Is California’s new EB-5 scandal more scandalous than ours?

Vermont’s massive EB-5 scandal at Jay Peak broke about a year ago, and it isn’t the only federal investments-for-visas program that may be riddled with fraud. But the latest EB-5 scandal involves international politics, foreign fugitives and even a Trump cameo.fraudawards

The FBI in California raided offices, a townhouse and home associated with The California Investment Immigration Fund alleged to be involved in a substantial EB-5 investment company fraud. The company solicits EB-5 funds mostly from Chinese investors. And the majority of all U.S. EB-5 funds come from Chinese citizens.

Interestingly the FBI raids took place on Saturday while president Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping were meeting in Florida at Donald’s ersatz palace.

The FBI raids, […] were focused on California Investment Immigration Fund (CIIF), a business allegedly connected to abuses of the controversial EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program that has in recent years fueled a high-end US residential boom and has been widely used by developers including the president’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

Since 2008 attorney Victoria Chan, her father Tat Chan, and Fang Zeng harvested $50 million from more than 100 Chinese investors for CIIF and related companies.

[…] instead of legitimately investing the funds into US businesses, the trio either refunded the funds to the EB-5 investors while their petitions were pending in a way to solicit investors, or stole millions of dollars to use for personal expenditures, including buying million-dollar houses

That list of allegations should sound familiar to anyone who followed the exploits of Jay Peak partners Stenger and Quiros. But as often happens California goes one better because this fraud may involve three fugitives from China – on their most-wanted list – illegally obtaining U.S. green cards.

According to China Daily, among CIIF’s investment green card clients found on the fugitive list are Xu Jin (No. 13) and his wife Liu Fang (No.66). In China they are both accused of embezzlement, accepting bribes, and abuse of power, for which the maximum penalty is death. A third is identified only by the initials “K.L.,” and no crimes the mysterious unnamed fugitive may have committed in China are included.

Not to downplay  Stenger and Qurios’ alleged EB-5 fraud at Jay Peak, but strictly in terms of staging and dramatic casting, California’s EB-5 scandal may outclass ours – Vermont just can’t match the international intrigue or top cameo performances by the Trump family.

Kushner hires horror film PR man for White House job

It was only three days ago that Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, made his first hire, PR man Josh Raffel, for the White House’s new Office of American Innovation. The OAI is being described as “a SWAT team of strategic consultants” which will, the White House says, be given “sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy.” PR man Josh Raffel once did PR work for the Kushner family and Glenn Beck. Prior to joining the Kushner’s ‘SWAT” team Raffel was an executive managing the publicity for Blumhouse Productions — a horror movie producer. One recent horror film — The Purge: Election Year — featured posters with the tagline Keep America Great.purgekushnerGMD

Kushner’s long list of high-level jobs he performs for his father-in-law president include foreign-policy trouble-shooting: US/Mexican border issues (the WALL); Chinese relations; and Mid-East peace negotiating. Domestically he is tasked with addressing opioid addiction and veterans affairs, just to name two areas of responsibility.

Last week Kushner, along with Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a quickie visit to troops in Iraq. Security protocols were violated when officials at the White House confirmed the trip before Jared and his entourage had landed in the war-torn country.kushneratwar 2

Once he was  in Iraq, images made available of Kushner wearing stylish Ray-bans, a nicely cut blue blazer, pressed button-down shirt, and a personalized bullet-proof vest began to draw widespread derision. Twitter online comments include From Here to Fraternity and The Funds of Navarone, and the one which gets my vote for being both funny and truthful: Saving Private Equity.

The newly hired PR wizard may want to start on his new boss Kushner’s image. After all, Raffel has experience in selling cheap horror shows to the public ; the difference now is he’ll have a virtually unlimited budget: think of the potential for special effects!

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.

 

Governor Scott Proposes New Balanced Budget Strategy

scott-goldIn response to criticism from legislative leadership, Governor Phil Scott has re-engaged on the budget process in the 11th hour with a modified proposal.

Scott’s initial proposal plugged a multi-million budget dollar hole (while increasing spending for selected items) largely based on a pitch for local school boards to both level-fund school budgets as well as delay their local school budget votes until May. This proposal was criticized as unrealistic on its face, particularly coming as it did only days before most already-crafted school budget proposals were to be legally finalized for Town Meeting Day consideration. Since the Governor’s vision for such a radical change in school budgeting did not materialize, the administration has firmly resisted calls to re-engage with the legislature in order to craft a proposal based on those budget factors within state control.

But that all changed today when Governor Scott announced a modified budget. In a message clearly tailored to legislators who viewed his previous proposal as based on assumptions that were unrealistic or even fanciful, Scott stressed his new proposal was a “serious, thoughtful proposal to bring in another $30 million dollars without raising any further taxes or fees on struggling Vermonters, while maintaining our budget priorities.”
The proposal fills the gap with the Leprechaun’s pot o’ gold. The Governor noted that his staff had been hard at work identifying the location of the end of the rainbow in recent months, and had in fact verified the location of the pot o’ gold only this week. In his press conference, the Governor strongly urged opposition Democrats to “move forward on this responsibly balanced budget without delay.”

leprechaun2Democratic legislative leaders, however, were dubious. In a hastily called press conference, House Leadership was joined by the Leprechaun, where the group characterized this most recent proposal as no more realistic than the previous one.

The Leprechaun also noted the history of ill fortune coming to those who had attempted to access this source of funding in the past, adding “hands off me gold.”

The Leprechaun further began voicing his concerns over the long-term wisdom of depending on such a “one-off” funding source for the state budget, but was cut short when he was seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials after proving unable to produce a valid green card.

Supreme Court Nominee Skeletor Evasive in Confirmation Hearings

skeletor1Senate Judiciary Committee hearings over President Trump’s nominee to the US Supreme Court, Skeletor, continued today as the Eternian faced a marathon q&a session with the assembled Senators of both parties.

USA Today reporter Richard Wolf described the nominee as evasive during the hearings, which included questioning from VT Senator Patrick Leahy:

Supreme Court nominee Skeletor refused Tuesday to address tough questions from Democrats on abortion, guns, campaign spending and a host of other issues that he said could come before the court in the future.

President Trump’s nominee to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia 13 months ago said his caution wasn’t related to his personal views, which he steadfastly kept to himself.

skeletor2Raising his voice at times, Skeletor said he rules fairly on facts and the law in each case that comes before him. Beyond that, he would not give hints about his ideological leanings, his opinions of past Supreme Court precedents or his likely votes in future cases.
“I have offered no promises on how I’d rule in any case to anyone, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to do so,” he said, pledging to keep “an open mind.”

Continue reading Supreme Court Nominee Skeletor Evasive in Confirmation Hearings

EPA Grants Lake Champlain Blue-Green Algae Endangered Species Protection

In an unusual Saturday announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated Lake Champlain cyanobacteria an endangered species.

The decision comes as a result of a petition filed by a new regional environmental organization made up of a broad-based coalition of farmers, developers and municipal officials. Their concerns come as long-term projections based on anticipated changes in policy around stormwater and wastewater runoff and agricultural practices suggest hard times ahead for native cyanobacteria, known colloquially as blue-green algae.

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An ideal thriving cyanobacteria population

In the announcement, an EPA spokesperson noted the potentially catastrophic threats to cyanobacteria habitat in coming years. “Policymakers have been discussing wholesale changes to stormwater and agricultural runoff policy with wanton disregard to the potentially devastating impact on this local species. Although today’s EPA is strongly against regulation, we feel that this situation cannot be ignored.”

The Agency indicated it would be mandating a policy of sustained, targeted increases in crop fertilization and untreated municipal sewage dumps until such time that authorities deem the cyanobacteria population is found to be robust and stable.

VTGOP’ers vow: “won’t be fooled again”

Well, a group of GOP legislators in Vermont have vowed not to fall prey to April fool pranks again this year. Last year, as some readers may recall, five VTGOP legislators (two state representatives from the NEK, one from Orange County and two state senators from the Rutland area) in 2016 were readily taken in by legislative satire found on a popular Vermont-based online humor site.cowsoutdoors3

The April 1st 2016 news “report” was about Vermont legislation under consideration in Vermont House and Senate committees which, if enacted, supposedly would have mandated (under penalty of fines) the number of daylight hours a dairy cow could legally spend “indoors.” The “legislation” was said to list appropriate outside facilities for the dairy herd leisure activities. Suggested activities were defined  but to avoid any undue burden, farmers were not required to be in compliance. All that in bill VT H. 4/1/16: the imaginary “Dairy Cow Outdoor Leisure Act”

The proposed law, the story claimed, was inspired by scientific research completed at a major university: [The study] measured how much work dairy cows will do to access pasture, by pushing on a weighted gate. The cows worked hard to access pasture, especially at night. As a comparison, the researchers also measured how much weight the cows would push to access their regular feed when kept indoors; cows worked just as hard to go outside as they did to access fresh feed when they were hungry.

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In summary: “[…] cows are highly motivated to be outside” said professor Marina von Keyserlingk, lead author of the study.

Well, back in 2016 some conservative anti-regulation GOP lawmakers didn’t take time to notice the date  April 1. As a group the five, quick to react and soon to be embarrassed state senators and reps, took action. They composed a protest letter.

The letter, dated the next day [!] was sent to the committee chairs in both houses they believed were handling the legislation  and more incredibly, it was released to news outlets. It read in part:  “We’re talking about unchecked regulatory aggression. There is scant evidence to substantiate the legislation, and we are skeptical  of the assertion that dairy cows desire leisure time.” They railed against faulty and unproven science.

And the letter closed with this: “No matter what, we wish to make one thing understood; whatever it is, we’re against it. Even if you change or condensed it, we remain against it — any committee version of the bill.” 

Fast forward to 2017: the gullible gang of Republicans have said that should there ever be any effort to mandate leisure time for dairy cows, they would naturally be opposed — after double-checking the date. Lesson learned?

Rutland City Officials Unveil New City Motto “Quidam amici optimi mei sunt Musulmanus”

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The new City seal

The new Rutland City Mayor and Board of Alderman have begun the process of pushing back on negative press surrounding the recent Town Meeting Day elections. The media coverage, which has gone national, has at times characterized the city’s recent vote as driven by intolerance or even outright even racism, in light of election results widely seen as a referendum on ousted-Mayor Louras’s efforts to open the city to Syrian refugees.

Statements made on internet comment pages, the Facebook page of the anti-immigrant “Rutland First” organization, as well as that organization’s welcoming of notorious anti-Muslim firebrands such as Philip Haney and James Simpson have fed a persistent perception that the resistance to opening the city to families fleeing the war in Syria is often based on anti-Muslim or anti-Arab prejudice.

The new administration, in an effort to turn the page on the issue and respond to accusations of bigotry, has just adopted a new city motto which officials feel will help set the record straight on the issue.

“Quidam amici optimi mei sunt Musulmanus,” which translates from Latin to read “Some of my best friends are Muslim,” will now be emblazoned on the seal of the city. Officials are confident this change should be enough to put an end to the negative publicity once and for all.

Attorney General Deploys Sandmen to Keep Sanctuary Cities and States Unattainable

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Sessions with a member of the new Sandman force.

On Saturday, Vermont supplemented recent directives limiting state and local cooperation with federal immigration authorities with a formal statement declaring itself a “Sanctuary state.” The action provoked swift action from US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In the face of reports that the federal government may not legally be able to follow through on threats to funding from sanctuary cities and states, the Department of Justice immediately implemented a new strategy in response.

“We will be deploying a force of Sandmen, who will be empowered to use any force to prevent any and all ‘illegal’ runners from reaching this, or any Sanctuary.”

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New ICE administrator Box

Sessions added that the new independent Sandman force would be supported by new head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Box the robot. The Attorney General noted Box’s solid record of utilizing ICE to prevent runners from reaching Sanctuary, even if they do manage to evade capture by Sandmen, or other immigration authorities.

In an unrelated story, satirists suggested that gags based on 70’s science fiction properties that had long since faded from collective memory would likely fail to resonate with readers, generally.

Presidential order downgrades Vermont

upperalabamaFacing prospects of a Senate filibuster for his Supreme Court nominee, President Trump made unprecedented use of the power of his office by signing an executive order which eliminates two influential opposition votes .

With a wave of the presidential pen, Trump has eliminated Vermont statehood, redubbing the former Green Mountain State as “Upper Alabama” and placing it under the authority of Alabama Governor (and Trump supporter) Robert Bentley.

The move has the immediate effect of retiring Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, as every state is only allowed two Senators under the Constitution, improving the Senate math for the Trump administration on a whole host of issues. In addition, allowing Vermont’s general liberal population of 600,000 to be absorbed into conservative Alabama’s 1.8 million should have the desired effect of watering those Vermonters down as a political force on the state level, and in terms of the Electoral College.

Immediately following the signing ceremony, federal officials got right to work disseminating flags with 49 stars instead of 50, and repurposing the now-former Vermont Senators’ offices and seats on the Senate floor as retail sales space for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.

Based on the immediate success of the executive order, administration officials are reportedly looking into applying the same strategy in regards to Massachusetts (with an eye toward its reconfiguring as “Texas North”), as well as declaring California a US Marshall Island.