Category Archives: Uncategorized

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre 2018

“St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” has a whole new meaning this year. Was the connection  intentional for the shooter who killed seventeen people and wounded fifteen others in one of the worst school shootings in history?  We’re already learning of a white supremacist association with the shooter,  so who knows what else is in his pathology?

Perhaps Donald Trump thinks its sufficient to opine on the shooter’s mental health and skirt the issue of gun control altogether, but I believe that says more about the Presidents’ own mental fitness than anything else.  After all, the shooter’s white nationalist ties make him one of the President’s peeps.

What is wrong with this country? For years now, the disfunction has been apparent to people all over the world. We Americans simply will not do anything about the availability of “weapons of mass destruction” in our own communities.

There are several possible reasons why foreign enrollment in U.S. colleges is trending downward, not the least of which is the poisonous quasi-official attitude toward non-white foreigners emanating from the White House, and the decline in government support for education in general. But compounding the problem must surely be the steady stream of horrific gun violence stories peppering the news. What parent wouldn’t think twice before allowing their child to study abroad in a country wracked with senseless violence?

The NRA has such a stranglehold over the GOP that even with a “normal” Republican president and congress, there would be absolutely no hope of any action on sensible gun control. They won’t even discuss it; and Donald Trump, always more of an instigator than a leader, is scared to even mention the word “gun” in his response to the horrific shootings…
quaking-in-his-boots scared.

In the absence of courage to discuss the obvious remedy, he and others in his party lay down a bunch of platitudes about mental health; but even that is a sham because the whole mess of them has been hell-bent on defunding every aspect of health and the social safety net at their first opportunity. We’re left with nothing but meaningless words.

Donald Trump wants a military parade and a useless wall: to hell with funding for social services and mental health initiatives.

Law enforcement’s big idea is to increase surveillance of all citizens in order to spot possible perps and presumably do a mental health intervention. Isn’t this a movie plot?

What happens when, inevitably, some future Donald Trump decides those interventions should not just happen to people who say they are going to kill somebody, but extrapolates the legal argument to people who express opinions against government policies or make art lampooning “Dear Leader?”

It’s the damndest slippery slope, but those who hug the second amendment couldn’t give a fig about the first.

Rational gun control isn’t rocket science. Strict permitting requirements should limit access to weapons like that AR-15, and the so-called “bump stock” modifications we heard so much about recently, to security professionals and sportsmen who have passed rigorous safety and mental health screening checks. All firearms should, at minimum, be registered every time they change hands. Why should the most lethal of our constitutional rights also give the broadest license to abusers?

 
I am disgusted.

Too Little, Too Late?

Will 2018 be the session in which the Vermont senate finally takes meaningful action toward addressing sexual harassment?  We’ll see.

‘“There’s a different weight to it this year in light of all that’s been going on around us,” (Senator Tim) Ashe said of the new policies, referring to national stories of sexual harassment.’

It’s too little too late to help one young girl who, reluctantly and under oath, provided compelling testimony of her alleged sexual exploitation by then-senator Norm McAllister. The victim had the misfortune of stepping forward just a couple of years before our porcine president and the “Me too!” movement catapulted the dirty secret of sexual assault by powerful men to national attention.

We’re talking about a slip of a girl, just a teenager at the time she served as Mr. McAllister’s unofficial intern at the statehouse, who came from a low-income rural background, asking for a state senator to be held accountable for abusing her.

She relied on law enforcement and the states attorney who persuaded her to testify, to provide the credibility for her complaint that her own social inferiority denied her. Had she hailed from the hill section of St. Albans with gold-plated parentage, I rather doubt her case would have been dropped by the state’s attorney after she fibbed, out of shame and the growing realization that her behavior, not McAllister’s was on trial, about a kiss with a lad who was not her boyfriend.

She left that courtroom completely broken, and we haven’t heard from her since.

The next female who dared complain about the sexual mistreatment she received from McAllister once again sat alone in the courtroom as her own past relationships and financial hardships were used as a cudgel to reduce her credibility before the jury who accepted the argument that a decent family man and senator like McAllister simply wouldn’t do the things of which she accused him. If he had, it must have been consensual; as if any woman can actually “consent” to sexual exploitation by a man who wields the power to deprive her of heat and a place to live.

A third accuser conveniently died before the alleged assaults were brought to trial.

After it was all over but the weeping, McAllister faced conviction on only one count of procurement for the purpose of prostitution, and as far as I know has yet to be sentenced.

I have serious doubts that the procedures now in place for dealing with sexual harassment in the senate would have prevented that teenager’s secret exploitation in Montpelier; or any of the other brutalities Mr. McAllister actually discussed in recorded conversations with the other two complainants.

I suppose it’s pointless to wonder if the outcome of Mr. McAllister’s brush with justice might have been different had it taken place now; but I would urge the legislature to consider well that persons of low status usually suffer the greatest indignities, and a sexual harassment policy that is ineffective at protecting the very young and the timid
won’t be worth the paper its printed on.

Polling trends 2017: Healthcare up and Trump still down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch-22 in the Hot Zone

“…There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.”                                         -Joseph Heller, “Catch-22.”

Catch-22 cover detail.

This week, Entergy Vermont Yankee’s Government Affairs Manager, Joe Lynch, evoked the logic of “Catch-22” when he suggested that it would be unwise to look for further contamination of the Vermont Yankee site because doing so might redistribute the pollutants to new locations:

“…Additional testing of polluted or potentially polluted areas at Vermont Yankee would ‘introduce the risk of spreading any potential contaminants.’ ”

When further questioned by ANR, Lynch offered the following clarification:

“For instance, he warned that ‘invasive characterization and sampling’ could ‘create new pathways for water infiltration’ – a problem that’ s already causing extra work and expense at Vermont Yankee.”

Lynch also noted that the plant has “active systems still in place” such as fire protection mechanisms that rely on underground pipes.

Oh, those pesky underground pipes! I’m old enough to remember (2010) Entergy insisting to the PSB that there could be no leaks in the undergone pipes because there were no underground pipes.

Eager to get shy of the exhausted milk cow, Vermont Yankee, Entergy is once again indulging in whimsy so as not to further complicate a potential deal with NorthStar. Entergy reinforces its argument against independent sampling with the threat that, should the sale fall through, VY will be mothballed and left standing for decades, laying the exposure risks associated with sampling, as well as the mess of decommissioning, on a future generation of V ermonters.

Here’s your legacy, Kids.  Enjoy and don’t forget to say your prayers!

The ACA and nine “threatening” words

Nine “threatening” words: generalized trust, better functioning democracy, less corruption and crime. ninewords

A recent study from Sweden indicates that in the first few years since it was enacted, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is reversing a general decline in trust one that has taken place over the past five decades. The research was conducted by the Swedish Universities Umeå and Lund

The research study indicates a fact about the healthcare issue and the ACA that could explain why the GOP and now Trump have been determined from the start to kill and or sabotage it at all costs: Obamacare might be key to reversing the trend of declining social trust that has plagued the United States since the 1970s.

“Before 2010, worsening health in the U.S. led to a decrease in people’s generalized trust. Coinciding with the introduction of Obamacare in 2010, this negative relationship no longer holds true,” says Jan Mewes, associate professor at the Department of Sociology at Umeå University in Northern Sweden.

Generalized trust is defined as the belief that most people, even strangers, can be trusted. Past research shows that societies with higher levels of generalized trust also have better functioning democracies, with less corruption and less crime. Over the past five decades, the U.S. has undergone a steady decline in generalized trust. [Added emphasis]

The Swedish study concluded just about at the time the GOP completed the takeover of Congress and Trump became President and they note: it will be interesting to see if the ACA will be retained in its current form […] Will it last, or will US citizens eventually ‘revert to form’, where poor health coincides with a lack of trust in others once again?

ACAcoverageWhile something dynamic has been driving the GOP  and president Trump to kill and/or sabotage ACA, their actions may prove self-destructive. A recent Kaiser poll found a solid majority of respondents, 66%, thought lawmakers should work to stabilize ACA markets rather than repeal the law. The breakdown by party showed strong support among Independents (67%), 85% support among Democrats, and even a sizable minority of 43% support with the GOP.

Ronald Reagan pretty much summed up his philosophy when he  quipped that the nine most threatening words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”  Any success for the ACA, a government program, carries an existential threat to that longtime GOP mindset.

And it sure looks like an increase in generalized trust and a better functioning democracy with less corruption would make  life a little harder for President Trump and his scheming administration.

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.

 

Trump’s DOJ is fishing on Facebook

I suppose it is possible Trump is still just bent about the small crowds at his Inauguration Day celebration. But whatever the case his Attorney General Jeff Session is going fishing on Facebook and the internet. fishingsessionThe DOJ continues demands to access the private account information on potentially thousands of internet users in a case from that day. The administration claims it is investigating the planning, organization and participation in anti-Trump demonstrations (what they refer to as riots) on January 20 2017, Inauguration Day.

CNN reports […] administration lawyers are demanding the private account information of potentially thousands of Facebook users in three separate search warrants served on the social media giant, according to court documents obtained by CNN.

The warrants specifically target the accounts of three Facebook users who are described by their attorneys as “anti-administration activists who have spoken out at organized events, and who are generally very critical of this administration’s policies.”

When served with the federal warrants Facebook is prohibited from notifying the targets or making the public aware of their existence. However Facebook went to court and successfully fought to notify the people targeted by the Trump administration. Hit last August with similar DOJ demands for private account data, internet provider DreamHost leaked the news to the public.

The scope of Session’s fishing expedition should get the alarm bells ringing.  CNN: In court filings, [one of the targeted people] says if [the] account information was given to the government, officials would have access to […] “personal passwords, security questions and answers, and credit card information,” plus “the private lists of invitees and attendees to multiple political events sponsored by the page.” […]

“What is particularly chilling about these warrants is that anti-administration political activists are going to have their political associations and views scrutinized by the very administration they are protesting,” said ACLU attorney Scott Michelman.

And if that doesn’t get the alarm bell ringing about the lengths the DOJ is willing to go to chase anti-Trump demonstrators, this may:

The DailyBeast reports today that Federal prosecutors in Washington want to use a video made by a far rightwing group as evidence in court to convict hundreds of people charged with rioting at Inauguration Day demonstrations.  In September, the U.S. attorney moved to introduce a series of videos ripped from right-wing and conspiracy-theorist YouTube channels, including a video produced by the far-right militia the Oath Keepers.

The video names listed in the filing match those of dubious YouTube videos boasting of “INSANE Protests Riots Compilation,” or far-right internet videos claiming to show “Mayham” [sic] in the streets.

And one of those videos—an audio file overlaid with a slideshow of protest pictures—was uploaded as part of an “operation” by a right-wing militia.

The Oath Keepers were formed in 2009, as the Southern Poverty law Center explains: […] in the direct aftermath of the election of the nation’s first black president. Today, it is one of the largest radical antigovernment organizations in the United States.

There’s a dream team nightmares are made of: President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Session and the Oath Keepers all on the same side, wading in the same stream, out to catch the same exercising-their-constitutional-rights-to-swim-upstream fish.

Energy Sec. Perry warms to coal and old nukes for Trump; thumb on the scale for carbon emissions & toxic waste

 

While the drama between Donald Trump and his Secretary of State play out in the headlines, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is hard at work on what is being called an unprecedented proposal to prop up the coal industry and nuclear power plants that are at risk of closing.Trumpnperry

Following Trump’s goal to shore up aging coal and nuclear power plant operations, Sec. Perry is rapidly trying to make significant changes to the rules the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) follows to regulate power markets.

Specifically thehill.com reports:  Perry wants to increase the payments to troubled coal and nuclear plants by requiring that certain regional electric grid operations pay power plants their actual costs of operating plus a “fair rate of return.”

It would be a significant shift from the bidding process now allowed and would almost certainly raise electricity costs for consumers, critics say of the plan.

But Perry’s idea has garnered significant praise from coal and nuclear industry leaders, who say it could revive plants they say deserve to be paid more. 

They argue that because these plants build up larger fuel supplies than competitors producing electricity from wind and solar power, they should be paid more. 

Energy Secretary Perry is not only attempting to rush the rule change through a process that could normally take year to write and even longer to enact.*  Perry’s proposed changes may also violate FERC’s legal authority which by law [… ] centers on the responsibility to ensure that wholesale power rates are “just and reasonable.” 

Any new regulation would have to demonstrate that without the higher payments for coal and nuclear, rates are unjust or unreasonable. If it fails to do so, a federal court could overturn the new regulation. 

“FERC does not have the authority to just decide that a particular source of generation gets paid differently now because Rick Perry requested it,” said Justin Gundlach, a climate change law fellow at Columbia University Law School.

[*It should be noted that the Obama era Clean Power Plan rules took year to write and don’t enforce emission reduction until 2022.]

When nominated to lead the Dept of Energy, former Texas governor and presidential candidate Perry seemed to have little idea of the massive scope of the agency’s responsibilities. Vanity Fair wrote in an article this summer: Since Perry was confirmed, his role has been ceremonial and bizarre. He pops up in distant lands and tweets in praise of this or that D.O.E. program while his masters inside the White House create budgets to eliminate those very programs. His sporadic public communications have had in them something of the shell-shocked grandmother […]

He seems to have warmed to one task putting his thumb on the scale for carbon emissions and toxic waste while carrying out climate change denier- in- chief Donald Trump’s orders.