Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Treasury secretary's loopy signature is now less loopy - CBS...[Hide Story...]CBS NewsTreasury secretary's loopy signature is now less loopyCBS NewsLess loop-dee-loop than his signature as President Obama's chief of staff, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's barely legible signature will appear on dollar bills this fall. The squiggly cursive representing his name while in the White House and Office of ...Treasury Secretary Unveils New, Less Loopy Signature for Dollar DebutNBC ChicagoUS Treasury Secretary Jack Lew changes signature after first attempt is mocked ...Telegraph.co.ukTreasury debuts new Lew signaturePoliticoBloomberg -NBCNews.com (blog) -Wall Street Journalall 35 news articles »
Montreal mayor resigns, says will fight corruption charges -...[Hide Story...]Vancouver SunMontreal mayor resigns, says will fight corruption chargesReutersBy David Ljunggren. Tue Jun 18, 2013 4:24pm EDT. (Reuters) - Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum resigned on Tuesday, a day after he was charged with fraud and corruption in the latest major Canadian municipal scandal. "I am going to put my energies ...Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum resigns after fraud chargesBBC NewsMontreal Mayor resigns: 'I've never taken a penny'Globe and MailMontreal's mayor resigns one day after arrest on fraud chargesCBS NewsToronto Star -Christian Science Monitorall 73 news articles »
NSA surveillance helped foil more than 50 attacks, officials...[Hide Story...]New York Daily NewsNSA surveillance helped foil more than 50 attacks, officials sayLos Angeles TimesWASHINGTON – Recently disclosed National Security Agency surveillance programs have helped disrupt more than 50 “potential terrorist events” around the world over the last 12 years, according to U.S. intelligence officials who described the spying ...Google challenges US gag order, citing First AmendmentWashington PostOfficials cite thwarted plots, oversight in defending surveillanceCNNGoogle Challenges Surveillance Gag Order, Citing First AmendmentWall Street JournalSan Jose Mercury News -Reuters -Businessweekall 502 news articles »
Disabled woman and child held as slaves in Ohio - Walcha New...[Hide Story...]Disabled woman and child held as slaves in OhioWalcha NewsCleveland: Three people in Ohio are accused of enslaving a mentally disabled young mother and her daughter over two years. Federal agents and Ashland police said Tuesday that the trio forced the woman to do housework, threatened her and the girl with ...and more »
IRS official contradicts claims about reviews - NewsOK.com[Hide Story...]Philly.comIRS official contradicts claims about reviewsNewsOK.comWASHINGTON — Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington scrutinized the very first application from a tea party group seeking tax-exempt status — and dozens of others, including some requests that languished for more than a year without action, ...Cummings defies Issa, releases full transcript clearing White HouseAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)IRS tea party cases were referred to 'Group 7822'The StateIRS Official: Washington Was Not Involved In Targeting Of Conservative GroupsHuffington PostCincinnati.comall 57 news articles »
Taliban Step Toward Afghan Peace Talks Is Hailed by US - New...[Hide Story...]New York TimesTaliban Step Toward Afghan Peace Talks Is Hailed by USNew York TimesWASHINGTON — The Taliban signaled a breakthrough in efforts to open Afghan peace negotiations on Tuesday, announcing the opening of a political office in Qatar and new readiness to talk with American and Afghan officials, who said in turn that they ...United States to meet Taliban to seek Afghan peaceReutersPeace talks on tap between Taliban, AfghanistanCBS Newstalks promise to be complex, long and messyTelegraph.co.ukBloomberg -The Hindu -Voice of Americaall 560 news articles »
Times Square bicycle bomber video released; FBI offers rewar...[Hide Story...]ABC NewsTimes Square bicycle bomber video released; FBI offers rewardLos Angeles TimesA bicycle-riding bomber who attacked a Times Square military recruitment station may have been involved in two similar unsolved bombings in New York City, the FBI and police said Tuesday as they released video of the suspect and offered $65,000 for ...FBI, NYPD offer reward in '08 Times Square bombingWall Street JournalNew Video, Reward In Times Square Recruit Center Blast ProbeNY1'Never before seen' video out in '08 Times Square bombingCNN InternationalNewsday -Latinos Postall 57 news articles »
CRUISIN' CELEBRITY NEWS
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
published : 2013 - 06 - 18 Kanye West's Yeezus Promo Video Mimick...[Hide Story...]
Cinema Blendpublished : 2013 - 06 - 18 Kanye West's Yeezus Promo Video Mimicks American ...
Rap music has put forth some of the craziest characters in all of pop culture, from Flava Flav to the Beastie Boys, but few rap artists have been as enigmatic and purposefully difficult as Kanye West, who went from being something of a Jay Z clone to the natural ...
Does the Kardashian-Spawned 'American Psycho' Spoof Keep Up With the ...
Kanye West's American Psycho Parody Featuring Scott Disick—Watch the ...
SEE IT: Scott Disick stars in 'American Psycho' themed Kanye West 'Yeezus' promo
New York Daily News CNN International- Enstarz- Yahoo! Music (blog) all 108 news articles »
Kim Kardashian Breaks Silence on Baby Girl's Arrival - E! Online[Hide Story...]
E! OnlineKim Kardashian Breaks Silence on Baby Girl's Arrival
Kim Kardashian is a new mom—and that means congratulations are in order. Ryan Seacrest revealed on his radio show this morning that he reached out to congratulate the Keeping Up With the Kardashians star on the arrival of her and Kanye West's baby ...
Why is Kim Kardashian being silent on baby birth?
“Hello, My Name is Kaidence Kardashian-West, and I'll Be Your Surgeon”
Kim Kardashian on baby's arrival: "Can't believe it! It's so crazy!"
CBS News Huffington Post all 239 news articles »
Can Kanye's Invisible Yeezus Artwork Still Nab A Best Package Gra...[Hide Story...]
Philly.comCan Kanye's Invisible Yeezus Artwork Still Nab A Best Package Grammy?
So long as 'Ye submits his minimal Yeezus artwork for Grammy consideration, he's eligible to win Packaging award. By James Montgomery (@positivnegativ). Much to his consternation, Kanye West has never won the Grammy for Album of the Year ... which is ...
Kanye West Releases Yeezus—See If the New Album Is Music to Critics' Ears
Kanye West's 'Yeezus': What the Critics Are Saying
Album Review: Kanye West's 'Yeezus' affronts and offends
HitFix Huffington Post- Time Out Chicago- Atlanta Black Star all 471 news articles »
'Monsters University' pledges to be true to frat life - USA TODAY[Hide Story...]
New York Daily News'Monsters University' pledges to be true to frat life
New Pixar film owes much to real student experiences and the golden age of frat comedies. The Frat of Fear Thumb. Mike, left, Terri and Terry Perry, Don Carlton, Scott "Squishy" Squibbles, Sulley and Art seek to turn Oozma Kappa into the most frightening ...
Crystal, Goodman head back to school in 'Monsters University'
Review: A fun and funny 'Monsters University'
San Jose Mercury News
'Monsters University' premiere or frat party?
Los Angeles Times CBS News- UrbanMecca- Hollywood Reporter all 141 news articles »
Justin Bieber says he wasn't causing trouble in Ferrari incident ...[Hide Story...]
CBS NewsJustin Bieber says he wasn't causing trouble in Ferrari incident
Los Angeles Times
Pop singer Justin Bieber is speaking out on Twitter Tuesday after an incident involving his Ferrari outside the Laugh Factory in Hollywood on Monday night. A preliminary investigation cleared Bieber of any wrongdoing, said LAPD Lt. Craig Valenzuela.
Justin Bieber hits paparazzo with his car
San Jose Mercury News
Justin Bieber hits photographer in Los Angeles car scrape
Justin Bieber Tweets After Comedy Club Car Incident: Just Wanted to Have a ...
E! Online Guardian Express- PopBytes- AFP all 336 news articles »
James Franco Wants You To Help Pay For Three Movies, But It's For...[Hide Story...]
Cinema BlendJames Franco Wants You To Help Pay For Three Movies, But It's For Charity
James Franco just survived the apocalypse in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's This Is The End - or did he? – and to accompany the plethora of projects he has in the pipeline, he started up an IndieGogo campaign to fund a series of movies based off of his ...
Has James Franco broken the record for simultaneous film projects?
Los Angeles Times
James Franco seeks $500000 in crowd-funding for new films
And now James Franco would like you to give him some money please
Death and Taxes Hollywood.com- Zap2it.com (blog)- Boston.com all 107 news articles »
Charlie Sheen Threatens 'Anger Management' Producers -- Fire Selm...[Hide Story...]
TMZ.comCharlie Sheen Threatens 'Anger Management' Producers -- Fire Selma Blair ...
Charlie Sheen has told "Anger Management" producers -- FIRE SELMA BLAIR ASAP OR ELSE HE'S QUITTING THE SHOW ... TMZ has learned. We broke the story -- Charlie has been on a mission to get Selma 86'd from the show because he believes she's ...
Hicks: Charlie Sheen threatens to quit 'Anger Management'
San Jose Mercury News
Charlie Sheen threatens to walk if Selma Blair is not fired
Charlie Sheen 'Anger Management' News: Threatens to Quit if Selma Blair isn't ...
Enstarz Vancouver Sun- mxdwn.com- Newsmax.com all 30 news articles »
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
As 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.
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...
BTV Aviation Director Gene Richards Seeks Smoother Air for Burlin...[Hide Story...]
Are things looking up — or down — at Burlington International Airport? It depends who you ask.
Delta starts daily nonstop flights to Atlanta this week, marking the airport’s first major air-service expansion in several years. Last week, local dignitaries gathered to celebrate the permanent appointment of Gene Richards as aviation director. His “interim” days are over.
But behind the positive spin are some sobering figures: Since 2008, the number of passengers departing BTV annually has dropped by 23 percent, from 759,000 to 580,000.
The Burlington airport’s managers haven’t been resourceful enough to halt the downward trend facing almost every BTV-size airport in the U.S, says Brad Worthen, the airport’s former community liaison official. Richards may or may not possess the caliber of leadership needed in the post, Worthen adds. “You’ve got to know how to swim with the sharks,” he says. “The industry is populated with sharks. I don’t know if Gene can handle them.”
Mayor Miro Weinberger should have conducted a national search for an aviation director, Worthen argues. “This ought not to be a political football, and that’s what it has been,” he says, implying that Richards may have been chosen at least in part because of his support for Weinberger in the 2012 Democratic mayoral contest.
In response, Weinberger said in a written statement on Tuesday that Richards was appointed — and unanimously confirmed by the city council on Monday — “because he is working extremely hard for the people of Burlington and delivering excellent results.”
That’s the general consensus among many who have watched him up close during his 10 months as interim director — and before that, for six years as a member of the Burlington Airport Commission. Even Worthen acknowledges, “Gene has done a terrific job with the airport’s physical plant and finances.”
Another point of agreement: BTV’s enormous economic importance to the region. The airport enables companies throughout northern and central Vermont “to participate in the global economy,” South Burlington Interim City Manager Kevin Dorn observed at the Richards’ appointment press event. Vermont commercial real estate baron Ernie Pomerleau, a member of the BTV strategic planning committee, identified the airport as the region’s “number-one economic stimulator.” Without it, Weinberger added at the press conference, Burlington would be “some backwater.”
BTV faces some unique problems, including a crummy credit rating. Wall Street has lowered the airport’s investment grade to near junk-bond status, thanks largely to an ill-conceived parking garage project and the Burlington Telecom fiasco. And the survival of BTV’s Air National Guard base may depend on the Green Mountain Boys getting the go-ahead to fly bigger, noisier F-35 fighter jets.
General, widespread turbulence in the airline industry has also shaken up BTV. The number of scheduled flights declined 14 percent nationwide from 2007 to 2012 as airlines merged, increased their prices and ruthlessly economized in an effort to offset rising fuel costs and other expenses. During that period, BTV lost a discount carrier, AirTran, that was later absorbed by Southwest Airlines. The popular purveyor of cheap fares serves the Burlington airport’s two top regional competitors: Albany, New York, and Manchester, New Hampshire. Despite years of wooing, BTV officials haven’t managed to coax Southwest to take up residence in northwest Vermont.
But Richards and his supporters contend that BTV’s prospects look brighter today than they did a couple of years ago. The airport’s finances have been stabilized, Richards explained in a 75-minute interview last week, and its infrastructure has been upgraded.
“We’ve achieved every financial goal we set for ourselves,” Richards said in a conference room with a dramatic view of BTV’s runway.
On a subsequent tour of the terminal, Richards explained that as a result of refinancing $24 million in debt, the airport is saving $300,000 a year in interest. He showed off the terminal’s new $800,000 roof and a waiting area that’s being reconf...
Need Legal Farmworkers? Call Alyson Eastman.[Hide Story...]
When Sen. Patrick Leahy needed someone to explain to Congress why Vermont farms need legal migrant laborers, he didn’t invite a flannel-clad dairy farmer to be his star witness. He called upon Alyson Eastman, a 36-year-old accountant and bookkeeper from Orwell, to testify on the federal immigration overhaul.
Eastman has the distinction of owning the only business in Vermont that brokers H-2A visa applications for farms and orchards that rely on migrant laborers for seasonal agricultural work. She purchased Book-Ends Associates from a relative three years ago, and runs it out of a small, cluttered office a stone’s throw from the 278-acre dairy farm where she grew up. Her business, which employs six other Vermonters, provides accounting and payroll services for local farms, but H-2A work accounts for 40 percent of her revenues.
“She is carrying however many millions of dollars of our produce industry on her back, not to put too fine a point on it,” says Rep. Will Stevens (I-Shoreham), an organic vegetable farmer. “She’s doing yeoman’s work.”
At a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on April 22, Eastman testified in favor of expanding the temporary worker program to cover year-round workers, including those on dairy farms. At present, only laborers in Vermont for seasonal work qualify, which is why dairy farms that seek year-round workers often hire migrants who are here illegally. Most of the estimated 1200 Latino farmworkers in Vermont are undocumented.
Eastman’s business handles paperwork to secure H-2A visas for virtually all of the roughly 450 temporary workers who flock to Vermont each year for work. The vast majority comes from Jamaica. Their visas allow them to spend up to 10 months a year working for Vermont orchards, fruit and vegetable farms, and poultry operations.
Eastman helped Dave and Judy Adams find willing migrant workers for their Westford poultry farm. The hours are long and the work is demanding, Judy Adams says, and the couple had trouble finding reliable help at Adams Turkey Farm, which they started in 1984.
“I cannot have our flock of turkeys ready for processing and get calls at 6:30 in the morning that ‘I’m not feeling well today,’ or ‘I’m hungover today,’ or, ‘Such and such can’t give me a ride today,’” says Judy Adams.
Eastman helped the Adams navigate the byzantine process of hiring two Jamaicans, Omar Edwards and Denton O’Connor, on H-2A visas. Knowing the farm was in capable hands, the couple even got away for a quick overnight to Maine this year.
“That was huge for us,” Judy Adams says. “Denton and Omar — I trust them. They can handle whatever comes up as I would handle it … We’re such a team. We just click.”
The H-2A program could disappear entirely with the immigration-reform bill Congress is considering now. As passed by Leahy’s committee, the bill would phase out the existing visa program within one year, replacing it with a new agriculture visa to be overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Supporters of the change, which would allow workers to stay for up to three years, say it would be less burdensome for employers than the H-2A program.
Eastman favors the new approach because it would allow dairy farmers to hire legal foreign workers for the first time. Her own family sold their dairy herd in 2006, in part because they couldn’t find legal, reliable domestic employees.
It wouldn’t be hard to improve on the H-2A program. Some of the state’s largest orchards used to handle the paperwork in-house. But administering it — which requires immaculate attention to detail, as applications can be rejected over the smallest inconsistencies — has become too much for most employers to handle on their own.
Eastman puts in up to two months of legwork to bring in workers for her clients. She places advertisements in Vermont and out-of-state newspapers — a Department of Labor requirement to prove that the seasonal jobs can’t be filled domestically. She and one of her employees also draft detailed “job order” contracts, outlining specifics such as a worker’s duties, start date and housing.
In addition to the DOL, Eastman is juggling paperwork for imm...
The $59 Million Question: Is Vermont Working Hard Enough to Give ...[Hide Story...]
Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce wasn’t asking for votes or donations on a recent Saturday morning at the University Mall in South Burlington; she was looking to return money to the people who put her in office.
At an info booth near JCPenny, Pearce invited passing shoppers to consult a bank of computers to determine if the state of Vermont might be holding any unclaimed financial property that belonged to them.
A young man in a visored cap typed his name into a search function, and up came a hit. The man’s former employer had turned his final paycheck over to the state’s Unclaimed Property Office.
“Sweet!” the man exclaimed, shooting his arms upward, touchdown-style. “I just made $70!”
A few minutes later, a woman who searched the database was less impressed to learn she was owed just $8 and didn’t bother filing a claim.
But another shopper that same day was pleasantly surprised to discover he had $500 in “lost” stocks coming to him.
The state treasurer’s office is currently in possession of more than $59 million in unclaimed financial property owed to roughly 260,000 individuals and companies in Vermont. While only a fraction of that money ever gets back to its owners, Pearce is stepping up efforts — her missing-money road show, for one — to reunite people with their lost loot.
By all accounts, it’s working. In fiscal year 2012, the Treasurer’s Office returned more than $4.2 million to 14,537 claimants — the largest number of claims paid out since the program’s inception in 1954. Fiscal year 2013 is tracking to be even better: Pearce estimates that by June 30, her office will have returned another $5 million worth of unclaimed property from dormant bank accounts, stocks, tax refunds, overpaid hospital bills, utility deposits, unclaimed wages and insurance proceeds.
Pearce has had a hand in some big wins since she was appointed in 2010: Her office recently announced it had reached an agreement with three insurers to return $2.2 million in life-insurance benefits to around 2500 individuals.
“We’ve been working with other unclaimed property administrators across the country … engaging in audits of insurance companies … and we found a number of cases where the insured had passed away and the beneficiary had not received those benefits,” explains Pearce. In some cases, insurers couldn’t locate beneficiaries on very old policies. In others, the insurer might not have searched vigorously enough.
Working with industry groups such as the National Conference of Insurance Legislators, Pearce has focused on consumer legislation that would facilitate the process. She was recently elected president of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
Closer to home, Pearce was a driving force behind a new state law that requires insurance companies to make “a good-faith effort” to find missing beneficiaries using a Social Security Administration database called “the Death Master File,” a searchable government roster of the deceased.
Currently, insurers can check that official list to determine if a policyholder has died and a benefit is due to someone who might not have known to claim it. But they aren’t required to make that search.
As it stands, a beneficiary’s claim is what triggers a life-insurance company to pay survivor benefits. Without a claim, the insurer has no affirmative responsibility to act.
Vermont’s new law, which takes effect July 1, holds insurers more accountable for finding claimants. “Insurance companies that sell both life and annuities had been using the Death Master File to search for deceased policyholders so they could stop making payments on the annuities side, but they hadn’t been using the list to identify beneficiaries to pay benefits on the life-insurance side of the business,” explains Vermont Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Susan Donegan, whose office has jurisdiction over unfair insurance trade practices.
The new law empowers DFR to go after insurance companies that engage in this practice, known as “asymmetrical use of the Death Master File.” The new law ...