Category Archives: Business

Net neutrality race: Phil Scott follows Montana, New York and New Jersey’s lead

In a press release on Thursday Republican Governor Scott announced he issued an executive order requiring that state contractors comply with net neutrality standardsthus following the lead of Democratic governors in Montana and New York and New Jersey who first signed similar orders back in January.scottmoves1

Vtdigger.com: The governor’s order directs the Agency of Administration to amend its procedures to ensure that internet providers who contract with the state comply with net neutrality standards, according to a news release from the Scott administration

The governor’s executive order would prevent internet companies who contract with the state from blocking content, engaging in paid prioritization of internet services or acting to “throttle, impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service.”

Scott’s order came after a state senate committee passed legislation (S.289) aimed at the same goal: to stop FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s repeal of Obama-era rules that had prohibited broadband providers from blocking or slowing websites or charging for higher-quality content and service. Similar legislation is under consideration in the Vermont House.

Other challenges to the Trump-era FCC rule change out ahead of Scott’s Thursday order include one by Vermont AG T.J. Donovan. He earlier joined attorneys general in twenty-one states in a lawsuit against the FCC to keep net neutrality. And nationally our entire congressional delegation has opposed Chairman Pai’s rule change from the start.

Governor Scott did include an exclusionperhaps a regulatory loophole: “Waivers to these Procedures may be granted by the Secretary only upon receipt of a written justification from a State Agency and a finding by the Secretary [that] a waiver would serve a legitimate and significant interest of the State,” the order says.

In fairness, it must be noted that the Senate version of the bill as of our reading has a similar passage: The Secretary of Administration may waive the prohibition on paid prioritization and preferential treatment under subdivision (b)(1)(C) of this section if the Internet service provider demonstrates and the Secretary finds that the practice would serve a legitimate and significant public interest and would not harm the open nature of the Internet in Vermont.

But, it’s good that Governor Scott has finally decided to enter the already-underway race to save net neutrality, however late his start. Because, you know, the internet just won’t run right when blocked, slowed, and throttled.

Better than dying on Mars: can Vermont beat that one?

In hopes of building the labor force and boosting currently-static population growth, Governor Phil Scott proposed spending $3.2 million on a glorified ad campaign to woo people permanently to the state. The multi-faceted promotional plan, if enacted, would include digital marketing, financial incentives and would enlist the state-owned Vermont Life magazine into the act.

A similar promotional effort run for years in South Dakota  now known as  “Dakota Roots” is cited by both Secretary of Commerce Michael Schirling and special assistant to the Governor and executive director of workforce expansion Dustin Degree* as a model for the success  of the plan they hope to implement.

* Possibly the longest job title in VT state government — and a heavy burden (or the illusion thereof: straw disguised as iron)  for a former Franklin County state Senator sometimes referred to as “Do-nothing Dustin” and “Do-little Degree.”

So what’s this template for Vermont look like? Well, in 2015 after months of study and input from focus groups, South Dakota premiered a promotional video featuring testimonials for the state. It began: “South Dakota. Progressive. Productive. And abundant in oxygen. Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?”

It closed with the tagline: “South Dakota. Plenty of jobs. Plenty of air.”

The media noted at the time that at long last there was alternative to dying on Mars.LifemarsVT2

SevenDays.com contacted South Dakota’s secretary of labor and regulation Marcia Hultman who told them they have had “really good results” and data shows the state welcomed 4,770 new workers since the program started in 2006. But she didn’t respond to subsequent questions about how the state determines whether the new residents came because of its efforts.

Since their economy has been booming it really is too bad some sort of data documenting the campaign “success” at luring workers wasn’t available. How can they prove the job growth wouldn’t have happened anyway with a healthy economy? It’s like the rooster that believes the sun comes up only when he crows.

Ironically South Dakota’s success rests on some things our GOP Governor might quickly oppose should they be suggested for Vermont. For instance the wind power industry has thrived in S.D., reportedly providing billions of dollars of investment, and thus millions in tax revenue and thousands of jobs.

And the state’s huge agriculture sector err, make that CORN sectoris largely supported by federal ethanol subsidies and government mandates. The state has 15 ethanol-making facilities. Opposition to ethanol subsidies is more in Congressman Welch’s bailiwick since it’s a federal issue, but most snow-machine, small-engine owners, and (generally speaking) gear-heads hate the destructive ethanol-added fuel.

And how about a wage increase? You know, make life a little more affordable for thousands of S.D. workers by putting more money in their paychecks. In successful ballot measures sponsored by Democrats and labor unions and opposed by the state’s GOP, South Dakota has steadily increased its minimum wage over the years.

There is one feature of  the S.D. economy our own laissez-faire GOP governor might admire: big national banks are thriving out there. South Dakota’s $3.2 billion in bank assets are the most of any state and represent nearly one-fifth of all bank assets in the U.S.

How did they get all those assets? Back in 1980’s the state loosened historically stringent lending interest-rate regulations. As a result, credit card banking moved incheck the return address on your Citibank bill. Thanks to GOP Gov. Bill Jankolow’s regulatory accommodation, big national banks that relocated there have for years been able to charge what many consider exorbitant almost usuriousrates on credit balances.

Okay let’s give the S.D. welcoming PR-campaign the benefit of the doubt; let’s say it isn’t so much the massive government-subsidized agriculture sector or the booming wind power industry or regular boosts to the minimum wage that is attracting people to the state. I suppose it could be the result of their 2015 “Hey, at least we’re not Mars” video.

If Scott’s promo plan goes ahead here in Vermont, we may get to see just what Sec.of Commerce Shirling, workforce genie Dustin Degree, and $3.2 million dollars can dream up to beat the  “Mars” bar promo South Dakota laid down.  Come on, THINK!Vermont.

Medicaid work requirement? Scott Admin. not opposed, could happen here.

The new Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar (the replacement for former HHS Sec. Tom Price who resigned over ethical questions) jumped on a plane out of Washington this past Friday. He headed off to Indiana to personally announce HHS had approved the state’s new work requirements for Medicaid recipients.  Azar’s visit sent a clear signal about how much the Trump administration favors states enacting Medicaid work requirements-a change with potential to curtail or eliminate crucial healthcare benefits for many. (It might also signal Mike Pence’s influence and readiness to take over if necessary.)

Azar’s messaging might lead some to wonder if such requirements might ever be considered here in Vermont should our no-new-taxes, no-new -fees GOP Governor take a liking to the idea.

In Indiana, TPM.com explains: the Medicaid waiver — titled the Healthy Indiana Plan, or HIP for short — will allow the state to kick out enrollees who can’t prove they are working, studying, volunteering or applying for work at least 20 hours per week. People older than 60, pregnant women, primary caregivers and those deemed “medically frail,” among others, will be exempt.

 “There is a robust body of academic evidence to show that work is a key component of well-being,” Azar said Friday in Indianapolis.

USmedicaidwaivers
Kaiser Health News waiver tracker map

Supporters would love to find a solid correlation between work and improved health outcomes in order to promote work requirements for benefits. However TPM.com points out: the academic study HHS cited to argue that work requirements will make people healthier was conducted in England, where all citizens have access to universal health care whether or not they are employed.

Indiana now joins Kentucky in the pool of states to be granted the right to impose work requirements for some residents in order for them to receive Medicaid. A group of Kentucky residents are suing the federal government to halt the new rules, accusing the Trump administration’s actions are “threatening irreparable harm to the health and welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable in our country.”  Eight other states are about to join the rush to impose work restrictions.

When questioned about the issue early in January according to VPR news, Vermont’s Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille remarked that such restrictions would be a “high hurdle” and “tough to think about.” And not exactly reassuring to those who would oppose the changes, he added: “But I’m willing to take a look at it, if there’s any merit in it that would help people.”

Although Governor Scott reportedly has not reviewed the new Trump policy it may not be too farfetched that he might like the idea, after all he has proposed “slashing” part of Vermont’s Medicaid spending already. And quietly tucked away in his 2018 budget is a proposal to eliminate a $1.39 million disability assistance program designed to help disabled Vermonters hire home aides to assist with their daily needs, like bathing, getting dressed, or preparing food.

For now his administration hasn’t dismissed the idea forcing people to work in order to receive Medicaid as unacceptable philosophically. No, Scott’s administration is just worrying publicly that it might be  a “high hurdle” (with a Democratic majority in both houses of the legislature) should they decide to go where Trump, Sec. Azar and almost a dozen mostly-GOP states want to lead them.

Immigration Control & Enforcement gets massive license plate tracking data access

Immigration Control and Enforcement (aka ICE) has contracted with Vigilant Solutions, a private for-profit business that handles license plate reading and facial recognition data. License plate readers gather images of vehicles and identify the individual license plate number, and record the time and place the image was taken. This data having been harvested and stored by Vigilant Solutions outside public accountability gives ICE access to billions of license plate records and the ability for real-time location tracking.  dhslpr2

According to Verge.com: Vigilant Solutions has amassed a database of more than 2 billion license plate photos by ingesting data from partners like vehicle repossession agencies and other private groups. Vigilant also partners with local law enforcement agencies, often collecting even more data from camera-equipped police cars.

[They offer free access to their analytics services and no-charge data migration to eligible law enforcement agencies and so called “fusion centers”such as the one we have in Williston, Vermont.]

The result is a massive vehicle-tracking network generating as many as 100 million sightings per month, each tagged with a date, time, and GPS coordinates of the sighting.

Just another powerful surveillance tool in its expanding tool box but ICE, the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration enforcement arm must be thrilled at the acquisition.

Make no mistake: if you want to control people and enforce immigration law (regardless of constitutionality), or even raid an immigrant sanctuary city  this is just the tool to strike fear into targeted people and their allies. ICE agents would be able to query that database in two ways. A historical search would turn up every place a given license plate has been spotted in the last five years, a detailed record of the target’s movements. That data could be used to find a given subject’s residence or even identify associates if a given car is regularly spotted in a specific parking lot. verge.com [added emphasis]

The ACLU maintains LPR data can have some legitimate uses but worries about privacy implications as gathering and use of the data has become widespread. Jay Stanley, who studies license plate readers with the ACLU: “Are we as a society, out of our desire to find those people, willing to let our government create an infrastructure that will track all of us?”

And here in Vermont what happens to the data police collect from their license plate readers  the dozens supplied through various DHS and federal law enforcement grants?

The Vermont legislature imposed some restrictions of the length of time police can store data they collect. LPR data can be retained for 18 month with 90 day extensions allowed and available by request through Superior Court.

 In 2016 VPR reported: Police collected 8.66 million snapshots of license plates across Vermont in the 18 months leading up to Dec. 31, 2015. Each entry includes the time and location where each license plate was spotted by an Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) system.vt-alpr-data-vpr-ealfinj-20160216_0

[…] Police keep a trove of the millions of license plate scans under tight control at the Vermont Intelligence Center in Waterbury.  Law enforcement officers aren’t allowed to access the state’s central database directly, but must request information using a form that is reviewed by VIC staff, who can search the data if they deem the query to be legitimate. There’s no information about how officers use the data they get through the database’s search results and no information about the number of cases – if any – the information was relevant to.

Trump’s enforcer at ICE, Director Tom Homan, last year offered this blunt advice to undocumented immigrants: “You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.” At some point we all better start to worry and look over our own shoulders.  Rule # 1: believe what authoritarians say. Rule # 1a: buy stock in jackboot suppliers.

Fighting the FCC: A governor’s executive order mandates net neutrality

[Updated: New York Governor Cuomo followed Montana Governor Bullock’s lead this morning (1/24/18) and signed a similar executive order barring the state from contracting with internet service providers unless they agree to follow net neutrality. Gov. Cuomo said. “With this executive order, we reaffirm our commitment to freedom and democracy and help ensure that the internet remains free and open to all.”]

Way out West in the state of Montana there’s a showdownit’s Bullock versus Pai. Democratic Governor Steve Bullock has become the first to implement net neutrality requirements for state contracts. “This is a simple step states can take to preserve and protect net neutrality. We can’t wait for folks in Washington DC to come to their senses and reinstate these rules,” Bullock said,  according to the Hill.com The order says that in order to receive a contract with the state government, internet service providers must not engage in blocking or throttling web content or create internet fast lanes.

This directive challenges FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s recent rule change on net neutrality.Apaitoll3

 

Montana  wants to maintain the rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or slowing websites or charging for higher-quality content and service that have recently been withdrawn by FCC chairman Ajit Pai.  The widely popular rules were originally put in force under the Obama era FCC.

And there are plenty of challenges to the rule change involving legislation floating around state houses. Attorneys general in twenty one states, including Vermont AG T.J. Donovan, are suing the FCC to keep net neutrality. Senators Leahy and Sanders and our lone Congress-critter Peter Welch also opposed the FCC on this scheme to undo net neutrality.

At the state level Secretary of State Jim Condos has also voiced his support for maintaining net neutrality. This past spring there was a joint resolution in the legislature urging the FCC to retain net neutrality.

But for now Governor Bullock’s executive order in Montana is the first executive order designed to accomplish the same goal.  In a statement, Bullock’s office urged other states concerned about net neutrality to use its order as a template for their own efforts:  Governor Bullock invited other governors and statehouses to join him. Governor Bullock’s administration will offer the framework to other states who wish to follow. “To every governor and every legislator in every statehouse across the country, and to every small business and every Fortune 500 company that wants a free and open internet when they buy services: I will personally email this to you,” [added emphasis]

State-mandated net neutrality could be a popular issue for someone to champion here in Vermont. At the time of the FCC rule change a spokesperson for Governor Scott (R) said he was “disappointed” with it. It is not impossible but realistically it is hard to imagine Gov. Scott taking an action as aggressive as issuing an executive order like Governor Bullock’s certainly not without some prompting toward perhaps channeling his “disappointment.”

Maybe someone else will pick it up. Such as, say, someone who not only favors net neutrality but might have hopes to run against Phil Scott for governor. Someone who values the future, maybe, someone like 13-year-old Ethan Sonneborn, of Bristol, who has announced he is running. Somebody get a comment from the young man!

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.

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.

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.

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.