Lauren Hierl Becomes VCV Political Director

I am so pleased to report that Lauren Hierl, Political Director of Vermont Conservation Voters since 2014, has now become its Executive Director. I had the pleasure of serving on VCV’s Board of Directors at the time Lauren first joined the organization and can say she brought new dynamism and communication skills to the group that has for so many years ably carried the banner for progressive policy in Vermont.

Here follows VCV’s press announcement:

Montpelier – The Vermont Conservation Voters (VCV) Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Lauren Hierl has been named Executive Director. Hierl has served as the VCV Political Director since 2014. Prior to that, Hierl worked as Environmental Health Advocate at Vermont Public Interest Research Group, as an environmental advocate in Washington, D.C. at National Audubon Society and Alaska Wilderness League, and as a researcher in Kruger National Park, South Africa and San Diego.

“Lauren has demonstrated strong leadership while Political Director, helping build Vermont Conservation Voters into a thriving and respected organization,” said VCV Board Chair Kinny Perot. “The Board decided to restructure the organization and name Lauren as Executive Director to reflect her demonstrated success as a highly effective advocate and influential player in recent elections.”

Founded in 1982, VCV works to elect environmentally-friendly candidates to public office, advocates for strong environmental laws, and holds elected officials accountable for the decisions they make affecting our air, water, communities, land, and wildlife.

“In my role as political director, I’ve had the opportunity to work on campaigns critical to protecting Vermonters’ health and our communities, including stronger policies to promote clean water, action on climate change, safeguarding our forests, and protecting people from toxic chemicals,” said Lauren Hierl. “I’m proud to be a part of VCV and am excited to continue to work with our board and supporters to build a bright future for VCV and Vermont’s environment.”

In addition to campaign and election work, VCV publishes an annual Environmental Common Agenda, which highlights the top legislative priorities of Vermont’s environmental community each year. VCV also produces an Environmental Scorecard, and works to inform voters about their elected officials’ leadership or opposition to environmental goals. VCV endorses candidates, and actively works to help elect environmental champions.

While VCV maintains a strategic partnership with the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC), it is a separate organization with its own board of directors, and is governed by separate bylaws. “We’re excited to see Lauren named Executive Director of VCV,” said Brian Shupe, VNRC executive director. “She is a strong and strategic advocate who ensures that Vermonters’ environmental concerns are top-of-mind for our elected leaders.” Shupe will continue to oversee the strategic partnership between the two organizations.

Net neutrality race: Phil Scott follows Montana, New York and New Jersey’s lead

In a press release on Thursday Republican Governor Scott announced he issued an executive order requiring that state contractors comply with net neutrality standardsthus following the lead of Democratic governors in Montana and New York and New Jersey who first signed similar orders back in January.scottmoves1 The governor’s order directs the Agency of Administration to amend its procedures to ensure that internet providers who contract with the state comply with net neutrality standards, according to a news release from the Scott administration

The governor’s executive order would prevent internet companies who contract with the state from blocking content, engaging in paid prioritization of internet services or acting to “throttle, impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service.”

Scott’s order came after a state senate committee passed legislation (S.289) aimed at the same goal: to stop FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s repeal of Obama-era rules that had prohibited broadband providers from blocking or slowing websites or charging for higher-quality content and service. Similar legislation is under consideration in the Vermont House.

Other challenges to the Trump-era FCC rule change out ahead of Scott’s Thursday order include one by Vermont AG T.J. Donovan. He earlier joined attorneys general in twenty-one states in a lawsuit against the FCC to keep net neutrality. And nationally our entire congressional delegation has opposed Chairman Pai’s rule change from the start.

Governor Scott did include an exclusionperhaps a regulatory loophole: “Waivers to these Procedures may be granted by the Secretary only upon receipt of a written justification from a State Agency and a finding by the Secretary [that] a waiver would serve a legitimate and significant interest of the State,” the order says.

In fairness, it must be noted that the Senate version of the bill as of our reading has a similar passage: The Secretary of Administration may waive the prohibition on paid prioritization and preferential treatment under subdivision (b)(1)(C) of this section if the Internet service provider demonstrates and the Secretary finds that the practice would serve a legitimate and significant public interest and would not harm the open nature of the Internet in Vermont.

But, it’s good that Governor Scott has finally decided to enter the already-underway race to save net neutrality, however late his start. Because, you know, the internet just won’t run right when blocked, slowed, and throttled.

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre 2018

“St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” has a whole new meaning this year. Was the connection  intentional for the shooter who killed seventeen people and wounded fifteen others in one of the worst school shootings in history?  We’re already learning of a white supremacist association with the shooter,  so who knows what else is in his pathology?

Perhaps Donald Trump thinks its sufficient to opine on the shooter’s mental health and skirt the issue of gun control altogether, but I believe that says more about the Presidents’ own mental fitness than anything else.  After all, the shooter’s white nationalist ties make him one of the President’s peeps.

What is wrong with this country? For years now, the disfunction has been apparent to people all over the world. We Americans simply will not do anything about the availability of “weapons of mass destruction” in our own communities.

There are several possible reasons why foreign enrollment in U.S. colleges is trending downward, not the least of which is the poisonous quasi-official attitude toward non-white foreigners emanating from the White House, and the decline in government support for education in general. But compounding the problem must surely be the steady stream of horrific gun violence stories peppering the news. What parent wouldn’t think twice before allowing their child to study abroad in a country wracked with senseless violence?

The NRA has such a stranglehold over the GOP that even with a “normal” Republican president and congress, there would be absolutely no hope of any action on sensible gun control. They won’t even discuss it; and Donald Trump, always more of an instigator than a leader, is scared to even mention the word “gun” in his response to the horrific shootings…
quaking-in-his-boots scared.

In the absence of courage to discuss the obvious remedy, he and others in his party lay down a bunch of platitudes about mental health; but even that is a sham because the whole mess of them has been hell-bent on defunding every aspect of health and the social safety net at their first opportunity. We’re left with nothing but meaningless words.

Donald Trump wants a military parade and a useless wall: to hell with funding for social services and mental health initiatives.

Law enforcement’s big idea is to increase surveillance of all citizens in order to spot possible perps and presumably do a mental health intervention. Isn’t this a movie plot?

What happens when, inevitably, some future Donald Trump decides those interventions should not just happen to people who say they are going to kill somebody, but extrapolates the legal argument to people who express opinions against government policies or make art lampooning “Dear Leader?”

It’s the damndest slippery slope, but those who hug the second amendment couldn’t give a fig about the first.

Rational gun control isn’t rocket science. Strict permitting requirements should limit access to weapons like that AR-15, and the so-called “bump stock” modifications we heard so much about recently, to security professionals and sportsmen who have passed rigorous safety and mental health screening checks. All firearms should, at minimum, be registered every time they change hands. Why should the most lethal of our constitutional rights also give the broadest license to abusers?

I am disgusted.

Climate news quiz: What’s the difference?

Short two part news quiz:whatsdif3

What follows are two recent quotes about climate change that were in the news.

Step one: simply match the quote to one of these two prominent national Republicans: Vermont Governor Phil Scott or EPA Director Scott Pruitt. Part one should be easy if you have been following the news.

Quote # 1.) “We know humans have most flourished during times of what, warming trends. So I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018? ”*

Quote #2.) “Climate change could be in some ways beneficial […] when we’re seeing some of the activity in California today, with the wildfires and so forth, and lack of water in some regions of the country, if we protect our resources we could use this as an economic boon, in some respects,” **

And- Step two of the test,explain: What’s the Difference?

 They both have staff that scrub and edited out references to climate change language from official documents. Both Governor Scott and EPA head Scott Pruitt have evolved the more skeptical language they  used about the issue. And now, by suggesting climate change might be beneficial, or even an “economic boon” for some and not a disaster for the planet, the threat seems not as threatening and the need to take action less immediate.

So what is the difference between them?

* Quote # 1.) source

** Quote #2.) source

Better than dying on Mars: can Vermont beat that one?

In hopes of building the labor force and boosting currently-static population growth, Governor Phil Scott proposed spending $3.2 million on a glorified ad campaign to woo people permanently to the state. The multi-faceted promotional plan, if enacted, would include digital marketing, financial incentives and would enlist the state-owned Vermont Life magazine into the act.

A similar promotional effort run for years in South Dakota  now known as  “Dakota Roots” is cited by both Secretary of Commerce Michael Schirling and special assistant to the Governor and executive director of workforce expansion Dustin Degree* as a model for the success  of the plan they hope to implement.

* Possibly the longest job title in VT state government — and a heavy burden (or the illusion thereof: straw disguised as iron)  for a former Franklin County state Senator sometimes referred to as “Do-nothing Dustin” and “Do-little Degree.”

So what’s this template for Vermont look like? Well, in 2015 after months of study and input from focus groups, South Dakota premiered a promotional video featuring testimonials for the state. It began: “South Dakota. Progressive. Productive. And abundant in oxygen. Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?”

It closed with the tagline: “South Dakota. Plenty of jobs. Plenty of air.”

The media noted at the time that at long last there was alternative to dying on Mars.LifemarsVT2 contacted South Dakota’s secretary of labor and regulation Marcia Hultman who told them they have had “really good results” and data shows the state welcomed 4,770 new workers since the program started in 2006. But she didn’t respond to subsequent questions about how the state determines whether the new residents came because of its efforts.

Since their economy has been booming it really is too bad some sort of data documenting the campaign “success” at luring workers wasn’t available. How can they prove the job growth wouldn’t have happened anyway with a healthy economy? It’s like the rooster that believes the sun comes up only when he crows.

Ironically South Dakota’s success rests on some things our GOP Governor might quickly oppose should they be suggested for Vermont. For instance the wind power industry has thrived in S.D., reportedly providing billions of dollars of investment, and thus millions in tax revenue and thousands of jobs.

And the state’s huge agriculture sector err, make that CORN sectoris largely supported by federal ethanol subsidies and government mandates. The state has 15 ethanol-making facilities. Opposition to ethanol subsidies is more in Congressman Welch’s bailiwick since it’s a federal issue, but most snow-machine, small-engine owners, and (generally speaking) gear-heads hate the destructive ethanol-added fuel.

And how about a wage increase? You know, make life a little more affordable for thousands of S.D. workers by putting more money in their paychecks. In successful ballot measures sponsored by Democrats and labor unions and opposed by the state’s GOP, South Dakota has steadily increased its minimum wage over the years.

There is one feature of  the S.D. economy our own laissez-faire GOP governor might admire: big national banks are thriving out there. South Dakota’s $3.2 billion in bank assets are the most of any state and represent nearly one-fifth of all bank assets in the U.S.

How did they get all those assets? Back in 1980’s the state loosened historically stringent lending interest-rate regulations. As a result, credit card banking moved incheck the return address on your Citibank bill. Thanks to GOP Gov. Bill Jankolow’s regulatory accommodation, big national banks that relocated there have for years been able to charge what many consider exorbitant almost usuriousrates on credit balances.

Okay let’s give the S.D. welcoming PR-campaign the benefit of the doubt; let’s say it isn’t so much the massive government-subsidized agriculture sector or the booming wind power industry or regular boosts to the minimum wage that is attracting people to the state. I suppose it could be the result of their 2015 “Hey, at least we’re not Mars” video.

If Scott’s promo plan goes ahead here in Vermont, we may get to see just what Sec.of Commerce Shirling, workforce genie Dustin Degree, and $3.2 million dollars can dream up to beat the  “Mars” bar promo South Dakota laid down.  Come on, THINK!Vermont.

Time to shout: THIS IS NOT NORMAL!

In a speech at a manufacturing plant in Ohio today the Republican President of the United States accused Democrats of treason for the crime of not applauding during his recent State of the Union.

In part Donald said:“They [Democrats] were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, Yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.”

Just about un-freaking real.

Autocracy rules for survival #4: Be outraged. If you follow Rule #1 Believe the autocrat. He means what he says, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself.


Medicaid work requirement? Scott Admin. not opposed, could happen here.

The new Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar (the replacement for former HHS Sec. Tom Price who resigned over ethical questions) jumped on a plane out of Washington this past Friday. He headed off to Indiana to personally announce HHS had approved the state’s new work requirements for Medicaid recipients.  Azar’s visit sent a clear signal about how much the Trump administration favors states enacting Medicaid work requirements-a change with potential to curtail or eliminate crucial healthcare benefits for many. (It might also signal Mike Pence’s influence and readiness to take over if necessary.)

Azar’s messaging might lead some to wonder if such requirements might ever be considered here in Vermont should our no-new-taxes, no-new -fees GOP Governor take a liking to the idea.

In Indiana, explains: the Medicaid waiver — titled the Healthy Indiana Plan, or HIP for short — will allow the state to kick out enrollees who can’t prove they are working, studying, volunteering or applying for work at least 20 hours per week. People older than 60, pregnant women, primary caregivers and those deemed “medically frail,” among others, will be exempt.

 “There is a robust body of academic evidence to show that work is a key component of well-being,” Azar said Friday in Indianapolis.

Kaiser Health News waiver tracker map

Supporters would love to find a solid correlation between work and improved health outcomes in order to promote work requirements for benefits. However points out: the academic study HHS cited to argue that work requirements will make people healthier was conducted in England, where all citizens have access to universal health care whether or not they are employed.

Indiana now joins Kentucky in the pool of states to be granted the right to impose work requirements for some residents in order for them to receive Medicaid. A group of Kentucky residents are suing the federal government to halt the new rules, accusing the Trump administration’s actions are “threatening irreparable harm to the health and welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable in our country.”  Eight other states are about to join the rush to impose work restrictions.

When questioned about the issue early in January according to VPR news, Vermont’s Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille remarked that such restrictions would be a “high hurdle” and “tough to think about.” And not exactly reassuring to those who would oppose the changes, he added: “But I’m willing to take a look at it, if there’s any merit in it that would help people.”

Although Governor Scott reportedly has not reviewed the new Trump policy it may not be too farfetched that he might like the idea, after all he has proposed “slashing” part of Vermont’s Medicaid spending already. And quietly tucked away in his 2018 budget is a proposal to eliminate a $1.39 million disability assistance program designed to help disabled Vermonters hire home aides to assist with their daily needs, like bathing, getting dressed, or preparing food.

For now his administration hasn’t dismissed the idea forcing people to work in order to receive Medicaid as unacceptable philosophically. No, Scott’s administration is just worrying publicly that it might be  a “high hurdle” (with a Democratic majority in both houses of the legislature) should they decide to go where Trump, Sec. Azar and almost a dozen mostly-GOP states want to lead them.

Immigration Control & Enforcement gets massive license plate tracking data access

Immigration Control and Enforcement (aka ICE) has contracted with Vigilant Solutions, a private for-profit business that handles license plate reading and facial recognition data. License plate readers gather images of vehicles and identify the individual license plate number, and record the time and place the image was taken. This data having been harvested and stored by Vigilant Solutions outside public accountability gives ICE access to billions of license plate records and the ability for real-time location tracking.  dhslpr2

According to Vigilant Solutions has amassed a database of more than 2 billion license plate photos by ingesting data from partners like vehicle repossession agencies and other private groups. Vigilant also partners with local law enforcement agencies, often collecting even more data from camera-equipped police cars.

[They offer free access to their analytics services and no-charge data migration to eligible law enforcement agencies and so called “fusion centers”such as the one we have in Williston, Vermont.]

The result is a massive vehicle-tracking network generating as many as 100 million sightings per month, each tagged with a date, time, and GPS coordinates of the sighting.

Just another powerful surveillance tool in its expanding tool box but ICE, the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration enforcement arm must be thrilled at the acquisition.

Make no mistake: if you want to control people and enforce immigration law (regardless of constitutionality), or even raid an immigrant sanctuary city  this is just the tool to strike fear into targeted people and their allies. ICE agents would be able to query that database in two ways. A historical search would turn up every place a given license plate has been spotted in the last five years, a detailed record of the target’s movements. That data could be used to find a given subject’s residence or even identify associates if a given car is regularly spotted in a specific parking lot. [added emphasis]

The ACLU maintains LPR data can have some legitimate uses but worries about privacy implications as gathering and use of the data has become widespread. Jay Stanley, who studies license plate readers with the ACLU: “Are we as a society, out of our desire to find those people, willing to let our government create an infrastructure that will track all of us?”

And here in Vermont what happens to the data police collect from their license plate readers  the dozens supplied through various DHS and federal law enforcement grants?

The Vermont legislature imposed some restrictions of the length of time police can store data they collect. LPR data can be retained for 18 month with 90 day extensions allowed and available by request through Superior Court.

 In 2016 VPR reported: Police collected 8.66 million snapshots of license plates across Vermont in the 18 months leading up to Dec. 31, 2015. Each entry includes the time and location where each license plate was spotted by an Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) system.vt-alpr-data-vpr-ealfinj-20160216_0

[…] Police keep a trove of the millions of license plate scans under tight control at the Vermont Intelligence Center in Waterbury.  Law enforcement officers aren’t allowed to access the state’s central database directly, but must request information using a form that is reviewed by VIC staff, who can search the data if they deem the query to be legitimate. There’s no information about how officers use the data they get through the database’s search results and no information about the number of cases – if any – the information was relevant to.

Trump’s enforcer at ICE, Director Tom Homan, last year offered this blunt advice to undocumented immigrants: “You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.” At some point we all better start to worry and look over our own shoulders.  Rule # 1: believe what authoritarians say. Rule # 1a: buy stock in jackboot suppliers.

Fighting the FCC: A governor’s executive order mandates net neutrality

[Updated: New York Governor Cuomo followed Montana Governor Bullock’s lead this morning (1/24/18) and signed a similar executive order barring the state from contracting with internet service providers unless they agree to follow net neutrality. Gov. Cuomo said. “With this executive order, we reaffirm our commitment to freedom and democracy and help ensure that the internet remains free and open to all.”]

Way out West in the state of Montana there’s a showdownit’s Bullock versus Pai. Democratic Governor Steve Bullock has become the first to implement net neutrality requirements for state contracts. “This is a simple step states can take to preserve and protect net neutrality. We can’t wait for folks in Washington DC to come to their senses and reinstate these rules,” Bullock said,  according to the The order says that in order to receive a contract with the state government, internet service providers must not engage in blocking or throttling web content or create internet fast lanes.

This directive challenges FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s recent rule change on net neutrality.Apaitoll3


Montana  wants to maintain the rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or slowing websites or charging for higher-quality content and service that have recently been withdrawn by FCC chairman Ajit Pai.  The widely popular rules were originally put in force under the Obama era FCC.

And there are plenty of challenges to the rule change involving legislation floating around state houses. Attorneys general in twenty one states, including Vermont AG T.J. Donovan, are suing the FCC to keep net neutrality. Senators Leahy and Sanders and our lone Congress-critter Peter Welch also opposed the FCC on this scheme to undo net neutrality.

At the state level Secretary of State Jim Condos has also voiced his support for maintaining net neutrality. This past spring there was a joint resolution in the legislature urging the FCC to retain net neutrality.

But for now Governor Bullock’s executive order in Montana is the first executive order designed to accomplish the same goal.  In a statement, Bullock’s office urged other states concerned about net neutrality to use its order as a template for their own efforts:  Governor Bullock invited other governors and statehouses to join him. Governor Bullock’s administration will offer the framework to other states who wish to follow. “To every governor and every legislator in every statehouse across the country, and to every small business and every Fortune 500 company that wants a free and open internet when they buy services: I will personally email this to you,” [added emphasis]

State-mandated net neutrality could be a popular issue for someone to champion here in Vermont. At the time of the FCC rule change a spokesperson for Governor Scott (R) said he was “disappointed” with it. It is not impossible but realistically it is hard to imagine Gov. Scott taking an action as aggressive as issuing an executive order like Governor Bullock’s certainly not without some prompting toward perhaps channeling his “disappointment.”

Maybe someone else will pick it up. Such as, say, someone who not only favors net neutrality but might have hopes to run against Phil Scott for governor. Someone who values the future, maybe, someone like 13-year-old Ethan Sonneborn, of Bristol, who has announced he is running. Somebody get a comment from the young man!

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.