Author Archives: John S. Walters

About John S. Walters

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

Still the Luckiest Man in Vermont

Today’s State of the State Address was another exercise in Repurposed Content. Gov. Phil Scott is still leaning on the usual uncatchy catchphrases and political shibboleths, and recycling the same points he’s been making since 2015.

There ‘s not a lot new to say about this midwinter summer rerun, so I’m going to follow Governor Nice GuyTM‘s example and repurpose some old content myself. Because as Scott’s address made clear, it’s still true.

Last January, I wrote a post called “The Luckiest Man in Vermont,” which noted that Scott has rarely faced a political challenge in all his election campaigns. He floated to the top due to circumstance and his brand of bland, passive-aggressive charm. On top of that, the pandemic has given him a tremendous political gift.

I’m not talking about the credit he’s gotten, merited and otherwise, for his handling of Covid-19. I’m talking about the ever-flowing Niagara of federal relief funds buoying our economy and fattening public treasuries. Today’s speech re-emphasized that fact.

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The Quality of the “Good” News Continues to Plummet

Am I a little bit relieved that it’s not worse? Yes, I have to admit, I am. I thought we might see the numbers go through the roof by Monday. Instead, they’re only threatening the roof.

And that’s where we are now: an all-time record high daily case count, a rapid rise in Covid hospitalizations, and a new high in test positivity constitutes “good” news.

As for Monday’s “good” news of 245 fresh cases, only 1,313 tests were processed. By my calculation, that’s an 18% positivity rate for Monday. The Tuesday count was 1,727 cases out of 10,572 tests. That’s “only” a 16% positivity rate.

So yeah, Omicron is here and just beginning to hit us hard.

Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Scott is taking a week off his Tuesday Covid briefings. He told us last Tuesday there wouldn’t be one today because he’s delivering the State of the State address Wednesday afternoon.

So… he’s spending 24+ hours practicing? Can you say “I didn’t take a walk today because I was chewing gum”?

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Here’s a Delightfully Sketchy Candidate for the U.S. Senate

Friends and fellow Vermonters, cast your eye on a man who would replace Pat Leahy in Washington, D.C. No, it’s not Senator-In-Waiting Peter Welch, who is certain to win as long as he is still drawing breath come Election Day.

This, folks, is Kerry Patrick Raheb, independent Senate candidate, political conspiratorialist of the first water, wannabe cannabis entrepeneur, and shady investment advisor who has left a string of lawsuits in his wake. The flattering photo above is from his campaign website. (A DuckDuckGo image search turned up precisely one photo of Raheb from independent sources. Dude keeps a low profile.)

Raheb is one of the most colorful characters to grace our ballots in recent memory. He’s not quite Brock Pierce-level, but he’s not far off either.

His campaign website has the garish design sense of mid-period AngelFire. Cheesy graphics, eye-watering color combos, and even a countdown clock!!! (Counting the days, hours and seconds till Election Day.) I haven’t seen one of those in years. All that’s missing is an 8-bit version of “God Bless America” on autoplay.

Raheb’s sense of humor is reflected on a page called “Belches Corner,” a clever reference to Peter, um, Belch. Raheb’s fine grasp of policy can be seen in a passage on American energy independence. He says we’d achieved it under “the prior administration,” but that damn Joe Biden wiped it all out with an executive order canceling the Keystone XL pipeline.

You know, that pipeline meant to import Canadian oil into the States.

Well, he probably thinks of Canada as effectively a subsidiary of the U.S.A. so I guess its oil counts as domestic?

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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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