The VPA Engages in Some Emergency Ass-Covering

Funny thing. A couple weeks ago Jay Nichols, head of the Vermont Principals Association, didn’t seem terribly concerned about reports of racist language at a Winooski/Enosburg high school soccer game. Nichols said the VPA might investigate if it received information about such an incident, but for now the Enosburg district was handling it. He gave no indication that the VPA would take an active role.

Since then, we’ve heard of at least two other incidents of hate speech at high school games.

And now, he’s announced a list of (bland and unconvincing) actions in response to the incidents. In doing so, he said “We have plenty of racism and sexism and stuff like that happen every single day.”

Huh.

Two things. First, “stuff like that”? Really?

Second, if this “stuff” happens every single day, why in Hell didn’t the VPA have a process before now?

That statement is bad enough. But when you actually read the list of actions, it’s clear that this is nothing more than a beleaguered organization trying to cover its ass while actually doing as little as possible.

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Scott Preaches ‘Personal Responsibility,’ Refuses to Accept Any

Even by the usual dismal standards, this was a doozy of a weekly briefing. Gov. Phil Scott acknowledged that his policies haven’t been effective against the Delta variant, he had no idea why, yet he would keep doing the same things he’s been doing and just hope it starts to work. Definition of insanity, anyone?

His opening remarks were heavy on “personal responsibility,” which sounds like good old Vermont plain talk. But the underlying message is that it’s our fault his policies haven’t worked. If only we’d all take personal responsibility, everything would be just fine and his genius would be revealed for all to see.

Pushing vaccination was the sum-total of his policy. Vaccines and boosters. Boosters and vaccines. No hint of a fallback policy if we never achieve herd immunity because even in Vermont, some people are anti-vaxxers or Covid skeptics and some will never become eligible. Good public policy doesn’t depend on every single person being personally responsible; it tries to make up for and/or rein in our weaknesses and misbehaviors. I mean, if everyone took personal responsibility, we wouldn’t need prisons or police. Or laws.

That’s why vaccination plus a sensible masking policy has worked so much better than vaccination alone. It would work here too, but Scott is too stubborn and/or beholden to business interests to even consider any mask mandates or limits on travel or public gatherings.

His administration proudly trumpets the percentage of eligible Vermonters who’ve gotten at least one vaccine shot. It’s now an impressive 88.9%. Which obscures the fact that the percentage of all Vermonters with at least one jab is more like 70%. You never, ever hear that figure at the Tuesday pressers.

In fact, a recent tweet from Scott’s official account completely obliterated that key difference:

That, children, is what we in the business call “a lie.”

Meanwhile, take a gander at this map from the New York Times.

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The Governor Sounds Retreat

The Detritus of Gov. Scott’s Emergency Housing Policy, Left Behind In His Retreat

What a stouthearted guy. What a champion of principle.

What a fraud.

All it took was a few days of bad publicity to induce Gov. Phil Scott to execute a complete 180 on the state’s emergency housing program. After days of resolute insistence that the program had to expire as scheduled this Friday, he turned tail and ran — announcing in a written statement (courage!) that he will allow the program to continue until the end of this year. Between now and then, the federal government picks up the entirety of the tab. Which meant that his now-inoperative stubbornness on ending the program was nothing but a bit of fluff, a purely political stance, since ending the program now wouldn’t have saved the state a dime.

And really, the year-end deadline is equally meaningless since, as VTDigger reported, the Legislature has already apportioned $36 million in federal Covid relief money to keep the program running indefinitely into the new year.

It’s not often that Scott gets caught in a purely political act. But that’s exactly what this is. There can be no valor, no respect, in this abject retreat.

And this is the second time he’s pulled this maneuver. He did the same in September: Insisting on an end to the program only to capitulate when things got a little hot.

The real shame is that it would have been simple for him to retake the high ground.

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Is This the Week of the Great Policy Shift? Eh, Probably Not

They must be burning the midnight oil these days at the Fifth Floor Excuse Factory, because the news on Covid-19 continues to be stubbornly bad. Any shred of belief that we’ve turned a corner was dashed with the last few days’ case counts — including an all-time one-day record of 342 new cases on Saturday. The seven-day rolling average remains dauntingly high, as do test positivity rates, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Can’t wait to see how they’ll explain all this at the Tuesday Covid briefing.

It’s approaching undeniable that Gov. Phil Scott’s plan of vaccination first, last and always is just not working. We’ve blown through prediction after prediction of Delta’s decline, and it’s still going strong.

One might expect the governor to change course, or at least tack a little against this gale-force wind, but I don’t think he’s quite convinced yet. Scott has stuck to his guns even as his justifications and explications have gotten thinner and thinner. I mean, last week he openly admitted that he didn’t know what was going on with Covid.

At the very least, he ought to come to the briefing with an air of humility and tell the people that his administration is rethinking the entire issue in light of the numbers, and is putting everything on the table. That would actually be a good way to prepare Vermonters for stronger measures if needed.

Now let’s try to answer the musical question, why hasn’t his policy worked? Vermont does have a high vaccination rate, after all. Are our current numbers a blip on the radar, or can we expect the high case counts to continue? Well, a couple things argue for the latter: Vaccination alone is insufficient, and the vaccine’s effectiveness seems to ebb over time.

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The Autumn of Phil’s Discontent

Is this the worst moment in Gov. Phil Scott’s nearly five years in office? I’d have to say yes. Now, there haven’t been that many bad moments. Maybe the time he vetoed not one but two state budgets and nearly triggered a government shutdown. But that turned out to be a blip on the radar.

This? This could be the first time he suffers real political damage. He’s taking simultaneous hits on three fronts: The continuing Covid surge, his administration’s erratic Covid policy in the schools, and yet another retreat on the emergency housing program. In all three cases, he looks less like a compassionate moderate and more like a stubborn conservative.

I’m not saying he’s vulnerable in 2022. He isn’t yet, but the bloom is coming off the rose.

He’s had to abandon his optimism on the Delta variant and admit he doesn’t know what’s happening. Our seven-day rolling average of new cases is still near record highs, and hospitalizations, deaths, and test positivity rate are all distressingly high. Still, Scott continues to signal no change in policy. The longer he does so, the more embarrassing his inevitable comedown will be. Unless he gets lucky and the Delta variant goes away.

The school situation is not getting better anytime soon. The “test to stay” program is still being rolled out more than six weeks into the school year. The administration has touted the program’s success in Massachusetts, but there’s a big difference. In Massachusetts, the program was implemented in late July. There was time for planning and adjustment before the doors opened to students. Up here, Education Secretary Dan French is like an auto mechanic working on a car while it’s being driven.

Actually, since he hasn’t offered any resources to schools, it’s more like he’s in the passenger seat telling the driver to work on the engine while the car is in motion.

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The Ignorables (Updated with notice of two Legislative hearings)

When last we met, I castigated Gov. Phil Scott for his needlessly cruel posture on the emergency housing program, which he insists on shutting down next Friday when it won’t save the state a damn dime.

This time I’d like to widen the frame, and point out that there ain’t nobody making a public stink about this craven retreat from basic humanity. Well, that’s not entirely true; some people, including tireless advocate and two-time statewide candidate Brenda Siegel, have been banging the drum. Otherwise…

Media? An occasional story on VTDigger, and that’s about it. No questions on the subject at Scott’s Tuesday presser.

Legislative leadership? I haven’t heard a peep*. Maybe that’s because they agreed to the original plan to kill the program last spring, so they feel an uneasy sense of complicity. Or maybe it’s because the unhoused aren’t a core constituency.

Update: Two legislative commitees are holding hearings on the program next week. House General Etc. is on Monday morning at 9:00, Statehouse Room 11 or streamed online. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules will meet next Thursday at 10:00 in Statehouse Room 24 and streamed online. Hopefully these hearings will prompt some kind of action, and produce some media attention to the issue.

Vermont Democratic Party? Not as far as I can tell. Nothing on its website. The VDP has issued a measly three press releases (according to my inbox) in the last month-plus, and emergency housing was not mentioned at all.

Vermont Progressive Party? You’d think so, but (again, as far as I can tell and I’m open to correction*) no. No press releases, no public statements.

*Correction: I’ve learned that the Progressive Party issued a press release in favor of continuing the emergency housing program in July, when it was first scheduled to end. Since then, Prog lawmakers have continued to speak out in support of the program.

Why the silence? Because we treat the unhoused as if they’re a separate and inferior species, living among us but not really of us. They are The Ignorables.

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A Heartless Policy in Search of a Rationale

The Phil Scott Memorial Emergency Housing Unit

We are, once again, approaching a deadline to kick hundreds of unhoused people out of their temporary lodgings in hopes that they will (a) find permanent housing in a terribly tight rental market or (b) just go away, please. As of next Friday 10/22, more than 500 households are set to lose their housing. The original deadline was in June, and more than half of those housed in motels were kicked out at that time. State officials agreed to extend it for the neediest clients to September. Then, just before it was to expire, Gov. Phil Scott allowed a 30-day “pause” in terminating the program. He didn’t want to label it an extension because that might seem, I don’t know, too capitulative?

Now we’re waiting to see if another extens — sorry, pause — might be in the works. Meanwhile, anxiety levels must be going through the roof for those hundreds of clients.

But hey, don’t worry; pretty soon they won’t have a roof for their anxiety to go through. See, it all works out.

This is bad and heartless enough. (There’s also an element of blackmail, but more on that later.) But what makes it a moral calamity is that there is no goddamn reason to end this program right now. It’s not costing the state a dime because the feds are paying the freight through the end of this year. Plus, Vermont is swimming in federal Covid relief funds so there’s no excuse for kicking people out onto the street. Or campground, since that’s one resource being offered to the dispossessed.

Remind me again how the governor is devoted to protecting the most vulnerable. Or is that nothing but eyewash?

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Scott to Vermont: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

After weeks of staunchly denying that there was a monster in the attic, the tactic is finally becoming untenable. The pounding, stomping and grunting is just too loud to ignore. So now we’ve switched to “Yes, there’s a monster and we don’t know what his intentions are, but we think it will go away on its own. No need to do anything.”

Yeah, the Scott administration’s carefully posed optimism was on short supply in the latest gubernatorial Covid briefing. After several days of case counts between 200 and 300, a rising test positivity rate, dozens of hospitalizations and a high death count, Gov. Phil Scott and his top officials have retreated from their Happy Place.

Still, despite the bad numbers and failed projections, he still insists that there’s no need for any additional action. It’s all about the vaccine, baby. Get your shots and you’ll be fine.

Well, maybe. At least you’ll be less likely to end up in a hospital or a grave.

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Dan French, Purposeful Cipher

Education Secretary Dan French is not the most inspiring sort of leader. If anything, he’s kind of just there. His facial expression and vocal affect are persistently flat. He tends to say nothing with a maximum amount of verbal camouflage. When he’s reading a prepared statement, his eyes rarely stray from the page. And when they do stray, it’s a brief upward glance and then right back down.

Which probably makes him the perfect education secretary for Gov. Phil Scott, who’s also fond of laying down large swaths of verbal camouflage and, well, doesn’t seem to care that much about the public schools except they should somehow operate more cheaply.

In the past couple weeks, French’s persona has not served him well in the public sphere. Although again, his boss is probably just fine with his performance.

At the October 5 Covid briefing, French mentioned in passing that he’d made a visit to the Canaan school district the previous day. It only occurred to me later that (a) Canaan is the only district in Vermont without a mask mandate and (b) Canaan is French’s old stomping grounds. It was there he rose from teacher to superintendent before moving on to bigger things.

That Canaan meeting was apparently not recorded. Or if it was, the recording has not been made available. That’s a shame, because I’d really like to know what he said about the advisability of masking.

Especially since, as someone who viewed the meeting told me, French did not wear a mask himself.

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The GlobalFoundries Deal Is Bad, But Maybe Not Quite Terrible

Had a polite conversation (well, it was testy at first) with someone in the Scott administration who’s involved in the talks with GlobalFoundries over its desire to create its own utility exempt from laws and regulations that apply to all other utilities. As a reminder, the Scott administration and GF have signed a Letter of Intent en route to a formal agreement that would allow GF to have its way.

I came away from the chat with a bit more perspective, but my fundamental belief remains: This is a case of government bowing to the demands of an employer that’s too big to deny.

I’m not naming the official because our chat was off the record, and also because this post reflects my own view of the situation and not theirs.

First, a significant correction. I wrote that the Global Warming Solutions Act set a greenhouse gas emission baseline of 1990 while the LOI uses 2005, when emissions were at their peak. In fact, the GWSA also uses 2005 as its baseline for the 2025 target. 1990 applies for other, later targets.

So in the LOI, GF is agreeing to abide by the 2025 emissions target in the Global Warming Solutions Act. But three things are still true: First, GF’s current emissions are only a tick higher than the 2025 target so the company won’t have to do much at all. Second, the letter is riddled with exceptions and exemptions that would allow GF to exceed the target. Third, the LOI would allow GF to exceed its target under a variety of circumstances.

But there is one line in the LOI that leaves the door open for further state action.

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