Monthly Archives: August 2021

Nothing to See Here

Yeah, we hit a single-day total of 189 Covid cases on Saturday. Yeah, our seven-day total is nearing the peak levels of March. Yeah, as schools reopen around the country, we’re getting reports of Covid outbreaks. Yeah, Covid cases among young children are peaking. Yeah, it looks like vaccines are less effective than believed at preventing severe illness. Yeah, the Centers for Disease Control says that universal masking should be practiced in schools. Yeah, a single teacher who briefly umasked apparently spread Covid to a couple dozen kids. Yeah, Vermont schools are reopening with no mask mandate. Yeah, Vermont has the highest proportion of childhood Covid of the 50 states. Yeah, school boards across the state are being harassed by unruly anti-maskers. Yeah, there’s a story or three every damn day that gives you pause.

But please ignore the sea of red flags. Nothing to see here. According to the Scott administration.

I know, there’s plenty of evidence on the other side. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Delta variant dwindles away as projected. It’s quite possible we’re going to get through this with a minimum amount of damage. But what if we don’t? The situation seems to call for vigilance and an abundance of caution.

The most concerning thing for me, as a senior citizen with risk factors, is the news that vaccines are less effective at preventing hospitalizations than was previously believed. There’s also a study showing that vaccine protection isn’t as strong among the immunocompromised. That’s a lot of folks who may not be as safe as they thought.

For Vermonters as a whole, the big worry is the potential for widespread illness among children. With kids under 12 still unvaccinated, every elementary school and child care facility is an outbreak waiting to happen. Let’s run down some back-to-school bad news… after the jump.

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So Tell Us, VTDigger, What Exactly ARE Your Editorial Standards? (UPDATED)

Note: Mirabile dictu, VTDigger has sent a response to this post. You’ll find it at the end.

Recently, VTDigger pulled an opinion piece shortly after publication because it “did not meet VTDigger’s editorial standards.” The piece in question asserted a connection between Covid vaccines and genetically modified organisms. Digger did not explain what its editorial standards are, nor why they were only applied retroactively.

Well, there’s other evidence suggesting that Digger doesn’t really have consistent standards for accepting opinion pieces. The GMO essay was published and retracted on August 20. The previous day, Digger saw fit to publish, without apparent scruple, an opinion piece advocating for the use of ivermectin — and, God help us all, hydrochloroquine — for treatment of Covid-19. Instead of vaccines.

WTF, VTD?

Update: VTDigger’s response to this post can be found below, but I wanted to note here that the editors have decided to remove the ivermectin essay from the site.

There is no evidence that ivermectin OR hydrochloroquine are effective treatments for Covid. The off-label use of ivermectin formulations meant for farm animals (such as the attractively-named Sheep Drench) has led to an outbreak of poisonings.

Riddle me this. If it’s unacceptable to publish a piece that imagines a vaccine/GMO link, why is it acceptable to run a piece promoting dangerous and ineffective treatments? Given the current situation, I’d say the latter idea is worse than the former. So why is the ivermectin essay allowed to tarnish the VTDigger brand?

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Cowards of the County

It goes without saying that state Sen. Russ Ingalls is an asshole. What might not be obvious at first glance is that he’s also a lily-livered coward.

Ingalls has gotten himself into a well-deserved spot of bother by publicly decrying — and doxxing — Sam Carbonetti, a middle school teacher who had the temerity to ask his class to “introduce themselves using their preferred names, pronouns and interests.” A parent, Ben Morley, posted a complaint on Facebook. Ingalls reposted it along with Carbonetti’s email address, so people could complain to the teacher directly.

Carbonetti posted the incident on Twitter, and quickly got an overwhelmingly supportive response. Including a tweet from Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, who vowed to look into possible sanctions against Ingalls.

Ingalls is an asshole because he’s so hot and bothered about nothing at all just as he is over critical race theory, about which he is wildly (and willingly) misinformed. It’s “nothing at all” because Carbonetti merely asked his students to identify themselves. He didn’t say anything about L, G, B, T, Q, I, A, or X. Morley and Ingalls made that inference in their own dirty little minds.

Which brings us back to “coward.”

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The Stouthearted Man of Principle Stands Alone

The Telltale Smirk.

Gov. Phil Scott has many admirable traits, as well as many politically advantageous ones. But the hackles rise whenever he accuses his opponents of playing politics. He did it again at his press briefing on August 24, shortly after House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint called for stronger action against Covid-19.

“I think it’s unfortunate to play politics at this point in time,” he said in response to a question about the Democratic leaders’ statements. “I think one of the reasons our pandemic response has been the best in the nation is that we never politicized our response, as other states and other ambitious leaders have done throughout the country.”

“Other ambitious leaders,” eh? Got any particular House or Senate leaders in mind there?

It’s bullshit, in a word. He casts himself as the sole champion of pure reason in a grubby little world of political hackery. In fact, Scott has been a politician far longer than Krowinski or Balint. Longer than the two of them combined. Legislating and policymaking are inherently political enterprises. If you’re in that sandbox, you are playing politics.

His definition of “playing politics” appears to be “disagreeing with me.” If you’re on board with his Covid policy, you’re dutifully following the science and the data. If you differ, well, you’re being (ugh) political.

So tell me, are the 91 Health Department employees who just wrote a letter expressing their “deep concern” over the state’s “lack of adequate COVID-19 prevention guidance” playing politics? Are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has called for universal masking in school buildings and recommended masking in all indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status? Is the American Academy of Pediatricians, which calls for school mask mandates and vaccination of all eligible persons? Is the World Health Organization, which recommends not only universal indoor masking but avoiding indoor spaces, especially crowded ones, whenever possible?

That’s a hell of a lot of non-politicians who, by Scott’s definition, are playing politics.

I wish he’d cut the “playing politics” innuendo. It’s unnecessary. It’s the very definition of political.

What’s wrong with a simple “Reasonable people may disagree, but I believe my policy is right”?

A Covid Denier Gets an Editorial Rug Pulled From Under Her

The Giants of Journalism over at VTDigger got themselves in a spot of bother last Friday, when they posted a commentary by one Aimee Stephenson making a dubious connection between Covid vaccines and GMOs. The piece was quickly removed, and replaced with a note saying that the essay “did not meet VTDigger’s editorial standards.”

The note raises some questions, such as what exactly are VTDigger’s editorial standards when it comes to commentaries? And how did the piece get published in the first place?

I think I know. Digger follows the pattern of print newspapers in publishing commentaries. It’s a way to give the people a voice occupy space at no cost to the publisher. The editorial touch ranges from light to nonexistent. I imagine the process is something like, “Hey, we got a commentary. Next time we need some filler, let’s run it.”

Example: The Times Argus recently published a lengthy commentary by one David Spaulding, fiercely critical of the T-A and all those “liberal” news outlets like the Associated Press. Their offense? Failing to doggedly pursue the alleged scandal of Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Seriously. “Editorial standards,” indeed.

While Stephenson’s piece no longer graces the VTDigger website, the St. Johnsbury Caledonian-Record has a more… forgiving… editorial standard. It published Stephenson’s piece without blinking an eye, and it’s still there. So let’s take a look at what Digger retroactively decided to kill.

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Phil Scott’s Biggest Gamble

In the face of rising Covid-19 numbers, Gov. Phil Scott has stood fast on his pandemic policy. He has offered recommendations instead of mandates, and refused to set new restrictions on, say, indoor dining or tourism. In doing so, he has cited evidence that the Delta variant declines several weeks after onset.

To be honest, I go back and forth on the direness of the current situation, as I read a reassuring story or an alarming statistic. But here’s one thing I do know: This is the biggest gamble Phil Scott has ever taken as governor. Bigger than the gun bills, bigger than vetoing three budgets in two years. His handling of the pandemic has made him politically untouchable. If the Delta variant doesn’t turn the corner by Labor Day or so, he risks losing everything he has gained in the last 18 months.

A couple of weeks ago, Finance Commissioner and Chief Covid Projector Michael Pieciak cited the track record of the Delta variant: An alarming increase followed by a decline five to seven weeks later. The governor is betting that Vermont will follow the same path.

We’re roughly at the five-week mark now. Schools are about to reopen with no mask mandate and no vaccines for kids under 12. We are about to see if our experience matches Scott’s optimism. If it doesn’t, then Scott will get the blame — just as he has gotten the lion’s share of the credit for managing the pandemic so far.

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The Vermont Democratic Party Continues to Disappoint

In April, when the Vermont Democratic Party hired Claire Cummings as its executive director, many an eyebrow was raised. Not that any of us knew beans about Cummings or could render informed judgment on her qualifications, but we did know two facts: She was very young, and she hadn’t been in Vermont politics very long. Less than a year, in fact.

The track record of parachuted political talent is pretty dismal. You’re far more likely to succeed if you have some experience of Vermont politics and the tangled thickets of the VDP. Still, she got the gig, so maybe she was the best one.

But from what I know now, her hiring seems even more of a stretch. There were at least two finalists for the job with much longer resumes and greater political accomplishments, and with far deeper experience in Vermont and party politics. I did not hear about this from either of them, but from a bunch of folks associated with the party. Who, presumably, are dissatisfied with the hire or they wouldn’t be spilling the beans.

I won’t name the two, because they’ve gotten on with their lives and they didn’t leak the news. But rest assured, their qualifications are rock solid.

I have no knowledge of Cummings’ personal qualities or her performance on the job so far. But the VDP is a dysfunctional snakepit. Or, as an exiting staffer said last winter, the party suffers from a “toxic environment” and “a lack of willingness… to address systemic issues.” It will take a strong hand to whip this organization into shape. And it’s difficult to wield a strong hand when you’re usually the youngest person in the room and you aren’t familiar with the powers and principalities of the party.

If you want a sense of how difficult this job is, Cummings is the fourth person to hold the job since 2018. (The party has also had four chairs since 2017. Not great.)

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New Report Finds Global Stupiding Is a Threat to Humanity

This week’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Stupid shone a bright light on the existential threat posed by rising levels of stupidity. The IPS says atmospheric releases of stupid are reaching all-time highs, imperiling our capacity to respond to serious issues. This new crop of Veepies gives a measure of validation to the report; we’ve got some real doozies on our hands, folks.

The Tucker Carlson Memorial Award for Profitable Fearmongering goes to Chelsea Green Publishing. The firm that has produced quite a few notable books in the earth-friendly category has a hit on its hands, not to mention blood. Earlier this year, CG published a book co-authored by Joseph Mercola, “the world’s leading source of online coronavirus misinformation.” And the book, “The Truth About Covid-19,” lives up to the author’s reputation.

The book, per the Valley News, asserts that “the pandemic was preplanned as a tool of global elites who want to strengthen their control of the economy.” It also casts doubt on coronavirus vaccines, while promoting supplements sold by, ahem, Joseph Mercola. The book has already sold 250,000 copies

To judge by her comments, CG president Margo Baldwin is a Covid denier herself. She claims the book went through a rigorous editorial process, and blamed the mainstream media for “creating a climate of fear and misinformation.” I have a few CG books on my shelf; rest assured I won’t be buying any more.

Still to come: Another cock-up at UVM, a deeply flawed “survey” from Burlington, and the Bennington cops get a meaningless bauble.

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The New Census Is Here! The New Census Is Here!

Hey, it’s time for hardcore #vtpoli folks to get their nerd on. After an unprecedented delay (caused by Trump administration incompetence/attempted sabotage), we’ve finally got the U.S. Census numbers for 2020!

This means that the most nerdly of all political processes, redistricting, can finally get serious. (The best place to geek out is the state’s Center for Geographic Information, which has already whacked out a whole bunch of Census breakdowns.) And now I return to my playground of barely-informed speculation on what the Census means for Vermont legislative districts.

The state’s total population of 643,000 was something of a surprise. That’s a 2.8% increase from 2010, and belies our reputation as a place that people are fleeing from. (Our growth rate is a far cry from the U.S. overall, which grew by 7.4%, but still, we’re growing.)

The population gains were concentrated in the northwest. The only counties that gained residents were Chittenden, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille and Orleans. The driver of Vermont population growth is Burlington; as its housing situation gets tighter and tighter, people are buying homes farther and farther away from the Queen City.

The two counties that saw the biggest declines: Windham (down 6.98%) and Rutland (down 6,83%).

Chittenden County now has enough people to warrant eight Senate seats, up two from its current allotment. That’s bad news for the VTGOP. If Chittenden does, as it should, gain two seats, they will almost certainly come at the expense of Republican areas like the Northeast Kingdom and Rutland County. And the Republican presence in Chittenden is vanishingly small. The county’s current allotment of 36 state representatives includes 33 Dems (or Dem/Progs or Prog/Dems), and only three Republicans. All six senators are either Dems, Dem/Progs or Prog/Dems, and the GOP is simply uncompetitive. You can assume that any new seats will be filled by Dems or Progs.

And by the way, Chittenden County deserves two more House seats because of its growth.

Also by the way, since many towns in Franklin, Grand Isle and Lamoille are becoming bedroom communities for Burlington, those counties will almost certainly trend blue. Windham and Franklin aside, Vermont’s population declines are in Republican-leaning areas, while the growth is in Democratic counties.

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Wanted: A Few New State Senators. Or a Lot.

Well, I guess there’s at least one group with a worse seniority problem.

The Vermont Senate, as has been noted in this space, is a temple of tenure. It’s almost impossible to defeat a sitting senator; the only time we get a new one is when someone voluntarily retires. That rarely happens and, as a result, the Senate just keeps getting older and older.

How old? Average age of the 30 senators is 63.4 years. There are only five senators under age 50; there are 14 over 70, and 11 who are 75 and older. There are two others in their late 60s, which means we have a Senate majority past retirement age.

And the oldest wield the most power. The average age of the 11 policy committee chairs is 72.1. Brian Campion is the only policy chair under 64. Yep, that chamber loves it some seniority.

This has some unfortunate effects. First, there’s often an airless quality to the Senate’s work. It is an entity apart from the real world — or even those rambunctious young’uns in the House. (Senators often treat the House with open contempt.) Second, senators are often out of touch when discussing issues of concern to young people like digital technology, child care, substance use, rental housing, and workforce development. Third, well, it’s really hard to get the Senate to take a fresh look at anything or contemplate a change in How We’ve Always Done It.

Sure, tenure has its benefits. They know their way around the building, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Some, including Dick Sears, Bobby Starr, and Jane Kitchel, bring decades of experience and deep knowledge of their policy beats.

But in any organization, you want a mix of young and old, new and tenured. The Senate is terribly skewed toward age and seniority. It’s long past time for some serious turnover. Will 2022 be the year we get it? I sure hope so.

After the jump: Naming some names.

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