Happy clown, sad clown, and a pie in the face

Yes, I know this feature is putatively entitled “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, and a Poke in the Eye,” but I’m having too much fun playing the field. So… Special Clown Edition!

VTDigger, the state’s best online news source, for taking home a $75,000 grant that will help it build a solid foundation. The matching grant comes from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation; the money will help pay for two new positions — publisher and database developer — and efforts to create databases aimed at increasing political transparency and accountability.

Technically, the money goes to VTDigger’s nonprofit parent, the Vermont Journalism Trust. And the Trust does have to raise a matching $75,000. But this grant will make a huge difference in terms of making VTDigger as stable organizationally as it is reliable journalistically. Getting a good publisher will be especially helpful in that regard; until now, founder Anne Galloway has been wearing approximately six hats — chief editor, writer, publisher, fundraiser, etc., etc. If she can doff a hat or two, that’ll be a very good thing.

The State of Vermont, for apparently failing to live up to its bargain on Montpelier’s proposed district heating system. And a lesser Sad Clown to the city government, for  launching a big, ambitious program with extremely little margin for error. Last week, we learned that the state’s portion of the system would come in $2.3 million over budget. The state then asked the city to pay one-quarter of that overrun. And the city declined.

Even if the city had agreed, it’s questionable whether the Legislature, in a tough budget year, would be willing to appropriate another $1.8M for the state’s portion. On the other hand, the city and state have already spent about $5M on the project, and cancellation would cost millions more. Given that unhappy prospect, the two sides are talking about some sort of work-around that would keep the project on track.

The larger part of the blame would seem to fall with the state, for trying to squeeze money out of the city beyond the terms of the contract. But the city decided to proceed with the project even though it knew there was almost no wiggle room for unforeseen contingencies. And on a project of this scale, there are always unforeseen contingencies.

After the jump: the Shumlin switcheroo; a small college stands on principle; chainsaws and coffee; and a nuclear humanitarian.

The Shumlin Administration, for its stout defense of welfare recipients and denial of the oft-repeated canard that too much help fosters a culture of dependency. In a January report, the Administration said that imposing a five-year lifetime limit on “Reach Up” benefits “could leave families destitute and at risk and will create a large hole in the fabric of Vermont’s safety net for those most in need.”

Wait, what?

Ohhhhhh, that report came out in January 2012, you say? And Shumlin’s new budget imposes a five-year lifetime cap on Reach Up? Exactly the kind of program cut it opposed only one year ago?

To quote the great Emily Litella, “Never mind.”

The teeny-tiny Republican minority in the Legislature, for continuing to prove that the VTGOP has failed to learn the lessons of 2012. I don’t know how many times Vermont Republicans have to be utterly rejected by the electorate before they start to understand that their right-wing, free-market policies are firmly opposed by a solid majority of voters.

I guess they need at least one more painful lesson, considering the clueless and pointless “No” vote cast by Republican members of a House committee on a bill that would provide free school lunches to students who currently qualify for reduced-price meals. The bill was obviously going to pass, and it’s probably the Grinchiest stance the Republicans could have taken.

Hey, VTGOP: if you want to pretend to be the Guardians of the Public Purse, please find yourself a more arguable use for taxpayer funds, and then go to town. The more you keep doing this stuff, the longer it’ll take for your party to regain even a hint of relevance.

Sterling College, for taking a meaningful stand against global warming with its decision to stop investing its endowment in the fossil fuel industry. Sterling is the first college in Vermont, and only the third in the nation, to heed the call of Bill McKibben to stop profiting at the expense of the planet. School trustee Rian Fried noted that short-term return is not the only way, or even the best way, to evaluate one’s portfolio.

“With this action, not only will the social return of the portfolio increase, the safety of the long-term financial returns will also be significantly enhanced by shielding the College from direct exposure to companies whose production levels are unsustainable.”

Sterling is a little tiny place, to be sure. But from small acorns do mighty oak trees grow.

Those black marketeers (knowing or otherwise) at Maple Grove Farms, for buying large quantities of maple syrup stolen from a Quebec warehouse. How large?

How about 12 tanker truckloads?

Company flack Matthew Lindberg insisted the company “purchased the maple syrup in good faith with no reason to believe that it was coming from Quebec or that it may have been stolen.” He denied media reports that the syrup was bought at well below market rates.

That’s as may be, but it’s a big blow to a company that trades heavily on its homespun Vermont charm. And you do have to wonder how tight their purchasing and sourcing operations really are, when they somehow managed to buy 12 tankers full of maple syrup from one of the alleged warehouse thieves without knowing its provenance.

The unknown thief who pulled off a smart perfecta at a seasonal home in Bradford. The burglar broke in sometime over the last several days and stole two chainsaws, a coffee maker, and several boxes of coffee.  

It’s a rare thief with the foresight to plan heists in accordance with well-known public safety tropes. (“Do not operate heavy machinery while drowsy.”) Plus, the coffeemaker was a Keurig single-cup model, so the thief is also patronizing local business. In his or her own way.

ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” exploiters of human misfortune, for pushing another family to the brink of bankruptcy. For those blessedly unfamiliar with the more rancid outposts of reality TV, EM:HE is a sappy, over-the-top descendant of early TV weepie “Queen for a Day.” It finds deserving families living in substandard conditions and builds them a BRAND… NEW… HOUSE!!!

A house that’s obscenely large and aggressively overdecorated, and proves very difficult to maintain. And sure enough, there have been several cases of families being unable to keep up the financial commitment of their “free home,” and either gone bankrupt or sold off. This time, it’s the Vitale family of Athens, Vermont who are desperately trying to hang onto their home, which was custom-designed for their severely disabled son. However…

The family struggled to keep their new home once it was built, Vitale said. He also said he and his wife failed to read through the entire contract. When they did, they realized they were responsible for financing the house, a total of $220,000 for a 30-year mortgage with Chase Bank.

The property taxes and heating bills were also beyond their means. And when they tried to sell the house last year, they found no takers for a handicap-accessible rural home designed for the specific needs and interests of the Vitales at a price of 600 G’s.

Can somebody please give obnoxiously cheerful EM:HE host Ty Pennington a good hard kick in the nuts? Tell ”im Green Mountain Daily sent you.

J. Wayne Leonard, erstwhile utility magnate and budding Citizen of the World. Wayno stepped down at the end of January as head of Entergy, just in time to leave his successors holding the bag of the embarrassing Super Bowl brownout. He also leaves his company in a perilous cash flow situation that may force it to abandon one or more of its reactors — possibly Vermont Yankee. And leaves his successor to desperately explain away the “challenging economic situations” of its aging nuclear power plants:

“We have not made any decisions to shut down any of our merchant nuclear plants,” Entergy CEO Leo Denault said on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call.

But, he said, “We are continually assessing our businesses and investments.”

…”Near-term power prices are challenging for some merchant nuclear generating units in certain competitive markets,” Denault said, noting the company was “bullish longer-term relative to the current forward curve.”

Which, I believe, is CEO-speak for “Oh God, oh God, somebody HELP!”

I haven’t been able to find information about Leonard’s retirement package, but I’m sure his parachute is a rich warm shade of gold. And in addition to great personal wealth, he also gets to play Junior League Bill Gates on his former employer’s dime:

A $5 million endowment for the creation of the J. Wayne Leonard Poverty, Climate Change and Social Justice Fund was announced Friday by Entergy Corp. in honor of J. Wayne Leonard, retiring chairman and chief executive officer of the company.

… The money comes from shareholder-funded donations to the Entergy Charitable Foundation, which means the corporation will make donations to the fund periodically until it reaches $5 million.

It may come as a complete surprise to Vermonters who only know Wayne Leonard through his stonewalling PR and his scorched-earth legal tactics, but in Entergy’s back yard, Leonard is known as a real humanitarian — at least, compared to his ethically challenged colleagues in CEO-land. In fact, Leonard is seen as something of a rebel in the energy business because of his outspokenness on climate change. Which, of course, plays into Entergy’s status as owner of several “carbon-free” nuclear power plants. But I’m sure that’s mere coincidence.

One final note. The Leonard Fund will make grants in the states where Entergy owns nukes and other major facilities, including Vermont. So we can look forward to getting a few crumbs from Entergy’s table, lavishly trumpeted in press releases I’m sure, even as the corporation itself continues to marshal legions of attorneys in its fight for the right to keep Vermont Yankee open.  

One thought on “Happy clown, sad clown, and a pie in the face

  1. to its own decommissioning fund.  

    Of course $5 mil won’t go very far toward that big ticket fail; but it’s a little less ludicrous than the toxic giant flinging a measly $5 mil at three completely unrelated and vague charitable targets just to keep up appearances.

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