Monthly Archives: December 2015

Try again, Mr. Mitchell

One of the great ironies of the Fourth Estate is how they are constantly trumpeting The Public’s Right To Know regarding other precincts, but they just can’t stand it when the spotlight is turned on themselves. For example, the studied reticence of the Burlington Free Press whenever it takes a chainsaw to its already-diminished staff.

Another example: In my four-plus years of blogging, I’ve said plenty of harsh things about almost everyone in political circles. When I meet these folks, they tend to be perfectly genial, or at the very least polite.

Not journalists or editors. When I criticize the failings or shortcomings of Vermont’s media, they often react with a pained squeal. There’s only one person who’s blocked me from their Twitter feed, and it’s a staffer at a certain Vermont newspaper. Once, the chief of a major media outlet took time out of his (or her, I ain’t telling) busy day to hector me for being critical of a certain reporter’s work. I was honored by the attention in a perverse way; at least I know they care.

This is a roundabout way to get at the latest Big Story in Vermont media: the DUI arrest of Catherine Nelson two days before her installation as publisher of the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

She bounced her vehicle off multiple inanimate objects in downtown Rutland, and blew a BAC twice the legal limit after being pulled over by the cops.

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The Governor prepares a soft landing

Is Peter Shumlin starting to act like a lame duck? It would seem so. To judge by this week’s paltry trinkle of news, he looks to have one eye fixed on the past and the other on his post-gubernatorial future. And he’s already given up on fixing one major debit in his administrative ledger.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, Shumlin opposes any tax increases to pay for Vermont’s burgeoning Medicaid bill, but he doesn’t want to cut eligibility or benefits either. In fact, he’s washing his hands of the whole mess.

“I don’t know which governor is going to get to solve this problem,” he added. “But I hope a governor gets to solve it soon.”

“…once I’m safely ensconced in the private sector with my lissome new bride,” he might have added under his breath.

Yeah, screw the 2016 session. The Governor, you see, proposed a Medicaid fix last year and the Legislature ungratefully rejected it. So he’s done his duty, and hereby washes his hands of the matter.

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Dubie discredited

There’s quite the journalistic one-two punch on VTDigger today. It’s a story that exposes former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie’s anti-wind activism for the empty rhetorical shell that it is; it also raises serious ethical questions about a top state official. Or it would, if the state had any serious ethical standards to enforce.

For those just joining us, Dubie emerged from his long political hibernation earlier this year to take up the fight against a proposed seven-turbine wind farm near his home in Swanton. Dubie insisted this wasn’t a case of NIMBYism which, don’t they all. But his political profile lent a bit of suit-and-tie gravitas to the cause.

In addition to the usual discredited arguments about environmental impact, Dubie attacked the Swanton plan as a menace to aviation. And since the guy is a pilot with American Airlines, his words carried some weight. Except it was all bullshit.

This fall, Dubie has been trumpeting a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration to support his stance. But it turns out that the FAA was merely claiming an interest in reviewing the plan. And now it has completed its review, and determined that there is no impact on aviation. None.

In other words, he wasn’t an expert with unique insight. He was just another zealot pushing whatever scraps of “information” he could find.

But what’s worse is that he had a willing accomplice at the highest level of state government: Guy Rouelle, aviation program administrator for the Agency of Transportation.

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A small fortune, on a relative scale

Retired Wall Street kingpin Bruce Lisman, the Millionaire Who Would Be Governor, released his financials on Monday. Interesting, because (a) candidates usually release financials after Tax Day, so their most recent tax returns are included, and (b) it’s Christmas Week, when relatively few are paying attention. Kind of a newsdump, in other words.

The topline? Lisman’s net worth is $50.9 million.

Sounds like a lot. But my first thought was: I expected more.

After all, this is a guy who was in the top ranks of Bear Stearns, a very lucrative Wall Street firm. Well, it was “very lucrative” until it melted down into a small puddle of goo in the 2008 financial crisis.

And after all, this is a guy who in 2009 sold his Manhattan residence — a four-bedroom pad overlooking Central Park, not far from the Metropolitan Museum of Art — for almost $13 million. And his current manse in Shelburne is worth just under $6 million. With real estate exposure like that, I’d have expected a higher net worth.

There are possible explanations.

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Outsiders trolling for dirt on KGM sale

A very strange half-page advertisement graced page 3 of Your Monday Times Argus. It was a solicitation for inside information on the operations of Keurig Green Mountain and/or its would-be purchaser, JAB Holding Company. And, oddly, it was littered with typos and lousy grammar.

The ad was placed by something called ACTION Group, whose name is too generic to yield anything useful via Google search. At the top of the ad, ACTION Group claims to consist of “Americans Concerned To Improve Our Nation.”

Two people are named in the ad: William T. Juliano and Deborah Dickinson. You might expect them to be ambulance-chasing lawyers, but no — Juliano is a real estate developer and financier based in New Jersey and Boca Raton, Florida, and Dickinson is a longtime employee in his various enterprises.

The ad claims that ACTION Group is “very concerned” with the announced sale of KGM to JAB, described as “a huge German conglomerate whose intentions are to dominate the global coffee industry.”

You know, like the Third Reich only caffeinated. Hm, that doesn’t sound good.

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The wrong time to start a fight, and the wrong fight to pick

So the Bernie Sanders campaign is mad as hell and not taking it anymore. “It” being the alleged pro-Clinton bias of the Democratic National Committee. And they have a point: the DNC has made some decisions that favor the front-runner. But c’mon, what do you expect from a party that believes it has a strong, electable candidate with deep roots in the party versus a self-described political insurgent?

Of course the party is going to favor the “stronger” candidate. For that matter, it’s unseemly for the vanguard of a “political revolution” to start whining about the unfairness of the establishment. That’s what you expect from the establishment, and that’s why you’re fighting them.

Besides, it’s not like the DNC has done anything horrendous. Yes, the debate schedule is too limited, which has turned out to be a tactical error, ceding the spotlight to the Republican circus. But the truth is, debates don’t swing elections unless a candidate makes an absolute fool of him- or herself.

Beyond all that, two points:

— The Sanders camp is in the wrong on the data-breach issue, and is trying to change the subject.

— This is the worst possible time to pick a fight.

Details after the jump.

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Whistling past the graveyard, Franklin County style

When last we left the Norm McAllister saga, he was threatening legal action against the State Senate if it suspends him from his official duties. He claims that a number of his constituents have talked of filing suit. As I noted, this would just prolong the agony for Senators, for Republicans, and especially for Franklin County Republicans, who are stuck with this tar baby.

Well, VTDigger’s Jasper “Son of Jay” Craven spent a few happy hours getting in touch with the county’s other lawmakers. And all of them, shockingly, denied that a court battle was in the works.

“Nobody has expressed a plan or a desire to take legal action,” said Rep. Carolyn Branagan, a Republican who represents Franklin’s first district. “I think it’s exactly the opposite, the people with whom I know and have spoken to want this over.”

… Franklin Republican Reps. Albert Pearce and Larry Fiske, Independent Barbara Murphy and Democrat Kathleen Keenan also said they hadn’t heard anything about a lawsuit until McAllister’s remarks Wednesday. Nor had Claude Cheralier, the Highgate chair for the Franklin County Republicans.

Rep. Corey Parent joined the chorus, and expressed the increasingly forlorn hope that McAllister would come to his senses and resign.

Well, see, here’s the problem.

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Mr. Donka’s regrettable Facebook page

I sure hope the Vermont Republican Party can recruit a credible candidate to run against Congressman Peter Welch in 2016. Because if they leave the spot open for the likes of Mark Donka like they did in 2012 and 2014, they might suffer a wee bit of embarrassment. Because even as Phil Scott has been busily distancing himself from the far-right extremism of the Republican presidential field, the same sort of harsh rhetoric can be found in abundance on Donka’s Facebook page.

Which is basically a bunch of reposted Tea Party visuals full of conspiracy thinking, climate change denial, fear and hatred.

Some of which are also, um, fake.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 2.53.40 AM

Yeah, Mark? That never happened.

A photograph of Hillary Clinton shaking hands with terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden has circulated online (divorced from its original context) ever since it was created for a Photoshop contest held back in 2007 by the web site FreakingNews.com.

Wups.

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The right to recall

At yesterday’s Senate Rules Committee hearing, one of the main arguments against suspending the Predator Senator, Norm McAllister, was that suspension would unfairly deprive his constituents of full representation.

Which is a good argument if you ignore, oh, y’know, morality and stuff. It’s an argument that may very well result in a court ruling in McAllister’s favor. A constituent who doesn’t mind being represented by a self-admitted sexual predator can say, “Look, by population Franklin County deserves two Senators, and until McAllister’s suspension is lifted we only have one.”

There are, on the other hand, the interests of constituents who don’t want to be represented by a felon-in-waiting. They have no recourse whatsoever until the next election, because Vermont is one of 14 states with no provision for recalling elected officials.

No matter what those officials might do.

Let’s say, purely hypothetically, choosing a name out of thin air, Dick Mazza runs into the Senate chamber wielding a pickaxe and starts hackin’ and slashin’. After he’s been subdued and taken away in handcuffs and the blood is washed off the walls, furnishings, and light fixtures, the Senate meets to consider what to do.

And decides it can’t do anything until the criminal case is resolved. Congratulations, good people of the Grand Isle district! Like it or not, you shall be represented by an *alleged* axe murderer until the next election! Provisions shall be made for Senator Mazza to participate in committee meetings, floor debates and Senate votes by video feed from his jail cell.

Yes, outlandish, I know. But what are the alternatives under the present system?

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