Monthly Archives: April 2016

Bull Invited to China Shop

Lock up your daughters, good people. Yours truly will be a panelist on tonight’s edition of “Vermont This Week,” Vermont PBS’ often-somnolent weekly news-in-review show. (It tends to proceed at a stately and predictable pace, as if trying to hike through the forest without breaking any twigs.)

I am honored, truly. The show is a little too staid for my taste, but heck, it’s not my show. And I have no plans to wreck the place; the panel’s role is to analyze the news, not burn the house down. Just as, when I sit in for Mike Smith on WDEV Radio’s daily talk show, I treat guests and their views with courtesy and respect.

I will try to enliven the proceedings a bit. But don’t expect any foul language or ad hominem attacks.

Of course, the show is taped a few hours in advance, so if I can’t control myself, the result is unlikely to befoul your living room. If my reputation proceeds me, they might designated a control-room operator to hold a finger above the CUT button whenever I’m talking. Which would be an honor of a different sort.

Vermont This Week, tonight at 8:30 7:30* on your favorite public television station. Also posted online for your convenient viewing pleasure.

*More evidence that I Am A Idiot.

This is how a judge gives the one-finger salute

Pity Ariel Quiros. Our least favorite dark-skinned flatlander is a nine-figure millionaire, but his assets are frozen due to his (alleged) massive fraud in the Jay Peak case.

He claimed monthly expenses of $250,000, which I’m sure we can all agree is the absolute minimum required to sustain human life. He asked that the court unfreeze all but $50 million of his estimated $200 million fortune.

For those who failed elementary school math, he wanted to get his hands on $150,000,000.

The judge’s response: 

The court granted Quiros access to three Merrill Lynch accounts containing $41,308.69.

And that’s how a judge, acting officially, gives someone the middle finger.

Kevin Mullin Is Disappointed In You

Poor, poor State Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Oatmeal). He might just have to relinquish his spot in our delegation to the Republican National Convention. And it’s all our fault.

Mullin, last seen trying to sneak pro-gambling language into a couple of unrelated bills, and seen before that loitering incuriously outside the room that Norm McAllister “shared” with his teenage “assistant,” says that if Donald Trump keeps winning primaries, he won’t be a party to Trump’s coronation in Cleveland.  He told VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb:

“… after Tuesday night, I’m not so sure that there is an alternative path. We’re still trying to assess the numbers to see if there is a way to try to get to a brokered convention and have some sanity prevail,” he says.

You know the Republican Party is in bad shape when “sanity” equals “a brokered convention.” Where someone other than the top two vote-getters would be parachuted into the nomination, perhaps without winning a single vote in the primaries.

See, Mullin doesn’t like Ted Cruz either. His hot ideas: John Kasich, who still trails Marco Rubio in delegates, or Paul Ryan, who didn’t run and says he won’t accept the nomination.

In other words, Kevin Mullin is hoping that his party overturns the will of its voters. Because, I suppose, the Republican Wise Men Know Best.

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Siting bill: a good deal that nobody will like

It was a heck of a last act by Tony Klein, retiring chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. This week, he shepherded an energy siting bill through the House and on to a conference committee. His reward: the bill’s drawing fire from both sides. It even sparked astoundingly different takes from VTDigger (emphasizing the dissatisfaction of opponents) and Seven Days (reporting a “surprising change in direction” by the House).

The key provision in the bill would give “substantial deference” in siting decisions to local governments — if they have adopted a state-approved energy plan. It’s not enough for supporters of local control.

“You get substantial deference … if you do what they want you to do,” said Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington. “That’s not substantial deference in my definition of the word. It doesn’t seem like substantial deference or any greater decision-making power for localities to me.”

On the other hand, some renewable-energy proponents worry that the bill would make it harder for Vermont to reach its energy goals. Anthony Iarrapino, a lawyer who represents renewable developers, told Seven Days “We’re not going to get to the targets with solar in parking lots and a single wind turbine in backyards.”

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Lawmakers Lament Lost Opportunity to Grandstand

Full marks to Rutland Mayor Chris Louras for rolling out the welcome mat to 100 Syrian refugees — and for stoutly defending the decision against the inevitable backlash.

He drew the connection to America’s tradition of welcoming immigrants of all kinds — and he pointed out that immigrants, by and large, are a strong economic plus for struggling cities.

“Their arrival will signal a new wave in the ongoing economic growth of the region,” Louras added. “As our forefathers’ arrival added to the rich cultural melting pot of Rutland County, our newest residents will enrich and expand the tapestry we cherish today.”

Plus, Rutland will probably get some authentic Middle Eastern food out of the deal.

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Private lives and public figures

 

I got a girlfriend that’s better than that
She has the smoke in her eyes
She’s moving up, going right through my house
She’s gonna give me surprise

— Talking Heads, “Girlfriend is Better”

So. In his latest “Fair Game” column, Seven Days’ Paul Heintz let slip a little secret that pretty much everyone under the Golden Dome knew about but didn’t mention in polite company. Right there in Paragraph 29:

[John] Campbell’s girlfriend, Rep. Patti Komline (R-Dorset), also opposes the bill.

Gasp! Horrors! The Ladies’ Auxiliary clutches their pearls as one!

(Is Paul OK? Was he struck down by lightning?)

(Guess not.)

Used to be, in the broader world of politics, personal relationships were off limts. Even when, say, the Kennedy Boys were sharing the charms of Marilyn Monroe. Allegedly.

That wall has been largely breached in national politics, at least when there’s a substantive reason to report the private peccadillos of pols. But it remains intact here in Vermont. And maybe it shouldn’t.

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A little backdoor action at the Statehouse

We’re in the late stages of the legislative session, a time when everyone wants to hear the final gavel come down and get out of Dodge. And when a whole bunch of bills are flying from chamber to chamber, from committee to committee, providing plenty of opportunities for lawmaking legerdemain. Or, as one observer put it, “the time of year when stuff is going to be slid through the cracks.”

I hear of two provisions designed to open the door to expanded gambling in Vermont. Both are attached to seemingly unrelated bills. In both cases, gambling opponents are trying to keep their eye on the bouncing ball.

The culprit, it’s safe to say, is Sen. Kevin Mullin, Republican chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee, a staunch supporter of, and crafty finagler on behalf of, expanded gambling in Vermont. For a number of years, Mullin has been pushing to expand the definition of state-sanctioned gambling, by hook or by crook.

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A little prayer for ethics reform

Ah, Ethics Commission, we hardly knew ye.

Vermont will remain one of a handful of states whose politicians are unburdened by an ethics watchdog. The final benediction was pronounced Tuesday by House leaders, but the fatal blow had been struck in the Senate.

Well, not a blow, actually. The cause of death was slow and methodical.

A bill to establish a state Ethics Commission was shackled to the stone walls of a windowless chamber somewhere beneath the Senate. The cryptkeeper was Jeanette White, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who openly questioned the need for any ethical oversight at all.

Senate Bill 184 was permitted barely enough gruel and water to survive. Over time, its muscles atrophied and it became a mere shadow of itself. Its teeth and claws were extracted, just to make sure it could never do any damage.

And finally,  at the end of last week, after months of captivity, it was paraded across the hallway, shambling, emaciated, wincing at its first glimpse of sunlight since January. By then, it was too far gone to revive. Not that the House put much effort into it.

Rest In Peace, S. 184.

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Update from the Free Press: “Never Mind”

Earlier today, the Burlington Free Press posted an alarming story on its homepage. It quoted Michael Goldberg, the attorney currently operating Jay Peak and Q Burke, as saying the resorts were almost out of money and might permanently close.

I saw that, had the predictable “WTF” reaction, and wrote a post immediately.

The Free Press’ story was a stub, the industry term for a short urgent item that will be updated when more facts become available. And boy, what an update.

The full story confirms that the two resorts are cash-poor — but there’s still plenty of potential for their future, and Goldberg says he will “find a way to keep Jay Peak open, and open Q Burke Hotel in the fall.” He adds that there are already two high-profile hotel chains sniffing around Q Burke.

Well, that’s kinda different.

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This would be very bad.

In case you thought the Stenger/Quiros/EB-5 mess couldn’t get any worse, take a look at this from the Burlington Free Press:

Jay Peak ski resort could shut down; Q Burke Hotel may never open.

Those are the dire conclusions reached by Michael Goldberg, the attorney who has taken over the Vermont properties as receiver…

Goldberg says the two resorts have very little cash on hand “and numerous upcoming expenses that…

… will quickly use up available cash and, if additional money is not obtained, force the Receiver to shut down operations at Jay Peak and eliminate any possibility of Q Burke opening.”

Goldberg notes, with an air of understatement, “This is a very different situation than the one claimed by Ariel Quiros in his sworn investigative testimony before the SEC.”

Dare I say, the worst possible scenario is now on the table? Dare I say also, Goldberg’s findings make Stenger and Quiros’ denials of wrongdoing seem that much less credible?

Whatever you think of ski resorts — their environmental impact or quality of jobs — this would be a severe blow to the Northeast Kingdom. It would also add a new dimension to the political fallout from this scandal.

Chances are, this won’t happen. Jay Peak in particular would be an attractive bargain-basement purchase, since it’s chock full of EB-5-funded amenities. Q Burke has a new hotel ready for occupancy. But the mere possibility of complete closure has to send shivers down the spines of everyone in the Northeast Kingdom, and everyone in Vermont politics.