Norm McAllister assaults the system…and gets away with it…again.

So, accused rapist/sex trafficker Norm McAllister will remain on the Republican primary ballot for senator even though his petition has been found to be deficient.  I hear fellow Republican candidate Carolyn Branagan’s cry of indignation and I share it!

Mr McAllister must be some sort of human detector for weaknesses in Vermont’s judiciary and legislative systems.

So far, he has succeeded in exploiting no less than five significant failures, and he hasn’t even come to trial yet to face accusations made by two more women.

1) The lack of meaningful protections for the vulnerable in the private workplace.

2) An apparent culture of “don’t ask; don’t tell” in the statehouse, where the extreme youth
of Mr. McAllister’s omnipresent ‘intern’ should have raised concerns and led to timely interventions.

3) The lack of a meaningful ethics policy governing legislators.

4) The lack of adequate provision in court for the PTSD disability common to victims of sexual abuse.

5) The lack of effective vetting practices to validate candidate petitions.

I’m sure there are more, but these spring most quickly to mind. Do not look for a grasp of reality anytime soon from this man because both Franklin County and the state of Vermont have yet to demonstrate any ability to bring his arrogance and his appetites to heel.

US House Republican leadership: Democrats’ sit-in supports terrorism!

“I… I don’t know exactly how to put this, sir, but are you aware of what a serious breach of security that would be? I mean, he’ll see everything, he’ll… he’ll see the Big Board!” General “Buck” Turgidson

Speaker Paul Ryan got on a local talk radio program from his home state and vented about how horrible the Democrats were for staging a sit-in on the House floor to force a vote on gun control measures. Vermont Congressman Peter Welch and Senators Leahy and Sanders joined in the demonstration that took place last week. Cllh0V2XIAUg6yh

Speaker Ryan, perhaps embarrassed by losing control of the situation on his House floor called the action  a “a low moment for the people’s House,”  He threatened Republicans “will not tolerate” it if Democrats launch another sit-in on the House floor after the Fourth of July recess to force a vote on gun control.

Republican grumblings include calling for a vote to censure Democrats that took part in the sit-in. The Hill.com explains the Republican’s argument:

…photographing and filming from all angles on the floor jeopardizes national security and the lives of members of Congress. Terrorists could study the images to help them prepare for a possible attack on the Capitol.  fullhouse

“There are safety and national security reasons that that is the rule,” said a lawmaker close to leadership. “And it is extraordinary that they ignored it.” 

Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and a popular idiom

The newspaper editor decided to devote more space to photographs of the disaster than to text, since a picture is worth a thousand words.

trumpboris

In the aftermath of the UK Brexit vote to leave the EU, Donald Trump promoted his Golf course in Scotland; he seemed stunningly unaware the Scots had voted against it and were furious with the result. “They took their country back …” he happily tweeted and later said it would be good for his businesses.

And Boris Johnson … well how about Boris Johnson? Well,that’s Johnson stuck,hanging on a zipline in 2012 when he was Mayor of London. He was celebrating Great Britain’s Olympic victories. The Guardian described the event:

But after a promising start gliding along happily waving his flags, he lost momentum and came to a halt, dangling over a crowd of people, for a long and somewhat awkward moment.

Trump’s blather sounds a little like the way Boris’ Brexit victory may be remembered: a long awkward moment until he falls.

Update: Is this what scuttled the McAllister trial?

As I have already said elsewhere, I sat in disbelief last Wednesday as the Prosecution dropped the charges of multiple sexual assaults against suspended senator Norm McAllister.  This, after putting the fragile victim through something like five hours of clearly painful and humiliating public testimony while the accused, seated with his back to the curious crowd, was spared the need for any account of himself.

I was further dismayed to see so little concern over the decision expressed by conventional media. Emphasis seemed to rest on the Defense’s unchallenged assertion that McAllister had been “vindicated.” Attorneys for the two sides shook hands amicably and left the courtroom without really explaining what had happened.

The victim was simply abandoned to the tender mercies of public speculation.

It was therefore more than a little heartening to finally hear a piece on VPR this afternoon that showed more empathy for the victim than was exhibited in the immediate aftermath of the aborted trial.

From VPR, we learned that the Prosecution had made the decision to drop the case after the Defense pointed to something that the victim “lied” about in her testimony. We are told that the victim felt question asked was “too personal” and, in any case,  irrelevant to the case; but the prosecutor, nevertheless, decided to withdraw the charges when the victim admitted that she hadn’t answered truthfully..

I think I might know what this is all about and it really was a very poor reason to abandon the case. If I am mistaken, I would really like someone to set me straight.

Toward the close of the cross-examination, she was clearly reaching the end of her emotional tether.  Perhaps realizing she was that close to breaking, the Defense began to pressure her about physical evidence of the crime on her body, and in rapid succession she said, “no,no, no” to every intimate question that was asked.  Her body language indicated to me that they had hit a wall of resistance to any further indignity.  She’d had enough.

The other possibility that occurs to me is that the Defense succeeded in persuading the Prosecution that they could dispute a detail of the first attack as she described it, by referencing her Facebook page.

In her testimony, the victim said that her ponytail had been dyed purple at the time of the first attack. At the break, I overheard the Defense, first discussing among themselves; then,with the Prosecution, that this was “impossible” because photos on her Facebook page showed her with a purple ponytail a year later but not in any of the photos on her Facebook page that date to the time of the first attack.

Having had a teenager, I know, as probably most people do, that these colors can be applied rather spontaneously and disappear or are rinsed away rather easily. She could very well have had a purple ponytail at the time of the first attack too, but not been photographed with it.

It is, in any case, the kind of detail that could easily become confused in the memory of a girl suffering the mental anguish of rape and trying to suppress that memory in order to keep it secret.

If this is what caused the Prosecution to drop the charges, it is a pretty poor reason.

Either way, the inconsistencies in her testimony could have easily been explained by the Prosecution as consistent with PTSD from sexual abuse.

An Environmental Double-Header in Montpelier

This ought to be good!

On Wednesday evening in Montpelier, Vermont Conservation Voters and the Vermont Natural Resources Council will present the first comprehensive debates for BOTH parties on environmental issues.

As much of the nation broils in record-breaking heat or grapples with water shortages, the environment is finally recognized by both parties (at least in Vermont) as a topic of public concern.

Congratulations to VCV and VNRC for pulling this thing together. it must have been like herding cats.

Enough said; here are the details:

Montpelier, VT – Vermont Conservation Voters (VCV) and the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) will co-host a gubernatorial candidate debate on key environmental issues facing the state this Wednesday (6/22) evening in Montpelier. The candidates will be asked to share their environmental priorities and plans for addressing significant issues facing Vermont — including clean energy and climate change, cleaning up Lake Champlain and other waterways, toxic chemical contamination, healthy forests and wildlife, and sustainable communities. With environmental issues of interest to so many Vermonters, and with candidates who will likely provide very different visions for how to tackle these issues, this event should prove interesting and informative for Vermonters heading into the August 9th Primary Election.

What:          Gubernatorial Candidate Debate on Environmental Issues

 
Who:           Candidates Phil Scott, Bruce Lisman, Sue Minter, Matt Dunne, and Peter Galbraith; Hosted by VCV & VNRC; Moderated by VTDigger’s Anne Galloway.

 
When:         Wednesday, June 22, 5:30-8:30 p.m.;

 

Welcome Reception 5:30-6:30pm; Republican Candidates Debate 6:30-7:30pm; Democratic Candidates Debate 7:30-8:30pm

 
Where:        The Chapel in College Hall at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, 36 College Street, Montpelier

Texas: if at first you don’t secede, call for help

This coming summer, the mosquito-borne Zika virus could be troublesome for many Southern states, including Texas.

texasbitesWisely, that state is reviewing plans and preparing preventive measures against the disease that is linked to serious birth defects and Guillain-Barre syndrome.Officials are deeply worried that the state’s  declining to expand Medicaid has left gaps in women’s healthcare that will reduced the ability to educate Texans about Zika risks.

As of March, Florida, New York and Texas had the highest number of confirmed Zika cases in the US. Unlike New York the Southern states Florida and Texas share restrictive laws on women’s access to health clinics and legal abortions. The focus is Zika now but Heather Busby, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, a prominent reproductive rights group. Explains: “It’s really part of a larger problem regarding the lack of reproductive health care at all levels in Texas.”

Part of their plan now is to rely on and cooperate with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fearing  a health crisis Governor Greg Abbott (R) has called cooperation with the federal agency critical for the state, and he has asked for $11 million in US funding for Zika “surveillance and infrastructure.”

The Texas governor is doing the right thing for public health, but you have to wonder how he squares this cry for federal help with the state’s relentless drumbeat toward secession from the USA to form an independent nation of Texas.

While the move for Texas to secede is regarded as a “fringe” movement, support has grown in the last eight years, mostly among Republicans. It should be noted that the governor’s office (plus the lieutenant governorship), both houses in the state’s legislature, and all of the elected governing boards are controlled by the GOP.

This spring, at their convention, the Texas GOP came within two votes of agreeing to hold a vote over secession from the United States.

In 2015 Gov. Abbott went so far as to order the Texas State Guard to monitor a US Navy SEAL/Green Beret training exercise taking place in the state, a move based on fears it was the prelude to an “invasion” by the USA.

“It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon.” said Abbott.

A couple months ago the governor called for other states to join Texas in a convention to explore ways to regain control he believes has been taken by the federal government.

But as crisis looms, all that independence can be set aside, and for a while we are all Americans again — at least while Zika funding is needed.

And help should reach them — once Texas passports are issued for CDC officials and others are cleared to enter Texas territory. I am sure the $11 million in federal funds can be converted into Texas currency very rapidly.

McAllister Day 1: The Victim on Trial

Today I attended the first day of the long-awaited trial of Franklin County senatorial candidate, Norm McAllister (R) for alleged assaults committed against a then-teenage victim.  

The morning began inauspiciously with a replaced juror, and news that the victim might not appear if the proceedings would be videotaped. She was understandably reluctant to describe the graphic nature of the assaults before the camera’s eye.

For some reason, the attorney for the Free Press advocated most strongly for not sparing the victim from the cameras. In the end, cameras were excluded for the duration of her testimony and she was called to the stand.

The doors opened and a little girl who looked like she might be a high school freshman stepped into the courtroom, accompanied by a victims’ rights advocate. Her taffy colored hair was gathered into a traditional ponytail and she was dressed neatly in jeans and a shirt. She later said that at the time of the alleged assaults she weighed just 85-lbs., and stood four-foot-eleven inches.

Thanks to a deal negotiated by the defense, she cannot be referred to during the trial as “the victim,” since Norm McAllister is disputing whether any crime has been committed. (Try that argument if you are a young black male!) Fortunately, we at GMD are not so constrained, and she will remain “The Victim” in these pages because she did not want the press to identify her, and seemed anguished to learn that her name had already, earlier, been leaked to the media.

After today’s proceedings, I think I better understand why it is so difficult to get sexual assault victims to challenge their tormenters in a court of law. It would be a hideous and demeaning experience even for the most confident and articulate adult.

For an economically disadvantaged and unsophisticated girl, with barely a high school education, her encounter with the “justice” system following sexual trauma is likely to be about enough to finish her off.

At this point, The Victim has been deposed several times over the course of many months, with varying degrees of readinesss, and by people with conflicting agendas. Unsurprisingly for me, her memory is faulty and full of contradictions from one account to the next.

A well educated and mature adult, untroubled by the trauma of sexual assault may find it difficult to understand how her story could be so inconsistent; but consider what that twenty-one year old girl has to contend with. Complicating the recall process was her instinct to hide her ‘shame’ from everyone, but most especially from her boyfriend.

Apart from the direct trauma of the assault, there are societal taboos in play that trigger unjustified feelings of shame and guilt from which the mind may weave a tissue of altered narratives that only serve to complicate recovery of the real memories.

The longer the incidents of trauma persist and the later the attempt at recall, the more likely it is that those memories will be riddled with flaws and fluctuations. All kinds of odd dysfunction occur in individuals suffering abuse. Think of Stockholm Syndrome and the tendency of pedophiles to have been abused themselves as children.

There is likely some underlying pathology to The Victims jumbled memories, as well as the contribution made by her youth at the beginning of the alleged abusive relationship (sixteen or seventeen), and the role of ignorant societal judgements on the violated.

But to dismiss the overarching complaint as a mere fabrication, as I suspect they may be fixing to do in the McAllister case, would be the worst kind of injustice.

Her obvious revulsion at having to discuss the crimes in public could not be concealed. She might have kept the secret of her violation indefinitely if police, investigating other allegations of McAllister’s sexual exploitation, hadn’t come knocking at her door.

Now I am sure she regrets having let them in.

Smack in the middle: New Vista, candidates and a lobbyist

Intrepid blogger/reporter Nicole Antal, who writes in the Daily Upper Valley community website, has written her sixth story about David Hall and New Vista for her Very Vermont column.

Antal, who was first to break the story, has now compiled how local and statewide candidates and office holders stand on the proposed massive project. Hall is the Utah-based engineer/developer and Mormon (member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, aka LDS) who has set out to build a 20,000-resident utopian community in Sharon (the birthplace of LDS founder Joseph Smith) and several surrounding towns. Plans for his futuristic New Vista and descriptions of the proposed community make it sound, at least to me, like a benevolent real-life version of Zardoz.keepitnice2

Although they were contacted twice by Antal, gubernatorial candidates Minter, Lisman, Galbraith,[update: Peter Galbraith commented 6/16 on New Vista on Reddit.com in response to question ] Paige, and Ericson did not respond. Phil Scott and Matt Dunne responded by email.

Dunne expressed a strong desire to preserve the character and quality of Vermont life and says the Act 250 process should support that goal.

Phil “listen and learn” Scott wants to “learn a little more about this curious project to make sure it’s a good idea for the community and the state.” He wonders if “perhaps there’s a good idea in here somewhere.” And, he says, “Like any other developer, they [New Vista] would have to follow the rules and regulations laid out in Vermont’s laws, so we’ll have opportunities to learn more.”  Funny, I notice Scott just can’t quite bring himself to mention Act 250 here in a positive context. Perhaps there’s a good idea in Act 250 after all, Phil.

The area targeted by Hall includes Vermont House districts Windsor-Orange 1 (Royalton, Tunbridge) and Windsor-Orange 2 (Sharon, Thetford, Norwich, and Strafford);  Antal contacted and got responses from all the legislative candidates. It is well worth reading the candidates’ full comments on the Daily Upper Valley website.

All of the local respondents (three Independents, one Republican, and a Democrat) indicated degrees of caution and skepticism over the wisdom of plunking down New Vista and its 20,000 people in rural Vermont. Another notable common thread was how they all seemed thankful to have the Act 250 regulatory process in place. As far as I know New Vista is not far enough along to have become involved in the Act 250 development approval process.

District 2 Republican House candidate David Ainsworth also notes the Act 250 requirement and adds he is “a little bit apprehensive about it [the project’s scale]” but couldn’t resist adding this: “But one of my biggest concerns is the overreaction and putting in a lot of regulations that will restrict everyone else’s opportunities to do things.” Have futuristic utopian city/states, throughout history always favored fewer government regulations and low tax states? I guess he fears Vermont might lose out on the coming boom in utopian city/state developments to New Hampshire.

Nicole Antal’s ongoing effort to get candidates and elected officials on public record early on in this process couldn’t come at a better time:  it looks like David Hall will begin a more systematic wooing of Vermonters’ support.

Recognizing a lucrative opportunity, Montpelier lobbyist/PR man Kevin Ellis reportedly solicited Hall for his business and offered his services. Ellis will be making connections and smoothing the way for the high-density 20,000-resident New Vista development. “This may be a great idea,” Ellis says. New Vista, he believes “…would inject millions of dollars and lots of new people into communities.” He could also add, but doesn’t, that the “injection” of dollars and lots of new people (20,000) would permanently, radically change — basically destroy — the existing rural character and lives of a large part of central Vermont.

Luckily we have a record of what the candidates say about New Vista now, let’s see what happens when long-time Montpelier lobbyist and PR ace Kevin Ellis sweet talks them in the years to come.

For now, says Ellis, David Hall is (under his guidance) “reaching out to local officials and residents.”  And later, should the need arise for any state rules or regulations to be adjusted favorably to the planned development by the legislature, long-time Montpelier lobbyist Kevin Ellis probably wants “to be in the middle of it.”

Hmmm,right ‘smack in the middle of it,’ that sounds familiar…

Man with no-name: “Baxter’s over there, Rojo’s there, me right smack in the middle”

[Yup, somebody gets a fistful of New Vista dollars]

Man with no-name: Crazy bell-ringer was right. There’s money to be made in these parts.

Donald Trump says he’s a friend of “LB and LBGT…bigly”

As much as Donald Trump may insist that he is “smart,” the English language sometimes seems to elude him entirely.

Characteristically capitalizing on tragedy in a New Hampshire press appearance, following the horrific  mass shooting at an Orlando gay club, Trump doubled down on the self-congratulation that had been his instinctual first reaction; then ruptured his syntax trying to claim that he is a “friend” to the LGBT community. So unfamiliar are the best interests of that minority to Mr.Trump that he couldn’t even master the identifying acronym and melted down to complete incoherence at the end of the ‘money’ sentence:’

I could hardly believe my ears so I located the video replay online to capture the moment. There’s a long wait until Trump begins his speech, but at 41:10 into the recording my patience was rewarded. After attempting to posit the question of who is the better friend of the LGBT community, he or Hillary Clinton, but failing twice to nail the acronym, this is what he actually said:

“…I will tell you who the better friend is, and someday that will be proven out, BIGLY: Donald Trump.”

I kid you not. He actually invented the word, “bigly.” I don’t even know how to spell it!

Not that very much of the speech was better articulated than were those words, since Trump has the vocabulary of a slow middle schooler, and roughly the same sense of self; but the complete abandonment of the English language at that moment was astonishing. He didn’t hesitate for a minute but just went right on with his schtick, like a carnival barker on speed.

No wonder that yesterday, when it occured, I couldn’t find any reference to the blunder in the blogosphere, which usually seizes upon such word-salad from a public figure like a dog on a dropped hamburger. There’s just too much to keep up with when Trump is on the podium telling outlandish whoppers and calling people names. They’ve just given up on him, and he knows that. In fact, that is what he counts on.

If he talks really fast and doesn’t allow anyone to get a word in edgewise, he can simply ignore inconvenient questions and challenges to his veracity and steamroll on. He creates a wall of whines and snarls that simply exhausts the will to probe it. As a bonus, the angry ignorant go absolutely wild for such caveman antics.

That’s how he managed to crawl over sixteen bodies to grab the brass ring. If you look at any establishment Republican trying to field a question about Donald Trump, they look and act kind of like they are in a daze. They don’t really understand how they find themselves in this situation, even thought it’s their own damned fault.

His complete misunderstanding and mischaracterization of the takeaway from Orlando is mind-boggling. Not only did he run with the idea that the shooter was a recent immigrant from “Afghan,” (not even close); he all but accused the sitting President of being complicit in the crime and in league with terrorists.

Ignoring the obvious takeaway that this was a hate crime, no doubt  inspired by endless inflammatory rhetoric not entirely dissimilar to his own, he has even suggested that what happened in the nightclub could have been prevented if every one there was also packing heat.

Let’s see how that might go down. A darkened nightclub, multiple shots ring out and everybody in the place pulls out a gun and begins firing at whomever they think might have started it. Is there one nefarious shooter or two, or twelve? Nobody knows for sure and everyone is operating in panic mode.  What could possibly go further wrong ?

But suddenly he sees himself as the best friend of “the  gays.”  Hillary Clinton, he insists, wants to take away your Second Amendment rights; again, a total lie, but he’s said it so many times, and so many Republicans want to believe it, that it has become an urban myth.

Nobody gets particularly exercised about his lies anymore. They are an integral part of who he is and if you accept all the other baggage he carries, you have already entered an alternative universe.

His pattern of lying and conning are so familiar now that it is almost discounted from consideration, and everyone goes on with the discussion as if he hasn’t already completely disqualified himself from any elected office, let alone the highest office in the land.

Move over Sara Palin, there’s a new champion of incoherent double-talk in town.

County Courier called out for bias

Here in Franklin County, many people rely on the County Courier to provide weekly perspective on regional, and some national, news.

Lately, many readers have been disappointed to find more and more articles gleaned from national right wing sources creeping into the pages of the Courier, generally without vetting or balance, and  occasionally without complete disclosure of the source.

The latest salvo in this partisan information attack came in the form of a new policy by the Courier concerning “Letters to the Editor” in advance of the 2016 elections. Only letters from incumbent legislators  will be allowed unlimited inclusion in the paper.  Anyone else writing about the election, including opposition candidates, will be limited to a single letter of 100 words or less.  That leaves incumbents with plenty of opportunity to attack their opponents and the opponents almost none for setting the record straight.

Of course, since 10 out of the twelve incumbent legislators are Republican, it’s pretty clear which party this policy is designed to favor.

I hope our own readers will consider adding their voices to the protests against this biased policy.  Here at GMD, we are an unashamedly biased source of opinion, as befits a blog; but the Courier claims to be a newspaper and should limit its bias  to clearly identified editorial content.

Here is the Courier’s email contact:   countycourier@gmail.com

And here follows my own letter to the editor:

Years back, I would routinely pick-up a copy of the Courier because I appreciated the depth of its coverage of local news. Those days are long gone, and the Courier has evolved into an organ of right-wing propaganda, reproducing nationally generated material of questionable accuracy and decided bias without appropriate disclaimers.

That transition is now complete with the announcement of the Courier’s new policy on letters concerning the 2016 election campaign. While challenging candidates and their supporters are limited to one letter of 100 words for the duration of the campaign, incumbent candidates  are allowed virtually unlimited access to the forum.

Given that the Franklin County delegation is almost entirely Republican, as of now, the opposition voice is effectively repressed by your policy. This is a disservice to your readers and to County interests in general.

Consider, in contrast, the habits of the St. Albans Messenger, which prints virtually all letters that are minimally civil, no matter what the point of view. The Messenger is fulfilling its vital traditional role as a community forum, choosing only to limit letters in the last week of an election campaign, when the volume threatens to overwhelm other content. At that point, they simply give a cut-off date for new submissions related to the election. No preference is given to incumbents and their supporters.

Please recommit to your obligation toward the public good and restore the integrity of our County Courier.