Tag Archives: Covid-19

VTGOP Chair Fires a Shot Across the Bow of Moderate Republicans

I don’t think Deb Billado is planning to resign anytime soon.

The Vermont Republican Party chair made that clear when she devoted her most recent weekly newsletter to a very fringey speech made by the very fringey South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. It was a shot across the bow of Republican lawmakers who recently called for her resignation — and a slap in the face to Gov. Phil Scott.

You see, Scott and Noem are polar opposites on Covid-19 policy. Scott has proceeded with great caution, erring (mainly) on the side of public safety. Noem has kept her state wide open — including the granddaddy of all superspreaders, the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

The result: Vermont has a death rate of 27 per 100,000 residents, the second lowest among the states. South Dakota has lost 189 out of every 100,000, the seventh worst death rate in the nation. In total Covid-19 cases, Vermont is the best in the nation at 1,654 per 100K, while South Dakota is second-worst at 11,958 per 100K. How about testing? Vermont has conducted 133,174 tests per 100K — more than one test per resident. South Dakota? Way near the bottom, at 44,827 tests per 100K.

So, Vermont is doing far better at tracking the virus, keeping people healthy, and keeping them alive. I can’t say that Billado endorses South Dakota’s Covid “strategy,” but she went out of her way to highlight Noem’s views in a message to all Vermont Republicans. Now, maybe Billado didn’t intend it as direct criticism of Vermont’s govenror, but I bet you dollars to donuts that Team Scott sees it that way.

Beyond that, there’s the issue of Billado calling a collection of QAnon-adjacent nutbaggery a “thoughtful speech.” We’ll run it down after the jump.

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Tears of a Clown

After four years of radio silence, never once speaking to her home-state press, Darcie Johnston emerged from the dank underbelly of the Trump Administration to give a three-minute interview with WCAX’s Darren Perron. During which a tear or three ran down her copious cheek.

(Trigger Warning: This post is going to be kind of mean. All I can say is, she deserves every bit of it.)

Johnston has just concluded an undistinguished four years as a Trump administration political appointee. She was fairly high up in the Department of Health and Human services. And she was deeply involved in the administration’s disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Perron caught her at a vulnerable time, a few hours after she witnessed Trump’s farewell at Andrews Air Force Base. Yep, she was one of the lucky few hundred at the thinly-attended soiree.

Since her chat with Perron was such a rare event, here’s an annotated transcript of her remarks about her tenure in Washington.

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Today, Every Republican Has a Choice to Make

Treason on the hoof.

Finally, after five years, we have identified the point where Republicans (well, some of them at least) start feeling a sense of shame.

It took an invasion of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of agitated conspiracy theorists, egged on by our president, to make some Republicans realize that maybe things have gone too far. Notable among their number is a healthy serving of GOP elected officials, from Gov. Phil Scott to House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy to Sen. Corey Parent to former VTGOP executive director Jeffrey Bartley, and I apologize for anyone else I left out. You did the right thing.

It wasn’t anything new for Scott or many other Vermont Republicans, who have never approved of what the president was doing to the party they loved. But for most Republicans, the remorse was extremely belated. They didn’t draw the line at “rapists and murderers,” or “grab them by the pussy,” or his habit of hurling base insults at his political opponents, or the consistent groveling at the feet of Vladimir Putin, or a foreign policy that favored dictators and punished our longstanding allies, or hush money payments to a porn star, or Trump’s refusal to release his financials, or tearing refugee families apart at the border, or otherwise punitive immigration policies, or “good people on both sides,” or the Trump Foundation self-dealing, or the rank nepotism of his administration, or the shameless profiteering at taxpayer expense, or the disastrous response to Hurricane Maria, or his persistent efforts to bend the justice system to his will, or the efforts to get dirt on Joe Biden, or the commission of clearly impeachable offenses, or the revolving door of imcompetent sycophants and ideologues who populated his administration, or the catastophically bad response to Covid-19.

Nope, it took a direct invasion of the Capitol at the instigation of Donald Trump. So it turns out that Republicans aren’t quite completely shame-free after all. Good to know.

The image above says everything that needs to be said about the events of January 6. As former state representative and chief American History fanboy Dylan Giambatista pointed out on Twitter, the guy is carrying a Confederate battle flag past a portrait of Vermont’s own Justin Morrill, stalwart Republican member of Congress from Civil War days. It was an inadvertent middle finger aimed at anyone who has fought to preserve the union.

After the jump: The CovidCruiser returns.

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A Dangerous Journalism FAIL at True North Reports

I don’t usually bother spending any energy chronicling the reportorial misadventures of the Island of Misfit Toys doing business as True North Reports. That’s the conservative “news” outlet funded by Lenore Broughton, the reclusive ultra-right-wing millionaire.

But this one is special. And it’s a threat to our coronavirus response.

TNR’s Mike Bielawski put together a piece alleging that South Dakota has taken the proper course on Covid-19. That would come as a surprise to any credible public health expert — and I don’t include Peter Navarro or Scott Atlas in those ranks.

And it’s entirely based on a mathematical blunder of epic proportions.

Bielawski cites the two states’ similar death tolls — 165 for South Dakota, 58 for Vermont.

The 58 was Vermont’s total death toll as of a couple months ago. Mikey didn’t bother to update it. But the real whopper is the South Dakota figure, which is not total deaths but the death rate per 100,000 residents!

The actual death count in South Dakota is 1,448. That’s far, far worse than Vermont’s. How much worse? Try eight times as bad. According to the Centers for Disease Control, South Dakota’s death rate is 158 per 100,000. Vermont’s is 20.

Again, normally I wouldn’t bother to debunk this kind of nonsense — except the article argues that we should follow South Dakota’s example because Covid isn’t really that bad. That, my friends, is dangerous. And according to the headline, this is one of TNR’s “most read” pieces. So it’s getting traction among the site’s small audience of hard-core conservatives.

After the jump: More whoppers!

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Adventures in Inadequate Governance, part 2

Just tryin’ to keep up…

In part 1, I brought your attention to some appalling facts about Vermont’s lack of oversight for rental housing. Today we turn to three separate articles concerning nursing homes and the coronavirus that reveal further inadequacy in governance. The first is about an apparently toothless settlement with a for-profit senior facility. The second and third detail the toll Covid-19 is taking on some of our most vulnerable Vermonters.

The Intercept, where Glenn Greenwald used to hang his hat before he went batshit, has shone a fresh light on last spring’s worst outbreak in Vermont — at Burlington Health and Rehab, owned and operated by the troubled Genesis HealthCare chain.

Turns out that only weeks before the pandemic struck, Attorney General TJ Donovan had reached a settlement with Genesis over “allegations of neglect” that led to three injuries and one death. That settlement did little or nothing to improve the situation, and within months, 12 BH&R residents had died of Covid-19.

Under terms of the settlement, proudly announced in the customary AGO press release, three Vermont-located Genesis facilities were to pay a fine and hire a Patient Care Coordinator for the three locations plus an independent monitor to oversee quality of care. Was it enough?

“It’s really baffling that the settlement did not include some type of staffing requirements,” said Brian Lee, the executive director of Families for Better Care, a nonprofit advocating for tighter regulation of nursing homes. “Has [Donovan] arrested anybody? Has he prosecuted anybody? Has anybody gone to jail? No. The settlement should have included a requirement for RN staffing. They were short-staffed prior to the incidents and short-staffed after. It’s pretty negligent on the AG’s office to not include that,” said Lee. “The quality of nursing homes is dependent on staffing.”

You can probably guess the next bit. According to federal regulatory records, Genesis failed to increase staffing to recommended levels. Donovan agreed to let Genesis do the hiring, and there was apparently no follow-through by the state to ensure full compliance. This is a problem with Donovan’s negotiating tactics, and also an issue for state regulators. When a facility is enough of a bad actor to trigger enforcement action, shouldn’t the Human Services Agency perhaps provide some extra scrutiny?

I guess not. Well, I can’t say for sure. But what I can say is that whatever Donovan and AHS did, it wasn’t enough. Let’s remember that, the next time Donovan puts out a self-congratulatory press release.

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This Map Is A Lie

I’ve been following the state of Vermont’s travel maps for months now, and watching the grim progression of the “red zone” closer and closer to our borders. Through it all, I’ve gotten a bit of visual comfort from Vermont’s apparent exemption from the great red tide.

But, as others have noted this week, that comfort was entirely without foundation. The blue lagoon shouldn’t be blue at all; it should be a mix of red, yellow and green. You don’t get that if you just glance at the map. But if you check the fine print, you see that the three shades of blue correspond to red, yellow and green. By the standards of this map, my county (Washington) is in the red zone, the no-travel zone.

The shades of blue for Vermont are a deliberate choice by the creator of the map — the Department of Financial Regulation. And it’s deeply misleading. It feeds into our innate sense that Vermont is different, better, and at least somewhat immune from the problems that beset all the other states. Like we have an invisible, ineffable moat around our borders.

In truth, if the same color scheme was used throughout, Vermont’s counties would be roughly equally red, yellow and green. And in fact, the situation has already worsened; we learned at the Scott administration’s Friday Covid briefing that roughly one-half of Vermont counties would be colored red if the out-of-state standards were applied.

If I were to ask why Vermont’s counties were colored in blue, the response would probably be, “Well, this is a travel map, and we want to showcase the areas where it’s safe to travel from. Vermont isn’t part of that equation.”

Okay, well, maybe. But at the very least, they should use a different set of much flashier colors instead of three subtly differing shades of the same hue. Maybe orange, purple and blue?

This is the state’s travel map. But it’s also the state’s primary (perhaps only) visual representation of the spread of the coronavirus. The map should be recrafted to accurately impart that message as well.

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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The Campaign That Isn’t

The effect of Covid-19 on Vermont politics is way down the list of pandemic-related concerns — somewhere below massive unemployment, food insecurity, a likely housing crisis, crippling blows to agriculture, tourism, small business, independent retail, public and private education and state and local tax revenues. (And a bunch more.)

But this is a #vtpoli blog, so the topic du jour is Our Lost Political Year.

The above chart, published by the New York Times, shows that our country is still in the throes of Covid-19’s first wave. The soul- and economy-crushing “stay home” regimen was supposed to buy us enough time to prepare a thorough defense program of testing and contact tracing. Which our federal government has completely failed to deliver. Hence, we’re stuck on the first-wave plateau while harder-hit but better-governed nations like Italy and Spain have seen vast reductions in new cases.

And no, I never thought I’d write the phrase “better-governed nations like Italy.”

Back when I was semi-gainfully employed, I wrote a pair of speculative columns about how the pandemic was affecting the process of politics — as candidates tried to figure out how to campaign without any person-to-person contact. No door knocking, no public forums or debates, no fundraisers.

And we’re still stuck right there, with less than two months to go until the primary election.

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