Daily Archives: August 11, 2014

The Burlington Free Press ignores an obvious contradiction, gives Mark Whitworth a free pass

Oh boy, another Monday morning, we’ve had a bare-bones staff all weekend and we’ve gotta have a local story to fill that big front-page hole.

I know! Let’s profile a sage Vermonter type and run a big photo of him in a stereotypical Vermont setting!

And there you have it, on page A1 of today’s Freeploid: Mark Whitworth staring manfully at the camera, with a big pile of firewood behind him.

Whitworth, for those just joining us, is the recently installed head of Energize Vermont, the benign-sounding advocacy group promoting the anti-wind cause. Whitworth took over from that carpetbaggin’ astroturfer, Luke Snelling, who’s gone to San Francisco to seek his fortune by greenwashing corporations with environmental image problems. Which is what he used to do out of the Massachusetts office of his ad agency. Hence “carpetbaggin'” — he may be a scion of a Vermont family, but he wasn’t living here when he fronted for Energize Vermont.

Anyway, on to Whitworth who, as the headline informs us, wants Vermont to “SLOW DOWN, ASK QUESTIONS” when it comes to our energy future. Seems we’re in a “rush” to implement renewable energy. Yeah, stupid, isn’t it? Just because global warming is a goddamn crisis doesn’t mean we should “rush” to build our homegrown renewable infrastructure.

The story treats his views with respect, which is not out of bounds for a softball profile of a public figure. But this one line caught my eye, not to mention my ire:

“I’m not pro- or con-wind,” he said.

Cough. Snort. Chuckle. BWAHAHAHAHAHA.

All righty then, Freeploid, riddle me this. This article is on page A6*. On the next page, A7, directly across from this article, is an over-the-top rant of an opinion piece by Whitworth that accuses Vermont’s environmental community of being corporate stooges, and repeats the tired arguments of the anti-wind crowd.

*In order to see the layout, you’ll have to access a print copy of the Monday edition or have subscriber access to the Freeploid’s online e-newspaper. The digital version includes the same content, but it’s scattered around the website. 

He’s “not pro- or con-wind,” eh? And reporter Joel Banner Baird didn’t challenge him on his obviously false and self-serving claim? And the editors didn’t think the article and opinion piece made for an uncomfortable juxtaposition?

He starts his opinion piece by comparing Vermont’s renewable strategy to President Bush’s conduct of the Iraq War. He paints the build-out of renewables a for-profit hustle by what he calls the “Big Green Alliance of Green Mountain Power, policians, and ‘environmentalists.”

Because Mark Whitworth and his allies are pure as the driven snow, and all others have been Assimilated by the Evil Utility Borg. Got that, Paul Burns? Brian Shupe? Jake Brown? Sandy Levine? Chris Kilian? You’re all corrupt. Unless you change your tune and agree with Mark Whitworth.

He accuses GMP and its co-conspirators of seeking to “put 500-foot-tall turbines and massive solar fields wherever we want — on sensitive ridgelines, in wetlands and on prime agricultural soils,” and “string transmission lines all over the place.”

Yeah, no. Nobody’s proposing anything like that. As I’ve written before, and as anyone who checks the public record can see, there are only a handful of places in Vermont where wind is economically viable. And I don’t think any utility, no matter how profit-hungry, would try to site energy projects on sensitive lands. Seeking profit involves knowing when and where to build, and sensible utilities know they have to be careful and appropriate with their decisions. If they aren’t, they’ll waste a lot of time and money on projects that will never be built.

Also, if you want “transmission lines all over the place,” look no farther than Energize Vermont’s own green-energy plan, which relies heavily on Hydro Quebec power from the far north. That’ll require a big fat buildout of high-tension power lines right across the Northeast Kingdom that Whitworth professes to love so much.

Whitworth is a True Believer. He sees himself and his allies as the defenders of Vermont’s sacred honor, and anyone who disagrees is a turncoat and a corporate lackey. He is entitled to his opinion, and I respect his commitment. But he shouldn’t get a free pass from Vermont’s Largest Newspaper.

George W. Bush’s education time bomb

Some of our former President’s policies were clearly and obviously dumb, like the two wars that have left two countries in ruins, or his refusal to raise taxes to pay for those wars, or the laissez-faire attitude toward high finance that opened the door to the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.

A few of his policies looked good, at least on the surface. But it seems as though there’s a worm inside every apple. Medicare Part D helped seniors get their prescriptions, but it was unnecessarily complicated and barred the government from negotiating on drug prices; thus it was a huge giveaway to Big Pharma. On his watch, many standards and regulations were relaxed (or ignored), but acceptable cholesterol levels were lowered significantly; again, a giveaway to Big Pharma.

And then there was No Child Left Behind, an idea that actually brought Bush and Ted Kennedy together. But there was a time bomb hidden in the workings of NCLB:

Each year for the past 13 years, the NCLB Act has lowered the allowable percentage of students whose test results suggest they are not proficient in math or language arts. This year, that percentage became zero.

In effect, all it takes for a school to labeled as low performing is for a single student to fail to reach a score of proficient.

This, from a story published in the journalistic Dead Zone of the Saturday papers. The Mitchell Family Organ and the Freeploid both reported on what this means for Vermont schools; I’m quoting from the former.

The focus of the story is a letter written last week by Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, seeking to explain the fact that virtually every school in the state has been labeled “low performing” by the remorseless federal standard.

Most other states took advantage of a loophole in NCLB; they got federal waivers in exchange for agreeing to use standardized test results to evaluate teachers and principals. Why didn’t Vermont do likewise?

Holcombe said Vermont did not apply for the waiver because research has shown standardized tests to be unreliable for teachers in classrooms with 15 or fewer students, which compose nearly half of the classrooms in the state.

“It would be unfair to our students to automatically fire their educators based on technically inadequate tools,” Holcombe wrote.

Some other states have belatedly realized that the waiver is a bad deal, and are backing out. The problem is, NCLB sets draconian penalties for low-performing schools, potentially including the wholesale firing of school staff, the conversion of a “failing” school to a charter school, or even turning the whole thing over to the state or to a private education company.

Far from a real effort at improving education, No Child Left Behind is a real-life version of the old frog-in-a-pot-of-water meme. If you put a frog in hot water, so the story goes, it will jump out. But if you put it in cold water and gradually heat it to boiling, the frog will stay put and die. If NCLB had tossed the system into a boiling pot, there would have been instant reaction. Instead, it slowly and steadily turned up the heat. Whichever option the states chose — performance or waiver — school systems are right and truly screwed.

Kudos to Secretary Holcombe for pointing out the inherent absurdity in the situation, and how the system “does not serve the interest of Vermont schools, nor does it advance our economic or social well-being.”

It’s just another rotting apple in the Bush-el. Worst… President… Ever.

Postscript. Let the record show that Your Two U.S. Senators, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy, voted “No” on the final version of NCLB. They were two of only ten Senators to do so.

Everybody loves good ol’ Phil

I think I’ve identified the source of Lake Champlain’s outbreak of blue-green algae: last week’s party in Senator Dick Mazza’s Corvette-laden “garage” on behalf of Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott. Enough horseshit was generated to feed an algae bloom for months.

I’m sorry I missed it. Guess my invitation got lost in the mail. Fortunately, the Freeploid’s Nancy Remsen was there, and made the Mazza Tov the centerpiece of her Phil Scott profile in the Sunday paper. From her account, I extract a few gems…

The Republican lieutenant governor glad-handed Republicans, Democrats, lobbyists and business leaders…

I guess Good Ol’ Phil won’t be a supporter of VPIRG’s campaign finance reform agenda. Just a guess.

“It is great to see such a bipartisan crowd,” [former Governor Jim] Douglas observed. He wasn’t surprised, he said, noting, “Phil Scott is the kind of Vermonter who doesn’t worry about someone’s party label.”

Immediately thereafter, Douglas revealed himself to be the kind of Vermonter who DOES worry about party labels:

Douglas urged the crowd to help re-elect Scott to “make sure we don’t have lopsided government.”

As I have observed before, should we be electing people based on affirmative action? Or should the onus be on Republicans to craft a message that actually resonates with the Vermont electorate?

Oh wait, here comes Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell, who was on hand to offer his almost-not-quite-nudge-nudge-wink-wink non-endorsement.

“I’m here to support a friend,” Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor, said as he stood near Scott in the Corvette showroom. Campbell qualified his support, saying, “I’m not raising funds for Phil.”

Isn’t that nice. I guess I shouldn’t think of this as treason.

No, I guess not, because as Campbell says, he’d support a real actual Democrat for Lieutenant Governor, but he won’t support Progressive Dean Corren even if he wins the Democratic nomination. Campbell just can’t overlook Corren’s long-ago “bashing” of Democrats, even though today’s Corren has definitively foresworn any and all Dem-bashing, promises to work hand-in-hand with Democrats, and is much more politically aligned with Governor Shumlin than is Phil Scott. But I guess Campbell, like Jim Douglas, is unfortunately obsessed with party labels.

Also on hand, making excuses for their Phil-anthropy, were State Senator Dick McCormack and Burlington Democrat Ed Adrian. McCormack “acknowledged that his views on many issues are probably closer to Corren’s, ‘but what I’ve done with Phil really counts for a lot.'”

Awwwww, how thweet. As for Adrian, well, he offered his own variation on the VTGOP’s affirmative action theme: keep Phil around as the token Republican.

If Democrats occupy every position of power, they are just going to fight among themselves. What is wrong with having a moderate, token Republican who would frankly be considered a Democrat elsewhere in the country?

Sorry, Ed, color me unconvinced. What’s wrong with having a “token Republican” in the Lieutenant Governor’s office is that, as a member of the Senate Rules Committee and the tiebreaking vote on legislation, he could become a significant roadblock in the push for single-payer health care and campaign finance reform. And I am unmoved by the fact that Scott would be considered a Democrat in West Virginia or Nebraska. It’s like Roger Allbee running for a Democratic Senate seat in Windham County: he may be a liberal Republican and he might make a really good Senator from, oh, Rutland County or the Northeast Kingdom, but he’s too centrist for the Windham electorate. Same with Scott: he’d be a fine Lite-Gov if it were entirely a ceremonial position, and he’d be a breath of fresh air in Montana or Wyoming, but as Lieutenant Governor of Vermont he’s a potential obstacle to Governor Shumlin’s top priority. Which is why Shumlin has all but endorsed Dean Corren.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never had the chance to fall under the up-close-and-personal spell of Phil Scott’s charms*, but I don’t get the Scott fetishism among so many of our Democratic officeholders. It’s reminding me quite a bit of the Vince Illuzzi fetishism of two years ago. Nobody gave Doug Hoffer much of a chance because he was a Progressive, and a rather abrasive one at that, while Everybody Loved Vince.

*Maybe it’s his private-label cologne, a bi-attractant blend of pleasing moderation with rich, manly undertones of racing fuel and asphalt. 

Except when it came Election Day, it turned out that the inside-the-Dome crowd didn’t represent the electorate as a whole. I’m hoping the same thing happens with Corren, for the sake of single-payer’s prospects in the Senate, and in order to drive another stake into the heart of the old-boys’ network, go-along-get-along atmosphere that beclouds our Most Stagnant Deliberative Body.