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.

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?

False equivalence in a post-justice America

False equivalence is once again rearing its ugly head, as pundits attempt to balance their outrage at the fact-free excesses of the right by calling out the left for being intolerant of opposing views.

Just this morning on CNN, Fareed Zakaria, whom I generally respect, indulged in a little handwringing about students protesting against speakers engaged by their schools who represent an “unpopular” view. Apparently a group of kids walked out on VP Mike Pence during a commencement address. How rude!

This is somehow supposed to be a sign that the left is as bad as the right is about violating civil liberties.

I’m sorry, but that is just not so.

Non-violent demonstrations are central to our civil liberties. They may not be “polite;” they may not conform to an abstract metric of tolerance; but sometimes they are the only means within the grasp of an underclass (no pun intended) to express their strong disagreement, even outrage, at views or behaviors with which, not only do they disagree, but which they find downright abhorrent.

Of course the Ann Coulters of this world should not be barred from speaking; and, of course, colleges should be free to host public speakers who represent extreme views.

However, everyone knows there are reasons why prohibitions exist against yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  Commonsense should predict that provocateurs will provoke dissent.

It appears that, for the most part the demonstrations that fuel rightwing outrage over their civil rights, are noisy but peaceful, except when “unidentified outside agitators” deliberately invade the protests to initiate violence.

Those “outside agitators” cannot simply be assumed to be sympathetic to the left. It is far more likely that they are either anarchists whose, sole objective is to raise havoc and undermine all authority; or that they are individuals who wish to disrupt the disruption and shed an unflattering light on the left.

They are in any case, an exception to the rule that protests against right-wing speakers are generally peaceful despite the noise.

Should demonstrators be scolded for “intolerance?” I don’t think so.

The fact is that some rightwing viewpoints on social justice issues which have traditionally been considered far outside acceptable boundaries have recently been elevated to a public platform that they have not enjoyed in recent memory. Inevitably the response is visceral.

This is a values judgment. There simply is no other option.

We have already undergone an election in which all the remaining norms of political etiquette and even truthfulness have been forcefully jettisoned by the man who actual succeeded in claiming the White House. Brutality and intimidation were celebrated by the winning candidate. We are learning that it was much less of a level playing field than we even imagined!

How are people on the unjustly marginalized perimeters of power…the actual majority…supposed to react?

The argument that we are somehow guilty of intolerance because we cry out against advocates of social injustice and bigotry is unworthy of our constitutional heritage.

Please, media voices: stop trying so hard to appear “fair” to the extreme right. Fairness has never been something they respect.

Son of Citizens United?

Weary as we all are of the daily news about the Trump administration, it occasionally foreshadows general issues that could achieve much greater importance in the future.

This past week, as Donald Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, “lawyered up,” and Mike Flynn’s prospects looked increasingly bleak, there was speculation that everyone’s business records would soon be the subject of subpoenas.

Not so fast, came the counter-argument from Flynn’s attorneys; the Citizens United decision might extend to protection of corporate records. If an individual has the right to refuse to testify on the grounds of self-incrimination, so might the corporation refuse to share it’s “testimony” (corporate records) on the same grounds.

A desperate claim, for sure, but the idea of civil rights for corporations, once elevated to that of the individual, was certain to raise bigger issues down the line. If money is the corporation’s constitutionally protected “voice,” why wouldn’t all the protections for the individual against self-incrimination be equally valid for corporations?

The favorite fantasy scenario has always been around attempting to convict a corporation for first degree murder. Who would potentially serve the sentence? You can’t execute a corporation or lock it up for life.

Now we are seeing the real nub of the question. If a corporation succeeds in arguing its fifth amendment right to remain silent; and sharing its records is deemed to be a violation of that right; we might as well wave goodbye to legal resolution of disputes, entirely.

It’s unlikely that such an argument would succeed in the normal course of court proceedings; but given the unprecedented nature of the circumstances and recent partisan incursions on the justice department, it’s worth considering.

One would naturally think that the corporation, like any citizen, could still be compelled to share its records, but the flawed Supreme Court logic that awarded civil rights to corporations might just as easily favor the argument that documents, like money, are a form constitutionally protected “voice” for the corporation. It would then be a fairly simple matter to extrapolate from that narrow protection to a broader protection against self-incrimination through documents for all citizens.

Poof! There go the underpinnings of our justice system.

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