Category Archives: local/regional

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.

Still searching the Extinction Burst

On November 9, just hours after Trump won the presidential election, hits on a six-year-old Green Mountain Daily diary spiked. And it still continues. extinctstats3 The GMD diary by the late Julie Waters was called The Extinction Burst. It offered her thoughts on using the behavioral concept called the extinction burst in a political application as a template to respond to what then was the new and increasingly strident anti-Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) Tea Party movement.

In psychological terms extinction refers to the process of no longer providing the reinforcement that has been maintaining a certain behavior. About an extinction burst Julie wrote: “You’ve got a child who is throwing tantrums.  In the past, the tantrums have gotten the child attention, which is exactly what the child wants.” To end this behavior cycle the tantrum should be ignored. And although there may be an increase — i.e.,  a burst of intensity — at the point where the tactic is no longer achieving the usual result,  the tantrum more often than not will end. Once the attention the child desired has been consistently and persistently withheld, the behavior cycle is broken and corrected. Or so the theory goes.

The problem Julie noted then (and it is even clearer now when applied to President Trump’s tantrums) is that some behavioral reinforcements happen without our participation and we can’t really control them — especially in politics. The following from the psychological definition is less than reassuring: Despite the name [Extinction Burst], not every explosive reaction to adverse stimuli subsides to extinction. Indeed a small minority of individuals persist in their reaction indefinitely.

I often check the GMD stats and they indicate the old diary isn’t going extinct; it is still getting regular hits. What does a steady flow of people searching out Extinction Burst on a political blog since Trump’s election indicate? I suppose people are still searching out coping strategies, or it could simply be the coincidental coupling of two Google search words extinction and burst suddenly becoming relevant .

By the way, other heavily searched words since Donald’s victory in November are “fascism,” “bigot” and “racism,” “socialism,” “resurgence,” “xenophobia” and “misogyny” among the most searched-for words. That is according to Merriam-Webster. But hey, what does she know?

oopcurseOne thing I do know is that Trump’s retrograde presidency is and will continue to be impossible to ignore.

[Ed. Note: We’re all thoroughly evolved here at GMD and are well aware dinosaurs and humans never walked the earth together-except in the funny papers and a taxpayer-funded Bible theme park in Kentucky,USA.]

Vermont Secretary of State’s Twitter Poetry Corner

poetrycorner

 

Here’s a poem tweeted this morning from the Vermont Secretary of State:VTSoSIt doesn’t rhyme but late last month Sec. Condos wrote the following in an opinion piece:

“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”

Secretary Jim Condos is a tireless advocate for government transparency and an independent ethics commission — one with teeth that is.

UPDATED: Sununu, Trump and their zombie lie

[UPDATE: NH Governor Sununu issued a statement to WMUR today: Gov. Chris Sununu said Monday (February 13, 2017) he is unaware of widespread voter fraud in the Granite State, but he said he wants to work with President Donald Trump’s administration to “learn of any evidence they may have.”

However, here’s what Sununu “knew” about his state in October 2016 and what he told to a Boston radio station “There’s no doubt there’s election fraud here.”]                 

This latest GOP nation-wide outbreak of voter fraud lies originated right next door in Vermont’s upside down doppelganger, New Hampshire. ZedLiesThat state’s new Republican  Governor Sununu created a vote fraud lie last year that will not die. And that zombie lie is now it is serving Donald Trump and the GOP well.

While in a close race for governor Chris Sununu (son of a former NH Governor and White House chief of staff to George HW Bush) made some totally false charges on talk radio, claiming, “We have same-day voter registration, and to be honest, when Massachusetts elections are not very close, they’re busing them [the others!] in all over the place,”

Sununu quietly walked back this lie… a bit, but he started the infection and he has kept up a voter fraud  drumbeat and still promises someday to “tighten-up” what he says, contrary to evidence, are “lax” voting regulations. Zombie lies over vote fraud are GOP-wide, with currently more than dozen Republican-led state legislatures at work passing legislation making it harder (for some) to register to vote.

And now President Trump who sees voter fraud everywhere opposition votes are counted boosted Sununu’s earlier lie this past week.

President Donald Trump reportedly brought up even more baseless claims of voter fraud on Thursday, during a closed-door meeting with several senators. […] Trump and 10 senators originally meant discuss Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Present at the meeting was former New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has handled Gorsuch’s confirmation process for the White House.

[Ayotte’s narrow loss and Hillary Clinton’s 3000-vote win in the state], Trump reportedly said, were due to “thousands” of people who were “brought in on buses” from Massachusetts to vote “illegally” in the state.  

Never mind that no evidence exists of a small fleet of buses,that would have been needed to carry “thousands” of voters from Massachusetts; that’s what the President of the United States asserted!

At the White House meeting President Trump’s version of the zombie lie was greeted with “an uncomfortable silence.” Sadly, reports don’t indicate the any specific reaction from attendee Kelly Ayotte, who narrowly lost her NH Senate race to Democrat Maggie Hassan. But we do know and probably haven’t heard the last about Donald Trump’s ongoing sensitivity about his popular vote loss to Hillary Clinton.

Uncomfortable silence and falsehoods not withstanding, Vice President Mike Pence has been ordered by Trump to form a commission to investigate alleged voter fraud. If ever it takes shape, Vice President Pence’s commission on imaginary voter fraud might want to interview New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu for starters, because if Pence only knew what Sununu knew* he might know enough to kill his zombie lie.

[*see  Calvin Trillin: ‘If you knew what Sununu’]

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.

And… keep those feet to the fire

Following the Women’s Marches held all over the country (and world) the day after Trump’s inauguration, a lot of the discussion was about what comes next. Some of it ran something like this: “Glad to see you all out demonstrating, but don’t forget, come  November,  get out, knock on doors, and help elect us.”

A good and not unexpected reminder from party organizers to be sure. But elected officials are finding another feature in the big march’s aftermath – their own feet may be more quickly held to the fire.fttf

One example took place in Rhode Island, and the feet in question belong to Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He, along with 13 other Democratic Senators (see link here) voted to confirm Congressman Mike Pompeo as Donald Trump’s CIA director. Days later over a thousand people showed up at Senator Whitehouse’s regular town hall meeting in Providence to protest his yes vote.

Pompeo has notably close ties to conservative billionaire puppet masters Charles G. and David H. Koch. Their company, Koch Industries, and its employees have contributed $357,000 to Mr. Pompeo since 2009. And the New York Times has called him “… one of the most overtly partisan figures to take over the C.I.A.”

The AP reported: Senator Whitehouse has hosted dozens of such events, starting from when he first ran for Senate in 2006, but they are typically sleepy affairs.

The video shows people in the crowd angrily shouting and jeering as Whitehouse speaks, and Whitehouse telling them he understands many people disagree with his vote.

“You can’t normalize these appointments!” one person yelled. And; “Take responsibility! Be accountable! You work for us” And others spoke the obvious question for any Democratic office holder:“Why would you vote yes for any of them?”

Following the meeting it was confirmed that Whitehouse admitted he may have been wrong to vote in support of Pompeo. And in a statement released Monday he said: “While Pompeo would not have been his choice, he knows the intelligence community well and “can be a check on dangerous impulses from the Trump White House.”

Senator Whitehouse and others likely shouldn’t expect “sleepy” town hall gatherings to return in the near future.

And closer to home, it’s worth wondering what effect the thousand of marchers that showed up recently in Montpelier had on our new Governor Phil Scott. Maybe Republican Scott was reminded how blue Vermont is. It seems he embraced his better instincts quite readily. And after briefly mentioning a “time-out” and flubbing his response on the Syrian immigration issue during his campaign he is now opposing his party’s President on the immigration ban more vocally than he might otherwise (not) have done.

Baby, It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over: Recount Monday

“So many tears I’ve cried
So much pain inside
But baby it ain’t over ’til it’s over”

-Lenny Kravitz

It’s recount Monday. For Representative-Elect Cindy Weed, today’s recount in Montgomery and Enosburgh confirmed her victory albeit by two votes fewer than the tabulators told us on election day. While Weed lost her hometown of Enosburgh, Montgomery voters put her over the top to take back her seat in the House from Rep. Larry Fiske who defeated her in 2014.

Franklin County Democratic Committee Chair Ed Ballantyne reported that Rep. Fiske raised doubts about the handling of absentee ballots at the meeting of the canvassing committee last week. (After elections, the Chairs of each major party or their representatives meet to certify the results.) It will be interesting to see if Fiske and the Franklin County GOP pursue any further action now that the recount has upheld the election night results.

For Rep. Sarah Buxton of Tunbridge, the election is still not decided. As of election night, Buxton, the Democratic incumbent, had the edge over her perennial opponent Republican David Ainsworth 1,003 to 1,000. The recount now has it as a dead even 1,000 to 1,000. If the courts certify the recount as a tie, then Buxton and Ainsworth will face off again in a runoff election. This isn’t the first time Rep. Buxton and Mr. Ainsworth have had a close result. In 2010, Buxton defeated Ainsworth, at the time the incumbent, by a single vote.

In 2012 I won a seat in the House by just 20 votes. I just lost a bid to return by 69 votes. If my race and the experiences of Rep. Buxton, David Ainsworth, Cindy Weed, and Rep. Fiske teach us anything it’s that voting really does make a difference.  Now that I’m out of the candidate business for the foreseeable future, I’m happy to be back at GMD. Hello again, blogosphere!

 

 

Phil Scott to meet with Koch Brothers

Well, not precisely with the Koch Brothers but close enough (and besides, the “evil Koch Brothers” are proven bi-partisan click bait in Vermont). Governor-elect Phil Scott will be flying to Florida this week to attend the Republican Governors Association’s two-day post-election conference.rga201620 At two million dollars the Kochs were the largest contributors to the Republican Governors Association(RGA) in 2016 according to opensecrets.org.

The RGA then, in turn coughed up big bucks – almost $3 million dollars – to support Scott’s campaign win here in Vermont. It is worth noting that with Trump’s ascendance in the national GOP, the Kochs have been channeling more and more resources – reportedly $750 million – to extend their influence to state GOP office holders at all levels.

A theme of this week’s RGA gathering is “leading the change,” and featured speakers include public employee union-busting Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, climate change denier Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, and Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina. Of the three only Haley has been critical of Trump, but she also accepted contributions from him.

Phil Scott’s first national excursion as governor-elect is to go racing off, following the money to schmooze at the RGA conference with union busters and climate change deniers. And the man who spoke so often about “hitting the pause button” will spend time hearing about “leading the change.” Who is this “authentic Vermonter?” Looks pretty different on the road from his campaign image when he’s at home.

The woman who thought Donald would keep a promise

Darcie Johnston, Trump’s rough and ready GOP campaign leader for Vermont, is The woman that knew Trump would win according to an interview done with her by VtDigger.com’s Mark Johnson.dypdonald3

Johnston explains that she has no qualms about the divisive methods Donald unleashed from the start and believesthere had to be some shock and awe to get through the process.”  She was likewise impressed by Trump’s powerful triumph of will: “He knew what he had to do to become the nominee and he was going to do it.” If he reached the general election she knew he would say and do whatever was needed in order to win. Note to Darcie: ugly election campaign rhetoric does have consequences in the real world.

As a longtime VTGOP operative and an opponent of single payer healthcare plans here in Vermont (she started Vermonters for Health Care Freedom) Johnston was encouraged by Trump’s emphatic promise to repeal Obama-care. So, she dismissed Trump’s harsh racist and sexist rhetoric — talk of a Mexican border wall as “shock and awe” campaign rhetoric. Yet, Donald’s promises to push to repeal the Affordable Care Act she took seriously.

Her anti-Obamacare heart must have positively fluttered with joy each time during the campaign when Trump promised:“On Day 1 of the Trump administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare”. Johnston happily went to battle in the trenches for the Donald — mostly in New Hampshire where he finished second by a very small margin to Clinton.

Since Trump’s win Johnston told VtDigger she hopes to seek  a job with the new administration, on health care reform. That dream may have taken an unexpected turn when, just days after becoming president-elect, Trump quickly backed away from his promise of “total repeal [of] Obamacare on day one.”

It now seems likely “full repeal of the Affordable Care Act on day one” could actually mean keep Obama care in Trump-speak. So … surprise,Trump did what he had to do to win — shock, awe and say anything. And now he’ll ignore his promises and do whatever he wants.

So the sad fact for anyone like Johnston who bought-in to his campaign and actually believed Trump, there may be little to no time to gloat publically before President-elect Donald tosses your favorite campaign promise over his own wall at Trump Tower.

Updated: Buying Out Democracy

Post Election Day update: Some national down-ballot state news such as this may get lost in the storm after Trump’s shocking win:[Democrats suffered some of their worst down-ballot failures on election night in the secretary of state races, the low-profile but quietly influential office that oversees elections in each state.

The GOP flipped four seats. Three were open seats: Missouri (Jay Ashcroft), Montana (Corey Stapleton), and Oregon (Dennis Richardson). The Oregon contest was the most surprising, with the GOP winning their first statewide office in more than a decade.]

What  are the Koch Brothers are up these days?  Well, we know the Kochs aren’t paying to woo Vermont voters to build a coal plant in the state. State Sen. Joe Benning (R) humorously suggested a clever headline-grabber what-if thought experiment to drive home his point about the level of outrage there might be were it the “evil” Koch Brothers offering payments to Vermonters to build a coal plant — rather than Iberdrola’s  wind power generating facility.kochbrosbucktalk

Of course the Kochs spend their time and political money   ($900 million in campaign 2016) much higher up the policy food chain than mere voters.

So then what are the Kochs up to these days ?  I mean in addition to running thousands of dollars worth of ads in Vermont supporting Benning’s fellow VTGOP legislative candidates through their Republican State Leadership Committee.

Well, according to the NYTimes.com, the ultra wealthy conservative Koch Brothers, the Republican State Leadership Committee, and other lobby interests are setting their sights on secretaries of state — the people in charge of impartially running elections.

The targeting of secretaries of state with campaign donations, corporate-funded weekend outings and secret meetings with industry lobbyists reflects an intense focus on often overlooked ballot questions, which the secretaries frequently help write.

The ballot initiatives are meant to give voters a direct voice on policy issues such as the minimum wage and the environment. But corporate and other special interests are doing their best to build close ties with the secretaries because a difference of even a few words on a ballot measure can have an enormous impact on the outcome.

This is of particular importance in states that regularly hold direct-vote ballot initiatives on policy issues. And Koch’s RSLC involvement may take this to a new level:  Republicans have turned to initiatives to push their agenda as a counter to liberal activists, according to an internal party memo.

“Ballot initiatives will not be the left’s mechanism for gaining power and advancing their agenda when voters have already rejected them,” said the memo, from the Republican State Leadership Committee, in February 2015 as the group prepared fund-raising efforts. “It’s time for conservatives to take back that power by rejecting their efforts and promoting our own.” NYTimes.com

Ironic as hell that big money is using the ballot-initiative/referendum process to do an end-run around legislatures. But the penny-wise Koch Brothers may figure it is a lot cheaper and more efficient to buy/influence with a few Secretaries of State than feeding friendly herds of state legislators.