Is GlobalFoundries Too Big To Deny?

They probably call this a campus”

It may not be “an offer you can’t refuse,” but GlobalFoundries has done its best to put state government over a barrel on electricity costs. Vermont’s largest private-sector employer wants to cut ties with Green Mountain Power and form its own utility. It would buy its power on the regional wholesale market.

If it gets its way, the utility would not be subject to Vermont’s renewable energy standards or a variety of other laws and regulations. This isn’t a little thing; GF accounts for 8% of Vermont’s electricity consumption. If GF gets its way, we’d have a harder time reaching our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Unless, ha ha ha, it voluntarily complies. Ha.

The case was filed last spring before the Public Utilities Commission and got a flurry of media attention at the time. Since then, it has followed the PUC’s customarily meandering process with filing after memo after legal brief after rejoinder. But things are about to heat up. And there are any number of indications that the Scott administration is in the bag for the GF petition.

Which is no surprise, since underlying all of this is GF’s persistent, non-specific rumblings about competitiveness and costs and well, wouldn’t it be a shame if something happened to your big shiny employer?

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Covid Is NOT The Flu

Got into a bit of a tweetbeef ‘tother day with an acquaintance from Statehouse days. Not to name names, but he’s a lobbyist for… shall we say… Pat Leahy’s Favorite Body of Water Bedroom of Business Transactions?

Anyway, he squeezed out this little turd:

Covid is here to stay, we have just mitigated the effect so that has same odds and outcomes as the seasonal flu. You need to listen to scientist more…

“Listen to scientist,” you say.

I didn’t react well to this piece of nonsense, partly because I am at elevated risk & have a personal stake in this, partly because his follow-up tweets dripped with condescension, but mostly because this formerly fringe belief is rapidly and alarmingly entering the mainstream discourse. That’s dangerous.

And it’s bullshit.

And I have receipts. From “scientists” plural.

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While My Guitar Gently Veeps

It’s been a while. For most of September, we’ve had some high-level stupid (the governor’s scattershot search for consistent pandemic messaging) but a relative lack of the kind of mid- and low-level stupid in the public arena that is the bread and butter of The Veepies. But now, we’re back!

First, the Policy? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Policy Award goes to the Vermont Principals’ Association, last seen hiding its head in the sand over the racist slurs targeting the Winooski High School boys’ soccer team. In response to the appalling incidents during a game with Enosburg High, Winooski district Superintendent Sean McMannon called on the VPA, which oversees high school athletics, to adopt stronger measures against the use of racial slurs.

The VPA’s response so far? Well, they’re staying out of it until the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union does its own investigation. Otherwise, well, all they’re doing is considering a season-long ban for a Winooski athlete for allegedly head-butting an opponent. VPA president Jay Nichols says the organization might conduct an investigation after FNSU’s is complete. Franklin, by the way, is investigating the slurs AND alleged violence by Winooski players, so we’re both-sidesing this thing.

Great. But the topper, for me, is that McMannon called on the VPA to develop procedures for reporting and investigating racial abuse. Which indicates that the VPA doesn’t have any such procedure now. Which is, well, stupid.

After the jump: Stupid trooper tricks, a Raider obsession, and a bit of myopic journalismism.

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I Think I Can See a Little Smoke Coming Out His Ears

happy place happy place happy place

Things are gettin’ a mite testy chez Phil Scott these days. His weekly Covid briefing for September 28 was an exercise in statistical diversion, gaslighting, word salad and straw man punching.

Oh, and the usual journalism FAIL. The reporters get the governor for two hours every week and they rarely take the opportunity to ask probing questions on the biggest immediate challenge we face. The reporting on Scott’s briefings is often more like stenography than journalism. The beginning of this week’s Question Time featured several consecutive questions that weren’t about Covid at all. The end of the sesh came early, after a number of reporters who’d signed up to ask questions decided that, well, actually, they didn’t have anything to ask.

It wasn’t an entirely dismal parade, but it was largely a missed opportunity to quiz the gov and his top officials on, for example, their policy stubbornness, statistical sleight-of-hand, failure to help the schools fight Covid, or the growing chorus of criticism from the medical and public health communities.

There was also, as discussed previously, an almost complete dearth of follow-up when some official evades an inquiry, fumbles an answer, or spews some serious bullshit. Which happens a lot. This is mainly an issue with the format, but it also reflects an unwillingness to abandon prepared questions in favor of follow-up, a lack of advance research, and probably attention spans too short to listen all the way through.

There was one solid journalistic exchange that got a bit too hot for the governor’s taste. It produced a lovely bouquet of evasion, misstatements, verbal stumbles and filibusters. Details after the jump.

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Boo This Man

It’s possible, in this moment of his ultimate disgrace, to feel just a little bit sorry for ex-governor Peter Shumlin. From fall 2014 to summer 2015, he endured three separate political de-pantsings — any one of which could have felled a lesser man in his tracks. First, his near-defeat at the hands of political outsider (and truly terrible campaigner) Scott Milne; then, having to admit failure in his signature push for single-payer health care; and then, in the spring of 2015, finding out that the Quiros/Stenger EB-5 projects were built on fiscal and ethical quicksand.

That said, his governorship will have to go down in history as singularly disastrous.

We know this now because of the dogged efforts of VTDigger to unearth a trove of documents kept secret by state officials. Its pursuit of the EB-5 White Whale was rewarded last week by a federal judge’s ruling that the documents must be made public.

And now, after poring their way through the docs, Alan Keays and Anne Galloway have published one of the most damning political pieces in recent memory. They recount how Shumlin and his team knew by the spring of 2015 that the EB-5 projects were fundamentally fraudulent and doomed to collapse… and yet they kept on flogging the projects for a full year. Their efforts only ended in the spring of 2016 when the feds launched a massive civil suit against Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros.

That’s bad. But Keays and Galloway document a variety of ways in which the story is even worse than that dreadful topline. Let’s run the highlights, shall we?

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We Are Just Way Too F***in’ Polite Around Here

Painting by Marc Adornato. See note below.

When, in a previous post, I called on Seven Days to fill its vacant “Fair Game” position with a skilled reporter/observer from outside Vermont, I got a response via Twitter that essentially said that #vtpoli is too “insular” for an outsider to penetrate. (Can’t find the tweet now; apologies to the tweeter.) My response to that would be “Exactly!” Vermont’s politics are far too insular. That’s precisely why we need someone from elsewhere who hasn’t internalized all that insularity and/or has too many friends in the bubble. Someone with the perspective that allows them to see that the emperor has no clothes.

We’ve got a really good example of that insularity going on right now. Last week, the state Public Utilities Commission issued a ruling that wasn’t at all surprising, but that defied common sense. The three-member panel rejected a proposed solar farm in Manchester on esthetic grounds.

This, despite the fact that we’ve got to go all-out in our efforts to mitigate climate change, and that Vermont is doing nowhere near its share on the renewable front. Also despite these facts:

  • All the relevant local and regional bodies approved the project.
  • No one, aside from a handful of NIMBY neighbors, objected to it.
  • The developer went above and beyond the call of duty to minimize esthetic impact.
  • The PUC’s own “aesthetics consultant” said the array “would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics.”

So it was a stupid decision that strikes a significant blow at renewable development in Vermont. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.

The subject of this sermon is the almost complete silence from those who ought to be outraged by this ruling: the Vermont Democratic Party and The Usual Suspects in the environmental community. Where was the tsunami of protest?

The answer is, we’re way too polite and insular.

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Time to Break Down the Box and Send It to Recycling

Past Occupants of the Freyne Chair (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

What ought to be the most coveted perch in Vermont journalism is once again vacant. After a mere four months on the job, Mark Johnson has relinquished the Peter Freyne Chair in Instigative Journalism, d/b/a the “Fair Game” column in Seven Days.

One could be forgiven for wondering if this position doesn’t have a curse attached to it. Johnson’s predecessor, Dave Gram, lasted only five months. The guy before him was rather spectacularly fired after 2 1/2 years on the job.

That would be me.

My predecessor Paul Heintz held the job for almost five years. Otherwise, what ought to be the most coveted perch in Vermont journalism has been a revolving door with only one consistent thread: We’ve all been white males.

It’s time for a change, and not just in race and gender expression. Not that anyone at Seven Days is likely to heed my advice, but hey, I’ve had first-hand experience with the ups and downs of the job, and I do have some hard-earned insight.

First of all, I’d definitely keep the column. It’s the heart and soul of the paper, and it occupies a unique and valuable position in the Vermont media landscape.

Otherwise, the Powers That Be need to not only think outside the box; they need to stomp the box flat and toss it in recycling.

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Hey, the Most Pointless Job in State Government Is Open!

Let’s pour one out for Larry Novins, who just resigned as executive director of the Vermont State Ethics Commission. He earns full credit for lasting almost three years in a job with no resources, no power, and no real reason for existing besides allowing the Legislature to look like it gives a good goddamn about ethics.

Which, in reality, it doesn’t. Shame on all of ’em.

Novins’ departure was noted in a press release from the commission, which prompted absolutely zero coverage from the political press. It’s too bad, because he did his level best in service of a hopeless, thankless cause. That would be “governmental ethics in Vermont.” Nobody cares, man. Nobody cares.

The Ethics Commission has had a brief and undistinguished history, by design. It has managed to cling to existence despite the fact that it was clearly designed to fail, Norquist style. Its single accomplishment prompted a tsunami of negative reaction, and was ultimately scrubbed from the books.

And one other thing. All of the Commission’s work — all of it — is exempt from public records and open meetings law. If they did ever do anything, we wouldn’t know about it.

In case you think I’m exaggerating, here’s what Novins himself said in September 2019:

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Apparently the Larner College Insists On Doing This Dumb, Politically Damaging Thing

Well, after quite a bit of back-and-forth and a false alarm along the way, it now seems that UVM’s Larner College of Medicine will stand by its baffling decision to grant continuing education credits to medical professionals who attend a conference organized by the Vermont Right to Life Committee.

No, seriously. Stop laughing. Medical education credits for a political organization with no expertise in medicine, and that peddles junk science to support its agenda. That’s hunky-dory according to Vermont’s one and only medical school.

I wrote about this landmark of stupidiousness last Friday. Shortly after my post went live, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale tweeted that Larner was reversing the decision. I amended my post to reflect the news. But Friday came and went, as did the weekend and Monday, and there was still no official word from Larner.

It’s now apparent that news of Larner’s reversal was, well, fake news.

Here’s what we know so far.

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Pay No Attention to the Pandemic Behind the Curtain

Wow. Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly press briefing was a nonstop festival of blame-shifting, convenient rationalization and, well, telling us a shit sandwich is prime roast beef.

Scott took the podium amid a blizzard of bad news — high case counts beyond his administration’s projections, unclear forecasts of Covid’s near future, high numbers of hospitalizations, inadequate contact tracing, and outbreaks of cases in public schools. He had explanations for all of it, few of them convincing.

He began by doubling down on his policy of encouraging vaccinations and little else. “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said, pointing to numbers that show the vast majority of severe cases are among the unjabbed. True enough, but just because the odds are better for the vaccinated doesn’t mean the risk is acceptable.

Scott’s message: The blame shouldn’t fall to administration policy, it’s with the stubbornly unvaccinated. If you all would just get your shots, everything would be peachy. There’s truth in that, but he’s doing nothing to get more people vaccinated besides the same old earnest advice. IF he’s putting all his chips on vaccination, he might want to enact policies that incentivize vaccination and disincentivize stubborn resistance.

Scott again insisted that any tougher measures would require a state of emergency, which he again refused to consider. This, despite the fact that rates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are equal to or greater than levels last seen in the winter of 2021 — when Scott was happy to continue a state of emergency.

He also dipped a toe into the murky waters of surrender. “Covid-19, like the flu, is going to be here for a while,” he said, ignoring the fact that Covid-19 is far more dangerous than your average flu. Unless he meant the deadly Spanish Flu of 1918.

After the jump: Please ignore the facts.

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