Marlboro “merger” shows just how bad things are in higher ed

Nice little place you got here. Shame if something happened to it.

Marlboro College has announced an “alliance” with Boston-based Emerson College, which basically involves Marlboro paying $40 million for the right to be chewed up and swallowed.

Such a deal.

The southern Vermont school has been searching for a partner, and this agreement shows just how desperate the search had become. Marlboro is signing over its $30 million endowment and its $10 million real estate portfolio to Emerson which, I guess, means that Marlboro’s market value was negative $40 million? Yikes.

Here’s a little whipped cream on that sundae: Marlboro says it’s shutting down after the current academic year — but this “merger” won’t be finalized until next July!

After the college shuts down.

So, what’s Plan B? We all set ourselves on fire?

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VT Dems go trolling for candidates

So, according to VTDigger, the Vermont Democratic Party is conducting a poll to see how well Attorney General TJ Donovan and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman would do in hypothetical matchups with Gov. Phil Scott.

I have no inside information on this, but here’s how it looks from my view.

It’s a sign of desperation and a waste of money. Also, Donovan and Zuckerman are still Hamletting it up.

Let’s take desperation first. I’m assuming that party leaders initiated this poll, not Donovan or Zuckerman. If so, it says that leadership — whatever their public protestations — fears what will happen if former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe is the party’s nominee, because (a) they think she’d lose badly and (b) might actually hurt their prospects in legislative races.

Well, it’s really (b) they’re most concerned with. The experiences of Peter Clavelle, Scudder Parker, Gaye Symington, Sue Minter and Christine Hallquist show that the party is perfectly content to toss a nominee off the sled when the wolves are closing in.

They’d much rather go to battle in 2020 with Donovan or Zuckerman leading the charge. Which is understandable, given that Holcombe is untested in the political arena and virtually unknown outside policy circles. But when party leaders are willing to spend scarce party resources — at a time when they’re not exactly swimming in money — they reveal a certain unseemly desperation. This is a Hail Mary pass: If the poll shows unexpected weakness for Scott, or significant strength for one of the two Hamlets, then one or both might be enticed to make a run.

Of course, the poll is unlikely to provide that kind of evidence. Scott has done nothing to diminish his popularity — nor have legislative Dems done anything to push him in that direction — and his two potential rivals are much less well-known statewide. (Those of us inside the #vtpoli bubble vastly overestimate the public’s engagement in state politics.) Donovan lacks a policy profile outside of law enforcement, and both men lack any significant record outside of their jobs.

Both are better positioned than Holcombe to overcome Scott’s lead because they are statewide officeholders, and that’s by far the best launch pad for a gubernatorial bid. (The last six Vermont governors were either statewide officeholders or top legislative leaders before assuming the top job.) Both also have better fundraising potential: Donovan because of his political lineage and national connections, and Zuckerman as the state’s leading Bernie Bro.

Right now, I doubt their poll numbers would be much different from Generic Democrat. What they do have is a chance at being competitive, after running a vigorous statewide campaign for a solid year. So I don’t expect the poll will provide any real insight. Hence, waste of money.

And if Donovan and Zuckerman, in the middle of very successful political careers, lack the self-confidence to make that decision without a marginally meaningful poll, then they’re really not cut out to carry the banner.

R.I.P. “Fair Game,” 1995-2019

So they did it. My former bosses have pulled the plug on Seven Days’ political column, a staple of the weekly since its inception in 1995. I was, apparently, the last occupant of what I liked to call the Peter Freyne Memorial Chair in Instigative Journalism. So maybe I killed it, or I was irreplaceable, your choice.

After my very sudden departure slash defenestration in August, the paper posted a curious job listing. It wanted to hire either a new columnist or a new reporter. At the time, I thought the odds greatly favored “reporter,” which would mean the death of the column. Also at the time, I gave my sure-to-be-ignored-and-you-betcha-it-was advice: Hire a columnist, preferably someone from out of state (for fresh perspective) and preferably a woman, a person of color, or both. Because the Statehouse press corps is almost exclusively white and male, and the few political analysts/commentators we’ve got are all white men.

Also, there are tons of columnists and would-be columnists with lots of experience across the country, because many dailies have been cutting local and syndicated columns. A suitable candidate could learn the Statehouse ropes in time for the new session.

Instead, we get a Vermont reporter: Colin Flanders, most recently of the Milton Independent, Essex Reporter and Colchester Sun — where he worked with editor Courtney Lamdin, who signed on with Seven Days as a Burlington city reporter earlier this year. (The weeklies are owned by a skinflint out-of-stater who maintains a single tiny staff to feed all three papers.)

In a way, I get it. In our ever-diminishing news ecosystem, adding another reporter who can do Seven Days-style in-depth journalism is a solid move. But “Fair Game” occupied a singular niche in political coverage. Not to mention that the paper is giving up a significant asset; “Fair Game” was one of the most-read features in the paper. (Not because of me, but because of the column’s long tradition of insight, fearlessness and sharp writing. I stood on the shoulders of my predecessors.) The end of “Fair Game” is a sad moment in the decline of our media.

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Metapost: On bad words

We get comments, we do, we do. Of late, they’ve included a couple of complaints about my occasionally salty language. To be fair, that language appeared in the headlines of two recent pieces, not buried somewhere in the text, so the offending words were hard to ignore.

I appreciate the feedback and I take it seriously, but I can’t promise to cut it out. There are times, especially these days, when a good Anglo-Saxonism is absolutely the appropriate response to some bit of political bullshittery or ratfuckery.

Oops, I did it again.

Besides, the only benefit of having A Blog Of One’s Own is that one gets to set The Rules Of One’s Own. I ain’t in this for the money, Lord knows.

Also, I find Vermont politics to be a little too reserved. This is fine, for the most part; I’d hate to cover that mess in D.C. where everyone’s hackles are permanently on Code Red. But our politicians commonly back away from any kind of real confrontation — or exposure of disagreements behind the scenes — out of an overly developed sense of politesse.

Which, up to a point, is a virtue. But there are times when differences that affect policy outcomes warrant a bit of sunshine. Or when a little vinegar improves the flavor.

I see myself as the vinegar. Or, in the words of my Twitter bio: “Political analyst, poo-flinging monkey.”

So yeah, I fling some poo from time to time, and I will continue to do so. Somtimes I’ll even call it “shit.” If you don’t like it, I will defend to the death your right not to read it.

Hey look, a Republican candidate!

The candidate and his base. From the John Klar for Governor Facebook page.

John Klar, a man of many talents including authorship of far-right commentaries on True North Reports, and the possessor of a notable chin, has become the first Republican candidate for governor in 2020.

Gov. Phil Scott, the Republican incumbent, has said he won’t announce his intentions until next spring. But he’s gonna run, let there be no doubt.

And he has nothing to fear from Mr. Klar, whose ideology is such a mixed bag that even the Never Scotters may have a hard time flocking to his banner. Klar’s message is roughly equal parts Ethan Allen, Arthur Laffer, and the prosperity gospel on a societal level. That is, he believes if government gets out of the way, everyone will rise out of poverty and into prosperity.

Klar calls himself and his followers “Agripublicans,” adherents to the notion that Vermont has suffered an Edenic fall from its original state of grace due to the excesses of big government and the depredations of flatlanders. In short, he’s the one true advocate for Making Vermont Great Again.

Of course, this golden age of liberty, prosperity and rugged individualism — centered on the life-giving profession of farming — is less a historic reality and more a picture postcard. But hey, a man can dream.

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I don’t know why Doug Hoffer puts up with our bullshit

State Auditor Doug Hoffer is at it again, pointing out the turds in the carefully curated punchbowls of state government. This time, it’s OneCareVermont, the massive, publicly-funded and poorly-understood initiative that seeks to reinvent the economics of health care by paying providers per patient instead of per treatment. The idea is that providers will be incentivized to encourage health instead of waiting to treat disease. (Not that there’s any evidence whatsoever that doctors and nurses can effectively change lifelong behavioral patterns that lead to chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes, lookin’ in the mirror there.)

Of course, the entity seeking to reinvent health care is owned by the two dominant providers in the current system, University of Vermont Medical Center and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Kind of like the foxes guarding the henhouse, except they’re big ol’ grizzly bears.

Hoffer had the audacity to take a look at OneCare’s commitment to some creative community-based health programs, including efforts to encourage healthy food shopping and meal prep and providing palliative care. And he found — shocking, I know — that OneCare, having accepted millions in public dollars for those programs, had no evidence whatsoever that they had any effect. At all. (Link is to VTDigger’s story. You can read Hoffer’s memo here.)

In fact, the behemoth isn’t even pretending to try.

OneCare CEO Vicki Loner faulted Hoffer’s “expectation for documentation of every activity.” Instead, OneCare is evaluating the outcomes for the system as a whole.

Which, if true, is just fuckin’ dumb.

What kind of large-scale organization launches a series of initiatives with no intent to evaluate each one’s impact? If you’re evaluating the system as a whole, how do you figure out which parts of the system work and which are a waste of time and money? Do you think the good folks at Hannaford don’t bother to track sales and profit margins in each department (or in each individual store), as long as they’re getting good outcomes for their system as a whole?

Even worse, OneCare is taking public money for specific programs and refusing to be accountable for how effectively it’s being spent. Which is ironic, don’tcha think, for a so-called Accountable Care Organization?

But if you think Hoffer is getting a hero’s welcome for his work, then you haven’t been paying attention to his tenure as auditor. Because his reward never comes in the form of gratitude and promises to enact reforms. No, his work is greeted with deliberately misdirected criticism and claims that reforms are already in the works. And, as quickly as possible, his work is dumped in the circular file.

Like I said, I don’t know why he puts up with our bullshit.

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State business grant gets flushed down the crapper

Bad news from down Bennington way, courtesy of The Banner:

With a two-paragraph note Thursday afternoon, a major Bennington employer for decades — Energizer — confirmed that the local factory will close.

Well, there go some nice manufacturing jobs in a community that’s taken more than its share of body blows. How many jobs is apparently a mystery; Energizer didn’t say, and The Banner couldn’t immediately find out. In 2015, the factory was downsized to an undisclosed extent (companies have learned to conceal the grim details of cutbacks and closings); at the time, per VTDigger, it employed “between 100 and 250 people.”

Sen. Dick Sears of Bennington learned of the plant’s closure — after the fact — in an email from a corporate stooge who offered hollow words of praise for “the years of productive engagement we have had with you and your office.”

That “productive engagement,” by the way, included a Vermont Training Program grant issued in April 2018 — only a year and a half ago. VTP provides taxpayer funds to cover up to 50 percent of training new workers or teaching new skills to existing workers.

I’m not sure, but I’m gonna guess here that Vermont had something a little more… uh, permanent in mind when it gave Energizer those dollars. Instead, the company didn’t even bother to inform state government until after it had publicly announced the plant closure.

Nice.

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