Tag Archives: Northeast Kingdom

Bernie’s gift to the Trumpers

In the campaign of 2016, Bernie Sanders offered a progressive critique of our economic/political system that resonated with a broad swath of the electorate. He articulated things that many of us had been thinking for a long time, and did it in a way that cut through the white noise of political discourse.

He did a lot of things right. There’s one thing he got wrong — well, let’s say he got it partly right — and as it turned out, that one thing may have made a crucial difference for Donald Trump.

Bernie’s analysis of trade and domestic job losses focused mainly on one element: international trade agreements.

He’s about one-fourth right. We’ll get to the other three-fourths in a bit.

His simplified message proved very powerful in his fight for the Democratic nomination, and was a core argument in his case against Hillary Clinton. But afterward, it became a potent weapon in the Trump arsenal. One could argue it won him the election, since his extremely narrow victories in Rust Belt states were due to economic anxiety focused on those evil trade deals.

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Were the Newport projects just a bait-and-switch?

Over the weekend, VTDigger’s Anne Galloway posted a detailed history of the Stenger/Quiros scandal entitled “Jay Peak’s Path to Fraud.” It’s a must-read for those wanting to get a good summary of the affair; the reporting is backed up by Digger’s two-plus-year investigation of the story.

And it raises a huge question in my mind: Did Stenger and Quiros ever seriously intend to build the megaprojects in Newport, or were they nothing more than flashy promises designed to dazzle the politicians and the public, and pave the way for what they really wanted — the transformation of their ski resorts?

In September 2012, Stenger and Quiros announced a bold initiative including major improvements at the resorts, a new terminal at Newport’s airport, and a suite of ambitious projects in Newport itself, including a window-manufacturing plant, a five-story office building, a hotel and conference center, and a marina, as well as a biotech facility in the works since 2009.

The numbers were mind-boggling: over half a billion dollars invested in the perennially impoverished Northeast Kingdom, and a rebirth for the city of Newport. Up to 10,000 new jobs.

Today, many of the ski resort improvements are complete or largely so, while nothing much has happened in Newport except for the demolition of some historic downtown buildings, leaving a hole in the cityscape. And now it looks like nothing will ever happen.

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Vermont, wellspring of twee liberalism

Disclaimers first. Ben Hewitt is a terrific writer who’s accomplished more at a young age than I ever will. His book about the food scene in Hardwick is marvelous. He’s also got to be a better farmer than I, because our garden is friendly only to the hardiest of plants. (Garlic, green beans, potatoes, and tomatillos. Boy oh boy, do we get tomatillos.)

But I have to take issue with a commentary he wrote for VTDigger, entitled “The Northeast Kingdom’s True Prosperity.” It’s the kind of thing that makes millions of working-class Americans vote Republican.

Hewitt argues that the collapse of the Stenger venture is actually a good thing, because if it had been fully built, it would have radically transformed the Northeast Kingdom and its precious essence would have been lost.

The people of the Northeast Kingdom already have everything we need to truly prosper, and not merely in a material way. Indeed, with its abundance of unspoiled natural places, and its population of people who understand that a vital connection to the land and to one another is a type of affluence no silk-tongued developer can ever match, the Kingdom is already a region of true prosperity.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but holy f*cking crap.

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Inartful dodges and implausible denials

Must be a new experience for Bill Stenger, having a hard time getting his calls returned. After all, he’s been a major player at the intersection of Vermont business and politics for a long time now, benefiting from sweetheart deals and inadequate oversight (see Postscript below) courtesy of at least two successive administrations.

After years of holding together his massive EB-5 project with chicken wire and spit, Stenger is now embroiled in the sales pitch of a lifetime: portraying himself as innocent in the face of federal and state investigations and an increasingly ugly paper trail.

From VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld, we learn that federal officials “had strong forensic evidence of a massive fraud” at least two years ago, and that Stenger was subjected to an intensive interview by SEC investigators in May 2014.

And from the Burlington Free Press’ Jess Aloe, we learn that Stenger’s top financial executive resigned in 2011 “after [Stenger] failed to address concerns about the use of money from foreign investors.”

It is literally impossible to believe that an experienced entrepreneur like Stenger could somehow remain clueless in the face of all that. But there he was, telling the Free Press last Monday (two days before the SEC raided his offices, seized his papers, and changed the locks) that nothing was wrong. And on Friday, two days after the raid, he doubled down.

“There was a lot of stuff in the presentation that I got on Wednesday that I was not aware of,” Stenger said. “I can’t go any further than that. I’ve got to let it go at that. I’m trying to figure this out as well. I just need to deal with it.”

Okay, I see what we’re doing here: blaming the dark-skinned flatlander.

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When the shit volcano erupts, everybody runs for cover

When you’ve got a big development scheme in your state that’s had the enthusiastic backing of The Great and Powerful, what’s the last thing you want to hear?

“Ponzi-like scheme”?

“Systematically looted”?

“… the gamut from false statements to deceptive financial transactions to outright theft”?

“… pilfering tens of millions of dollars in investor money”?

Yep, we’ve got ’em all, as Mount Quiros, the shit volcano, erupts and everybody runs for cover lest their expensive suits get ruined.

You know, it’s not very often that the term “clusterfuck” is an understatement, but here we are.

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More obstructionism from anti-renewable lawmakers

The Northeast Kingdom has become a hotbed of anti-renewable sentiment. They think they’re overburdened by the renewable buildout in their neck of the woods — although they seem to be just fine with Bill Stenger’s ambitious development plans, which would include a dramatic expansion of the Jay Peak resort with the concomitant loss of open space and wildlife habitat.

The Kingdom’s nominally Democratic Senators, Bobby Starr and John Rodgers, have proposed a bill that would effectively hamstring development of solar energy projects. They have a cover story, as they always do; this isn’t about energy, it’s about farming!

… the bill would apply Act 250 standards to renewable energy developments proposed for high-quality farmland.

Starr told finance committee members that he wants to balance the need for renewable energy with the need to conserve farmland, and he said the proposal could encourage solar development on more appropriate locations, such as rooftops.

Right. Rooftops. Vermont has so many of those.

There are a few problems with this bill. In no particular order:

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“Who Asked For This?” Part Umpty-Billion-And-One

Ever since it became clear that Lt. Gov. Phil Scott would seek the governorship, jut about every member of the State Senate has floated the notion of a run for the Lite-Govship. Now, a solid four weeks too early for April Fools, comes the tattered chapeau of John Rodgers, successor to Peter Galbraith as the Senate’s top renewables scold.

The news comes to us courtesy of the Vermont Press Bureau’s Josh O’Gorman Neal Goswami, and his story is laced with nuggets of unintentional comedy.

First, although Rodgers wants it known that he is available, he leaves open multiple lines of retreat: “considering it”, “still on the fence”, “sort of been interested for some time.”

There’s a bumpersticker if ever I saw one. “JOHN RODGERS for Lieutenant Governor: ‘Sort Of Interested'”

His caution is in line with the established pattern of senatorial Lite-Gov dalliances. One after another, they’ve put their names out there to resounding silence from The People, and then thought better of taking on a campaign that might involve, y’know, actual work and stuff.

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