Tag Archives: Vermont

Get Moving on Vote by Mail!

Just as we were beginning to think Republican Governor Phil Scott deserved a lot of credit for his responsible handling of the Covid-19 crisis, he threatens to undo that goodwill by dragging his feet on Vote-By-Mail.

Secy. of State, Jim Condos has set forward a timely plan that would ensure all qualified Vermonters will have the opportunity to make their voice heard in the November election, but the Governor wants to postpone a decision as to whether or not to go ahead with the plan, until August. 

That would give the state barely three months to develop the protocols, notify counties of guidelines, distribute ballots, inform voters about the procedures, allow for the necessary learning curve to address unanticipated problems, receive and process returned ballots for counting, and present a conclusion scenario in which voters may have full confidence.

That’s a very tall order, and failure on any of these measures would mean utter chaos and bitter divisions at the worst possible time in our history.

Condos has said the governor must approve the plan in the coming days to give the Secretary of State’s Office enough time to set up the infrastructure needed to strengthen the early and absentee ballot apparatus.

…And what exactly does the Governor think will happen between now and August to obviate the need for distance voting?  Does he buy Donald Trump’s narrative that COVID-19 will somehow magically “go away” by then?  I give him credit for much more common sense than that.  At best we might have a brief respite before the next wave, but not only is there the responsibility to ensure that voters are kept safe, concern by voters, themselves, for their safety could in itself suppress participation.

True, it would probably be easier on his Republican cred right now to delay, delay, delay in the hope that somehow he will be spared this difficult decision; but he knows full well that what is required of any political leader in a time of crisis is a profile in courage, not party loyalty.

The Republican Party has developed a reputation for attempts at voter suppression. At this critical juncture, Governor Scott would do well to avoid that appearance, himself.

Calling on Governor Scott:

On May 1, Vermont is scheduled for a limited re-opening of some business interactions, despite the fact that we still have plenty of Coronavirus activity in evidence.

If I correctly understand the logic of this move, it stems from identification of Vermont as one of the nine states which had less than 1,000 identified cases of the virus, ignoring the proportion of virus/deaths to overall population. ?

I know we are all eager to resume “normal” living, but the testing piece is still far from adequate and the actual number of infections is likely exponentially greater than the 812 confirmed cases, so far.

We are told that there are so many unknowns about this unique virus that it is impossible to predict who might have it, how severe it might be and how it might manifest in any one individual.

I am sure Phil Scott is trying to be a responsible governor despite growing pressure to open the state, but I propose that he make one key demand of the Trump administration before the arbitrary May 1 deadline.? It’s a demand that is neither unreasonably large? nor without concrete purpose in addressing the information gap for the nation as a whole.

Having the second smallest population of any state, Vermont would be the ideal candidate for full testing of EVERY single resident, and contact tracing of all the resultant positives.  If if can’t be done for the 600,000 individuals in our little state, what hope is there of getting a handle on the vast unknown for the rest of the country?

So, Governor Scott, with all due respect, I ask you to make our cautious reentry to business activity contingent on getting help from the Feds to make this happen.  The profile on Coronavirus spread that such a state-limited study could yield would be invaluable to the country as a whole.

If ever there was a time to assert your independence while putting Vermont public interest first, it is now.

Thanks, But No Thanks.

Apparently Vermont is one of the nine states getting the “all clear” from Il Duce Don to end social distancing and resume business as usual by May 1.  It is unsurprising that he cares little for the lives of vulnerable people in the state least likely to support him in the upcoming election.

He might just as well say, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,” because he’s made it very clear that he believes voter suppression is the only way that Republicans retain power.

Let me be among the first Vermont seniors to say, “No thanks, Mr. President.”  We don’t want to be the canary in your coal mine.

I give Phil Scott credit for a little more common sense than to follow his party’s nominal leader right off the Coronavirus cliff, but I think we should all make ourselves perfectly clear, nonetheless.

I propose that all the vulnerable people who have been endangered by Trump’s self-dealing and deliberate ignorance in the face of the pandemic begin to come together to develop a massive class action lawsuit against him, to launch the day after Joe Biden is inaugurated as President.  No doubt, it will be only one of many awaiting him on that blessed day.

Who cares whether any lawsuit succeeds in the long run!  The idea is to hound him and his family of horrors for the remainder of their days, just as surely as they have darkened ours.

McClaughry to the planet: “Get offa my lawn!”

If there were a Clueless Curmudgeon award (perhaps a likeness of Mr. Magoo) John McClaughry’s editorial tirade against plans for the upcoming Climate Strike would place him in strong contention.

He doesn’t think Vermonters like himself should be “inconvenienced” by high school students’ efforts to call attention to the threat climate inaction brings to their very real future…a future put in peril by prior generations of Americans’ inability to deny themselves any convenience or passing pleasure, regardless of its impact on the long-term survival of the biosphere. ?

Belonging to the Trump universe, in which America’s inherent ‘superiority’ means preternatural entitlement, Mr. McClaughry doesn’t even appear to understand to what the concept of climate justice refers.  

He even has the nerve to invoke Rosa Parks as an example of what he considers an acceptable method of protest, presumably because he thinks Rosa Parks didn’t ‘inconvenience’ anyone with her historic ride.  I doubt the bus driver would have agreed; otherwise, why did he have Ms. Parks arrested and jailed?  Presumably Mr. McClaughry would object to the subsequent Montgomery Bus Boycott, as that act of civil disobedience most certainly inconvenienced a great many people!

‘Too bad that righting systemic wrongs sometimes demands sacrifice, and always requires ‘inconvenience.’

Mr. McClaughry sneers at science, erroneously suggesting that the only evidence of anthropogenic climate impacts relied upon by activists is the extreme weather we are increasingly experiencing.  Although such evidence  is pretty compelling,  the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community is not based on empirical evidence alone but is reinforced by carefully collected data, analyzed according to accepted principles, steadily growing in volume and urgency.  If science isn’t to be relied upon, what does Mr. McClaughry suggest as a substitute, and what evidence can he provide that his substitute would be more reliable?

No; he doesn’t bother to go there.  He just proclaims that acting on what the scientific community is telling us would be inconvenient and therefore, we should choose the easier route of denial, regardless of the consequences.

That’s fine for him.  He assumes he won’t live long enough to be ‘inconvenienced’ by Climate Catastrophe.  Would that that were so!  A few more summers of arctic wildfires like we just had and we may see projections on planetary collapse moved-up by half a century.

And I promise you, nuclear energy won’t look so attractive to Mr. McClaughry when the melting permafrost releases not just CO2 and methane, but all that hidden radioactive waste buried improperly in Siberia.

Inconvenient?  I should think so!

Auditor Hoffer looks at Clean Water investments.

Clean water is one of the biggest challenges facing Vermont in the twenty-first century.

With an economy largely based on agriculture, we have some difficult choices to make as to how best we direct our limited financial resources in order to address the challenge.

Having lived in the Lake Champlain watershed for close to forty years now, I can say we have made disappointing progress on that front.

As part of their mission to hold government accountable, Doug Hoffer and the State Auditor’s Office recently undertook to provide a non-audit report to the Legislature, reflecting on how well our clean water investments are serving the most pressing needs of Vermont’s waterways and wetlands.

(I will admit from the start that I do not have the technical background to do justice to the topic, so this is a pretty superficial effort. I will gratefully accept correction if I have misunderstood or omitted crucial details.) 

Not surprisingly, Auditor Hoffer finds reason to question the state’s funding priorities, as they seem to be skewed more toward urban and suburban wastewater projects and less toward agricultural runoff which represents the greater environmental threat in Vermont.

Since municipalities are better resourced and more highly motivated to engage with the state and other sources for scarce funding than are farmers, guess who gets the “lion’s share” of mitigation dollars?

So, while the deposit of phosphorus on the floor of St. Albans Bay stubbornly continues to put forth noxious algae blooms to choke Lake Champlain, sewer treatment and wastewater projects intended not just to support existing populations but also to service new development seem to have the edge in clean water budgeting.

According to the Auditor’s office:
“…wastewater projects received the largest
share of State clean water funding in the (Lake Champlain) Basin
even though the share of phosphorous pollution
from this source is the lowest by far. Wastewater
accounts for 4% of phosphorus pollution, but
wastewater projects accounted for 35% of
expenditures.”

In responding to the Auditor’s observations,  Emily Boedecker of the Vermont Dept. of Environmental Conservation says that the auditor’s report places too much emphasis on phosphorus reduction, overlooking, for instance, the benefits to general sanitation and public health that arise from new sewer and wastewater infrastructure.

There is value from improvements to general sanitation, but the priority of Vermont’s Clean Water mandate should be to address the most critical threat to our waterways which, for many years, has been from unchecked agricultural sources. Subject to statutory limitations on funding sources, one would think that there would lie the obvious priority.

It should not be a matter of either/or, but it could be argued that it is the job of the Legislature, local municipalities and developers to come up with additional funding so that all of the state’s clean water priorities can be adequately addressed.  

The purview of the auditor, in this case, is to assess how effectively the state’s environmental priorities have been addressed with the limited funding available.

It is clear from the dialogue between Auditor Hoffer and Commissioner Boedecker that additional tools must be developed so that the cost-effectiveness of different approaches to water quality management may be assessed in greater detail.

As always, a checkup by the state auditor is rather like a visit to the dentist:? a little pain is to be expected; but, in the long run, the patient gets the benefit of some necessary and healthy perspective.


Will Vermont join California in requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns?

How about it?

California is the first state to adopt this rule, setting the requirement at five years of back taxes; but Illinois and New Jersey already have the matter under consideration.

Shouldn’t the most progressive state in the Union also be the most transparent?

Norms no longer seem to be sufficient. ? With Trump’s cautionary tail sitting in the Oval Office, its time to codify some protections for our democracy before it’s too late. ?We have to do what we can on a state level because Congress has been effectively neutered.

That is all I’ve got to say. ?Thank you.

In defense of GENEROUS paid family leave

While it certainly is fair to ask questions about the numbers involved in the paid family leave?program under consideration by our Legislature, there is no question that, whatever the costs, they will, in the long-run, be outweighed by benefits provided under such a policy.??
Secure in the knowledge that paid family leave will be available when needed, young working families will find Vermont a more attractive place in which to take up residence, bringing with them the skills we sorely need in order to continue Vermont’s pathway to prosperity.??Even individuals who never draw directly upon paid family leave will benefit indirectly from the increased economic activity and social stability that paid family leave has been widely demonstrated to provide.
Furthermore, paid family leave can allow a family’s resources to extend further in caring for a family member’s temporary health challenges without the expense of hired nursing care.??
An added benefit of paid family leave lies in strengthening family bonds and relieving some of the emotional stress and guilt associated with conflicts between work and caring for a loved one.??There are actual costs attached to such conflicts when workers are forced to stay on the job even though they feel they should be at home.??Productivity suffers and the workers themselves may have ill health effects from the associated stress.
Virtually everywhere else in the world, paid family leave is the norm.??The U.S. is one of only three countries where it is not.??Only four out of fifty U.S. states offer paid family leave.??If our objective is to attract and hold a young workforce in Vermont, generous paid family leave is an essential incentive to make this small, wintery state competitive.
We cannot afford to be cheap about this fundamental benefit when our near neighbors, New York and New Jersey, have already outpaced Vermont in adopting paid family leave.

Vermont Justice Fails Our Values; Over-and-Over Again

Like many other folks, ’outrage fatigue’ has distracted me from the everyday injustices that are happening right here in Vermont.? That is one of the collateral costs of the Trump circus playing out like a bad soap opera in Washington.

It’s easy to assume that, in our tiny, generally progressive state, overtly threatening racist acts and sexual exploitation are both infrequent and met with swift justice.? Would that it were so.

I am learning that Vermont justice seems ill-equipped to address these threats, even in the twenty-first century.

Case in point is the sorry tale of Kiah Morris,?formerly our lone black female legislator, who was successfully felled by a self-entitled white nationalist by the name of Max Misch, who got his fondest wish when, in order to protect her family, Rep. Morris abandoned her reelection bid.

Sounds like AG?TJ Donovan, who recently ran a strong campaign for Attorney General, caved like a cheap suit when Ms. Morris appealed to him for relief from Misch’s harassment.

Who buys his argument that Misch’s threatening behavior is nothing more than ‘free speech’, protected under Article one of the Bill of Rights?? I don’t. ?

There is real harm in Misch’s menacing words and presence, not just to Ms. Morris and her family, but to her constituents who, it could be argued, were unjustly deprived of Ms. Morris’ future representation by a single bigot and not the electorate as a whole.? That sounds like election tampering to me.

I don’t believe that Mr. Misch should be allowed to succeed by hiding behind a key provision of our Bill of Rights, which was, after all, intended to protect the individual from abuse; not to open them up to intimidation.

AG Donovan has a lot to answer for if he fails to make a better case than this.

And while we are at it, what about the shabby job done by the Franklin County States Attorney’s office in prosecuting accused serial sexual abuser and former state senator Norm McAllister?

No thunderous “Me too” challenge here!? Instead, having outlived one of his accusers and gotten the benefit of another accuser’s unjust shame, his attorneys only had to answer for accusations from the third woman, who was a crushingly poor victim of marital abuse, low on self-esteem and easily intimidated under questioning.? The attorney for the state only managed to get the least of the counts against McAllister to stick.

After pleading guilty to the one charge of procuring and receiving a laughably light sentence, considering the predatory nature of his still-alleged history; McAllister, all-lawyered up, has now managed to get a mistrial called on even that procurement charge and is scheduled for a new trial in March.? None of McAllister’s other history of accusations from other women will be allowed to be heard at the new trial.? The poor woman who must now repeat her grueling trial experience, was first encouraged by the state’s attorney to pursue her complaint against?McAllister under the belief that she would not have to stand alone.? Having witnessed her humiliating testimony first hand, it is difficult for me to believe that she will be willing to go through that again.

My guess is that the whole thing will be dismissed, a quiet footnote in the evening paper.

In other words, McAllister will, like Misch, get off scott-free.

Vermont justice, it would seem, is not just blind, but sclerotic?and decidedly white-male.

Stop bellyaching about Vermont’s aging population.

Once again, a Vermont Governor is lamenting the aging of our state population, extrapolating nothing but gloom in our economic forecast.

Yes, we have a surplus of Vermonters over the age of 65; yes, we have declining numbers of youth refreshing our labor force; and yes, we are experiencing slow growth due to labor shortages.

That’s the cup-half-empty picture.

But applying a cup-half-full perspective to the same facts could present a picture of opportunity.

We’ve imagined our state becoming a hub of small scale manufacturing, captive insurance markets, tech industry, specialty foods, recreation and tourist activity. With some success, we have focussed on and incentivized each of these sectors in turn, attempting to fertilize the seeds of state potential.

In each case, we looked to our state’s unique qualities as strengths to be marketed to a larger world, yet we have never thought of an aging population as anything other than an inconvenience bordering on a burden; something to be apologized away or camouflaged by any youngsters we can bring to the front of the queue.

We are missing out on the resource that an older population can represent. If the state incentivizes a state-of-the-art eldercare and senior housing industry, with walkable communities, targeted recreational opportunities and social networking innovations; Vermont could become a trend-setter, attracting the best skilled youth workforce in the healthcare sphere from all over the country.

Those newcomers could become cornerstones of a new generation, expanding our tax base, filling classrooms and playgrounds with future Vermonters.

Embracing the natural aging of our population and viewing it as an opportunity for innovation is the smart way to tackle the future; and we could sure use some “smarts” right about now.

As one of the discounted multitude, ?I still have to buy food and clothing, keep a roof over my head, attend to my medical and dental needs, and consume a modicum of entertainment. ?I may even spend more money in some instances, than do younger consumers, in order ?to create a safe environment in my home, protect my health, coddle grandchildren, beautify my garden, travel and learn.

We’re here; we’re not dying off anytime soon; and we have needs that are often unmet within our communities. ?It’s time to give this new market a second look.

Norm McAllister plays the world’s smallest violin…again.

Just in case anyone still cares, you should know that, according to the Messenger, perennial victim of unfair antipathy toward serial sexual assaulters, Norm McAllister wants to have his conviction on one count of “prohibited acts” overturned.That’s right: following one aborted trial concerning accuser #1, a teenager at the time of the alleged assaults; the untimely death of accuser #2, and the defense’s successful end-run against all but one of the lesser charges concerning accuser #3, Mr. McAllister wants another bite at the apple of complete exoneration.

Nevermind the fact that he has twice put the state through the costs of preparation and jury selection to hear the case concerning accuser #3. You may recall that Mr. McAllister abruptly entered a plea of guilt after the first day of the first trial, because the audio evidence was judged so damning by his defense team. The next morning he demanded that he be allowed to revoke his plea and stand trial all over again, claiming his defense team had bullied him into the plea. ?(whimper, whimper...)

If you read the comments on stories about these trials, made almost entirely by men…and men who were not in attendance at the trials, I might add…you will understand why Mr. McAllister has felt emboldened to play the victim, over-and-over again. With few exceptions, these gentlemen, enlightened by nothing more than brief second-hand summaries of recordings and testimonies, all conclude that McAllister did nothing wrong; often adding a superfluous observation to the effect that “women often lie about these things.” The passion of these remarks makes one wonder about the gentlemen’s own personal histories on consent!

Statistically, nothing could be further than the truth. Not only is sexual assault drastically underreported; on the occasions when it is reported, the deeply personal nature of the crime means that it is rarely brought successfully to trial. The percentage of false accusations is around 5% or less. Few men are ever held accountable for their sexual assaults.

And what is the possible sentence that Mr. McAllister is facing for his “unfair”conviction? All of $100. or a year in jail. Tsk, tsk…how unjust.

Worlds-smallest-violin