Tag Archives: Rob Roper

Look What I Found in the Ol’ Mailbox

I must infer that the Ethan Allen Institute is hurting for money. How else to explain the fact that an EAI fundraising plea ended up in my mailbox? And yes, it was addressed to me personally, not to “Occupant.”

The hardy-har-har political “cartoon” above was part of the solicitation. It poses the ludicrous proposition that the Black Lives Matter movement, Extinction Rebellion, Antifa and the 1619 Project all spring from the poisoned well of Marxism.

Uh-huh.

BLM and Extinction Rebellion are nonviolent protest movements. “Antifa” is basically a right-wing boogeyman; it’s decidedly not an organization, let alone one capable of overthrowing the global political order. And for God’s sake, the 1619 Project was conducted by the New York Times. Which is, need I remind you, a for-profit corporation.

No Marxists there, except in the fevered imagination of EAI President Rob Roper, who signed this thing.

So let’s take a look at the rest of the thing. The letter begins with a dire warning:

The nation and Vermont are at a tipping point. We have to decide if we are going to maintain the Constitutional freedoms set in place by our founders — the ideas and principles that made us the greatest country in the world — or abandon them for a path toward socialism, speech codes, and McCarthyite blacklisting of citizens who expreess anything other trhan obedience to a single-party agenda.

Referring to the Democratic Party, presumably. Which is hogwash. The party, nationally and in Vermont, is a broad coalition that can barely agree on a common agenda, let alone threaten the overthrow of the American way of life. Nothing the Democrats espouse would pave the way for socialism. Nothing would impose speech codes or a “McCarthyite blacklist.”

Which, need I remind you, was a Republican invention.

I realize you have to grab the reader’s attention with fiery rhetoric, but this is deliberate pandering to the Trump/tea party/Proud Boys wing of the conservative movement.

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Tha Regan Dinnur

Looky here, the Vermont Republicans have another spectacular evening to warn tell us about. It’s the Reagan Dinner — pardon me, THE REAGAN DINNER all caps, with a photo of a noble Ronnie posing manfully in front of an American flag. It’s hosted by the Chittenden County GOP, and it’s all happening on March 10, getcha tickets early!

As usual, the Republicans are being stingy with the details — probably because it’s going to be the usual “excitement” of rubber chicken, cash bar and canned speeches.

Yup: Cocktails, dinner, and an “Energy Forum,” Lord help us all. Doesn’t look like they’ll have any high-profile out-of-state guests; the dinner is being artfully held the week following the Vermont primary, so I’m sure we won’t get any presidential candidates on the dais.

But all I want to know is, can the Chittenden County GOP afford a little copy-editing? Because the official announcement says the event will be at the “Cattamount Golf Club.”

Geez, how many Vermonters are unaware that “Catamount” is a one-T animal? That’s as bad as “Six Teats.”

But wait, there’s more!Take a gander at the list of special guests.

Special Guests include Bruce Liseman, Randy Brock, John McClaughry, Rob Roper

Yup, “Liseman.” Poor ol’ Bruce just can’t get any respect from the party, can he?

After the jump: Screenshot of the announcement, typos and all. 

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The mass exodus myth

Vermont faces a demographic challenge. Our population is stagnant and getting older. We have fewer school-age kids, which drives up the per-pupil cost. We have fewer young adults to invigorate the workforce and pay forward the costs of retirement and health care for older Vermonters.

That is true. But there’s a popular myth about why that’s true. Take it away, Ethan Allen Institute’s Rob Roper:

The fact of the matter is that Vermont’s progressive tax, regulatory, healthcare, land use, and energy policies are driving up the cost of living, and driving our young, educated workforce out of the state. Who wants to work or start a business or put down roots in a state that punishes success and whose guiding governing principle is to redistribute what you earn to someone else?

The assumption beneath the thickets of dogma: young people are fleeing Vermont. And that’s not true.

Here’s the truth. Young adults are highly mobile. Many of them do leave Vermont. However, an almost equal number move in. (More on this in a moment.)

So why do we have so many fewer people aged, say, zero to 35?

Because, for a long time now, Vermont has had very low birthrates. The average female Vermonter has about 1.5 children during her lifetime. Replacement level is 2.1. This has been true long enough that we are losing ground in the younger demographics.

That’s it. Not regulation or taxes or education costs or business climate or cost of living or Peter Shumlin’s nose. Simple and straightforward: not enough babies.

And now let’s see some actual figures, as opposed to conservative wishful thinking, on whether people are actually fleeing Vermont.

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Climate incoherence, stage right

Very sorry to have missed Thursday’s carbon tax debate, featuring the Good Guys (Paul Burns of VPIRG and UVM’s Jon Erickson) against the Death Star Duo, Rob Roper and John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Oh yes, fair and balanced shall I be.

I’m sure the DSD walked away believing they’d won, because they are dyed-in-the-wool true believers whose outlook is hermetically sealed against the intrusion of actual evidence. Also, lest we forget, they’ve received hundreds of thousands of dollars from out-of-state conservative donors with ties to the Koch brothers.

The really striking thing about their presentation was the difference between Messrs. McClaughry and Roper. McClaughry is an out-and-out denier. Roper acknowledges climate change but says there’s nothing we can do about it, so we shouldn’t even try.

Yeesh.

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Climate change follies

You’ve got to hand it to David Sunderland, chair of the VTGOP. When he gets hold of a notion, he just doesn’t let go. No matter how stupid the notion may be.

Today’s exhibit: Not content with a series of inflammatory press releases against the carbon tax, which is not on the Legislature’s agenda, nor will it be anytime soon, Sunderland has launched a new website aimed specifically at the carbon tax. Which is not on the agenda, nor will it be anytime soon.

But brave Dave won’t let the facts get in his way on this, any more than the scientific consensus on climate change has penetrated his brain. The website depicts a doomsday scenario for Vermont, and the Demcrats as the evil villains plotting the state’s demise.

Well, as Hillary Clinton told one of the House Benghazi Committee bozos, “I’m sorry that it doesn’t fit your narrative. I can only tell you what the facts were.”

Turning the page… more developments on the Climate Change Debate saga.

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The hardest working man in the charity racket

This isn’t new news, but a correspondent has alerted me to some amusing details regarding the Ethan Allen Institute, a.k.a. the Vermont outlet of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Specifically, EAI’s required annual filing with the IRS for 2014.

EAI, for those blessedly unaware, produces modest quantities of free-market puffery. And it proudly states as a matter of sacred principle, right there in its IRS Form 990-EZ, “We don’t receive — nor would we accept — government funding or support.”

Which is true except for EAI’s tax-deductible status, which is definitely a tangible form of government support.

Now, you might be dismayed at the thought of your tax dollars effectively underwriting EAI’s “educational activities,” but you can take some comfort in knowing how hard those guys are working for your money. Because according to page 2 of its filing, EAI President Rob Roper is working an average of 80 hours per week. His salary: a paltry $50,000.

On an hourly basis, the poor guy’s making less than Bernie Sanders minimum wage!

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Let’s go to the 990

Okay, so I spent part of Monday (maybe five, ten minutes all told) in a slow-motion Tweetchat with the fine folks at the Ethan Allen Institute. At one point, whoever Tweets on behalf of EAI accused me of lying about its connection with the Koch empire. And I pointed out that it wasn’t a lie, just a mistake.

Then came the following exchange:

Dunno what they mean by “solution” there, but the whole Tweet is kind of inartful. Anyway, @EAIVT asked if I had consulted its IRS Form 990, the annual filing required of nonprofit organizations.

Well, I hadn’t checked the 990 because I knew it was irrelevant to my assertion. Nonprofits aren’t required to disclose revenue sources, so nothing in EAI’s form would prove or disprove any Koch connection.

But hey, I’m open to suggestion, so I found EAI’s latest 990 — for tax year 2013 — as posted by the journalistic nonprofit ProPublica. (Where you can find the last several years’ worth, in fact.)

And as I thought, there’s no information about where the money comes from. But there are some interesting numbers to be found, and here’s a sampling.

In 2013, EAI took in $140,690 in “contributions, gifts, grants and similar amounts received,” plus another $60,000 in membership dues. Add in a bit here and there, and EAI revenue was $201,018.

Not bad, not bad. There’s no further information about the sources of that $201, 018, nothing to prove or disprove any financial dependence on the Kochs or the State Policy Network or other out-of-state corporate interests.

Unfortunately, EAI was a deficit spender in 2013. It racked up expenses of $224,290. Fortunately, it began the year with a positive balance of $43,021, so it ended the year in the black.

Yay!

On to Part III, “Statement of Program Service Accomplishments,” a.k.a. EAI’s nonprofit fig leaf. The IRS requires a list of the organization’s three primary programs. Here’s the EAI list:

— $72,200 for “Two daily radio programs on WDEV Radio Vermont.” This includes John McClaughry’s Daily Diatribe (I think that’s what they call it); and the hour-long “Common Sense Radio,” which causes massive tuneout at the end of the Mark Johnson Show every weekday at 11.

Well, now we know why the folks at WDEV put up with that drivel. They are well paid to put up with that drivel. And they get a better deal than we do; thanks to EAI’s tax-exempt status, we are all paying, indirectly, for the glories of “Common Sense Radio.”

— $44,205 for something called the Energy Education Project, which “promotes intelligent energy choices in Vermont through a daily blog, a website and educational events.” Gee, I’d never heard of this endeavor before. So I searched for “Energy Education Project Vermont,” and there it was.

However, it hasn’t been updated in a very long time. The top item on its homepage is entitled “Entergy Announces That Vermont Yankee Will Close in October 2014.” Checking the Google, I see that Entergy made that announcement in August of 2013.

Pretty sad, for EAI’s number-two Service Accomplishment.

— $47,000 for a variety of programs, not a single entry. These include the montlhly Ethan Allen Letter; a series of opinion pieces offered gratis to Vermont media outlets; “public meetings and educational seminars”; and a transparency website jointly maintained with the Public Assets Institute. Now there’s an odd couple.

On to Part IV, a list of officers and key employees. Oh boy, salary disclosure!

EAI President Rob Roper pulled down $50,000 last year, slightly under Vermont’s median income. Hey look, he’s middle class!

Vice President John McClaughry made $24,000 and his wife Anne made $18,000 as Secretary/Treasurer, plus another $5500 combined for “Health benefits, contributions to employee benefit plans, and deferred compensation.”

Bill Sayre, member of the Board of Directors, made $9600, presumably for hosting Common Sense Radio. None of the other directors (Wendy Wilton, Jack McMullen, Catherine Clark, John Cueman, Milt Eaton) was paid.

Finally, the caboose on EAI’s very short gravy train is occupied by Shayne Spence, who was paid $6000 to serve as “Outreach Coordinator.” I don’t know whether this includes the compensation he received as a Koch Summer Fellow in 2013, but that’s a thing that exists.

I’ll skip over several boring pages, which brings me to Schedule A, Part III, which lists total “Public Support” for the five preceding years. During that time, EAI took in a total of $784,910. The totals for 2009 through 2013 go:

$151,775; $155,225; $171,565; $105,345; and $201,000.

Don’t know what happened in 2012, but there you are. In addition to the “public support,” EAI has made a few hundred bucks every year from “interest, dividends” and other non-donor sources.

Well, that was fun. It did nothing to illuminate the sources of EAI’s money or to settle the question of whether it has financial ties to the State Policy Network and other Koch- and Koch-like operations, or whether its ties are purely ideological.

Too bad, as I wrote earlier: we really need more transparency in the nonprofit world. If EAI could show that it really is a home-grown organization that gets the bulk of its financing from Vermonters, that would lend it some credibility.

Rob Roper’s Machiavellian fantasy

Oh, the Robster spun a tale, he did.

In a brief commentary on the Ethan Allen Institute’s occasionally-good-for-a-laugh website, Roper laid out a cunning plan to land Scott Milne in the corner office.

"I have a cunning plan," whispers Baldrick.

“I have a cunning plan,” whispers Baldrick.

Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

First postulate: Gov. Shumlin’s “single payer healthcare system has been a disaster for Democrats,” which is quite a trick considering his system doesn’t exist yet. What he means is that initial reaction to a possible financing plan has been, as expected, a mixed bag, and that the Democrats lost seats in the Legislature due, so says the Robster, to disillusionment with health care reform.

Which sets the stage, so says the Robster, for Republican momentum leading into 2016. Further GOP gains and maybe a Republican governor.

But, he says, the Dems have a way out: Elect Scott Milne as governor.

That way, they rid themselves of Shumlin and single payer, and have a handy scapegoat for the death of single payer and anything else that goes wrong in the next two years. And since Milne would enter office as a political neophyte who hasn’t made any plans for an administration or a budget, the Legislature could walk all over him.

Quite a temptation for the Speaker (who many think is eyeing a run for governor in 2016 anyway, and this would clear an easier path) and the Senate President Pro Tem as well as the committee chairs.

A Milne governorship, if he does not rise to the occasion, could kill Republican momentum.

Roper finds a shred of “evidence” in support of his fantasy in the fact that “Democrats have not come out in full-throated support for Shumiln in the upcoming legislative vote.”

Well, there’s a much simpler explanation for that: the Democrats know the legislative vote is going to be over and done with very quickly, and there’s no need for them to “campaign” against Milne, who is certain to lose.

I realize that the Robster has to provide regular content to justify his salary at the EAI, but this is… well, it’s the kind of stuff I’d expect to hear from Baldrick.

Of course the right wing is still Grubering

Yesterday, I wrote about Neal Goswami’s journalistic self-sacrifice — reading 2,400 pages of government emails so we don’t have to. The emails in question were between the newly-notorious Jonathan Gruber and various Shumlin administration functionaries. And Goswami found a conspicuous absence of scandal. Indeed, the emails painted a picture of some very dedicated people working very hard to devise the best possible single-payer system.

Naturally, though, the lack of scandal hasn’t stopped the right wing from desperately fanning the Gruber flames. This is not at all surprising; in fact, it’s the right wing’s modus operandi. Talking Points Memo:

Gruber-mania has gripped the conservative mediasphere in a way that few stories have, becoming another brand-name controversy like Benghazi and the IRS. An academic who had been little known outside of Washington or Boston has been mentioned nearly 2,800 times in English-language news since news of the most recent video broke last month. Prior to that, across a career that spanned decades and after playing an important role in Massachusetts and national health care reform, he’d been named less than 1,000 times, according to a TPM LexisNexis search.

The lesser members of the mediasphere who operate in this lonely outpost are taking their cues from their big brothers, and trying to make mountains out of molehills.

Take Rob Roper, the Eddie Haskell of Vermont conservatism. He pulled out one brief excerpt from Goswami’s report, which I’d cited as a positive. Key quote from Gruber:

I am really excited to work with you all — I think we have the chance to really make history here.

In Roper’s imagination, this statement immediately disqualifies Gruber. He’s too enthusiastic, see?

So would Gruber mislead Vermont voters because he’d rather make history than not? With over $2 billion at stake, we have to assume the answer is yes.

One little evidence-free assumption, and we can dismiss the entirety of Gruber’s work. Plus any proposal Gov. Shumlin makes because, even if he fired Gruber today, all the work on single-payer has already been thoroughly Grubered.

This is exactly the same rationale used by the far right for ignoring climate science: the scientists have a stake in climate change, so their work can be dismissed.

Look, it’s only natural that an expert would have a lively engagement in her/his field of study. Aren’t you interested in what you do? I hope so. But the academic world — unlike the world of conservative faux-outrage — has ethical standards and principles. Academics have an interest in doing honest work, to ensure that their work has an impact. And, of course, academics who commit fraud see their careers end in shame.

But the Rob Ropers of the world know nothing of this, because their purpose is rousing the rabble. Adhering to the truth is a professional impediment. And fraud is a tried and true method of career advancement.

And that, by the way, is it: The only thing Roper could find in Goswami’s story to yammer about is Gruber’s enthusiasm for his work.

Meanwhile, serial failure Darcie “Hack” Johnston has been busily retweeting stuff from Breitbart.com, one of the sleazier outposts of the conservative mediasphere. For some reason, Breitbart has posted a series of stories about Gruber’s work in Vermont. Seems like small potatoes for a national website, but whatevs.

Johnston is so far out there, she seems to believe that Breitbart is a convincing source of news. In fact, the guy who’s writing its Vermont stories is a proud Tea Partier with no journalistic credentials outside the conservative mediasphere.

But again, I’m not surprised. This is SOP for Johnston: Accept (and broadcast) every conservative source, no matter how shameless, as the Gospel truth.

When, in fact, “truth” has nothing to do with it.

Vermont Republicans adopt the Fox News playbook

I don’t know what the hell has happened to Vermont Republicans. With a couple of exceptions (Phil Scott, Kevin Mullin), they seem to have gone batshit crazy.

And crazy in a very particular way. They have taken up the chief weaponry of national Republicans and the Fox News crowd by distilling a complicated issue to a single word.

The issue is health care and the word, of course, is GRUBER!!!!!!

Republicans have not been deterred in the last by Gov. Shumlin’s renegotiation of Gruber’s contract, cutting off further payments to Gruber and thus saving the state $120,000 — some of which will go to independent checking of Gruber’s work.

But it doesn’t matter, at least not to Republicans. They’ve decided “Gruber” is an all-purpose cudgel to attack Shumlin, the Democrats, and the cause of health care reform. Their entire health care focus is on Gruber.

It was only a couple weeks ago that the VTGOP had a big post-election news conference to call for repeal of Vermont Health Connect. We don’t hear that anymore; it’s all Gruber, all the time.

It’s the first time I can remember that virtually every notable Republican and conservative activist seems to be singing from the same hymnal. Kurt Wright sounds just like Rob Roper, and Heidi Scheuermann’s doing her best Darcie Johnston.

This fact hit home for me while reading Rep. Wright’s opinion piece in the Sunday Freeploid. Wright asserts that Gruber’s work on single-payer “will undermine the entire process and debate going forward.” When there’s no evidence that Gruber has done anything more than provide top-flight economic modeling. No matter; as ACORN allegedly poisoned the electoral process and Lois Lerner allegedly proved an Obama conspiracy against the right, the mere presence of Gruber fundamentally undercuts everything about single-payer.

So I guess, by Wright’s logic, we have to throw out all the work that’s been done on single-payer over the last three years and start over? Or is he arguing that by axing Gruber now, when the work is virtually complete, the entire process will be purified as if by cleansing flame?

Wright’s words are identical in meaning to Rob Roper’s. Over at his Koch-funded nonprofit, the Ethan Allen Institute, he claims that Gruber’s entire body of work is useless and cannot be used at all. And Darcie “Hack” Johnston, Tweeting out her policy stances, pronounes Gruber’s work is “tainted” and…

Just watch him, Darcie.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Benning is clearly intoxicated by his sudden Fox News fame, referring on his Facebook page to Gruber as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Which sounds disconcertingly like naked political opportunism. He goes on to brag that “FOX wants me back!”

Of course they want you back, Joe: you fit right in with their agenda. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

On another front, House Republicans have filed a public-records request for Gruber’s work for the state and for communications between Gruber and the Shumlin Administration, I’d applaud them for trying to learn the truth, but given all their public remarks, it seems more like a Darrell Issa-type fishing expedition. What they’re really hoping for is more Gruberisms.

And then there’s the proto-Republicans at Campaign for Vermont, still flogging their online petition calling for Gruber’s firing. Too bad that since Shumlin’s termination of payment, CFV’s petition has pretty much stalled out. As of this writing, it’s at 233 signatures, and it’s been in the low 200s for several days now.

This isn’t about the truth. It’s about using a handful of remarks by Jonathan Gruber to try to undermine the push for single-payer health care.

The weird thing about this is, we just went through an election that provided two object lessons (Phil Scott and Scott Milne) in how Republicans can win in Vermont: by presenting a moderate, inclusive image. Now they’re all foaming at the mouth as though the election never happened and “Angry Jack” Lindley is still running the joint.

They would be well advised to rein in their inflammatory rhetoric lest they alienate the very voters they just managed to attract.