Vermont Governor Scott makes history: perhaps no one will make a fuss

January 22, 2018: AP reports that as expected Governor Phil Scott will sign H.511 Vermont’s marijuana legalization law sometime today behind closed doors.pspotstagefright

In doing so he will become the first governor to sign such a law, enacted through legislationbehind doors or otherwise! 

The more than similar laws in a half-dozen other states were enacted and became law through referendums. Maybe someone will sneak a photo of Phil in the act of secret signing for a history of his leadership here in Vermont-otherwise it’s invisible.

 

Thing One and Thing Two

On this, the day that thousands gathered on the National Mall for an annual “March for Life,” a family of thirteen children in California has only days ago been freed from a life of torture at their parents’ hands.

So far, we have learned nothing of the torturers’ motives for mistreating their children, but what are the chances that they are NOT adherents to some kooky fundamentalist principles?

According to Dad David Turpin’s parents (per  Wikipedia),

“God called upon them to have a large number of children.” 

We’ll see if that is borne out by future reports.

The pictures of the children, with faces obscured and wearing identical conservative outfits are all too reminiscent of cult photos we have seen in the past. But there is a new kind of sick irony in the one that shows the children dressed in identical red teeshirts labelled “Thing 1,” “Thing 2,” “Thing 3,” “Thing 4,” etc.

The fact that the youngest of the children, still a baby, has not yet been subjected to the abuse suffered by the elder children makes one wonder if each of them was spared so long as they were infants, only to reach an age where the mistreatment began. Such a betrayal is difficult even to think about. The family’s two young dogs appear to have been better cared for than were the children, who suffer from a variety of physical and psychological afflictions, presumably resulting from abuse and neglect.

It always gets my goat that, when it comes to procreation,“Christian” fundamentalists who go on and on about their religious freedom, want the government to prevent women from controlling their own bodies. Then, when it comes to contributing to government programs that care for the needy, often children whom their parents can’t afford to care for, they want the government to butt out and allow their churches to avoid paying taxes.

Who is going to end up paying for the care that the Turpin children will undoubtedly require through the remainder of their lives? Not whatever crackpot font of religious zealotry inspired the Turpins to bear thirteen children, then starve and abuse them for years!

No, it will be up to those of us who pay our taxes and advocate for a just and merciful government that cares for the least among us.  Life only begins at birth.  Being “pro-life” should carry with it an obligation to the quality of life beyond birth. For those who are “pro choice” and thus, consider the child’s quality of life beyond birth, that extended interest in the child that is born is a given.

In Donald Trump’s America, it is apparently okay to hook-up with a porn star while your wife nurses a newborn at home… so long as you can buy the porn star’s silence. You can boast about grabbing women by their private parts without permission; and you can vindictively renege on a promise to 3.5 million Dreamers out of jealousy and spite; but a woman cannot make a very painful and private decision about her own body without the disrespectful interference of a bunch of self-interested strangers in Washington.

Maybe its time for more regulation, not less, of activities like home-schooling that can shield private crimes from public eyes. Shouldn’t the privilege of home-schooling carry increased obligations of care for parents and supervision for the state? When it comes to child welfare, privacy must take a back seat to protection.

About CoreCivic: Gov. Phil Scott’s partner in the prison business

Governor Phil Scott’s administration is planning to create (hire a company to design and build)  a 925- bed state prison/treatment complex in Franklin County. The plan involves partnering with the for-profit prison corporation CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America). According to Vtdigger.com: [Sec. Vermont Agency of Human Services]  Al Gobeille is proposing that the state contract out the design, construction and financing to a private entity, which then would lease the facilities to the state for 25 years. The state would make annual appropriations to pay for the use of the campus.[added emphasis]

For now, many specific details are a moving target but this feature of the proposed dealVermont would lease the facility from CoreCivicis pretty interesting in light of recent changes in CoreCivic’s business model.corecivicVTAHS1

Historically CoreCivic political donations and lobbying are directed overwhelmingly to Republican Party candidates at all levels of government. They even ponied up $250,000 to support Trump’s inauguration celebration last year.

And  under the Obama administration as contracts dwindled, for-profit prisons stocks fell. CoreCivic and another major for-profit prison corporation, GEO Group, were looking at hard times.

Then in 2013  CoreCivic (then CCA) and the GEO Group (that together own 80% of all US for-profit prison facilities) restructured themselves more profitably as real estate investment trusts (REIT). Now, thanks to the recent GOP tax code changes signed into law by Donald Trump, these two for-profit prison corporations will reap a windfall

The Guardian.com reports: Under the new GOP law, investments in so-called “real estate investment trusts” (REIT) will see a 25% reduction in tax, from 39.6% down to 29.6%. [added emphasis]

Before converting to a reit in 2013, Corecivic was subject to a 36% corporate tax rate. After the reorganization, it reported paying an effective tax rate in the first quarter of 2015 of just 3%.

Sooo much winning for prison corps!

And here’s how it works. Lauren-Brooke Eisen, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice, said: “The way they are able to get away with that, is that they’re not allowed to keep a lot of cash on hand, they have to give it back to investors though dividends. But it allows them to have an incredibly low tax rate.”

According to Eisen, prison companies have essentially argued that renting out cells to the government is the equivalent of charging a tenant rent, thus making such business primarily a real estate venture.

It is a debate whether or not a lease deal with CoreCivic is good for Vermont. But there’s little doubt it’s REAL GOOD for CoreCivic. In fact the profits might seem almost criminal.

Pondering the gullible (or mean-spirited?) 38%

Every time I read that, at 38%, Trump has “the lowest approval ratings of any president at this point in his administration,” that statistical fact is far overshadowed in my mind by the single alarming thought: how can more than a third of the population still approve of this presidential anti-christ?

Something is clearly wrong in the land of my birth.

Over the course of my adult life, I have often been in sharp disagreement with national policy, both foreign and domestic. Never before has this tempted me to regard a sizable sector of the population as a danger to democracy.

A year into the Trump putsch, there is no mistaking the malevolence that has taken hold in the oval office. The chief executive almost weekly manages to do something even more odious than before; so much so that it is becoming difficult to summon language commensurate to the outrage felt by the majority of Americans and the rest of the world.

That “38%” statistic is a scary figure. While not enough to secure relection of the incumbent in a truly democratic process, it could unquestionably serve once again as the foundation upon which to build a gerrymandered mandate, especially aided by foreign actors who benefit from the further degradation of U.S. global credibility and domestic accord.

When interviewed on their reasoning, almost to a man that loyal 38% indicate that they only care about their own personal well-being and still believe the transparent lie that Trump is looking out for their interests; never mind that it’s all smoke and mirrors intended only to enrich the president and his friends. They don’t care if he lies, cheats and steals so long as they continue to believe that they wil personally come out ahead. So much for all of those civics lessons we used to be taught in school before education became a suspicious proclivity only indulged in by left wing elites.

In this midterm election year, I think we can be certain that, buoyed by the success of the 2016 Russian “project,” and with the Trump administration having shown absolutely no interest in preventing a repeat of last year’s interference, the floodgates of foreign election meddling are already opening wider.

Should Donald Trump, by some miracle of justice, be legally removed from office or even lose a reelection bid, that 38% could generate a formidable resistance movement. These are people who wildly cheered some of the most violent and hateful sentiments expressed during the campaign. Thanks to right-wing media, they are armed to the teeth with cold steel, fevered conspiracy theories, and “alternative facts” to gin up their fury.

We should all share equally the outrage over corruption of our democracy, but unlike in the aftermath of Watergate, when Republicans ultimately put the nation ahead of partisan interests, with few exceptions, the GOP has sold its soul for the fickle favors of a neo-fascist.

I’m afraid there is little possibility for redemption there, and, if the nation survives this constitutional crisis, the Republican Party is doomed to shame and obsolescence.

Even Vermont Republicans who continue to embrace the brand, remaining silent as the Trump administration delves ever deeper into racism, xenophobia, misogyny and toxicity, are complicit. History may judge them harshly, just as it has judged even minor officials in the Third Reich who turned a blind eye to the terrible agenda telegraphed from Berlin.

There are simply no remaining excuses for complicity.

Vermont Life Magazine & Governor Scott’s disaster marketing

WCAX reports the Scott administration will keep Vermont Life Magazine rather than continue recent efforts to sell the state-published regional lifestyle magazine. According to Vtdigger.com the state turned down nine bids from outside businesses for the magazine. Vermont Life, in publication since the late 1940’s, is now in debt and struggling with declining circulation numbers, as many periodicals are.

I have fond memories of Vermont Life from over fifty years ago the outhouse attached to woodshed at the back of the barn at my grandfather’s farmhouse was wallpapered with pictures he cut from the magazine. So in one sense, I am pleased with the news. But I wonder about the Scott administration’s overall marketing scheme.

The magazine will now be put to use as one part of the administration’s plan to market Vermont to out-of-state businesses and people. Speaking to WCAX, Governor Scott’s Commerce Secretary (and former Burlington top cop) Michael Schirling explained that Vermont Life now has a “bright future” as part of the plan to market the state around the country.  Another element of the plan – the administration wants people displaced by hurricanes last summer to move to Vermont. “There are folks from all over that – whether it’s in one of those areas affected or elsewhere – that are looking for opportunities,” mailboxVTlife1

When Vermonters were digging out from hurricane Irene-our own climate disaster that devastated large parts of the state, do you suppose many Vermonters would have packed up for the Lone Star state if a free  issue of Texas Highways popped up in the mailbox?

Perhaps inadvertently Scott may have previewed his out-of-state disaster marketing plan a couple weeks back. In remarks to reporters Scott spoke about his hope that climate change could prove an “economic boon” for Vermont. Said the Governor: “When we look across the U.S. and see that climate patterns have changed dramatically — we’re seeing wildfires in California — it makes Vermont look pretty good.”  He expressed his belief that the in Northeast “we’re in a pretty good position” and compared to other states “we could be the Mecca,”

And the notoriously penny-pinching Scott administration has asked for $3 million to be budgeted for the overall effort. But do state-run “move here” ad blitzes such as  Think ! Vermont even work? Could Gov. Scott or  Sec. Schirling or any of the Mad Men (or women) at Vermont’s  Agency of Commerce and Community Development cite any studies that show what kind of results to expect ? Commenting on an efforts by northern cities to entice millennials to move there, Joe Cortright, an economist and director of City Observatory (a think tank funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation) noted: There’s little research tracking such marketing efforts, and it’s difficult to gauge the subtle influences of media on personal decisions like where to move. And it is a crowded field: mid-west states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and back to Maine and New Hampshire are all working on variations of “move here” campaigns.

One sidebar to Gov. Scott’s marketing Vermont as “Mecca”: we’re not immune to climate damage. Remember hurricane (post-tropical storm, officially) Irene?  For the last three years all the lower 48 states and Alaska had above-average annual temperatures. And sure, it is cold now according to NOAA: Despite cold seasons in various regions throughout the year, above-average temperatures, often record-breaking, during other parts of the year more than offset any seasonal cool conditions.

Couldn’t $3 million of our tax dollars be spent more wisely on the people that already live here and not on this “move here” advertising scheme? So we ask again, Governor Scott: affordable for whom, the regular folks who live here, or the digital-native millennials with high-end incomes you hope to entice here?

 

Sec. of State Condos: good riddance to vote fraud commission

[Updated: Short version: “The White House intends to destroy voter data collected by the election fraud commission [Donald Trump] recently shut down, the Justice Department said in a court filing Tuesday night. White House Director of Information Technology Charles Herndon said in a declaration submitted to a federal court in Washington that officials plan to erase the information, rather than transfer it to the Department of Homeland Security or the National Archives and Records Administration.” Or so they say.]

Good riddance to the Advisory Commission on Election Fraud, but in the age of Trump and his GOP thugs, VT Sec. of State Condos says:We must be vigilant and focused on preserving our democracy.”

The presidential advisory group launched last May by the Trump administration to root out imaginary voter fraud has been disbanded. The White House announced a week ago that the Department of Homeland Security would take over commission’s unfinished “work.”voteno5

From day one the so-called “Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and managed by vice chair Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was widely seen as a vehicle to purge voter rolls and suppress voters’ right to vote. In his position as Kansas Sec. of State Kobach advocated proof-of-citizenship requirements. He wholeheartedly endorsed Trump’s false assertion that if thousands had not voted illegally for president in New Hampshire he would have won the election’s popular vote. And let’s not forget to give proper credit to  New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu (R) for animating that lie for the GOP early in the campaign, which, like a zombie, still shuffles around Trumpland.

So good riddance to the troubled commission! Commission member Maine Sec. of State Mike Matt Dunlap(D) had sued it to obtain documents which Kobach kept secret from its own members. Now predictions are that the shift to DHS will basically spell the end of the Trump’s effortsno sane official would take on the troubled commission’s job.  Or as one observer aptly put it: Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University School of Law and a former Department of Justice civil rights official quoted by propubilca.org says “You don’t normally want to be the second person to jump on a live grenade.”

A tireless advocate for voting rights Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, also the current president of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), has been out front opposing the commission. Early on Condos refused Kobach’s request to hand over Vermont voter data. Now he remains skeptical that democracy’s victory will mean no further assaults by the GOP and Trump administration’s organized meddling. Condos said about the move to DHS: “I believe this is an attempt to give the federal government even more freedom to meddle in our elections, a state-run function. I am concerned about gross federal overreach, and this move only fuels fears of a federal takeover of state elections, damaging the trust we’ve been trying to build with DHS in collaborating on election security.”

The ACLU has already taken legal action to block any transfer of data from the dissolved commission to the DHS. But if we have learned anything from the Trump (and the GOP) in the last year it is that this likely not the end of it. His GOP enablers have long history of voter suppression and Trump seems determined and has promised to find and root out the “fraud” that he imagines cost him the popular vote. In this case we should take him at his word; rule number one for surviving under an autocratic regime is: Believe the autocrat.

Workers lose on overtime pay; Donald schedules himself more TV time

The Economic Policy Institute has tracked a recent overtime pay cut engineered by the Trump administration and calculated what the rule change is going to cost U.S. workers. Earlier this year the Department of Labor abandoned 2016 regulations that expanded 40-year-old overtime rules. The rules from the Obama DOL could have increased overtime pay for workers by billions. However, since the new regs were challenged in court in 2016 by a coalition of 21 states and business groups, President Trump recently dropped any federal effort to defend them. Failure to enact them, the EPI calculated, will cause the loss of $1.2 billion per year in lost overtime for workers.

In New England it looks like New Hampshire is a bigger loser of overtime than Vermont. EPI’s estimates show New Hampshire misses out on $6,078,793 per year without the updated overtime regulations compared to Vermont’s estimated loss of $3,032,958.

Here’s the state by state chart showing the numbers potentially lost for Vermonters.

lost OT

We haven’t even mentioned yet the lost tax revenue for states on those wages.

And meanwhile overtime is definitely not a problem at the White House. It turns out President Trump’s daily schedule has been adjusted to allow “Executive Time” so he can spend three hours in the morning watching TV and head to the oval office later. Between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Axios.com reports The Donald is having “Executive Time” in the Oval Office, but in reality: … [he] spends that time in his residence, watching TV, making phone calls and tweeting. […] Trump’s days in the Oval Office are relatively short – from around 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., then he’s back to the residence. During that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the Oval. Then he’s back to the residence for more phone calls and more TV.

TrumpTVThe White House is calling it “Executive Time” but “Fox and Fury Time” might be more accurate given that his often rage-filled morning tweets tend to coincide with Fox News broadcasts. Often, Politico.com reports presidential tweets begin popping up minutes after a Fox report airs.

So welcome to America 2018 where President Trumpa self-described “very stable genius”can happily spend three or more hours (in his pajamas?) every morning in front of his wide screens stroking his ego. But his Department of Labor won’t support or defend restructured overtime rules for workers. Just like that “tax cut” bill he signed: all the pie for the billionaires, none but crumbs for the workers.

Too Little, Too Late?

Will 2018 be the session in which the Vermont senate finally takes meaningful action toward addressing sexual harassment?  We’ll see.

‘“There’s a different weight to it this year in light of all that’s been going on around us,” (Senator Tim) Ashe said of the new policies, referring to national stories of sexual harassment.’

It’s too little too late to help one young girl who, reluctantly and under oath, provided compelling testimony of her alleged sexual exploitation by then-senator Norm McAllister. The victim had the misfortune of stepping forward just a couple of years before our porcine president and the “Me too!” movement catapulted the dirty secret of sexual assault by powerful men to national attention.

We’re talking about a slip of a girl, just a teenager at the time she served as Mr. McAllister’s unofficial intern at the statehouse, who came from a low-income rural background, asking for a state senator to be held accountable for abusing her.

She relied on law enforcement and the states attorney who persuaded her to testify, to provide the credibility for her complaint that her own social inferiority denied her. Had she hailed from the hill section of St. Albans with gold-plated parentage, I rather doubt her case would have been dropped by the state’s attorney after she fibbed, out of shame and the growing realization that her behavior, not McAllister’s was on trial, about a kiss with a lad who was not her boyfriend.

She left that courtroom completely broken, and we haven’t heard from her since.

The next female who dared complain about the sexual mistreatment she received from McAllister once again sat alone in the courtroom as her own past relationships and financial hardships were used as a cudgel to reduce her credibility before the jury who accepted the argument that a decent family man and senator like McAllister simply wouldn’t do the things of which she accused him. If he had, it must have been consensual; as if any woman can actually “consent” to sexual exploitation by a man who wields the power to deprive her of heat and a place to live.

A third accuser conveniently died before the alleged assaults were brought to trial.

After it was all over but the weeping, McAllister faced conviction on only one count of procurement for the purpose of prostitution, and as far as I know has yet to be sentenced.

I have serious doubts that the procedures now in place for dealing with sexual harassment in the senate would have prevented that teenager’s secret exploitation in Montpelier; or any of the other brutalities Mr. McAllister actually discussed in recorded conversations with the other two complainants.

I suppose it’s pointless to wonder if the outcome of Mr. McAllister’s brush with justice might have been different had it taken place now; but I would urge the legislature to consider well that persons of low status usually suffer the greatest indignities, and a sexual harassment policy that is ineffective at protecting the very young and the timid
won’t be worth the paper its printed on.

Polling trends 2017: Healthcare up and Trump still down

CNN has a list of seven polling trends showing what they consider significant and worth review as 2017 lurches to an end. Two caught my eye: the first because it’s always good to be reminded of Trump’s low poll numbers, and the second may be useful to keep in mind as the healthcare drama plays out here in Vermont.

Trump’s job approval hit record-breaking lows in 2017. Like a bad hair piece and the allegations of Russian involvement in his campaign, historically low approval ratings have stuck to Donald since he took office last January.down with trump

Trump’s quarterly approval numbers are some of the lowest since Gallup began tracking them for presidents — falling in the 11th percentile of out of 288 presidential quarters tracked by Gallup over the last half century. That ranking probably is not a surprise to anyone securely attached to reality, yet Trump continues to insist (i.e., to lie) that his approval numbers are similar to what Obama’s had been at year one in his presidency.

The other CNN trend that caught my attention regards the ACA’s, aka Obamacare’s, rise in popularity even as Trump and the GOP waged all out war against it. Obamacare hasn’t had a net negative favorability rating at all this year, according to polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a stark change from its stretch of negative ratings early in 2016 and most of the prior five years. ACA popularity

The most recent numbers show […] a 50% favorable and 46% unfavorable rating, though the positive gap has climbed as high as 13 points in August.

 Keep that popularity increase in mind as we grapple with the healthcare issue in Vermont. VPR reports that Senate president pro tem Tim Ashe (D/P), Green Mountain Care Board chairman Kevin Mullin and Governor Scott’s Secretary of the Agency of Human Services (AHS) Al Gobeille fear the elimination of the national mandate will cause premiums to spike,making them unaffordable. As GMCB chairman Kevin Mullin explained to VPR: That’s because he says anyone who drops their coverage will still receive medical treatment if they get sick, and the cost of this care can be shifted over to private insurance policies. As a result of this worry state leaders are looking at a possible state mandate to carry health insurance and possibly a penalty fee .

At the federal level it worked like this– If you could afford health insurance but choose not to buy it, you would pay a fee called the individual shared responsibility payment (the fee  sometimes called the “penalty,” “fine,” or “individual mandate”). You pay the fee when you file your federal tax return for the year you don’t have coverage.

What happens in 2018 when Governor Scott’s so called “affordability agenda” of low fees and taxes runs head-first into healthcare cost increases driven by his own party’s national and local anti-Obamacare fanatics? It’s anyone’s guess whether Phil will want to summon the political will to support maintaining affordable healthcare for Vermonters – including a state healthcare mandate – or will he sit back and watch the costs spike.

When the stethoscope meets the so-called affordability agenda, will Scott show heretofore missing leadership skills? Let’s not hold our breath while we wait.

Pig-Ignorant and Proud of It!

I keep promising myself to waste no more ink on Donald Trump, but the will to carry on is lost when I eliminate the elephant in the room. That “elephant” is pulverizing the place I call home.

What threw the switch for me this morning was the news that, on order of President Trump, climate change has been removed from the list of national security threats, where President Obama placed it in 2015.

It comes as no surprise, of course. Since taking office, “job one” for Donald Trump has been to expunge any trace of the eight year administration of Barack Obama and anything that smacks of science or intellect. He reminds me of all the despots of history who couldn’t feel really at home until they had hacked off the heads of every statue in the land that honored their despised predecessors.

“Job two”seems to be to destabilize the country and, if possible, the entire world.

But even the gargantuan ego of Donald Trump can’t hold back the impacts of climate change by simply denying its existence. When storms and flooding, draught and fires gradually reduce much of the continental US to permanent national disaster sites, I hope there will be some way to prosecute Donald Trump and his minions for the irreversible harm to which they have willfully condemned us all.

And while we are on the topic of Donald Trump’s War on Science, how about the news this week that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) will no longer be allowed to use the following terms in its budget proposals: “fetus,” “transgender,” “diversity,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “science-based,” and “evidence based.”

I wonder if this is a violation of the First Amendment(?)

Does D.T. actually believe that the words have some magical power, and not mentioning them will avoid summoning that power? He clearly believes that truth is a fungible commodity to be swapped out as he sees fit for a more convenient lie.

Then there is the chill in the air at the Environmental Protection Agency. Donald Trump gave that plum agency to one of its chief opponents, Scott Pruitt. Now the EPA’s career staff, appointed under multiple past administrations, Republican and Democratic, is being monitored, Gestapo-style, for any hint of disagreement with current policy, which effectively takes the “P” out of EPA.

When the revisionist reign of Donald I is finally over, we are on track to be light-years behind the rest of the developed world on science in general and climate change innovation in particular. Welcome back to the Iron-Age, folks!