Category Archives: Business

FCC boosts Trump favorite Sinclair Broadcasting’s merger

The FCC, headed by Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed under President Obama and recently named by Trump as chairman, has eased restrictions in order to make it easier for media companies to own more stations in more markets:

The Federal Communications Commission, on a 2-1 Republican-led vote on Thursday, restored the practice of counting just part of some stations’ audience.[…] The change adds room to grow for companies including Sinclair, Nexstar Media Group Inc. […] Sinclair, with 173 TV stations, is working to finalize a deal to buy Tribune, which owns stations in major markets including New York, Chicago, and Miami.

Sinclair Broadcast Group  is a family-owned business based in Maryland. They own and operate 173 stations in 81 markets covering 24% of American households mostly in the South and Midwest. Their local affiliates include Fox, ABC, CBS, and others.trumpcast2

SBG has a history of using its stations to promote a conservative message and also attempted to influence the 2004 election in favor of the Republican Party, says Media Matters. Days before the 2004 presidential election the network pre-empted regular programming to run an anti-John Kerry film.

More recently the Washington Post published: How the nation’s largest owner of TV stations helped Donald Trump’s campaign. In it they document Sinclair Broadcasting’s intentional tilt toward Trump. This included directing their stations toward favorable to neutral coverage of his campaign and an emphasis on negative reporting regarding the Clinton campaign.

Trump’s right hand man, son-in-law Jared Kushner, reportedly acknowledged that the campaign struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting, providing them access in exchange for wide coverage. The agreement gave Trump’s campaign a local edge over national networks in swing states such as Florida and Ohio where SBG dominates. With a greater local audience assured Kushner said simply “it’s math.”

After their planned merger, when finalized Sinclair will have added 26% to their existing nationwide coverage. Factoring in overlapping market share between Sinclair and the company it plans to acquire new coverage will reach 42%. Think how effective the newer bigger stronger Sinclair propaganda could be for Trump and other GOP favorites the next time around.

And don’t expect PBS news reporting to pick up the slack. Trump’s “skinny” GOP budget doesn’t just target the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (the major funding arm for PBS) with sizable cuts but with total elimination. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney broadcast his administration’s plans to “unwind our involvement in CPB” loud and clear: […] [the budget] will see a zero next to it; the policy is we’re ending federal involvement with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Trump may continue his 100-day stumble-and-flail at day-to-day governinghis new role. But it’s just not his world. His most successful role was as reality TV star, playing a caricature of himself as a world’s best deal maker/businessman.

But he does know brand marketing is all about grabbing control of the largest friendly market-share coverage. For Donald it is not about fair or balancedfact or fiction. As his right hand man, son-in-law Kushner admitted “It’s math.”

Of course, the next generation might have trouble with understanding that concept once Sesame Street’s “The Count”  isn’t around to teach them their numbers.

Randolph Exit 4 I-89 development land conserved

Sometimes with the right combination of co-operation, money, power, and influence things can be made to “click” to preserve open land here in Vermont.vermontlandsave1

An agreement has been made involving developer Mr. Jesse “Sam” Sammis and his wife Jean “Jinny” Sammis, the Castanea Foundation, and a Vermont goat farm that will result in the conservation of hundreds of acres almost two hundred acres of land which will remain open and farmed. Sammis’s now-abandoned  development proposal  along Exit 4 from I-89 in Randolph as planned would have included 274 residential units, 280,000 square feet of office space, 236,000 square feet of light manufacturing space, and a 180-bed hotel and conference center.

As reported in a press release last week from the Preservation Trust of Vermont:

The Montpelier-based [Castanea] foundation is acting as an intermediary to hold the land to allow time for the sale of a conservation easement with public funding, private fundraising, and the eventual sale of the conserved land to Ayers Brook Goat Dairy for agricultural purposes.

In addition, Sam and Jinny Sammis have agreed to sell the remaining 22 acres that they own at Exit 4 to the Preservation Trust of Vermont. Working in conjunction with Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the citizen group Exit 4 Open Space, the Preservation Trust of Vermont will have the opportunity to purchase the remaining 22 acres. The groups will need to raise $1 million dollars – substantially below the assessed value for the property – over the next 60 days to complete the deal.

The original sprawling undertaking had the backing of the Shumlin administration. Part of the proposed project was an agreement with the state for developer  Sammis to build and run an officially sanctioned state welcome center. The center and a 30-year lease on state-owned land would have provided  exceptionally convenient access with the Interstate exit funneling traffic to the Sammis-owned industrial park, office space, conference center and hundreds of residential units. Former Governor Shumlin’s former Secretary of Administration, Jeb Spaulding, was particularly enthusiastic “When I first heard about this proposal I thought it sounded too good to be true.

The recent agreement to save hundreds of acres of land took an impressive alignment of active local opposition to the development, several heavy-hitting conservation groups, and of course lots and lots of money.

But despite all the smiles and good feeling now, developer Sammis’ said: “I’m happy about it from a conservation standpoint. As a developer and somebody who’s lived in Randolph for over 40 years and knows that there’s a tremendous demand for good jobs, I’m disappointed.”  Sammis’ remark (nudging pretty close to right up against some sour grapes) anticipates future development battles.

And those battles will involve Act 250 Vermont’s statewide development review process. Governor Phil Scott has pledged to “reform” Act 250. His  encounter with Act 250 as young businessman is part of his well-worn origin story. The review process is bound to be factor as that thousand-acre utopian city-state planned for nearby Upper Valley towns of Royalton, Sharon, Strafford and Tunbridge moves forward.

So there’s more to come. Think of all the open land through no fault of its own located near the interstatefound just “sitting” there, “undeveloped”barely even monetized! For Phil Scott, surely a heresy!

International Fact-Checking Day is the 2nd of April

Yes, you read that right, April 2nd  the day we waited all year for! A day Donald Trump dreads like a vampire fears the daylight. International Fact-Checking Day is promoted by the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter in partnership with fact-checking organizations around the world.tweetsource3

Follow their link to find a bunch of real resources including lesson plans, the IF-CD fake news trivia quiz and other activities including the always popular “hoax-off.” So check out the top debunked claims of the year.

International Fact-Checking Day is not a single event but a rallying cry for more facts — and fact-checking — in politics, journalism, and everyday life.

 

Gov. Scott: Calling FairPoint for Department of Human Resources Commissioner

It is fair to say Governor Phil Scott often makes the point that state government should be managed like a business. So it’s hardly surprising Scott announced that FairPoint Communication executive Beth Fastiggi will be his Department of Human Resources Commissioner.  Fastiggi held a number of posts at FairPoint Communications in her 30-year career there.philsonaphone4

I wonder though — considering some of FairPoint’s history in Vermont  Scott might have been tempted to make this announcement on a Friday — late in the day Friday.

FairPoint, which took over Verizon’s land line business in Vermont, has reached out and touched most Vermonters over the years and not in a good way. Here, and for that matter in all of New England, the company has a long history of poor quality service, bankruptcy, and troubled labor relations. At certain key moments it seems Vermont has been there with helping hand$.

In recent years a variety hefty fines for consistently poor quality of service were imposed by the State of Vermont Public Service on FairPoint. And then, the VPSB waived millions of dollars in accumulated poor service related penalties for the company. The agreement, part of a restructuring plan, allowed $7 million in assessed unpaid penalties to be redirected by FairPoint for statewide broadband build-out.

The relationship between FairPoint and its union employees has been marked by mistrust. For 131 days from October 2014 to February 2015 almost 2,000 FairPoint union employees were on strike over newly imposed rounds of wage and benefit cuts.

Shortly after the strike began, and despite ongoing issues surrounding quality of service, Vermont awarded FairPoint a lucrative contract to manage Vermont’s 911 emergency communications service. Who ever would have guessed that outages and problems would now be plaguing the emergency 911 system?

In the DHS appointment press release Governor Scott says: “Beth is a highly respected business leader who will be a great asset and public servant for the state.”

So let’s see then, FairPoint Comunications squeezed concessions out of union members, provided poor service, got concessions on state-imposed fines and landed a valuable state 911 contract while in bankruptcy  in the middle of a labor strike .

So how does that management skill set connect to the Department of Human Resources Phil? Not too results oriented, eh?

Wonder why GEO Group canceled VT’s prison contract?

In December (after the election, of course) GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation) unexpectedly opted not to renew a multi-year contract to house State of Vermont prisoners. Their North Lake Correctional Facility in Michigan was housing less than 300 Vermont inmates (the only occupants in the facility) but has a potential capacity of 1,748.

Private for-profit prison companies just got a belated Valentine’s Day  love letter from new Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. The Valentine came in the form of a memo that reverses acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ directives aimed to slow and ultimately end the Bureau of Prisons’ use of privately run for-profit prisons. The Obama Justice Department had acted on data (see here and here )suggesting that private prisons are less well run than those managed by the Bureau of Prisons, and since overall prison population wasn’t growing, they were no longer be needed.

However, Attorney General Sessions shifted — well actually reversed — the policy in his memo Thursday by declaring that curtailing private prison use “impaired the Bureau’s [Bureau of Prisons’] ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”  cell door Think about what that says about the future Session envisions.

The new Attorney General may not have been the only one anticipating that Trump’s aggressive immigration sweeps will be supplying new detainees to occupy private prison beds. And  since they opted out of the next one-year extension of Vermont’s contract in Dec. 2016, GEO Group will have emptied one of its facilities by June. So, maybe look for the future announcement that GEO’s North Lake will re-open to house the overflow of ICE detainees from Trump’s sweeps awaiting deportation hearings.

GEO Group is the largest (CCA is second) contract provider of detention services for ICE, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Marshals Service. With recent acquisitions Geo Corrections & Detention and Geo Care will own or manage about 98,000 beds worldwide including about 7,000 community reentry beds.prisonprofitper

And GEO’s political action committee spends lavishly on politicians. In 2016 alone they gave $300,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign and almost that much in Senate and Congressional races — overwhelmingly to Republican candidates — all that in addition to heavy lobby spending on state legislators and governors[the following was added 2/26Phil Scott got his bit:a $2,000.00 donation from GEO in March 2016].  GEO Group (and earlier Wackenhut) has helped fund and is listed as a member of ALEC (the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council).

So, it’s probably no accident GEO Group knew which way the wind was going to blow regarding immigrant detention when Trump said he’d deport ‘em all. There are estimated to be up to 8 million people in the country illegally that could be considered priorities for deportation. Sessions’ memo  just monetized them. And GEO stock is at an all time peak.     

Van lines survey: VT second highest number of people moving in

For the third year in a row a survey by United Van Lines [Ed. updated link 3/17] suggests Vermont is a desirable location for people wishing to relocate. movinvtUnited is one of the nation’s largest moving companies and has tracked customer state-to-state migration for the past 40 years.  In the 2016 national study Vermont moved up from third to the second of the top states with increases of inbound moves.

Moving In: The top inbound states of 2016 were:

  1. South Dakota
  2. Vermont
  3. Oregon
  4. Idaho
  5. South Carolina
  6. Washington
  7. District of Columbia
  8. North Carolina
  9. Nevada
  10. Arizona 

Vermont’s jump continues our state’s trend up, which runs counter to other states’ trends in the Northeast. New Jersey tops outbound states with New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania continuing to have substantial outbound moves according to the United Van lines survey.

Despite certain demographic challenges to population growth (aging population, people leaving, and a low birth rate) Vermont is, at least according United’s survey, going against a trend toward outbound growth in Northeastern states. Although our population is staying the same or slightly declining we are doing something right regarding this positive trend.

Monday Trump administration fun-facts!

Donald Trump’s buildings are always (he says) the tallest, but according to the Washington Post  his cabinet really will, by far and away be the richest one ever! Biggestly!

When George W. Bush assembled his first Cabinet in 2001, news reports dubbed them a team of millionaires, and government watchdogs questioned whether they were out of touch with most Americans’ problems. Combined, that group had an inflation-adjusted net worth of about $250 million — which is roughly one-tenth the wealth of Donald Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary alone.

Commerce Department Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross, Jr., is a longtime Trump acquaintance (he managed one of Trump’s bankruptcies). Forbes rates him the 232nd wealthiest person in the US, with a net worth of $2.5 billion.

Ross has worldwide interests according to the maritime news publication gcaptain.com: fatcatrowboat5[Ross] built his fortune investing in troubled companies, including the oil and gas, steel and financial industries. He has a large ownership stake in Navigator Holdings, and his Diamond S Shipping is one of the world’s biggest owners of medium-range products tankers.

As the agency’s name suggests The Department of Commerce is charged with promoting American business in the US and overseas.This  includes gathering economic data, enforcing international trade agreements, and issuing trademarks and patents. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is part of the Commerce Department. NOAA (which includes the National Weather Service) manages scientific data on weather, oceans, and climate conditions to assess the health of the world’s oceans. I recall recent efforts by Congressional Republicans to privatize the U S Weather Service.

So fat-cat Wilbur Ross, Jr., as Commerce Secretary may soon oversee NOAA — but under President Trump I doubt he needs a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

“Minimum” good news from Election Day

In four states, voters approved increases  in their minimum wage this past Election Day. Arizona, Colorado, and Maine voters approved phased–in minimum wage  increases to at least $12.00 per hour by 2020. In Washington the increase will be $13.50 by 2020. Seventeen other states (including Vermont) and many cities have already raised minimum wage requirements in recent years. However the Federal minimum wage remains low at $7.25 per hour.

wageworldCommenting on the passage of minimum wage hikes Holly Sklar, CEO of an organization called Business for a Fair Minimum Wage says: “This really reinforces what we know—that there’s very strong support among the general public for raising the minimum wage, and there’s also strong support in the business community for raising the minimum wage. And you can see it across the country and across the political spectrum.”

There’s a clear business case for supporting the increase. “To put it in the most basic terms, workers are also customers,” says Sklar. “Some of the political opposition against raising the minimum wage often acts like workers and customers are like two different species of people.”

Here in Vermont the Democrats and Progressives in the legislature passed and Governor Shumlin (D) signed an incremental minimum wage bill increase to $10.00 per hour in January 2017 and $10.50 by 2018.wageslaves1 Governor-elect Phil Scott(R) opposed this move. He said then and now that he prefers not to “burden” businesses and that wages should be left alone to grow “organically.”

Good news has been in short supply since Election Day but that shouldn’t diminish the fact that thanks to the voters roughly two million low-wage workers wages will benefit from these increases — a good small step, long in coming.

Phil Scott to meet with Koch Brothers

Well, not precisely with the Koch Brothers but close enough (and besides, the “evil Koch Brothers” are proven bi-partisan click bait in Vermont). Governor-elect Phil Scott will be flying to Florida this week to attend the Republican Governors Association’s two-day post-election conference.rga201620 At two million dollars the Kochs were the largest contributors to the Republican Governors Association(RGA) in 2016 according to opensecrets.org.

The RGA then, in turn coughed up big bucks – almost $3 million dollars – to support Scott’s campaign win here in Vermont. It is worth noting that with Trump’s ascendance in the national GOP, the Kochs have been channeling more and more resources – reportedly $750 million – to extend their influence to state GOP office holders at all levels.

A theme of this week’s RGA gathering is “leading the change,” and featured speakers include public employee union-busting Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, climate change denier Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, and Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina. Of the three only Haley has been critical of Trump, but she also accepted contributions from him.

Phil Scott’s first national excursion as governor-elect is to go racing off, following the money to schmooze at the RGA conference with union busters and climate change deniers. And the man who spoke so often about “hitting the pause button” will spend time hearing about “leading the change.” Who is this “authentic Vermonter?” Looks pretty different on the road from his campaign image when he’s at home.

And the winner is…cable news networks

Recent polls show only 19% of US adults approved of the media. The press did better with 32 % trust .But those low approval numbers don’t prevent viewers from tuning in-and cable news profits are soaring.

“Look at this mask. Look at this mask. Oh wow. Wow, that’s beautiful. Look at that. Looks just like me.” said Donald Trump
“Look at this mask. Look at this mask. Oh wow. Wow, that’s beautiful. Look at that. Looks just like me.” said Donald Trump

[…] according to sources familiar with CNN’s finances, “the network and its related media businesses will approach $1 billion in gross profit in 2016

And of course as much as one might try, you can’t ignore Fox News:  Fox, which hosted the first GOP debate in 2015, generated $2.3 billion in ad sales and $1.6 billion in operating profit for its parent company, 21st Century Fox, in 2015, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That number will undoubtedly be higher in 2016 given the bigger audiences and higher ad rates in the election year. 

MSNBC is also having an exceptional year. In October alone, viewership was up 168 percent overall and 261 percent in the 18–54 demographic.

It would be interesting to find out how much of a role Trump,the GOP’s buffoon bigot showman had in generating viewership.There is a good chance the Trump show will  get canceled today, but could he show up in his own sequel. You know, Trump TV ?