A Pox on Both Their Houses

Now that Donald Trump‘s suit of alligator armor has suffered a rent in Iowa, I feel it is safe to say that on one thing we agree: Ted Cruz’s campaign is guilty of fraud.

No matter how you parse the story, Ted Cruz’s tightly run campaign dispersed a false story to Iowa Caucus goers, that Ben Carson was stepping down and his supporters should switch their vote to Cruz. The record of communications clearly demonstrates that this was an attempt to move voters over to Cruz by deliberate deception.

The Cruz campaign attempted to hand-off the blame to CNN. Fortunately, in this era of wall-to-wall records, it’s perfectly clear that the Cruz campaign took the legitimate story carried on CNN that Cruz was not flying to New Hampshire that night but rather to Florida “for a change of clothes,” and transformed it into a boldface lie.

That goes well beyond ‘dirty tricks,’ of which Donald Trump has no doubt played plenty.

Cruz has apologized to Ben Carson, and it is questionable how much of an effect the ruse had on the outcome; but defrauding voters is ‘voter fraud’…something which Republicans are always allegedly combatting in their efforts to suppress votes by minorities.

How is this kind of voter fraud consistent with Ted Cruz’s supercilious holier-than-thou Christian values?

Cruz’s surrogates are dismissing Donald Trump’s call for redress as the predictable whining of a sore loser. ‘True enough; but it’s not as simple as that.

What happened to that great Christian value of accepting responsibility for your actions? Apparently, if you have the credentials of a certified pious zealot, you are entitled to a ‘get-outta-hell’ card every now and again. Just say ‘sorry’ and you’re good to go.

I hope Trump does sue Cruz’s campaign. By all rights, he might just win that one…and he does love to win.

Garrett Graff: You can’t get there from here

Garrett Graff , a former editor from The Washingtonian and Politico magazine, has run headfirst into residency requirements and has decided not to run for Lt. Governor. Candidates for Lt Gov. are required to live in Vermont for four years before running for the office.

In November the 34 year-old left his job with Politico Magazine in Washington DC and made it known he was moving back to Vermont and planned to explore a run for Lt. Governor. graffgaff

Graff grew-up in Montpelier; his father was for many years the AP’s Vermont bureau chief covering the statehouse and currently is media spokesman for National Life.

 

Graff-the-younger seemed to be taken by surprise when he found himself at odds with residency eligibility laws. He had lived outside the state for 10years, but kept a state drivers license,was still registered to vote and claims Vermont remained his “mental home”.

He complains that the residency rule “[…] is going to discourage precisely the types of people that we would want to be involved in state government,” Shouldn’t residency, he wonders, be measured by a different mix of “physical presence” and “intent to return” — specifically those former residents who left the state for academic or professional enrichment and wish to return. Lucky for Graff  unabashed enlightened self interest isn’t frowned on too much, because the type of people he says Vermont should encourage for state government also happen to be mostly …well,  mostly him.

In a VtDigger.com commentary, Graff expresses support for certain residency requirements: “to ensure that someone running for office has ties to and knowledge of the state of Vermont.” Well, he might have wisely stopped there (note to Garrett: as of 2009 almost 50% of Vermont’s population was born outside the state)…but he adds: “I don’t want some flatlander like Jack McMullen arriving to buy a Senate seat any more than the next Vermonter.” But keep out the riffraff and millionaire flatlanders?

Poor Jack McMullen will forever remain the classic flatlander punching bag (see Fred Tuttle). You know, for all his many faults and the credible carpetbagging charges, he did actually have knowledge of the the state’s eligibility requirements before running for office.

Graff defines his own eligibility…

by pedigree: “But I am no flatlander and have the credentials to prove it. Born at Central Vermont Hospital and reared in Montpelier, I am a product of the city’s great public schools — and our family ties go back centuries. One of my ancestors was even a Green Mountain Boy at Fort Ticonderoga with Ethan Allen.”

Perhaps the residency requirements do need refining. However, I have to wonder, can Graff be totally unaware of how his clamoring “I am no flatlander” might be off putting to other new Vermonters… you know: some residents outside Montpelier and Washington DC. Even flatlanders are allowed the vote now- if they meet residency requirements.

In his legendary primary race against Fred Tuttle, Jack McMullen demonstrated  just how tone deaf to statewide political sensibilities a person can be. And young Graff,back after ten years, found a shortcut to display his own tone deafness to Vermont voters -he did it without entering a race at all.

Bernie’s revolution had a promising night.

Last night’s Iowa primary was a wild ride as befit the first official vote in this extraordinary year.

Even though cable news awarded the win to Clinton, the clearness of victory most certainly remains questionable and must be bitter-sweet for the once presumptive nominee.

Establishment pundits on the same cable networks still insist Bernie doesn’t stand a chance against Hillary when minorities are factored in, but his long-time supporters know how compelling his arguments are among almost any demographic once he is able to reach them on their home turf.

Conventional wisdom treats minorities as monolithic voting blocs, likely to herd in one accustomed direction. When you think about it, that’s a pretty demeaning assumption. If we are learning anything from this election cycle, it is the folly that lies in making assumptions.

The only question is whether there is sufficient time left for Bernie to make contact with all those voters in crucial southern states who are just now becoming familiar with his name.

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Bernie is likely to get his revolution in the long run, if his support among young people is anything to go by.

Last night was far more of a moral victory for Bernie Sanders than it was for Hillary Clinton.

With Iowa, he has already proven that, even after Citizens United, a principled candidate relying solely on small donations can still be viable against the kind of money Hillary Clinton is able to summon from establishment and corporate interests.

It must be hugely gratifying for a man who has devoted his long political career to fighting for the little guy, often suffering ridicule for his idealism.

There is an overarching theme of populism driving both the Democratic and Republican primary races. Make no mistake though; while some glib pundits suggest they are drawing from the same pool of discontent, the theme plays in a wildly different key on either side of the two party divide. Suggestions, by the same pundits, that Bernie supporters could ultimately be recruited by Trump in the event of a Hillary nomination, demonstrate how clueless the mainstream media is about the values of Bernie voters. This is hardly surprising when you consider how little attention they paid to his candidacy throughout the summer and fall.

Bernie Sanders’ revolutionary message appeals to our evolved and ‘better’ selves, while that of Donald Trump appeals to the primitive and selfish id, which instinctively responds with an adrenaline rush to fear and prejudice.

The same kind of anti-minority, nationalistic drum-beat that recruited God-fearing German citizens to join Hitler’s brownshirts is calling the extreme right flank of the Republican party to renounce the traditional American values of personal liberty, tolerance and generosity that underly our constitution.

No matter who ends up the Democratic nominee, to imagine Bernie’s followers could ever fall-in behind Donald Trump is truly laughable.

Criminal history and all, Vermont loves captive insurance companies

How much are they loved? Well, a former head of the Vermont Captive Insurance Association once called captives the “crown jewels in the state’s tiara” and swooned “There is maple syrup and skiing and cheddar cheese and captive insurance. What more could you want from life?”VT captive

The State of Vermont licenses more than one thousand captive insurance agencies (which exist to insure their parent companies). Once almost alone, but now one of eight states and the District of Columbia that currently have legalized captives in the US, the state fights for a share of the pie. “Vermont’s focus will always be licensing quality companies and regulating them in an appropriate manner commensurate with their risk.” says Dave Provost, Vermont’s Deputy Commissioner of Captive Insurance.

This isn’t car insurance. These are complex companies set up by (and captive to) a larger business in order to handle their own liability risk insurance needs. Essentially, an enterprise forms and manages its own insurance company as a subsidiary, and the enterprise’s other operating subsidiaries purchase insurance from the captive. 

For modest licensing fees, a small tax on premiums, and a friendly regulatory climate, Vermont provides a host of advantages for large corporations and wealthy families toward forming captives. Corporations can substantially lower their insurance costs, and captives provide shelter from certain federal corporate taxes. Premiums on small captives, also known as “cell” captives, hold special tax benefits for corporations. The benefits are so good, in fact, that in 2015 captive insurance was on the IRS’ “Dirty dozen” list of abusive tax scams

So then, how friendly are Vermont’s captive regulators? Well, only one member of each captive insurance board of directors is required to be (or become) a resident. And only one in-state meeting per year is required. But even that small demand is “waived” away by regulators : We do understand that the annual meeting requirement can be a hardship and have made many allowances over the years […] for last minute health or weather problems that made travel difficult.

In 2015 there were 33 new captives who chose to take shelter in Vermont. One notable captive with a colorful criminal history is Marubeni, a large Japanese commodity trading corporation.

Between 2012 and 2014 Marubeni paid $88-million and $56.6-million in US criminal penalty violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This bit of unpleasantness is part of a long line of scandals going back to accusations of hoarding rice to profit on the black market in the 1970’s. In the 1980’s Marubeni executives were arrested and charged with bribing Japanese government officials to favor Lockheed Aircraft in Japan. These arrests lead to several suicides and the resignation of the prime minister. They followed that up with a round of bribery scandals involving Philippine President Marcos and several national development funds.

Every year the Vermont Captive Insurance Association hosts a weeklong conference. This gathering is attended by those directly associated with captives. It is also a magnet for the likes of Governor Shumlin and Lt. Governor Phil Scott, both of whom never seem to tire of reminding the captive insurance visitors that we are the kindest, warmest, most wonderful regulators a captive could ever want.

Conference attendee Lt. Governor (and gubernatorial candidate) Phil Scott said our captive regulator model should be expanded to all Vermont’s regulated sectors.“Imagine if we had a governor’s office that treated every sector in the same way” said Scott recently.

Sure, can’t you see Killington or Stowe welcoming Marubeni Corporation, perhaps advertising as the new second home to criminal “captives”? And is this vision of a corporation-colonized Vermont a place you want to live, when we’re paying the taxes they’re avoiding?

Shaking Entergy’s Piggy Bank

Does anyone other than me find it a little disconcerting that Entergy has managed to spend-down fully 10% of its decommissioning fund for Vermont Yankee in 2015 alone?

I don’t know about you, but I would very much like Vermont Auditor Doug Hoffer to take a look at how the decommissioning fund is being managed. He’s done a masterful job of casting a dispassionate eye over the efficiency of many government agencies, so I think he has more than demonstrated his mastery of such matters.

So far, Vermonters have nothing to rely upon other than Entergy’s own say-so that growing the decommissioning fund is right on track.

I know that we don’t get to say thing-one about matters of safety…like, for instance the plan to keep thousands of spent fuel rods on site in unconcealed casks, easily visible to nefarious fly-overs; or the fact that emergency planning is about to go away.

But, as the decommissioning fund arguably belongs to Vermont as much as to Entergy,
it seems entirely appropriate to ask that our auditor take a gander at the books.

(I write this as me, myself and I. Although I am pleased to be associated with Fairewinds Energy Education in a purely non-technical capacity, this diary was written with no input from Fairewinds.)

McAllister crashes FC Legislative Breakfast

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As the Senate grapples with its ethics bill, one man who is untroubled by that process is suspended senator Norm McAllister (R)who has apparently not gotten the memo that his ministrations are no longer wanted by Franklin County constituents.

Yesterday’s St. Albans Messenger carried a picture of McAllister seated, arms defiantly crossed, next to Rep. Dan Connor (D) of Fairfield at Monday’s legislative breakfast in Swanton.

I haven’t yet seen the Channel 16 coverage of the breakfast, but am told by a reliable source that Mr. McAllister actually tried to chair the meeting before Rep. Kathy Keenan (D) reminded him of his status.

There doesn’t appear to be any rule as to who gets to sit at the Big Boy table; I suppose even a constituent with chutzpah could take a seat.  Apart from Kathy Keenan’s intervention, I understand no one said anything about the elephant in the room, but photos in the Messenger show a bunch of distinctly unsmiling Republican representatives.

McAllister may be many things, but self-aware isn’t one of them.

EB-5 extended despite “constantly evolving” schemes

Critics and some supporters of the EB-5 investment and immigration program agree it needs improvements in oversight to avoid fraud. Yet with the passing of the Congressional omnibus spending bill in December, the program was extended without changes for the next nine months. This is in spite of the fact that the Government Accounting Office raised doubts about regulators’ ability to keep up with “constantly evolving” schemes to defraud investors.

However, according to one business publication there is rejoicing. Congress’ extension without changes is welcome news for all participants of the program— investors, regional centers, developers, and marketing agents alike—for the time being.

The Immigrant Investor Program grants permanent residency to foreigners who are willing to invest $500,000 in certain approved businesses that promise to create at least 10 jobs. Vermont’s Regional EB-5 Center has several such programs, including developments at Mt. Snow, the Trapp Family Lodge, and Sugarbush. The largest by far is Bill Stenger’s $750-million Northeast Kingdom Economic Development Initiative which includes Jay Peak, AnC Bio and Q-Burke.EB-5 map2

A year ago this February, the state of Vermont was sufficiently worried about security fraud allegations that they shifted oversight of the program (in VT.) to the Department of Financial Regulation. Nationally, the SEC reportedly subpoenaed Jay Peak’s EB-5 records and conducted interviews with development associates.

Alarms and warning bells have been going off nationally for a while.

As of May 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other federal law enforcement agencies had 59 open investigations relating to EB-5 projects, 35 of which “primarily involved securities fraud issues,” according to the report. The SEC received more than 100 “tips, complaints and referrals related to possible securities fraud violations” between January 2013 and January 2015.  

EB-5 supporters Senators Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy hoped a proposed series of reforms would tune up potentially fraud-ridden programs. Among the changes that made it to a compromise bill (but which eventually proved to be sticking points) were rules to narrow definitions of employment areas, closer supervision of regional centers, impose filing fees for investors and increase the investment requirement to $800,000. The powerful US Chamber of Commerce and the Real Estate Roundtable, along with large developers, opposed the changes.

But none of that was destined to happen. And EB-5 developers, lawyers, and marketing agents now have until September 2016 to drive stakes into future reforms. Are they really the  stakeholders, or are they the vampires sucking in money from investors seeking a return in addition to green cards?

Save local parental hearings

Congratulations are due to Governor Shumlin for recognizing that it is unacceptable to balance the budget on the backs of low income expectant mothers.

That would have been a pretty sad legacy for his administration.

I won’t belabor that point (pun intended), but it seems an opportune time to discuss another matter that threatens many down-and-out families in my neck of the woods, Franklin County. Unfortunately, I can’t link you to Michelle Monroe’s excellent piece in the St. Albans Messenger, but after reading it, I felt compelled to share the issue with our Green Mountain Daily readers.

Judiciary shortages continue to plague the state. There are many whose lives are disrupted by the lack of speedy attention to their issues, but no where is the need more pressing than when it involves the fate of children in family court.

The Vermont Supreme Court has determined that it is not necessary to hear parental custody arguments close to home, and that the efficiencies available from consolidating these proceedings in a single Chittenden County location outweigh the argument that they should be easily accessible to parents who are already struggling with issues that have pushed their families to the breaking point.

These are hearings to terminate parental rights, the chilly acronym for which is “TPR.” How horrifying for the parent who has no car and a whole lot less luck, yet must find some way to appear in the court of another county in order to fight termination of their parental rights!  Not to mention the strain on Franklin County case workers who must add travel to and from Chittendon County for court appearances to their list of duties.

With TPR cases on the rise, especially in Franklin County, “outsourcing” the hearings seems a counterintuitive approach to the problem.

It isn’t the first time that vulnerable Franklin County families have gotten the short end of the stick. Remember the much touted state-of-the-art women’s prison that was built in St. Albans, with facilities especially planned to retrain female prisoners for a more functional life on their release? It’s proximity and conducive ambiance allowed families to visit incarcerated loved ones in a less stressful situation so that the important bonds of early childhood might be protected.

At least, that was supposed to be the idea.

Almost as soon as its doors opened to receive prisoners, the building was abruptly redirected for the use of male prisoners and the women were shipped to Chittenden County.

Nice.

Is money the issue holding up expansion of Vermont’s judiciary? I’d really like to know. How is it that we could give a million dollars to a multi-billion dollar corporation (Global Foundries) as some sort of wedding present when they took over IBM in Vermont, but year after year, we can’t find the resources to run our courts as they need to be run?

I am well aware of what the Enterprise Fund is and what it was supposed to be for; but the optics of the thing are awful. This is not something that desperate Franklin County parents, who may be holding down multiple jobs while trying to minimize the trauma of divorce on their children should be expected to understand.

The public may comment on the proposed amendment to the Rules for Family Proceedings with regard to termination of parental rights (TPR) until Tuesday, February 16.

Shouting “ethics” in a crowded revolving door

Last July the longtime director of Vermont EB-5 Regional Center Brent Raymond resigned abruptly to lead Mt. Snow/Peak Resorts Inc. $52-million EB-5 funded expansion program. The Mt. Snow program is one that as State EB-5 director, Raymond  would have had oversight of.

A great gnashing of teeth over the possible conflict of interest followed causing Governor Shumlin to go so far as to  cry “ethics” aloud as Raymond exited from his administration out the revolving door.

A spokesman for the governor said then: “The governor has concerns about the potential for a conflict of interest in this decision. […] We fully expect all appointees and former appointees to comply with the Executive Code of Ethics,” spokesman Scott Coriell said in an email.

Later with questions over possible conflicts of interest in the legislature and executive mounting Shumlin publically endorsed plans already underway for an independent commission to handle ethics complaints.

In the meantime back at the Mt. Snow’s $52-million EB-5 project, if you hunt around on mountsnoweb5.com, a press release pdf that lists Brent Raymond as an employee can be found. However Mt. Snow’s webpage (shown below)more prominently pimps out their new hire Raymond  as a Vermont State Employee – image tagged : Support of government officialsscshotsnow

Some steps have been taken in the last year to address growing questions of ethics and conflict of interest in Vermont government .Secretary of State Jim Condos continues his tireless campaign for a transparency and an ethics commission for the executive and legislative branches. The Vermont House adapted a formal code of ethics and the Vermont Senate Rules Committee will likely continue their recent series of skirmishes, err, hearings to discuss formal ethics and financial disclosure guidelines.

Oh by the way, the other VT EB-5 Regional Center employee seen in that image on mountsnoweb5.com is Specialist Becky Fu. She left the state Regional Center in 2015 — not long after Brent Raymond. Specialist Fu left her state Regional EB-5 Center job to help shepherd along the Von Trapp Family Lodge $22-million EB-5 program.

So go ahead, shout as loud as you want. For now, I doubt anyone wants to hear “ethics” while passing through Vermont’s revolving doors. Nah, it’s business as usual.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the VT Senate Rules Committee

Wednesday’s Vermont Senate Rules Committee meeting on ethics and disclosure ended in a minute and huff. Well maybe it ran longer than a minute — but it did end in a huff. The meeting, called  to discuss new ethics disclosure rules for those serving in the Vermont Senate, ended with an abrupt adjournment on Wednesday.

The finger-pointing, heated conclusion to the Senate Rules Committee meeting came after an exchange between two of the chamber’s leaders, Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, and the Senate President Pro Tem, John Campbell, D-Windsor, who was backed up by veteran and influential Sen. Richard Mazza, D[?] -Grand Isle/Colchester.

The dust-up between the party leaders peaked when Baruth, the Senate Majority Leader, felt the other two Democrats were not taking him seriously, while Campbell, who holds the most powerful post, and Mazza, a senator for more than 30 years, were offended and thought Baruth was accusing them of “hiding something.”

Senate President Pro Tem, John Campbell, D-Windsor walked out after a “dust-up “with Senator Phillip Baruth.

Said Campbell: “Wait. I didn’t say it’s laughable,” Campbell shot back, then talking over Baruth said. “No, no, don’t. You have reporters here. Do not, Do not…”

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Campbell’s unease at openly discussing ethics and financial disclosure with reporters present recalls the classic admonition from Dr. Strangelove “Gentlemen, we can’t fight here: this is the war room.”  We can’t discuss disclosure — you have reporters here.

The fact that the discussion, limited as it was, is taking place at all perhaps shows Senate leader Campbell’s views may have evolved since 2014. When asked then to react to actions the Vermont House successfully took to formalize ethics guidelines Senator Campbell saw no need to make similar efforts in the Vermont Senate. “I think most people are ethical,” Campbell said “Hopefully, you elect people you trust.”

Sure, Senator Campbell, hopefully most people are ethical but, gentlemen, this is the Senate rules committee isn’t it?