All posts by BP

Shipwrecked: Trump and the GOP crew

Although Democrats made significant gains on Election Day last week, which was hopeful news, sadly it was also the one-year anniversary of Trump’s “BIG” victory of course Donald narrowly won but he continues to lie about it. So, a little late, here is what seems an appropriate poem to mark the event. (Sadly a Russian language version of the poem was unavailable):

 

capntrump2Disaster at Sea

It was a calm, still day in Yarmouth,
The channel clear and wide,
As the last of the timber sailing ships
Sailed out on the evening tide.

They never saw that ship again;
They searched when it was light,
But that fine old timber vessel sank
That clear and peaceful night.

No one knows what happened
On that night in 1910;
But the crew and her cargo of woodpeckers
Were never seen again.

Les Barker – 2005

The ACA and nine “threatening” words

Nine “threatening” words: generalized trust, better functioning democracy, less corruption and crime. ninewords

A recent study from Sweden indicates that in the first few years since it was enacted, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is reversing a general decline in trust one that has taken place over the past five decades. The research was conducted by the Swedish Universities Umeå and Lund

The research study indicates a fact about the healthcare issue and the ACA that could explain why the GOP and now Trump have been determined from the start to kill and or sabotage it at all costs: Obamacare might be key to reversing the trend of declining social trust that has plagued the United States since the 1970s.

“Before 2010, worsening health in the U.S. led to a decrease in people’s generalized trust. Coinciding with the introduction of Obamacare in 2010, this negative relationship no longer holds true,” says Jan Mewes, associate professor at the Department of Sociology at Umeå University in Northern Sweden.

Generalized trust is defined as the belief that most people, even strangers, can be trusted. Past research shows that societies with higher levels of generalized trust also have better functioning democracies, with less corruption and less crime. Over the past five decades, the U.S. has undergone a steady decline in generalized trust. [Added emphasis]

The Swedish study concluded just about at the time the GOP completed the takeover of Congress and Trump became President and they note: it will be interesting to see if the ACA will be retained in its current form […] Will it last, or will US citizens eventually ‘revert to form’, where poor health coincides with a lack of trust in others once again?

ACAcoverageWhile something dynamic has been driving the GOP  and president Trump to kill and/or sabotage ACA, their actions may prove self-destructive. A recent Kaiser poll found a solid majority of respondents, 66%, thought lawmakers should work to stabilize ACA markets rather than repeal the law. The breakdown by party showed strong support among Independents (67%), 85% support among Democrats, and even a sizable minority of 43% support with the GOP.

Ronald Reagan pretty much summed up his philosophy when he  quipped that the nine most threatening words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”  Any success for the ACA, a government program, carries an existential threat to that longtime GOP mindset.

And it sure looks like an increase in generalized trust and a better functioning democracy with less corruption would make  life a little harder for President Trump and his scheming administration.

Did they “Think!Vermont” ?

Think!Vermont  is the slogan of a new marketing campaign scheme and website designed to be catchy enough to lure businesses and employees to the Green Mountain State. Governor Scott and his team rolled it out this week in  Burlington. The VT. Agency of Commerce and Community Development says the new website is part of an effort to support existing Vermont businesses.It will also act as a hub for inspiring stories, encouraging statistics and lots of links to useful information for businesses.  img_3489

“We only use red tape for ribbon cuttings,” declares the Think!Vermont  website based campaign which reportedly draws a quaint picture of the state according to SevenDays’ story

“Our Vermont brand is powerful,” Scott said at a press conference at the Vermont Tech Jam at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. “Think!Vermont will tell unique and positive stories about Vermonters and Vermont businesses.”

[…] Scott, who often says that Vermont loses an average of six workers every day from its workforce, said he hopes Think!Vermont will lower that number.

Well, sure Phil maybe. Earlier, on a much smaller budget, then-Lt. Governor Scott created a tie-dye sticker that read: “Buy local! It’s not just for hippies anymore!” But right off the mark Scott’s latest effort looks like businesses in Utah and Virginia will be benefiting from the Gov’s efforts.yathinkvt

The host Network Solutions LLC is located in Hendron, Virginia (where they employ 2,000 people). And the thinkvermont.com IP address according to whois.com is actually based in Provo Utah.

Imagine some out-of-state tech biz doing the minimal checking I did, and what conclusion they’re likely to draw: “um, it’s catchy, and it’s a pretty state, but obviously they don’t have the in-state talent we would need to move there or even do significant business there …”

I suppose it is quaint to think you should source everything from within the state, but I’ve got to wonder how much Phil Scott and his team Thought!Vermont  when contracting it out. They say they Think!Vermont, but Scott’s team’s first step was sending our tax dollars out of state for the latest Vermont branding campaign.

 

Some of our fears in the age of Trump

In their fourth annual Survey of American Fears, Chapman University found several new fears entered the top ten, and they explore worries over extremism in the age of Trump. The university’s 2017 surveyed 1,207 adult respondents from across the country who were asked about 80 different fears.festeringfear The categories ranged from fears about the government, the environment, terrorism, health, natural disasters, and finances, as well as fears of public speaking, spiders, heights, ghosts and many other personal anxieties.

The 2017 survey shows that the top 10 things Americans fear the most are:

1) Corruption of government officials (same top fear as 2015 and 2016)
2) American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare (new fear)
3) Pollution of oceans, rivers and lakes (new in top 10)
4) Pollution of drinking water (new in top 10)

5) Not having enough money in the future
6) High medical bills
7) The U.S. will be involved in another world war (new fear)
8) Global warming and climate change
9) North Korea using weapons (new fear)
10) Air pollution

The researchers this year also took a closer look at one particular fear-related phenomena: fear of extremism. Three out of five surveyed said they are very afraid or afraid of Islamic Extremists/Jihadists as a threat to national security. However a majority of Americans, 51 percent, also view White Supremacists as a threat to national security.National-Security-Groups-web

The political divisions that exist in America were reflected onto which group represented the greatest threat. While other types of extremist groups are a concern to large groups of Americans, only those [Islamic Extremists/Jihadists and White Supremacists]  were identified by a majority of survey respondents. Roughly one-third of Americans identify the following four as threats: Extreme Anti-Immigration groups, the Militia/Patriot Movement, Left-Wing Revolutionaries, and Extreme Anti-Abortion groups. One in five Americans is afraid Extreme Environmentalists are a threat. […]

In other words in the age of Trump some calls (threats) are coming from inside the house (country). This fear affects the daily lives of Americans and even leads some to question the value of American freedom — 29 percent of Americans report being very afraid or afraid of being a victim of hate crime. One-third agree or strongly agree with the statement, “In order to curb terrorism in this country, it will be necessary to give up some civil liberties.”  Even more, 35 percent, disagree or strongly disagree with the statement, “We should preserve our freedoms even if it increases the risk of terrorism.” As has been seen before, elevated fears over national security can lead to lower support for national values. [added emphasis]

Well, on the “bright” side  from Trump’s perspective, that is I guess only 65 percent agree with the statement, “We should preserve our freedoms even if it increases the risk of terrorism.” Is it time to join the ACLU?

About the survey: the sample used for the Chapman University Survey of American Fears mirrors the demographic characteristics of the U.S. Census. For additional methodological details, see the full report.

Trump’s DOJ is fishing on Facebook

I suppose it is possible Trump is still just bent about the small crowds at his Inauguration Day celebration. But whatever the case his Attorney General Jeff Session is going fishing on Facebook and the internet. fishingsessionThe DOJ continues demands to access the private account information on potentially thousands of internet users in a case from that day. The administration claims it is investigating the planning, organization and participation in anti-Trump demonstrations (what they refer to as riots) on January 20 2017, Inauguration Day.

CNN reports […] administration lawyers are demanding the private account information of potentially thousands of Facebook users in three separate search warrants served on the social media giant, according to court documents obtained by CNN.

The warrants specifically target the accounts of three Facebook users who are described by their attorneys as “anti-administration activists who have spoken out at organized events, and who are generally very critical of this administration’s policies.”

When served with the federal warrants Facebook is prohibited from notifying the targets or making the public aware of their existence. However Facebook went to court and successfully fought to notify the people targeted by the Trump administration. Hit last August with similar DOJ demands for private account data, internet provider DreamHost leaked the news to the public.

The scope of Session’s fishing expedition should get the alarm bells ringing.  CNN: In court filings, [one of the targeted people] says if [the] account information was given to the government, officials would have access to […] “personal passwords, security questions and answers, and credit card information,” plus “the private lists of invitees and attendees to multiple political events sponsored by the page.” […]

“What is particularly chilling about these warrants is that anti-administration political activists are going to have their political associations and views scrutinized by the very administration they are protesting,” said ACLU attorney Scott Michelman.

And if that doesn’t get the alarm bell ringing about the lengths the DOJ is willing to go to chase anti-Trump demonstrators, this may:

The DailyBeast reports today that Federal prosecutors in Washington want to use a video made by a far rightwing group as evidence in court to convict hundreds of people charged with rioting at Inauguration Day demonstrations.  In September, the U.S. attorney moved to introduce a series of videos ripped from right-wing and conspiracy-theorist YouTube channels, including a video produced by the far-right militia the Oath Keepers.

The video names listed in the filing match those of dubious YouTube videos boasting of “INSANE Protests Riots Compilation,” or far-right internet videos claiming to show “Mayham” [sic] in the streets.

And one of those videos—an audio file overlaid with a slideshow of protest pictures—was uploaded as part of an “operation” by a right-wing militia.

The Oath Keepers were formed in 2009, as the Southern Poverty law Center explains: […] in the direct aftermath of the election of the nation’s first black president. Today, it is one of the largest radical antigovernment organizations in the United States.

There’s a dream team nightmares are made of: President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Session and the Oath Keepers all on the same side, wading in the same stream, out to catch the same exercising-their-constitutional-rights-to-swim-upstream fish.

Energy Sec. Perry warms to coal and old nukes for Trump; thumb on the scale for carbon emissions & toxic waste

 

While the drama between Donald Trump and his Secretary of State play out in the headlines, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is hard at work on what is being called an unprecedented proposal to prop up the coal industry and nuclear power plants that are at risk of closing.Trumpnperry

Following Trump’s goal to shore up aging coal and nuclear power plant operations, Sec. Perry is rapidly trying to make significant changes to the rules the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) follows to regulate power markets.

Specifically thehill.com reports:  Perry wants to increase the payments to troubled coal and nuclear plants by requiring that certain regional electric grid operations pay power plants their actual costs of operating plus a “fair rate of return.”

It would be a significant shift from the bidding process now allowed and would almost certainly raise electricity costs for consumers, critics say of the plan.

But Perry’s idea has garnered significant praise from coal and nuclear industry leaders, who say it could revive plants they say deserve to be paid more. 

They argue that because these plants build up larger fuel supplies than competitors producing electricity from wind and solar power, they should be paid more. 

Energy Secretary Perry is not only attempting to rush the rule change through a process that could normally take year to write and even longer to enact.*  Perry’s proposed changes may also violate FERC’s legal authority which by law [… ] centers on the responsibility to ensure that wholesale power rates are “just and reasonable.” 

Any new regulation would have to demonstrate that without the higher payments for coal and nuclear, rates are unjust or unreasonable. If it fails to do so, a federal court could overturn the new regulation. 

“FERC does not have the authority to just decide that a particular source of generation gets paid differently now because Rick Perry requested it,” said Justin Gundlach, a climate change law fellow at Columbia University Law School.

[*It should be noted that the Obama era Clean Power Plan rules took year to write and don’t enforce emission reduction until 2022.]

When nominated to lead the Dept of Energy, former Texas governor and presidential candidate Perry seemed to have little idea of the massive scope of the agency’s responsibilities. Vanity Fair wrote in an article this summer: Since Perry was confirmed, his role has been ceremonial and bizarre. He pops up in distant lands and tweets in praise of this or that D.O.E. program while his masters inside the White House create budgets to eliminate those very programs. His sporadic public communications have had in them something of the shell-shocked grandmother […]

He seems to have warmed to one task putting his thumb on the scale for carbon emissions and toxic waste while carrying out climate change denier- in- chief Donald Trump’s orders.

Texas, Maine and Vermont deal with drones

As of March 2017 there were 770,00 FAA registered drone owners and that, according to the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (a drone industry trade and lobby organization), was up from 670,000 at the start of the year.240_F_170466826_Ke2eJZddpGLIVUNfrRE3Wimv8aIj5wmG

News this past week included stories that Texas, Maine and Vermont are all struggling to come to grips with different angles on drone regulation in at what might be the start of an age of drones.

The state of Texas has passed a law criminalizing certain drone uses. The Texas law makes it a crime to operate a drone over “concentrated animal feeding operations,” as well as telecommunication facilities and certain oil and gas facilities. It also bars Texas cities and towns from making their own rules regulating drone usage — a measure that has become controversial in its own right.

Supporters of the law say it will protect against aerial poisoning of livestock or power line sabotage. Opponents say the state is protecting industry, oil, gas, and large farming operations from public scrutiny from the air.

Hmm, would the Texas Legislature pass a law protecting a business from public scrutiny?

In Maine, state police drones are now being dispatched to remotely take images of traffic accidents that are being stitched together with software . That state’s police say it saves time and money by cutting a task that pre-drone might have taken as long 24 hours down to 14 minutes. Maine police purchased 200 drones estimated to cost $5,000.00 each.

While Maine  allows remote aerial photographing of crash scenes, drone regulations prohibit their use in criminal investigations without a warrant. Vehicles and people unrelated to the crash must be removed from the police images. The Maine ACLU advocacy director Oamshri Amarasingham questioned how practical it can be for the state police to crop unrelated individuals out of every photo taken at an accident scene. The ACLU says without appropriate protections the new practice could violate the privacy of Maine residents.

And finally Vermont’s drone story involves a man stopped from videoing a high school sporting event from the air. In Vermont, individual high schools are allowed to decide whether or not to permit or ban drones at their sporting events but the Vermont Principals’ Association says they are banned during the playoffs.

Recently in Montpelier objections were made when […] a licensed Montpelier resident who had asked permission to record a girls soccer game with a drone was asked to stop filming.

“We looked into it and made sure they had a permit or license, and they did,” Montpelier Athletic Director Matt Link said of the person who made the request. “It was OK with the officials before the game, but during the game there was a protest.”

Vermont Principals’ Association Executive Director Bob Johnson mentioned safety concerns over a drone crashing into a crowd. A quick YouTube search shows plenty of compilation videos of crashes. And it isn’t just “pilot” error causing the troubles.  A study in the UK of 150 crash incidents by RMIT University School of Engineering found technical problems were the cause of 64 percent of the incidents, which occurred between 2006 and 2016. Naturally insurance companies are setting their sights on risk management and drone liability.RIMSInfographic

This week it is Vermont, Maine, and Texas hassling through legitimate concerns about expanding drone use by law enforcement and private individuals. There’s plenty more stories like this in sight for all states, cities and towns. And just wait until Amazon unleashes fleets of speedy delivery drones from their airborne fulfillment centers. Time to duck and cover.

New Quinnipiac Poll: 94% of Democrats say Donald Trump is not “fit to serve as president”

Quinnipiac University has new poll out and the results may prove reassuring for anyone in need of an occasional reminder  there’s still a reservoir of sanity in the U.S.

President Donald Trump is not “fit to serve as president,” American voters say 56 – 42 percent, and voters disapprove 57 – 36 percent of the job he is doing as president, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

Democrats say Trump is not fit 94 – 5 percent and independent voters say 57 – 40 percent. Republicans say 84 – 14 percent that he is fit. And the poll found Donald that 57% of Americans disapprove of the job he is doing.

us09272017_GRAPHTrumpApprovalThe poll results do remind us that divisions still run deep as ever along not only party but racial and gender lines.

  • White voters are divided, as 50 percent say he is fit and 48 percent say he is not fit. Trump is not fit, black voters say 94 – 4 percent and Hispanic voters say 60 – 40 percent.
  • Men are divided 49 – 49 percent, as women say 63 – 35 percent he is not fit.

On President Trump’s handling of race relations: American voters disapprove 62 – 32 percent of the way President Trump is handling race relations. Disapproval is 55 – 39 percent among white voters, 95 – 3 percent among black voters and 66 – 28 percent among Hispanic voters. President Trump is doing more to divide the country than to unite the country, American voters say 60 – 35 percent. Trumps3strikes

Looking forward, according to Quinnipiac polling, voters also say 49 – 40 percent including 47 – 34 percent among independent voters they would like to see Democrats win control of the U.S. Senate next year. Got to hope that comes soon enough. Or is that hope too audacious ?

 

Methodology: The poll was conducted from September 21 – 26, and surveyed 1,412 voters nationwide. Quinnipiac pollsters conducted live interviewers by calling landlines and cell phones. The results have a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.

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.