McAllister to stand trial (again) for sexual assault

Good news for those of us who felt Mr. McAllister’s plea deal cheated his constituents of the opportunity to hear all the details of the case, including Mr. McAllister’s defense, in open court.

He had a good thing in that plea deal, which spared him exposure to a life sentence; but now that he has chosen to withdraw from the deal, all bets are off.

It appears from news reports that McAllister’s second thoughts on the plea deal were largely due to a concern to preserve his farm from vulnerability in an upcoming civil case, filed by one of his victims. He claims that he was unaware, at the time of accepting the plea deal, that it would represent a tacit admission of guilt and could jeopardize his defense in that pending civil suit.

The need to prepare a second time for trial and to screen a second jury is a burden on the county; the county for which he served as an unyielding fiscal and social conservative voice for a number of years. Not so concerned with the people’s purse now, are we Mr. McAllister?

This of course does not address the repeated pretrial stress on the victim; still awaiting her day in court.

A trial date has not yet been announced; but once again, I sincerely hope that the women of Franklin County turn out to support the victim.

The Abortion Dividend of Trumpcare

We’ll see what the Trumpcare vote today brings, but, one way or the other, the writing is on the (border?) wall: if Republicans remain in control of Congress, sooner rather than later, things like mental healthcare, drug treatment and maternity care will no longer be covered under the mean-spirited provisions of Trumpcare.

Much can be said about the epidemic of opiate abuse and mental health collapse that inconveniently characterize the population upon which Trumpcare may be unleashed; but for the moment, I would just like to consider the irony of defunding both maternity care and Planned Parenthood.

The very same people who would eliminate access to abortion and, in some cases, even birth control, are insisting that maternity care not be covered in any public health insurance policy.

Abortion statistics indicate that in 23% of cases, the decision to abort is due to a lack of financial means.

According to CNN, the cost of having a baby in 2017 is roughly $15,000. Under Obamacare, much of that cost is covered. If the “House Freedom Caucus” finally has its way, the number of women seeking abortions for financial reasons is likely to substantially increase.

You would think this would have occurred to someone in the oxymoronically named Freedom Caucus, but if it has, you’d never know it.

The same people who are always so eager to make women’s decisions about their bodies for them, insisting that life is precious from the moment of conception, don’t appear to give a hang about what happens to human beings after they leave the womb. They’re ready to cut nutrition programs, wellness programs, public education, domestic violence interventions…anything to save tax dollars for the rich.

Just as the “Freedom Caucus’ ” interest in babies ends when they leave the womb; it continues to diminish until, as those babies reach age 55, they are happy to see people who should be saving for their retirement get hit with ballooning health insurance costs.

It’s no coincidence that both Medicare and Social Security are under threat of imminent attack from the same bunch of cold hearted bastards.

Welcome to the world of Republican rule.

Could Vermont’s EB-5 Regional Center wither away?

Of course it’s hard to match the impact of the original headlines from Stenger & Quiros’ Jay Peak EB-5 scandal — but two resulting events, largely unnoticed by comparison, will soon impact Vermont’s EB-5 Regional Center.

buriedEB5 3The first change was set underway when, to prevent future “Ponzi-style” EB-5 scandals, Vermont shifted financial oversight responsibility from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD)  to the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR). The focus jumped from wooing overseas investors with almost full-time EB-5 boosterism to tightening up financial oversight.

Along with this shift came legislative adjustments allowing the DFR to control charges and enact new fees for those participants in the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center. Additionally the DFR was given authority to invoice EB-5 developers for its oversight and regulation. Moves were also made to rein in the ACCD’s taxpayer support for advertising, out-of-state  travel, and other promotional work through the Regional Center on behalf of EB-5 developers.

And recently Peak Resorts /Mt. Snow surprised top state officials  by announcing the formation of their own independent EB-5 center. The resort had to struggle with waiting on a payment for an ongoing project from their EB-5 investor funds held in escrow by the state as a guarantee.

By setting up their own EB-5 program, the out-of-state resort owners can happily gather-up their foreign funds through the investment-for-visa immigration program, independent of the Vermont-run EB-5 Regional Center with whom they formerly were partnered.

In fact, Mt. Snow Resorts probably has an inside track on this approach, should it become a trend for other EB-5 developers here in Vermont. In 2015 they hired the director of the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center — grabbing Brent Raymond directly out of the revolving door. As director, Raymond’s duties for the state included both promotional activities and monitoring EB-5 program compliance under state and federal financial regulations. Quite the catch.

So, the Jay Peak financial scandal has forced Vermont’s Regional Center EB-5 Program to change their regulatory responsibilities and funding — and perhaps most importantly, the state-run monopoly on EB-5 regulation and oversight is now threatened. It might even spell extinction rather than evolution for the Vermont ACCD’s Regional Center.

However, here and nationally, independent EB-5 foreign investment-for-visa programs are bound to stick around. Even in the midst of the new President’s immigration crackdowns, access to large chunks of quickly attainable legal foreign investment money is tough for any developer to deny themselves. You could even say it is almost impossible to resist — one New York finance broker said the EB-5 immigrant money racket was so good “[It] sounds like legalized crack cocaine.”

After all, even Donald Trump is tapping EB-5 funds for one or more of his gang’s projects. If it’s good for the President, it must be good for the country, right? … Right? … Amiright?

Expanding Medicaid equals more voter participation

A recent study of voter participation shows higher voter turnout in states that have expanded Medicaid under the American Affordable Care Act (ACA / Obamacare). For people with low income, Medicaid is the largest source of funding for medical and health-related services.Kaiser Health-14-2016

The study, Expanding Medicaid, expanding the electorate: the Affordable Care Act’s short-term impact on political participation, compared voter turnout data from 2014 and 2012 for 435 U.S. House races.  Controlling for local factors, its author found:  […] that increases in Medicaid enrollment as a result of Medicaid expansion were related to considerably higher voter turnout in 2014.

Past research has shown people that receive public assistance are less likely to vote, so these results are significant. According to study author Jake Haselswerdt, assistant professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Missouri: “Having access to health insurance could play a role in increasing voter participation as healthy people are much more likely to vote than unhealthy people, and insurance increases people’s financial stability, which also makes them more likely to vote.” Backlash to expanded enrollment, he notes, may also affect voter turnout.

[Updated Ed.]Although Donald Trump made campaign promises not to cut Medicaid benefits, [Trump has ] endorsed two changes to the bill affecting Medicaid, under the pending GOP plan. The actions taken by GOP legislators in Congress make plain how they feel about Medicaid. Republican-sponsored ACA repeal legislation (Trumpcare) now in Congressional committees would hand Medicaid back to the states, and cut program funds by $880 billion in the next 10 years —  effectively limiting expansion. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the GOP bill 14 million fewer people would have Medicaid coverage in 2026.

Whether by design or accident, the GOP’s efforts to slash Medicaid may not only hurt the health of lower income  U.S. citizens, but they also seem to fit in nicely with the Republicans’  long running campaigns to suppress voter participation — also known as “voter fraud prevention legislation.”

Well, that works: “American Health Care” that isn’t affordable, and laws to counteract non-existent “voter fraud.” Paging George Orwell …

Recreation and Drinking Water

We’ve talked about this issue before: what level, if any, of recreational use–boating, kayaking, fishing, etc.–should be allowed in Berlin Pond, the body of water located in Berlin and owned by Montpelier that provides drinking water for the capital city. The argument has even been to the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled that the city charter, as it then existed, did not allow Montpelier to prohibit recreational use of the pond.

Well, the conversation is still going on years later. If you’re interested in the science of the debate, take a look:

Informational meeting on the potential impact of recreational use of Vermont’s small drinking water ponds, including Berlin Pond, with regard to pathogenic contamination.

Wednesday, March 15, 1:30-3:00 p.m., Montpelier City Hall Council Chambers

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths, an expert on Cryptosporidium and Cryptosporidiosis, and other waterborne infectious diseases, will speak on the potential contamination of Montpelier’s drinking water source, Berlin Pond, by pathogens such as Cryptosporidium, should recreation be allowed to continue. Dr. Griffiths is a professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, and former chair of the EPA Drinking Water Committee. For more information on Dr. Griffiths go to http://publichealth.tufts.edu/About-Us/Public-Health-Rounds-Newsletter/Dr-Jeffrey-Griffiths-Career-Comes-Full-Circle-at-Tufts-University

Cryptosporidium is one of the highest causes of waterborne infectious disease in the US. In fact, the EPA has a rule devoted primarily to combating that pathogen, which is carried in the human gut and is not affected by chlorine. Yet the Agency of Natural Resources has said nothing about it since the state began allowing recreation on Berlin Pond, and also Stiles Pond which serves St. Johnsbury, in 2012. The State has said it wants to allow recreation on all the drinking water ponds, including the Thurmond Dix Reservoir.

Dr. Griffiths was recommended by the NH Dept. of Environmental Services where he previously testified in a similar case.

Everyone is welcome. Bring questions!

Contact Page Guertin – pguertin@myfairpoint.net – if you can’t attend and have a question to ask. The event will be videoed by ORCA.

 

Navy Seal convoy “punished” for flying under Trump banner

Since President Trump looked a little too happy strutting around the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford sporting an olive military jacket and cap the other day. Here’s a quick follow up on the Navy Seal convoy that affixed a Trump campaign banner to their Humvee antenna with zip ties  and drove it in a convoy for over one hundred miles. It was February, when the vehicle  traveling through Kentucky under the blue Trump flag was seen and when first reported, officials said they believed the vehicles were military surplus; they later admitted that was not the case, and that the vehicles belonged to the elite Seal Naval Special Warfare Group 2.

TrumpflagsealThe Navy has since investigated, and the report (which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act or FOIA request) is now available. The commander of the 12 person convoy did not place the flag on the Humvee but was aware it was there and: “[The convoy commander] was also aware of the rules precluding Department of Defense (DoD) endorsement of political candidates during an election,” the documents stated. “However, he believed that flying the flag was not inappropriate since the election was over and since the candidate was now the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.”

However, shortly into their mission the Navy Seal commander began, they say, to regret his choice: About 30 minutes into the drive on I-65, the convoy commander noticed that the flag was getting a good deal of attention from civilian drivers, “some of which was negative attention.” [maybe negative by 48.5% or more]

“At this point, he felt like the correct course of action would have been to take the flag down,” the documents stated. “However, he was concerned that it would be unsafe for the convoy and its members to pull over while on the highway.”

The names of the 12 member Navy Seal group were not made public and although they were reportedly punished, what form that took was not disclosed. The Navy Department did say the personnel were subsequently required to participate in team-wide remedial training on safe convoy operations and partisan political activity.

So, with a Humvee flagged with a Trump election banner for over one hundred miles through Kentucky to Indiana, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Group 2 couldn’t find a place to pull his convoy off the highway!  Maybe the remedial training on safe convoy operations the  Seal Group was “sentenced” to take covers how to pull off the road and remove a prohibited banner. Or better yet, they could learn not to fly a partisan banner from Trump’s campaign on a Humvee to start with.

Fukushima: Six Years and Counting

March 11, 2017

On this, the sixth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” have come no closer to locating molten fuel slugs and securing the environment from further contamination.

Secondary impacts from the disaster including economic strain, scandal; and social stresses, like bullying and prejudice directed at evacuees, have begun to reshape Japan’s legendary culture of unflappable civility. Evacuees feel they are being ‘forced’ to return to an unsafe environment. The underlying social contract that once saw Japan rise to a peak of prosperity in the world, has come undone.

Over the island nation, the specter of nuclear contamination hangs like a caul, lending an ominous tinge even to anticipation of the prestigious 2020 Olympics.

Meanwhile, more or less oblivious to the memory of the biggest industrial disaster in history and its ongoing legacy of deadly contamination still unfolding in Japan, the rest of the world has grown politically more perilous. Saber rattling has escalated to the point that represents the greatest threat of nuclear war since the 1960’s.

Hate-filled outlaw groups of every stripe exploit the recruiting potential of the world-wide web, plotting and planning to seize any opportunity that should present itself to rain terror on a hapless population.

A compulsive liar occupies the most powerful position on earth, as president of the United States.  He is juxtaposed by a xenophobic madman on the other side of the globe in North Korea.

Even without a resolution to the crisis at Fukushima, and having found no practical solution to the strategic and environmental threat of nuclear waste, the nuclear industry attempts to justify continued operation of nuclear reactors, making ill-supported promises that safer nuclear options are “just around the corner”…a corner that grows decades further away with each attempt.

With or without leadership from the U.S., the world will inevitably continue to evolve toward truly clean, truly safe energy production, just as surely as technology in other areas has leapfrogged forward across the globe.

The sooner that we leave the ill-conceived “Nuclear Age” behind us, the better it will be for the entire planet.

Just ask the survivors of Fukushima.

Gov. Sununu carries water for EPA’s Scott Pruitt

Vermont better keep an eye on this if only because we “share” the Connecticut River and for that matter a planet, with New Hampshire. It appears that state’s new Republican Governor Chris Sununu wants a little jump start on polluting his state waterways and may want to take a time out from his ongoing voter suppression campaign.waterdownhill

To those ends Sununu sent a letter inviting to New England Scott “big oil BFF” Pruitt, the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency,  to explore loosening “burdensome” regulations governing storm water rules. His letter references a program that requires towns that collect and dispose of storm water to get a special permit. Such disposal can pass pollutants into water systems.  Do you suppose Sununu cc’d his invite on this one to his fellow New England Republican Governors, his  buddies Phil Scott and Charlie Baker?

Pruitt, the new head of the US EPA might enjoy a diversion after he came under fire last week for comments openly questioning accepted facts about climate change science. By the end of week the EPA’s telephone voice messaging system was overwhelmed with a massive number of calls.

Governor Sununu will always enjoy discussing tearing up a few clean water regulations and Pruitt will get a nice friendly regional platform to spew Trump’s anti-regulation initiatives.

But no worries: Sununu claims that, as if by magic “if these federal mandates disappeared tomorrow, New Hampshire would not cease to keep our waters clean.”  He may starkly figure ‘so what’ about a polluted NH or planet: after all, we ‘live free and die.’  Besides, it all runs downhill (out of New Hampshire) doesn’t it, Governor?

Darcie Johnston & Trump’s little shop of hires

ProPublica has compiled an online directory of 400 political hires Donald Trump has quietly made across the federal government. And as we know, Vermonter Darcie Johnston made the cut. The anti-Obama healthcare advocate and former Trump for President Campaign leader got herself a real job in the Federal Government. She’ll be working at Health and Human Services as a Special Assistant. The job is rated GS-14 which pays from $88,136.00 – $114,578.00 yearly.

Trumplsohires2

 

The list assembled by ProPublica is a complete accounting of names that would normally just have dribbled out to the press. It shows the appointees to Trump’s so-called beachhead team. These are Donald loyalists named to federal jobs that need no senate confirmation: Trump’s true believers or just berserkers ready on day one, they said, to to begin laying the groundwork for the president-elect’s agenda.

Several of Donald’s more noteworthy best and brightest are spotlighted. Here are three likely worth keeping an eye on: A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed “ethnic cleansing” in a plot to “liquidate” the white working class found a home as Special Assistant to the Secretary, Department of Labor.

At the Department of the Treasury a former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool will test his mettle as a special assistant.  And finally, hailing from New Hampshire a Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.

Maybe Darcie  and this kid will carpool back home to New England on holidays.

VT Dems’ New Chair Has to Hold Big Tent Together

I was so proud to be a member of the Vermont Democratic Party State Committee on Saturday when Faisal Gill, a Pakistani-born Muslim-American was elected Interim Chair. Over the next few months the VT Dems will need our new Chair to hold the big tent of the VDP together.

Out-going Chair Dottie Deans, while thanking the committee and staff for their hard work in her remarks, also issued an impassioned plea for the committee to stick together in spite of disagreements. She mentioned some tough conversations about issues like renewable energy siting that have split the committee in the past. The biggest challenge now will likely come in the form of keeping disillusioned “Berniecrats” active within the Vermont Dems.

Faisal Gill was elected Interim Chair of the Vermont Democrats, Saturday March 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Faisal Gill
Faisal Gill was elected Interim Chair of the Vermont Democrats, Saturday March 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Faisal Gill

Faisal Gill won the election for Chair in a race against Nick Clark, who was very active for Bernie during the 2016 primary and has been an avid organizer of progressive Democrats and the founder of the Upper Valley Young Liberals. During the campaign I was personally accused of “exclusivism and elitism” for supporting Gill over Clark by one Upper Valley Young Liberal. I spoke with several of Nick’s supporters after Saturday’s election, and urged them to stay involved. I heard “I think I’m done with the Democratic Party after this.” from one UVYL member. “We need a change and this is just more of the same top-down elitism.” From another UVYL supporter, clearly frustrated with the State Committee’s 31-7 vote for Gill. He said “It’s like no one in the Vermont Democrats gives us any credit for what we’ve done, except the occasional mention.”

It will be a challenge to keep these passionate, progressive Democrats in the fold for the 2018 election cycle. Frankly, their expectations of the VDP are unrealistic. Change comes slowly, and the State Committee has activists and organizers that have been with the party for decades who are skeptical of any new faction asserting authority. However, I agree that the VDP is an institution that could use new blood (including relatively new voices like Faisal Gill).

My advice to the UVYL is this: Keep working with the Vermont Democratic Party. Get on your Town and County Committees, seek the change you want from within. People will welcome you and listen to you, but you also should listen to them. Learn what works and doesn’t work in political organizing and demonstrate your value helping candidates you can support get elected to office.  This party sent at least one of your members to the DNC as a delegate. We may not have voted for your candidate for Chair, but you’re not being ignored. We want you and we need you. I want your voices at the table, but I’m not ready to hand over the gavel to you yet. Politics and party-building are about compromise.  If your strategy is all or nothing, you aren’t going to accomplish anything.

The election of Faisal Gill is great for the Vermont Dems. It’s a powerful message that we reject racial and religious discrimination. However, I think that Faisal’s commitment to organizing, fundraising and herding cats at State Committee meetings is impressive on its own and he’ll be great. He has big shoes to fill, but I’m excited to see what he can do to get us ready for what’s likely to be a crazy election cycle next year.