All posts by BP

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sooo much winning for prison corps!

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

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

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

Vermont Life Magazine & Governor Scott’s disaster marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lost OT

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

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

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

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

Polling trends 2017: Healthcare up and Trump still down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FCC chairman Pai video gets in our face

According to all news reports the Republican FCC commissioners’ vote to end net neutrality will likely did go ahead today but chairman Ajit Pai may have jumped the shark.

Since becoming chairman Pai has been leading the charge to eliminate Obama era’s internet neutrality rules, becoming a real cut up in the past week. Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications, or websites you want to use. One application is that they can scuttle content from any selected service, like NetFlix, unless, of course that service chooses to pay an access fee to the telecom.

Despite a massive number requests from lawmakers, tech industry leaders, and the public to delay the FCC vote to end the rule, Pai has dismissed concerns. The New York Times reports that he called complaints “hot air and hysteria.” He denies he is doing the bidding of Verizon, his former employer, and sarcastically joked that his nightmare scenario would be refereeing a dispute between Verizon and Sinclair Broadcasting, another company he has been accused of helping with his policies.

Someone must have told him mocking his critics was a winning tactic because he made a video that, according to the avclub.com, he recently uploaded at the conservative site The Daily Caller, [more about Daily Caller here]  in which he pantomimes “all the things” we’ll still be able to do after he guts these regulations for sport. Things like “’gram food” or watch Game Of Thrones . Whew, he’s very cool, not some outta touch corporate tool, nah that man knows the price of bread ‘n’ milk. And,not that it cost that much but who paid for this video foolishness to be posted on The Daily Caller??

And the reviews are in and it’s not pretty. One describes Pai’s video this way: as a bit of textbook “smug asshole gloating,” it’s straight out of the playbook of his boss, Donald Trump, as we’re forced to watch this goofy jackass twist a fidget spinner and do the fucking Harlem Shake, even as he plots to strip protections from the most important technological advance of the modern era.

paiinface

However, most people probably saw this coming: the FCC chairman racing ahead to change the internet into something favorable to corporations, more akin to cable pay tee vee. But nobody wants Pai in our face with a video; that’s not even funny.

Gov. Sununu goes off-the-cuff on voting restrictions

I can see New Hampshire from my kitchen window. So I kind of keep an eye on how Vermont’s upside down doppelganger is doing living free and voting over there. The Valley News reports: Voting rights advocates are highlighting a new video which appears to show Republican Gov. Chris Sununu voicing his opposition to a bill opponents say will discourage some New Hampshire college students from voting.

nhbinocular03

Opponents of the bill, HB 372, say it’s an unfair attempt to target students, imposing the stricter requirements of residency in order to vote. If it’s passed, they say, students who attend college in New Hampshire but are from out of state would be required to obtain a driver’s license and register their vehicles here.

Referencing the bill in the video, made at a voting rights activists’ forum, Governor Sununu says: “No. I hate it. I know what you’re talking about. I’m not a fan. I’m hoping that the Legislature kills it.”

This is quite an about-face shift for the GOP Governor that has voiced opposition to motor-voter laws, and shortly after he was elected began advocating for tightening voter registration requirements. Sununu was perhaps the original source of a long running zombie lie about voting fraud in his state, one still used by Donald Trump in his tireless campaign to stamp out imaginary voter fraud. In 2016 then-candidate for governor Sununu told a right-wing radio host: “We have same day voter registration, and to be honest, when Massachusetts elections are not very close, they’re busing them [them!] in all over the place,”

New Hampshire voting rights activists are pleased with what Sununu said on that video but may want to hold their praise: Republican legislative leaders are confident of his support and dismissing his remarks. You see, explained a member of the state Senate: “He [Sununu] has a knack for speaking off the cuff,” [NH Senate Minority Leader Jeff ] Woodburn said, adding the governor sometimes tailors his message to specific audiences [added emphasis]. The take-home lesson could be that B.S. isn’t just delivered by fast talkers but in our neck of the woods can easily arrive off-the-cuff from a GOP governor.

And if you don’t believe as I do that New Hampshire is Vermont’s upside-down doppelganger Democratic Secretary of State Bill Gardener enthusiastically supports his state’s new vote-restricting legislation. Oh and Democrat Gardener despite the fact according to the Concord Monitor, Gardener who previously debunked these bogus accusations of voter fraud is a member in good standing of Trump’s bogus Election Integrity Commission. It is a funny state, New Hampshire. By the way do you know they own the Connecticut River to the Vermont shoreline high watermark I’ll keep a lookout so you don’t have to.

Governor Scott’s blue sky thinking on climate change

Vtdigger.com reports Scott sees potential ‘economic boon’ in climate change .

At his Thursday news conference Governor Scott was asked about the climate change issue. “I’m not sure that there’s a financial threat” to Vermont as a result of climate change, Scott said. And he suggested that with California experiencing rampaging wildfires it makes Vermont look pretty good.

Governor Scott has quite a sunny view of what climate change will do for Vermont it’s an opportunity, you see! This is kind of surprising as barely a couple days ago it was revealed that his administration was so loath to use the term “climate change” in a draft policy paper a plan for the future development that they edited the reference out.

But now Republican (Phil, not Rick of Fla.) Scott says, “Climate change could be in some ways beneficial to Vermont, 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,” Scott said.

climatetrends

A reporter asked whether Scott meant that if refugees fleeing wildfires and drought “have to relocate somewhere, they’d come to Vermont.”

“They’d come to Vermont, right,” Scott said.

What do you suppose those now “seeing some of the activity in California today […] wildfires and so forth, and lack of water” (also called having their homes destroyed and lives regularly threatened by massive wildfires) might feel about Scott’s remarks?

A recent study published by The Impact Lab titled, Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States, and reported in the Atlantic.com  one of the first to apply regional economic models to climate change found: Climate change will aggravate economic inequality in the United States, essentially transferring wealth from poor counties in the Southeast and the Midwest to well-off communities in the Northeast and on the coasts.

Other sections of the U.S. will suffer alarmingly according to the report: The loss of human life dwarfs all the other economic costs of climate change. Almost every county between El Paso, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, could see their mortality rate rise by more than 20 people out of every 100,000. By comparison, car accidents killed about 11 Americans out of every 100,000 in 2015.

From his remarks it sounds possible that our Governor Scott is familiar with this paper. And perhaps if the study’s predictions prove reliable and you want to think only regionally there might even be some advantage for Vermont, for now. The study does note: If climate change continues unabated into the 22nd century, the North will likely eventually “flip over” into much higher temperatures and more severe economic  damages.”

And critics of the study caution in the Atlantic.com about its predictions: But this emphasis on the observed [the impact study is modeled on previously observed data] means that the research omitted many serious risks of climate change — even those the researchers considered important — if the data describing them was too paltry. The estimates do not include “non-market goods” like the loss of biodiversity or natural splendor. In other words: Most people agree that dead polar bears have an economic cost, but there’s no consensus on how to approximate it.

The study also doesn’t account for the increased likelihood of “tail risks”—that is, unlikely events with catastrophic consequences. Many researchers believe that global warming will make social strife, mass migration, or global military calamity more likely, but those events are, by definition, hard to predict.

For now let’s everyone keep a sharp eye out to see how Phil Scott is directing his administration to plan for climate change [oops]. But it’s possible the Governor was just trying out a little blue-sky thinking at his Thursday press conference you know, B.S. for short.