Category Archives: Covid-19

Get Ready for Fight Club in the Statehouse

The coming biennium may be the most combative in recent memory. The best comp might be Jim Douglas’ final years in office when he had huge budget battles with the Democratic Legislature and saw his veto of marriage equality overridden.

The stage is set. Phil Scott comfortably won re-election, and can rightly claim the overwhelming support of the Vermont electorate. Legislative leaders can equally assert a mandate, given the fact that the Democratic slash Progressive caucuses are at historic highs. Legislative leadership will have a nice margin for error on veto overrides.

On top of all that, the next couple of budget cycles are going to be tough. The federal tide of Covid relief funds has made it easy to pass budgets — until now. Tight budget times and both sides claiming mandates? That spells trouble by the bushelful.

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Stealth Conservatives: A Formerly Respectable Attorney

Here’s Tom Kelly, candidate for Vermont House in Barre City, former Washington County state’s attorney, former Lamoille County deputy state’s attorney, since reduced (of his own volition) to addressing a crowd of anti-vaxxers.

How the respectable have fallen.

Kelly served two four-year terms as Washington County’s top prosecutor. His six-year tenure at Lamoille County ended with his firing in November 2021 due to his refusal to take the Covid vaccine or wear a mask at work. His talk before the anti-vax group Health Choice Vermont happened a couple of weeks later, and it’s the usual overheated rhetoric about freedom and tyranny.

Here’s his measured view of the vaccine requirement: “Are we in the midst of another attempt to enslave America? To enslave Vermont?”

He also blasted his boss’ “decision to require me to wear a mask at all worksites (like a proverbial leper) and submit to periodic testing.”

Oh, the tyranny. God help this man if he should ever suffer actual tyranny. He’s way too soft for that.

The usual campaign coverage, with one notable exception, completely fails to chronicle his hardcore anti-vax views.

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Hey, Lenore Broughton Has Found Another Rathole to Throw Her Money Into

Well, doesn’t that look impressive. A new “Institute” focused on the idea of Human Flourishing, a well-established principle in the humanities — and also in evangelical Christianity. Classically restrained logo and font. You might assume this is a broad-based serious enterprise… until you explore its website further.

Upon which you discover that (a) there’s not a heck of a lot of substance, just a few minimal pages with big pictures and not much text, and (b) the Institute’s two top officers are former VTGOP chair Deb Billado and Vermont’s Favorite Archconservative Moneybags, Lenore Broughton.

I’ll give you one guess who’s writing the checks for this outfit.

The Vermont Institute for Human Flourishing joins the likes of True North Reports and the late unlamented Vermonters First on the roster of no-hope organizations Broughton has funded in lieu of doing anything that might actually have an impact.

Well, to be fair, it’s too early to make that call on VIHF. It hasn’t had time to fail. Yet.

A brief explanation of “human flourishing.” In the social sciences slash humanities, it’s an interdisciplinary study of how best to help people reach their full potential. (Harvard has a Human Flourishing Program.) In evangelical Christian circles, it means channelling sexuality into traditional male/female marriage and battling deviant practices like homosexuality, extramarital sex, and pornography.

I think we know which camp the Vermont Institute is a member of.

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Dan French Rides Again

Hey kids, if you’ve never seen Tim Conway’s infamous dentist sketch, take a minute and watch it now.

Got it?

Now you know why, when they film The Dan French Story, they need to fire up the time machine and bring back Tim Conway to play the lead. Because man oh man, if that isn’t Dan French on a platter, I don’t know what is.

We’ve covered the misadventures of our Education Secretary in these spaces before, oh so many times before. And now he’s back for another round.

French’s latest is yet another twist in the Gotthard Pass that is the Scott administration’s Covid policy for schools. For months, his agency had strongly discouraged schools from imposing mask mandates — even to protect students at high risk for Covid complications.

Well, now he’s kinda-sorta walking it back, but also not. Take it away, VTDigger:

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Phil Scott Might Not Enjoy a Fourth Term So Much

Gov. Phil Scott has, in many ways, lived a charmed life in the corner office. There haven’t been any scandals — or at least none that have been uncovered by our anemic press corps. He has, by general acclamation, kept his image as Gov. Nice Guy in spite of his outbreaks of verbal dyspepsia in press conferences and All Those Vetoes. And his greatest challenge has come with an incredible upside.

That would be the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused huge disruptions but was actually a strong net positive for the Vermont economy. A flood tide of federal relief aid meant there was no need for tough budget battles in the Statehouse and there was plenty of capacity for new investments. The money had the usual multiplier effect on disposable income, economic activity, and tax receipts. The latter eliminated any budget pressure that might have been left over from the direct federal infusions.

He had to make some tough calls on controlling the pandemic, for which he got plenty of praise and almost none of the criticism he, at times, deserved. Overall, the pandemic made his job a hell of a lot easier.

This isn’t the first time a crisis has elevated a governor. The high point of Peter Shumlin’s tenure was the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, when he got to look strong and resolute and was able to throw money around and be a hero without anyone asking any inconvenient questions. Given the rest of his record, I wonder what we’d find if somebody did a deep dive on the Irene response, but that’s water under the bridge, pun intended. And Dick Snelling is fondly remembered for accepting tax hikes in order to pull Vermont’s economy out of the gutter, and not so much for being an asshole.

But that tide of federal aid is starting to recede, and budgets are about to get very tight around these parts.

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“Overabundance of Caution” Means Whatever the Hell Tom Evslin Says It Means

The VTDigger commentary space is often a repository for the very best in straw-man punching: setting up an easy target and dispatching it with, if you’re talented enough, a rhetorical flourish.

Well, Tom Evslin, entrepreneur, serial Republican donor, self-appointed technology seer and number-one fan* of Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet service**, went one better in the straw man competition. He threw together a whole bunch of miscellaneous straw men under the rubric of “overabundance of caution” and went straight down the line, punching each of them in turn. All in service of a point that apparently made sense to him but is, in fact, utterly incoherent.

*He has given his own Starlink satellite dish a nickname: “Dishy”

*His occasional musings on the glories of Starlink have found a home on True North Reports, because Musk is the closest thing reality offers to an Ayn Rand hero. Except Musk is a phony; his companies have received literally billions in public sector grant funding.

The overarching point is that Our Political Leaders sometimes overreact to a potential danger, thus putting us all in metaphorical shackles. And by “overreact,” I mean doing something that Tom Evslin disagrees with. Ah, if only we were all as wise as he.

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“Decrease the Surplus Population”

I hadn’t realized that Our Political Masters were Malthusians, but the current iteration of Covid policy would argue otherwise. They’ve thrown in the towel on limiting the spread of the virus, relying solely on vaccines, testing and treatment.

Meanwhile, SARS-COV-2 is spinning out vax-resistant variants at an alarming, and accelerating, clip. And it seems like every day we hear more bad news about long Covid, which nobody in government seems to care about.

I haven’t written about Covid in a while because (a) it’s too depressing, (b) new developments have been coming along too quickly to keep up with, and (c) this ain’t just the Scott administration anymore. The Biden administration’s policy is at least as Malthusian as Scott’s, maybe a little more. But today is the day the Vermont Health Department is posting its last daily Covid update. It’s switching to a weekly “syndromic surveillance report” that takes some effort to interpret. Those big bold inconvenient daily numbers for cases, hospitalizations, deaths and positivity rate? If they can’t make ’em look good, they’ll make ’em go away.

That may seem harsh, but the daily data is still being collected. It’s just not being posted in a high-profile space. The Health Department says so itself on its soon-to-be-shuttered Covid Dashboard: “COVID-19 data sets will still be accessible through the Vermont Open Geodata Portal, including case counts, hospitalizations, deaths, PCR testing and more.” The Department sees enough value in the daily numbers to keep track of them. They’re just hiding them better.

Is it a pure coincidence that this is happening one day after Gov. Phil Scott announced he’s runing for re-election? Running, to the extent he can be bothered to run at all, on his assertion that we’ve beaten the pandemic? And hey look, VTDigger is helping! They’ve discontinued their homepage front-and-center Covid updates!

I guess the pandemic is over. Right?

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At Moments Like This, Let’s Just Be People

The strapping fellow pictured above is Charles Vallee, who died at age 27 this month of long Covid. His obituary says that he “made the lives richer of all he knew,” and I don’t doubt that he did. He seems to have been a remarkable young man.

Vallee was the son of Rodolphe “Skip” Vallee, gas station magnate and generous donor to Republican causes in Vermont and elsewhere. I have poked more than my share of fun at the political stylings of Mr. Vallee, including his deep disdain for Bernie Sanders and his turn as an alleged environmentalist in opposing a Costco gas station that posed a competitive threat to one of his Maplefields outlets, among other things.

Right now, though, it’s time to leave politics at the door. Nobody deserves this. All the sympathy for Skip and his family. This just tears at the heart:

Early this year, Charlie contracted Covid-19, and while weathering the mild respiratory symptoms, he was devastated by a host of Long Covid symptoms so severe that he ultimately had to reject a further deployment and, in the end, take a leave of absence from work. It was in this state, that Charlie left us on May 3.

There’s a whole lot of suffering in that handful of words, for Charlie himself and for those around him. I can’t imagine what these months have been like for the Vallees. Just a few years ago, Skip fought for his own life against cancer. I hope his recovery left him with the strength to endure the loss of his son.

Charlie was exactly the sort of person who’s supposed to be impervious to Covid. He was young and healthy. His initial illness wasn’t that serious, but long Covid got him good and he became one more statistic in Covid’s grim and growing toll.

To their credit, the Vallee family are setting up a special fund in Charlie’s honor, the Charles M. Vallee Foundation for Long Covid Research. They are urging memorial contributions to the fund. Let’s hope the Foundation helps spark a breakthrough in the fight against long Covid. That would at least put a silver lining around his death and the bereavement of those close to him.

Godspeed, Charlie. Condoléances, Skip.

Feelin’ Kinda Disposable

We have yet to arrive at the near-future dystopia described in Paolo Bacigalupi’s incredible novel The Windup Girl, but there are signs we’re moving in that direction.

In the novel, Earth has been catastrophically altered by climate change. Civilization is in ruins. Only the wealthy have the means to rise above the misery of daily life. The rest are, well, nobody cares about them.

Aside from steadily worsening climate change and our desperation to maintain the flow of cheap fossil fuels undercutting our inadequate efforts to mitigate the damage, we’re stepping across the threshold of a new phase in the Covid-19 pandemic: From now on, students and school personnel won’t be required to mask up. Data gathering is slacking off, and Covid-related restrictions are being dumpstered in our haste to Get Back To Normal.

I’m sure many will see the Bacigalupi citation as overly dramatic, but I’m beginning to glimpse a future where Covid is always a dangerous presence, taking a toll on the most vulnerable among us. And we become, if we haven’t already, inured to death tolls that used to scare us half to death. Figuratively. And we accept that many, many people will be disabled by long Covid. There’s a lot of bad news on that front, which I’ll get to.

I see a future where people like me will wear masks all the time and will abstain from crowded situations indefinitely. I’ve found myself wondering if I’d ever eat in a restaurant again or attend a concert or travel for recreational purposes. I sure don’t feel safe doing any of that now, and I have no idea when I will. And I find myself wondering if people like me matter anymore.

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Let’s Just Stop With the Convoy Crapola, Shall We?

“The parking lot is filled with red, white and blue.” Eh, nope.

Hey, remember the great Trucker Convoys that tied up downtown Ottawa and shut down the Ambassador Bridge because Truckers Mad About Freedom? Yeah, doesn’t that just scream “February”?

Well, it’s March, and I think it’s time to stop paying attention.

VTDigger, WCAX-TV and WPTZ-TV didn’t agree. They sent reporters to cover Freedom Convoy gatherings in Lebanon, NH and Champlain, NY. And having sent the reporters, they felt duty-bound to produce stories — despite the fact that the only “news” was how few people bothered to show up. And both broadcasters devoted more than two minutes to the story, which is an eon in TV time.

The reporters allowed themselves to become stenographers for the convoy movement. Participants were given plenty of time to list their grievances and depict themselves as simple, peaceful, freedom-loving Americans. There was no mention of the chaos and economic disruption caused by the Canadian protests, which was exactly the outcome the American organizers had hoped to produce.

See the image above? That’s a screenshot from WPTZ’s story. While that image was on screen, reporter Liz Strzepa said that the parking lot was “filled with red, white and blue.” Um, I see only six flags, ma’am.

Maybe that was an unfortunate juxtaposition and the lot was much fuller than it appeared. But Strzepa never showed a wide angle. There were many close shots of a few people and a few vehicles, but no establishing shot that would have given the whole picture. Probably because it would have exposed the gathering for what it was: a complete washout.

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