Wednesday, June 19, 2013
US Presses Taliban on Qatar Office in Bid to Save Talks - Ne...[Hide Story...]New York TimesUS Presses Taliban on Qatar Office in Bid to Save TalksNew York TimesKABUL, Afghanistan — In a bid to regain control of a peace process with the Taliban that had suddenly spun out of control, President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday slammed the brakes on two strategic lines of American negotiation, again exercising his power ...Window of opportunity from Taliban talksBBC NewsThe Taliban's Qatar Office: Are Prospects for Peace Already Doomed?TIMEUS tries saving Taliban talks after Karzai objectsNewsdayPakistan Daily Times -Reuters -Financial Timesall 1,305 news articles »
4 shot, 3 dead at Kentucky condo shooting - News 12 Westches...[Hide Story...]News 12 Westchester4 shot, 3 dead at Kentucky condo shootingNews 12 WestchesterPhoto credit: AP | Residents Kora Thompson, left, and Joey Hopper watch activity at the scene of the Lakeview Condominiums shooting in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Three people were shot to death and a fourth was seriously injured at a ...Louisville Condo Shooting: 4 Shot In Deadly Violence Inside ApartmentHuffington Post4 shot, 3 dead at Ky. condo shootingThe MissoulianThree dead in shooting at condominium complex on Gardiner Lane in LouisvilleThe Courier-JournalBowling Green Daily Newsall 60 news articles »
James Gandolfini, dead at 51, made Tony Soprano an icon - Lo...[Hide Story...]CBS NewsJames Gandolfini, dead at 51, made Tony Soprano an iconLos Angeles TimesJames Gandolfini, the barrel-chested actor forever known to millions of TV fans as mobster Tony Soprano on the HBO series “The Sopranos,” has died at the age of 51. “Our hearts are shattered and we will miss him deeply. He and his family were part of our ...James Gandolfini, Who Portrayed Tony Soprano, Dead at 51ABC NewsActor James Gandolfini dead at age 51CNNJames Gandolfini dies at 51Washington PostUSA TODAY -Fox Newsall 638 news articles »
FBI uses drones inside US for spying, director says - Los An...[Hide Story...]AFPFBI uses drones inside US for spying, director saysLos Angeles TimesWASHINGTON — FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III testified Wednesday that the controversial National Security Agency surveillance program "has been a contributing factor, one dot among many dots" for tracking terrorist plots, and he admitted for the first time ...FBI director defends NSA programsNewsdayFBI Has Drones But No RulesForbesFBI says it uses surveillance drones on US soilReutersChristian Science Monitor -Houston Chronicle -AFPall 205 news articles »
Obama Says Surveillance Helped in Case in Germany - New York...[Hide Story...]Wall Street JournalObama Says Surveillance Helped in Case in GermanyNew York TimesBERLIN — Pressed personally by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany about the United States' surveillance of foreigners' phone and e-mail traffic, President Obama said Wednesday that terrorist threats in her country were among those foiled by such ...Obama pushes big cut in nuclear weapons. Is that a good idea? (+video)Christian Science MonitorObama renews calls for nuclear reductionsStephenville Empire-TribuneObama seeks further cuts to US, Russia nuclear arsenalsLos Angeles TimesWall Street Journal -Fox News -Reutersall 866 news articles »
Body found near Hernandez's home was semi-pro athlete's - CN...[Hide Story...]ABC NewsBody found near Hernandez's home was semi-pro athlete'sCNNMassachusetts State Police searched near the home of Aaron Hernandez after a body was found nearby. Erika Niedowski/AP. BOSTON (AP) -- A man found dead in an industrial park about a mile from New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez's ...Body found near Patriot's home was homicide victimMiamiHerald.comNFL: Aaron Hernandez Faces More Legal Woes; Connecticut Man Claims Pats ...Latinos PostPolice search home of Patriots' Hernandez in murder probeFortuneNFL Newsall 457 news articles »
US Accuses 3 Countries of Abetting Human Trafficking - New Y...[Hide Story...]NBCNews.comUS Accuses 3 Countries of Abetting Human TraffickingNew York TimesWASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday accused Russia, China and Uzbekistan of continuing to abet human trafficking and forced labor, raising the possibility that they could face sanctions at a time when President Obama has tried to ...Slavery: US gives bad marks to China and Russia in its annual reportChristian Science MonitorToll of human trafficking: Slavery, tortureKSBW The Central CoastUS Criticizes China, Russia in Fight Against Human TraffickingVoice of AmericaBloomberg -Reuters -NBCNews.com (blog)all 50 news articles »
CRUISIN' CELEBRITY NEWS
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
WATCH: Ron Burgundy gets racy in official Anchorman 2: The Legend...[Hide Story...]
Us MagazineWATCH: Ron Burgundy gets racy in official Anchorman 2: The Legend ...
Video; Image. Official Anchorman 2 Trailer. Ron Burgundy is back with the much anticipated Anchorman 2. Ron Burgundy. Will Ferrell gets fresh as the infamous Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Source: news.com.au. Nicole Kidman to ...
'Anchorman 2' Trailer: Ron Burgundy Takes Manhattan (and Cable News)
'Anchorman 2' trailer: Ron Burgundy is even Burgundy-er
Today's News: Our Take - Check Out the Trailer for Anchorman 2
Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch all 346 news articles »
Paula Deen used the N-word, wanted 'slaves' to serve a wedding di...[Hide Story...]
CBS NewsPaula Deen used the N-word, wanted 'slaves' to serve a wedding dinner
Celebrity chef Paula Deen has a mess she needs to clean up. A deposition was obtained Wednesday in which she admits to using a racial slur. The National Enquirer first reported Deen's deposition, in which she responds to recent allegations of racism in the ...
Paula Deen goes viral amid 'N-word' controversy
Los Angeles Times
Celeb chef Paula Deen admits using 'N' word
Deen says she used slur but doesn't tolerate hate
Boston Herald San Jose Mercury News- TMZ.com- Fox News all 366 news articles »
James Gandolfini Dead -- 'Tony Soprano' Actor Dies in Italy - TMZ...[Hide Story...]
TMZ.comJames Gandolfini Dead -- 'Tony Soprano' Actor Dies in Italy
6:01 PM PT -- "Sopranos" creator David Chase tells TMZ ... "[James] was a genius. Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that." "He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad ...
James Gandolfini Dead at 51, Actor Won Three Emmys for The Sopranos
James Gandolfini, dead at 51, made Tony Soprano an icon
Los Angeles Times
Hollywood shocked by Gandolfini's death
Fox News Access Hollywood- CBS News- ABC News all 638 news articles »
Miley Cyrus sheds teen queen image in new video - Newsday[Hide Story...]
New York Daily NewsMiley Cyrus sheds teen queen image in new video
Miley Cyrus, you have successfully shed your teen queen "Hannah Montana" persona in one well thought-out and sophisticated video -- "We Can't Stop" -- that showcases your edgy new image. You have clearly given a great deal of thought to how you might ...
Miley Cyrus Releases Sexy Music Video for "We Can't Stop"—Check it Out!
Miley Cyrus' “We Can't Stop” Video: Review Revue
Idolator: All About The Music
Style Hunter: Miley Cyrus' 'We Can't Stop' video twerking outfit
Entertainment Weekly New York Daily News- USA TODAY- Cinema Blend all 122 news articles »
Dolce and Gabbana Fined in Italian Tax Case - New York Times[Hide Story...]
Times of IndiaDolce and Gabbana Fined in Italian Tax Case
New York Times
MILAN — The fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana were handed a 20-month suspended prison sentence and a heavy fine on Wednesday for hiding hundreds of millions of euros from the Italian tax authorities. Enlarge This Image ...
Dolce and Gabbana get jail for $268m tax dodge
Times of India
Dolce and Gabbana convicted of tax evasion
Dolce & Gabbana sentenced to jail for tax evasion
MarketWatch CNN International- Reuters all 200 news articles »
Fifty Shades of Grey Gets a Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson "Wi...[Hide Story...]
AFPFifty Shades of Grey Gets a Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson "Will Honor" EL James ...
Fifty Shades of Grey officially has a director ready to dictate how things go down in that Red Room of Pain. E.L. James tweeted the news Wednesday, writing that she was "delighted & thrilled to let you guys know that Sam Taylor-Johnson has agreed to direct ...
Sam Taylor-Johnson to direct 'Fifty Shades of Grey'
Sam Taylor-Johnson: What does she mean for ''Fifty Shades of Grey'?
Los Angeles Times
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson chosen for 'Fifty Shades of Grey'
CNN International Contactmusic.com- AFP- CBS News all 139 news articles »
Video: Channing Tatum & Jamie Foxx 'Wanna Channing All Over Y...[Hide Story...]
E! OnlineVideo: Channing Tatum & Jamie Foxx 'Wanna Channing All Over Your Tatum'
Just in case you missed Tuesday night's episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx want to Channing all over your Tatum. And their desire has been expressed in a sweet jam entitled, "(I Wanna) Channing All Over Your Tatum.".
Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx debut '(I Wanna) Channing All Over Your Tatum ...
New York Daily News
Channing Tatum Debuts Star-Studded Music Video for '(I Wanna) Channing All ...
Miley Cyrus Stars in Channing Tatum Spoof Video
Cambio Just Jared- Entertainment Tonight News- Broadway World all 85 news articles »
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Burlington College's Future Depends on a Big, Bold Development Pl...[Hide Story...]
“Grow or die” would be too stark a way to describe the options facing Burlington College, according to President Christine Plunkett. But “we do need to grow,” she conceded in an interview last week.
To achieve that goal, one of the country’s smallest higher-education institutions plans to triple its enrollment and build housing for more than 200 students on the North Avenue property it purchased two years ago from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington for a cool $10 million.
Burlington College would also construct about 25 private homes, a lakeside pavilion, a building for an urban agriculture program and a pair of roads that would connect to North Avenue. The unused half of the 85,000-square-foot, 135-year-old former orphanage that dominates the property would get a major face-lift.
To make it all happen, Burlington College will have to clear a series of financial, political and demographic hurdles. One stumble could threaten the whole plan.
Money presents the biggest challenge for a college with a tiny endowment and the towering debt it incurred to move from a 16,000-square-foot space at the intersection of North Avenue and North Street to the 32-acre lakeside expanse. Two-thirds of the debt — $6.7 million — is in the form of a tax-exempt bond with conditions that prevent the college from contracting with for-profit developers.
The school is seeking an arrangement like the one between the University of Vermont and the Redstone Commercial Group, which built 144 on-campus housing units under a long-term ground lease, according to Chief Financial Officer Bill Breen. To pull it off, Breen says, “a giant set of factors have to be woven together.” Specifically, a developer would have to pay the restricted part of the college’s debt up front before any construction could start.
That price might be right for some real estate firm interested in helping the college build market-priced housing on one of the last large privately held parcels of undeveloped land in the Queen City. “I expect my inbox to start filling up soon with inquiries,” Breen said during an interview in Plunkett’s corner office.
But even if Breen manages to pull off the complicated financial transaction, neighbors could tie up the building plan, which is focused at the southern end of the property. A few hundred yards closer to downtown, Mayor Miro Weinberger’s development company spent eight years fighting local opposition to the 25-unit Packard Lofts apartment project just completed at the north end of Lakeview Terrace.
Weinberger expresses tentative support for Burlington College’s master plan, which he says he has reviewed in the form of “early conceptual sketches.” The proposal presents “opportunities for strengthening the college while simultaneously improving public connectivity through their site and creating additional, much-needed neighborhood housing opportunities,” the mayor said in a statement emailed to Seven Days.
Later this month, Burlington College will present its expansion plans to the New North End’s joint Neighborhood Planning Assembly. Lea Terhune, a leader of the Wards 4 and 7 NPA, says she has no comment on the college’s plan because she hasn’t yet seen it.
In seeking to grow its student body from 250 to 750 undergraduates during the next 10 years, the college will be sailing into powerful demographic headwinds that have blown away enrollment projections for the University of Vermont, St. Michael’s College and many other higher-education institutions in the Northeast. A shrinking pool of high school graduates, along with intensified competition from colleges offering luxury amenities, is producing student — and tuition — shortfalls at institutions much better endowed than Burlington College.
Plunkett says she aims to counter these trends by making her school a go-to option for Vermonters who haven’t traditionally continued their academic careers beyond high school. Within that sizable market segment, Plunkett adds, Burlington College will focus on the growing refugee community in the Old North End, Winooski and other nearby locales.
Sounds noble in theory, says a Vermont higher-education official who does not want to be named in connection with a skeptical appraisal ...
State Police May Loosen Tattoo Rules to Woo New Recruits[Hide Story...]
Should a tattoo of a Japanese koi fish or a Chinese character disqualify a would-be state trooper from patrolling Vermont’s highways? Right now it could. Since 2007, the Vermont State Police has banned visible tattoos on troopers.
“We were seeing people enter our [recruitment] process where they had sleeves of tattoos down their arms, or tattoos on the back of their neck or maybe even on their face,” explains Capt. Dave Notte, the VSP’s current staff operations officer. “Appearance is very, very important to us, because we don’t want our appearance to jeopardize the public’s trust and confidence in us. It just didn’t look professional.”
But as tattoos have become more mainstream, the state police force is looking to revise that policy, citing an anticipated shortage of troopers and the difficulty of recruiting new talent. There’s concern that current policies aren’t welcoming of war veterans, many of whom returned with tattoos memorializing their time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the next five years, the state police will need to hire 120 new troopers to fill vacancies anticipated from retirements and regular turnover. That’s more than a third of VSP’s authorized force of 327.
“We feel we’re losing quality candidates” because of the tattoo policy, says Notte. At least one would-be trooper withdrew his application from the VSP rather than remove his tattoo, a costly procedure that isn’t always successful, Notte says.
The VSP wants to revise its policy before January, when its new class of recruits starts at the police academy. Notte can’t yet say which tattoo designs — or spots on the body — would be acceptable for state troopers. But he says the VSP plans to review the body-art policies in various branches of the military and at police departments around the country.
The Army forbids any tattoos that are extremist, racist or sexist, as well as ink on the face, head or neck above the collar; the Virginia State Police adds the ears, nose, eyebrows and tongue to that list of prohibited places. In Great Falls, Montana, tattoos that are obscene, sexually suggestive, drug related or “political in nature” keep you off the force.
The Palm Beach County sheriff’s office limits officers to one tattoo on each arm that can be no bigger than 3 inches by 3 inches.
Vermont largest police departments, by contrast, have few if any rules about police tattoos and report no problems stemming from inked officers. Rutland City Police Capt. Scott Tucker estimates 10 percent of the force has tattoos.
“We’re very open-minded about it,” says Tucker, a 33-year veteran. “Certainly we’re more interested in what’s inside the individual’s heart and brain, and how they act in public.”
Burlington Police Department has a handful of officers with visible tattoos — mostly of the yin-yang variety — but no official policy, says Lt. Bruce Bovat, who notes that offensive tattoos, such as a swastika, would not be allowed on the force.
The department does have grooming standards that govern, among other things, mustache length.
Like Tucker, Bovat says he’s largely unconcerned about the image tattooed officers might project to the public.
“You want officers that reflect society, and a lot of good people out there have tattoos,” he says. “I wouldn’t think that a tattoo in itself would have any positive or negative connotations.”
Ivan Hess, a tattoo artist at Vermont Custom Tattoo and Piercing in Burlington, has worked with a number of police officers — including one client on the Rutland police force who commissioned a full-sleeve tattoo with intricate Japanese imagery. Hess doesn’t believe tattooed police officers project a lack of professionalism, commenting, “I mean, what are you projecting with a koi fish?”
Hess says tattoos have become common among professionals, noting that he’s inked up a number of school teachers as well as “a pretty extensively tattooed” member of the upper management team at Gifford Memorial Hospital.
“People figure doctors, lawyers and police officers don’t have tattoos,” says Eric Henshaw, who co-owns Yankee T...
How Gov. Peter Shumlin Built a $5 Million Real Estate Empire[Hide Story...]
Long before he became entangled in a messy land dispute with an East Montpelier neighbor, Gov. Peter Shumlin spent three decades building a real estate empire from his hometown of Putney.
In the years since he and his brother took over a student travel business from their parents in 1983, Shumlin has amassed a nearly $5 million stake in 19 properties. Included in his real estate catalog are office buildings and apartments in Brattleboro and Putney, a Westminster dairy farm and a vacation home on 38 acres in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
“I used to tease them we’d get a special town phone directory — one for Putney and one for the Shumlins,” says former town moderator John Caldwell, repeating a joke he told for years at town meeting.
So sprawling is Shumlin’s empire that when he first disclosed his holdings during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, he apparently forgot to include a property he’d bought several years before on the Caribbean island of Dominica. The undeveloped, three-quarter-acre parcel, for which Shumlin says he paid $18,000 or $20,000, is farmed by a banana grower who goes by the name of Big Ben.
“I forgot. Honest mistake,” Shumlin said last Friday, noting that Dominica doesn’t levy property taxes. “When I was listing all my properties in the original campaign disclosure, I just went through all my property tax bills, and I didn’t get one for Dominica … So I simply forgot to list it.”
Shumlin’s real estate prowess and financial success — he reported $10.6 million in assets in 2010 — have figured prominently in the narrative of a controversy that’s bedeviled the governor for the past month.
When East Montpelier neighbor Jeremy Dodge accused Shumlin in May of fleecing him out of a 16-acre property adjacent to his 2200-square foot “governor’s cabin,” Shumlin’s detractors characterized the situation as that of a real estate pro taking advantage of a vulnerable man. The governor has since offered to sell the land back at the price he paid for it.
“Mr. Dodge has been dealing with a sophisticated and shrewd businessman, a businessman who is also the most powerful person in Vermont,” Dodge’s new lawyer, Brady Toensing, said last week.
But those who’ve worked with Shumlin over the years in Windham County say that caricature misses the mark. They contend that while he’s made gobs of money, he’s done so scrupulously. And they say he’s as driven by the desire to preserve the character of his hometown as he is by the desire to increase his wealth.
“He gets a bad rap because he’s always in a position of power. People pick on him or assume things,” says Larry Cassidy, Shumlin’s longtime business partner. “But the truth is, we’ve been in business for 30 years and we’ve never seen the inside of a courtroom. That has to tell you something in this business.”
Cassidy first teamed up with Peter and Jeff Shumlin in the mid-1980s, when the three bought a 600-acre tract of land on Putney’s Bare Mountain. Decades before, a wealthy New York City lawyer had cobbled the property together from the back lots of abutting neighbors. After Cassidy and the Shumlins bought the land for $300,000, they gradually sold those lots back to the families that once owned them — for a profit.
“It was a way for us to try to make some money, but more importantly to try to keep it from being developed,” Cassidy says.
“Thirty years later there is one house on that 600 acres,” Peter Shumlin says with pride.
The Putney Tavern building, 133 Main Street, PutneyAs Storms Intensify, Burlington Struggles to Manage the Flow[Hide Story...]
On May 22, a rainstorm dumped 1.4 inches of water on Burlington in just half an hour, clogging storm-water drains and turning some Queen City streets into scenes from Waterworld. Residents paddled down Green Street in kayaks and partied in puddles on Brookes Avenue.
But not everyone was celebrating.
The downpour caused aging pipes to back up, spilling sewage into basements in the Old North End. Downtown, water flowed through the basement walls of retail establishments including Sweet Lady Jane, Dear Lucy and Uncommon Grounds.
Those businesses, all housed in the same Church Street building, flooded after downpours last July and August, too. Property manager Marian Fritz says it’s become a frequent problem in Burlington. Just wander up and down Church Street after a big storm, she says, and “the next day you see everybody pumping out their basements.”
But Fritz says she’s never seen it this bad. More than two weeks after the storm, she says, water was still seeping through the building’s north foundation wall on the corner of Church and Cherry streets. To date, her company, Grandview Farms, has spent $3100 cleaning up the mess.
Such deluges used to be rare events, Fritz says, but now she and other property owners have come to expect them. “Every time it rains, now, we all just kind of hunker down and wait for the phones to start ringing,” she says.
The problem, in large part, is old infrastructure that’s not capable of handling storms that are becoming more frequent and more intense. Every time it rains, water flows through 2000 catch basins around the city into 100-year-old pipes made of brick. Burlington has more than 40 miles of storm and sewer pipes, but only 15 percent of them have been upgraded in the past century. When water volume is more than the pipes can handle — which is especially likely during storms in which rain falls fast and heavy — sewage and storm water can back up onto streets and into buildings.
Fritz says she gets that Burlington’s innards are old, and that public-works officials probably dread big storms as much as business owners do. But she says, “I’ve never gotten a sense that there’s a long-range plan.”
That’s changing as city officials come to grips with changing weather patterns.
“We’re getting these yearly, really intense events — events that should not be happening yearly,” says Megan Moir, a storm-water “plangineer” in the Department of Public Works. Records show that Burlington had historically seen rainstorms like the May 22 downpour once every 25 years, but scientists are warning that climate change may already be making storms more powerful.
“The system isn’t necessarily designed for storms like this,” says Steve Goodkind, the outgoing director of the Burlington DPW.
City engineer Steve Roy notes the sewer system was laid long before Burlington was paved. Impervious surfaces can’t absorb rainwater the way soil does. Adapting the city to handle more serious storms won’t be easy.
“If this was a simple solution, it’d be done already,” says Roy.
A citywide overhaul of the sewer system is not likely, says Moir. Even smaller-scale replacements are hugely expensive; installing new pipes in parts of the Old North End and New North End in the 1980s cost $52 million, she notes.
But the city’s storm-water experts are chipping away at the problem. Moir and her staff are examining the catch basins at the intersection of Main Street and South Winooski Avenue, one problem spot, where water reached knee-high depths during the May 22 storm. They’re considering replacing catch basins there with “directional grates” that would better direct the flow of water. And they’re investigating whether the underground pipes could take on more water if the city added additional drains.
The city is also coating old pipes with a resin-impregnated felt liner that hardens into a protective layer. While that reduces the diameter of the pipes, it actually increases their hydraulic capacity by smoothing out rough edges and preventing blockages.
Pinpointing the exact source of a problem has been another challenge, Moir admits. One solution would be a new, computerized hydra...Vermont Police Take Hands-Off Approach to Investigating Massage-P...[Hide Story...]
One week after Seven Days published firsthand accounts of prostitution and possible evidence of human trafficking in three Chittenden County massage parlors, Vermont police have yet to visit any of the establishments and expressed uncertainty about how to respond to the crimes reported in the article.
One of the establishments — Harmony Health Spa in Williston — was still open for business and accepting customers as of press time. The other two — River Spa in Burlington and Seiwa Spa in Essex — appear to have closed, albeit voluntarily.
But in Bennington on Monday, police cited the owner of Cozy Spa massage parlor for prostitution following a raid by the FBI and local police last month. Owner Young Shin has a history of prostitution in four states and will be arraigned in a Bennington courtroom on July 22.
The hands-off police response in Chittenden County highlights a challenge that human trafficking experts say is endemic in such cases: Local law enforcement often lacks the resources, manpower and expertise to take on the networks behind the problem, which may be national or even global.
At least one local authority appears to be taking some action. Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan said he has scheduled a meeting on the matter for June 12 involving his office, state police, the FBI, victims’ advocates and municipal attorneys from Burlington and Essex.
Donovan also said that he will hold landlords criminally liable if it’s shown that they knowingly allowed prostitution, human trafficking, or other “lewd and lascivious acts” to occur on their properties. Donovan said he plans to send certified letters to the owners of all three properties, along with copies of the Seven Days story, warning of their potential criminal culpability.
“Your article puts every landlord on notice,” Donovan said, referring to the June 5 cover story, “Unhappy Endings: Getting a Grip on Vermont’s Asian Sex Market.” “Therefore, they may be in violation of Vermont criminal law.”
Two of the spas outed in last week’s article apparently didn’t wait around for an official response. Fewer than 24 hours after the story was published, the neon “open” light at Burlington’s River Spa had disappeared from the window. No one answered the phone or door on Thursday, June 6, and a contractor working in the building said he hadn’t seen anyone enter or leave the premises all day. As of press time, the spa was still shuttered.
Employees of Seiwa Spa were seen loading a U-Haul over the weekend and the business appeared closed on Tuesday. However, Harmony Spa was still open for business on Tuesday, June 11.
The Asian women who answered the door at two of the establishments late last week were the same women described in the June 5 article — “Candy” and “Chi-Chi” at Harmony Health Spa; “Rose” at Seiwa. All three women seemed unaware of the Seven Days report.
One employee of Harmony Health Spa repeated that she lives on the premises, which, if true, would be a zoning violation, according to Williston assistant clerk/treasurer Sarah Mason. Candy also reiterated that she works seven days a week, from early in the morning until late at night — a work schedule that would violate labor law — but denied she provides sex for money.
When asked if she is working there of her own free will, Candy said, “I don’t know,” though, due to a language barrier, it’s unclear whether she fully understood the question.
Candy spoke willingly to this reporter until she was chided, in Korean, by Chi-Chi, an older Korean woman who asked me to leave the premises. Jisu Kim, a professional Korean interpreter who has worked on human trafficking cases, listened to an audio recording of the conversation and translated Chi-Chi’s comment to Candy as, “This guy’s asking us if we live onsite. Why are you still talking to him? You should have told him to leave already!”
Rose, who answered the door at Seiwa Spa on June 6, was also one of the women in last week’s cover story. When I revisited the spa and identified myself as a report...Summer Study Committees: Legislation-in-Training or a Graveyard f...[Hide Story...]
Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham) has a nickname for the summer-study committees that keep state lawmakers busy after the legislature adjourns in May. He mockingly refers to their collective effect as the “Legislature Full Employment Act.”
“Summer studies rarely study something that isn’t already known. They tend to be a substitute for actually doing something,” says Galbraith. “It’s a way to avoid taking action.”
State lawmakers set up 13 summer-study committees on a range of topics in the 2013 session. The Burlington Free Press reported a larger number — 65 studies and reports ordered by legislators — but state officials couldn’t confirm that tally.
Galbraith, a former U.S. diplomat and Capitol Hill staffer, argues most of the off-season work is duplicative and a waste of time and money. As an example, he cites a controversial lakeshore protection bill that passed the House this year but stalled in the Senate.
The legislation grew out of an exhaustive study and report by the Agency of Natural Resources that documented the environmental threats to Vermont’s lakes and put a $156 million annual price tag on remediation. But with property owners in revolt, Senate leaders punted the bill to a study committee — the newly formed Lake Shoreland Protection Commission Working Group. Its first meeting is June 17.
“We already knew that our lake-water quality was probably the worst in the East. We had proposals that needed to be done,” Galbraith says. “But because there wasn’t the will to do it, we went with another study.”
Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden) disagrees with her colleague’s overall assessment, saying summer studies offer lawmakers a chance to focus on complex issues with fewer distractions. Snelling contends the lakeshore bill was mired in so much misinformation that it was “practically impossible” for the Senate to act. Lawmakers needed more time to separate fact from fiction and to educate the public. The work group will hold five public meetings around the state over the summer.
“This needs a different kind of conversation to get even close to where we need to go,” says Snelling, a member of the working group. “We’re going out to hear testimony from people closer to where they live, instead of having them come to us at the Statehouse. So I see that as a way of extending the conversation to the public.”
Some of this year’s studies will pick up where legislators left off — wrangling over vexing issues such as limits on Reach Up welfare benefits and paid family leave. But other studies deal with more benign topics, such as taking inventory of the state’s workforce development programs. Only a dozen studies involve a committee of lawmakers; many simply direct state agencies to research a topic and report back to the legislature in January.
All of these studies cost money, however, which leads Galbraith to quip, “I jokingly proposed that we rename the Agency of Natural Resources the Agency of Studies, because all that staff time is money that taxpayers are paying.”
Interestingly, no one knows exactly how much. Legislators are paid $118 per day for meals and lodging, plus mileage reimbursement, to attend meetings. A few studies come with fixed budgets — the lakeshore protection commission, for instance, was allotted $10,000. But the Legislative Council — which staffs all Statehouse committees — can’t say what portion of their time goes to assist summer studies. Nor does the Agency of Administration keep track of the hours logged by state employees who respond to off-season requests for information, according to Secretary Jeb Spaulding.
Asked whether summer studies are a useful exercise or a place to maroon controversial bills, Senate Majority Leader Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) answers, “Both.” On the plus side: A bill Baruth sponsored that would grant driving privileges to migrant workers didn’t have the votes to pass in 2012, so it got kicked to a summer study committee. After that panel endorsed issuing IDs to workers here illegally, the bill reappeared in the 2013 legislative session. It passed both houses, and Gov. Peter Shumlin is scheduled to sign it on Wednesday, June 5.
Bu...Why Vermont's Health CO-OP Is on Life Support[Hide Story...]
On the surface, the Vermont Health CO-OP seems like the kind of endeavor the state would embrace with open arms. Using federal funds from so-called “Obamacare,” the South Burlington-based nonprofit wants to offer a member-owned alternative to much-maligned corporate insurance companies. All of its profits would be reinvested to lower health-care costs and expand coverage.
What’s not to like, especially in a state that goes gaga for co-ops?
Plenty, according to the Department of Financial Regulation, which last month issued a blistering decision denying the CO-OP the license it needs to sell health insurance in Vermont. The CO-OP had already earned federal approval — and more than $33 million in start-up and solvency loans — from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. But that wasn’t enough to sway state regulators, who listed the risk of insolvency and deep concerns about corporate governance among the top reasons for denying the license.
DFR’s decision has, at least temporarily, derailed the CO-OP’s plans to sell health insurance to individuals and small groups on the new federally mandated health care exchange that kicks off on January 1. At a press conference last week, the CO-OP’s leaders expressed their disappointment.
“Vermonters are getting short-changed by not having this as an option,” said Mitchell Fleischer, the board president of the CO-OP, who is also CEO of private investment and insurance firm Fleischer Jacobs Group. The CO-OP had boasted it was building numerous innovations into its health care plans: eliminating barriers to mental health and substance-abuse services; offering one-on-one wellness coaching; and encouraging collaboration between patients and their doctors.
But it’s not just regulators who are casting doubts on the fledgling cooperative. Some longtime health care analysts say the CO-OP wouldn’t likely drive down costs on the exchange and would instead struggle to match the rates of competitors Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP. As Vermont plans for a transition to single-payer health care as early as 2017, observers question the wisdom of launching a new insurance company when, in a few short years, the state could do away with private insurance altogether.
“What really would be the function? Is it really needed, or is it just sort of going after a pot of money that the feds were throwing our way?” says Dr. Deb Richter, a Montpelier-based family physician and longtime proponent of single-payer health care.
“This is just one more insurance scheme as far as I’m concerned,” Richter adds. “Not necessary, a lot of fuss, and a waste of time and money.”
Falko Schilling, the consumer protection advocate at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, tentatively agrees.
“On the one hand, the idea of creating an insurance model that is member-owned is a great idea,” says Schilling.
But on the other?
“When we plan to transition to single-payer health care in 2017, it almost feels like the introduction of this new cooperative is betting against that,” he says. “While it has promise, I don’t think they are really on board with the larger goal that a lot of people in the state are trying to move forward.”
The CO-OP model was proposed as an alternative to the “public option” that failed to make it into Obamacare. The public option would have set up a national-government-run health insurance plan designed to compete with private insurers. When that was rejected, lawmakers instead built in a provision to fund the smaller-scale, member-owned-and-governed health CO-OPs — short for Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans. Last winter’s fiscal cliff deal reduced that funding, but not before the feds had already promised roughly $2 billion in loans to 24 cooperatives — including Vermont’s.
Those 24 CO-OPs are in various states of development, but so far 17 have been awarded licenses by their respective states to sell health insurance.
For now, the Vermont Health CO-OP — under the leadership of Fleischer and CEO Christine Oliver — is left to map its next step. Oliver has said repeatedly that her first and only goal right now is to convince DFR Commissioner Susan Done...