A Whistleblower on the Front Lines

There are so many angles to explore in the dysfunctional presidency of Donald J. Trump that we sometimes are overwhelmed into silence by the sheer number and variety of horrors unfolding before us. It is necessary, from time to time, to simply reach into the grab bag and drag one forward.

An essay in the Washington Post, by Joel Clement, a scientist punished by Trump for “whistleblowing,” is definitely worthy of attention.

Until last week, Mr. Clement, was the director of the office of Policy Analysis at the Department of the Interior. He has been reshuffled to the Department’s Office of Natural Resource Revenue where his scientific training will be ignored for financial number-crunching duties.

“…on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to ‘improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,’ the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies. “

His “crime?” Mr. Clement dared to opine on the impact of climate change on Alaskan native communities. In other words, he was just doing his job.

Mr. Clement had been vocal to his superiors about the urgency to address health and safety issues for indigenous peoples, stemming from the climate crisis. It was not something that the administration cared to discuss.

“A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers.”

Mr. Clement does not intend to quit. He has chosen instead to become a whistleblower to alert fellow citizens to the gross and deliberate misuse of human resources that this represents.
All those unfilled administration positions we keep hearing about?  They are just a symptom of the systemic collapse that is already underway, engineered by Steve Bannon and enabled by the Know-Nothing President, Donald J. Trump.

VT GOP Fundraising: Lie down with rodents, get up with ticks

Considering that Vermont Republicans — and our Governor in particular — often bill themselves as being outside the national fray and belonging to the long-fabled (mythical?) “northeast moderate Republican” club, they sure have a history of inviting outspoken GOP nutcase-stars to join their fundraiser events. In the past notables Maine Governor Paul “Bring back the guillotine” LePage and former Congressman Allen West, who believed religious coexistence “would give away our country,” headlined  VTGOP fundraisers.on skids

Now conservative New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu will be the headliner at an August fundraiser for the Vermont Republicans. The Governor will address issues both states face. “As a region, we can continue to have important conversations on affordability, energy, the environment and important regional economic issues,” he promises, according to VTdigger.com.

And as an extra, the Vermont GOPer’s could likely get some helpful tips on how to restrict voting rights. In a recent diary I wrote that Governor Sununu is right in lock-step with the not-so-moderate national GOP trend to limit voter registration. Shortly before this year’s election on Boston talk/news radio Sununu alleged Democrats practiced voter fraud and said: “[…] when Massachusetts elections are not very close, they’re [Democrats] busing them in [to New Hampshire] all over the place.” He got a pants on fire rating for that one from politifact.com.

President Trump referenced alleged New Hampshire vote fraud as justification when he announced his Election Integrity Commission. After taking office Sununu called for “tightening up” voting laws. Last month New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a member of Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, readily agreed to hand over voting records. He has since said NH will “hold off” Commission vice chairman Kris Kobach’s fifty-state request for voters’ names, addresses, dates of birth, party affiliation, last four social security number digits and voting histories since 2006 pending the outcome of an ongoing legal challenge from the ACLU.

Sununu is unlikely to offer the same level of wacko blather as LePage or West, but his support for boosting his own and Trump’s voting restrictions is at odds with the concerns of average Vermont voters. But regarding the VTGOP’s “moderate” reputation and character: maybe a true view of the party’s reputation is exposed by the characters they  choose to headline their fundraisers.

McAllister guilty on only one count of “prohibited acts.”

The verdict is in.

We all heard the same evidence that the jury did. We heard the tape recorded conversation in which Norm McAllister discussed his sexual interactions with the alleged victim in the grossest terms.

We heard her tearful and painfully detailed account of those same interactions in direct testimony from the stand.

We heard the Defense’s one scheduled witness, McAllister’s son Heath, noticeably hesitate as he responded in his father’s defense.

Then we heard Norm McAllister unexpectedly take the stand and essentially tell a tale completely opposite to that of the alleged victim, but with none of the visceral emotion betrayed in the woman’s voice.

Apparently, when the chips were down, the jury chose McAllister’s testimony as more credible, which begs the question: why?

Was it because the jury was predominantly male and societal attitudes remain in a place of denial about the legitimacy of rape complaints?

Was it because the alleged perpetrator was a “pillar of society,” a state senator, landowner and patriarch of a prominent Franklin County farm family; whereas the alleged victim was poor, powerless, and a prior victim of domestic abuse?

I have no idea; but the verdict makes no sense to me…especially since the jury did apparently believe McAllister was guilty of procurement for prostitution.

No doubt the fact that evidence of other sexual assault complaints against McAllister was excluded from the proceedings, and the fact that jury selection carefully screens for prior knowledge made a significant difference.

No one can fault the principle behind those exclusions, but justice is as often a victim of these discretions as it is a beneficiary.

In this case, justice was left crying in the dust.

I can venture that opinion because I was there at the first McAllister trial as well. I remember the emotionally scarred young woman, barely more than a girl, who had been persuaded to brave the courtroom to confront her accused assailant. It was clearly torture for her to relive her degradation in front of a courtroom full of curious listeners. Her participation was an act of greater bravery than most of us have ever been called upon to do, but, under relentless pressure and embarrassment, she told a desperate fib to preserve her current relationship…an insignificant fib about never having kissed a co-worker, and, when she confessed to her attorney her case was abandoned by the prosecutor and all that pain was for nought.

I still wonder how she is doing, having prostrated herself before the law only to be cast out into the judgmental world, never knowing the balm of justice.

The woman involved in the current case is older and more experienced in life’s cavalcade of never-ending disappointments, but still she shed real tears in her testimony, her cheeks burning with shame and degradation.

Her future is far more uncertain than that of her exploiter, even with his one conviction.

There is no true justice tonight.

Norm McAllister in the dock once again.

Ex-senator Norm McAllister is back in court, and this time it looks like the trial will play out to a jury decision. Accused of exploiting a vulnerable woman (one of three who filed related complaints) in a sex-for-rent scheme, McAllister faces one count of rape and two more for procurement.

The third alleged victim passed away before having had a chance to testify against McAllister; so this is the last opportunity for the Franklin County prosecutors to hold McAllister accountable for the violations his accusers say he has committed against them.

It took two and a half days to seat a jury, and opening arguments were presented yesterday afternoon. Having already sat through days of false starts at the courthouse in the McAllister matters, I chose to skip the first three days of the current iteration; but today I was there for the duration.

As was the case in McAllister’s first trial, just witnessing the victim’s distress on the stand was harrowing. The first trial ended, without a decision, when the prosecution withdrew charges after the victim fibbed on an incidental embarrassing fact that should have had absolutely no impact on what appeared to be a very strong case for serial sexual assault. She sat, with obvious reluctance, through hours of painful and humiliating questioning, while her ‘alleged’ abuser remained silent, stolidly safe in his seat, facing forward and avoiding the gaze of the gallery.

It was gut-wrenching to witness her distress at having to relive the incidents before the prying eyes of the jury, press and public; but relive it, she did.

This time, we heard graphic details of gross and humiliating acts of sexual degradation allegedly performed on the victim’s person while she wept and pleaded with her assailant to stop. At one particularly painful and degrading point in her ordeal, the perpetrator shushed her loud objections, then said “Good girl.” as if she was one of his livestock.

Her explanation for tolerating the sexual exploitation for so long centered on the fact that she was homeless when she accepted work and a place to live at the McAllister farm and was trying to satisfy the state in order to regain custody of her children. She already had a sad history of earlier abuse at the hands of her on-again/off-again husband that had contributed to the loss of custody.

Her testimony was compelling; nevertheless, the Defense asked Judge Martin Malley to dismiss all the charges on a technicality; something the judge refused to do, observing that evidence had been presented on all three charges that could support conviction, should the jury reach that conclusion.

The prosecution rested its case at the end of the day. Tomorrow morning, the trial continues, even though Mr. McAllister himself does not appear to be willing to testify.

It is anticipated that testimony will conclude by midday tomorrow, after which the jury will be allowed to deliberate at its leisure.

Just a “hoax” ? No,and it is as big as…

In addition to recently pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords, our own climate-denier-in-chief really has tweeted climate change skepticism 115 times. In 2012 Trump accused the Chinese government of promoting the “hoax” of climate change science in order to gain competitive advantage over the U.S.A.ahoax

Regardless of what Donald Trump might tweet or want to believe about climate change, this is not hoax: one of the largest icebergs ever recorded — 2,200 square miles — has broken off from Antarctica. For now, some scientists caution, it is too soon to determine if this is a direct result of climate change — but it certainly focuses the mind.

But how big is the giant iceberg compared to the size of something most people can comprehend? Well, if you are are familiar with Ukraine, it is half the size of the Transcarpathian region. The online news site Quartz.com has a regional rundown of what in the world something so large can be compared to so we can understand the magnitude of what just happened. asbigas

And should President Trump care to give the giant iceberg a second thought while watching a the Bastille Day parade and festivities in France this week he might find it enlightening to know that it is  55 times the size of Paris.

Trump Jr. and the word of the day

The NYTimes.com is out with a big story. They report that during the campaign, Donald Trump Jr. was told before holding a meeting with a Russian lawyer that information damaging to Hillary Clinton he might  access would be coming from the Russian government. President Trump’s son in-law and current multi-tasking White House adviser Jared Kushner and his then-campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.

word of the dayThe Times article is pay walled but here’s a link is to TPM.com placing the meeting in context of the campaign: Less than six weeks before Wikileaks released its first tranche of emails, only a month before that still never explained platform intervention, Donald Trump Jr was asked to take a meeting with a Russian lawyer who had dirt on Hillary Clinton. He was told that the dirt was the product of a Russian government program. He took the meeting in hopes of getting the dirt. [added emphasis]

Like it or not we are cursed to live in interesting times — with Trump. So, sadly, a little birdie keeps telling us this drama still has a long and likely painful way to go before it plays itself out.

 

 

And so it begins to affect us all: Nationalization of voter information

First, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came for the undocumented workers — mostly brown-skinned people from Mexico and Central American countries. Then, they came for Muslims from Africa and the Middle East with a travel ban, based on nothing more than the fact that their countries are majority Muslim, several of which are at war or in famine, resulting in refugees. Next they came to obliterate access to health insurance and health care for 22 million people, many of whom likely voted for the current president.

And now ‘they’ — Trump’s GOP — are coming for all the rest of us who vote and who oppose the current regime.

As BP has outlined,  the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” created by executive order and featuring Vice President Mike Pence and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is coming for your name, address, birthdate, (partial) social security number, military service status, voting history, felony convictions, and more.

[While Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos has voiced his opposition to these demands, he has also said he must comply to the extent that some information is routinely available to the public, by providing voters’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, years of their birth, and whether the voters participated in general elections since 2008.]

[Update from vtdigger.org while this post was in process:] But Monday [July 3], citing new information and a public outcry over the weekend, Condos issued a statement saying he wouldn’t send any information until receiving certain assurances from the Trump administration. [emphasis added] Condos questioned the security of transmittal processes specified by the Commission and how the data will be used.

And most importantly, Condos is quoted by VtDigger as refusing to provide any information  “until I receive answers to these important questions,” he said. “I am working with the Vermont attorney general’s office to understand all of our options, and we will take the full amount of time allotted to respond with what information that is already publicly available, if any, will be provided.” That deadline is July 14, 2017.

Kobach in particular is notorious for making unsubstantiated claims about massive ‘voter fraud’ and litigating in support of various restrictive ordinances and laws, for example, requiring a state-issued photo ID and/or proof of citizenship to be shown by every person attempting to vote.

I have called on  the Vermont Democratic Party’s interim chairman, Faisal Gill, and its executive director, Conor Casey, to issue a statement opposing compliance with the demands of the ‘Voter Fraud Commission.’

To help Jim Condos, our elected Secretary of State, stand strong, you could send him a note in support of noncompliance with this transparent attempt to nationalize all the states’ voter rolls. Then send one to Rep. Peter Welch, Senator Patrick Leahy, and Senator Bernie Sanders. If you think it will do any good, you might consider sending something to Governor Phil Scott, too.

You could include a statement identifying the White House’s Election Integrity Commission or “Voter Fraud Commission” as a radical Republican effort to nationalize all the states’ voter rolls and to suppress voting by Democrats and liberal-identified opposition groups.

The second action item could be an urgent message to Secretary of State Jim Condos to continue to deny access to Vermont’s voter information by this bogus commission. The demand for such information is without rational justification and undermines democracy. It calls for a response of civil disobedience by our Secretary of State to these overreaching demands in the service of a budding dictatorship.

The third action item you might consider is a call to your state legislator to amend or repeal the law Secretary Condos says he must obey, the law that requires him to send at least some of the information. These demands are not being made in normal circumstances or by honorable men preserving democratic processes: they are thugs seeking to preserve their power by any and all means, particularly by finding ways to suppress votes by anyone who might be opposed to the current administration.

The next item on your action list could be a call, a conversation, an email to all your friends and relatives, allies and fence-sitters, whether they are Democrats, civil libertarians, Progressives, allies, and even moderate Republicans, asking them to call, write, or email Jim Condos to support his continuing to resist this transparently anti-democratic tactic.

We hope that members of all those various groups will also contact the members of our congressional delegation to urge them to speak out against this precursor to the nationalization of voter information. The main reason Russian attempts to hack the vote were unsuccessful was that each state voting district and municipality controls its own lists and tallies; centralizing that information in the hands of this partisan federal commission simply does the hackers’ job for Russia.

Further you might get in contact with groups interested in protecting the right to vote from partisan interference, including the ACLU, the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, the Vermont Workers’ Center, and others. We must stand together.

And if nothing else seems to work, it might be time to bring out the signs in Montpelier for a massive show of resistance to federal control of state voter rolls.

If the so-called ‘Election Integrity Commission’ succeeds in its quest for all voter information from all the states and territories, it will be the masterstroke that will begin America’s devolution into a dictatorship. We must stand together, now.

It’s Independence Day in Vermont

4thpostcardI figured I’d haul out the Fourth of July blimp postcard.

Even if you are not marking today with “[…] Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations” as John Adams suggested in a letter written July 3, 1776, what celebrates independence more than the right to vote?

And so here’s a timely tweet from Charlie Pierce reminding us why voting matters.Untitled-1July 14th is the deadline for states to comply with Trump and the GOP’s bogus voting “fraud” commission request for extensive voter registration data from all fifty states. Over half Forty one have refused to comply fearing that the real mission of Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission — run by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — is to suppress voting — and slate.com says, to eventually gut and repeal the National Voter Registration Act.

On Monday Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos (D) left no doubt about our state’s position: “I want to make one thing perfectly clear: Vermont will NOT be complying with the Commission’s request for Vermont voters’ private and sensitive information,”* Condos said Monday in a written statement. “Protecting the privacy and security of Vermont voters’ most sensitive information is something I take very seriously, and I will not compromise the privacy of Vermont citizens to support the Trump Administration’s witch hunt for widespread voter fraud, which has been disproven many times over by non-partisan experts.”[added emphasis]

Happy Independence Day Vermont

*The fine print: Condos: “I will not release any more information about Vermont voters than is available to any citizen requesting our voter file.”

Whatever any member of the public is entitled to from Secretary of State records will be available — so that would mean no social security numbers, DOBs, or other ‘private’ info. Our names, addresses, and voting histories (which are public info) will be in Pence-Kobach’s hands within the deadline period.

Do We Really Need a President?

After five months of Donald J. Trump, we find ourselves in the midst of an unscheduled test of the relevancy of the U.S. constitutional power structure.

It could be argued that, much as it is the underlying premise of medical ethics, “do no harm” should be the first requirement of any president. Like so many other controls on presidential power that were assumed to be unnecessary in the early days of the federation, that simple rule was left out of constitutional consideration.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that the U.S. constitution is currently viewed by many originalists as almost equal to the Word of God in its unassailability, there is solid precedent for some pretty radical amendment to that original document. At least half of the country would probably agree that there are enough fundamental issues open to serious debate that a new constitutional convention is more than warranted…not that that is likely to happen anytime soon.

If it were to happen, we might want to reconsider the office of the presidency in its entirety. If Donald Trump has taught most Americans anything it is that entirely too much license is left to the President to do as he pleases. I suppose, at the beginning of the American experiment, the assumption was that any person who would be chosen by majority vote for a limited time in office would essentially be pre-selected for having the highest integrity, or at least feel compelled to perform convincingly as a man of integrity. The three branch model of governance, with its hallowed system of “checks and balances,” was all that was deemed necessary to limit presidential power.

Since then, we’ve seen the creep of partisan gerrymandering and unbridled influence peddling undermine congressional integrity. Threat-enabled executive order powers and highly politicized manipulation of Justice Dept. appointments have completed the trifecta of corruption, delivering us to the dangerous crossroads at which our democracy stands today.

Enter Donald Trump; by majority opinion, the worst president in history. The best we can hope for is that he remains as ineffective as he is irresponsible. We have no tools to control him. As he puts it: he is president and we are not.

He is president, not because the majority of people chose him over all the very smart and capable people in the land, but because flaws in the political system enabled an extremely venal and incapable individual to exploit the worst instincts of a poorly prepared minority electorate. Now he holds absolute control over the most terrifying capabilities in human history.

Say what you will, this is NOT what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.

Why do we even have an all-powerful presidency? I would argue that it is only because our fledgling nation had not fully weaned itself from the paternalistic model of monarchy.

A parliamentary system, such as that of Canada, might make more sense for us.

There still would be one nominal head of state, the Prime Minister, but his power would be sharply limited by the need to maintain not only a majority endorsement from voters, but also consensus within his/her entire party on an ongoing basis. If support from fellow party members dipped significantly, an election would be called and a new party leader chosen.
Whether or not the party maintained control of the government would then be a question for the voters.  If a sitting Prime Minister’s own popularity dipped to Trumpian lows, he would be forced to call an election.  ‘None of this carte blanche for four years business in the parliamentary model.

Two-hundred-and-forty years of nationhood may sound like a long time but relatively speaking, the U.S. is still in its toddler years. One is tempted to call them its “terrible twos.” Even the president’s cabinet level appointments seem to be more focussed on dismantling the longstanding agencies of public service than effectively administering them.

What we have now is a dangerously dysfunctional governance model that seems increasingly unlikely to withstand the test of time. We’ve already suffered through one terrible civil war and it seems we are revisiting some of the same old grievances. Political tribalism is at a fever pitch, and the political success of Donald Trump guarantees that he won’t be the last venal charlatan to scramble all the way to the top.

As much as many may fear the uncertainty of a Constitutional Convention, it is a reckoning that is long overdue.   Happy Fourth of July.americanflag

Wow, the ratings are in and the world swamped Trump!

It is well known Donald Trump, former reality TV performer, is obsessed with his own popularity in polls. He once called himself a ratings machine, but following a few short months in office, his worldwide numbers are in: a poll shows more than three quarters of the world has no confidence in President Trump.

According to a Pew Research Center survey of 37 nations, a median of just 22% has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. This stands in contrast to the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when a median of 64% expressed confidence in Trump’s predecessor to direct America’s role in the world. It is worth noting the survey was conducted before Trump’s widely unpopular decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords.

Pew Research found the biggest decline in worldwide public trust in Trump and his administration was with our closest allies in Europe and Asia.

Mirroring the numbers garnered by President Obama, the poll also showed that America as a country was popular then, and much less so now: In the closing years of the Obama presidency, a median of 64% had a positive view of the U.S. Today, just 49% are favorably inclined toward America. Only in two countries — Russia and Israel — out of the 37 polled, did Trump get higher marks than former President Obama had while in office.

Trumparrogant The resoundingly negative view around the world is an issue of the Trump character as well as policy. In the eyes of most people surveyed around the world, the White House’s new occupant is arrogant, intolerant and even dangerous. Among the positive characteristics tested, his highest rating is for being a strong leader [a bully?]. Fewer believe he is charismatic, well-qualified or cares about ordinary people.

Although the American people and popular culture are maintaining a reservoir of favorable opinion, the Guardian.com sees a troublesome trend developing, noting the Pew findings: […] also shows that the low level of support for the president is leading to a decline in support for wider American values. Just 49% expressed a broadly positive view of the US, compared with 64% in surveys carried out 2015 and 2016.

And Vermonters have only to look north to see what effect Trump’s “charm” has on our Canadian neighbors. For the first time in Pew Research history, most Canadians no longer regard America as a force for good in the world.

Just 43% of Canadians have a positive view of their neighbour.

I recall Trump’s 2016 New Hampshire primary victory speech when he promised: “And the world is going to respect us again. Believe me.”

Well maybe it’s time to cancel his show due to low ratings. Not so good Donald … sad, believe me.anvil3