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.

Catch-22 in the Hot Zone

“…There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.”                                         -Joseph Heller, “Catch-22.”

Catch-22 cover detail.

This week, Entergy Vermont Yankee’s Government Affairs Manager, Joe Lynch, evoked the logic of “Catch-22” when he suggested that it would be unwise to look for further contamination of the Vermont Yankee site because doing so might redistribute the pollutants to new locations:

“…Additional testing of polluted or potentially polluted areas at Vermont Yankee would ‘introduce the risk of spreading any potential contaminants.’ ”

When further questioned by ANR, Lynch offered the following clarification:

“For instance, he warned that ‘invasive characterization and sampling’ could ‘create new pathways for water infiltration’ – a problem that’ s already causing extra work and expense at Vermont Yankee.”

Lynch also noted that the plant has “active systems still in place” such as fire protection mechanisms that rely on underground pipes.

Oh, those pesky underground pipes! I’m old enough to remember (2010) Entergy insisting to the PSB that there could be no leaks in the undergone pipes because there were no underground pipes.

Eager to get shy of the exhausted milk cow, Vermont Yankee, Entergy is once again indulging in whimsy so as not to further complicate a potential deal with NorthStar. Entergy reinforces its argument against independent sampling with the threat that, should the sale fall through, VY will be mothballed and left standing for decades, laying the exposure risks associated with sampling, as well as the mess of decommissioning, on a future generation of V ermonters.

Here’s your legacy, Kids.  Enjoy and don’t forget to say your prayers!

#Me too.

I am not a young woman. Truth be told, though I refuse to call myself “old”, I am not even a middle-aged woman anymore. Nevertheless, I feel the weight of obligation to my gender to add mine to the voices of all the other women who testify to sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of men in positions of power.

For me, coming of age in the late 60’s was less about the freedoms that the so-called sexual revolution was supposedly opening up in the culture, and more about the license it seemed to offer in the minds of predatory males, who now could freely cross the boundaries of consent that had customarily limited women’s exposure to assault from perfect strangers.

As a teenage girl riding the Chicago transit system to parochial school I had my first nauseating experiences of leering lechers who took advantage of the crowded conditions to press their bodies against me before I could extract myself from the throng. That probably was commonplace long before the sexual revolution, but as the decade advanced, there seemed to be an uptick in easily witnessed breast and ass grabs in passing and crude remarks loudly exchanged amongst snickering groups of men in ties and coats.

Summer jobs provided an ideal opportunity to learn about misogyny in the workplace, as junior file and supply clerks routinely vented their feelings of inferiority by sexually harassing the only candidates that they could bully: teenaged girls who were trapped by their low status and “shameful” lack of experience at deflecting such unwelcome behaviors.

Each invasion felt profoundly confusing and humiliating for me as a kid. I could think of no defense other than to hurry out of reach with my head down, face burning in helpless anger.

I guess I was lucky. Perhaps the worst experience I had was with an x-ray technician working for the Dept. of Immigration in Canada who exploited his official job in order to grope me as I stood in my underwear for the required chest x-ray. I was only nineteen but I had a keen sense of injustice and realized at once that he must be fondling all of the women who passed through his x-ray room. They, like me, would feel unable to protest, for fear that he might do something to affect their immigration status. My silent outrage was off the charts.

The experiences weren’t flattering or even remotely pleasurable for me. As I grew into adulthood, I reached a saturation point with no warning, and, one day, I simply snapped.

At twenty-four, I was living in Berlin, Germany. My boyfriend Mark (now my husband) and I were climbing hurriedly up the crowded subway exit stairs. We became separated in the shuffle and suddenly, as I reached the top step, I felt a hand grab my bottom from behind and give it an almost painful squeeze. Without thinking, I whirled around, grabbed the perpetrator’s arm and twisted it forcefully behind his back as I pushed him against the wall; then slugged him in the face as hard as I could with my free hand.

It all happened in an instant without anyone observing the initial assault. Suddenly the man cried “Was ist los? Was ist los?” Roughly translated, he meant, “Why? Why?” There were plenty of witnesses at this point as I replied, “You know damn well ‘was ist los’; you grabbed me!”

He was a pitiful sack of human rubbish; a poor excuse for manhood; and he took off at a brisk trot as soon as I released him.

My husband was quizzically looking back at the scene in confusion until I told him what had happened. When he heard the whole story, he was utterly delighted with my reaction, but I was shaking with lingering fury and the growing realization that something quite dangerous had been unleashed in me.

Months later, when we were walking on the street late at night, a group of drunken teenaged boys jostled us as they passed. My husband is rather small in stature and I don’t think they realized that he was a man. One of the boys grabbed both of my breasts as he passed me and ran away with his friends. I snapped once again.

I happened to be carrying an umbrella and I took off at a dead run, waving that umbrella ahead of me like a sword. I don’t recall if I said anything, but I pursued them for a block and a half until Mark caught up with me and persuaded me that I could get hurt if I actually connected with the umbrella and started a fight.

I realized in an instant that he was right but the adrenaline flow was almost overpowering.

That was pretty much the conclusion of my vendetta against gropers. I found it very disturbing that a deep well of violent potential clearly existed in me and had twice been provoked into eruption. It took me days to recover from that last episode, and I have to say that I haven’t revisited those feelings in the forty years since; but I had clearly turned the corner on my vulnerability. I would no longer be the humiliated victim of unwanted contact.  After that, I think the message to stay clear must have wafted from me like a pheromone.

I realize that my complaints are relatively minor when compared with those of other women, but I also realize that it is a mistake to dismiss any of these lesser assaults as unworthy of that designation. It is a mistake that we women of the past have made far too often and for far too long. For our silence we owe an apology to our daughters and our granddaughters for whom generations of misunderstood victimhood have set the table for the continued mistreatment of women.

Can you imagine what would happen if men behaved to other men as some do to women? There would be blood in the streets in short order because sexual abuse isn’t about sex, it is an act of violence, whether great or small.

During our annual Halloween party, when my son was in middle school, the most popular boy in the class, a “star” hockey player, upended the smallest girl into our dense shrubbery. Everyone laughed hilariously, including the victim who was flattered by the attention and struggled feebly to extricate herself. When I came upon the scene, I put an end to it and promptly sent the boy and his crew home. Then I sat all the girls down on the porch steps to explain why it was never a good idea to succumb to a boy’s bullying, even if it seemed to be all in good fun. I explained that soon they would be dating, and a relationship that begins with that kind of flirtation could one day end in the girl’s very real victimization.

That lecture had been building up in me for about forty years. I don’t know how much penetrated their hormone flooded brains that day, but I hope the timely intervention made some lasting impression on the little gal in the bushes. It felt really good to do what I could to empower the next generation of women against precursors of abuse that had been quietly accepted when I was young.

This is my testimony and I urge every woman who reads it to give her own.

Stop bellyaching about Vermont’s aging population.

Once again, a Vermont Governor is lamenting the aging of our state population, extrapolating nothing but gloom in our economic forecast.

Yes, we have a surplus of Vermonters over the age of 65; yes, we have declining numbers of youth refreshing our labor force; and yes, we are experiencing slow growth due to labor shortages.

That’s the cup-half-empty picture.

But applying a cup-half-full perspective to the same facts could present a picture of opportunity.

We’ve imagined our state becoming a hub of small scale manufacturing, captive insurance markets, tech industry, specialty foods, recreation and tourist activity. With some success, we have focussed on and incentivized each of these sectors in turn, attempting to fertilize the seeds of state potential.

In each case, we looked to our state’s unique qualities as strengths to be marketed to a larger world, yet we have never thought of an aging population as anything other than an inconvenience bordering on a burden; something to be apologized away or camouflaged by any youngsters we can bring to the front of the queue.

We are missing out on the resource that an older population can represent. If the state incentivizes a state-of-the-art eldercare and senior housing industry, with walkable communities, targeted recreational opportunities and social networking innovations; Vermont could become a trend-setter, attracting the best skilled youth workforce in the healthcare sphere from all over the country.

Those newcomers could become cornerstones of a new generation, expanding our tax base, filling classrooms and playgrounds with future Vermonters.

Embracing the natural aging of our population and viewing it as an opportunity for innovation is the smart way to tackle the future; and we could sure use some “smarts” right about now.

As one of the discounted multitude,  I still have to buy food and clothing, keep a roof over my head, attend to my medical and dental needs, and consume a modicum of entertainment.  I may even spend more money in some instances, than do younger consumers, in order  to create a safe environment in my home, protect my health, coddle grandchildren, beautify my garden, travel and learn.

We’re here; we’re not dying off anytime soon; and we have needs that are often unmet within our communities.  It’s time to give this new market a second look.

Teflon legacy stubbornly sticks to Bennington

As we wait for it to dawn on Texas lawmakers that some of the toxic misery that is being visited upon them is due to lax regulation in a business-first state, Vermont is confronting its own history of safety “compromises.”

In an eye-opening series of feature stories, “Teflon Town,” Vermont Digger and the Bennington Banner explore a tale of regulatory failure that belies Vermont’s clean green reputation

Details of this “business friendly” environmental compromise are damning:

For decades, Vermont officials asked ChemFab to test smokestack emissions to determine whether the company was emitting toxic chemicals in the manufacture of Teflon-coated fabrics. One of those chemicals was PFOA, used to bond the Teflon, or polytetrafluoroethylene, to fiberglass fabric. Those tests were never performed. Instead of requiring ChemFab to meet environmental rules, state officials took a conciliatory approach and repeatedly allowed the company to violate emissions standards without penalty.

According to Digger, even though the state learned of the hazards from PFOA as early as 1997, no attempt was made to test the emissions from the ChemFab facility in Bennington for this substance until 2016. This, because the premier producer of Teflon-coated fabrics was considered too important to the Vermont economy to inconvenience with regulatory overbsight that the company claimed (falsely) to avoid in other locations.

•Residents filed hundreds of complaints about a “dirty plastic” odor from the North Bennington plant over a 24-year period.

•The company was supposed to catalog every chemical in the smokestack emissions. Results from testing in 1985, which established the baseline monitoring standards for a 15-year period, were badly executed. The tests were “not representative of stack emissions,” according to Mike Kawahata, the scientist with Environment One Corporation, the contractor for ChemFab that conducted the tests. State Rep. Marie Condon told DEC officials that it appeared ChemFab might be “intentionally withholding damaging information about its toxic emissions.” The state allowed the flawed results to stand.

•In internal memos, the commissioner of the Department of Health and field inspectors for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation asked senior officials at the Agency of Natural Resources to test for fluorocarbons, including PFOA. The tests were never conducted.

•Regulators recorded dozens of emissions violations from 1984 to 2002, but only one enforcement action was taken during that period.

•ChemFab managers misrepresented pollution control standards in other states and pushed Vermont regulators to relax air quality standards based on false claims. For example, the company said New Hampshire allowed competitors and other ChemFab facilities to operate without any pollution control devices on some smokestacks. In response to pressure from ChemFab, Vermont authorities gave the company tax breaks and waived air quality rules.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for everyone in this instance of environmental protection failure, extending through the administrations of both Democratic and Republican governors.

It’s the same old story we read over and over again: Vermont “has to be more business friendly.” Inevitably, that is the thinly veiled argument for letting big offenders off the hook on regulations while holding small businesses fully accountable.

…And as far as successfully retaining the “valuable” employer was concerned(?)…once again, it’s a familiar story:

Despite numerous concessions from Vermont officials at every level of government, in 2002, ChemFab closed its Bennington factory and moved its headquarters to Merrimack, New Hampshire.

ChemFab cut and ran, but it’s toxic legacy continues to haunt the groundwater in Bennington county sickening residents and undermining property values.

Is that really “business friendly?”

 

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.