Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monumental removal priorities

For today at least, and for sanity’s sake I plan to limit myself to following reports about  Trump’s latest outburst  of support for white nationalists to 140 character bites such as the one below.  This time President Trump angrily  went off script and perhaps the rails to totally reject  criticism of the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville Virginia.

gotta go

 

What saved a prized UVM botanical collection from destruction?

The Burlington Free Press reported an interesting angle to a recent storyit was a federal grant that saved a prized UVM botanical collection from severe fire damage. In addition to the efforts of fire fighters who responded to the fire at UVM’s Torrey Hall, some new storage units purchased by UVM in 2014 with National Science Foundation funding are credited with saving the irreplaceable plant and fungus collectionsaid to be worth as much as $6 million dollars.brought_nsf

The recent fire, accidentally caused by workers repairing and soldering the copper roof, could have been a disaster for the college’s Biology and Plant Biology departments collections housed there. Seven Days reported that firefighters from Burlington and Malletts Bay responded and had the fire “nearly extinguished” after several hours, but as “hot spots” flared up, they remained on fire watch for 24 hours afterward.

“If we didn’t have the funding support from the National Science Foundation, which provided us full replacement of the old cabinets, the material would have been incinerated. We would have lost the whole thing,” Dave Barrington, plant biologist and curator of the herbarium, said in statement from UVM, quoted in the Burlington Free Press

Built in 1863, Torrey Hall is listed on The National Register of Historic Places; several floors house the extensive and valuable plant collection. The Pringle Herbarium, according to UVM, is a critical resource for research activity in plant systematics the biological classification of plants and botanical diversity studies. In addition to keeping the collection safe from fire, water, and pests, the collection’s new storage units also speed a digital imaging project now underway. With the near-constant barrage of budget-cutting and belt-tightening demands from federal and state officials, this averted disaster is a practical reminder of what well-spent federal tax dollars can accomplish for the public good.

Oh, and by the way, Trump’s 2018 budget has proposed an 11% cut for the National Science Foundation. That slash was rejected by Congress, but their draft budget only level-funds the NSF and strictly limits the organization’s flexibility to distribute its limited funding to foundation-set priorities. This approach is seen as part of a continuing desire by Republicans in Congress to force the NSF away from research on social and behavioral science and significantly anything to do with climate change.

Surprise! Trump uses and abuses the LGBTQ community.

This morning, not satisfied with throwing his best political friend, Jeff Sessions, under the bus, Donald J. Trump once again betrayed his election promise to be “better for the LGBTQ community than Hillary Clinton.”

Of course, he did it in a tweet. Offering the wholly unconvincing claim that “his” generals had recommended the radical change in policy, the Tweeter in Chief proclaimed that henceforth, transgendered people would not be allowed to serve in the military, in any capacity.  No mention of what will become of the many transgendered people currently serving in the military.

That we are not the least bit surprised by either the injustice of the decision or the casual manner of its delivery gives testament to the horrifying trajectory upon which we have been traveling since Inauguration Day. We are becoming conditioned to the unthinkable.

This phenomena is, in itself, worthy of examination.

Donald Trump may be an ignorant fool, but he is a primitive master at distraction.

As Congress prepares to grill DT Junior and Paul Manaford, focussing public attention squarely on the Russian investigation, Trump is redirecting his enemies’ attention to the concerns of the LGBTQ community.

This is a safe outrage to court, as it simultaneously plays to his generally intolerant base.

If the ploy is successful, at least some of the news cycle will be preoccupied with the inevitable reaction.

The American public has already come to accept that Mr. Trump is an inveterate liar. So, no surprise there. That, on reflection, is a pretty shocking adaptation.

When you think of where we’ve come to since the turn of the century, when our liberal democracy was finally coming into its own only to be sent into a reactionary tailspin by 9/11, you have to acknowledge that Al Quaida succeeded in its expressed goal: to bring down the American way of life.

They could not have imagined a more effective partner than Donald J.Trump.

Norm McAllister in the dock once again.

Ex-senator Norm McAllister is back in court, and this time it looks like the trial will play out to a jury decision. Accused of exploiting a vulnerable woman (one of three who filed related complaints) in a sex-for-rent scheme, McAllister faces one count of rape and two more for procurement.

The third alleged victim passed away before having had a chance to testify against McAllister; so this is the last opportunity for the Franklin County prosecutors to hold McAllister accountable for the violations his accusers say he has committed against them.

It took two and a half days to seat a jury, and opening arguments were presented yesterday afternoon. Having already sat through days of false starts at the courthouse in the McAllister matters, I chose to skip the first three days of the current iteration; but today I was there for the duration.

As was the case in McAllister’s first trial, just witnessing the victim’s distress on the stand was harrowing. The first trial ended, without a decision, when the prosecution withdrew charges after the victim fibbed on an incidental embarrassing fact that should have had absolutely no impact on what appeared to be a very strong case for serial sexual assault. She sat, with obvious reluctance, through hours of painful and humiliating questioning, while her ‘alleged’ abuser remained silent, stolidly safe in his seat, facing forward and avoiding the gaze of the gallery.

It was gut-wrenching to witness her distress at having to relive the incidents before the prying eyes of the jury, press and public; but relive it, she did.

This time, we heard graphic details of gross and humiliating acts of sexual degradation allegedly performed on the victim’s person while she wept and pleaded with her assailant to stop. At one particularly painful and degrading point in her ordeal, the perpetrator shushed her loud objections, then said “Good girl.” as if she was one of his livestock.

Her explanation for tolerating the sexual exploitation for so long centered on the fact that she was homeless when she accepted work and a place to live at the McAllister farm and was trying to satisfy the state in order to regain custody of her children. She already had a sad history of earlier abuse at the hands of her on-again/off-again husband that had contributed to the loss of custody.

Her testimony was compelling; nevertheless, the Defense asked Judge Martin Malley to dismiss all the charges on a technicality; something the judge refused to do, observing that evidence had been presented on all three charges that could support conviction, should the jury reach that conclusion.

The prosecution rested its case at the end of the day. Tomorrow morning, the trial continues, even though Mr. McAllister himself does not appear to be willing to testify.

It is anticipated that testimony will conclude by midday tomorrow, after which the jury will be allowed to deliberate at its leisure.

And so it begins to affect us all: Nationalization of voter information

First, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came for the undocumented workers — mostly brown-skinned people from Mexico and Central American countries. Then, they came for Muslims from Africa and the Middle East with a travel ban, based on nothing more than the fact that their countries are majority Muslim, several of which are at war or in famine, resulting in refugees. Next they came to obliterate access to health insurance and health care for 22 million people, many of whom likely voted for the current president.

And now ‘they’ — Trump’s GOP — are coming for all the rest of us who vote and who oppose the current regime.

As BP has outlined,  the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” created by executive order and featuring Vice President Mike Pence and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is coming for your name, address, birthdate, (partial) social security number, military service status, voting history, felony convictions, and more.

[While Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos has voiced his opposition to these demands, he has also said he must comply to the extent that some information is routinely available to the public, by providing voters’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, years of their birth, and whether the voters participated in general elections since 2008.]

[Update from vtdigger.org while this post was in process:] But Monday [July 3], citing new information and a public outcry over the weekend, Condos issued a statement saying he wouldn’t send any information until receiving certain assurances from the Trump administration. [emphasis added] Condos questioned the security of transmittal processes specified by the Commission and how the data will be used.

And most importantly, Condos is quoted by VtDigger as refusing to provide any information  “until I receive answers to these important questions,” he said. “I am working with the Vermont attorney general’s office to understand all of our options, and we will take the full amount of time allotted to respond with what information that is already publicly available, if any, will be provided.” That deadline is July 14, 2017.

Kobach in particular is notorious for making unsubstantiated claims about massive ‘voter fraud’ and litigating in support of various restrictive ordinances and laws, for example, requiring a state-issued photo ID and/or proof of citizenship to be shown by every person attempting to vote.

I have called on  the Vermont Democratic Party’s interim chairman, Faisal Gill, and its executive director, Conor Casey, to issue a statement opposing compliance with the demands of the ‘Voter Fraud Commission.’

To help Jim Condos, our elected Secretary of State, stand strong, you could send him a note in support of noncompliance with this transparent attempt to nationalize all the states’ voter rolls. Then send one to Rep. Peter Welch, Senator Patrick Leahy, and Senator Bernie Sanders. If you think it will do any good, you might consider sending something to Governor Phil Scott, too.

You could include a statement identifying the White House’s Election Integrity Commission or “Voter Fraud Commission” as a radical Republican effort to nationalize all the states’ voter rolls and to suppress voting by Democrats and liberal-identified opposition groups.

The second action item could be an urgent message to Secretary of State Jim Condos to continue to deny access to Vermont’s voter information by this bogus commission. The demand for such information is without rational justification and undermines democracy. It calls for a response of civil disobedience by our Secretary of State to these overreaching demands in the service of a budding dictatorship.

The third action item you might consider is a call to your state legislator to amend or repeal the law Secretary Condos says he must obey, the law that requires him to send at least some of the information. These demands are not being made in normal circumstances or by honorable men preserving democratic processes: they are thugs seeking to preserve their power by any and all means, particularly by finding ways to suppress votes by anyone who might be opposed to the current administration.

The next item on your action list could be a call, a conversation, an email to all your friends and relatives, allies and fence-sitters, whether they are Democrats, civil libertarians, Progressives, allies, and even moderate Republicans, asking them to call, write, or email Jim Condos to support his continuing to resist this transparently anti-democratic tactic.

We hope that members of all those various groups will also contact the members of our congressional delegation to urge them to speak out against this precursor to the nationalization of voter information. The main reason Russian attempts to hack the vote were unsuccessful was that each state voting district and municipality controls its own lists and tallies; centralizing that information in the hands of this partisan federal commission simply does the hackers’ job for Russia.

Further you might get in contact with groups interested in protecting the right to vote from partisan interference, including the ACLU, the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, the Vermont Workers’ Center, and others. We must stand together.

And if nothing else seems to work, it might be time to bring out the signs in Montpelier for a massive show of resistance to federal control of state voter rolls.

If the so-called ‘Election Integrity Commission’ succeeds in its quest for all voter information from all the states and territories, it will be the masterstroke that will begin America’s devolution into a dictatorship. We must stand together, now.

Do We Really Need a President?

After five months of Donald J. Trump, we find ourselves in the midst of an unscheduled test of the relevancy of the U.S. constitutional power structure.

It could be argued that, much as it is the underlying premise of medical ethics, “do no harm” should be the first requirement of any president. Like so many other controls on presidential power that were assumed to be unnecessary in the early days of the federation, that simple rule was left out of constitutional consideration.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that the U.S. constitution is currently viewed by many originalists as almost equal to the Word of God in its unassailability, there is solid precedent for some pretty radical amendment to that original document. At least half of the country would probably agree that there are enough fundamental issues open to serious debate that a new constitutional convention is more than warranted…not that that is likely to happen anytime soon.

If it were to happen, we might want to reconsider the office of the presidency in its entirety. If Donald Trump has taught most Americans anything it is that entirely too much license is left to the President to do as he pleases. I suppose, at the beginning of the American experiment, the assumption was that any person who would be chosen by majority vote for a limited time in office would essentially be pre-selected for having the highest integrity, or at least feel compelled to perform convincingly as a man of integrity. The three branch model of governance, with its hallowed system of “checks and balances,” was all that was deemed necessary to limit presidential power.

Since then, we’ve seen the creep of partisan gerrymandering and unbridled influence peddling undermine congressional integrity. Threat-enabled executive order powers and highly politicized manipulation of Justice Dept. appointments have completed the trifecta of corruption, delivering us to the dangerous crossroads at which our democracy stands today.

Enter Donald Trump; by majority opinion, the worst president in history. The best we can hope for is that he remains as ineffective as he is irresponsible. We have no tools to control him. As he puts it: he is president and we are not.

He is president, not because the majority of people chose him over all the very smart and capable people in the land, but because flaws in the political system enabled an extremely venal and incapable individual to exploit the worst instincts of a poorly prepared minority electorate. Now he holds absolute control over the most terrifying capabilities in human history.

Say what you will, this is NOT what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.

Why do we even have an all-powerful presidency? I would argue that it is only because our fledgling nation had not fully weaned itself from the paternalistic model of monarchy.

A parliamentary system, such as that of Canada, might make more sense for us.

There still would be one nominal head of state, the Prime Minister, but his power would be sharply limited by the need to maintain not only a majority endorsement from voters, but also consensus within his/her entire party on an ongoing basis. If support from fellow party members dipped significantly, an election would be called and a new party leader chosen.
Whether or not the party maintained control of the government would then be a question for the voters.  If a sitting Prime Minister’s own popularity dipped to Trumpian lows, he would be forced to call an election.  ‘None of this carte blanche for four years business in the parliamentary model.

Two-hundred-and-forty years of nationhood may sound like a long time but relatively speaking, the U.S. is still in its toddler years. One is tempted to call them its “terrible twos.” Even the president’s cabinet level appointments seem to be more focussed on dismantling the longstanding agencies of public service than effectively administering them.

What we have now is a dangerously dysfunctional governance model that seems increasingly unlikely to withstand the test of time. We’ve already suffered through one terrible civil war and it seems we are revisiting some of the same old grievances. Political tribalism is at a fever pitch, and the political success of Donald Trump guarantees that he won’t be the last venal charlatan to scramble all the way to the top.

As much as many may fear the uncertainty of a Constitutional Convention, it is a reckoning that is long overdue.   Happy Fourth of July.americanflag

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?