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.

What next, Democrats?

A respected Special Prosecutor, former FBI chief Robert Mueller, has been appointed to investigate the Trump campaign/Russia question; and though still early days, the process is in motion to neutralize Donald Trump’s current threat to the Republic.

He is, it would seem, the lamest of ducks.

It’s time for Democrats to turn the lion’s share of their attention to the needs of the people, as urgently expressed since well-before the last election cycle.

Meet or even precede every Republican policy pitch with a well-developed counter-pitch. They are in complete disorder, with a mortally wounded leader who, at the best of times, can’t think in a straight line.

This is Democrats’ chance to show what they can offer in the way of measured, human-friendly policy around job creation, improvements to Obamacare, infrastructure priorities, social justice, education and national security.

If Democrats waste this opportunity by focussing only on the Trump melt-down, they will have squandered the advantage they should have in 2018.

Job 2 is to begin a serious look at reforming the presidency. In the words of the president, “who knew” that so many ethical issues were not codified, but simply left to the discretion of the president?

Nothing speaks so clearly to the eighteenth century sensibilities of the “Founding Fathers” as their apparent confidence that gentlemen will behave as gentlemen should when elected to the single highest office in the land. Those esteemed founders did not trust unbridled democracy. They imposed restrictions on the roll of the individual electorate, but not, curiously enough, on the power of the head of state. The United States was, after all, the immediate if rebellious offspring of monarchy, retaining a fundamental affinity for the institutions of its royalist parent.

What was once little more than a quaint convention of the past, has, under Trump’s administration, erupted into a full-on constitutional crisis.

I don’t expect the Republican-held Congress to lift a finger while they are in power to repair the mighty gaps in the powers of the presidency through which an autocrat (or a selfish child), carried into office on a whim of the electorate, might throw centuries of ethical convention to the four winds and behave like an absolute monarch.

If Democrats are wise and see to the urgent business of their constituents, they can seize the House in 2018. It then behooves them to set about codifying some limits on the presidency; like, for instance, he/she must share his taxes both as a candidate and throughout his/her administration. In order to qualify to appear on the ballot in the first place, every candidate’s tax returns for at least three years should be publicly available.

Divestiture of financial interests by the president must also be codified under the law; and conflict of interest must be more clearly defined, including specific rules governing the president’s family members, former business partners etc. Remedies for violation of these rules must be clearly laid out and include stiff penalties.

While they are at it, a scrub of gerrymandering is very much in order, too! Partisan divisions are too great to allow one “side” or the other full discretion to control districting.

Until some of the vulnerabilities in presidential privilege and voter suppression are effectively addressed, we are in no position to pontificate to younger nations on the lessons of democracy.

We have the high-ground here; and the vast majority of Americans disapprove both of this president and of the Republican controlled Congress. It’s a perfect opportunity for Democrats to win over hearts and minds. Let’s not squander it by focussing entirely on the toddler in the room.

Real Voter Fraud: Suppression, Intimidation and Denying the Right to Vote

By Jim Condos, Vermont’s Secretary of State

I’ve never been known to sugarcoat things, so I’m going to be frank. Recent events are causing increasing concerns that our democracy is in peril. Let me explain.

Voting is the foundation of our democracy. Since my first day as Secretary of State, and before that as a State Senator, I’ve worked to encourage voter participation by breaking down barriers to ensure eligible Vermont citizens are able to vote.

First, let me say I am proud to live in a state where our focus is on increasing access to the ballot box. To this end, we’ve made great progress in Vermont.

In January, we implemented same-day voter registration, making it easier for Vermonters to register and vote on Election Day.

Also in January, with the Department of Motor Vehicles, we implemented automatic voter registration – when an eligible voter receives/renews their license at the DMV they are either registered to vote, or their registration updates their current address, providing for more accurate voter lists and even greater election integrity.

Both same-day and automatic voter registration passed Vermont’s legislature with strong tri-partisan support, and I was proud to initiate and support these important objectives.

Here’s the point: because voting is the foundation of our democracy, government has a responsibility to make voting easy and accessible for every eligible voter. Unfortunately, across this country, we are seeing an increased erosion of voting rights in many states.

I am deeply troubled by the announcement that the President signed an executive order establishing a commission to review alleged voter fraud in our elections. Since the 2016 election, President Trump has made repeated unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud. Credible studies have shown over and over again that widespread voter fraud simply does not exist, and election officials from across the country, Democrat and Republican, agree.

So why the brazen claims of widespread voter fraud?

I believe these unproven claims are an effort to set the stage to weaken and skew our democratic process through a systematic national effort of voter suppression and intimidation.

Let’s be honest: the real voter fraud that is occurring is the active campaign to roll back voting rights. The President’s unsubstantiated claims have emboldened these efforts. Photo ID laws, like those in Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Alabama, force citizens to travel over 100 miles to their closest DMV, even though they might be poor, disabled, or unable to drive. Other states have also pursued enactment of some form of voter ID law, many of which have been found by the courts to be outright unconstitutional.

Restrictions on early voting periods, limiting access, due to distance or time, to registration and voting locations, and overly aggressive purging of eligible voters from voter rolls are all examples of ways in which some states are suppressing voter participation and discouraging certain eligible voters from having a voice in elections.

These attacks on voting rights have a sole aim: to disenfranchise lower-income, student, senior and minority voters. It’s that simple, and the courts have started to recognize this.

The fact that Vice President Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach have been announced as Chair and Vice Chair of this commission confirms my worst fears. Both are unabashed supporters of restrictive voter ID laws, as they exaggerate claims of voter fraud.

Secretary Kobach has championed some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. The leadership of this commission is a clear prelude to what I expect to be a reinvigorated nationwide campaign promoting strict voter suppression laws and voter intimidation.

How do we fight back? We start at home and lead by example. Automatic voter registration is a system every state, regardless of the party in power, can and should support. Everyone should stand behind generous early voting periods and ample registration opportunities right up to, and even on the same day as an election.

Our Vermont elections will continue to put voters first.

In the coming months and years ahead, we need leaders to stand up and denounce these attacks on our democratic ideals. We must make decisions about how we conduct our elections based on facts, not fear. We cannot allow the President’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud scare us into unravelling the threads of our democratic process.

We must continue to move forward, not backwards – our democracy is at stake.

Here’s to our French allies!

In a sweeping rejection of her nationalist and xenophobic message, French voters have chosen Maria LePen’s rival and opposite, Emmanuel Macron as the next President of France.

Preliminary vote counts give Macron something like 65% of the vote, while LePen could only manage 34%.

This is a victory for progressive values that we can ALL celebrate, and it has been a while since we Americans have had much of anything to be glad about.

It seems that Donald Trump’s antics have provided just the cautionary tale that French voters needed in order to sober up and see the writing on the wall/.

Too bad the Brexit vote came too soon to benefit from the same dose of cruel perspective.

Tomorrow morning’s 3:00 AM tweets from King Donald will no doubt deliver angry rebukes to former President Obama for “interfering” in the French election.

Maybe the “coincidence” that Macron’s party headquarters was hacked will somewhat dampen his inclination to shoot off his twitter mouth, since it does simply add more credibility to the ever thickening tissue of evidence that his own inner circle may have colluded with Russia in undermining the 2016 U.S. election.

But never mind all of that for today. Let’s relish the moment with a toast:

“Liberte, égalité, fraternité!”

Freeze-dried Fear and Loathing

Everyone has seen the commercials.

Scene 1:  Gathered in the kitchen and bathed in sunshine streaming through the window, a family casually prepares fresh fruit and vegetables.

Scene 2:  The same family, gathered around the dining table on which a feast has been spread. They seem to be enjoying lively conversation and ambient music, oblivious to the fact, glimpsed through the window, that their house now appears to be floating amongst icebergs in an arctic sea.

The voice-over calmly extolls the virtues of a freeze-dry device that preserves food up to twenty-five years, “No matter what happens.”

I only once saw a harrowing variation on this commercial that substituted a hoard of zombies, hammering on the window glass, for the ocean scene. I suspect that one was a bridge too far.

Whatever the future presented through that window, the message was pretty clear: apocalypse approaches, whether environmental or spiritual; and the smart family will want to take measures in advance to ensure that they are only minimally inconvenienced.

I experience a tiny shock every time the commercial airs. It reminds me of my childhood during the Cuban missile crisis, when people were building secret bomb shelters, stocking up on bottled water and canned goods; and preparing to defend their preparations from invasion by less-prepared neighbors.

Instead of bringing out the best in people, like legendary Londoners during the Blitz, all that the threat of nuclear war brought out in Americans was paranoia and selfishness.

Have we gone so far as a culture since the 1960’s, only to turn back to the worst of our selves , sixty years on? Racism, sexism and environmental exploitation seem to be back in vogue under Donald Trump. Now, flirtation with nuclear war once again darkens the horizon.

Someone has already decided that the threat of famine and environmental disaster could be good for the food preserving industry. The big warehouse stores have been advertising survival food packages for a number of years now. How long before the commercials for “popularly priced” bomb shelters show up on TV, and sample models join the lawnmowers and patio furniture in aisle seven?

The likes of Donald Trump and Elon Musk fantasize about escape from oblivion through the colonization of Mars! They’ve already given up on Earth, but so have the preppers.

Tribalism is on the rise, thanks to the internet. Preppers and survivalists are invested in seeing their worst fears become reality. They’re no longer interested in making the sacrifices and commitments to common sense that are necessary to forstall any number of disasters that threaten the future of the planet.

This climate of selfish pessimism is poisonous for democracy, which depends for its success on an assumption of community goodwill and confidence in a shared tomorrow.

If we cannot rekindle that sense of common good, I am afraid that the democratic experiment in America is all but over.Wal-Mart_Riot

 

 

 

 

Earth Day 2017

Earth Day (April 22) arrives, this year, shrouded in a veil of pessimism.

Tomorrow, the March for Science will take place on the national mall in Washington, D.C. It is anticipated to be the largest anti-Trump demonstration to date.  Donald Trump will claim they’re all paid demonstrators and probably say something incredibly inappropriate and inflammatory.

Been there, done that.

Plenty of events will take place here in Vermont, in California and elsewhere in the blue states, observing the green holiday as has become customary. After years of incremental progress, there will be less to celebrate this year.

As ineffective as Donald Trump’s “first hundred days” in office have been in many ways, the one place where a real impact threatens is on nearly two generations of hard-won environmental gains.

Deprived of both public confidence and the expected easy ride of a Republican dominated Congress, the spiteful child-president has used the executive order to reverse every Obama initiative that is within his reach and directed Congress to strip away decades of regulation protective health, safety and environmental integrity.

Those are easy targets because the big money that is the only thing Donald Trump respects almost always comes down on the other side from those interests. So he goes about merrily dismantling the EPA before moving on to food and drug regulation.

Anyone who held out the hope that Donald Trump would miraculously be transformed by the gravitas of his office, or that his daughter might temper his worst instincts, has been rudely disappointed. All that’s left to those dreamers is to hunker down and hope his many flirtations with unconstitutional, possibly treasonous behaviors will finally culminate in his downfall before irreversible tragedy strikes.

Thank goodness market forces will prevent him from delivering on his big promise to bring back coal; but that won’t stop the collateral damage that deregulation will do.

It’s like a very bad dream.

McAllister to stand trial (again) for sexual assault

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Abortion Dividend of Trumpcare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the world of Republican rule.

Fukushima: Six Years and Counting

March 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just ask the survivors of Fukushima.

Eyes on the sideshow while the Big Top burns

One mistake that Democrats made in the 2016 presidential race was to allow themselves to be distracted from an issues based campaign by the constant barrage of outrageous behavior that Donald Trump exhibited throughout.

They overestimated voters interest in and ability to follow the bouncing ball of policy consequences from the relatively brief attention that policy received when Donald Trump himself was not the subject of hyperbolic conversation.

Now, we are all in danger of falling for the same bait and switch during the reckless reign of Citizen Trump.

While we and the media react in slack-jawed disbelief to every new demonstration of Trump’s impulsiveness, and every new hint that the Russians might be his handlers, the real policy impact of the Trump presidency only gets attention as an afterthought.

Meanwhile, the administration is moving quickly to try and reduce the U.S. government to a single purpose war machine.

With the stroke of a pen, vital safeguards for streams and waterways are eliminated; with another stroke, outgo consumer protections.

Trump has installed as his cabinet people who have contempt for the very institutions they now oversee. His picks have the added advantage to someone bent on crippling government agencies, of being demonstrably incompetent.

While we focus on the trail of Russian toilet paper that dangles from Trump’s right shoe, he is dismantling important environmental regulations, gutting entire agencies and defunding almost every social service in order to finance the biggest military build-up in modern history.

Why do you think he’s doing that? Wrong question.

Never mind why HE is doing that. He probably just wants to play soldier. More to the point: why do you think his advisers are encouraging him to do that?

We don’t really know enough about son-in-law Jared Kushner to speculate on his world view, but we know that Steve Bannon belongs loosely to that lunatic fringe who see Armageddon as the only way to salvation…and if you don’t want to be bested in Armageddon, you better have enough military might to crush all comers in a single earth destroying act.

Many of Trump’s most ardent supporters would be perfectly happy with this scenario, because they fervently believe that we are in the End Times and have no interest in preserving the natural world for future generations, or providing for the real needs of a population that may soon cease to exist.  Others simply don’t care because their interests are so narrowly focussed that they simply don’t see beyond sunset in their own backyard.
Now that Mike Flynn has been ejected, the generals in Trump’s cabinet represent the only real bench of competence in his sphere. Even Rex Tillerson seems to have been relegated to a back seat as the State Department prepares for massive funding cuts in favor of nuclear and conventional armaments.

Military leaders are a boon to Trump’s agenda, not only because they are unlikely to object to massive spending in their sector and elevation of “readiness,” but also because they come from a culture of unquestioning obedience to the will of the Commander in Chief.

No one seems to care that all he is offering is a lot of talk and a handful of magic beans.

Trump’s tame billionaires and bankers are cooing contentedly over a roaring stock market, convinced that they can be long gone before Trump’s voodoo math hits the fan.

Don’t look to Republicans for a timely rescue. They, too have sold their souls for a Supreme Court pick and one final chance to railroad the bigotry and fear of their voting minority into policy advantageous for the privileged.

Here it is six weeks into an administration that threatens to dismantle all the hard won refinements of our enlightened democracy and all we’re talking about this Sunday morning is another unhinged wee hours tweet from the Screwball-in-Chief.

If we don’t start to pull focus on policy immediately, we can only expect the worst.

Saffron or Algae Blooms?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only Messenger reader who noted the ironic coincidence of headlines in last nights paper.

Just as President Donald J. Trump signs his second attempt at a Muslim travel ban, the early cost of this administration’s arbitrary agenda is vividly illustrated by two local examples.

Saffron: Vermont’s next cash crop?

The feature story tells us that, thanks to an Iranian postdoctoral student, we may soon see an extremely valuable cash crop, saffron, cultivated in our own backyard…at St. Albans Bay.

In the “brave new world” of Donald J. Trump, just being Iranian would be sufficient to invoke the President’s travel ban against him. That Dr. Ghalehgolabbehbahani is also a man of science would surely serve only to reinforce the administration’s antipathy toward him.

The President’s clumsy attempts to target Muslim countries for exclusion is already impacting interest in travel and study in the U.S. That doesn’t bode well for several industries which heavily depend on foreign dollar infusions.

Over to the side, on the same front page, is a warning from Senator Patrick Leahy. Being in a position to know, Sen. Leahy predicts that Donald Trump’s massacre of the EPA budget will imperil cleanup of Lake Champlain.

It’s a pretty easy guess that Leahy’s prediction will prove accurate. In the new federal budget, funding for clean-up of Chesapeake Bay has been slashed from $73-million down to just $7-million. Somehow I suspect that if the waterways lapping near to Capitol Hill merit so little support from the Trump administration, Lake Champlain, way up here in blue country, will receive less than none.

It should be noted that, even though funding for water protection is being sacrificed on the pretext that an exponential hike in military spending is urgently required, the President isn’t prepared to abandon his frequent getaways to Mar-a-Lago (four so far) that had already cost the tax payers $10-million before the paint was even dry in the Oval Office. That’s $3 million more than the Chesapeake Bay clean-up funds! The indignity is only worsened when a translation of “Mar-a-Lago” is considered. (Look it up!)

So, once the clean-up funding runs out and the stench of algae blooms hangs heavy over St. Albans Bay, perhaps we will at least be grateful that one Iranian chose to locate here before Donald Trump closed the door.