Monthly Archives: October 2019

R.I.P. “Fair Game,” 1995-2019

So they did it. My former bosses have pulled the plug on Seven Days’ political column, a staple of the weekly since its inception in 1995. I was, apparently, the last occupant of what I liked to call the Peter Freyne Memorial Chair in Instigative Journalism. So maybe I killed it, or I was irreplaceable, your choice.

After my very sudden departure slash defenestration in August, the paper posted a curious job listing. It wanted to hire either a new columnist or a new reporter. At the time, I thought the odds greatly favored “reporter,” which would mean the death of the column. Also at the time, I gave my sure-to-be-ignored-and-you-betcha-it-was advice: Hire a columnist, preferably someone from out of state (for fresh perspective) and preferably a woman, a person of color, or both. Because the Statehouse press corps is almost exclusively white and male, and the few political analysts/commentators we’ve got are all white men.

Also, there are tons of columnists and would-be columnists with lots of experience across the country, because many dailies have been cutting local and syndicated columns. A suitable candidate could learn the Statehouse ropes in time for the new session.

Instead, we get a Vermont reporter: Colin Flanders, most recently of the Milton Independent, Essex Reporter and Colchester Sun — where he worked with editor Courtney Lamdin, who signed on with Seven Days as a Burlington city reporter earlier this year. (The weeklies are owned by a skinflint out-of-stater who maintains a single tiny staff to feed all three papers.)

In a way, I get it. In our ever-diminishing news ecosystem, adding another reporter who can do Seven Days-style in-depth journalism is a solid move. But “Fair Game” occupied a singular niche in political coverage. Not to mention that the paper is giving up a significant asset; “Fair Game” was one of the most-read features in the paper. (Not because of me, but because of the column’s long tradition of insight, fearlessness and sharp writing. I stood on the shoulders of my predecessors.) The end of “Fair Game” is a sad moment in the decline of our media.

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Metapost: On bad words

We get comments, we do, we do. Of late, they’ve included a couple of complaints about my occasionally salty language. To be fair, that language appeared in the headlines of two recent pieces, not buried somewhere in the text, so the offending words were hard to ignore.

I appreciate the feedback and I take it seriously, but I can’t promise to cut it out. There are times, especially these days, when a good Anglo-Saxonism is absolutely the appropriate response to some bit of political bullshittery or ratfuckery.

Oops, I did it again.

Besides, the only benefit of having A Blog Of One’s Own is that one gets to set The Rules Of One’s Own. I ain’t in this for the money, Lord knows.

Also, I find Vermont politics to be a little too reserved. This is fine, for the most part; I’d hate to cover that mess in D.C. where everyone’s hackles are permanently on Code Red. But our politicians commonly back away from any kind of real confrontation — or exposure of disagreements behind the scenes — out of an overly developed sense of politesse.

Which, up to a point, is a virtue. But there are times when differences that affect policy outcomes warrant a bit of sunshine. Or when a little vinegar improves the flavor.

I see myself as the vinegar. Or, in the words of my Twitter bio: “Political analyst, poo-flinging monkey.”

So yeah, I fling some poo from time to time, and I will continue to do so. Somtimes I’ll even call it “shit.” If you don’t like it, I will defend to the death your right not to read it.

Hey look, a Republican candidate!

The candidate and his base. From the John Klar for Governor Facebook page.

John Klar, a man of many talents including authorship of far-right commentaries on True North Reports, and the possessor of a notable chin, has become the first Republican candidate for governor in 2020.

Gov. Phil Scott, the Republican incumbent, has said he won’t announce his intentions until next spring. But he’s gonna run, let there be no doubt.

And he has nothing to fear from Mr. Klar, whose ideology is such a mixed bag that even the Never Scotters may have a hard time flocking to his banner. Klar’s message is roughly equal parts Ethan Allen, Arthur Laffer, and the prosperity gospel on a societal level. That is, he believes if government gets out of the way, everyone will rise out of poverty and into prosperity.

Klar calls himself and his followers “Agripublicans,” adherents to the notion that Vermont has suffered an Edenic fall from its original state of grace due to the excesses of big government and the depredations of flatlanders. In short, he’s the one true advocate for Making Vermont Great Again.

Of course, this golden age of liberty, prosperity and rugged individualism — centered on the life-giving profession of farming — is less a historic reality and more a picture postcard. But hey, a man can dream.

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I don’t know why Doug Hoffer puts up with our bullshit

State Auditor Doug Hoffer is at it again, pointing out the turds in the carefully curated punchbowls of state government. This time, it’s OneCareVermont, the massive, publicly-funded and poorly-understood initiative that seeks to reinvent the economics of health care by paying providers per patient instead of per treatment. The idea is that providers will be incentivized to encourage health instead of waiting to treat disease. (Not that there’s any evidence whatsoever that doctors and nurses can effectively change lifelong behavioral patterns that lead to chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes, lookin’ in the mirror there.)

Of course, the entity seeking to reinvent health care is owned by the two dominant providers in the current system, University of Vermont Medical Center and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Kind of like the foxes guarding the henhouse, except they’re big ol’ grizzly bears.

Hoffer had the audacity to take a look at OneCare’s commitment to some creative community-based health programs, including efforts to encourage healthy food shopping and meal prep and providing palliative care. And he found — shocking, I know — that OneCare, having accepted millions in public dollars for those programs, had no evidence whatsoever that they had any effect. At all. (Link is to VTDigger’s story. You can read Hoffer’s memo here.)

In fact, the behemoth isn’t even pretending to try.

OneCare CEO Vicki Loner faulted Hoffer’s “expectation for documentation of every activity.” Instead, OneCare is evaluating the outcomes for the system as a whole.

Which, if true, is just fuckin’ dumb.

What kind of large-scale organization launches a series of initiatives with no intent to evaluate each one’s impact? If you’re evaluating the system as a whole, how do you figure out which parts of the system work and which are a waste of time and money? Do you think the good folks at Hannaford don’t bother to track sales and profit margins in each department (or in each individual store), as long as they’re getting good outcomes for their system as a whole?

Even worse, OneCare is taking public money for specific programs and refusing to be accountable for how effectively it’s being spent. Which is ironic, don’tcha think, for a so-called Accountable Care Organization?

But if you think Hoffer is getting a hero’s welcome for his work, then you haven’t been paying attention to his tenure as auditor. Because his reward never comes in the form of gratitude and promises to enact reforms. No, his work is greeted with deliberately misdirected criticism and claims that reforms are already in the works. And, as quickly as possible, his work is dumped in the circular file.

Like I said, I don’t know why he puts up with our bullshit.

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State business grant gets flushed down the crapper

Bad news from down Bennington way, courtesy of The Banner:

With a two-paragraph note Thursday afternoon, a major Bennington employer for decades — Energizer — confirmed that the local factory will close.

Well, there go some nice manufacturing jobs in a community that’s taken more than its share of body blows. How many jobs is apparently a mystery; Energizer didn’t say, and The Banner couldn’t immediately find out. In 2015, the factory was downsized to an undisclosed extent (companies have learned to conceal the grim details of cutbacks and closings); at the time, per VTDigger, it employed “between 100 and 250 people.”

Sen. Dick Sears of Bennington learned of the plant’s closure — after the fact — in an email from a corporate stooge who offered hollow words of praise for “the years of productive engagement we have had with you and your office.”

That “productive engagement,” by the way, included a Vermont Training Program grant issued in April 2018 — only a year and a half ago. VTP provides taxpayer funds to cover up to 50 percent of training new workers or teaching new skills to existing workers.

I’m not sure, but I’m gonna guess here that Vermont had something a little more… uh, permanent in mind when it gave Energizer those dollars. Instead, the company didn’t even bother to inform state government until after it had publicly announced the plant closure.

Nice.

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The kids aren’t going anywhere

The legislature has been warned. At the end of the 2019 session, a small band of climate protesters occupied the balcony in the House chamber and unfurled a banner promising to return in 2020. They were largely met with disdain by legislative leaders, for their offenses against regular order.

Well, those leaders had better get ready for more. Climate activists were distinctly underwhelmed by the legislature’s meager accomplishments. Their attitude can’t have improved since then, what with top lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott all acknowledging that Vermont is going to miss its near-term climate targets by a mile. And Scott pinning his hopes on the magic bullet of technological advances to drag Vermont forward.

The problem with that approach is (a) it’s iffy and (b) it lets us keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere until The Golden Age Of New Technology appears. In the meantime we’ll be doing our part to deepen the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, climate activists have launched a series of Statehouse actions. They recently held a rally calling on MMR, the capital’s most successful black-hat lobbying firm, to drop so-called “reprehensible” corporate clients, including fossil fuel producers and other corporate giants. Last week, a few dozen climate activists camped out on the Statehouse lawn, braving lousy weather to emphasize their point: They’re not going anywhere, and they’re not at all satisfied with the “progress” made by our political leaders, who mostly address the crisis by way of lip service.

And who, truth be told, are probably gearing up for more disappointment on the climate front. Nobody’s talking about the kind of action that would get us back on track to meet our goals. Nobody with any power is seriously talking about, say, a carbon tax — which was originally a Republican idea to address climate change through market forces, but is now considered anathema by even the self-identified moderates of the Vermont GOP. Democratic leaders are likely to prioritize the stuff they fumbled this year: minimum wage, paid family leave, a full tax-and-regulate system for cannabis and a waiting period for gun purchases.

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Magical Thinking vs. Entrenched Racism

Big news from VTDigger:

The Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital is finally set to educate employees about diversity nearly two years after the state Human Rights Commission found discrimination against workers of color.

Seems like an awfully long time. One thing’s for sure, though: If they put that much thought into creating an anti-bias program, it must be a really good one.

The state Department of Mental Health is hiring ReGeneration Resources of Brattleboro to offer a one-time training to its 200 hospital employees on bullying and harassment, such terms as “implicit bias,” and how to report and respond to problems and “contribute to the creation and maintenance of a healthy, cohesive workplace culture.”

Oh, um. “A one-time training” meant to cover such a wide range of issues? That seems problematic. Unless the racist culture isn’t very deeply rooted?

The Human Rights Commission called for training after releasing a January 2018 report that found more than a decade of “repeated hostile, offensive and racist comments and actions” at the Berlin facility. There, one employee faced calls of “chocolate boy” and found the N-word scrawled on his car windshield, a second was told she commuted on “the welfare bus” and still others were tagged “nappy” and offered a stereotypical spread of fried chicken and watermelon.

“More than a decade,” eh? And we’re going to fix all of this with “a one-time training”?

I got two words for ya: Bull and Shit.

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