Monthly Archives: September 2020

Ingram’s Parting Shot

Anyone else remember this? From August 2019

State Sen. Debbie Ingram brought her political career to a close, whether she meant to or not, when she endorsed Republican Scott Milne for lieutenant governor today. The progressive Democrat had finished a distant fourth in a four-person race for her party’s LG nomination. bagging less than nine percent of the vote.

And honestly, it’s hard to see her move as anything more than sour grapes.

After all, she followed up her primary loss with an intemperate opinion piece blaming her candidacy’s failure on the media for ignoring “diversity candidates.”

So her solution is to support a white cis man over a Democratic woman? And to posit Milne as the right man for the job because of his business experience? That seems entirely out of bounds for one of the more progressive members of the Senate — one who made her political bones as an advocate for social equity of all kinds.

Then again, she did pledge last year to support Congressional term limits, a longtime conservative talking point. (I don’t remember this at all; it came up in a Google search today.) So maybe she is less conventionally progressive than she seemed.

But the Milne endorsement, combined with her post-defeat opinion piece, certainly opens the door to a “sour grapes” interpretation.

After the jump: The media and “diversity candidates”

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Mr. Milne’s Recycling Bin

Scott Milne tried to make up for his two previous statewide campaigns, which were remarkably issue-free, by releasing a lavishly illustrated and ridiculously detailed 60-point policy agenda this week.

His Tuesday announcement got lost in what turned out to be a very big news day, including Dr. Anthony Fauci’s guest appearance at Gov. Phil Scott’s Covid-19 briefing and Scott’s veto of the Global Warming Solutions Act.

I felt a little sorry for Milne at the time. But having taken a dip in his mile-wide-but-inch-deep policy pool, I decided it’s probably better for him that this stale batch of recycled ideas didn’t attract much notice. The package is dominated by conventional Republican tropes, failed Scott administration proposals, and plenty of filler to make the agenda seem more impressive than it is. You’d think a guy who’s reinvented himself as an edgy cryptocurrency investor would have some fresh ideas to contribute.

What’s even worse is that Milne completely fails to address some of our most critical challenges. There’s nothing about our raging opioid crisis, not a mention of racism, justice, policing or corrections, and barely a nod to climate change.

Since Milne’s document is searchable, we can quantify that. “Opiates” and “racism” are nowhere to be found. The word “climate” occurs precisely once in the 33-page document. And that’s a reference to Vermont’s economic climate.

After the jump: YOU get a tax incentive! And YOU get a tax incentive! EVERYBODY gets a tax incentive!!!

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When Activism Turns Antisocial

My previous post was about the merchants of Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace seeking legislative action to toughen anti-loitering and vagrancy laws — turning misdemeanors into criminal offenses. My point was that their fear and concern are understandable but misplaced. They face an existential crisis thanks to President Trump’s boneheaded handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the way forward is not to kick out or lock up the city’s most vulnerable; it’s to address the root causes of homelessness, substance use, mental illness, etc., in common cause with the city government, social service resources and members of the community.

Now we’ve got the inevitable egregious overreaction to the merchants’ pleas for help: a Twitter campaign urging a boycott of the merchants. One Tweeter, who shall go nameless here, warned signees “Get off the list or you’re in for a bad time.” Yeah, threats are always in season. Another pondered doing their shopping on Amazon instead of downtown retailers. The Burlington Tenants Union chimed in with support for the boycott.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about what we’re all — I hope — trying to accomplish: A city that’s compassionate, that tackles its problems in common cause, that seeks solutions that work for all its people.

The merchants are part of the Burlington community. They are taxpayers and employers. And they are currently going through a period of extreme stress. The last thing they need is a boycott. The last thing the entire city needs is a bunch of vacancies on Church Street. That would hurt the tax base and throw Burlingtonians out of work, leaving the city with fewer resources to tackle its problems.

If you won’t listen to me, perhaps you’d listen to your patron saint, Bernie Sanders.

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Panic on Church Street

The Church Street Marketplace (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

The good merchants of Burlington’s Church Street are up in arms over an alleged plague of loitering and related bad behavior. Or, as several dozen of them described their charming streetscape in a letter to Chittenden County state senators, “public intoxication, open drug use, public urination and defecation, public sex acts, aggressive and harassing behavior, commandeering and blocking public thoroughfares, and sleeping or camping in both private and public spaces.”

Ick. Well, I haven’t been on Church Street since the pandemic hit, but that sounds more like my old stomping grounds in Detroit (pictured above) than the crown jewel of Vermont downtowns.

Anyway, they are asking for tougher state laws on various abuses of the common. And their lament drew a quick and caustic response from the progressive Twitterverse. “Bicycles & Books” wrote, “Throwing more cops at a problem is never the solution.” Josh Lisenby added, “Merchants want to lock up the poor.” Mairead Catherine suggested a boycott of the merchants.

And this from Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George:

But actually, I feel quite a bit of sympathy for the merchants. They’re suffering from two consecutive seasons, with no end in sight, of greatly reduced foot traffic on the Marketplace. If the pandemic continues much longer, which it seems certain to do, it’s very likely that one-third or more of those merchants will be out of business within months. A lot of people would suffer, a lot of workers would lose jobs, and Church Street would be in danger of losing the critical mass of merchants it needs to remain vibrant.

The merchants can’t do anything about Covid-19, so they’re looking for anything else that might help. But no, making criminals of the least among us is not the answer.

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Was Anyone Really Surprised By the Veto?

Gov. Phil Scott. (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

After the Legislature passed H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act, there were bits of rose-colored speculation that Gov. Phil Scott might see his way clear to signing the thing. After all, he’s apparently sailing to re-election; he has no reason to fear a revolt from the Republican Party’s sad, atrophied right wing. This might have been an occasion to cement his reputation as a caring moderate, perhaps in anticipation of a future run for Congress.

But no, in the words of a thousand uncreative ledes, he “wielded his veto pen.” And the reasons were utterly predictable, and absolutely in line with his consistent position on climate change: He acknowledges the scope of the challenge, but refuses to support any real interventions. And just for added spice, he threw in one of his spurious constitutional arguments against the bill.

Scott’s approach to climate change is to oppose any measure that would impose enforceable goals before the safely-distant year 2050, cost a single Vermonter a single dime, or inconvenience any Vermonter with mandatory changes in energy usage. His vision of achieving our 2050 goal depends heavily on market forces, future technological advances, and a whole lot of water power from the green-but-otherwise-problematic flooding of First Nations land by Hydro Quebec.

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The Strange Tale of Kid Swastika and the Scummy Consultant

There’s a curious whiff of white nationalism around the Scott Milne campaign. The fresh-faced youngster above, Kolby Lamarche, is Milne’s director of field and digital operations. Lamarche became notorious back in 2017 when he used a Hindu swastika as his profile picture on his school email account. The Hindu version is slightly different from the Nazi swastika, but more than close enough to trigger the reaction he got — and seemed to welcome at the time.

Next we have Texas-based Harris Media, which has collected $16,000 from the Milne campaign for graphic design and online advertising. In recent years, Harris has created campaign advertising for some of Europe’s finest ultra-nationalists, including France’s Front Nationale and Germany’s Alternative fur Deutschland.

Is Milne is secretly assembling an All-Star team of neo-Nazis? Of course not. But the hiring decisions seem… shall we say… curious at best, and stupendously ignorant at worst. I mean, why go out of your way to hire a teenager and an out-of-state consultancy that might create bad publicity? Especially when you’re trying to wrap yourself in the Phil Scott cloak of plausible moderation?

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Why is Phil Scott’s Education Secretary Boosting Right-Wing Propaganda?

Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French posted this tweet, calling attention to a new free online American History text. What he doesn’t say is that this “Free Online U.S. History Resource” came out of the Koch brothers’ network of conservative/free market nonprofit organizations. And the history lessons on offer are slanted in favor of an originalist, American exceptionalist, small-government view of things. They also present a sugar-coated version of the story of slavery and race relations in America. Resources on abortion, health care, firearms, marriage equality and other issues are strongly tilted toward the right. The Zinn Education Project:

In its materials for teachers and students, the Bill of Rights Institute cherry-picks the Constitution, history, and current events to hammer home its libertarian message that the owners of private property should be free to manage their wealth as they see fit. As one Bill of Rights lesson insists, “The Founders considered industry and property rights critical to the happiness of society.”

French’s tweet appeared on his personal account and does not necessarily reflect his professional views — but he identifies himself in his Twitter bio as Education Secretary and this tweet was published at 10:09 a.m. on Tuesday, when he was presumably at work. The lines get blurry real quick. The tweet can certainly be viewed as an endorsement from the state’s top educator, which is a pretty powerful thing.

The Bill of Rights Institute, which “publishes” the material, is taking advantage of the fact that many public schools are under-resourced. The offering of free texts can seem like a godsend to strapped districts — and low-income students as well. On its own website, it boasts of having reached “more than 5 million students and over 50,000 teachers.”

It’s possible that French is ignorant of the origin and true purpose of the Institute. As is common practice in the Koch empire, its name and branding are designed to be inoffensive. I mean, who can be against the Bill of Rights? But as an educational professional whose word carries weight, French ought to know what he’s talking about before he hits “send.” If he doesn’t, he hasn’t done his, ahem, homework. And he shouldn’t be giving his imprimatur to ideologically biased educational materials.

The Necessary News Monster

The news of the day: Vermont Public Radio and Vermont Public Television are merging. Let me guess. the combined entity will be called “Vermont Public Media,” amirite?

In a time of media consolidation and droopy revenues, this move makes a lot of sense, but it also sets off alarm bells in my mind. The merger means one less independent entity in the Vermont media landscape, and the creation of a player with the resources to dominate the reporting of news — and the nonprofit world.

The latter is not my area of expertise, but I know that VPR has long been seen as a nonprofit monster that makes it harder for other organizations to raise the money they need.

And if you’ve followed my writing about VPR over the years, you know what I think. It’s an organization that does a lot of good work, but falls short in fulfilling its potential and maximizing its use of available resources. Or, in the words of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

After the merger, you can double that. If there’s any organization that’s played it safer than VPR, it’s VTPBS. I realize it’s harder and costlier to produce video programming than audio, but c’mon, Vermont PBS doesn’t do much to enhance our understanding of our state, ourselves, or current events.

For the new entity to serve us as it must, it’s going to need a significant injection of fearlessness. And generally speaking, the bigger an organization, the more self-protective it becomes.

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The Collar and the Badge

In recent days, we’ve seen defensive protestations from two separate former Burlington police chiefs. The above comes from former chief and now rebranded 21st Century policing expert Brandon del Pozo. The second is in the resignation announcement of Jennifer Morrison, who tied her departure to the too-tough oversight by the busybodies on City Council.

In some ways I can sympathize. Burlington is a tough city for policing, never more so than right now. Progressives on City Council and community advocates often go over the top in their demands and their tactics. And as del Pozo noted in another tweet, many of the top cops who’ve resigned or been forced out across the country are among the more progressive members of that breed. To be sure, life is easier for the George Merkels and Paul Doucettes of the world, who rule the roost in communities that let the cops have their way.

For purposes of this blogpost, I am not questioning the good intentions of del Pozo or Morrison. But here’s the problem: Much like the Roman Catholic Church, the policing profession has forfeited the benefit of the doubt. There are far too many bad apples — and you know the real truth about bad apples is that unless they are removed, they spoil the barrel. In both professions, the bad apples have been allowed to remain.

The vast majority of Catholic priests and, for the sake of argument, top Church administrators operate faithfully, with good intentions. But the bad apples were protected, and the Church continues to pay a price. Who can take the Church seriously as a moral arbiter?

Winning back the lost trust will take several decades of good behavior and strict adherence to moral principles and the law. The same is now true of the policing profession — except they are still racking up fresh deficits.

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The Phil Scott Century

Gather ’round, kids. It’s storytime.

Today I’ll tell you a tale of how Vermont Democrats owned themselves into a Phil Scott Senatorship.

We pick it up from the present day, when the Dems have clearly waved the white flag on the 2020 gubernatorial race. In fact, many of them believe Scott deserves a third term because of how he’s handled the pandemic.

They are entitled to their opinion. But they may not like the consequences headed their way.

Let’s assume that Scott wins re-election by double digits, further cementing his reputation as a moderate who can win elections in solid blue Vermont — enhancing his unique value to national Republican forces looking to pick off a safe blue Senate seat.

At the same time, Joe Biden wins the presidency and the Democrats take a majority in the U.S. Senate. Biden opens the floodgates of federal assistance for fighting Covid-19 and rebuilding the economy. Pat Leahy becomes chair of Senate Appropriations, where he can make sure Vermont gets a healthy slice of the pie.

This makes Scott’s third term much easier, as he doesn’t have to close massive budget gaps. But he decides against seeking a fourth term in 2022, and departs the scene as a noble figure who steered the Good Ship Vermont through stormy seas.

After the jump: Governor Donovan, Dem disunity, Bernie the retiree, and Senator Phil Scott.

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