Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Monumental removal priorities

For today at least, and for sanity’s sake I plan to limit myself to following reports about  Trump’s latest outburst  of support for white nationalists to 140 character bites such as the one below.  This time President Trump angrily  went off script and perhaps the rails to totally reject  criticism of the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville Virginia.

gotta go

 

What saved a prized UVM botanical collection from destruction?

The Burlington Free Press reported an interesting angle to a recent storyit was a federal grant that saved a prized UVM botanical collection from severe fire damage. In addition to the efforts of fire fighters who responded to the fire at UVM’s Torrey Hall, some new storage units purchased by UVM in 2014 with National Science Foundation funding are credited with saving the irreplaceable plant and fungus collectionsaid to be worth as much as $6 million dollars.brought_nsf

The recent fire, accidentally caused by workers repairing and soldering the copper roof, could have been a disaster for the college’s Biology and Plant Biology departments collections housed there. Seven Days reported that firefighters from Burlington and Malletts Bay responded and had the fire “nearly extinguished” after several hours, but as “hot spots” flared up, they remained on fire watch for 24 hours afterward.

“If we didn’t have the funding support from the National Science Foundation, which provided us full replacement of the old cabinets, the material would have been incinerated. We would have lost the whole thing,” Dave Barrington, plant biologist and curator of the herbarium, said in statement from UVM, quoted in the Burlington Free Press

Built in 1863, Torrey Hall is listed on The National Register of Historic Places; several floors house the extensive and valuable plant collection. The Pringle Herbarium, according to UVM, is a critical resource for research activity in plant systematics the biological classification of plants and botanical diversity studies. In addition to keeping the collection safe from fire, water, and pests, the collection’s new storage units also speed a digital imaging project now underway. With the near-constant barrage of budget-cutting and belt-tightening demands from federal and state officials, this averted disaster is a practical reminder of what well-spent federal tax dollars can accomplish for the public good.

Oh, and by the way, Trump’s 2018 budget has proposed an 11% cut for the National Science Foundation. That slash was rejected by Congress, but their draft budget only level-funds the NSF and strictly limits the organization’s flexibility to distribute its limited funding to foundation-set priorities. This approach is seen as part of a continuing desire by Republicans in Congress to force the NSF away from research on social and behavioral science and significantly anything to do with climate change.

Surprise! Trump uses and abuses the LGBTQ community.

This morning, not satisfied with throwing his best political friend, Jeff Sessions, under the bus, Donald J. Trump once again betrayed his election promise to be “better for the LGBTQ community than Hillary Clinton.”

Of course, he did it in a tweet. Offering the wholly unconvincing claim that “his” generals had recommended the radical change in policy, the Tweeter in Chief proclaimed that henceforth, transgendered people would not be allowed to serve in the military, in any capacity.  No mention of what will become of the many transgendered people currently serving in the military.

That we are not the least bit surprised by either the injustice of the decision or the casual manner of its delivery gives testament to the horrifying trajectory upon which we have been traveling since Inauguration Day. We are becoming conditioned to the unthinkable.

This phenomena is, in itself, worthy of examination.

Donald Trump may be an ignorant fool, but he is a primitive master at distraction.

As Congress prepares to grill DT Junior and Paul Manaford, focussing public attention squarely on the Russian investigation, Trump is redirecting his enemies’ attention to the concerns of the LGBTQ community.

This is a safe outrage to court, as it simultaneously plays to his generally intolerant base.

If the ploy is successful, at least some of the news cycle will be preoccupied with the inevitable reaction.

The American public has already come to accept that Mr. Trump is an inveterate liar. So, no surprise there. That, on reflection, is a pretty shocking adaptation.

When you think of where we’ve come to since the turn of the century, when our liberal democracy was finally coming into its own only to be sent into a reactionary tailspin by 9/11, you have to acknowledge that Al Quaida succeeded in its expressed goal: to bring down the American way of life.

They could not have imagined a more effective partner than Donald J.Trump.