Category Archives: Covid-19

Mr. 80%

A big ol’ victory lap for our hard-drivin’ Governor Phil Scott today, as Vermont became the first state to surpass the 80% threshold for vaccinations and he got to announce the end of all state-mandated Covid restrictions.

And he deserves the spotlight on this day. He steered the Stock Car of State through the crisis and got us over the finish line. Sure, he cut corners occasionally, traded a little paint here and there, and nicked a guardrail or two, but he’s in the winner’s circle and nobody can take that away from him.

I’ve been critical of the governor on occasion. He always insisted all his decisions were based entirely on data and science, when he obviously considered economic impacts as well as the data. His administration was very slow to react to the unemployment insurance crisis, and the system has never really been fixed. He refused to prioritize inmate vaccinations when that would have been a simple thing to do.

But we got through it just fine, sometimes despite Scott’s actions and, far more often, because of his steady, prudent leadership. He wasn’t perfect, but we’re coming out of the pandemic about as well as one could possibly expect. He’s in charge, and he gets credit for that.

Among other things, it shows what we are missing when one of our two major political parties stops caring about governance.

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Ain’t No Cure For the Dumbertime Blues: The Veepies, Hot Weather Edition

Here at theVPO Institute for the Study of Political Inadequacy, we have yet to establish a causal link between the weather and incidences of stupidity, but it stands to reason that our current heat wave would fry a few synapses. Anyway, here’s a rundown of what’s new in the land of busted neural connections.

First, and we’ll have to put the Award Factory on double shifts to crank out enough Veepies for these honorees, is the No One Was Driving, Officer, We Were All In the Back Singing Award to the Scott administration, the Legislature, and members of a special “working group” for cutting way back on the “motel rooms for those experiencing homelessness” program without actually, uhh, creating an alternative. Members of the working group have my sympathy; they were given an impossible task and did their best. As VTDigger’s Katie Jickling reported back in March, the working group was established because no one could think of a halfway decent solution. It was a convenient receptacle for a very hot potato.

And the group, faced with the same set of dismaying facts (federal funding going away, not enough state dollars to carry forward, and an overheated real estate market), came up with this little cluster: Eligibility has been significantly tightened, which means that several hundred Vermonters could be tossed out of motel accommodations on July 1 without anywhere else to go. Eligibility will be further tightened on September 22, leaving hundreds more on the streets.

In many areas, rental housing just doesn’t exist. Elsewhere, it’s way too pricey. Homeless service organizations are trying to prepare, which includes arranging supplies of camping equipment. Because hey, nothing says “summer fun” like homelessness! Maybe we can give ’em discount rates at some of the less popular state parks.

There are no easy answers here. But given the fact that we’re currently awash in federal Covid relief funds, is there really an excuse for this massive policy failure? Veepies all around!

After the jump: Burlington Dems need a calendar, a plea to not use a veto session for its intended purpose, a once-respected journalist enters the Conspiracy Zone, and a new low in far-right commentary.

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There Is No Vaccine for Stupid: The Veepies Return Again

When I launched this series, I had no idea how often I’d have enough material for another edition. Turns out, it takes roughly one week. That’s almost one story per day. Here we go again with a healthy dose of Stupidity in the Public Sphere…

The Try to Fix a Problem, It Comes Back, Try the Same Thing Again, It Doesn’t Work, Try It Again, Another Fail, Try Again, You Know What They Say About History Repeating Itself Award goes to the Scott Administration for failing to address the repeated failures of the Labor Department. The weekend brought yet another story about unemployed Vermonters waiting weeks to get their checks or hours on hold to the Department’s call center.

It’s been one thing after another for DOL since the beginning of the pandemic. Its excuses have some truth in them; the UI system is a victim of long-term negligence at the federal level, and last spring’s tsunami of unemployment claims was unprecedented and unforeseeable.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington was dealt a bad hand, but he’s played it poorly. He has overseen failure after failure. Not only was he not fired or punished or removed to a quiet corner of the DMV, he actually got a promotion while his department was in flames. But it’s not all on him.

After the jump: Conspiracy theorists get their minute in court, a town ducks a feel-bad story, and a newspaper trolls avidly for advertisers’ favor.

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An Excuse I Never Want to Hear Again

Congratulations to the Senate Judiciary Committee for moving quickly on H.225, the “bupe bill,” decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the opioid that’s used as an alternative to more dangerous drugs. Friday morning’s 5-0 vote was not a surprise; last Friday the committee took a straw poll and came up with the same unanimous count. The bill now heads to the full Senate, where it’s certain to win approval by a landslide.

It was only a couple weeks ago that Senate leadership was signaling a slow play on H.225. The bill had been consigned to the Rules Committee, a place where inconvenient bills go to die. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint issued a statement that threw some cold water on the bill:

We did not want to vote it out of Rules until we had a sense of how long testimony and due diligence would take. …The Chairs want to be certain that this bill will [address the opioid crisis].

Well, they got convinced in a hurry, and after very little testimony. Friday’s action came a couple days after the Senate Finance Committee’s forced march to craft a universal broadband bill — something that would usually take weeks, and would often be kicked down to the following year’s session. But legislative leadership was dead set on enacting a broadband bill this year, and now they’re on track to accomplish that ambitious task.

The broadband action followed Judiciary’s approval of H.128, the ban on the “gay panic” defense. That saga ended quickly and quietly, but only after committee members repeatedly made fools of themselves in trying to shoot down the bill.

So they’ve proven, over and over again, that they can meet an imminent deadline when properly motivated. Any seemingly insurmountable obstacle can be overcome. And now, you know what I never want to hear again? Leadership saying they can’t possibly act on an issue because there just isn’t enough time.

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The Veepies: Awards for Outstanding Stupidity on Public Display

People occasionally ask me how I keep coming up with ideas. My answer is, there are always far more ideas than I can actually cover. This week, there were a few that I just couldn’t get to, but they seem worthy of note in short form. So, the first-ever Veepie Awards. Possibly a continuing series, but no promises. Or threats. The envelope, please…

Most Desperate Pushback Against Negative News Coverage. The winner is the Vermont Department of Corrections, which was on the bad end of a New York Times article outlining the toll of its Covid policies. In order to prevent outbreaks (at least a couple halppened anyway), DOC locked away exposed inmates in solitary confinement, the most extreme form of incarceration.

For weeks at a time… inmates were locked in 8½-by-10-foot cells in near-total isolation. They ate meals a few feet from their toilets, had no visitors, and spent as little as 10 minutes a day outside cells.

The strategy made the Vermont prison system one of the safest for contracting Covid, which is a dispiritingly low bar. But the cost, as the Times put it, has taken “a heavy toll on many inmates’ mental health, and driven some to psychological despair.”

And at least one to suicide. But hey, no Covid deaths!

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Postscript: A Brief Note on Hypocrisy

In my previous post, I wrote about the series of Covid-triggered political windfalls enjoyed by Gov. Phil Scott. There’s one point I made in passing that deserves a bit more consideration.

The governor is dead set against raising revenue or increasing the size of state government, but he’s perfectly happy to take whatever the feds will give him.

Yeah, the governor is a fiscal hypocrite. He hasn’t raised an eyebrow over the federal government’s rampant deficit spending. And he is benefiting mightily from the ongoing tsunami of Biden Bucks.

And yet he wouldn’t be caught dead raising taxes in Vermont or spending outside his comfort level. He refuses to countenance any increase in the size of state government.

Now, there’s one big structural difference. States can’t deficit spend, and the feds can. But, if only as a fig leaf to cover his tacit opportunism, he might want to express the merest hint of concern over the fact that Covid relief and Biden’s infrastructure plan are classic examples of Keynesian economics — spending our way out of trouble with no concern for long-term fiscal ramifications.

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A Canard Comes Home to Roost

Vermont’s “business leaders” scored a rare double last week. Their complaints resulted in stories published on the same day by Seven Days and VTDigger. Congratulations.

The articles trod the same well-worn path: The Usual Suspects in the business community are raising fears that proposed state unemployment benefits will hurt their efforts to attract workers. Both stories are replete with quotes from worried business owners and their paid lobbyists.

Because, as we all know, workers are inherently lazy. And the lower they are on the totem pole, the lazier they become — all the way down to the mythical creature known as the Welfare Queen.

In these stories, you won’t read any quotes from actual workers. Nor will you see anything from business groups that aren’t cut from the Chamber cloth. It’d be nice to know how Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and the Main Street Alliance see things before deciding whether we should consider “business leaders” as united on the moral hazard of unemployment insurance.

It’s true that many unemployed people have gotten more in Covid-enhanced UI than they could expect to earn in their line of work, and that would again be the case under S.10. I’d argue this says more about the overabundance of low-paying jobs than about the excessive generosity of pandemic benefits. And there’s plenty of research that shows that the “business leaders'” fears are unfounded; that the effect of temporarily sweetened UI on the supply of available workers is negligible at most.

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All the Rabbit Holes

I think this is the point where the far left and the far right come together. Or at least try to.

The above cacophony of colors and fonts is making the rounds on social media. No indication of creator or sponsor; “Vermonters Against Unconst. Lock-downs & Tyranny” is either brand new or fictitious. A Google search produces no matches. Dive down this rabbit hole at your own risk.

The Burlington “flash mob” event follows a rally at the Statehouse this past Saturday which, by my count, attracted maybe 30 people. I wasn’t there, but a participant uploaded a nine-minute video of the rally on BitChute, a “free speech” alternative to YouTube that’s welcomed many who’ve been banned by mainstream social media sites, including shouty conspiratorialist Alex Jones. The video plays under the headline, “Covid is a Fraud and We Know It.”

The speakers at the Montpelier event included Newport print shop owner Mike Desautels, who has lost his UPS affiliation and his court battle against the state’s mask mandate. (The video’s narrator claimed that Desautels is $15,000 in the hole for legal fees, and pleaded for donations to Desautels’ GoFundMe page.)

Another speaker was Shylo Bourdeau, co-owner of a farm in Lowell. The video includes a short passage from her speech, which I transcribed to the best of my ability.

They can’t stop us by convention in this oath of office allegiance. And the importance of as established by convention in this oath is them swearing to uphold the Constitution as established by convention for we, the people, was removed. So who are they swearing to? Who are they holding their allegiance to, with that removed?

Your guess is a good as mine. At that point, someone in the audience helpfully shouted “Rothschilds,” so there’s the Protocols of the Elders of Zion George Soros World Jewish Conspiracy which funded the creation of coronavirus in a Chinese lab, I guess?

After the jump: All the rabbit holes in one convenient location!

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And Now a Word From Vermont’s #1 QAnon Ambulance Chaser

Hello, friends. I’m Deb Bucknam. You may know me as the spectacularly unsuccessful Republican candidate for Attorney General in 2016, or from my years of service as an officer of the Vermont Republican Party.

That may make you think I’m mainstream, but let me assure you I’m anything but. I stand ready to legally represent any member of the far right who’s been oppressed, victimized or silenced by the deep state, the United Nations or the insidious Antifa movement.

That’s right. Call me if your violent threats have cost you your job, or if you’ve been targeted for refusing to wear a mask, or if you’ve been barred from carrying your firearm into any space, or if a simple patriotic act like storming the U.S. Capitol has triggered a deeply unfair prosecution. I WILL BE YOUR ADVOCATE!

Just look at my track record. I represented a Rutland gym owner whose business was ruthlessly shut down by state officials. I went to court on behalf of five brave Vermonters who sought to block the mailing of ballots to every registered voter in Vermont. And I stood by the side of a Newport mail shop owner as the state tried to close him down for refusing to make customers and staffers wear masks.

Now, I may have lost every single case. But I promise to have your back, no matter how ridiculous or imaginary your cause.

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Admin Official Injures Self Attempting Verbal Arabesque

You get the feeling that Human Services Secretary Mike Smith was all prepared for a question about the Scott administration’s refusal to prioritize prison inmates for Covid-19 vaccinations. Because, as it turns out, he was kind of over-prepared.

At the administration’s Friday press conference, reporters were far more occupied with other issues. There were questions about teachers and child care workers and various classes of potentially high-risk cohorts, but the first mention of inmates didn’t come until the one hour, 37 minute mark.

At that point, Joe Gresser of the Barton Chronicle asked whether long-term care facilities near the Northern State Correctional Facility should change their visitation rules due to the Covid outbreak at the prison. Implying, I guess, that the prison outbreak could mean more danger in the surrounding community.

At which point Smith spent three minutes and 21 seconds on a soliloquy that didn’t actually answer Gresser’s question. The time was consumed in a word-salady defense of the state’s inmate vaccination policy. Which makes me think Smith was expecting a barrage of questions on the issue.

For those just joining us, the state’s policy is to consider inmates exactly as other Vermonters are considered. They get vaccinated when their age group or risk group gets vaccinated. No special treatment. Despite the fact that, according to defense attorney and inmate advocate Kelly Green, 44% of NSCF inmates have tested positive. Forty-four percent. If that’s not a high-risk cohort, I don’t know what is.

After the jump, I’m going to provide a transcript (my own) of Smith’s entire disquisition and then make some comments.

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