Category Archives: National

Schumer and the filibuster bomb

GorsuchYBook
1988 Columbia University yearbook entry for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

The Senate will vote on Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch sometime in early April and last week Democratic Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer uttered the “f” word…filibuster.

Senator Schumer urged all Democrats to take a stand against Donald Trump’s nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch and vote ‘no’. He’s the Heritage Foundation’s certified 100% approved conservative nominee (age 49 yrs), up for a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. He would be a fine successor to Scalia,” they say.

Sixty votes are required to bring the vote for Gorsuch out of committee and to the floor, which means Republicans will need eight Democratic votes to join their 52.  If Democrats can stay together it will prevent the vote from getting to the floor. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has threatened  and has the Republican votes  to “go nuclear” and change Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster, thus working around Democrats filibuster block. That is quite a move for McConnell, who successfully stonewalled President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Democratic Minority Leader Schumer argues: “If the nominee can’t get 60 votes, you don’t change the rules, you change the candidate.”

The Hill.com’s partial list shows votes for 23 of the Democratic Senators (as of March 25th) and includes their brief explanations for their choices. Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse explained his vote ‘no’ was because: he was not convinced that Gorsuch wouldn’t “pick up where Justice Scalia and his troop left off,” by issuing rulings — such as on campaign finance — that benefit Republicans. There are  for now at least no Democratic ‘Yes’ votes, 13 ‘No’ votes and 11 undecided votes on whether to confirm Gorsuch.yesnoundecidedSenator Sanders is listed as a ‘no’ vote for confirming. Bernie is an Independent (as we all know) but caucuses with Democrats so he is on the list. And as of Monday the 27th reports are that Senator Leahy will also vote ‘no’  to confirm: ” Philosophically, I’ve seen nothing that will bring me to vote for Gorsuch.” He did ad this: “I am not inclined to filibuster, even though I’m not inclined to vote for him.”

A handful of Democratic Senators from states that favored Trump last November are worried about their next election and are considered the weak link in Schumer’s vote strategy.

Vermont, not surprisingly, seems kinda blue on this vote. So, maybe the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee could,  you know, offer those red-state Dems a little help come the next election if they agree to vote with their party?

The Abortion Dividend of Trumpcare

We’ll see what the Trumpcare vote today brings, but, one way or the other, the writing is on the (border?) wall: if Republicans remain in control of Congress, sooner rather than later, things like mental healthcare, drug treatment and maternity care will no longer be covered under the mean-spirited provisions of Trumpcare.

Much can be said about the epidemic of opiate abuse and mental health collapse that inconveniently characterize the population upon which Trumpcare may be unleashed; but for the moment, I would just like to consider the irony of defunding both maternity care and Planned Parenthood.

The very same people who would eliminate access to abortion and, in some cases, even birth control, are insisting that maternity care not be covered in any public health insurance policy.

Abortion statistics indicate that in 23% of cases, the decision to abort is due to a lack of financial means.

According to CNN, the cost of having a baby in 2017 is roughly $15,000. Under Obamacare, much of that cost is covered. If the “House Freedom Caucus” finally has its way, the number of women seeking abortions for financial reasons is likely to substantially increase.

You would think this would have occurred to someone in the oxymoronically named Freedom Caucus, but if it has, you’d never know it.

The same people who are always so eager to make women’s decisions about their bodies for them, insisting that life is precious from the moment of conception, don’t appear to give a hang about what happens to human beings after they leave the womb. They’re ready to cut nutrition programs, wellness programs, public education, domestic violence interventions…anything to save tax dollars for the rich.

Just as the “Freedom Caucus’ ” interest in babies ends when they leave the womb; it continues to diminish until, as those babies reach age 55, they are happy to see people who should be saving for their retirement get hit with ballooning health insurance costs.

It’s no coincidence that both Medicare and Social Security are under threat of imminent attack from the same bunch of cold hearted bastards.

Welcome to the world of Republican rule.

Could Vermont’s EB-5 Regional Center wither away?

Of course it’s hard to match the impact of the original headlines from Stenger & Quiros’ Jay Peak EB-5 scandal — but two resulting events, largely unnoticed by comparison, will soon impact Vermont’s EB-5 Regional Center.

buriedEB5 3The first change was set underway when, to prevent future “Ponzi-style” EB-5 scandals, Vermont shifted financial oversight responsibility from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD)  to the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR). The focus jumped from wooing overseas investors with almost full-time EB-5 boosterism to tightening up financial oversight.

Along with this shift came legislative adjustments allowing the DFR to control charges and enact new fees for those participants in the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center. Additionally the DFR was given authority to invoice EB-5 developers for its oversight and regulation. Moves were also made to rein in the ACCD’s taxpayer support for advertising, out-of-state  travel, and other promotional work through the Regional Center on behalf of EB-5 developers.

And recently Peak Resorts /Mt. Snow surprised top state officials  by announcing the formation of their own independent EB-5 center. The resort had to struggle with waiting on a payment for an ongoing project from their EB-5 investor funds held in escrow by the state as a guarantee.

By setting up their own EB-5 program, the out-of-state resort owners can happily gather-up their foreign funds through the investment-for-visa immigration program, independent of the Vermont-run EB-5 Regional Center with whom they formerly were partnered.

In fact, Mt. Snow Resorts probably has an inside track on this approach, should it become a trend for other EB-5 developers here in Vermont. In 2015 they hired the director of the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center — grabbing Brent Raymond directly out of the revolving door. As director, Raymond’s duties for the state included both promotional activities and monitoring EB-5 program compliance under state and federal financial regulations. Quite the catch.

So, the Jay Peak financial scandal has forced Vermont’s Regional Center EB-5 Program to change their regulatory responsibilities and funding — and perhaps most importantly, the state-run monopoly on EB-5 regulation and oversight is now threatened. It might even spell extinction rather than evolution for the Vermont ACCD’s Regional Center.

However, here and nationally, independent EB-5 foreign investment-for-visa programs are bound to stick around. Even in the midst of the new President’s immigration crackdowns, access to large chunks of quickly attainable legal foreign investment money is tough for any developer to deny themselves. You could even say it is almost impossible to resist — one New York finance broker said the EB-5 immigrant money racket was so good “[It] sounds like legalized crack cocaine.”

After all, even Donald Trump is tapping EB-5 funds for one or more of his gang’s projects. If it’s good for the President, it must be good for the country, right? … Right? … Amiright?

Expanding Medicaid equals more voter participation

A recent study of voter participation shows higher voter turnout in states that have expanded Medicaid under the American Affordable Care Act (ACA / Obamacare). For people with low income, Medicaid is the largest source of funding for medical and health-related services.Kaiser Health-14-2016

The study, Expanding Medicaid, expanding the electorate: the Affordable Care Act’s short-term impact on political participation, compared voter turnout data from 2014 and 2012 for 435 U.S. House races.  Controlling for local factors, its author found:  […] that increases in Medicaid enrollment as a result of Medicaid expansion were related to considerably higher voter turnout in 2014.

Past research has shown people that receive public assistance are less likely to vote, so these results are significant. According to study author Jake Haselswerdt, assistant professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Missouri: “Having access to health insurance could play a role in increasing voter participation as healthy people are much more likely to vote than unhealthy people, and insurance increases people’s financial stability, which also makes them more likely to vote.” Backlash to expanded enrollment, he notes, may also affect voter turnout.

[Updated Ed.]Although Donald Trump made campaign promises not to cut Medicaid benefits, [Trump has ] endorsed two changes to the bill affecting Medicaid, under the pending GOP plan. The actions taken by GOP legislators in Congress make plain how they feel about Medicaid. Republican-sponsored ACA repeal legislation (Trumpcare) now in Congressional committees would hand Medicaid back to the states, and cut program funds by $880 billion in the next 10 years —  effectively limiting expansion. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the GOP bill 14 million fewer people would have Medicaid coverage in 2026.

Whether by design or accident, the GOP’s efforts to slash Medicaid may not only hurt the health of lower income  U.S. citizens, but they also seem to fit in nicely with the Republicans’  long running campaigns to suppress voter participation — also known as “voter fraud prevention legislation.”

Well, that works: “American Health Care” that isn’t affordable, and laws to counteract non-existent “voter fraud.” Paging George Orwell …

Navy Seal convoy “punished” for flying under Trump banner

Since President Trump looked a little too happy strutting around the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford sporting an olive military jacket and cap the other day. Here’s a quick follow up on the Navy Seal convoy that affixed a Trump campaign banner to their Humvee antenna with zip ties  and drove it in a convoy for over one hundred miles. It was February, when the vehicle  traveling through Kentucky under the blue Trump flag was seen and when first reported, officials said they believed the vehicles were military surplus; they later admitted that was not the case, and that the vehicles belonged to the elite Seal Naval Special Warfare Group 2.

TrumpflagsealThe Navy has since investigated, and the report (which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act or FOIA request) is now available. The commander of the 12 person convoy did not place the flag on the Humvee but was aware it was there and: “[The convoy commander] was also aware of the rules precluding Department of Defense (DoD) endorsement of political candidates during an election,” the documents stated. “However, he believed that flying the flag was not inappropriate since the election was over and since the candidate was now the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.”

However, shortly into their mission the Navy Seal commander began, they say, to regret his choice: About 30 minutes into the drive on I-65, the convoy commander noticed that the flag was getting a good deal of attention from civilian drivers, “some of which was negative attention.” [maybe negative by 48.5% or more]

“At this point, he felt like the correct course of action would have been to take the flag down,” the documents stated. “However, he was concerned that it would be unsafe for the convoy and its members to pull over while on the highway.”

The names of the 12 member Navy Seal group were not made public and although they were reportedly punished, what form that took was not disclosed. The Navy Department did say the personnel were subsequently required to participate in team-wide remedial training on safe convoy operations and partisan political activity.

So, with a Humvee flagged with a Trump election banner for over one hundred miles through Kentucky to Indiana, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Group 2 couldn’t find a place to pull his convoy off the highway!  Maybe the remedial training on safe convoy operations the  Seal Group was “sentenced” to take covers how to pull off the road and remove a prohibited banner. Or better yet, they could learn not to fly a partisan banner from Trump’s campaign on a Humvee to start with.

Fukushima: Six Years and Counting

March 11, 2017

On this, the sixth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” have come no closer to locating molten fuel slugs and securing the environment from further contamination.

Secondary impacts from the disaster including economic strain, scandal; and social stresses, like bullying and prejudice directed at evacuees, have begun to reshape Japan’s legendary culture of unflappable civility. Evacuees feel they are being ‘forced’ to return to an unsafe environment. The underlying social contract that once saw Japan rise to a peak of prosperity in the world, has come undone.

Over the island nation, the specter of nuclear contamination hangs like a caul, lending an ominous tinge even to anticipation of the prestigious 2020 Olympics.

Meanwhile, more or less oblivious to the memory of the biggest industrial disaster in history and its ongoing legacy of deadly contamination still unfolding in Japan, the rest of the world has grown politically more perilous. Saber rattling has escalated to the point that represents the greatest threat of nuclear war since the 1960’s.

Hate-filled outlaw groups of every stripe exploit the recruiting potential of the world-wide web, plotting and planning to seize any opportunity that should present itself to rain terror on a hapless population.

A compulsive liar occupies the most powerful position on earth, as president of the United States.  He is juxtaposed by a xenophobic madman on the other side of the globe in North Korea.

Even without a resolution to the crisis at Fukushima, and having found no practical solution to the strategic and environmental threat of nuclear waste, the nuclear industry attempts to justify continued operation of nuclear reactors, making ill-supported promises that safer nuclear options are “just around the corner”…a corner that grows decades further away with each attempt.

With or without leadership from the U.S., the world will inevitably continue to evolve toward truly clean, truly safe energy production, just as surely as technology in other areas has leapfrogged forward across the globe.

The sooner that we leave the ill-conceived “Nuclear Age” behind us, the better it will be for the entire planet.

Just ask the survivors of Fukushima.

Gov. Sununu carries water for EPA’s Scott Pruitt

Vermont better keep an eye on this if only because we “share” the Connecticut River and for that matter a planet, with New Hampshire. It appears that state’s new Republican Governor Chris Sununu wants a little jump start on polluting his state waterways and may want to take a time out from his ongoing voter suppression campaign.waterdownhill

To those ends Sununu sent a letter inviting to New England Scott “big oil BFF” Pruitt, the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency,  to explore loosening “burdensome” regulations governing storm water rules. His letter references a program that requires towns that collect and dispose of storm water to get a special permit. Such disposal can pass pollutants into water systems.  Do you suppose Sununu cc’d his invite on this one to his fellow New England Republican Governors, his  buddies Phil Scott and Charlie Baker?

Pruitt, the new head of the US EPA might enjoy a diversion after he came under fire last week for comments openly questioning accepted facts about climate change science. By the end of week the EPA’s telephone voice messaging system was overwhelmed with a massive number of calls.

Governor Sununu will always enjoy discussing tearing up a few clean water regulations and Pruitt will get a nice friendly regional platform to spew Trump’s anti-regulation initiatives.

But no worries: Sununu claims that, as if by magic “if these federal mandates disappeared tomorrow, New Hampshire would not cease to keep our waters clean.”  He may starkly figure ‘so what’ about a polluted NH or planet: after all, we ‘live free and die.’  Besides, it all runs downhill (out of New Hampshire) doesn’t it, Governor?

Darcie Johnston & Trump’s little shop of hires

ProPublica has compiled an online directory of 400 political hires Donald Trump has quietly made across the federal government. And as we know, Vermonter Darcie Johnston made the cut. The anti-Obama healthcare advocate and former Trump for President Campaign leader got herself a real job in the Federal Government. She’ll be working at Health and Human Services as a Special Assistant. The job is rated GS-14 which pays from $88,136.00 – $114,578.00 yearly.

Trumplsohires2

 

The list assembled by ProPublica is a complete accounting of names that would normally just have dribbled out to the press. It shows the appointees to Trump’s so-called beachhead team. These are Donald loyalists named to federal jobs that need no senate confirmation: Trump’s true believers or just berserkers ready on day one, they said, to to begin laying the groundwork for the president-elect’s agenda.

Several of Donald’s more noteworthy best and brightest are spotlighted. Here are three likely worth keeping an eye on: A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed “ethnic cleansing” in a plot to “liquidate” the white working class found a home as Special Assistant to the Secretary, Department of Labor.

At the Department of the Treasury a former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool will test his mettle as a special assistant.  And finally, hailing from New Hampshire a Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.

Maybe Darcie  and this kid will carpool back home to New England on holidays.

Nuke security report: “opportunities exist for program improvement”


Vermont Yankee is in the decommissioning process; its owner Entergy has plans to sell the out-of-operation plant to an industrial demolition company, NorthStar Group Services Inc. However, VY may not be ready to cool down as an issue yet: Vermont’s attorney general is asking to intervene in the state Public Service Board’s review of the sale of the closed Vermont Yankee power plant, saying significant environmental and financial issues are at stake.

It seems Vermont AG Donovan wants to keep a sharp eye on good old Vermont Yankee. Considering Entergy’s past, spotty record on safety (or lack of it) – underground leaks, fire and a spectacular cooling tower collapse – and security (or lack of it, as in sub-contracted Wackenhut Security guards sleeping on the job) this is probably a good idea.

weakvylink

Almost a year ago Entergy significantly scaled back its emergency notification and management protocols. And security concerns may also be an issue to watch as spent  nuclear fuel will remain onsite for some time to come. This February the NRC signed off on Entergy’s security changes for the now out-of-operation plant. Specifics regarding the changes are not public,as a precaution, but it is likely they involve lowering certain requirements.

One thing the NRC and certainly Entergy didn’t mention in public was that it was  auditing security rules for nuclear plants going through decommissioning. The NRC Office of Inspector General’s report, now available, recommends: [the NRC] clarify which fitness-for-duty elements licensees must implement to meet the requirements of the insider mitigation program; and to establish requirements for a fatigue management program. [PDF here]

Threats from “insiders” are defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as individuals with authorized access to nuclear facilities or nuclear material who could attempt unauthorized removal or sabotage, or who could aid an external adversary to do so. 

In language laughably similar to the NRC’s well worn classic: “there was no apparent danger to the public” line, the OIG report notes that although security is now adequate, “opportunities exist for program improvement.”

It appears Vermont AG T.J. Donovan is correct in operating on the assumption that Entergy is still Entergy and the NRC is still the NRC: ineffectual and always willing to protect the bottom line over the health and safety of host communities. Kind of ironic that while the US Border Patrol has been unleashed on innocent Canadian shoppers hoping to visit Vermont, someone should be doing a better, sharper, more aggressive job guarding spent nuclear fuel just a few hundred miles south.

Saffron or Algae Blooms?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only Messenger reader who noted the ironic coincidence of headlines in last nights paper.

Just as President Donald J. Trump signs his second attempt at a Muslim travel ban, the early cost of this administration’s arbitrary agenda is vividly illustrated by two local examples.

Saffron: Vermont’s next cash crop?

The feature story tells us that, thanks to an Iranian postdoctoral student, we may soon see an extremely valuable cash crop, saffron, cultivated in our own backyard…at St. Albans Bay.

In the “brave new world” of Donald J. Trump, just being Iranian would be sufficient to invoke the President’s travel ban against him. That Dr. Ghalehgolabbehbahani is also a man of science would surely serve only to reinforce the administration’s antipathy toward him.

The President’s clumsy attempts to target Muslim countries for exclusion is already impacting interest in travel and study in the U.S. That doesn’t bode well for several industries which heavily depend on foreign dollar infusions.

Over to the side, on the same front page, is a warning from Senator Patrick Leahy. Being in a position to know, Sen. Leahy predicts that Donald Trump’s massacre of the EPA budget will imperil cleanup of Lake Champlain.

It’s a pretty easy guess that Leahy’s prediction will prove accurate. In the new federal budget, funding for clean-up of Chesapeake Bay has been slashed from $73-million down to just $7-million. Somehow I suspect that if the waterways lapping near to Capitol Hill merit so little support from the Trump administration, Lake Champlain, way up here in blue country, will receive less than none.

It should be noted that, even though funding for water protection is being sacrificed on the pretext that an exponential hike in military spending is urgently required, the President isn’t prepared to abandon his frequent getaways to Mar-a-Lago (four so far) that had already cost the tax payers $10-million before the paint was even dry in the Oval Office. That’s $3 million more than the Chesapeake Bay clean-up funds! The indignity is only worsened when a translation of “Mar-a-Lago” is considered. (Look it up!)

So, once the clean-up funding runs out and the stench of algae blooms hangs heavy over St. Albans Bay, perhaps we will at least be grateful that one Iranian chose to locate here before Donald Trump closed the door.