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.

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Beyond the human price of Donald Trump’s promise to deport undocumented immigrants, there will be an economic price to pay. It is estimated that one quarter of Vermont’s farm labor force could be impacted by the new administrations anti-immigrant policies.

When milking crews and field workers are forced to leave the country, who will do the work of feeding America?

The conversation has already begun between the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and the Department of Corrections around the possibility of deploying a prison workforce to ensure that there are sufficient hands available to get the job done.

In Vermont, such a workforce probably stands a better chance of experiencing fair treatment and reasonable compensation than in more regressive states. In most states where prisoners have been made to work on farms to replace lost migrant help, the experience has been less than satisfactory, as the captive laborers tend to lack the work ethic, skill and efficiency of the immigrant workforce they replace, and compensation, such as it is, goes mostly to prison operators.

Paid or unpaid, such an arrangement would amount to slave labor supporting a cornerstone Vermont industry.

It’s too easy to rationalize away fair labor practices and compensation for people who have broken the law, no matter how minor their offense might have been.

We already have the highest incarceration rate of any advanced nation, reflecting a draconian inclination that does not become us. Rather than working to reduce prison populations as most people agree should be done, if states begin to rely on prison labor for their food supply, we might actually see a systemic reluctance to pursue alternatives to imprisonment.  Furthermore, when prison labor is charged with animal care, the results can be unsettling:

In March 2012, officials in Sutter County, California discussed ending prison work crews for a different reason. For decades, prisoners have been used to feed dogs and cats, clean their cages and even assess their health at the county’s animal shelter. Over the past five years multiple reports have cited shortcomings with the use of prison labor because prisoners, who are not trained in veterinarian care, have caused problems at the shelter by making mistakes and distracting employees….A 2007 grand jury report found that prisoners were partially responsible for an “abnormally” high number of animal deaths at the shelter.

This is of special concern in Vermont where dairying represents a significant portion of our farm labor needs.

During a forum on labor rights in Columbus, Georgia on April 4, 2012, Richard Jessie, second vice president of the Columbus NAACP, noted that “Our prison workforce is an enslaved workforce basically.” Commenting on the money the city saves by using prisoner work crews, which is reportedly $9 million to $17 million annually, he added, “We use slave labor to do much of the work that could and should be paid jobs.”

A prison workforce should not be Vermont’s fall-back plan for addressing labor shortages down on the farm. Efficiently maintaining our food supply requires physically challenging labor and more than a small amount of commitment to the work. An immigrant workforce has traditionally provided these qualities in exchange for relatively modest compensation.

Our entire food system has been built on those expectations and Americans would be very foolish to abandon the effort for meaningful immigration reform that would support their continued participation in our economy. If we begin to erode that compact now with an “emergency” use of prison labor, we may never be able to rebuild a timelessly valuable labor system again, and, given the regressive inclinations of the Trump contingent, could even live to see defacto slavery return to America.

Prison labor is not the answer.

Donald Trump’s Terrible Awful No Good Very Bad Day

There have been many days that prompted bloggers to adapt the popular children’s book title to frame the immediate chaos around Donald Trump’s political misadventures; but today of all days seems to cry out more than most for that redundant banner headline.

Leaving aside the trail of stinking piles drying in his wake every day, today might one day be remembered as the day that his epic losing streak began.

This morning, like so many Americans (and as I have done every morning since the inauguration), I reflexively turned on the news even before the coffeemaker in order to find out what new region of Twitter hell Donald Trump had taken us to overnight. Despite his best efforts to gin up international tensions, nuclear war hadn’t yet broken out, so I settled into my kitchen chair with a sigh  and a steaming cup of relief. It was going to be a pretty good day after all.

Mr. Trump’s immediate national concern seemed to be his adult daughter’s broken heart at being told by Nordstrom that they could no longer carry her line of merchandise because sales had been so poor over the last quarter. Never one to underplay a family slight, Mr. Trump had tweeted how “unfair” Nordstrom’s decision was; that it obviously was politically motivated, and that his daughter is such a good person who is always trying to get him to do “the right thing.” Then, for good measure, he tweeted it again to the vast readership of his official @POTUS feed.

Even though, for some reason, this gross exercise of  conflict of interest doesn’t set him up for immediate consequences, it does add to the growing file of transgressions that may ultimately be his undoing. Furthermore, Nordstrom probably has a pretty good case for a lawsuit.

Apparently Ivanka hasn’t been very successful at getting Dear Ol’ Dad to do the “right thing”, either.

The new twist this morning was that shameless Trump sycophant and consigliere Kellyanne Conway had taken it upon herself to ‘right’ Nordstrom’s ‘wrong’ by appearing on Fox news to give impromptu commercial endorsement for the First Daughter’s products and exhort the faithful to go forth and buy Ivanka’s crap.

Like so many of Trump’s closest advisors, Kellyanne’s qualifications for the job must be seriously questioned. Supposedly she is a lawyer, and yet, she seemed to be totally unaware that what she was doing in hawking Trump family merchandise on TV represented an immediate and gross conflict of interests, a breach of White House ethics, and a set-up for worsening optics on the general issue of conflicts within the Trump administration.

It seemed that what Kelly Anne had crossed was an ethics bridge too far even for the Donald, because it wasn’t long before the word came out that counsellor Kelly Anne had herself been “counselled.” What exactly this means is unclear, but it seems to suggest some acceptance of responsibility was finally being broached within the administration, if only by a side flunky.

But we had to wait until evening for the best news, when the 9th Circuit Court Decision came down as a sweep in favor of the plaintiffs. A crushing defeat for King Donald!

It ain’t over ’til it’s over, and there are a few more innings to be played in the game of anti-American immigration policy; but tonight we can pause in the battle for a little celebration, knowing that it’ must be somebody’s job at the White House tonight to sit on Donald and restrain his little fingers from unleashing a Twitter storm of unintended consequences.

Updated: McAllister- “In Vermont, women are the ‘Holy Grail’”

Update: (Feb. 6 )-  Friday, February 24 has been set as the date for continuation of the hearing on Mr. McAllister’s motion to reverse his plea deal.  Not only is Mr. McAllister likely to return to the stand for further testimony, but his son Heath may be called as well.   Popcorn optional.  ________________________________________________________________

On Friday, I took a break from the antics of our “Command-Her in Chief” to attend the courtroom speaking debut of Norm McAllister,  when he took the stand in defense  of his motion to rewind the plea deal he had earlier agreed to on the occasion of his second sex crime trial.

As you probably know, Mr. McAllister (formerly Franklin County Senator McAllister) took that plea deal last month after the court had devoted an entire day to seating a jury.

It seemed as if we were destined never to hear directly from the accused.

The plea deal should have been very attractive to Mr. McAllister, as it dropped some of the charges against him, thus reducing the maximum amount of jail time he would serve from life to seven years. Considering the weight of recorded evidence with which the prosecution was fully armed, no one was surprised that he seemed to accept the plea deal pretty willingly.

McAllister, 65, signed an agreement and pleaded no contest to two counts of prohibited acts and one count of lewd and lascivious conduct. In return, prosecutors agreed to drop the most serious felony, a charge of sexual assault, which carried a potential life sentence.

The very next morning Mr. McAllister surprised his own attorneys, and pretty much everyone else, by expressing ‘buyer’s remorse’ to NBC’s Stewart Ledbetter and suggesting he might retract his plea.

Friday’s hearing was scheduled to entertain arguments concerning the merit of McAllister’s request to retract.

His principle argument is that the attorneys who represented him, both in his earlier sexual assault trial and in the case for which he had taken the plea deal, had coerced him into accepting the deal. He has fired those attorneys (Brooks McArthur and David Williams), replacing them with his current representation (Bob Katims.)

Under oath, Mr. McAllister told the court that McArthur and Williams “brow beat” him into
accepting the plea deal; that they refused to let him consult with his son before making the decision; and that they had called him ‘stupid’ and ‘retarded’ for resisting and brought him to tears. He further asserted that they had told him that Vermont law was unfairly biased in favor of women, giving him the impression that he had no choice but to accept the deal right then and there.

He also maintained that the implications of the plea deal had never been properly explained to him and he had no idea that acceptance of the plea deal and the conditions of sex offender treatment attached to it was a tacit confession to the reduced charges.

It was quite a story. Once again, Mr. McAllister played the victim as he attempted to deflect blame to his lawyers .

Brooks McArthur, who was called to the stand after the break, refuted the idea that McAllister had been coerced, reading from the record to establish that Mr. McAllister had been questioned both by his attorneys and by Judge Martin Maley about his understanding and acceptance of the plea deal. He emphatically denied calling Mr. McAllister ‘retarded’ and making statements about gender bias in the Vermont court system, pointing to Mr. McAllister’s own assertion to Seven Days back in October 2015:

“…You’re screwed, because in this state, women are considered the Holy Grail,” McAllister told Seven Days. “Women don’t lie. I’ve had landlords come up to me and say, ‘You know, this is going to scare us, because if you rent to a single woman, you’ve got to have witnesses.’ There’s something wrong with our system. It’s great that nobody is above the law. But how does that work when you get accused of something you didn’t do? There’s a presumption that you must have because you’re a man.”

From Mr. McAllister’s testimony, it’s pretty easy to surmise that he was fully accepting of the plea deal while he was still in court; but, when he went home and was confronted by his son about the arrangement, he had a change of heart.

Day two of the hearing, in which Mr. Williams will be called upon to testify, has yet to be scheduled, but Mr. McAllister’s credibility has already been dealt a considerable blow. I don’t know about you, but I can’t see Mr. McAllister’s attorneys being so incautious as to call him “retarded” or opine that he couldn’t get a fair trial in Vermont because he is a man!

I am of two minds about whether or not I’d like to see Mr. McAllister’s plea deal reversed.

On the one hand, given Friday’s preview of his performance on the stand, I would sincerely love to hear him answer questions directly related to the charges against him. On the other, having witnessed how poorly the system served the young girl who was compelled to  relive humiliating details of her complaint in the first case, I do not wish this female victim any more exposure and pain than absolutely necessary in order to ensure that one sexual predator will never hurt another woman again.

Brokenhearted in America

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election and immediate overtures toward authoritarianism, many of us have found ourselves unexpectedly grieving the loss of the America we have trusted since childhood.  One of those folks came to me with a letter she had felt compelled to write to an estranged friend who was a Trump supporter.   After weeks of anguished internal debate, she finally could not bring herself to send it.  I thought it perfectly expressed the sadness and anger that divides us now; so I asked if I might share it with our GMD readers. She does not want me to mention her name so let’s just sign her “anyonymous” with a small ‘a’.

“So I have become one of “those” people. You know, the ones who have let the election spill over into their personal lives, someone who has lost a friend because of it, a friend I still care about but with whom I cannot figure out how to continue a relationship. I cherish my friendships. Lucky as I am to have family I genuinely love, there is a difference. Families have to accept you; friends choose to. To me, that is pretty sacred. So how could I let this happen? This was not an “unfriending” on Facebook. This was face to face across a small desk and was very painful for both of us.

We tried to talk. I apologized for withdrawing after November 8th. I could not pretend that all was well, and I thought it might take a few days to get back to normal, which then turned into more than a couple of months. I mean how does this happen? This was a friend, and the election was over and we had always voted differently. Yet, we had always had each others’ backs.

The apology did not go well. During my absence she had had some difficult times and I had not available. And I believe, like me, she valued our friendship. She felt betrayed and angry over my withdrawal. But soon the apology devolved into respective and familiar talking points. We had been in similar territory before over the years, finally pledging to not talk politics. And so the hardest thing to try to explain and answer was what had changed this time, and why I, too, felt betrayed when I had been the one to withdraw.

” What was different,” she asked. “What was different this time?”

And even now I am not sure why I could love before and find it so elusive now. But I think it has to do with choices truly mattering and that maybe I had not been honest before in our relationship by sidestepping them. Politics do matter. And choices and politics have consequences.

For me, the measure of character is how we treat each other, especially those more vulnerable and powerless. In any human interaction, my friend would most certainly treat people with kindness and respect. But she voted for someone who does not, someone who targets the vulnerable and powerless and weak; it is so easy to blame them and cull the herd. It’s what bullies and dictators do.

As one of our greatest writers said, we all bleed when cut. It seems to me that some people judge their blood, their pain more worthy, their hopes more legitimate. And while I do believe in an “illegitimate” president, I don’t believe in an illegitimate human being. And I just can’t get around that, try though I might.

I admit I am a holdout to “let’s look for the positive.” If anyone who has been struggling does well under our new regime, I will be happy for them. But I fear these gains might be made at the cost of our collective soul. Because, kind and caring as my friend is to those around her, her vote supported someone who treats people as throwaways because he just knows they are “ very very bad” people.

She has often talked to me about her belief in personal responsibility, which is important to me, too. And since she made a choice in her vote, I think that brings the responsibility of accepting that there are those in her life who will act or react based on it.

To maintain our relationship I would feel betrayed by having to pretend the things she supported by her vote are acceptable. If I have to not talk politics or discuss my deep feelings and values in order to stay friends, then I have a choice to make, too.

Sadly, I think I have made it.”

Perjury could save the nation.

Sunday musings in a flu and Robitussen-induced fog:

Congressional Republicans have all the power to stop Donald Trump’s march to catastrophe, but recognizing that they have been effectively castrated by fear of populist revolt from their base, we are left frantically looking for a “Plan B” before the Doomsday Clock strikes twelve.

Apparently our best legal opportunity to curb the insanity is to get him into court for any reason and force him to testify under oath. This has been suggested repeatedly in the media but, IMHO, hasn’t gotten nearly enough traction.

The man appears incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction and it is unlikely that he can restrain himself from at least one boldface lie in the course of any sworn testimony, no matter how brief.

Therein lies the easily pulled lynchpin to impeachment.

I would guess that, by the time he lies under oath, at least half of all congressional Republicans would leap at the chance to push him toward the exit sign if given that opportunity through a simple impeachable offense such as perjury.

They’ll know, of course, that they will still have Mike Pence (God forbid!) to do their rightwing bidding…but Pence is considerably less likely to launch a missile strike on a whim.  We might actually survive to to see another election.

The beauty is that Donald Trump has done so many nasty and double-dealing things to so many people over the course of his personal and business history that the opportunities for court-ordered depositions abound.

What the public and the media must do is find some way to reassure his myriad victims that they have the opportunity to do the country a great service simply by dragging his ass into court.

Donald Trump will inevitably do the rest. He is programmed to lie even about trivial things. He simply can’t help himself.

“Quick, Kellyanne, he’s gonna blow!”

Donald Trump and his newly minted Press Secretary/attack dog, “Spike” Spicer, just spent the first day of his administration whining about the turnout for his inauguration and attempting to bully the press into confirming his false assertion that it was the biggest turnout in history.

It was speculated that, in typical Trump fashion, this was a diversionary tactic to distract from the unflattering super story of the day, the “Women’s March on Washington.”

Aerial photos left little doubt that the first Obama inauguration drew a vastly greater turnout than did Trump’s little do, nevertheless Trump and his stooge eagerly and persistently plunged into perjury in defense of his fragile ego.

Aerial photos also delivered the unmistakable message that turnout for the “Women’s March” dwarfed the modest captive gathering on the mall the day before.

How must it feel for Donald Trump to gaze upon the photos from across the country of the throngs and throngs of demonstrators who rose in coordinated opposition to his agenda, all in a single day? Does he understand that the volume of demonstrators across America who braved traffic jams, dangerously crowded subway cars, and other inconveniences to take a stand against him probably numbered in the millions but still represented no more than half the number of votes by which Hillary Clinton won the popular vote?

If he does, Kellyanne must have him hog-tied in the White House mess to keep him from tweeting away his rage. All he wrote was

“Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election. Why didn’t these people vote?”

Newsflash, Donald, these people did vote and you lost the popular vote.

Marchin’ in the Streets

It’s a nice day for the Women’s March in Montpelier with unseasonably mild temperatures (up to 41-degrees) and only a 10% chance of rain.

Over the past twenty-four hours, I have spoken with my sister who will join the March in Portland, Oregon and my son’s Significant Other, Sarah, who, with her mom, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend have made the drive to D.C. for the big March down there.

My friend Cheryl and I will head to Montpelier to join with  Progressive Party members at 1:00, at Montpelier High School, where we will merge with other activist assemblies in the Vermont Women’s March to the State House.

Our brand new Progressive Lieutenant Governor, Dave Zuckerman, will be among the speakers that include former Governor Madeleine Kunin,  Meghan Gallaher of Planned Parenthood, Ebony Nyoni of Black Lives Matter and former Transportation Sect. Sue Minter.

You can feel the crackle of connectivity in the air as parties of friends and family members all over the world make their way to the March routes.

Donald Trump’s angry supporters supposedly voted for ‘change,’ but what we are getting instead is regression.

The only real change will come when paleolithic patriarchy in America is finally left behind and women are represented in positions of power equal to their actual numbers in the population.

Donald Trump, one must hope, is the last desperate gasp of that regressive impulse, destined to be cast aside on the scrap-heap of historic errors in judgement and temporary insanity.

It is fitting that women should lead the keynote resistance against the man who single-handedly is attempting to reverse decades of progress in women’s and minorities civil rights, defense against climate change, educational opportunity and first amendment rights.

Donald Trump clings to the idea of American exceptionalism, yet his vision for the country would set this nation well-behind the rest of the developed world in so many fundamental ways.

Let’s make the next president (after Darth Pence replaces an impeached Donald Trump) a progressive female from one of our valuable minority communities. She is out there somewhere. Our job is to find and empower her.

See you at the March!

An Independent Ethics Commission is STILL needed!

It is always our great pleasure to share the words of Sec. of State Jim Condos with our GMD readers.  The topic this time is especially meaningful to me. – S.P.

“The Vermont Constitution (Chapter 1, Article 6) demands that our elected officials are open, transparent, and accountable. The authors understood how transparency in government is the very basis of trust. State statute also demands access and accountability:

It is the policy of this subchapter to provide for free and open examination of records consistent with Chapter I, Article 6 of the Vermont Constitution. Officers of government are trustees and servants of the people and it is in the public interest to enable any person to review and criticize their decisions even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment. (1 V.S.A. § 315)

The overwhelming majority of our dedicated local and state public officials are trustworthy, hard-working individuals striving to better the lives of those they serve. They are people who give generously of their time and want to do the right thing.

However, corruption can exist, and seemingly innocent conflicts of interest pop up everywhere in a small state like Vermont. These issues, even in small doses, can be just as corrosive to our democracy as more prominent scandals, undermining the public trust.

The key to our democracy is the public’s access to open and transparent government. This sacred trust must not be taken lightly. We must restore and improve that accountability or risk Vermonters’ faith in our ability to govern.

Vermont remains one of only a handful of states without an Ethics Commission. The 2015 Center for Public Integrity ranking of the states had Vermont with an overall grade of D-. Essentially, this ranking exists because we do not have an independent ethics commission or the required financial disclosures existing in nearly every other state.

Vermont can and must do better!

The time has come for Vermont to enact a clear ethics law with a code of ethics and financial disclosure for our elected officials.

The time has come for Vermont to create an independent ethics commission to provide education and insight, addressing ethical issues across the Legislative, Executive, and Municipal sections of government.

I am encouraged by the Legislature’s growing enthusiasm around the issue, as well as the Governor’s supportive statements during his campaign. I am hopeful this will translate into meaningful ethics reform.

To be effective, a commission must be independent, adequately resourced, and empowered to fairly and impartially field and investigate complaints from the public.

Yes – this will require a budget and a small staff, but these investments will be a small price to pay for a more accountable government and a place where affected Vermonters can seek redress and where unsure government officials can seek advice.

Establishing an ethics committee will not suddenly provide government with a moral compass. However, it will be a step in the right direction and by shining a brighter light on improved transparency and accountability.”

-Jim Condos, Vermont’s Secretary of State

 

Twilight in America

Truly inauspicious  beginnings.

Even mainstream media outlet CNN is beginning to acknowledge the cancer they enabled with unlimited access to live air time whenever Donald Trump called into the station in his early candidacy. Remember how shamelessly they stooged for him? Even as they rolled their eyes at his outrageous antics, they never held him accountable for the poisonous lies he embraced.  Donald Trump was making them his creatures, only to later dash them against the wall.

This opinion piece on CNN.com is well worth sharing; but what truly is disturbing are the comments it has provoked.

Many of us saw signs of proto-facism even in the early days of Trump’s bid for the presidency, when CNN and others, not recognizing his authentic potential to do harm, allowed Donald Trump free reign of the airwaves to propagate messages of hate, misogyny, dystopia and pathological nationalism. CNN slavishly covered every minute of his blood-thirsty rallies, accepting abuse and coming back for more.

Like a malevolent Pied Piper, Trump cleverly used these broadcast opportunities to reach into the dark hearts of all those in the shadows who have chafed at the evolution of race and gender roles in America, and felt their impotent rage suppressed by the forces of political correctness.

It is an all too familiar scenario, replaying the script of authoritarian adventure that has undone older republics than our own. Now, even this CNN opinion writer sees that it won’t end well for American democracy.

Amid a frenzy of increasingly irresponsible tweets, on Martin Luther King Day, Trump upped the ante by savagely attacking civil rights icon John Lewis for simply refusing an invitation to the Inauguration. If he had it in his power now to impose penalties for non-attendance, I have no doubt that Congressman Lewis would be in jail, once again, right now.

What’s crazy is that a number of pundits, and even a few Democrats, have taken the position that even though Mr. Trump’s characterizations of Congressman Lewis were clearly out of line, Lewis was somehow also in the wrong, simply  for stating his reason for refusing  to attend. Unprincipled shills for corporate ‘neutrality’, they priggishly invoke the importance of upholding the outward appearance of an “orderly transfer of power”  etc., etc.

That is absolute bullshit! This is not the time to indulge in a game of false equivalence.

The President Elect set fire to those traditions himself, long ago; first of all by falsely imputing the legitimacy of the previous president; then by refusing to share his taxes with the American people; by indulging in flamboyant acts of cronyism and nepotism, and refusing to divest in order to avoid conflicts of interest; by public disloyalty to the national interest; and finally by lying so fabulously and unapologetically as to consign the notion of executive honor permanently to the scrap heap.

Other behaviors and comments showing a pattern of disrespect for minorities and women have so thoroughly violated his responsibility as the head of state as to leave little doubt of his illegitimacy, even before we consider the evidence of interference by a hostile foreign state and the possibility that his campaign was in cahoots with the Russians.

Donald Trump has no respect for the office or for more than half of his constituents; so why on earth should we be expected to indulge his vanity by pretending nothing’s rotten in DC?

To my mind, anyone who treats this transition and Donald Trump’s presidency as ‘legitimate’ is guilty of complicity.

Surely there has never been a better reason to set aside tradition than when the President Elect himself shows no interest in upholding the traditions of democratic consent.

Donald Trump and his sycophants have wrapped themselves in the delusion that he is somehow above reproach and possessed of an unimpeachable mandate from the people, when nothing could be further from the truth.

But even “truth” doesn’t have the weight that it did a year ago, before Donald Trump reshaped it as a negotiable commodity.