Monthly Archives: December 2020

Saluting The Indomitable Heroes Of The Great Covid Counter-Revolution of 2020

The Stamford Selectboard, as they see themselves

The stupid… it burns.

The town fathers in Stamford, Vermont — population 824 — have had it up to here with Gov. Phil Scott’s dictatorial efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Mad as Hell, not gonna take it anymore.

So, by a vote of 3-2, the town Selectboard has “terminated” the governor’s public-health measures. Talk about the mouse that roared.

The majority’s action was inspired by none other than Vermont Republican Party vice-chair (and former candidate for attorney general, thank God she lost) Deborah Bucknam.

You heard right. A top official of Phil Scott’s own party is peddling this brand of intellectual snake oil. Maybe someone will ask him about this at his next coronavirus presser.

And look who showed up to push this nonsense: Kevin Hoyt, Bennington’s number-one conservative nutcase. In a Facebook post, he said the vote makes Stamford “One of the first conservative autonomous zones in the Nation.” Love the brazen self-aggrandizement there.

Stamford’s action came after Bucknam posted an essay on — wait for it — True North Reports, arguing that Scott’s action violates the state constitution. Trigger Warning: You Might Lose a Few Dozen IQ Points By Reading This.

Vermont Statute Section 13(3) of Title 20 provides that the governor “shall” declare the state of emergency terminated in a municipality when the “majority of the legislative body of a municipality affected no longer desires that the state of emergency continue within its jurisdiction.”

… The terms “shall” mean that the governor has no discretion in this matter. He must terminate the state of emergency in the municipality when the majority of the selectboard or other legislative body no longer “desires” to be under a state of emergency.

Sheesh.

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A pile of informed speculation about the Heintz hire

Paul Heintz’ move from Seven Days to VTDigger was somewhere north of surprising and a little south of shocking. Heintz had been at 7D for quite a while. He was one of 13 staffers granted a 1% ownership share last January, presumably a reward for loyalty and an incentive to stay put. And although he’d stepped down from an editorial position last year, he retained a measure of influence beyond his station.

Now, he’s definitely getting a promotion. At Digger, Heintz will be managing editor overseeing a staff of roughly 20. (As 7D’s political editor, he supervised only three.) Nonetheless, it’s a move from an organization he knows backwards and forwards to an unfamiliar place that’s going through a difficult transition.

I can’t speak to his motivation. I worked for the guy for two years and we never really got along, so I don’t know him very well. But here’s what it means from my perspective, which is informed by experience working in both shops. And biased by that experience as well. Take it all with a grain of salt.

Moving from reporter to editor is a customary career path in journalism. Most people get out of the trenches sooner or later, and either move to management or out of the profession. (Montpelier is up to its neck in former journalists turned communications staff, a much more lucrative profession.) He may have hit a glass ceiling at 7D, having once been an editor and then returned to the rank and file.

But he’s stepping into an uncomfortable situation. Digger founder and chief bottle-washer Anne Galloway is a frequent meddler, diving into any story or situation whenever she sees fit. This was appropriate when Digger was a tough little startup with a handful of staff but not now, when it’s a large and established organization that requires a leader focused entirely on the big picture.

Heintz’ predecessor, Colin Meyn, was the buffer between the top and the trenches. It was a real challenge, and he handled it well. He was viewed with affection and respect by the reporting staff. But I have to think it took a toll on him. It’s never a good sign when someone quits a steady job during a pandemic without a pre-arranged professional landing spot.

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A Dangerous Journalism FAIL at True North Reports

I don’t usually bother spending any energy chronicling the reportorial misadventures of the Island of Misfit Toys doing business as True North Reports. That’s the conservative “news” outlet funded by Lenore Broughton, the reclusive ultra-right-wing millionaire.

But this one is special. And it’s a threat to our coronavirus response.

TNR’s Mike Bielawski put together a piece alleging that South Dakota has taken the proper course on Covid-19. That would come as a surprise to any credible public health expert — and I don’t include Peter Navarro or Scott Atlas in those ranks.

And it’s entirely based on a mathematical blunder of epic proportions.

Bielawski cites the two states’ similar death tolls — 165 for South Dakota, 58 for Vermont.

The 58 was Vermont’s total death toll as of a couple months ago. Mikey didn’t bother to update it. But the real whopper is the South Dakota figure, which is not total deaths but the death rate per 100,000 residents!

The actual death count in South Dakota is 1,448. That’s far, far worse than Vermont’s. How much worse? Try eight times as bad. According to the Centers for Disease Control, South Dakota’s death rate is 158 per 100,000. Vermont’s is 20.

Again, normally I wouldn’t bother to debunk this kind of nonsense — except the article argues that we should follow South Dakota’s example because Covid isn’t really that bad. That, my friends, is dangerous. And according to the headline, this is one of TNR’s “most read” pieces. So it’s getting traction among the site’s small audience of hard-core conservatives.

After the jump: More whoppers!

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Northfield’s Leaders Pull a Doomed Political Power Play

The town of Northfield has a problem. Its police chief, John Helfant, has been dinged by Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault over questions about the chief’s reliability. Thibault has issued a so-called “scarlet letter” branding Helfant as untrustworthy. This will make it difficult for Helfant to be a witness in court cases, and may limit his ability to investigate crimes. Which is kind of a big deal for a small town with a small police force.

Northfield’s response: Line up behind the chief and appeal to Gov. Phil Scott to intervene.

Which he has no statutory authority to do. Thibault has complete discretion in such matters.

It’s ridiculous. And it shows the extent to which local officials will stand behind their police chief, come hell or high water.

We’ve seen this same dynamic at work in Bennington and Vergennes, just to name two. The police chief in a small community occupies a position of great authority and political influence. Elected officials are either victims of Patty Hearst Syndrome, believing in their chief despite all evidence, or they are simply afraid to cross their chief. Either alternative begs the question, Who watches the watchers? Who, if anyone, has the chops to ride herd on a police chief — and boot them out if need be?

The answer, more often than not, seems to be “Nobody.”

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Another Brick in the Climate Change Wall

Late Monday, the Scott administration initiated the process for filling a pending vacancy on the Public Utility Commission. The PUC is a three-member body with broad authority over electricity, natural gas, cable TV and telecommunications in Vermont. During the Phil Scott years, it has consistently applied the brakes on development of renewable energy.

This, despite the fact that it has had two Democratic appointees, one of them being Margaret Cheney, wife of U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. I don’t know why the two Dems have played along with the renewables slowdown, which has included strict noise rules for large-scale wind installations and a steady ratcheting down of the net-metering rate (the amount utilities are required to pay for power generated by solar installations).

And recently, VTDigger reported that the PUC had rejected a study that showed major savings from solar power in the Northeast. Yeah, they’re not exactly green-friendly.

And now, one of the two Democrats is exiting the commission. Sarah Hoffman Hofmann was appointed to a six-year term by then-governor Peter Shumlin in 2015, and her term expires this year. On Monday, the administration issued a press release seeking applicants for the position. It did not explain the circumstances of the vacancy, so we don’t know whether (a) Hoffman Hofmann is stepping down or (b) Scott wants to replace her.

The upshot is that Scott appointees will soon hold a 2-1 majority on the PUC, including chair Tony Roisman. Cheney and Hoffman Hofmann haven’t exactly been friendly to green power, but a Scott appointee will inevitably support the governor’s anti-renewable agenda.

And no matter how long Scott is governor, his appointees will dominate the commission for at least four more years. It’s one of the small costs of Scott’s re-election, and another reason why Democrats who voted for Scott can’t really claim to support climate action. Because as I wrote in October, the governor gives plenty of lip service to the issue, but opposes any meaningful policy changes. His choice for Hofmann’s replacement will be expected to toe the administration’s line.

Note: Updated 12/29 to correct misspelling of Commissioner Hofmann’s name.

Tell Me Again Why a Wealth Tax Is a Terrible Idea

From the Public Assets Institute’s “State of Working Vermoint 2020”

An income tax surcharge — permanent or temporary — is a political nonstarter in Vermont. It was one of Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman’s major proposals in his bid for governor, and look what it got him. I am fully confident that a wealth tax would fail to draw anywhere near a majority in either the House or Senate Dem/Prog caucuses, let alone escape Gov. Phil Scott’s ever-ready veto pen.

But it’s a really good idea, and it’s a real shame we’re not taking it seriously.

First of all, Vermont needs new revenue. We’re threatened with huge budget cuts unless the federal government comes to our rescue. And even if it does, we need major public-sector investment on climate issues, broadband, housing, and higher education. Among many others. Even Scott acknowledges the need for these investments, but then he shrugs his shoulders and says we just can’t do it.

Second, the wealthiest Vermonters, just like the wealthiest Americans, have benefited tremendously from federal and state tax policies that cater to their interests. Zuckerman based his call for a temporary wealth tax on the fact that top earners really cashed in on Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. The lite-guv simply asked them to pay a share of that bounty for the greater good of the state.

But even before Trump, the system was rigged on behalf of the wealthiest. Ronald Reagan started this ball rolling, and it’s just gotten worse and worse since then. The above chart, taken from the Public Assets Institute’s “State of Working Vermont 2020” report, shows the result of these decades of an unbalanced economy and tax system. From the report:

Over the last four decades, there has been a dramatic upward redistribution of income in Vermont and across the country. In 2019, the top 20 percent of Vermont households received almost half (48.4 percenty) of the income earned in the state. The top 5 percent of households got 20.7 percent. Average income for the top 20 percent of households had increased more than 8 percent since 2007, after adjusting for inflation. For the bottom 20 percent, average income was down more than 7 percent.

And that’s just the income part of this equation. It doesn’t address taxation, which is generally very regressive at the federal level and in the vast majority of states.

After the jump: More mythbusting.

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Are VT’s “Approved Independent Schools” Too Independent?

Scrappy little independent, there.

As is his wont, State Auditor Doug Hoffer is questioning conventional wisdom. And it’ll probably win him as many popularity points as it usually does.

This week, Hoffer released a performance audit of Vermont’s “approved independent schools,” as they like to call themselves. (Heaven forbid you should call them “private schools,” which is what they are.) What he found, in the words of his report’s title, is that these schools “are not subject to most of the statutes and rules that govern public schools.”

These are private schools that have been approved by the state Board of Education to receive public tuition dollars. They are located in rural areas where it might not be practical for each district to serve its entire K-12 population. That may be enough of a public service to compensate for the fact that they are taking students and dollars away from the public school system.

But perhaps, if they’re accepting tens of millions in public funding every year, they should be held to the same standards as public schools.

And as Hoffer points out, they are decidedly not. This allows them to cut corners in ways that public schools cannot, and shields them from the kind of rigorous oversight that public schools are subject to from state officials and district voters.

After the jump: Details and conclusions.

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Send a Judge to Jail

C’mon in, Your Honor. Plenty of room!

At least one of Vermont’s Superior Court judges could benefit from a stint in the hoosegow — purely as an educational experience. But maybe a couple days behind bars should be a requirement for the job. After all, they send plenty of people to prison; shouldn’t they have first-hand experience of the “correctional” experience?

The judge in question is Samuel Hoar, who just dismissed a lawsuit by inmate Mandy Conte over unsanitary conditions in Vermont’s women’s prison. Hoar’s opinion could have been delivered by the unghosted version of Ebenezer Scrooge. In it, he acknowledged the disgusting conditions in the prison’s shower facilities, but decided to do nothing about it.

Sounds like he needs a long rinse in the showers that, according to the inmate who filed suit, “reeked of human waste and were infested with sewer flies, maggots and mold.”

Before we go on, I should mention that Hoar is the same judge who almost lost his seat in 2019 over allegations of “sexist, degrading and condescending behavior toward women.” The charges put an extra twist in what’s usually a pro forma reappointment process, but in the end Hoar was given another six years on the bench.

And this is the dude who rejected very valid complaints from a female inmate. I smell a pig.

After the jump: A deeper dive into Hoar’s terrible ruling.

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Look What I Found in the Ol’ Mailbox

I must infer that the Ethan Allen Institute is hurting for money. How else to explain the fact that an EAI fundraising plea ended up in my mailbox? And yes, it was addressed to me personally, not to “Occupant.”

The hardy-har-har political “cartoon” above was part of the solicitation. It poses the ludicrous proposition that the Black Lives Matter movement, Extinction Rebellion, Antifa and the 1619 Project all spring from the poisoned well of Marxism.

Uh-huh.

BLM and Extinction Rebellion are nonviolent protest movements. “Antifa” is basically a right-wing boogeyman; it’s decidedly not an organization, let alone one capable of overthrowing the global political order. And for God’s sake, the 1619 Project was conducted by the New York Times. Which is, need I remind you, a for-profit corporation.

No Marxists there, except in the fevered imagination of EAI President Rob Roper, who signed this thing.

So let’s take a look at the rest of the thing. The letter begins with a dire warning:

The nation and Vermont are at a tipping point. We have to decide if we are going to maintain the Constitutional freedoms set in place by our founders — the ideas and principles that made us the greatest country in the world — or abandon them for a path toward socialism, speech codes, and McCarthyite blacklisting of citizens who expreess anything other trhan obedience to a single-party agenda.

Referring to the Democratic Party, presumably. Which is hogwash. The party, nationally and in Vermont, is a broad coalition that can barely agree on a common agenda, let alone threaten the overthrow of the American way of life. Nothing the Democrats espouse would pave the way for socialism. Nothing would impose speech codes or a “McCarthyite blacklist.”

Which, need I remind you, was a Republican invention.

I realize you have to grab the reader’s attention with fiery rhetoric, but this is deliberate pandering to the Trump/tea party/Proud Boys wing of the conservative movement.

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The Stupidest Scandal

The latest twist in the story of Brandon del Pozo’s Twitter trolling has got to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen in politics. Not the most impactful, not the most scandalous, not the most significant — just the stupidest.

For those just joining us, del Pozo resignedas Burlington’s police chief last December after it was revealed that he used a burner Twitter account to criticize pesky police critic Charles WInkleman. At the time, Mayor Miro Weinberger denied all knowledge of del Pozo’s astoundingly petty tweets.

And now, Seven Days has discovered that, well, actually, Weinberger did know about the account after all.

Sheesh. And if you read the entire article, you’ll realize that this isn’t the first time Weinberger has kicked this particular ball into his own goal. Quite the contrary; he’s had, to put it charitably, a tangential relationship with the truth.

It’s just sooooooo stupid. And it might just end Weinberger’s political career.

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