Saffron or Algae Blooms?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only Messenger reader who noted the ironic coincidence of headlines in last nights paper.

Just as President Donald J. Trump signs his second attempt at a Muslim travel ban, the early cost of this administration’s arbitrary agenda is vividly illustrated by two local examples.

Saffron: Vermont’s next cash crop?

The feature story tells us that, thanks to an Iranian postdoctoral student, we may soon see an extremely valuable cash crop, saffron, cultivated in our own backyard…at St. Albans Bay.

In the “brave new world” of Donald J. Trump, just being Iranian would be sufficient to invoke the President’s travel ban against him. That Dr. Ghalehgolabbehbahani is also a man of science would surely serve only to reinforce the administration’s antipathy toward him.

The President’s clumsy attempts to target Muslim countries for exclusion is already impacting interest in travel and study in the U.S. That doesn’t bode well for several industries which heavily depend on foreign dollar infusions.

Over to the side, on the same front page, is a warning from Senator Patrick Leahy. Being in a position to know, Sen. Leahy predicts that Donald Trump’s massacre of the EPA budget will imperil cleanup of Lake Champlain.

It’s a pretty easy guess that Leahy’s prediction will prove accurate. In the new federal budget, funding for clean-up of Chesapeake Bay has been slashed from $73-million down to just $7-million. Somehow I suspect that if the waterways lapping near to Capitol Hill merit so little support from the Trump administration, Lake Champlain, way up here in blue country, will receive less than none.

It should be noted that, even though funding for water protection is being sacrificed on the pretext that an exponential hike in military spending is urgently required, the President isn’t prepared to abandon his frequent getaways to Mar-a-Lago (four so far) that had already cost the tax payers $10-million before the paint was even dry in the Oval Office. That’s $3 million more than the Chesapeake Bay clean-up funds! The indignity is only worsened when a translation of “Mar-a-Lago” is considered. (Look it up!)

So, once the clean-up funding runs out and the stench of algae blooms hangs heavy over St. Albans Bay, perhaps we will at least be grateful that one Iranian chose to locate here before Donald Trump closed the door.

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.

Your Friday Trumping

It has been another in a line of dizzyingly chaotic news weeks since Trump became president. It started off well enough for Trump. As President, Donald managed to read a teleprompter speech to the US Congress in a suitable tone — “Nationalism in an indoor voice.” And following through on campaign promises he made, his new EPA head started slashing away at the agency, proposing to cut their budget by 24%.

Rounding off the week, Commander-in-chief Donald started boosting his plans for a U.S.  arms build-up with a speech given to sailors aboard the soon-to-be commissioned aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford.

Not sure if any political pundits noted it, but I’m probably not the only one impressed by the remarkable restraint Trump showed  not pinning any shiny gold medals to the military styled jacket and cap he happily donned after they were given to him by sailors aboard the aircraft carrier.

trumpslonging

However by weeks’ end, the growing problem over questions of Russian attempts to influence his administration hit close to home. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was shamed into recusing himself from any investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election. Reports then surfaced of a previously undisclosed meeting Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner had in December at Trump Towers in New York  with the Russian ambassador to “establish a line of communication.”

And finally The Onion reports the Russians are far ahead of their timeline to carefully undermine the legitimacy of the American political system

MOSCOW—working frantically to readjust the schedule they had outlined back in June 2015, Russian officials admitted to reporters Thursday that they have been left scrambling after seeing their plan to delegitimize Western democracy move much faster than they had intended.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov said: “[…] we never thought so much public trust in the White House would erode in a matter of a few weeks. We’re pleased, of course, but keeping up is going to be a real challenge.” Lavrov went on to say he was deeply concerned that Trump’s impeachment would occur well before the president could cause the amount of damage to America that the Kremlin had originally intended. [Ed. note: not real news, for humorous use only, not to be taken internally]

All this leaves one to wonder as President Trump charges off to Florida today if Donald will grow tired of “winning” all the time? Perhaps he will stop-over at Mar-A- Lago, his shining gold-plated palace in Florida, get in a couple rounds of golf and all the world will be right again — at least in his own mind.

The Trump-Sessions administration decides to go full-racist

We knew it, right? Ever since November 8 (well, actually, ever since Trump got his start in politics by making a frank appeal to racism) we knew that this would be an administration of nearly unprecedented evil. We knew it even though we’ve been able to watch SNL and laugh at the spot-on impressions of Trump, Conway, and Sphincter. It was easier when they were just acting awful but not making much attempt at governing.

Now, department by department, we’re going to see what it means. As a lawyer my mind naturally goes to what is still, unaccountably, called the Department of Justice, headed by someone who was too racist to be confirmed as a federal judge thirty years ago but apparently not too racist to get the Republicans in the Senate to confirm him today.

One thing that happens, which I suppose is a kind of progress, is that they will pretend to be not merely opposed to, but actually appalled by racism. They know enough to know that they shouldn’t admit it, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to actually not be racists.

What we get from them is all kinds of assurances about how awful they think racism is and how they would never, no never, act in a way that is the slightest bit racist. For instance, here’s Jefferson Beauregard in his confirmation hearings:

Sessions said: “I abhor the Klan and what it represents, and its hateful ideology.” He denied ever condemning the activities of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as “un-American” or describing a white attorney in Alabama as a race traitor.

Hey, we know he was lying, but at least he made the effort, right?

But now he’s on the job, he’s showing up every day, and he’s starting to put his plans into place. Where does he start? By signing up to support racists in two of their most visible and vicious manifestations.

First off, voter suppression. There’s a case going on down in Texas right now filed by the Department of Justice in which the trial judge found not only that a set of new ID measures adopted by the Republican legislature (“the lege”, as Molly used to say) had a disparate impact on racial minorities, but also that the measures were adopted with the clear intention of discriminating against the blacks and the browns–you know, the darker races. And this is a case that is not only pending, but the government and civil rights activists have actually won, both in the District Court and on appeal to the Circuit, with the remaining issue being whether there is enough evidence to support the finding of intentional discrimination.

So what does Sessions do? You know already, don’t you? He sides with the racists. But the Justice Department under President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a judge on Monday that it was withdrawing its claim that Texas enacted the law with a discriminatory intent.

Fortunately the case still goes on because the DOJ wasn’t the only plaintiff, but he has clearly told us in this one which side he’s on.

Come to think of it, he’s done it twice this week.

You know how, when the police kill an innocent, unarmed black person there’s always a call for the feds to investigate? You know, because you can’t trust the local prosecutors to investigate their buddies on the police? Kind of an important protection. In fact, [t]he Justice Department currently has 19 agreements with police departments across the U.S. to work on targeting minorities and use of excessive force.

No more, though. If you’re an innocent victim of police violence Sessions has one thing to tell you: he doesn’t care, or as they say in Russia, tough shitsky.

“We need, so far as we can, to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness. And I’m afraid we’ve done some of that,” Sessions said during a meeting with attorneys general from across the country.
“So we’re going to try to pull back on this,” he continued.

So let’s count it up:
Siding with racist politicians against minority voters? Check.
Siding with racist cops against minority victims? Check.

I’m assuming we’ll see him pull off the racist hat trick this week,, but it’s only Wednesday night. Give the man a chance.

Words Matter

Listening to Steve Bannon on stage at CPAC last week was a painful but necessary way to get in touch with what the Trump White House has on its collective mind.

Moderates are alarmed at the expressed hostility to a free press, but may entirely overlook the still more sinister sub-text. When Bannon railed against the “globalist and corporate media” he was drawing on language that the far, far right “Nazi” fringe understands is anti-semitic.

Under Bannon’s thumb, “America First” has become a favorite slogan of Trump accolades, a direct descendent of the same phrase used by Nazi sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh before the U.S. entered WWII.

Later at CPAC, Donald Trump doubled down on the dread in his own anti-media speech in which he ominously suggested that he is going to “do something” about media outlets that are at odds with his preferred narrative.

Excluding the New York Times, CNN, Politico and others from a press “gaggle” at the White House on Friday afternoon, may indeed represent the opening salvo in delivery on his threat.

Trump has repeatedly referred to the media as “the Enemy of the People.” When challenged, he says he is only referring to the “fake news” media; but then he lists among those who promulgate “fake news,” sources like the New York Times and Washington Post that have a sterling reputation for accountability and pointedly praises the most questionable outlets which justhappen to have a bias in his favor.

A great piece in the New York Times takes a closer look at this “Enemy of the People” phrase, tracing it to legendary Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Post-Stalin, even hardliners like Kruschev avoided the phrase, recognizing it as a bridge too far.

Russian scholar Mitchell A. Orenstein points out that Donald Trump seems to deliberately repeat this kind of Soviet era language because it inflames his supporters as it renders the words meaningless for opposition purposes:

“He is only alienating them, and they are the people he wants to alienate anyway,” Mr. Orenstein continued. “His base sees comparisons with Stalin as just more evidence of the liberal mainstream media going haywire.”

Moreover, by using such a loaded term in such a cavalier fashion, the president “is in the process of rendering it meaningless,” Mr. Orenstein said. “It becomes just na-na-na-na-na,” he added, because nobody really thinks Mr. Trump will bring back the guillotine.

Returning to Bannon’s CPAC speech, he used the term “economic nationalism,” and that, too, merits deconstruction for all it may portend. An excellent article in the Washington Post examines the practical economic consequences of pursuing a course of economic nationalism. When taken to it’s logical conclusion, with all the deregulation and protectionism Trump would like to impose, the policy favors sectors that can prosper in global isolation. Sectors like fossil fuel energy and housing become “winners,” while others like tech and higher education are the losers. The result would be a dumbed-down America, fed on “alternative facts” and ripe for the kind of third-world political chaos that Bannon would dearly love to see.

But for those like Donald Trump who have no patience with book learnin’ and studied history, “economic nationalism” sounds superficially like a good thing. The fact that “nationalism” has long been code for the racist/xenophobic view of “us over them,” lifted straight out of the Third Reich’s playbook, means nothing to them.

Focussing on the “economic” preface to Bannon’s nationalism pretty much misses the point.

Like “white nationalism,” “economic nationalism” seeks a new world order in which the interests of a single homogenous group are placed above the well-being of everyone else, eschewing any moral or ethical responsibility for the greater good. Efforts at shutting down immigration, deportation and suppressing the minority vote, which are also on the agenda of the Bannon/Trump world order, serve to further isolate and elevate the privileged population.

“Nationalism” of any kind is not to be confused with patriotism, which is love of country. Nationalism is an expression of contempt for the rights and interests of any people other than those who are recognized as belonging to the dominant population, whether it addresses exclusion as a cultural or a national matter.

It’s as if this administration is, through its choice of isolationist language, pulling up the drawbridge on diversity and intellectual growth. Mr. Trump perhaps forgets how much our economic prosperity was built on risk taking, immigrant ingenuity and a open-armed national persona.

If Trump has his way, America is about to get a lot smaller, colder and poorer.

McAllister brought to blushes by his own filthy words.

Well, the sordid pageant of disgraced former Franklin County senator Norm McAllister’s legal battles continued on Friday, as Judge Martin A. Maley heard a second day of arguments concerning Mr. McAllister’s request to reverse his plea deal on sex crime charges. Mr. McAllister has said he was coerced by the defense team into accepting the plea deal, but testimony would seem to suggest that, after hearing the evidence against him, his son Heath first  urged him to accept any plea deal that was offered, then changed his mind much later after the plea commitment had been made.

I had a prior obligation that prevented me from attending yesterday’s proceedings, but the St. Albans Messenger bravely provided an outstanding account of all that was said and heard. It bears reading for the graphic lesson it provides on the sheer brutality of this kind of sexual exploitation, as well as insight into the rationalizations Mr. McAllister adopted for his behavior.

That the good people of my county repeatedly sent the perpetrator to the legislature, even while all of this was going on, makes it that much more disturbing.

Unfortunately, a paywall prevents me from sharing the Messenger story, so I am linking to a Seven Days piece instead.

The fact that Mr. McAllister at first accepted, then sought to overturn his arguably generous plea deal, is further proof that he still has not fully accepted his wrongdoing.

Unlike the little girl whose case against McAllister was dropped when she came unravelled at the end of four hours of grilling on the stand, the victim in this case was not forced to testify.

On that occasion last June, Mr. McAllister was allowed to sit undisturbed in the gallery without having to say a word or meet the appraising gaze of the curious, as the most graphic aspects of that victim’s testimony were haltingly and painfully recounted, mortifying the young woman and rendering her easy prey for defense tactics.

This time, Mr. McAllister was forced to listen to a recording of his own filthy admissions of forced sexual conduct with the victim while the entire courtroom heard them as well.

According to the Messenger story, members of the public listened with downcast eyes, some weeping for the indignity that was so painful to hear. McAllister for his part just sat there, red in the face.

The defense has been given one week to submit closing arguments, and the prosecution, another week for response. After that, Judge Maley will render a decision as to whether or not Mr. McAllister’s plea deal will remain in effect.

Mr. McAllister and his son had better hope they lose this case because a full trial on the evidence holds not just the threat of further humiliation, but a possible sentence of up to life in prison.

“Papers, please”: Trump, Sessions, and the CBP unleashed

 

What happens when you unleash the guard dogs? Well my first guess is more and more of this kind of thing:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed Thursday that their agents requested to see the identification of domestic flight passengers landing at a New York airport Wednesday night as they searched for an immigrant who had received a deportation order to leave the United States.

urpapers

According to the agency, two CBP agents asked passengers who had been on Delta Flight 1583 from San Francisco to show their identification while deplaning after landing at John F. Kennedy Airport at about 8 p.m. Wednesday. The search was conducted at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, CBP said in a statement, but the person they were seeking was not on the flight.

A CBP spokesperson said that the individual, who they did not publicly identify, had legal immigration documents but received a deportation order after multiple criminal convictions for domestic assault, driving while impaired, and violating a protective order.[added emphasis]

So what’s the big deal?  Well, remember this was a domestic flight not under the purview or jurisdiction of Customs and Border Protection. And this: It is unclear what would have happened had officials found undocumented immigrants getting off the airplane and whether they would have faced deportation if identified. It is also unclear what would have happened to any passenger who refused to produce his or her identification for the agents.

“Is this a mere request to see identification?” said Jordan Wells, a staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union “Would they have been detained but for them showing ID? Because then it’s no longer a consensual encounter and the Constitution enters the equation.”

The Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol each denied this event was part of any new policy or crackdown, but with Trump’s Exec Orders on immigration, supported by Attorney General Sessions coming fast and furious, it is tempting to take these denials as obligatory coverups: please pass the grains of salt (or do we toss the salt over our shoulders so as not to have to swallow the bland coating atop constitutional poison?).

On Friday a  CBP spokesperson insisted to Rolling Stone Magazine that the check was “consensual assistance from passengers aboard the flight” and that “CBP did not compel anyone to show ID.” However a passenger on the Delta flight tweeted: “We were told we couldn’t disembark without showing our ‘documents.'”

With these recent changes to immigration policy – aka “crack-down” – underway, it is worth remembering that the CBP union, called The National Border Patrol Council, was an early and enthusiastic supporter of candidate Donald Trump, the strongman.

In their first ever presidential endorsement the 16,500 member union said: “We need a person in the White House who doesn’t fear the media, who doesn’t embrace political correctness, who doesn’t need the money, who is familiar with success, who won’t bow to foreign dictators, who is pro-military and values law enforcement, and who is angry for America and NOT subservient to the interests of other nations. Donald Trump is such a man,”[added emphasis]. This is likely the mindset that led unleashed guards in the Border Patrol at the Vermont border  to turn back a Canadian citizen planning to shop in the US because she’s Muslim and had Muslim prayers on her cell phone (see also here and here).

But we got to this point slowly in baby steps. Go read this 2014 GMD diary by NanuqFC about our de facto National ID cards. Most Vermonters already have them. Once known as a Vermont State driving license, they are “Real ID” DHS compliant and come with a gold star. But you know everyone isn’t compliant, and we are free, after all, to get a non-compliant license – and it has a scary red banner reading: NOT FOR FEDERAL IDENTIFICATION.

Remember: “Your papers, please.”  That isn’t normal here at all. No.

Wonder why GEO Group canceled VT’s prison contract?

In December (after the election, of course) GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation) unexpectedly opted not to renew a multi-year contract to house State of Vermont prisoners. Their North Lake Correctional Facility in Michigan was housing less than 300 Vermont inmates (the only occupants in the facility) but has a potential capacity of 1,748.

Private for-profit prison companies just got a belated Valentine’s Day  love letter from new Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. The Valentine came in the form of a memo that reverses acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ directives aimed to slow and ultimately end the Bureau of Prisons’ use of privately run for-profit prisons. The Obama Justice Department had acted on data (see here and here )suggesting that private prisons are less well run than those managed by the Bureau of Prisons, and since overall prison population wasn’t growing, they were no longer be needed.

However, Attorney General Sessions shifted — well actually reversed — the policy in his memo Thursday by declaring that curtailing private prison use “impaired the Bureau’s [Bureau of Prisons’] ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”  cell door Think about what that says about the future Session envisions.

The new Attorney General may not have been the only one anticipating that Trump’s aggressive immigration sweeps will be supplying new detainees to occupy private prison beds. And  since they opted out of the next one-year extension of Vermont’s contract in Dec. 2016, GEO Group will have emptied one of its facilities by June. So, maybe look for the future announcement that GEO’s North Lake will re-open to house the overflow of ICE detainees from Trump’s sweeps awaiting deportation hearings.

GEO Group is the largest (CCA is second) contract provider of detention services for ICE, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Marshals Service. With recent acquisitions Geo Corrections & Detention and Geo Care will own or manage about 98,000 beds worldwide including about 7,000 community reentry beds.prisonprofitper

And GEO’s political action committee spends lavishly on politicians. In 2016 alone they gave $300,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign and almost that much in Senate and Congressional races — overwhelmingly to Republican candidates — all that in addition to heavy lobby spending on state legislators and governors[the following was added 2/26Phil Scott got his bit:a $2,000.00 donation from GEO in March 2016].  GEO Group (and earlier Wackenhut) has helped fund and is listed as a member of ALEC (the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council).

So, it’s probably no accident GEO Group knew which way the wind was going to blow regarding immigrant detention when Trump said he’d deport ‘em all. There are estimated to be up to 8 million people in the country illegally that could be considered priorities for deportation. Sessions’ memo  just monetized them. And GEO stock is at an all time peak.     

Hey, is it time to revisit Vermont’s ski resort leases yet?

The big news Tuesday in Vermont (thankfully nothing to do with Trump) was that AIG International will be selling their ski operations at Stowe Mountain to Vail Resorts Inc. for $50 million. It isn’t a complete break from Vermont for AIG which acquired Stowe in the 1940’s. Bloomberg news reports: “[AIG] will retain majority ownership of the base area, which includes a 312-room lodge, along with a country club and future development rights” yeoldeVTskilease

After hearing the AIG/ Vail Resorts announcement several times today I recalled a January 2015 VT Auditor’s report. Auditor Doug Hoffer’s office released a report for the Agency of Natural Resources on state land leases to ski resorts that deserves a second glance from the powers that be.

The study, titled State Land Leases Boost Ski Industry, but Are Dated and Inconsistent, reported on long-term leases of valuable state land to Vermont ski resorts. The leases, some dating back as far as 1942, were designed to help the then-new and developing ski industry. Lease revenue to the state is based on a percentage of lift ticket sales; however, now a larger part of resort revenue is from other sources, such as hotels, water parks, golf, etc. State Auditor Hoffer: “Our review points to old lease terms that may not be suitable for today and questions whether taxpayers are receiving fair value for these spectacular public assets.”

Maybe some legislator or group of them could again marshal the courage as Senator Tim Ashe did in 2015 to suggest revisiting some of the sixty-plus-year-old bargain-basement leases. The 2017 legislature is just getting warming up for another in what seem to be their endless rounds of service cuts and fee increases driven by revenue shortfalls. Updating existing leases seems more realistic than some of the desperate-crazy revenue ideas that pop up from time to time in legislature. Privatizing rest areas, state-run online daily fantasy-sports betting, legalizing resort gambling, and even floating casinos on Lake Champlain have all been kicked around at one time

Vail Resorts CEO Robert Katz told a business magazine in 2016 the key to making money in the ski industry isn’t necessarily finding more skiers–it’s getting more money from the ones you already have.

Perhaps for Vermont State the key to getting more revenue is revisiting the leases we already have with wealthy out-of-state corporations, not in pretending floating casinos make sense.

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.