Category Archives: Business

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.

National forecast: privatization and chance of shady deals

In the torrent of horrific appointments coming out of the Trump administration it is easy to miss specifics that wash by. Allgov.com, for those brave enough to face them all, regularly posts an up-to-date list of Trump appointments.

Among the most recent batch: Seema Verma, who has been tagged by Trump as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at Health and Human Services (HHS); William Beach was named Commissioner of Labor Statistics part of the Department of Labor (DOL); and Bruce Lee Myers will be head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA operates as part of the Commerce Department under Wilbur Ross, recently alleged to have business ties to Russians close to Vladimir Putin.

Prior to her appointment as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma redesigned Indiana’s healthcare program for former Governor now Vice President Mike Pence. Under her Healthy Indiana Plan the state’s care rating went from the 33rd healthiest state nationwide (bad) to 41st (worse). Part of the re-organization was removing people from Medicaid eligibility if they didn’t contribute to health care savings accounts.

At the Dept. of Labor, recently appointed Commissioner for Labor Statistics William Beach was formerly the longtime president of the Koch-brother-funded Institute for Humane Studies (“called a haven for climate change deniers”) and more recently was at the right–wing think tank Heritage Foundation. There he advocated abandoning Social Security and supported privatization of retirement in financial markets. During the Great Recession he favored cutting unemployment benefits.

forecastNOAAThe first two of these far-from-qualified appointees embody the kind of bumbling incompetence and/or extreme ideology we’ve come to expect from this administration. But for pure self-serving grifting potential it may be hard to beat the appointment of AccuWeather CEO Bruce Lee Myers to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA operates as part of the Commerce Department and runs the National Weather Service.  Under normal circumstances this conflicted appointment might attract substantial attention, but given the thick  fog of questionable ethics engulfing President Trump it hardly receives the kind of notice it deserves.

Allgov.com reports: [… Bruce] Myers was executive vice president and general counsel for AccuWeather. In 2007, Barry took his brother’s place as chief executive officer of the company.

The Myers brothers for years financially supported Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania). In 2005, Santorum introduced a bill that would have restricted NWS [the National Weather Service] from providing regular weather reports to the public. Instead, it would reserve the taxpayer-funded product of NWS for use by companies such as AccuWeather. Santorum’s bill was not passed.

In 2014, AccuWeather made a deal with the Chinese government to disseminate weather information there for 20 years. The agreement was made after Chinese hackers were accused of having accessed into NOAA’s computers to disrupt satellite data dissemination.

AccuWeather has been critical of the Weather Service and Myers has made no secret his desire to privatize all or parts of the weather service for profit. Congress recently passed and Trump signed legislation that should speed that process along. The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 has provisions to expand and pursue pilot programs to use and coordinate commercial data options and private-sector weather solutions among various federal government weather stakeholders.

So thanks to Trump and the GOP Congress it looks like the sun (and our tax dollars) may soon be shining down on for-profit private-satellite operators like Bruce Lee Myer’s family business AccuWeather. Who says you can’t control the weather (or at least control access to crucial weather information)?miamiclimatech

The question is whether the USA can survive the blatant conversion of government resources to inform and enrich the President’s friends. Those folks must have very deep storm cellar-bunkers many hundreds of miles from major sources of water  as well as their own private line to what will become secret government disaster warning information. Duct tape and plastic isn’t going to help as climate change drowns Miami.

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.

 

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.

Job preservation at work in Vermont

Country Home Products named one of Vermont’s best places to work in 2017 has announced it is laying off dozens of Vermont workers. There’s a major layoff announcement in Winooski. Country Home Products informed employees this week that dozens will soon be out of a job.[…]selffeeding layoff The Vermont-born maker of outdoor power tools gave 67 employees a letter or reached out by phone, telling workers they are out of a job and when their last day will be.

In 2009 the longtime Vermont business Country HomeProducts/DR Power raised $12 million from 24 foreign investors through the EB-5 investment-for-visas program. The $12 million was used to fund product development and market expansion. As a designated “troubled business,” the company escaped the normal EB-5 requirement to create 10 jobs and only had to preserve existing jobs.

Six years passed, and in 2015 Country Home Products, now with a market value of $2.1 billion, was sold to Generac Holdings Inc., a larger publicly traded business. Generac is headquartered in Waukesha, WI, the CEO is Aaron Jagdfeld, and the company employs 4,202 people. Jagdfeld’s overall compensation in 2016 was $3.9 million, while all executive compensation was up 6.51% the same year.

And so now the layoffs start. Country Home Products president Matt Bieber says the full-time, part-time and seasonal layoffs are in addition to the complete closure of their Winooski assembly plant. [Emphasis added.]

Kind of raises a few questions about what “job preservation” in Vermont actually means. And whose job and for how long was it supposed to be preserved?

I am sure we will be told there isn’t much the State can do other than speedily provide unemployment benefits and perhaps job counseling.  Although Governor Scott offers this: “Any job loss in the state of Vermont is concerning,” His suggestion that, “It reinforces that we have to watch every dollar. We have to make Vermont more affordable,” might ring kind of hollow to those now out a good job. No prescriptions available for this malady from the Gov., just take two ‘affordables’ and call me in the morning.

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.

 

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.