Author Archives: John S. Walters

About John S. Walters

Writer, editor, sometime radio personality, author of "Roads Less Traveled: Visionary New England Lives."

Now Comes ACLU-VT, Shootin’ Fire

This summer, we’ve been treated to lamentations by official Burlington — and wildly outlandish claims from rural conservatives — about the onslaught of violent crime that threatens the peace and tranquility of the Queen City (group A) or has turned Burlington into a lawless hellhole (group B).

Well, the ACLU of Vermont is calling bullshit. In a thorough and well-researched letter to Mayor Miro, ACLU-VT’s general counsel Jay Diaz demolishes the lamentations and presents a strong case for the idea that actually, Burlington is a lot safer than it was a few years ago despite the shrinkage in the Police Department.

Man, the facts can be so inconvenient, can’t they?

The letter is well worth reading in its entirety, but here are some highlights.

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A Disturbing Trend in State Covid Stats, and Other Notes on Today’s Presser

This here chart illustrates a troubling development in the last week-plus: Vermont’s initial daily Covid count has been consistently revised upward a day later. Some of the revisions are dramatic. And, as VTDigger reported, the trend continued big-time over the Labor Day weekend. The original case counts for Saturday, Sunday and Monday totaled 242 cases. The one-day-later revised counts totaled 438. Yep, they almost doubled from original report to later revision.

This is problematic in two ways. First, most people who follow this stuff check the daily number on the Covid Dashboard, and that’s all they do. They never spot the revisions. Second, the revisions are not easy to find. They are reflected in the Health Department’s Covid charts, but only if you know where to look. It took me a while, and I’m a frequent Dashboard visitor. It ain’t exactly transparency.

This issue rightfully came up at Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly briefing today. And the answers were, shall we say, less than informative.

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The Senator Floats Serenely Above the Fray

I’ve written about this before, but it took on fresh urgency this week after the Supreme Court’s little knife job on abortion rights. Where is Sen. Patrick Leahy? What is he doing about this?

There are a number of things he could be doing. If he’s limited himself to criticism of the court’s ruling, I’m sorry. That’s no better than “hopes and prayers” right now.

For starters, he needs to spearhead the movement to reform the filibuster. At minimum, we should go back to its traditional form: You have to take the floor and stay there, instead of merely filing an email once a day. The abortion rights bill that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is just empty talk unless there’s serious filibuster reform, because there’s no way the bill would get 10 Republican votes or more.

Leahy is a powerful figure in the Senate, and he has yet to provide a clear statement of his stance on the filibuster. Last time I checked, I got this smidge of boilerplate from pres aide David Carle:

He continues to discuss this with other senators, and there’s a lot of that going on.

Good stuff, that. Especially since the reproductive rights of every woman in a red state are now in the judicial crosshairs. Maybe he could pick up the pace on those discussions?

Leahy is also the senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a past committee chair. He’s in a strong position to push for court reform — adding new justices, reining in the high court’s powers, etc. What’s he doing? Anything?

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Phil Scott’s Power Grab

Recent news coverage of Brattleboro’s attempt to impose a mask mandate has revealed something that went under the radar in June, and I have questions.

Last week, Gov. Phil Scott rejected the Brattleboro ban. In doing so, the administration cited an executive order posted on June 15. The order came at the end of Vermont’s state of emergency, and outlined next steps in fighting Covid-19. They included use of the National Guard in “vaccination and other recovery services,” extending a measure allowing bars and restaurants to sell take-out alcoholic drinks, extending emergency housing measures, and…

What seems to be a remarkable concentration of power in the governor’s office: “Changes in public health mitigation measures or requirements impacting the general population shall require approval of the Governor.”

By itself, the order seems to apply to measures taken by the state. But just before that sentence comes a statement that the Vermont Department of Health “shall oversee COVID-19 related investigation and mitigation efforts,” including those by municipal authorities. That sets the stage for the assertion of executive power.

I’m no lawyer and this could all be completely kosher. But it seems a bit dictatorial to me, and I’m surprised that it failed to attract a single bit of coverage or criticism. Other parts of the order, like the housing bit and the liquor permission, were covered extensively. But not the assumption of unitary power by the governor.

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Yep, He’s a Coward

Welp, as soon as he was confronted, Sen. Russ Ingalls folded like a lawn chair. Ingalls was taken to task by Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint for doxxing a middle school teacher… and he immediately turtled.

According to Balint, Ingalls expressed “regret and remorse” and said he would reach out directly to the teacher to make amends “for his poor judgement.”

What a warrior.

I mean, it’s the right thing to do, but he’s abandoning any pretense of principle.

He’s also ducking the media, just like a coward. “Ingalls did not respond to multiple phone calls and messages seeking comment Tuesday,” per VTDigger.

I’m sure he’ll go on being an asshole on social media and in front of friendly audiences, but when forced to confront his own actions, he can’t take the heat.

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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