Author Archives: John S. Walters

About John S. Walters

Writer, editor, sometime radio personality, author of "Roads Less Traveled: Visionary New England Lives."

Let Us Now Praise Doomed Policy Proposals

The fine folks at the Vermont ACLU got together Tuesday to unveil a plan that would cut the state’s inmate population by hundreds — which would, among other things, allow Vermont to bring its out-of-state inmates back home. (It’d also save money in a bloated corrections budget.)

Great idea. And in the words of Rice University Prof. Quincy Maddox, “Ain’t nothin’ gon’ happen.”

Seriously, I have to admire the dedication of these public interest advocates who do all kinds of research and put together plausible policy proposals in professional-quality brochures and pdfs that you just know are destined to get the bone-saw treatment in the legislative abbatoir. (Not on the official public tour.)

The plan calls for an end to cash bail (at any moment, hundreds of Vermonters are behind bars for failure to post bail), expanding alternatives to incarceration, better treatment for mental illness and substance use disorders, sentencing and prosecutorial reform, decriminalization of certain offenses including sex work, and better options for released inmates.

For years now, our political leaders have paid lip service to the notion of bringing all our inmates back home. But even as we’ve seen scandals and problems and questionable policies at out-of-state prisons, our leaders have failed to follow through.

This time, as usual, there’s plenty of lip service to be had.

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Caution in the face of crisis

Gov. Phil Scott has taken something of a ribbing on The Twitter Machine for saying that when it comes to climate change, “I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel, I’m not looking to come out with something dramatic,”

Because heaven forfend we should respond to a crisis with “something dramatic.” I mean, if your house is on fire, do you really want the fire department waking up the neighborhood with their sirens and flashers? Do you want firefighters trampling all over your lawn?

Scott’s comment was in a truly dispiriting article by VTDigger’s Elizabeth Gribkoff about how state leaders have given up on meeting Vermont’s near-term climate goals, including a 2007 law which mandates a 50% reduction (from 1992 levels) in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2028 and a goal of weatherizing 80,000 Vermont homes by, ahem, next year. (Of course, the legislature had the foresight to impose no penalties for breaking the GHG law, so no harm, no foul, right?)

More on Our Cautious Governor in a moment. But first I’d like to point out that legislative leadership doesn’t look any better. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, The State’s Most Conservative Progressive, talked of “a pretty serious conceptual shift” that kinda-sorta makes those goals… irrelevant?

As Ashe put it, “And so we might think about things differently today than we did when those particular goals were made in terms of timing and strategies.”

Umm, okay. For her part, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson meets the challenge with a profusion of past participles: “In order to have met that goal, we needed to have been keeping closer track of it all along the way,” said Johnson.

I get it. We’re gonna bullshit our way out of the crisis.

In the meantime, I look forward to the passage of legislation officially removing our climate goals from the law. It’d be honest, if nothing else.

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Daily Newspapers Need to Die

R.I.P. Sports Illustrated, one of this lifelong reader/sports fan’s favorite media properties. I say “media property” rather than “magazine” because it long ago became a trading chip in the progressive monetization of everything. Yesterday, its new owners basically stripped SI down to the studs, and will soon begin tearing out the fixtures and wiring to sell for scrap. As the great Ray Ratto, himself a past victim of media downsizing, put it:

Sports Illustrated being turned into a title with nothing to support it has been seen as inevitable since Time, Inc. got out of the business, and this is simply the lousy next step. There will be others, and then it will disappear the way Inside Sports did, and before that Sport Magazine, and before that the International Herald Tribune. There will always be soulless brutes who buy, gut and sell things, and die as they lived, without value or memories. May their demises be slow, painful and filled with screams only they can hear.

What will be left behind, the “soulless brutes” hope, is a “brand” that can be squeezed for every last drop of profit before finally being shuttered for good. The media entity’s staff, traditionally a home for the best sports writers in America, will be filled out by contract workers. And we all know how well the “gig economy” treats writers and journalists.

Which brings me to the dying business of daily newspapers. Us olds, who still value curated journalism that tries to reflect the life of its community and provide a window on the world, stubbornly maintain our subscriptions to formerly worthy entities like the Burlington Free Press and Barre Montpelier Times Argus out of the forlorn hope that, thanks to our fingers in the dike, we can help our dailies maintain a shred of their former relevance.

Well, sorry, but that ship has sailed. Daily newspapers are never going to be anything more than a gaunt outline of their former selves. They are never going to fulfill their traditional role in civic discourse. They need to die so that something new might grow.

This would be a bad thing for all the hard-working, talented people who spend their days performing CPR on their own employers. I do not wish unemployment on the Emilie Stiglianis, April McCullums, Steve Pappases and David Delcores of the world. But their fates are not in my hands. Their paychecks arrive at the sufferance of far-away corporate owners who don’t have the slightest interest in the well-being of their minions, let alone the Constitutional duty of journalism. They see media properties as things to strip-mine with no concern for tomorrow.

And they are occupying valuable space in our media landscape for no purpose other than short-term profit.

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The Cardiac Kid

Bernie Sanders has been battling bad news lately. He’s stuck in the polls, or maybe even losing ground. He’s lost the “left/progressive” lead to Elizabeth Warren. He’s had to shake up his campaign organization in crucial states. Key supporters, like the Working Families Party, have abandoned him.

But this morning brings the worst possible headline for Sanders 2020: “Sanders Has Heart Surgery.”

It may well be a blip on the radar, and Bernie may live to be a happy, healthy 120 years old. But he’s the oldest candidate in the race and would be the oldest sitting president at the beginning of his term in office. Medical issues have always been the hidden shoal that could sink his campaign.

And health-wise, he’s on a bad run.

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Bernie’s in trouble! No wait, Bernie’s doing great!

Yesterday, VTDigger reporter Kit Norton posted a story that seemed to indicate flagging support for America’s most senior junior senator, Bernie Sanders. Norton reported that “nearly 200” (he never provided the exact figure) of Sanders’ biggest 2016 donors were instead giving their money to Elizabeth Warren this year. The takeaway, I guess, is that crowds of Bernie backers have fled his campaign.

We’ll get to the story’s flaws in a bit. Right now, we move on to a story posted by Norton today, that shows Sanders doing extremely well in the fundraising department. In fact, during the just-concluded third quarter of 2019, Sanders received $25.3 million — as Norton reported, “the largest quarterly fundraising haul of any Democratic candidate in 2019.”

It was a sharp increase from Sanders’ second-quarter haul of $18 million, and shows that, in spite of recent bad news on the polling and campaign organization fronts, Sanders continues to inspire supporters to put their money where their opinions are. It also shows that Sanders is doing just fine, thank you very much, without those big donations from the faithless “nearly 200.”

Which brings us back to Norton’s first piece. It involved a lot of digging through campaign finance reports which, I can tell you from personal experience, is a depressing slog. I always start doing campaign finance pieces with a sense of optimism and purpose, which at some point turns into my inner voice shouting “Why the hell am I doing this?”

So, good on Norton for doing the spadework — and for reaching out to quite a few of the ex-donors for comment.

And now, the bad news. There is no context whatsoever in the story. Nothing to tell the reader how serious a loss this is for Team Bernie.

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The Spurious Leahy Equivalency

Hey folks, pesky fly buzzing about. Time to get out the ol’ elephant gun.

Last week, Vermont’s own conservative writer, lobbyist and Trump apologist Guy Page took to the interwebs to downplay the significance of Our Felonious President’s dealings with Ukraine by making a completely baseless comparison to the actions of St. Patrick Leahy.

As Page would have it, while Trump exerted pressure on Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s dealings in that country*, Leahy also engaged in pressure tactics against that selfsame nation. In May 2018, Leahy and two fellow Senate Democrats sent a letter to the then-senior prosecutor of Ukraine expressing “great concern” that the prosecutor was impeding the Robert Mueller investigation, and urging him to cooperate. The Senators noted that they had been “strong advocates for a robust and close relationship with Ukraine.” Without saying so, they implied that their advocacy could be subject to change.

*Nice of Page to acknowledge Trump’s pressure tactics. Although he characterizes it as “Trump’s pursuit of justice,” ahem.

Aha! See? A classic case of “both sides do it.”

Ehh, not so fast, buddy boy. Trump and Leahy both communicated justice-related concerns with Ukrainian officials, to be sure. But that’s where the similarities end.

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Arise, Teen Selfie Stars

Climate activist and current darling of the free world Greta Thunberg has had enough of your adulation.

Everywhere I have been the situation is more or less same. The people in power, their beautiful words are the same. The number of politicians and celebrities who want to take selfies with us are the same. The empty promises are the same. The lies are the same, and the inaction is the same. Nowhere have I found anyone in power who dares to tell it like it is, because no matter where you are, even that burden they leave to us, us teenagers, us children.

She said that last Friday, at a climate strike rally in New York City. And she’s dead right. Thunberg’s critics have been thoroughly condescending about this pigtailed teenager telling us how to run the world — and her supporters have offered a more subtle form of condescension. There’s an undercurrent of “how cute” and “isn’t it amazing that this teenager is so bright, so committed?” not unlike when Joe Biden called Barack Obama clean and articulate, as if that’s surprising to see in a black man. We applaud Thunberg, we get a selfie, maybe we even give her the Nobel Peace Prize, and we feel like we’ve made a statement on the world’s climate crisis.

When, in fact, we’ve done jack shit. Thunberg made this even more explicit in her Sunday address at the United Nations:

This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you come to us young people for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

It may be time for Vermont’s own teen selfie stars to adopt the same attitude.

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