Elsewhere here, I have explained my work history, and my faith. Here I seek to relate my broader experience, especially as it relates to serving Vermont in this time.
Our state’s issues are complex, and I am a complex person. I am both Vermonter and flatlander; lawyer and farmer; writer and off-grid hermit. I have emerged from my backwoods shelter to contribute these diverse experiences and disciplines in a meaningful way.
I have traveled much, from an early age -- travel is a great teacher, because it exposes us to other people and other cultures. And always I sought to immerse myself in those cultures. I worked for a summer out of High School in Ogunquit, ME where many of my co-workers and customers were gay. In college I spent one year at Rutgers University at the Livingston campus, which was majority black and inner city. I loved it (especially the music!). I attended the University of Essex in England for a year, and had close friends who were Greek, Japanese, Iranian, Irish, Chinese, Ugandan, etc., etc. I returned home married (at 21) to a British woman.
I became a tax attorney so that we could move back to the UK after law school without having to become a British solicitor. We did so -- I bought my first home in Solihull (Warwickshire), and I worked for a year in Birmingham, UK, itself a unique culture. I have visited many countries. I also worked for a summer in Yellowstone National Park as a cook, and in 2005 we took our children on a cross-country road trip for six weeks, as an education.
My first marriage deteriorated, and we returned to the United States. Divorce was devastating for me -- my wife returned to the UK for a time with our 2-year-old son while I was trying to build my law practice. A very difficult time, but I have great compassion for people in divorces as a result. I worked (pro bono) in criminal juvenile court in inner city areas, the ugly trenches. I represented crack cocaine and heroin dealers in drug sweeps -- a necessary role if we are to grant the guarantees of the Constitution. Often my clients would turn state’s evidence (become informants). Some defense attorneys refused to participate in this -- I viewed that entirely as my client’s decision, and so I often worked with them (and the police) to wear wires in transactions, or to provide testimony against co-defendants.
In 1998, one of my oldest friends killed his pregnant wife in a horrific slaughter that is best not discussed, in front of their 5-year-old, while on the phone to the State Police. I appeared on his behalf to secure a bond and attorney, but never in his defense. I spoke at his wife’s funeral that same week. About seven years later, after moving to Vermont, I was contacted by the victim’s sister, and learned that the killer had been found not guilty by reason of mental illness, and so had inherited all that his wife owned, including proceeds from the couple’s homeowners’ policy. But worse, he had sued the State of Connecticut, using his wealth to seek to be released early, employing high-paid attorneys and psychiatrists to say he was fine now. He claimed he had become a Christian -- but he had never apologized to the victim’s family.
So I undertook a pro bono effort to change that law so that such a thing would never happen again. It took about a decade, including a federal suit against the State of Connecticut, and the production of a national TV documentary publicizing this gross injustice. The law was changed, and now has already benefited many victims’ families.
I did not become a lawyer to get rich. I have great abilities to help people, and I do. Lawyers must translate complex laws and problems for regular folks to understand -- that’s what I do in my writing, and what I am offering in our policy list. The pension crisis is truly a crisis. Many finance experts (such as David Coates) have tried to spread the alarm for some time, but our legislature has used every accounting gimmick available to avoid addressing this very real problem. Part of my campaign effort is to use a bullhorn to amplify those sensible economists’ voices, so that the Vermont legislature will be compelled to address the issue (much like Connecticut and the inheritance laws).
Meanwhile, my worldview began to shift. Always a liberal, I had voted for Bill Clinton. But then he had an affair with an intern, lied under oath to a Grand Jury, and to the American people -- and the Democrats called it a political attack! What? I voted for him -- can I not expect the President of the United States to exercise at least as much ethicality as was demanded of me in my little Storrs, Connecticut law practice? I did not sexually harass my staff or clients -- let alone drag the whole nation into my weakness and lying.
Still, I voted for Obama -- twice. I was long tired of a two-party dominance that always increased debt and regulations, but he seemed to motivate people. Yet he backed absurd Wall Street salaries, accepted huge money from banking and financial interests, tried to take our Second Amendment away in ways that he well knew were unconstitutional, and then he backed Monsanto against farmers in the US Supreme Court!! (Monsanto v Bowman). I have tired of being routinely lied to.
In 2016 I challenged the Vermont Department of Agriculture (VAAFM) over on-farm slaughter laws that were not good for farmers, consumers, or our animals. That effort finally led to law changes in Vermont, enacted this year. More needs to be done. I am an avid reader of Wendell Berry’s works, and I urge others to read his warnings about agriculture and farming. His is the voice for our time. I correspond with Mr. Berry, and with Joel Salatin and Wes Jackson. Large corporations know full well that food is big business, and they want farmers out of the way. Vermonters would be greatly better off if they studied these teachers rather than permit the social engineering schemes of progressive fantasists like David Zuckerman and Rebecca Holcombe.
Our current system of agriculture is unsustainable, just as our Vermont government’s bloated growth is unsustainable. The latter threatens inflation, and collapse -- the former promises to make that pain one hundred times worse. My grandparents, and many great aunts and uncles, all survived the Great Depression, and taught me much about frugality and self-reliance. We abandon that heritage at great peril. True Vermonters understand this.
It is insane to become dependent on food from 3,500 miles or more away, or on tourists for our economy. Both are also extremely fossil fuel dependent. I have backpacked from age 15, and always we pack out other people’s garbage. I have worked in the waste-to-energy and Superfund clean-up fields (I studied environmental law extensively at UConn Law School). There are three stages in waste -- generation, recycling, disposal. We have a disposal crisis in our leaky landfills (look at Coventry!). We are backed up with recycling. Perhaps someday we will try to generate less garbage, especially wasted food. A carbon tax grows government and taxes, but provides a mere illusion of progress -- we would be better to teach children and the public how to use less, not just pay a sin tax when we pollute.
I write about this often, to a public that does not really want to sacrifice its consumptive pleasures. Vermont is the number one localvore state in America, and we should be investing in sustainable small farms, which are a win-win. We should lead the nation in frugality and sustainable agriculture, not esoteric “markets” in derivatives in sequestered carbon, or taxes that invariably create new inequities. Government should stick with what it can do well -- which is very little. When Vermont can clean up chemicals, or enforce its “idling car” laws, then maybe it can move on to carbon projects. But the carbon tax shenanigans are just that -- government pretending to save us from ourselves, while we ourselves are asked to pay money instead of waste less.
We should teach civics in all schools, and read Wendell Berry’s works. People need to turn off their lights when not in use, keep their thermostats down, drive less, appreciate their food -- government cannot do those things for them. Yet, that’s not what people want to hear -- especially this energy-consuming generation. Young people should not be handed the inheritance of huge problems and told to fix them for us -- we should be leading and teaching them instead. Their generation is stressed, depressed, confused -- that is part of the problem in our schools. How many learning disabilities are the result of toxins in our foods? How many anxieties are caused by social media, cell-phone addiction, and other modern inventions? But “progressives” want to tax one group, for government to distribute the proceeds to another group -- how about the whole group reconsiders their daily behaviors? But the government and others take the easy road, and instead tell them what their ears itch to hear. I don’t do that. I’ve read Orwell, and Huxley.
We cannot treat our limited resources as if they are infinite. The ecosystem will impose limits on us if we do not take personal responsibility and impose limits on ourselves. Has this ever been more obvious? Government cannot accomplish this by selling credits as indulgences to polluting corporations and consumers.
And then we have the opioid scourge. It really is a scourge, especially in Vermont. I work with the parents, and children, as well as the substance abusers. The stigma must end, and we must pull together to help each other -- government cannot do this. It cannot raise our children, work in our jobs, or choose our foods or habits for us. It can’t make us turn off our idling engines. When one group tries to use government to impose these habits on others, they are displacing their own responsibility, and stretching both the role and resources of government to breaking point.
This is where we are in Vermont. Vermonters must take a few steps back, to those Great Depression values that have always served us -- frugality, community, compassion. We must reclaim those values, before we are forced to learn them anew, the hard way. If Vermonters haven’t had enough taxes and government control yet, they will sooner or later. Will it then be too late? Is it already? Time will tell.
I did not vote for Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton stole the primary election from Bernie Sanders, and Democrats turned the other way. I would never vote for her after that fraud. I voted for Gary Johnson. Donald Trump has nothing to do with Vermont’s unique problems. Perhaps some voters will vote against him but still allow the agripublicans to prove they are honest and truly want to bring unity to our communities in lieu of rancor. We are offering compromise, and our policy list demonstrates we are serious.
I’m sick of arrogant, wealthy, out-of-touch politicians who feign concern but then break our backs with taxes and regulations to “help” us. They are not helping us. They are abusing government, for utopian fantasies and egotistical virtue-signaling. To use Vermont government to create a “panel” to label all white Vermonters racist, to call our state a “white supremacist culture,” and to call our police racist because they arrest black and Hispanic drug dealers -- that’s just one of many recent “last straws” for me. Vermonters voted for Obama in both his elections at the highest rates in the nation (after DC and Hawaii) -- but now they are stereotyped as racists for being “too white.” Naw. Enough of such garbage. This is not something I am willing to tolerate, and I trust that true Vermonters will concur.
I am of Jewish ancestry, and significant Abenaki blood, and one of my ancestors arrived here on the Mayflower journey. I am genetically a melted pot. I was conceived in Vermont but born in Connecticut, so I am both flatlander and Vermonter. My culture is Vermont’s culture, and I love it dearly and always have. I will defend it to my death against the scurrilous slanders by the hateful and ignorant. I live off-grid, on my great-great-great-great-grandfather’s farmland. I’m dug in and I’m not leaving.
But many good, hard-working people ARE leaving -- in droves. They are living in states with lower taxes, or on the road in RVs, or in tiny houses. Why would young people wish to move to an economically depressed, drug-ridden, government-dominated area with no local schools and decayed communities? Not all of us want to live in cities, but still we must live.
I hear you, Vermonters. Your taxes are unsustainable. Your children leave, or they are dying from fentanyl overdose. Your Green Mountains are being raped by corporations, wealthy thieves, and people born here who hold us in contempt while they collect paychecks from our labor -- people like TJ Donavan, who clearly would prefer to live in Washington DC with the other elites. Perhaps it is time he did so. We don’t need any more committees, panels, laws, commissions, or other efforts to oppress and dominate us while pretending to rescue us. With that sort of salvation, no wonder people are depressed and filled with hopelessness.
We are fatigued at being the progressive petri dish -- they have had their chance, and they are destroying us. We are “progressing” toward economic collapse and cultural genocide. Let us get back to the basics -- let’s pay our teachers, teach our students, nurture our rural communities, support our farms, heal our substance abusers and their children, and come together in this crisis as neighbors. Let’s take back our own governance from our government oppressors. They are supposed to work for us, not parasitically devour us. They have been deaf. Let us speak and be heard -- now, and in 2020.