All posts by Sue Prent

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

Norm McAllister plays the world’s smallest violin…again.

Just in case anyone still cares, you should know that, according to the Messenger, perennial victim of unfair antipathy toward serial sexual assaulters, Norm McAllister wants to have his conviction on one count of “prohibited acts” overturned.That’s right: following one aborted trial concerning accuser #1, a teenager at the time of the alleged assaults; the untimely death of accuser #2, and the defense’s successful end-run against all but one of the lesser charges concerning accuser #3, Mr. McAllister wants another bite at the apple of complete exoneration.

Nevermind the fact that he has twice put the state through the costs of preparation and jury selection to hear the case concerning accuser #3. You may recall that Mr. McAllister abruptly entered a plea of guilt after the first day of the first trial, because the audio evidence was judged so damning by his defense team. The next morning he demanded that he be allowed to revoke his plea and stand trial all over again, claiming his defense team had bullied him into the plea.  (whimper, whimper...)

If you read the comments on stories about these trials, made almost entirely by men…and men who were not in attendance at the trials, I might add…you will understand why Mr. McAllister has felt emboldened to play the victim, over-and-over again. With few exceptions, these gentlemen, enlightened by nothing more than brief second-hand summaries of recordings and testimonies, all conclude that McAllister did nothing wrong; often adding a superfluous observation to the effect that “women often lie about these things.” The passion of these remarks makes one wonder about the gentlemen’s own personal histories on consent!

Statistically, nothing could be further than the truth. Not only is sexual assault drastically underreported; on the occasions when it is reported, the deeply personal nature of the crime means that it is rarely brought successfully to trial. The percentage of false accusations is around 5% or less. Few men are ever held accountable for their sexual assaults.

And what is the possible sentence that Mr. McAllister is facing for his “unfair”conviction? All of $100. or a year in jail. Tsk, tsk…how unjust.

Worlds-smallest-violin

 

Vermont’s town clerks do the darnedest things!

Vermont may not have the criminal cachet of bigger states, but in one specialized area of wrong doing, we could claim some eccentric distinction.

That area is, of course, embezzlement by town clerks.

The latest tale of disappearing dollars in Coventry is told so well by Dan Schwartz of Vermont Digger that I will leave you to read about the epic failure by local authorities to bring the culprit to justice, from that reliable source.

Suffice it to say that Cynthia Diaz, now former town clerk, treasurer, and tax collector  of Coventry, is suspected of embezzling over one million dollars over the course of her thirteen year tenure by pocketing cash payments to the Town and writing unwarranted checks in payment to herself from the Town.

It appears that the situation was compounded by incompetence from the town select board and some rather odd behavior by the fired town lawyer, Bill Davies.

‘Turns out that Ms. Diaz had a history of suspicion for embezzlement from her previous employer, Gray’s Paving. Apparently she has been under investigation in one place or the other since 2005. The Feds have been on her tail for years. She was even convicted on two misdemeanor tax evasion charges; but no one’s managed to nail her for embezzlement before now, and she just kept getting re-elected.

Using the “carrot and stick” approach, she kept an intimidating Rottweiler in the office with her but also “forgave” some people’s tax debts, as it suited her. There were many irregularities, like a missing grand list, and many creative excuses.

She had a bank account in the Bahamas, was receiving wire transfers from
an ex-husband in Panama, and holds properties in remote locations like Hawaii.

How did Ms. Diaz manage to remain in office all these years? Apparently she was also pretty good at playing the martyr and had somehow convinced the voters that she was just a victim of a “witch hunt.”

Don’t laugh. That performance has worked in higher office than Coventry town hall.

The whole story is worthy of novelization. Diaz apparently had complete power over town offices and used simple key control to deny anyone access to anywhere she liked. When Scott Morley of the select board finally gained access to the attic above town offices, after people had remarked on the sound of animals moving about overhead, he discovered it contained feral cats and filthy litter boxes.

What the hell???

She has already destroyed the thumb drive of town records that she routinely carried back and forth to work, and other important paperwork also appears to be missing.

Finally, the grownups seem to have retaken the kindergarten, and the new town attorney, Paul Gillies, is hot on what’s left of her paper trail.

How things could have gotten so far out of hand in the little town of roughly 1,000 souls is a very good question until you remember my previously favorite embezzlement story from Isle LaMotte, (2009) in which the Town Clerk was the daughter of the select board chairman, who reimbursed the City from his own pocket when he learned that she had dipped into the till to the tune of $150,000. Because a second select board member was the woman’s boyfriend, they managed to keep the whole affair a secret. Those kinds of secrets rarely go undiscovered, and the culprit was ultimately sentenced to 90 days in the pokey.

You just gotta love this quirky little state.

Surprise! Trump uses and abuses the LGBTQ community.

This morning, not satisfied with throwing his best political friend, Jeff Sessions, under the bus, Donald J. Trump once again betrayed his election promise to be “better for the LGBTQ community than Hillary Clinton.”

Of course, he did it in a tweet. Offering the wholly unconvincing claim that “his” generals had recommended the radical change in policy, the Tweeter in Chief proclaimed that henceforth, transgendered people would not be allowed to serve in the military, in any capacity.  No mention of what will become of the many transgendered people currently serving in the military.

That we are not the least bit surprised by either the injustice of the decision or the casual manner of its delivery gives testament to the horrifying trajectory upon which we have been traveling since Inauguration Day. We are becoming conditioned to the unthinkable.

This phenomena is, in itself, worthy of examination.

Donald Trump may be an ignorant fool, but he is a primitive master at distraction.

As Congress prepares to grill DT Junior and Paul Manaford, focussing public attention squarely on the Russian investigation, Trump is redirecting his enemies’ attention to the concerns of the LGBTQ community.

This is a safe outrage to court, as it simultaneously plays to his generally intolerant base.

If the ploy is successful, at least some of the news cycle will be preoccupied with the inevitable reaction.

The American public has already come to accept that Mr. Trump is an inveterate liar. So, no surprise there. That, on reflection, is a pretty shocking adaptation.

When you think of where we’ve come to since the turn of the century, when our liberal democracy was finally coming into its own only to be sent into a reactionary tailspin by 9/11, you have to acknowledge that Al Quaida succeeded in its expressed goal: to bring down the American way of life.

They could not have imagined a more effective partner than Donald J.Trump.

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.

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.

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

Cradle-to-College Public Education Can Revitalize Vermont

Vermont is looking for ways to grow economically without betraying its sustainability commitments. In order to succeed in competition for a skilled workforce with other states, we must provide unique living opportunities tailored to the needs of young families.

At the same time, we are learning that daycare services, vital to a youthful workforce, are drying up in Vermont. The poor pay for providers and lack of possibilities for professional development make fast-food service jobs look almost like an attractive alternative.

What better incentive could Vermont offer, in order to retain and attract desirable businesses and young careerists, than to provide a new tier of public education to serve that essential need?

With a declining primary school population, many communities have more brick-and-mortar capacity than they can currently fill, and statewide efforts are focussed on consolidation.

Why not redirect those assets to a program of certified public daycare/early childhood ed, and roll it into the administrations of local school boards that are already in the process of adapting to consolidations?

If we begin now to provide tuition-forgiveness incentives for qualified students to enroll in early childhood education programs at colleges and universities in the state; and provide a professional track for daycare providers to become certified early education providers under state rules, we could begin to rebuild that essential work-support infrastructure.

Under this plan, as qualified teachers, early childhood care/education providers should be allowed to negotiate their contracts with school boards just as their primary and secondary school colleagues do.

All indications are that investments made in early childhood care and education more than return their value in reduced costs to society from the many undesirable outcomes that are avoided over the years: drug addiction, domestic violence, persistent poverty, crime and incarceration, .

Even costs associated with mental illness and poor health habits can be greatly reduced by early childhood education interventions.

At the same time, being a pioneer state in providing cradle-to-college public education would set Vermont above others as a singularly desirable location for any up-and-coming business requiring a skilled workforce to locate it’s operations for the longterm.

The budget is bigger than one political sparring point

No sooner have we cautiously congratulated Gov.Phil Scott for stepping up to the plate on Climate Change, than we have to call him out on the budget veto.

As Lauren Hierl of Vermont Conservation Voters points out that the budget is not all about teachers’ health insurance:

“The Vermont budget funds numerous programs that support safe drinking water, clean air, healthy communities, a thriving outdoor tourism economy, and so much more. We can’t afford to play political games with funding for these vital programs, and that’s why we’re calling on Governor Scott to sign the budget,” said Lauren Hierl, political director for Vermont Conservation Voters.

With environmental protection so jeopardized under the Trump administration, any delay by the state in continued support for its many responsible initiatives threatens our future.

Despite all the squabbling over teachers’ healthcare, the Legislature has met its obligation to put forth a budget for the entire basket of statewide operating costs. It is now up to the Governor to set politics aside and sign it.

As John Walters notes in Seven Days, even though Governor Scott went ahead and vetoed both the budget bill and the property tax bill in a single sweep, the state Constitution requires that each bill be addressed separately.

The upshot is that Governor Scott has a chance to reconsider the political heavy-handedness of his veto; so we ask him to reconsider the greater good of the state as a whole and sign the budget.

Who ‘turned’ the 2016 GOP Convention Platform?

As Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller hunkers down, subpoenas stalk the corridors of power, and James Comey is set to testify before Congress, how about having a word or two with the Chair and Co-Chairs of the 2016 GOP Platform Committee?

‘Seems like it’s about time to revisit the story of changes to the 2016 GOP Platform that
dramatically altered the party’s position on arming the Ukraine to resist Russian incursions.

Perhaps Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming (chair), Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma (co-vice-chair) and Rep. Virginia Foxx of N.C.(the other co-vice-chair) could shed some light on the subject.

News reports contemporary to the Convention indicated that, at the behest of the Trump team, the party platform was altered,  eliminating a call for lethal defense arms to be supplied to the Ukrainians for their fight against the Russians. That story was later challenged by, among others in the Trump campaign’s inner circle, Paul Manafort, international man of mystery, himself.

On July 18, The Washington Post wrote:

The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.images

Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, worked as a lobbyist for the Russian-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych for more than a decade.

“This is another example of Trump being out of step with GOP leadership and the mainstream in a way that shows he would be dangerous for America and the world,” said Rachel Hoff, another platform committee member who was in the room.

Of course Mr. Manafort has suffered a marked credibility downgrade since last summer, but the FBI would, nevertheless, very much like a word with him.

If we are to believe the denials of Manafort and the rest of Trump’s retinue, we are forced to accept that the revision to the platform just happened spontaneously, unaided by human intervention. It certainly wasn’t proposed by any mainstream Republicans, who have predictably been even more hostile to the Russians than have Democrats.

One could be forgiven for forgetting Republican hawks’ traditional  hard position on Russia, as they have recently become such fervent apologists for Donald Trump (and, by extension, Russia) tut-tutting the very idea of Russian intervention on Trump’s behalf. Only Lindsey Graham and John McCain seem at all familiar on the subject.

It’s positively surreal; but that’s the new GOP.

Anyway, if the chair and co-chair persons can’t shed some light on this odd transformation of policy, there are a couple of other platform delegates whom I am sure would be more than happy to tell us what happened.

According to NPR (Aug. 21, 2016):

“It started when platform committee member Diana Denman tried to insert language calling for the U.S. to provide lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainian government, which is fighting a separatist insurrection backed by Russia. Denman says she had no idea she was “going into a fire fight,” calling it “an interesting exchange, to say the least…

The Trump campaign convinced the platform committee to change Denman’s proposal. It went from calling on the U.S. to provide Ukraine “lethal defensive weapons” to the more benign phrase “appropriate assistance…”

…Another GOP delegate on the platform committee, Rachel Hoff, is a national security analyst with the American Action Forum and believe the final platform language signals that a Trump administration would refuse to send lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.”

Wouldn’t you like to hear from both of these delegates?