Monthly Archives: December 2021

Dr. Levine Says the Quiet Parts Out Loud

America’s Tallest Health Commissioner* stepped out on a limb earlier this week by agreeing to a long-form interview with David Goodman of WDEV and VTDigger. David is an accomplished journalist and skilled interviewer, and the results were predictable: the good doctor kinda spilled the beans.

*Citation needed –Ed.

Dr. Mark Levine acknowledged that the Scott administration’s Covid policies are not based on public health science. He used the word “hope” an uncomfortable number of times He implied that the administration welcomes a spike in Covid cases because it would build immunity in the population. He actually said that the admin is trying to “distract people from case numbers.” He admitted that the long Covid consequences of the Omicron variant are unknown. And he said his own behavior is substantially more cautious than the administration line.

Let’s start with “hope.” He said “hope” or “hopefully” a total of eight times. That’s an awful lot of conditional optimism for a set of policies that’s drawn heavy criticism from many experts, including Levine’s two immediate predecessors.

Levine was hopeful of a smooth transition from pandemic to endemic. He was hopeful that more people will get vaccinated. He hopes to “minimize serious illness and death.” He hopes that widespread shortages of test kits will be a thing of the past. He hopes that long Covid won’t be a major issue because of our high vax rate, and he hopes long Covid will be less of a problem after the Omicron wave than it’s been for other variants.

All that hope validates my view that the administration is taking substantial risks, essentially betting they can get through the pandemic without too much damage.

Other points…

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The Metamorphosis of “Test to Stay”

Lately, Education Secretary Dan French has been playing a game of three-card monte with the “Test to Stay” program for the public schools. Each week, he’s cited a different set of statistics. This makes it almost impossible to track the real progress of the program, which has very slowly rolled out through the fall semester as school officials and staff struggled to find the necessary time and resources. And the state did little or nothing to help.

Do you recall when French said the state had contracted with a temp agency to provide additional staff for districts to conduct TTS? We got the initial announcement, and then we never heard boo about it again. Did anyone actually get a temp staffer? We don’t know, but if it had been successful and allowed more districts to do TTS, you can bet we would have heard about it.

This week, French announced the latest change in his agency’s ever-shifting, always-belated Covid policy. He’s still using the name “Test to Stay,” but it’s becoming a very different program starting immediately.

No longer will overburdened school staff be tasked with Covid testing first thing every day. Instead, as French said on Tuesday, “schools will become a distribution point of antigen test for students and their families, not administrators of a testing program.”

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Wow, It Must Have Been a Bad Year for the VTGOP

Paul Dame, freshly squeezed Vermont Republican Party chair (pictured above in his natural state), has put out an end-of-year best-of list designed to buoy VTGOP spirits. But when you read it, well, it’s kinda sad.

In his latest weekly email blast, which I get in my inbox So You Don’t Have To, he offers the party’s “Top 5 Moments of 2021.” (It was also posted on Vermont Daily Carbuncle because they need all the free content they can get, and you can find it there if you care to.) And I tell ya, the strain really shows. He had to dig pretty darn deep to get all the way to five.

And one of those five had nothing to do with Vermont. At all.

Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Scott’s management of Covid-19 doesn’t make the list. This, despite the fact that Scott managed things quite well for the first seven months of the year and since then, has hewed to Republican principles in refusing to impose new mandates despite the worsening of the pandemic. You’d think that would count for something, but not in VTGOPland. Scott famously has as little to do with his party as possible; apparently the feeling is mutual.

Anyway, let’s get to Dame’s chosen top five.

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Weenies of the Revolution

The most annoying thing about the Qanon/anti-mask/Forever Trumpers is not their ideological rigidity or their passionate devotion to a lying cheating grifter. It’s that they talk like warriors ready to fight to the death when in fact they are…

… complete cowards.

You see this everywhere you look in Trumpland, starting with Captain Bone Spurs himself. Here’s a guy who loves to talk tough, but when it’s fightin’ time he scuttles away like a cockroach under a heat lamp. Remember all those draft deferments? Remember every time he urged supporters to physically attack someone — while he himself stayed out of the mosh pit? Remember on January 6 when he said “we” were marching to the Capitol?

Yeah, he went back to the White House to watch it all on the teevee.

Likewise all those Bravehearts who stormed the Capitol to stop Biden from stealing the election, hang Mike Pence, and do God knows what to Nancy Pelosi and The Squad.

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Coming to Grips With Gov. Scott’s Covid Policy

“We don’t know what’s coming.”

Gov. Phil Scott is just as committed as ever to his Covid policy, Omicron be damned. He made that absolutely clear at this week’s Covid briefing, even as he acknowledged that “we don’t know what’s coming.” The thing is, if you accept his point of view, he’s actually doing a good job. So here are some words of conditional praise for the Scott administration followed by a lovely bouquet of caveats.

They have done a good job at getting people vaccinated. They are getting test kits out to people as soon as they get supplies. They are doing their best to add capacity to hospitals and open up beds for Covid patients. They are doing what they can, within their policy framework, to keep kids in schools. They are consistent in balancing the exigencies of public and economic health.

I don’t agree with their idea of balance, but his team is working very hard within the confines of Scott’s policy to prevent a Covid surge that would overwhelm the health care system. They do deserve credit for all that.

Now for the caveats.

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Local Embarrassment Goes Regional

Hey, remember this nutjob? This is Duly Elected Local Embarrassment Liz Cady, d/b/a Essex Westford school board member. She won her seat last April thanks to some very deceptive campaigning that hid the true nature of her QAnon-adjacent beliefs. Her campaign flyer didn’t mention her rabid conspiratorialism around the Black Lives Matter movement, expressed in public statements like this.

…chaos does not happen in one drastic move overnight. It happens gradually as people stand aside and say, “Well, it doesn’t really affect me so I won’t say anything.” But eventually it will affect you. The Nazis’ rise to power happened slowly. It began in 1930 with riots, burning of stores, and violent acts. And that sounds very similar. Very similar of the early tactics of National Socialism in Germany, and the tactics employed by the BLM organization. It’s striking.

Well, Cady is now doubling down on this toxic line of “thinking.” In a recent opinion piece posted on True North Reports because of course it’s on True North Reports*, she compared fighting the Covid-19 pandemic to, yep, Nazi Germany.

*Sorry, not linking to this intellectual turd.

Cady begins her excursion down the rabbit hole by claiming to be something of an expert on Nazi Germany because she read Anne Frank’s diary as a child and Her Eyes Were Opened. It’s this kind of thing that prevents Ms. Frank from resting in peace.

Cady then wrote that she has “read many commentaries to VTDigger and comments on news stories” asserting that we should set up separate medical facilities where unvaccinated health care workers can ply their trade.

Huh? What? Never have I ever.

She then substitutes “Jews” for “the unvaccinated,” and hey presto, the unvaccinated are being treated just like the Jews in Nazi Germany!!!

This insult to the concept of “rhetoric” drew the attention of the Anti-Defamation League of New England, which tweeted its disgust for her drivel and tagged the Essex Westford School district in the process. Which prompted district superintendent Beth Cobb to reply:

On behalf of EWSD, School Board Chair, Erin Knox and I, as Superintendent, would like to state unequivocally that nothing in Cady’s article represents the policies or beliefs of our school district.

Kinda looking forward to the next school board meeting.

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Hey, the Christian Science Monitor Published a Hallmark Movie Script

Not Actually Vermont.

The Vermont of the imagination is a powerful thing, especially when you’re unencumbered by reality. We’ve all chuckled at out-of-state reporters who parachute into our state and go back to their urban newsrooms to hack out a feature story about how Vermont is smaller in scale, slower in pace, neighborly in demeanor, and just generally downright happier than whichever benighted hellhole they call home.

This is the Hallmarkization of Vermont. There are several Hallmark Channel flicks set in fictional small Vermont towns where the people are uniformly neighborly, everybody helps each other, the main streets are vibrant places without a speck of litter but chock full of charming shops and eateries, and no one is poor, disabled, or in the throes of substance use disorder. They are places where busy Big City professionals come to discover What Really Matters In Life.

A particularly heinous example of Hallmarkization was published by the Christian Science Monitor back on December 7. It just came to my attention thanks to the Twitter feed of Dr. Michael Shank. The story is about how Vermont is beating Covid-19 through sheer unadulterated niceness.

It’s obnoxious in a whole bunch of ways. Let me count them…

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Welfare for the Well-Off

Say, have I told you about my can’t-miss economic development plan for Vermont?

It’s called “The Vermont Open Redistribution of Resources Program (VORRP),” a.k.a. throwing money around. All you do is send state vehicles around Vermont, tossing handfuls of cash out the windows.

Just think. It cuts out all the bureaucracy and red tape that bedevil most government programs. It gets money into the hands of Vermonters as quickly as possible. And unlike many such programs, this one is tried and tested. The multiplier effect, a well-established idea in the world of economics, shows that when the government increases spending, it generates far more economic activity than the original investment.

Trust me. It works.

Well, it probably works at least as well as Vermont’s renowned worker grant programs. They reimburse relocation expenses to people who move to Vermont or move to economically distressed areas in Vermont. Their actual effect is completely unproven, as State Auditor Doug Hoffer has repeatedly shown.

And it remains unproven in spite of a relentlessly sunny study of the programs ordered by the Legislature and released on December 15 by the Department of Financial Regulation. VTDigger posted a story yesterday that reports the study’s findings and Hoffer’s criticism of them. (Which is remarkable in itself. Digger has a habit of ignoring Hoffer’s work.) From my point of view, not only is Hoffer right, but I thought he was a little too easy on the report.

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The Reification of Richie Rich

Hey, remember when technology millionaire Rich Tarrant decided to run for U.S. Senate? The year was 2006. Longtime incumbent Jim Jeffords was retiring; then-U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders ran to replace him. Tarrant entered the race as a Republican and spent big on a high-profile campaign that portrayed him as an Authentic Son of Vermont. Seven Days O.G. Peter Freyne dubbed him “Richie Rich” and uncovered the fact that Tarrant seemed to, um, live in Florida.

Tarrant’s candidacy was marked by heavy TV advertising and abundant missteps on the campaign trail. He ultimately spent $7 million on a race that saw Sanders edge him out by a mere 33 percentage points.

Well, Richie Rich is back — in spirit, not in the flesh. The new manifestation is Brock Pierce, the fellow pictured above. He’s filed papers as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Pat Leahy. Pierce also seems to be on the Tarrant Track in terms of likely victory. That is, snowball’s chance in a hot place.

But he should provide some solid entertainment value if he commits to the race because his story is so damn weird that if he was a character in a novel, he’d be completely unbelievable.

How weird? Try child actor, failed entrepreneur, pedophilia allegations, Steve Bannon (!!!?!?!) and Bitcoin billionaire.

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Phil’s Funny Figgers Factory

Well, if the governor is spouting fake optimism and citing carefully curated statistics, it must be Tuesday. This week, Gov. Phil Scott and his team had to admit that the Omicron variant is about to hit Vermont just as the holidays arrive. The combination will almost certainly trigger another several weeks of high case counts — higher than ever before — and overburdened health care workers.

So, in the face of all that bad news, Scott kicked off the presser by reminding us all of how much better off we are now than in December 2020 thanks to his administration’s wise policymaking and the innate goodness of Vermonters, who can be trusted to Do The Right Thing without any orders from above.

Sure, if you make the comparison right there. No one would dispute that Scott handled the first 15-odd months of the pandemic very well. But his convenient comparison elides the fact that his handling of the Delta variant has been woefully bad. His administration has consistently underestimated the impact of Delta, which has meant policies that have proved inadequate to the task or too little, too late.

There was hardly any mention of last week’s hot statistic: Scott’s claim that only 5% of adult Vermonters are unvaccinated. I’ve previously documented some of the holes in that figure; Middlebury College physicist Eilat Glikman exposed another one on Twitter:

I used the numbers on the Vermont vaccine dashboard to compute the actual percentage of adults >18yo who are vaccinated in the state. The answer is 81% not 95%.

On Monday morning, I emailed Health Department spokesman Ben Truman asking for an explanation of how the dashboard percentages were calculated and what figure they are using for the population of Vermont. I have yet to receive an answer. (Finance Commissioner and Chief Number Cruncher Michael Pieciak may have dropped a hint; he off-handedly referred to Vermont’s population as around 630,000. The latest Census count is 643,000.)

The magic number of 5% got no mention in the administration’s extensive opening remarks. It did arise during the Q&A, when a reporter brought up (in broad terms) the problems with it. Scott responded with an aggressive defense of his favorite statistic. Unfortunately, the reporter didn’t arm himself with enough facts to question Scott’s bold-faced assertiveness. Nor did he or anyone else query Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine on the public health usefulness of that figure: How valuable, in terms of measuring our Covid resistance, is it to count only those over 18? Why count those who’ve received as little as a single dose, when the administration is urging everyone to get the full course plus a booster? How much protection does a single dose offer?

No answers to any of that. No reporter armed themselves with the information necessary to effectively query the administration.

There were, as usual, more statistical follies on offer.

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