Letters to the Editor | Letters to the Editor | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published May 18, 2011 at 4:01 a.m.

Seven Days Scoop

On May 14, I received a Facebook update from the weekly paper that could and does, Seven Days, saying it would be publishing an article by Andy Bromage entitled, “With Breath Testers in Doubt, Vermont Prosecutors to Toss Dozens of DUI Cases.” Curious, I read the article and found it alarming. State prosecutors may have to toss out serious DUI cases, sometimes by multiple offenders, due to malfeasance by an employee of the health department. Wanting to look further, I used the Burlington Free Press search. The only article was by Nancy Remsen on April 27, outlining a requested change by the Shumlin administration to move calibration of the DUI testers from the health department to the department of public safety. A minor mention was given about the fact that an employee was accused of improperly adjusting the test equipment used in the DUI test. Remsen did cite an earlier article by Seven Days, noting it had the first report of this controversy. Remsen’s article portrays the problem as a mundane paperwork kind of issue without much consequence.

The truth is, Seven Days is right. It is a serious issue. People who were arrested for DUI may be released because the equipment used was in error. What is also bad is that those who are not legally under the influence may have been arrested, fined or lost their license because of faulty test equipment. In other words, they were denied due process under our Constitution. While I support heavy DUI consequences, I also recognize that in a rural state like Vermont, with little public transportation, a lost license can be the difference between the “working poor” and welfare. Releasing multiple offenders because of faulty test equipment is unacceptable. The technician and the health department supervisors who ignored the issue must be fired.

I worked in a standardized test lab for 15 years. I know the importance of accurate, verifiable test equipment, traceable to recognized national standards. An error in this equipment transfers exponentially down the trail. I have talked to police officers in the past about speed-measuring equipment, and the attitude has been cavalier, to say the least. The faulty equipment may not have started on Shumlin’s watch, but his response determines whether he is comfortable with denying due process. The fact that it took a whistleblower and a lawyer to bring this out only proves that Vermont has the best justice system money can buy. Whoever has the money gets justice. Another point: Why is the Burlington Free Press so far behind the eight ball on this story? Is Seven Days hungrier or just plain better?  

Will McLaughlin

South Burlington

Editor’s note: McLaughlin’s letter is a response to this week’s cover story, which Seven Days published online last Friday.

Jail Sucks

As a criminal defense attorney, I should be well qualified to write in response to the letter by Alicia Wallace, “Too Easy on Inmates” [Feedback, May 11, re: “Is It Cheaper to House Vermont Inmates In or Out of State? It Depends,” April 20]. In it she states that we should “remove the incentives for inmates to go back to prison.”

I have good news for you, Ms. Wallace: If you want prospective criminals to hate prison, guess what? They already do. They hate it like poison, and will do anything — anything very short term, mind you — to stay out. Prison not only sucks; it sucks beyond the average person’s ability to imagine. Most people cannot imagine a life without privacy, much less living in a starkly Hobbesian society.

If Vermont has to spend $40,000 to $55,000 per inmate per year, I assure you, it’s not to lavish “luxuries” on the inmates. It’s because humans are ingenious in looking for ways to escape confinement, and fiendishly ingenious in destroying fellow inmates’ lives and making trouble for those charged with guarding them. What few pleasantries — and they are very few — prisons may have are necessary incentives to reward good behavior and prevent a fall into despair for those who can be salvaged.

Thomas Niksa

St. Albans

Support Thomas Drake

I am reading with awe and shock the update regarding whistleblower Thomas Drake [Fair Game, May 4], who was a high school classmate of mine at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vt., in the mid-’70s. His dad, Bill, was our history teacher there. After reading about Tom’s troubles with the National Security Agency, I am stunned to learn that such a quiet, kind and thoughtful guy has ended up in this situation, trying to do the right thing. As I look at his youthful face in the ’75 edition of our yearbook, I’m taken by the quote under his photo: “Things that are seen are transient, but things that are unseen are eternal!” Truer words were never spoken. I intend to keep current on this case via the blogosphere and send him my support. Please read up on the case and consider doing the same to support a fellow Vermonter being taken to task by our own government for speaking out.

Ruth Miller


A Bookstore Owner Responds

I wish things in the world were so black and “write” as Harry Bliss seems to think, as he responded to Robin Ingenthron’s assertions [in “Print Versus Pixels,” April 13] about the evils of manufacturing those nasty e-readers [“Bye-Bye, Books,” Feedback, April 20].

I wonder if Harry would have “published five New York Times best sellers” if he was trying to reach that exalted height on an e-reader? Last time I looked, or read his books, he was an illustrator. I am trying to imagine a world of beautiful art digitized on an iPad “app.” I am also weary of the unending demonizing of people who disagree, even if they are wrong.

I am a book lover, and I “collect [my] reads like trophies,” including a couple of Harry’s, but I may sell them on eBay so Harry won’t throw up on me, or just recycle them to reduce my polluting ways. However, there are certainly significant environmental issues with those devices, and if Harry thinks one of his e-readers with 94,000 copies of Infinite Jest is going to last as long as one of my books, then he is being ridiculous. I think all those e-readers, and any toxic metals in their components, ending up in the landfill will cement the notion of planned obsolescence, just like those ridiculous telephones people buy every six months or so. Where do you people think all that junk is going to end up? Leaching into your groundwater, no doubt.

Mike DeSanto


DeSanto is the owner of Phoenix Books in Essex.

“Modern World” Welcome

I was so happy to see “This Modern World” in the comics section. The best political strip in the country, hands down. There is really nothing funnier or more absurd than American politics today. Personally, I think it’s more accurate to learn about current events through the filter of humor. Humor isn’t partisan; it’s an equal opportunity ridiculer.

Josh Schlossberg

East Montpelier

White Like Me

[Re: “In Burlington, a Racially Charged Investigation Raises Questions About a Principal’s Departure,” May 4]: I am a white woman who has been welcomed into an extended Somali Bantu family since 2004, when they arrived as refugees. Eight of the kids are or were Barnes students. I empathize with the ferocity of a mother who feels her child of color has been treated unfairly because of his race. Parents of children of color have surely had many experiences of bias, and when they tell us something has gone wrong, we really have to listen.

As white people who do not often witness racial bias (unless we have children, friends or family of color, and, in Vermont, many do not), we may find racism hard to imagine or believe. We can get defensive in the face of people of color’s hurt and anger instead of listening. But even in a school where children are loved and supported, all it takes is one incident to erode trust and wound. Every child deserves to be safe.

Barnes teachers have treated the New American kids I love with respect and thoughtfulness, and the kids are happy in school. But bias happens. When it does, we need to resist the pull to polarize and learn how to do better so that every child is cherished. As white people, we need to remember that the misbehavior of white children is never in danger of being blamed on their race. I would like that to be the same for all kids. Let’s use every incident to try and understand each other better.

Lauren Berrizbeitia


Minority Mentality?

White racism, so-called, is not behind every incident at every school in which a complaint is made that a child is somehow discriminated against [Re: “In Burlington, a Racially Charged Investigation Raises Questions About a Principal’s Departure,” May 4]. Sometimes an incident is fabricated or made up out of whole cloth due to the persecution complex of the parents, who have foisted race hatred of whites on their child.

It has been seen that some parents of all races will actually train a child to show symptoms, for example, of ADD, to get that all-popular Supplemental Security Income check for the child. How much more valuable for a cabal of educators who have ganged up on a “minority” child and humiliated that child to pay and pay and pay. Drive them from their jobs! The weirdness of the mentality of the minority parent in this case is something that should not be catered to. And with all the emphasis on “mental health” services these days, how is it that minority hatred and confabulation of incidents is not treated as a mental illness?

Ron Ruloff


Cool Carbs

[Re: “On a Roll,” May 4]: [Evie Michaelson’s] treats are extraordinarily delicious, and she is a delight. Yum.

Dianne Hanlon-Druyff


Stop Using the “I” Word

In “Show Us Your Papers!” [Fair Game, May 4], Shay Totten shines the light on the recently defeated amendment that would have explicitly excluded undocumented workers from Vermont’s new universal health care system. However, I’m concerned that the article might leave some readers thinking that dairy farmers could access the H-2A visa program but are just choosing not to. There is no visa program available to dairy farms. Thus, we have between 1200 and 1500 undocumented workers sustaining Vermont’s dairy farms, who are community members in need of health care like the rest of us. I’m also concerned about the use of the words “illegal” and “illegal immigrants” in this article and more broadly as part of the recent debate about whether the undocumented should have access to Vermont’s health care system. This isn’t a matter of being politically correct; rather, words matter. They shape our thoughts and inform our perspectives. We need folks at Seven Days and in the Statehouse to understand that “illegal” in reference to immigrants has become a highly racialized and politicized word, and it’s impossible to separate it from the Lou Dobbs of the world who use it to criminalize and dehumanize a community of people. No human being is illegal. In Vermont, we have an opportunity to find new language to have new conversations about immigration. I want to ask Seven Days to be a leader in doing this by being the first newspaper in the state to “Drop the I-word” by signing a pledge at colorlines.com/droptheiword.

Brendan O’Neill


O’Neill is coordinator of the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project.

Preservation Isn’t the Problem

Recent letters to Seven Days confuse dissatisfaction with Burlington Department of Zoning and Planning’s Mary O’Neil with criticism of historic preservation [“Problem With Preservation?” “Seven Days is Anti-Preservation,” Feedback, May 11]. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of us who believe in historic preservation are frustrated with the damage Mary O’Neil is doing to our city every day. The problem is that Mary O’Neil’s brand of historic preservation consists of her myopic view that only two or three design ideas constitute all that represents historic preservation, and there is no need to balance anything else when considering projects under her purview. Far from working with applicants for a zoning permit to address preservation issues while respecting other ordinances, or God bless, common sense, she demands adherence to the three things she remembers from a course she once took on preservation, and nothing else matters. It is no secret that it is the way she treats residents seeking to improve their homes and neighborhoods, not any disrespect for historic preservation, that is causing the city to remove her authority to enforce her myopic views on applicants whose property is not actually on the state list of historic sites. Anyone who has struggled to get O’Neil to be consistent or truthful understands why Alan Newman referred to his dealings with her as “Kafkaesque” [“The Preservation Police,” September 22, 2010]. The quality and value of Burlington’s housing stock, the quality of life for Burlington residents, and the attitude of Burlington residents toward City Hall can only be improved by Mary O’Neil’s departure from the city’s zoning office. I think it’s time to make a general city tax increase as difficult to get as a zoning permit here. Maybe then the mayor will start to listen to Burlington’s citizen’s objections to Mary O’Neil and her distorted brand of historic preservation.

Alan Bjerke


Nothing Racist About It

The article [“In Burlington, a Racially Charged Investigation Raises Questions About a Principal’s Departure,” May 4] talks about Abi Sessions’ decision to step down as the principal of the Sustainability Academy. The article is noteworthy because her decision happens to coincide with a recent controversy at the school. A 7-year-old boy accidentally wet himself on the playground; the school scolded him, grabbed him roughly and sent him outside, without a coat, to clean up. His mother, Jaquana Tyler, believes that her son was treated this way because he is African American. The poor child is probably embarrassed enough that he had an accident in public, but now his mother has turned it into a public spectacle. Perhaps it was a somewhat harsh way to deal with the situation, but racist? I doubt it. Honestly, I have not seen any evidence, besides Tyler’s personal opinion, that this was the result of racism. The main flaw that I see with Tyler’s allegations is the target itself: the school. According to the article, almost a quarter of Barnes students speak English as a second language; collectively, the students speak 17 different tongues. Also, the school had a ceremony that resulted in 19 immigrants becoming U.S. citizens. Simply put, if you are racist or bigoted, this is not the place where you really want to work. If I hated those of a race other than my own, why would I work at a school that encourages diversity?

Richard Regimbal


Just a Coincidence?

I disagree with Abi Sessions’ claim that her departure from the position of principal at the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes is unrelated to an incident involving a young African American boy having “a pee accident on the playground” [“In Burlington, a Racially Charged Investigation Raises Questions About a Principal’s Departure,” May 4]. It seems strange that, after claiming that her position as principal was a “dream job,” she suddenly decided that she is no longer qualified to work with such a “racially diverse” group of students. Furthermore, it is strange that her decision to leave coincides with an investigation of the “pee” incident.

In the middle of January, a 7-year-old boy was roughly taken from his class by a staff member and forced to grab a bucket and sponge and go outside in the freezing cold without a jacket, sobbing, and clean up a urine stain from the ground. It’s ridiculous, and his mother knew it. If I were in her position, I would be writing an angry letter, as well. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this one incident was fueled by racism, but Sessions’ departure truly is. At the height of a racially charged investigation, she conveniently decides that she’s unfit to teach racial diversity. What else could it be, if not racism?

Stanley Blow III


Blow and Regimbal are both 11th-grade journalism students at Missisquoi Valley Union high school.