Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

H.R. McMaster shreds the Honor Code

You are undoubtedly familiar with the Honor Code H.R. McMaster was required to adhere to when he was a cadet at West Point. Everyone knows “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” A seemingly simple rule that anyone can comprehend and follow, but you may not know the rest of it. In this case it is clear beyond clear that McMaster violated the Code by quibbling.

LYING: Cadets violate the Honor Code by lying if they deliberately deceive another by stating an untruth or by any direct form of communication to include the telling of a partial truth and the vague or ambiguous use of information or language with the intent to deceive or mislead. The term for this kind of evasive, misleading statement is “quibbling”, and it is considered a violation of the Code.

In the administration’s effort to discredit the report of the president revealing sensitive classified intelligence to Russian officials in the White House, they had McMaster make this statement:

The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false. … At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed. The president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. … I was in the room. It didn’t happen.

This was a clear attempt to lead the listener to conclude that the press story was false, but it did so in what has been termed a classic non-denial denial. He categorically denied certain actions, discussing intelligence sources or methods and disclosing military operations that were not already publicly known. By listening to his statement we are expected to conclude that the story reported by the Post and others was false and shouldn’t be relied upon. If you look more closely, though, you see that the stories in question never claimed that he discussed sources and methods or military operations.

In other words, in order to give the false impression that the Post story was wrong McMaster denied facts that were never alleged. That is, he told a partial truth and used vague or ambiguous language with the intent to mislead.

I don’t know if a military officer remains bound to the Honor Code when he is no longer a cadet, but at a minimum he violated the most basic principles that those seeking a commission in the armed forces are expected to follow.

Can you possibly argue that this can be tolerated?

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.

Dog Days at Trump Tower

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It’s family meeting time.   In the great tradition of presidential families, the Trumps have decided to adopt a White House pet.

Donald wants a Rottweiler that’s trained to protect him. ‘Calls it a “Rottweiner.” He doesn’t see much point in a dog if it’s not for protection.

The First Lady wants a pair of ocelots with diamond studded collars.

Tiffany suggests a Cocker Spaniel until Ivanka reminds her that she doesn’t get a vote.

Ivanka winks at Jared and says, “How about a Russian Wolfhound?” Everyone howls with laughter.

Wearing matching plaid shirts, Donald Jr. and Eric stroll in to cast their votes for a huntin’ dog. They don’t see much point in a dog if it’s not for huntin.’

Melania quickly withdraws the ocelot suggestion. “King Charles Spaniel, or maybe a poodle?”

“What do you want, Sweetums?” she asks of Barron.

“Sweetums” is glowering into his root beer float. “I told you before, I want an Alpha Romeo. ‘Don’t want no dumb dog.”

“Of course Sweetums wants a dog; every little boy wants a dog!” Melania coos soothingly.

“Stop coddlin’ the boy, Mel!” the old man barks, so loud that FLOTUS jumps straight out of her designer stilettos. “If he doesn’t want a dog, that’s fine with me.”

“Seriously, Daddy, a Russian Wolfhound is ve-ry fashionable!” Ivanka wraps her long arms around POTUS thick neck and pouts prettily.

“I could start a new line of canine couture…,” and she quickly messages her Chinese supplier for a quote.

“That’s my Princess;” Donald smiles approvingly, “Always finding the big marketing angle! It’ll be huge! A total winner…only nothing for Nordstrom! They don’t get a thing. Damn bunch of Hillary loving Democrats!”

“Okay; an Irish Wolfdog it will be!” says POTUS, slapping his knee. All three boys sulk and glare at their stunning sister.

Tiffany deliberately picks her teeth while staring intently into a pocket mirror. “Male or female?” she asks innocently.

“Male, of course!” All four Trump men speak in chorus.

“‘Don’t need more bitches, Dude!” adds Barron.

“My boy!” POTUS reaches out to tousle the lad’s hair as he quickly ducks and runs to mother.

“I think we’ll call him Vlad.”

Navy Seal convoy “punished” for flying under Trump banner

Since President Trump looked a little too happy strutting around the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford sporting an olive military jacket and cap the other day. Here’s a quick follow up on the Navy Seal convoy that affixed a Trump campaign banner to their Humvee antenna with zip ties  and drove it in a convoy for over one hundred miles. It was February, when the vehicle  traveling through Kentucky under the blue Trump flag was seen and when first reported, officials said they believed the vehicles were military surplus; they later admitted that was not the case, and that the vehicles belonged to the elite Seal Naval Special Warfare Group 2.

TrumpflagsealThe Navy has since investigated, and the report (which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act or FOIA request) is now available. The commander of the 12 person convoy did not place the flag on the Humvee but was aware it was there and: “[The convoy commander] was also aware of the rules precluding Department of Defense (DoD) endorsement of political candidates during an election,” the documents stated. “However, he believed that flying the flag was not inappropriate since the election was over and since the candidate was now the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.”

However, shortly into their mission the Navy Seal commander began, they say, to regret his choice: About 30 minutes into the drive on I-65, the convoy commander noticed that the flag was getting a good deal of attention from civilian drivers, “some of which was negative attention.” [maybe negative by 48.5% or more]

“At this point, he felt like the correct course of action would have been to take the flag down,” the documents stated. “However, he was concerned that it would be unsafe for the convoy and its members to pull over while on the highway.”

The names of the 12 member Navy Seal group were not made public and although they were reportedly punished, what form that took was not disclosed. The Navy Department did say the personnel were subsequently required to participate in team-wide remedial training on safe convoy operations and partisan political activity.

So, with a Humvee flagged with a Trump election banner for over one hundred miles through Kentucky to Indiana, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Group 2 couldn’t find a place to pull his convoy off the highway!  Maybe the remedial training on safe convoy operations the  Seal Group was “sentenced” to take covers how to pull off the road and remove a prohibited banner. Or better yet, they could learn not to fly a partisan banner from Trump’s campaign on a Humvee to start with.

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.

LocaVote: Town & School Meetings Need You

If there’s one place where you can vote, and that vote makes a difference in your life, it’s at Town and School Meetings.

It’s Democracy, dude. It works when you get woke and go all in.townmeeting

 

And it’s the same idea, whether your town has an actual annual meeting to decide budgets and elect the select board and the town listers (who evaluate the worth of your property for tax purposes) and the town clerk and the treasurer; or whether you vote only by ballot, no actual interpersonal interaction required.

It’s Democracy, people, and it only works well when you’re plugged in. When you read the reports. When you are present and accounted for. When you listen hard to others asking questions about where the money’s going, and what about that new dump truck.

It works better when you figure out enough about what’s going on to ask questions of your own. When you raise your hand and the Moderator (who runs the meeting) calls on you, and everyone listens to what you have to say.

That’s locavote empowerment, baby!

And if you don’t believe me, just look at what Frank Bryan and Susan Clark have to say:

Town Meeting is the one day of the year when regular Vermonters can assume the role of legislators, says Frank Bryan, a leading authority on town meeting as a Vermont institution and the author of Real Democracy: The New England Tradition And How It Works.

“Most Vermonters — all Vermonters, if they want to … can be a participant in the democratic process that 95 percent of Americans can only dream about,” says Bryan, who is a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Vermont. “You can’t do this in Pittsburgh and in Buffalo, or San Francisco, even. You can’t do it. You can’t be a legislator and amend from the floor and change policy in real time.”

“There’s a sense of community and a sense of togetherness that we have here,” says Susan Clark, a co-author, with Bryan, of All Those In Favor: Rediscovering the Secrets of Town Meeting and Community. “There’s a fabric … Town Meeting has created a culture. Just the way Colorado has a cowboy culture, we have a Town Meeting culture. And it’s something that we need to recognize and we need to feed. Otherwise, it will go away.”

So, I’m askin’ you all to perform Democracy Tuesday, March 7, or whenever your Town meeting might be. It’s what will save our state and ultimately our nation. You, me, him, her, them: asking questions, getting answers, holding local governments accountable.

Practicing Democracy. Performing Democracy. Doing Democracy.

Go to your Town Meeting. Go vote by “Australian (paper) ballot” on budgets and the people who will make your town work (or not).

Speak, ask, vote. It matters.