All posts by BP

Gov. Scott picks former ALEC chair for Green Mountain Care Board head

The Governor’s veto of the marijuana bill on Wednesday today may suck all the air out of Vermont newsrooms for the next day or so but he quietly made a couple appointments that will likely have as big an impact on the state.Scottkevinalec 2

Scott appointed state Senator Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) to chair the Green Mountain Care Board and Maureen Usifer to the board. The legislature created  the independent GMCB in 2011. Its responsibilities include health insurance rates, hospital budgets and major capital expenditures.

“Healthcare makes up approximately 20 percent of our economy, so it is critical to have strong, experienced leaders on this Board. Kevin is a proven leader with decades of business, management and public service experience, which he will bring to bear in this important leadership role. And, as an experienced chief financial officer and board director for respected companies, Maureen’s expertise in finance, management and oversight will be incredibly valuable to the Board and Vermonters.” said Scott in a press release [added emphasis]

So who is Senator Mullin, Scott’s choice to chair the Green Mountain Care Board? What kind of Republican is he? And what do we know about his view on the role of government in say, healthcare? Well, Mullin does have a long resume at the State House. He served as State Rep. from Rutland for four years, was appointed to the Senate in 2003, and won re-election to the seat ever since. He is currently chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs and sits on the Senate Committee on Education.

Senator Mullin served two separate times as Vermont state chair of one of the Koch Brothers’ many organizations, The American Legislative Exchange Council. A national franchise, ALEC supports right-wing state legislators with model legislation favorable to its corporate members. According to sourcewatch.org: ALEC’s agenda extends into almost all areas of law. Its bills undermine environmental regulations and deny climate change; support school privatization; undercut health care reform; defund unions and limit their political influence; restrain legislatures’ abilities to raise revenue through taxes; mandate strict election laws that disenfranchise voters; increase incarceration to benefit the private prison industry, among many other issues.

Mullin did not support Trump in last year’s GOP presidential primary. He sort of sat on his hands preferring John Kasich but when rumors that speaker Paul Ryan might jump in the race Mullin said he’d support him. Paul Ryan never ran but he is now champion of the GOP’s despicable American Health Care Act, which the CBO says would leave 23 million Americans uninsured by 2026 if it replaces the ACA (Obamacare) in its current form.

Ryan favors making millions of Americans uninsured, and ALEC wants to undermine regulations. I wonder which part of Mullin’s two favorite leadership models Governor Scott wants him to bring to bear on the Green Mountain Care Board Speaker Ryan’s health care lies, the Koch Brothers’ anti-government corporate-fueled juggernaut or both.

Either way, stock up on Band-Aids, since that’s all the healthcare many of us will be able to afford under Mullin and TrumpDon’tCare.

 

GOP governors fit that image

As you can see from the actual Google news screen shot (not photo-shopped) it’s  easy to confuse one Republican governor’s image and policy for another.

phildouglas

Now, former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas never had to decide whether to sign marijuana legislation. But he did wield threats of a budget veto similar to what Governor Phil Scott is now doing attempting to bend the Democratic majority legislature to his agenda. Some key people now members of Scott’s staff were part of Douglas’ administration eight years ago

In June 2009, Republican Governor Jim Douglas carried out his threat and issued an historic  2,000-word veto message, becoming the first Vermont governor to veto the state budget. He had hoped to draw a line in the sand, but although the move made history it was quickly blown away when the solid Democratic House and Senate majorities overrode his veto.

Fast forward to now. Like Douglas, Governor Scott has threatened a budget veto. He has targeted any budget the legislature sends him not including a requirement for teachers to pay 20% of their health care premiums. Since the Democratic majorities are not as large as in 2009, an override is not guaranteeddriving them into negotiations on Scott’s key demand. Where Douglas’ veto leverage failed, Scott may succeed getting part of his agenda implemented.

As talks on a negotiated deal began and details took form, the teachers’ union begged to differ: Martha Allen, the Vermont NEA president and a librarian at a school in Canaan, said the Scott administration’s “assault on collective bargaining is straight out of the Donald Trump and Scott Walker anti-union playbook.”

Over-stated? Well, the threats are real. It is worth recalling the $3 million in campaign support Phil Scott enjoyed getting from the Republican Governors Association. The union-busting Koch Brothers were the largest contributors to the RGA in 2016. according to opensecrets.org. And in the last election cycle as in the one beforethe Republican State Leadership Council (another Koch Brother project) helped the Vermont GOP by targeting a half-dozen Democratic legislators for defeat.

Sure Google algorithims mix up their images one GOP governor is pretty much just like another, eh? and with great gobs of funds from Koch Brothers organizations behind them all, is it any wonder the playbook and goals are similar? After all, Wisconsinonce progressive, “blue” and heavily unionized and the birthplace of public sector unionsis now in the bottom third of states for unionized workforce.

Given time and small steps and removing teachers’ health care from the collective bargaining process is exactly one of those “small” steps I am not so sure that Trump/Walker anti-worker laws could never happen here in blue Vermont.

GOP wrecking crews are still hard at work

Priority efforts to gut or eliminate Obama era rules that Republicans claim unfairly restrict their industry and business buddies are continuing. Over a dozen Obama rules protecting waterways near coal mines, disclosure requirements of labor law violations (wages and workers rights) for businesses bidding on federal contracts and restrictions on broadband companies (such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast) selling personal data have already been individually overturned this year under the Congressional Rules Act. Currently under the CRA Congress can overturn one executive rule at a time – but that may soon be turbo-charged by the GOP. demolish

To speed their frenzy  to demolish, the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, now in the Senate, would amend the CRA to enable legislative disapproval of multiple (executive) rules at once. Midnight Rules was passed in the House and is now sponsored in the Senate by chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ron Johnson (R-WI) , and a Senate panel is considering the legislation. The Midnight Rules Relief Act would save Congress time, by allowing lawmakers to strike down multiple regulations in one vote, Johnson explained.

While Republicans have seen the Congressional Review Act as a valuable tool to strike regulations, Democrats are hoping to abolish the CRA, fearing it is being used to eliminate environmental, health, and safety protections.

So while Trump noisily babbles and blunders his way to whatever fate awaits him keep an eye on Republicans in Congress while they take care of business — scurrying around demolishing rules intended to protect individuals and the environment.

We have to wonder if the title of the bill the Midnight Rules Relief Act is another bit of inadvertent truth-telling by the GOP. It’s the thieves’ hour when a lot of questionable legislation gets shoved through an inattentive body.

 

The Allium Cepa: “Trump ‘I am a big idiot’ “

I know in a way this simply is a distraction from all serious damage the Trump administration is doing (see this : All the Terrifying Things That Donald Trump Did Lately as of April 28th).  And it deflects attention away from all harm the Congressional Republicans are doing to the country (health care, tax reform, and gutting Dodd-Frank Legislation). But sometimes you just got to go with The Onion view. It does have a certain appeal.

Trump imstupidWASHINGTON—Responding to a damning Washington Post report alleging he had shared highly classified information with Russian officials, President Donald Trump addressed the concerns of the press, his fellow government officials, and the public at large Tuesday by announcing that he was an incredibly stupid human being. “I am a big idiot,” said the president, adding that the reason he always messes everything up is that he is a dumb moron who doesn’t know better.

“I do a lot of things that don’t make sense and are bad, and that’s because I don’t understand much. If I was smart, I would do stuff better, but I’m not. I’m really, really stupid.” The commander in chief added that it was probably best if somebody stopped him from doing dumb things all the time because he was too stupid to know how.

The GOP brought the Trump circus to town

About a month ago some online betting sites were offering even odds that Trump would resign or be impeached before his first term was over. trumpcir1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder what the odds are now, after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. And doing so under the flimsy pretense that Director Comey mismanaged the FBI’s investigation into…Hillary Clinton’s emails!?!

I know I have heard enough about her damn emails too but nowhere near enough about Trump’s troubling connections to Russia. (A day ago CNN published an impressive graph mapping in detail the tangled Trump/Russia web.) There are two investigations currently underway in the Congress regarding the Russian involvement with Trump. Democrats are calling for the formation of a special prosecutor’s office to investigate. It is time for an independent and thorough investigation into the Trump campaign and his administration’s involvement with Russia.

But Republicans have a solid majority in the U.S. House, a slim one in the Senate. Thus our country remains largely at the mercy of the GOP the party we can thank for inviting Trump’s circus to town in the first place.

And we know that neither the current president, nor the House Speaker, nor the Senate Majority Leader have any sense of shame over lies told and maneuvers done to preserve power despite lives harmed or lost.

From history, and the righteous take-down of the last power-hungry demagogue out to destroy lives:  You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? 

Why does WCAX’s Celebrating Cinco de Mayo video start with U.S. Border Patrol?

I don’t have cable and rarely look at WCAX online. But I did check out Vermont’s news station after hearing that the Martin family, owners of WCAX TV, had agreed to be sold to Gray Television, a media conglomerate from Georgia, for $29 million. WCAXmayo2

For no special reason I clicked on a days-old video story Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Vermont. It was a bit of a shock that a still shot showing what seems to be a U.S. Border Patrol immigration traffic stop of some kind precedes the actual story about a May 5th party in Essex Junction .

Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle between the Mexican army and French forces in 1862. The May 5th date is significant in the U.S. as a celebration of Mexican-American culture. I guess since the recent waves of immigrant arrests an algorithmic profile (or some staffer?) at WCAX NEWS thought, ‘Nothing says Cinco de Mayo 2017 in Vermont more than a Border Patrol immigration stop.’

Well for better or worse WCAX will likely be in for changes and adjustment soon under the new ownership. And it’s clear the lucrative New England political media market is what Hilton Hatchet Howell, Jr., CEO and vice chairman of Gray Television, is after.

And make no mistake Hilton Hatchet Howell is in it for the political ad money. He commented on Gray Television’s recent purchases of WCAX, a Maine station and one in Florida: “Of particular note to me. This acquisition leads Gray to, for the first time in its corporate history, have three New England stations and all three of those New England stations have some of the highest political revenue in their markets and we are quite excited about that. It moves us into New Hampshire for the very first time in the Northern part of that state, and we add to our operations in Maine, which is a politically-sensitive state during the presidential election year.”

Upwards of $100 million was spent on political ads in broadcast and cable television in New England markets. It looks like Hilton Hatchet Howell, Jr., went shopping for and bought himself a cash cowaccess to the New Hampshire presidential primary ad revenue.

And speaking of politically sensitive, 3-H better adjust WCAX’s algorithmic profiling and/or staff cultural awareness training before Cinco de Mayo rolls around again.

[Updated] Exemption in the GOP stampede of Obama-care repeal madness

[UPDATE:  The House by unanimous vote removed the provision that exempted members of  Congress and staff from certain repeal provisions before the up-or-down vote on bill.  From Talkingpointsmemo.com

“We firmly believe members of Congress should live by the same rules as everyone else. Period,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) said Thursday on the House floor. “It’s only right. It’s only proper.”

But Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) {has a different  and more realistic view, in my opinion  BP} responded, “They planned to exempt themselves from Trumpcare until they got caught.”]

There’s a mad rush of crazed GOP Representatives in the US Congress about to vote on a health care bill, the details of which most of them will know very little.elephantstampede2

House GOP leaders worked Wednesday night to fast-track consideration of their Obama-Care replacement bill without posting the bill text and without a Congressional Budget Office analysis detailing the effects of the latest changes to the legislation.

In one way this vote probably isn’t big GOP news as they have already voted 54 times in the past to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act (aka: Obama-care). But as of Wednesday one thing has managed to stay stuck fast from the beginning of this renewed effort to gut Obama-care in the otherwise ever-changing versions of the house bill. That would be a provision that exempts members of Congress and their staff from losing certain provisions of ACA they apparently enjoy having. Calling this special feature a “loophole”  Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) claims he will work hard to close after the bill is passed. MacArthur is the Congressman whose name is on this version of the  “Repeal and Replace” bill, framed as an amendment.

Funny how so many other provisions can get rapidly plugged and unplugged from the repeal bill as it races forward, but one that favors Congress and staff just can’t seem to be stamped out of any drafts. Gosh, that’s just sooo puzzling!

The House elephants never, ever forget themselves when it comes to programs they want to take away from the rest of us.

Congress votes on budget bill, but marches on its stomach

An omnibus spending bill is expected to be passed by Congress, reportedly will be signed by the President, and will fund the U.S. Government until the end of September 2017.

President Trump failed to get much of what he had demanded from the Congressional bill. The Mexican border wall won’t get a bit of the funding he spelled out in his own budget “outline.” So the army of hundreds of private contractors waiting to bid and cash-in on it will have to wait to build Donald’s dream wall.

Another kick in the  White House budget priorities is that funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts survived. Not only did it survive, but in fact the NEA will get an increase! And for Big Bird and other PBS fans, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS funding mechanism) appropriation was not zeroed out as Trump dreamed, but will be level-funded for this period.

Housecafe1So Trump didn’t get much of what he wanted but Rollcall.com reports that issues both the House of Representatives and Senate have with their dinning service vendors made it into the omnibus spending bill.

The House found the room in the massive spending bill to make known their complaints about the variety of food served in their cafeterias. “There is concern with continued food service issues surrounding lack of food variety, consistent quality of service, and management challenges with the food services provider,” appropriators drafting the omnibus spending agreement said in an accompanying report.

The current House food service vendor is the catering giant Sodexo, operating large dining halls, along with offering Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway. The spending bill’s report signals a potential interest in more chains.

And Senators, at least for purposes of the spending bill, are less concerned with the quality of food itself but with food service workers’ pay. Last year, the Department of Labor found that nearly 700 workers with the Senate’s food services had been underpaid. Restaurant Associates was found to have improperly classified workers in positions where they would make lower wages. The back pay due exceeded $1 million. The accompanying Senate report recommends more training for contract staff on labor laws as well as making worker rights information available in multi-language formats.

The old saying attesting to the need to be well provisioned attributed to both Frederick the Great and Napoleon goes: An army marches on its stomach. It seems members of Congress feel they can’t “march” properly unless they have more food optionsdifferent food chains providing their food. “And what’ll it be today Congressman, a nice GOP-friendly Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s Happy Donald Meal or perhaps one of former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain’s Godfather’s Pizzas?

And what about the Senate restaurant workers’ back pay issue? Well, some workers were already paid. However, thanks to modifications the Trump administration made to Obama-era labor-enforcement rules, other Senate restaurant workers may have more waiting to do before they see change.

ICE cold to VOICE pranks

By executive order President Trump recently directed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to set-up an information clearing hotline to gather and compile and publish information about crimes committed by “criminal aliens.” Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office […] aims to “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Alien” is a term used by the federal government to describe individuals who are not American citizens but who reside on U.S. soil.

There have been efforts in the courts and Congress to curtail the use of the terms “alien and “criminal alien,” but that was well before Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to power and started their immigration-ban round-ups.  laughsjail

Those in charge of operating VOICE may wish they had used a different term. The hotline has been flooded with calls prompted by twitter users to report everything from “ETs, UFOs” to “muggle-borns” (wizards and witches born to parents without magical powers) from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. As you can imagine this pranksterism leaves immigration enforcers cold: “Their [the pranksters’] actions seek to obstruct and do harm to crime victims; that’s objectively despicable regardless of one’s views on immigration policy,” an ICE official said. 

According to the fact-checking and urban myth-debunking website Snopes:

The hotline’s website states that it is not intended to report crime, but rather to “ensure victims and their families have access to releasable information about a perpetrator and to offer assistance explaining the immigration removal process.” It did not elaborate on how this would help the victims of crimes.

However ICE isn’t just about hotlines and lists. The agency has contracted GEO Group to start building a detention facility in Texas for $110 million. GEO, the country’s largest for-profit prison corporation has had a long-standing private-public partnership with ICE since the 1980’s. And they have soaring expectation for profit: The 1,000-bed Facility is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2018 and is expected to generate approximately $44 million in annualized revenues and returns on investment consistent with GEO’s company-owned facilities.

ICE may not have a sense of humor but they are helping GEO Group prison corporation and their shareholders laugh all the way to the bank.

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

UPDATE:  Former President Barack Obama announced Wednesday[5/3/17] that he and his wife, Michelle, are donating $2 million to summer jobs programs in Chicago. A sweet gift to their hometown Chicago.

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.