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Category Archives: Politics
They live all over the country. They’ve served under Republican and Democratic presidents. They’ve been United States attorneys, federal prosecutors and other high-ranking officials.
There are nearly 2,600 of them, and they’re unanimous in their belief: President Trump is abusing the power of his office. He and Attorney General William P. Barr are threatening the Department of Justice’s long tradition of impartiality. They want Barr to resign.
Among the signees: Westporter Kristan Peters-Hamlin.
The RTM member — now an attorney in private practice — spent many years in the Washington, DC US Attorney’s office.
She was appointed by Richard Thornburgh, attorney general for President George H.W. Bush.
Hamlin continued serving under Barr — during his first stint as AG — and Janet Reno, President Clinton’s first pick for that post.
Eric Holder — President Obama’s attorney general — was a boss of Hamlin’s in the DC office. Robert Mueller was a colleague.
She prosecuted drug and economic crimes, along with many others.
In the Bush administration, Hamlin says, Barr “seemed like a normal attorney general. There was zero political interference.”
These days, she says, former colleagues “don’t recognize him. It’s like he’s been transmogrified.”
The letter Hamlin signed circulated among a network of former DOJ employees. The signatories share Hamlin’s outrage and sadness at what has happened to the department they love.
“The idea of the federal judiciary being able to check the executive branch goes back to John Marshall,” she notes.
When she read the letter (click here for the full text), she agreed wholeheartedly.
Still, she hesitated momentarily before signing.
“This is a president who retaliates,” she says. “And an attorney general who enables retaliation.”
She wondered about potential consequences for her. Ultimately, she realized, “This was a love letter to my colleagues. We revere the Department of Justice. We’re not willing to see it polluted and corrupted. And there are plenty of people who have sacrificed a lot more than I have to keep it impartial.”
So far, there have been no adverse reactions.
However, the Connecticut Law Journal asked for comment.
And Congressman Jim Himes thanked Hamlin — and the 3 other signees from his district — for “standing up for the rule of law.”
It began as casual conversations with friends. Soon Eve Ensler began talking with women she did not know. Eventually she spoke with 200 of them.
Their discussions about sex and relationships often turned to the topic of violence against women. The project — which Ensler had envisioned as a celebration of vaginas and femininity — became a crusade to stop that violence.
Since its off-Broadway debut in 1996, “The Vagina Monologues” — which explores consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences, body image, genital mutilation, sex work and other topics through the eyes of women of various ages, races and sexualities — has become one of the most impactful plays of our time.
It also sparked the V-Day Movement, a global non-profit aimed at ending violence against women and girls.
“The Vagina Monologues” forms the cornerstone of the movement. Benefit performances take place worldwide each year between February and April. All must stick to an annual script that V-Day puts out.
Performances benefit rape crisis centers, shelters for women and similar resources. So far, they’ve raised over $120 million.
This year, Westport Library has been chosen to produce a V-Day event. Beneficiaries are the Center for Family Justice and the Rowan Center sexual assault agency. Many cast members are Westport residents.
Set for Friday, February 21, the event begins with a 6:30 p.m. cocktail reception. The performance will be followed by a conversation between the cast and audience, about themes and issues brought up in the play.
The suggested donation is $20. However, all donation levels are accepted (and appreciated). For tickets, click here.
The Westport Library’s Forum is quickly becoming the place to be seen — and see some very intriguing folks.
On Monday evening, Nancy Wyman was the featured guest. In the midst of a chaotic political week, the head of the state Democratic Party spoke to Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer about national and Connecticut issues.
It was the first in a series of live interviews at the Library. On Monday, February 24 (6 p.m.), former ESPN anchor Lindsay Czarniak and fellow Westporter Marysol Castro, the in-stadium voice of the New York Mets, talk about their careers in journalism.
Click below for the Nancy Wyman interview:
In December I posted a very inspiring story. For his bar mitzvah, Bedford Middle School 7th grader Jonathan Costello made a heartfelt video about his stutter.
It went viral. Stutterers of all ages found they had a voice.
Among those who saw it: Joe Biden.
His staff reached out to Jonathan. The former vice president — a stutterer himself — wanted to meet the young Westporter.
It happened a few days ago — in New Hampshire.
Jonathan and his dad Sean knocked on more than 30 doors for the campaign, before heading to a rally.
The presidential candidate was excited to meet the 13-year-old.
“They had a very heartfelt and touching conversation,” Jonathan’s mother Lauren reports.
“It ended with Biden asking for Jonathan’s phone number. What a moment!”
No word on whether Jonathan heads now to Nevada or South Carolina to help in the next caucus and primary.
Or whether he’ll just give advice by phone.
For most Westporters, winter in New Hampshire means skiing.
Don O’Day packs a camera and a note pad.
Every 4 years — when the quirky New England state commands the national political spotlight — the former chair of the Board of Education, and self-described “Joe Lieberman of the Westport Democratic party” (he supported Jim Marpe for 1st selectman) heads north.
He takes a first-hand look at the men and women who — at this early stage of the presidential campaign — crisscross the Granite State. O’Day is there as they speak to small crowds, mingle afterward, and engage in the type of retail politics that the rest of the country outside of Iowa* can only dream about.
O’Day has been a political junkie since 1968. As an 11-year-old newspaper delivery boy, he was fascinated by stories about Robert Kennedy’s run for the White House.
He worked on Al Gore’s 1988 race. In 2000, when the Tennessee senator ran again, O’Day left Westport for New Hampshire to help. “It was so cool to see how folks there gathered at diners and VFW halls to see the candidates,” he recalls. “They were as engaged in politics as I am.”
He returned in 2004 and ’08. Board of Ed commitments kept him here 8 years ago. But in 2016 he was there again.
His most recent trip ended yesterday (after watching a recording of “Morning Joe”).
Over the course of a few days O’Day heard 7 Democratic candidates speak. He asked questions, gave feedback, and spoke personally with most.
Some encounters confirmed his earlier impressions. Others altered them.
Here — in alphabetical order — are O’Day’s thoughts.
The New Hampshire primary never disappoints. This year was no different. The crowds and enthusiasm appeared to be much larger and more enthusiastic than in the past.
My wife Toni and I and 2 of our sons (Donny and Mike — plus Mike’s girlfriend, Nicole) set out to see and hopefully talk to as many of the presidential candidates as possible, and as many times as possible.
We weren’t the only Westporters in New Hampshire. Jeff Wieser and his wife Pat also made the trip to see the candidates.
Bottom line: I have no idea what is going to happen today, other than a Sanders win – just like 2016. Second through 5th place is up for grabs, but I got the sense that Joe Biden might be closer to 5th than 2nd.
In alphabetical order, here’s what I saw:
A true gentleman and the most decent national politician I have ever met. Letting “Joe be Joe” wasn’t the approach though, and it has hurt him. Sorry to say that this may not be his time.
Much more than the new shiny object in the early contests (see Hart and Dean). Pete’s crowds were huge, and his answers to every question I heard over 3 events were thoughtful and detailed. He came off as an incredibly intelligent, passionate and gifted politician. If this isn’t his time, I think it will come and soon. Maybe now.
Amy seems to be building momentum, and was my candidate going in. She also got better and better every time we saw her. She has reasonable views that are very progressive, unless they are compared to a Sanders or Warren platform. Her chances will soar if she finishes in the top 3.
What struck me as a cult following that I mistook for simply an anti-Hillary position in 2016 is now clearly an all-out movement with deep passion. Bernie’s promise of free college, Medicare for all, a strong environmental position, and his “us versus them” message has never wavered. There were more Sanders volunteers than for any other candidate. I’m pretty sure what stopped Bernie in 2016 will stop him again in 2020. Also, Bernie is not a very nice guy. But my son did warm up the Bernie crowd we attended with a mic check.
My favorite event, because the crowds were less intense, it was held in a brewery and Tom bought everyone a beer. He has the most consistent anti-Trump message, and a very strong climate message too. He’s more than a guy with billions; his in-person persona is quite different from what you see on the debate stage. He’s not going away.
I only saw Senator Warren once, and that was at a large arena, so it’s harder to form an opinion about her from personal contact. I really admire “and yet she persisted,” and that should never stop. But Senator Warren is not the leader of the progressive movement – Bernie is. As long as he is in the race, she will not win.
The candidate who makes everyone think, and thoroughly entertains and engages you while doing it. This is just not his time, but his message is powerful and honest.
There you have it: One man’s opinions. They’re calm and measured. Please respond civilly in the “Comments” section. Overly personal attacks — on candidates, other posters or O’Day himself — will be removed.
*Though probably not in 2024
It’s not easy being an attorney.
Law school professors can be brutal (remember “The Paper Chase“?). Getting hired is no picnic. Arguing in front of a judge and jury is not for the faint of heart.
Now imagine doing all that with a profound hearing loss.
Caitlin Parton has overcome those substantial obstacles, with perseverance, pride and poise.
Back in 1988, she was the youngest person to have cochlear implants.
She faced the intersection of disabilities and law when she and her parents fought for access to computer-assisted technology in the Westport schools.
She earned honors all through Staples High School, where she served as co-editor of the school newspaper, Inklings.
After graduating in 2003, she headed to the University of Chicago. She interned for Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, worked at the Department of Justice and spent 2 years as a paralegal for a Washington civil rights firm, before earning a law degree from City University of New York.
For the past 5 years Caitlin has been a staff attorney at Boston’s Disability Law Center. She fights for full access to accommodations in schools, workplaces, hospitals, nursing homes, group homes and shelters.
Most of her clients are deaf or hearing impaired. Others have physical or mental disabilities.
One recent case involved a veteran with PTSD. Frightened by her landlord’s loud knocks on her door, she asked him to call or email first. He refused.
Caitlin won damages for emotional distress. Just as importantly, the landlord underwent training about disabilities — and now must honor his tenant’s “reasonable request” for contact prior to knocking.
As a member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association, Caitlin advocates for common-sense legal accommodations. For example, some law school professors don’t want to wear microphones, or won’t allow lectures to be recorded or transcribed.
Group members discuss how to overcome hiring discrimination. (Deaf people may be denied interviews, or judged negatively by the way they speak.)
They offer support, share job listings, advocate for accommodations like closed-captioning at trials, and propose simple solutions like rearranging courtroom furniture to enable lip-reading.
Recently, members of the DHHBA took part in a special ceremony. Ten attorneys — including Caitlin — were sworn in and admitted to the Bar of the United States Supreme Court.
The ceremony took place at the Supreme Court. Fittingly — as the newly sworn lawyers watched 2 cases being argued in front of all 9 justices — there were full accommodations for deaf people.
The Supreme Court provided sign language interpreters and real-time captioning.
“It’s a very small space,” Caitlin says. “There’s no room for a big screen. So the Court allowed captioning on phones and tablets.”
Being in the Supreme Court during actual cases is an incredible experience for anyone. For an attorney like Caitlin to be there “in the presence of judges and attorneys, having access to every word,” was even more remarkable.
The swearing-in ceremony — which means that Caitlin can now argue cases before the Supreme Court — capped quite a year for the Westport native. Six months ago, her son Orion was born.
“I’m on that special journey now, balancing parenting and work,” she says.
In law — as in life — no one knows what’s ahead.
But — with her passion, experience and, now, her admittance to the Supreme Court bar — Caitlin Parton may one day argue a case before the highest court in the land.
Who knows? She might even be behind the bench.
This fall, Persona introduced Westporters to local political candidates.
Now it will connect leaders from around the state with the world. But there’s still a Westport hook.
Starting Monday (February 10, 6 p.m.), the social media/interview platform — founded right here, by Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer — will host a new, free series at the Library forum. The public can watch Connecticut leaders in business, politics, journalism, sports and more talk abut their lives and careers.
The first interview is with Nancy Wyman. The chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party and former lieutenant governor will discuss state and national elections.
Simmelkjaer is a former ESPN, ABC News and NBC Sports executive and journalist.
In other words: the perfect “persona” to introduce the new library series, and interview this statewide figure.
In 2020, we celebrate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which recognized the right of women to vote. Despite recent controversy, the Equal Rights Amendment has not yet been ratified. What are the similarities and differences between these two amendments?
“If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.” (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.) To what extent has this view influenced American culture?
In the 1793–94 Pacificus–Helvidius debates, Alexander Hamilton contended that the power to declare war was both legislative and executive in nature. James Madison disagreed, saying that this power was exclusively legislative. Whose opinion do you favor and why?
Could you answer those questions?
Staples High School’s “We the People” team is confident they can.
That’s not just teenage we-can-conquer-the-world cockiness.
In December, 23 students in Suzanne Kammerman’s Advanced Placement Politics and Government class were crowned state champs in the annual competition. The momentous win broke Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place.
Now the students are preparing for April’s national contest, in Leesburg, Virginia.
It’s quite a task. Each team is divided into 6 groups. Each must be ready to answer 3 separate questions on history, politics and law.
Only one will be asked in the oral question round. But all team members must participate. And each of the 6 groups must be strong. If one falters, the entire class score suffers.
Like all schools, the Staples students, teachers and parent supporters will be isolated in one room. They can’t watch anyone else. It’s a pressure-filled day, as judges shuttle in and out to question the teenagers.
Many schools — including Trumbull — treat “We the People” as a separate course. At Staples though, it’s just one part of the AP curriculum.
In the past, Trumbull prepared for the national competition by enlisting a host of townspeople — lawyers, college history professors teachers, politicians — to assist.
The Staples students get help from just a couple of parents. Andy Laskin — an attorney — takes time off from work. He attends class in person, and FaceTimes too.
For example, for 4th Amendment search and seizure issues, he brings in school resource officer Ed Woolridge. Laskin creates hypothetical police issues, then tweaks the conduct slightly to see how that changes the officer’s suspicions and reactions. It’s complex. And exactly the type of preparation the students need.
Another lawyer, Jamie Dockray, works with them in person, during the week and on weekends at the library.
But it’s labor-intensive. Each adult can only be with 4 students at a time, because each group gets separate questions.
So the “We the People” advisors are asking we — the Westporters — for help.
A lawyer in town who offers his or her conference room; former college history majors who love to talk about politics, law and the Constitution; actors to work on presentation skills — all are welcome.
Volunteers could also help as “judges,” during a practice competition before the April trip.
All could be “game-changers,” Laskin says. The key is to help teenagers “look, sound, act and think like lawyers — and learn the skills to do the research and pull off the argument in front of real judges. It’s very cool.”
“We have plenty of brilliant minds in Westport,” he notes. “There are parents of former We the People students, parents who can get involved before their kids are juniors and seniors … this could be a feel-good, come-together Westport story.
“Suzanne Kammerman puts her heart and soul into this. Some kids say We the People was the defining moment of their high school careers. Let’s all support this amazing program any way we can.”
Interested in helping? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or text Andy Laskin: 203-610-7065. For the full text of all 18 “We The People” questions, click here.
For 6 years, TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest has considered specific, newsworthy topics.
Westport students have been asked to consider — and write on — issues like micro-aggressions, the “taking a knee” controversy, white privilege, Black Lives Matter, the increasingly diverse demographics of the United States, and self-segregation in school cafeterias.
This year, the town’s diversity action committee takes a different tack.
The 2020 contest asks teenagers to address a broad — but very important — theme: stereotypes.
TEAM Westport says:
A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a person, frequently based on that person’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or gender-identity. Stereotypes are often unconscious and may be introduced and reinforced — intentionally or unwittingly – by many sources, including family, peers, the popular media, curricula, and society at large.
This year’s challenge states: “In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your experiences witnessing, delivering, and/or being subjected to stereotypes focused on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, and describe the impact that such experiences are likely to have upon recipients. Consider steps that organizations, schools, and/or individuals could take to counteract stereotypes—whether as initiator, recipient or witness.”
“In order to dismantle bias, it’s important to first understand the factors that build bias,” says TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey.
“Stereotyping is a first step toward bias in what historians and sociologists call ‘othering’ — behavior that places the stereotyped group outside the normal considerations of society. History has proven that this can lead to dangerously impactful results.”
The entry deadline is February 28. Subject to the volume and caliber of entries received, at the discretion of the judges up to 3 cash prizes will be awarded. The first prize is $1,000; second prize is $750; third is $500.
Any student living in Westport — or attending school here — can enter.
The Westport Library is co-sponsoring the event. Winners will be announced at a ceremony there on April 2, 2020.
(For more information, including full contest rules and an application form, click here.)