convenient access with the Interstate exit funneling traffic to the Sammis-owned industrial park, office space, conference center and hundreds of residential units. Former Governor Shumlin’s former Secretary of Administration, Jeb Spaulding, was particularly enthusiastic “When I first heard about this proposal I thought it sounded too good to be true.

The recent agreement to save hundreds of acres of land took an impressive alignment of active local opposition to the development, several heavy-hitting conservation groups, and of course lots and lots of money.

But despite all the smiles and good feeling now, developer Sammis’ said: “I’m happy about it from a conservation standpoint. As a developer and somebody who’s lived in Randolph for over 40 years and knows that there’s a tremendous demand for good jobs, I’m disappointed.”  Sammis’ remark (nudging pretty close to right up against some sour grapes) anticipates future development battles.

And those battles will involve Act 250 Vermont’s statewide development review process. Governor Phil Scott has pledged to “reform” Act 250. His  encounter with Act 250 as young businessman is part of his well-worn origin story. The review process is bound to be factor as that thousand-acre utopian city-state planned for nearby Upper Valley towns of Royalton, Sharon, Strafford and Tunbridge moves forward.

So there’s more to come. Think of all the open land through no fault of its own located near the interstatefound just “sitting” there, “undeveloped”barely even monetized! For Phil Scott, surely a heresy!

Donald, Mike: stick to suits and ties please

As we stare down North Korea and drop MOABs, President Trump and his VP Mike Penceneither of whom ever served in the armed forcesmight reconsider the military look they both seem to be cultivating. admiraltrumpTrump looks like he’s signed up as a discount version for Bob Hope’s old USO tours.hope in Korea

 

 

 

 

pointingpence
‘Rest room…first door on the right,sir”

 

Vice President Pence  toured the South Korean DMZ,  wore a leather flight jacket and gave a command performance managing to maintain a  serious demeanorgravitas worthy of a made for TeeVee action movie, or maybe his feet hurt.

Is the administration attempting to send some tough-guy image out to the world? Or are they both so insecure they feel the need to dress-up in bits of uniforms when around military personnel? A little of both perhaps. But not alone.

President George W. Bush , the Vietnam War-era Texas Air National Guard no-show strutted around for his White House-produced Iraq War photo op. After landing on an aircraft carrier in the co-pilot’s seat of a fighter (exterior freshly marked with “Navy 1” and “George W. Bush Commander in Chief” ) he posed wearing a flight suit under a very premature Mission Accomplished banner.

And Democrat Mike Dukakis (who was only running for president) did look a fool putting on a tank commander’s helmet and driving a tank during his 1998 campaign.

kennedyMaybe it is because I am old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the height of the international military crisis, after ordering a total blockade of Cuba Kennedy didn’t bluster or need to dress up in parts of a uniform or wear his medals to show toughness.kennedyII

In 1964, President Kennedya real decorated veteran of WWII (the Navy Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart)went on TV to address the world confident in his role as civilian President and commander of the US military.

So Donny and Mikey: stop it! Just stop it! Go back to suits and ties! Don’t make it so easy for the writers at SNL by looking like clowns.

 

Budget-stressed, crowded PA corrections system to take VT’s inmates

The Scott administration has been scurrying around to find a place to relocate the approximately 260 inmates currently held in Michigan at GEO Group’s for-profit private prison. In late 2016 GEO Group unexpectedly canceled its extension option on a multi-year contract to house Vermont prisoners and  set a June deadline for their removal. Governor Scott didn’t pursue in-state alternatives he claims would cost more. It’s all about bottom-line GOP budgeting priorities: “The reality is it’s a lot less costly to have some out of state,” Scott said as a candidate.

cellDetails about a new deal Governor Scott is reportedly arranging with the Pennsylvania state prison system are scant to say the least. According to Vtdigger.com, Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille will only say that the administration is “very close” to a deal with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. An official from the PA Dept of Corrections did confirm they may soon house the Vermont prisoners but nothing is finalized. Pennsylvania Corrections regularly charges $72.00 per day cost for out-of state prisoners. That’s about $10.00 more than soon to end $61.80 per day fee GEO Group now charges to Vermont .

Whatever details eventually emerge about the Pennsylvania prison inmate housing deal, a quick look at news reports about the state system of is hardly reassuring for anyone concerned. For a period of years that state’s department of corrections has been undergoing major budget and staff cuts. The state is still suffering severe budget problems; this year, reductions under consideration in the Pennsylvania house, if enacted, would put about 1,500 state employees out of work, with prisons in line for the deepest job cuts. The administration produced an internal budget office analysis that indicated nearly 650 layoffs would occur at the Department of Corrections.

Should those new layoffs and cuts come to pass, it will be on top of existing chronic problems including prisons operating well over capacity, with overcrowding exacerbated by previous years of budget cuts and staff reductions. To save costs two PA state prisons are slated to be closed in 2017. Officially they will be “mothballed,” dislocating and consolidating almost 2,500 inmates into other Pennsylvania prisons. The closings mean the Pennsylvania system will be operating at what is called “emergency” capacity levels. Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said, “It’s not ideal,” and by way of defending the action, he explains Pennsylvania is far from the worst state when it comes to overcrowding. There is speculation by PA officials desperate for any revenue that the newly “mothballed” prison facilities might be profitably put to use as suitable housing for low-risk federal immigration detainees from Trump’s aggressive immigration actions.

With the PA system under major budget stresses engagement by prison social workers, medical, or counseling staff are apt to be minimal to the extent they are provided for out-of-state prisoners. However, for families of Vermont inmate families who want to visit the travel distance may be an improvement of a kind. From Burlington to GEO’s North Lake Correction Facility is over 800 miles and to Pittsburgh, in the western corner of Pennsylvania is under 600 miles.

The snapshot of Pennsylvania’s prisons that emerges from these recent news reports is one of a system struggling under severe budget constraints and perhaps understaffed. The June deadline to move Vermont’s 260 inmates from Michigan is approaching fast: it is time for some details about what kind of “bargain” deal budget-conscious Governor Scott may think he’s arranged with Pennsylvania.

 

 

Donald wants a carriage ride to visit the Queen

President Trump will be going to the UK and Buckingham Palace this October.  And he wants to do it in style. However…tipping donaldIn typical TRUMP® fashion he’s causing others great expense. Only da biggest, best, and shiniest for Donald: The White House has made clear it regards the carriage procession down the Mall as an essential element of the itinerary for the visit currently planned for the second week of October, according to officials.

Security sources have warned, however, that the procession will require a “monster” security operation, far greater than for any recent state visit.

The UK was spared some of this expense when Obama visited Buckingham Palace because he chose to go by motorcade rather than golden carriage. Xi Jinping, in 2015 did ride in a carriage (closed rather than open) to see the Queen, but that cost is expected  to dwarf what it will be for TRUMP® to have his open carriage ride.

A British security official notes that the U.S. presidential limo is formidable and: designed to withstand a massive attack like a low-level rocket grenade. Unlike the Royal coach, although it can be protected with bullet proof glass:

[…] In particular it is very flimsy.

“It would not be able to put up much resistance in the face of a rocket propelled grenade or high-powered ammunition. Armour-piercing rounds would make a very bad show of things.”

Other than his well documented attraction to shiny golden baubles is it any wonder why Trump may be insisting on the carriage? VladPutin

Well, his BFF Vladimir Putin (a.k.a. Vlad the Elector) had an open carriage ride when he went to visit the Queen. So, of course it’s an “essential” element for Donald too. Here’s his game in musical parody, insecurity and all.

Vermont DMV & ICE, are they having fun or what?

It turns out the Vermont DMV is still cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When Vermont DMV head Robert Ide and Col. Jake Elovirta, the department’s director of enforcement and safety, testified to legislators this week, Ide admitted:  [his] department has not completely implemented the terms of a Human Rights Commission settlement they had agreed to.

Commissioner Ide and Col. Jake Elovirta
Commissioner Ide and Col. Jake Elovirta

According to requirements of the mid-2016 court agreement the DMV was supposed to stop passing along information about foreign nationals to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. However VTdigger.com and Seven Days found: records show that communications between DMV and ICE employees continued [the practice] through the end of 2016.

But I guess it’s hard for some at the DMV to break off their warm relationship with ICE. “It [the settlement with Human Rights Commission] was an ambitious list of tasks,” Commissioner Ide said. “I’m not saying that we are all done yet, but we certainly are on a course that charts us to that end point.”

Implementation of the 2016 DMV agreement may continue to be a challenge in the age of Trump. Since the immigration crack down, there are reports of a “gung-ho enthusiasm” among immigration enforcement officials. Energized hardliners who have now been given what seems to be free reign say their jobs are becoming “fun.” And alarmingly, one federal official said: Those who take less of a hard line on unauthorized immigrants feel silenced. DMVfunzone

When addressing improper communications between DMV personnel and ICE that violate the agreement, Commissioner Ide told the State House hearing that some things just aren’t “fun”: “It’s not fun to have to explain this type of behavior,” Ide said. “But behavior is what it is, and sometimes you have to.”

I kind of doubt anyone at the hearing asked: “Commissioner Ide, tell us, is it fun to do your job?”  So, he must have felt the need to publicly declare his job isn’t even fun anymore.

Fun or not, while bringing the agency into compliance as promised, Ide might consider remarks made by Abdel Rababah. He is the man, on whose behalf the Human Rights Commission filed the case against the DMV. Rababah said. “If we can’t trust the system, how can we as people function in the community?”

Donald “wags the dog”: rates low in historical context…sad

After President Trump abruptly changed his policy against intervention and  fired 59 Tomahawk missiles (roughly $1 million each) at Syria, there was speculation that he was interested not so much in red lines that Assad may have crossed but more with lines his own waning popularity crossed. Many observers figured Donald was “wagging the dog” – distracting attention and changing the subject away from his intensely troubled first few weeks in office.  Politico.com wondered, as many other publications did: It is hard to avoid wondering whether the purpose of the strikes was less to defend a red line that Trump had never supported than yet another effort by the president to distract the media’s attention and change the subject from his problems at home.

TrumpedDiversion may or may not have been Trump’s motive but if it was, it seems to have failed in one regard. A new Gallup poll shows : US Support for Syria Strikes Rates Low in Historical Context – Americans’ opinion of U.S. missile strikes in Syria: 41% disapprove and 50% approve.

  • Ten other military actions assessed since 1983 had majority support
  • Only action with lower approval was Libya in 2011, at 47%

The GOP loved it though: 82% of Republicans approve, compared with 33% of Democrats. A divide such as this along partisan lines is new. Intervention by President Obama in Libya 2011 and Syria 2014 showed no such partisan divide at the time they were polled.

Gallup summarized the current finding:

Americans’ initial reaction to the missile airstrikes the U.S. launched against Syria last week is among the least positive of the 12 military actions Gallup has measured since 1983. Support does exceed opposition, which has been the case for each of the military actions tested, but the 50% approval is lower than all but one of the other interventions.

The strikes do not appear to have affected Americans’ views of Trump — at least in the short term. His job approval averaged 40% Tuesday through Thursday before the strikes, and has averaged 40% Friday through Sunday after the strikes.

If the Trump administration had hoped to change the subject and rally support, well Donald’s dog wouldn’t be wagged… this time.