Governor Phil Scott “proudly” tweets on bipartisan healthcare effort after GOP kills it

I wonder if  Governor Scott was unaware Wednesday that his fellow Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, had already shutdown bipartisan negotiations on Tuesday. The talks aiming to stabilize health  insurance markets and make a few changes to the Affordable Care Act  were already history when Scott tweeted the following: Proud to sign onto a letter with Governors from around the country in support of bipartisan health care reform.PhilScott tweeties

After only four meetings Sen. Alexander ended bipartisan talks Tuesday evening the same day a group of  ten governors  sent their letter to Senate leadership opposing the Graham-Cassidy bill and praising bipartisanship. [Alexander’s] unexpected decision appears aimed at shoring up support for the Senate GOP’s last-ditch plan to repeal ObamaCare, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), by removing any alternative legislation. The Senate bill is the GOP’s latest and possibly the most damaging anti Affordable Care Act legislation yet.

So was Scott out of touch with what fellow Republican Lamar Alexander is up to in the senate? Or maybe as a blue state Republican he just needed to tweet a quick meaningless look-at-what-I-did about my party’s healthcare bill message. If Scott really supports bipartisan healthcare reform a tweet with a little more kick would have called for Chairman Alexander to re-start his committee’s talks.

Something Fishy: Republican Governors Association secretly launch fake new site

It seems the Republican Governors Association has decided to quietly start their own online news service. And they only acknowledged the site, launched earlier this summer, as theirs after the Associated Press (a real news service!) made inquires about the mysterious site called The Free Telegraph.somefishynews

[…] It (the Free Telegraph) asks readers to sign up for breaking news alerts. It launched in the summer bearing no acknowledgement that it was a product of an official party committee whose sole purpose is to get more Republicans elected.

Only after The Associated Press inquired about the site last week was a disclosure [small and tucked away on the bottom of the page] added to The Free Telegraph’s pages identifying the publication’s partisan source.

The governors association describes the website as routine political communication. Critics, including some Republicans, say it pushes the limits of honest campaign tactics in an era of increasingly partisan media and a proliferation of “fake news” sites, including those whose material became part of an apparent Russian propaganda effort during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The RGA, funded in part by the ultra-conservative Koch Brothers, is a solid backer of our own Governor Phil Scott and spent heavily ($3 million in 2016 campaign ads) to get him elected.

Some people may recall that when Vice President Mike Pence was governor of Indiana he started a government-run news service he wanted to controlHe later withdrew it, following strong protest (it was dubbed “Pravda on the Plains”).

And now it smells like the RGA has hooked onto a similar fake news tactic. Those Republicans, they just can’t resist the bait of using less-than-factual propaganda to tilt the electorate their way. Something fishy, indeed.

Teflon legacy stubbornly sticks to Bennington

As we wait for it to dawn on Texas lawmakers that some of the toxic misery that is being visited upon them is due to lax regulation in a business-first state, Vermont is confronting its own history of safety “compromises.”

In an eye-opening series of feature stories, “Teflon Town,” Vermont Digger and the Bennington Banner explore a tale of regulatory failure that belies Vermont’s clean green reputation

Details of this “business friendly” environmental compromise are damning:

For decades, Vermont officials asked ChemFab to test smokestack emissions to determine whether the company was emitting toxic chemicals in the manufacture of Teflon-coated fabrics. One of those chemicals was PFOA, used to bond the Teflon, or polytetrafluoroethylene, to fiberglass fabric. Those tests were never performed. Instead of requiring ChemFab to meet environmental rules, state officials took a conciliatory approach and repeatedly allowed the company to violate emissions standards without penalty.

According to Digger, even though the state learned of the hazards from PFOA as early as 1997, no attempt was made to test the emissions from the ChemFab facility in Bennington for this substance until 2016. This, because the premier producer of Teflon-coated fabrics was considered too important to the Vermont economy to inconvenience with regulatory overbsight that the company claimed (falsely) to avoid in other locations.

•Residents filed hundreds of complaints about a “dirty plastic” odor from the North Bennington plant over a 24-year period.

•The company was supposed to catalog every chemical in the smokestack emissions. Results from testing in 1985, which established the baseline monitoring standards for a 15-year period, were badly executed. The tests were “not representative of stack emissions,” according to Mike Kawahata, the scientist with Environment One Corporation, the contractor for ChemFab that conducted the tests. State Rep. Marie Condon told DEC officials that it appeared ChemFab might be “intentionally withholding damaging information about its toxic emissions.” The state allowed the flawed results to stand.

•In internal memos, the commissioner of the Department of Health and field inspectors for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation asked senior officials at the Agency of Natural Resources to test for fluorocarbons, including PFOA. The tests were never conducted.

•Regulators recorded dozens of emissions violations from 1984 to 2002, but only one enforcement action was taken during that period.

•ChemFab managers misrepresented pollution control standards in other states and pushed Vermont regulators to relax air quality standards based on false claims. For example, the company said New Hampshire allowed competitors and other ChemFab facilities to operate without any pollution control devices on some smokestacks. In response to pressure from ChemFab, Vermont authorities gave the company tax breaks and waived air quality rules.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for everyone in this instance of environmental protection failure, extending through the administrations of both Democratic and Republican governors.

It’s the same old story we read over and over again: Vermont “has to be more business friendly.” Inevitably, that is the thinly veiled argument for letting big offenders off the hook on regulations while holding small businesses fully accountable.

…And as far as successfully retaining the “valuable” employer was concerned(?)…once again, it’s a familiar story:

Despite numerous concessions from Vermont officials at every level of government, in 2002, ChemFab closed its Bennington factory and moved its headquarters to Merrimack, New Hampshire.

ChemFab cut and ran, but it’s toxic legacy continues to haunt the groundwater in Bennington county sickening residents and undermining property values.

Is that really “business friendly?”

 

VTGOP committee member: “people […] confused as to what the march is all about.”

twofacesGOP3When The Atlantic Magazine reached out to GOP state and national committee members for a reaction to Trump’s handling of the violent events at Charlottesville, Vermont Republican National committeeman Jay Shepard offered this contention about the white supremist riot: “In all mob scenes there are people who just happen to be there, who aren’t leaders of organizations and are just confused as to what the march is all about.”

Yes, who among us hasn’t been confused “as to what the march [a Nazi riot]   is all about?”Although, you know, for many people seeing marchers wearing white hoods and flying swastika flags might have been the obvious tell.

[…]The Atlantic reached out to 146 Republican state party chairs and national committee members for reaction to Trump’s handling of the events. We asked each official two questions: Are you satisfied with the president’s response? And do you approve of his comment that there were “some very fine people” who marched alongside the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis?  

The vast majority refused to comment on the record, or simply met the questions with silence. Of the 146 GOP officials contacted, just 22 offered full responses—and only seven expressed any kind of criticism or disagreement with Trump’s handling of the episode. (Those seven GOP leaders represent New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, North Dakota, Alaska, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.) The rest came to the president’s defense, either with statements of support or attempts at justification

Almost a year ago I compared the VTGOP’s mixed enthusiasm for then-candidate Trump to a “mullet” hair style. That is the 1970’s and 80’s haircut style (infamous by the 1990’s) showed the public one “thing” (face) in the front view, yet show a different style or “thing” (another face) in the back: “all business in the front and all party in the back.” In the case of the VTGOP’s emerging mullet, all good ol’ imaginary GOP moderation in the front and just totally Trumpism in the back.

Now the VTGOP is still styling the political equivalent of a “mullet,” i.e., a two-faced approach with Phil Scott sporting some neatly trimmed criticism of President Trump’s “very fine people” remark up front, and Committeeman Jay Shepard showing the rough side in the back. It must be the look they prefer while strutting around under the circus tent.

NewVistas by any other name still a dead cow falling from the sky

 

The Valley News reports that David Hall is doing a little bit of rebranding to his New Vistas project. New Vistas is now to be known as Windsorange LLC.DCFFTS It not clear where this rebranding strategy and new name (a mash-up of Windsor and Orange counties) originated but Seven Days reported this spring that Montpelier lobbyist and PR ace Kevin Ellis was on-board with the utopian project and would help woo the local rurals.

The name is a combination of the two Vermont counties, Windsor and Orange, that Hall says he hopes to “improve.”

“What people never caught on to is (that) NewVistas is way in the future, and the first thing that needs to be done is jobs and commerce,” Hall said in an interview last week. “I decided to change the name so that people didn’t think we were trying to do NewVistas right away.” from VNews.com

New Vistas, now known as Windsorange LLC, is the utopian city/state Utah resident Hall has planned for several towns in central Vermont’s Upper Valley. Using the birthplace of the founder of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, as its focal point, the futuristic city/state is inspired by the Mormon design for the city of Zion.

The ultra wealthy(former owner of diamond oil drill manufacturer Novatek) Hall  is still buying up parcels of land for what could eventually be a residential community of a more than 5,000-acre home to 20,000 (plus) souls. Nicole Antal, a resident of the town of Sharon (within the area affected by Hall’s planned community) and the blogger who broke the New Vista story, is doggedly reporting Hall’s latest land buys and tracking local opposition efforts on the DailyUV.com.

NewVistas’ name change is only part of the rebranding, as Hall told the Valley News:  [he will be] focusing on offshoots of the research needed to make his self-sustaining communities possible.

“I have lots of expanding businesses under my umbrella,” he said, “and so what my hope is, is to get some good cooperation with other key people in the area” — potential partnerships that could bring to the White River Valley some “good jobs,”

He would not name names of local partners but did say the Vermont Law School with whom he had hoped to partner had rejected an association with Windsorange/NewVistas. But Hall  stresses, in what by repetition seems a vaguely threatening way, the long-term or even inevitable nature of his dream community. “[…] so I’ll just wait. My ideas are too far out for most people. But I’m patient. I can wait.”

For the short term, inflicting his massive Windsorange dream community on several small Vermont towns seems as welcome as dead cow falling from the sky.

Monumental removal priorities

For today at least, and for sanity’s sake I plan to limit myself to following reports about  Trump’s latest outburst  of support for white nationalists to 140 character bites such as the one below.  This time President Trump angrily  went off script and perhaps the rails to totally reject  criticism of the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville Virginia.

gotta go

 

Norm McAllister plays the world’s smallest violin…again.

Just in case anyone still cares, you should know that, according to the Messenger, perennial victim of unfair antipathy toward serial sexual assaulters, Norm McAllister wants to have his conviction on one count of “prohibited acts” overturned.That’s right: following one aborted trial concerning accuser #1, a teenager at the time of the alleged assaults; the untimely death of accuser #2, and the defense’s successful end-run against all but one of the lesser charges concerning accuser #3, Mr. McAllister wants another bite at the apple of complete exoneration.

Nevermind the fact that he has twice put the state through the costs of preparation and jury selection to hear the case concerning accuser #3. You may recall that Mr. McAllister abruptly entered a plea of guilt after the first day of the first trial, because the audio evidence was judged so damning by his defense team. The next morning he demanded that he be allowed to revoke his plea and stand trial all over again, claiming his defense team had bullied him into the plea.  (whimper, whimper...)

If you read the comments on stories about these trials, made almost entirely by men…and men who were not in attendance at the trials, I might add…you will understand why Mr. McAllister has felt emboldened to play the victim, over-and-over again. With few exceptions, these gentlemen, enlightened by nothing more than brief second-hand summaries of recordings and testimonies, all conclude that McAllister did nothing wrong; often adding a superfluous observation to the effect that “women often lie about these things.” The passion of these remarks makes one wonder about the gentlemen’s own personal histories on consent!

Statistically, nothing could be further than the truth. Not only is sexual assault drastically underreported; on the occasions when it is reported, the deeply personal nature of the crime means that it is rarely brought successfully to trial. The percentage of false accusations is around 5% or less. Few men are ever held accountable for their sexual assaults.

And what is the possible sentence that Mr. McAllister is facing for his “unfair”conviction? All of $100. or a year in jail. Tsk, tsk…how unjust.

Worlds-smallest-violin

 

What saved a prized UVM botanical collection from destruction?

The Burlington Free Press reported an interesting angle to a recent storyit was a federal grant that saved a prized UVM botanical collection from severe fire damage. In addition to the efforts of fire fighters who responded to the fire at UVM’s Torrey Hall, some new storage units purchased by UVM in 2014 with National Science Foundation funding are credited with saving the irreplaceable plant and fungus collectionsaid to be worth as much as $6 million dollars.brought_nsf

The recent fire, accidentally caused by workers repairing and soldering the copper roof, could have been a disaster for the college’s Biology and Plant Biology departments collections housed there. Seven Days reported that firefighters from Burlington and Malletts Bay responded and had the fire “nearly extinguished” after several hours, but as “hot spots” flared up, they remained on fire watch for 24 hours afterward.

“If we didn’t have the funding support from the National Science Foundation, which provided us full replacement of the old cabinets, the material would have been incinerated. We would have lost the whole thing,” Dave Barrington, plant biologist and curator of the herbarium, said in statement from UVM, quoted in the Burlington Free Press

Built in 1863, Torrey Hall is listed on The National Register of Historic Places; several floors house the extensive and valuable plant collection. The Pringle Herbarium, according to UVM, is a critical resource for research activity in plant systematics the biological classification of plants and botanical diversity studies. In addition to keeping the collection safe from fire, water, and pests, the collection’s new storage units also speed a digital imaging project now underway. With the near-constant barrage of budget-cutting and belt-tightening demands from federal and state officials, this averted disaster is a practical reminder of what well-spent federal tax dollars can accomplish for the public good.

Oh, and by the way, Trump’s 2018 budget has proposed an 11% cut for the National Science Foundation. That slash was rejected by Congress, but their draft budget only level-funds the NSF and strictly limits the organization’s flexibility to distribute its limited funding to foundation-set priorities. This approach is seen as part of a continuing desire by Republicans in Congress to force the NSF away from research on social and behavioral science and significantly anything to do with climate change.

Vermont’s town clerks do the darnedest things!

Vermont may not have the criminal cachet of bigger states, but in one specialized area of wrong doing, we could claim some eccentric distinction.

That area is, of course, embezzlement by town clerks.

The latest tale of disappearing dollars in Coventry is told so well by Dan Schwartz of Vermont Digger that I will leave you to read about the epic failure by local authorities to bring the culprit to justice, from that reliable source.

Suffice it to say that Cynthia Diaz, now former town clerk, treasurer, and tax collector  of Coventry, is suspected of embezzling over one million dollars over the course of her thirteen year tenure by pocketing cash payments to the Town and writing unwarranted checks in payment to herself from the Town.

It appears that the situation was compounded by incompetence from the town select board and some rather odd behavior by the fired town lawyer, Bill Davies.

‘Turns out that Ms. Diaz had a history of suspicion for embezzlement from her previous employer, Gray’s Paving. Apparently she has been under investigation in one place or the other since 2005. The Feds have been on her tail for years. She was even convicted on two misdemeanor tax evasion charges; but no one’s managed to nail her for embezzlement before now, and she just kept getting re-elected.

Using the “carrot and stick” approach, she kept an intimidating Rottweiler in the office with her but also “forgave” some people’s tax debts, as it suited her. There were many irregularities, like a missing grand list, and many creative excuses.

She had a bank account in the Bahamas, was receiving wire transfers from
an ex-husband in Panama, and holds properties in remote locations like Hawaii.

How did Ms. Diaz manage to remain in office all these years? Apparently she was also pretty good at playing the martyr and had somehow convinced the voters that she was just a victim of a “witch hunt.”

Don’t laugh. That performance has worked in higher office than Coventry town hall.

The whole story is worthy of novelization. Diaz apparently had complete power over town offices and used simple key control to deny anyone access to anywhere she liked. When Scott Morley of the select board finally gained access to the attic above town offices, after people had remarked on the sound of animals moving about overhead, he discovered it contained feral cats and filthy litter boxes.

What the hell???

She has already destroyed the thumb drive of town records that she routinely carried back and forth to work, and other important paperwork also appears to be missing.

Finally, the grownups seem to have retaken the kindergarten, and the new town attorney, Paul Gillies, is hot on what’s left of her paper trail.

How things could have gotten so far out of hand in the little town of roughly 1,000 souls is a very good question until you remember my previously favorite embezzlement story from Isle LaMotte, (2009) in which the Town Clerk was the daughter of the select board chairman, who reimbursed the City from his own pocket when he learned that she had dipped into the till to the tune of $150,000. Because a second select board member was the woman’s boyfriend, they managed to keep the whole affair a secret. Those kinds of secrets rarely go undiscovered, and the culprit was ultimately sentenced to 90 days in the pokey.

You just gotta love this quirky little state.