Category Archives: Public health

Dancing With the Devil (Updated)

This Just In: Phil Scott is playing a dangerous game.

The governor has been consistent in believing that, with proper encouragement and modeling, Vermonters will wear masks of their own accord. And he’s kinda-sorta been right, at least in terms of “no big outbreaks so far.”

But if he’s waiting for “lots more cases” before considering a mask mandate, then he will have waited too long. As the examples of Florida, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina and other states show, and as the science about coronavirus shows, “lots more cases” is the inevitable precursor of an out-of-control pandemic.

And by Vermont standards, the past month hasn’t been the best. According to the Health Department’s data, the month of May brought exactly 100 new cases, increasing our total from 885 to 985. Since June 1, we’ve added another 223.

Last week, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine claimed that Vermont was flattening the curve. That was arguably true a month ago, but not now. And every time Scott gives the ol’ spicket another quarter-turn, we hope it’s not coronavirus that comes out.

In truth, he doesn’t have any good options. The initial shutdown was supposed to give America time to get its shit together on testing and contact tracing. Then, when we reopened the economy, we’d be able to keep a lid on the virus — just as most of Europe has done. But here, the Trump administration completely bungled things. As a result, the shutdown accomplished nothing except to cause tremendous disruption and untold financial pain.

At last Wednesday’s press briefing, Scott was asked if he expected Congress to extend the temporary $600 bump in unemployment benefits. He said he didn’t, and that was why he continued to gradually reopen the economy. If he can’t do that, then the pain will spread and intensify.

But every gradual bit of reopening heightens the risks.

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When is a law not a law?

A philosophical question triggered by a specific actuality: a new law intended to inform the public about toxic algae blooms is pretty much a sham.

VPR’s Taylor Dobbs explains how it’s supposed to work:

The new law is know as Act 86, and it requires the Vermont Department of Health to start public outreach within one hour of finding out about a bloom of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria.

Great idea, right?

Here’s the problem: there’s no mechanism to conduct real-time tracking of algae blooms. The Legislature passed a shiny new PR-friendly law — “Look, we’re doing something to ensure your safety!” — but did nothing about turning its good intention into reality. The monitoring effort is entirely in the hands of volunteers, and there’s a huge amount of ground to cover.

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Oh, and about that other ubiquitous crime wave…

One of the most eye-opening resuls from last month’s VPR Poll concerned substance abuse. When respondents were asked to name “the most important problem facing Vermont,” 17 percent named “drugs.” The only other issue scoring higher than six percent was “economy/jobs/cost of living” at 28 percent. And when asked specifically if opiate addiction is a major problem, a massive 89 percent agreed.

Even more striking were the figures for personal connections to opioid abuse. 53 percent have been affected by opiate addiction or know someone who has. And 94 percent “personally know” someone who has struggled with addiction.

Practically the entire state.

If we needed convincing that opiate addiction is a serious problem, we shouldn’t anymore.

But let’s take another pervasive issue of a similar scope. An issue that’s usually lost in the white noise, that’s never been the subject of a State of the State address.

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Geoffrey Norman is a bitter, fact-challenged man

See if you recognize this place.

 

It’s drug-infested and scandal-plagued; its only growth sector is “methadone clinics.” Government is bloated and ineffective; politicians offer tired bromides or worse. Its politics march to an “angry populist beat” but the electorate is “too old, too tired, and too disillusioned” to turn their anger into action. “Soaring” taxes bludgeon inhabitants into sullen beggary, stripped of the will to resist. Many believe that the place’s “moment has passed.” For-sale signs litter the neighborhoods, as multitudes seek desperately to escape.

In case you don’t recognize this hopeless wasteland or the aimlessly trudging zombie-eyed inhabitants wandering the land, yes, it’s Vermont, and those zombies are you and me.

At least it’s the Vermont that haunts the fever dreams of Geoffrey Norman, best known in Internet circles as the former operator of the late, great free-market blog, Vermont Tiger.

Well, Norman is still around, and is respected enough in conservative circles that he managed to sell an essay to the Wall Street Journal. It’s gloriously entitled “In Declining Vermont, the Mood Is More Resigned Than Angry.”

And if you want to know why some see Vermont as a bad place to relocate or do business, maybe it’s because the readers of the Wall Street Journal are being fed this kind of crapola.

I mean, thanks, Geoffrey, for doing your utmost to defame your home state.

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In which I join the ranks of the Vermont Illuminati

Yeah, somebody forgot to invite me to the secret ceremony — or maybe The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy intercepted my invitation, hmmm? — but apparently I have joined the ranks of the secret elect. Yes, I’m in the Firmament of Evil alongside Peter “Capo di tutti capo” Shumlin, Mary “Whirling Blades” Powell, Paul “Carbon Tax” Burns, Shap “The Fixer” Smith, Crea “Moneybags” Linthilac, and whoever else.

I learned of my elevation in a curious way: via Twitter, from one of our staunchest conservatives.

Oooooh, “Orwellian”. Me likey!

Some explanation is needed, I’m sure, for the casual reader.

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A little fearmongering from VT Watchdog

Scary headline earlier today:

More than one-third of refugees in Vermont test positive for tuberculosis

Immigrant Resettlement Program. )Not exactly as illustrated)

Refugee Resettlement Program. (Not exactly as illustrated)

That story comes to us courtesy of Vermont Watchdog, a conservative “news” site. But before you go investing your 401K in surgical mask manufacturers, there’s more you need to know.

The story is based entirely on a single fact: Of the 901 refugees admitted to Vermont since 2013, 318 tested positive for TB.

Those numbers were provided to Watchdog by the state Health Department. Scary, right? Aliens among us are bearing potentially fatal diseases, right? Rutland had better pull the plug on that Syrian refugee plan, lest it be overrun by plague-infested furriners, right?

Ehh, not so much.

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Moral panic from the Guardians of the Peace

Some of Vermont’s top cops made their way to the Statehouse yesterday to try to derail
the marijuana-legalization train. Their input is certainly worth considering, but they kinda made a hash of it.

Their reasoning, in short:

— Eliminating the marijuana law will create substantially more work for law enforcement.

— Police don’t really enforce marijuana laws now, but legalization will trigger a cascade of problems.

— Law enforcement’s top priority is opioids, and legalizing marijuana will somehow compromise that effort.

Makes my head spin. Without a single toke, even.

The top cops’ bottom line: If you legalize pot, you’d better give us more money.

Pardon me if I don’t see the connection.

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“Lock ‘em Up” Lauzon

The mayor of Barre is not known for keeping a cool head. Thom Lauzon once tossed the city manager’s cellphone across the room when it rang during a City Council meeting. Then there was the time a guy in a Santa suit threw a pie in then-Gov. Jim Douglas’ face; Lauzon ran him down and engaged in fisticuffs with the perp.

Oh, and he once chased down a hit-and-run driver, stepping in front of the vehicle to get the driver to stop. Guess how the driver reacted? Fortunately, Lauzon received only minor injuries on that one.

He has, to be fair, done a lot of good stuff as well. He is truly passionate about his city, beyond his own self-interest as an investor in downtown real estate. Although he’s a conservative Republican, he hasn’t shied away from using government resources whenever possible to help pull the city out of its decades-long funk. And he’s made substantial progress. It’s just that his passion sometimes gets a little unhinged.

Now, he seems to be channeling the ghost of Nancy Reagan. VTDigger’s Mark Johnson:

Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon laid down the hammer on opiate dealers Thursday, saying anyone caught selling should receive an automatic 50-year jail sentence.

… Lauzon said he supports treatment programs and wants to see them expanded even further. But he said a greater deterrence is needed to stop people from selling, which he said would cut the supply.

…Lauzon said his proposal would apply to any amount sold, even small amounts. The only exception, he said, should be if an addict requests treatment, is turned away and then sells to maintain his habit.

Let’s pause for a moment and understand a couple of things. Lauzon loves his city. He has seen the effects of the drug trade. Barre is also weighed down by the fact that a fair number of parolees and ex-inmates end up living there — and sometimes re-offending.

Fair enough. But a fifty-year automatic sentence for selling any amount of drugs?

Batshit crazy.

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Legalization reconsidered

Constant VPO readers (Hi, Mom!) know that I’ve thought marijuana legalization would fall short of passage. Not that I’m opposed to legalization; I just didn’t think it would happen this year.

Startin’ to change my mind.

There are two factors at play, and neither directly involve the State Senate passing the bill last week.

First, I’ve written that there’s one person who could turn the tide — Governor Shumlin. He supports legalization, but I wondered how actively he would engage on the issue. Well, in the Senate, he was heavily engaged, and probably made the crucial difference. Especially with two of his longtime Senate running buddies, John Campbell and Dick Mazza. Both were opposed to legalization, both are powerful enough to derail any bill they don’t like — and both stepped aside and allowed the process to go forward.

Second, House Speaker Shap Smith has consistently thrown cold water on expectations for the bill. Now, he seems to be opening the door a bit. In an interview with the Vermont Press Bureau, he called the bill “a squeaker,” which is different than calling it a loser. He said “the split that exists in the Senate reflects how people in the House feel.” Well, the Senate just passed the bill.

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The Kasich Files: rabidly anti-choice

Now that John Kasich is planning a Town Hall in Vermont, I’ll be exploring his extremely conservative, and not very successful, record as Governor of Ohio. Enjoy.

Best of times, worst of times for Vermont Republicans. The good: they’ve finally got a credible, plausibly centrist candidate for governor — one who, in the mold of Jim Douglas, can put a smiley face on biz-friendly conservatism.

The bad: Oh, those presidential candidates.

Many in the VTGOP, glumly scanning the field, are latching onto Ohio Gov. John Kasich as the alleged “adult in the room,” the technocrat, the non-ideologue. I suppose we’ll see plenty of Vermont stalwarts at Kasich’s town hall on Saturday.

But to see John Kasich as anything other than a cookie-cutter conservative firebrand force-feeding the ALEC agenda to his home state, takes quite a bit of squinting. And wishful thinking.

Previously, I wrote about his fraudulent (literally) school-choice push, woeful jobs record, and how he has put the squeeze on local governments to save his state-budget bacon. Today, hey, it’s Planned Parenthood.

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