All posts by BP

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.

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

 

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.

Trump immigration plan like Canada’s? “You’d need to squint past major aspects of the plan”

Just before heading to his New Jersey Golf Course for an extended August vacation, President Trump previewed his immigration plan. The changes inspired, perhaps,  by the Canadian immigration point systemare found in the “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” (RAISE) Act. The legislation was originally sponsored in the Senate by Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.); reports suggested that if the measure is enacted it would slash legal immigration to the United States.

The Trump-endorsed plan will:

  • Reduce categories for family applications. Residents could still sponsor spouses and minor children, but not other relatives.
  • Abolish an existing diversity lottery.
  • Insist upon English proficiency to immigrate.
  • Redefine “immediate relative” to include children age 18 and under, down from the current age 21.
  • Deduct points for skilled workers whose spouses are less skilled.
  • Offer bonus points for select advanced degrees.
  • Give bonus points for applicants earning 150 per cent of the national average income.
  • Provide bonus points for some types of high achievers, but not others. Included would be certain categories of Nobel prize-winners and certain athletes, such as those who’ve won an Olympic medal.

Later at a White House news conference, Presidential advisor Stephen Miller repeated claims that the new legislation was inspired by Canadian immigration ruleswith some changes. The New York Times notes that while the Canadian immigration does rely on a points-based system, Canada’s approach, however, does not merely favor immigrants based on their skills but also uses a system that promotes a multicultural society. That, it must be noted, is something the RAISE Act would not do.  images 789

And Canada appears to have a much more compassionate attitude toward refugees. In fact Canadian officials are preparing a temporary welcome center for a surge of thousands of asylum seekers. Some of them would be refugees who found their way to the USA but are now fleeing north, fearful of what will happen to them at the mercy of Trump’s newly energized enforcers at ICE. These often desperate people took ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan seriously when he said undocumented immigrants “should be [more] afraid” under the Trump administration. As if undocumented workers in the U.S. haven’t always been afraid of family-busting raids by la migra, only now the raids are even more brutal and without rationale.

So, is the Trump-endorsed RAISE Act anything like Canada’s rules? Well, as one Canadian newspaper politely quips, it is: “[it] contains definite traces of Canadian influence — but to find them, you’d need to squint past major aspects of the plan.

Beyond the margin with Trump

Donald Trump started the week by continuing a prolonged twitter attack on his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Later he tweeted a ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces then made a widely criticized politically divisive speech to a national gathering of Boy Scouts. Soon came an on-the-record obscene and insane rant by his new communications chief Anthony Scaramucci. Quickly following the Mooch’s rant, Trump fired  his Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, and replaced him with the DHS Secretary, former General John Kelly. Woven into all that  chaos was the dramatic GOP loss in the Senate on a series of ACA repeal bills Trump supported.margincenter2

In reaction to all this chaos, The Donald turned on his own party and tweeted that the GOP “looked like fools” and threatened not to follow the Obamacare (ACA) law and to stop mandated payments to insurance companies. He left Washington, traveled to an event on Long Island and suggested to a gathering of police officers that they “…don’t be too nice” to alleged immigrant criminalsa comment widely perceived as a presidential call encouraging police violence. Here’s a link to a rundown of most of the events from the Financial Times

Watching this numbingly frightful week unfold, I remembered whatwhen the shock of Trump’s victory was still newseemed a worst case prediction of what was to come .

On November 29, 2016, only a few short weeks after the election, Rick Perlstein was interviewed by Sky News. Perlstein was a biographer of Nixon and a longtime observer of the American conservative movement, but his interview was cut short by the Murdoch-owned news channel. Although he never got the chance to make his comments on-air, Perlstein published his observations in the Washington Spectator.

None of these things [Trump’s unrealistic campaign promises], however, are possible.

So what happens next? His worshipful admirers cannot blame Trump for the stymying of this agenda: Trump is a god. It must be the people he told them to blame who are actually responsible. The lying media. The quisling Democrats. The sellout Republican establishment. Mexicans, of course. The more Trumpism fails, the more, and more violently, scapegoats will be blamed. And only some kind of stalwart resistance will stand between America and fascism.[emphasis added]

Remember, Perlstein planned to say these things in his on-air interview a mere 3 weeks after the election.

Here’s how he closed his piece: Maybe they [Sky News] didn’t like the direction I was heading; Sky News, after all, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, same as Fox. Or maybe I’m just being conspiratorial: Trump may soon be doing that to all of us. The margin has become the center. Paranoia strikes deep.

Looking back at this prediction from today’s perspective, six months further on in the Trump presidency, we have to say:  without a doubt, Perlstein called it. Except that we might say it’s the fringe, not the margin that is the center for now. If Trump was a flat-earther, we’d all be in danger of falling off the edge.

Brave New World: Workers implanted with microchips

This is from a couple days ago but there might be some GMD luddites who missed it. A snack company that supplies office break-rooms is testing out surgically implanting microchips in their own employees’ hands as part of a voluntary experiment.

Three Square Market’s CEO Todd Westby says: “[…] the implanted microchip makes it easier for people to pay for items at work. Instead of looking for coins, cash or a credit card, they would only need to place their hand in front of a scanner and electronically pay for their item.”

Three Square Market is planning to sell the technology to other companies and has partnered with a Swedish firm, BioHax International, to make the chip, which uses Radio-Frequency Identification to electronically identify stored information and near-field communication, the same type of technology used to pay for items with mobile phone scans. BioHax International: Digitizing Evolution

CEO Todd Westby Three Square Market shown with micro- chip on shoulder
CEO Todd Westby of Three Square Market shown with micro- chip on shoulder

The company reports 50 employees have voluntarily agreed to the chip implant. For those worried about privacy, the company says the data coming from the chip is encrypted and cannot be tracked they say.

If you wonder, as I do,  why Three Square Market at $300.00 a chip is shelling out $15,000 to make it easier for 50 employees to buy their own company’s snacks, well, it turns out the chips also function as  electronic keys to open doors and as ID login for company computers. And although the chip will not, so they say, track Three Square employees, the data will doubtless provide a time stamped record of when and where  employees opened a door or logged on.

Three Square Market’s Face Book page brags that their vending kiosk service for businesses break-room clients offers “three square meals daily without ever leaving the building.” And while in the building,  a Three Square seeing eye is on them watching who is coming and going for snacks because: A camera is mounted in our market to protect against theft; if inventory is off, we can check our cameras to see if and whom left without paying.

Or check on “whom” was goofing off at the snack kiosk?  Privacy assurances aside, Three Squares Market looks like a perfect fit for normalizing a new wave of corporate “Big Brother” style employee tracking technology. You may not be chained to your desk, but really what you’ve got is a longer, seeing-eye leash.