Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Obama to set nuclear arms cut goal in Berlin speech - Reuter...[Hide Story...]AFPObama to set nuclear arms cut goal in Berlin speechReutersBy Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton. BERLIN | Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:48am EDT. BERLIN (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will unveil plans for a sharp reduction in nuclear warheads in a landmark speech at the Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday that ...Obama to renew push for nuclear arms cuts in Berlin speechFox NewsObama to call for up to one-third cut in nuclear warheadsCNNObama to call for nuclear cutsThe AustralianTelegraph.co.uk -Kansas.comall 50 news articles »
Aaron Hernandez questioned, home searched in possible homici...[Hide Story...]ABC NewsAaron Hernandez questioned, home searched in possible homicide probeUSA TODAYNORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Massachusetts (AP) — State and local police spent hours at the home of NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots on Tuesday night as another group of officers searched an industrial park about a mile away ...Patriots' Aaron Hernandez reportedly questioned in death investigation in North ...Boston.comMassachusetts police search NFL player's home in homicide probe: reportReutersPatriots' Star Aaron Hernandez's Home Searched After KillingABC NewsSI.com -Boston Herald -Headlines & Global Newsall 131 news articles »
NBA Finals: Now that's a big three — Ray Allen delivers, H...[Hide Story...]Wall Street JournalNBA Finals: Now that's a big three — Ray Allen delivers, Heat winsLos Angeles TimesMIAMI — Tim Duncan was five seconds away from his fifth NBA championship. It's also how close LeBron James came to a rapidly trampled legacy. But Ray Allen, the oldest player on the court and a month from his 38th birthday, assisted the 28-year-old ...James helps Heat stave off elimination in Game 6Kansas City StarRay Allen's late three saves Miami Heat's season in Game 6MiamiHerald.comJames, Heat Beats Spurs 103-100 in OT; Game 7 NextABC NewsForbes -USA TODAYall 4,625 news articles »
Ex-USC professor indicted in child sex crimes caught in Mexi...[Hide Story...]Ex-USC professor indicted in child sex crimes caught in MexicoLos Angeles TimesA former USC professor who was named this week as one of the FBI's most-wanted fugitives after being indicted for alleged sex crimes against children overseas has been captured in Mexico, the bureau said Tuesday night. Walter Lee Williams, 64, was ...Former USC professor arrested in MexicoSan Jose Mercury NewsMan hunted by FBI for alleged sex trafficking arrested in MexicoCNN InternationalOne of US FBI's most wanted nabbed in MexicoGrand Island Independentall 98 news articles »
Award-winning journalist Michael Hastings dies - USA TODAY[Hide Story...]Award-winning journalist Michael Hastings diesUSA TODAYJournalist and war correspondent Michael Hastings has died in a car crash in Los Angeles. michaelhastings. Michael Hastings, who has died in a car crash at the age of 33, is seen here in Washington in 2008. (Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY) ...Michael Hastings dies at 33; his article led general to resignLos Angeles TimesMichael Hastings, 'Rolling Stone' Contributor, Dead at 33RollingStone.comJournalist who brought down US general is killed in Los Angeles car crashReutersWashington Post (blog)all 101 news articles »
Taliban says it killed 4 US troops - Washington Post[Hide Story...]The NationTaliban says it killed 4 US troopsWashington PostFour soldiers were killed in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the same day the Obama administration announced it hopes to jumpstart peace talks with the country's Taliban insurgency. The U.S.-led coalition issued a statement early Wednesday saying the ...Taliban take major step toward Afghan peace talksBoston GlobeAfghan Taliban claim they killed 4 US troopsUSA TODAYTaliban claim responsibility for attack that killed 4 US troops on day peace talks ...Houston ChronicleDaily Mail -MyFox Phoenix -The Independentall 732 news articles »
NYSE Attack Said Prevented by US Surveillance Program - Busi...[Hide Story...]San Francisco ChronicleNYSE Attack Said Prevented by US Surveillance ProgramBusinessweekIntelligence and law enforcement agencies sought to fulfill their pledges of more transparency for classified U.S. surveillance initiatives, telling Congress the programs helped thwart more than 50 terrorist plots. Among the foiled conspiracies was a planned ...Surveillance thwarted terror acts, NSA chief saysBoston GlobeSurveillance foiled many terror attacks, officials sayPittsburgh Post GazetteNSA director describes surveillance as 'limited, focused' in House hearingThe GuardianThe Detroit News -Los Angeles Times -Indian Expressall 666 news articles »
CRUISIN' CELEBRITY NEWS
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Trailer: 'Anchorman 2' - USA TODAY[Hide Story...]
Just JaredTrailer: 'Anchorman 2'
The new 'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues' trailer stars Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Steve Carell. Post to Facebook. Trailer: 'Anchorman 2' on USAToday.com: http://usat.ly/11YzoRB. Incorrect please try again. Try Another. Audio Captcha.
'Anchorman 2' Trailer: Ron Burgundy Is Back
Shirtless Paul Rudd & Will Ferrell: 'Anchorman 2' Official Trailer!
'Anchorman 2 The Legend Continues' new trailer: Ron Burgundy returns
Digital Spy Variety- Broadway World- The Slanted all 51 news articles »
Kim Kardashian's Final Days Before Birth Of Daughter To Be Shown ...[Hide Story...]
EntertainmentwiseKim Kardashian's Final Days Before Birth Of Daughter To Be Shown On Keeping ...
It appears the finale of Keeping Up With The Kardashians will be one to watch following the claims that the show filmed Kimmy up until she gave birth last week. Having previously confirmed that her daughter will not be appearing on the family's show unlike ...
Kim Kardashian on arrival of new baby girl: 'Can't believe it! It's so crazy!'
New York Daily News
Beyonce Offers Congrats to Kim Kardashian and Kanye West
Linn County Leader
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's Daughter Isn't Alone! 5 Other Famous Babies ...
E! Online TV3.ie- People Magazine- USA TODAY all 337 news articles »
Teen country singer Bradbery captures 'The Voice' season crown - ...[Hide Story...]Teen country singer Bradbery captures 'The Voice' season crown
By Eric Kelsey. LOS ANGELES | Tue Jun 18, 2013 11:50pm EDT. LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Pitch-perfect teen country singer Danielle Bradbery won TV singing contest "The Voice" on Tuesday, scoring a contract with Universal Music Group and a $100,000 ...
The Voice Crowns a Winner ! ( Spoiler )
The Voice Winner Revealed !
'The Voice' Crowns 4th Cycle Champion
TVbytheNumbers Los Angeles Times- USA TODAY- San Jose Mercury News media center all 811 news articles »
Netflix to bring video streaming service to The Netherlands - Reu...[Hide Story...]
Broadband TV NewsNetflix to bring video streaming service to The Netherlands
Wed Jun 19, 2013 12:10am EDT. (Reuters) - Netflix Inc will launch its TV and movie streaming service in The Netherlands later this year, expanding its reach further into Europe, the company said on Tuesday. Netflix boasts 29.2 million streaming subscribers ...
Netflix to Launch in Netherlands Later This Year
A Look at Netflix's International Expansion
Netflix to expand to Netherlands later this year
San Jose Mercury News Variety- Minneapolis Star Tribune all 22 news articles »
'Veronica Mars' Movie Begins Filming In Los Angeles, Kristen Bell...[Hide Story...]
International Business Times'Veronica Mars' Movie Begins Filming In Los Angeles, Kristen Bell Tweets Her ...
International Business Times
Veronica Mars fans are one day closer to the "Veronica Mars" film they helped make a reality. The film -- which fans supported with more than $5 million of their own dollars donated to the project's budget through Kickstarter -- has kicked off shooting, reports ...
Kristen Bell: How she lost the baby weight
Photo Flash: Kristen Bell Posts Photos from Set of VERONICA MARS Film
Kristen Bell Gets Cute On 'Veronica Mars' Set
MTV.com (blog) The Gossip Girls- Daily Mail- Hypable all 27 news articles »
Selma Blair -- Officially FIRED from 'Anger Management' - TMZ.com[Hide Story...]
TMZ.comSelma Blair -- Officially FIRED from 'Anger Management'
Chalk up a victory for Charlie Sheen ... 'cause Selma Blair has officially been 86'd from "Anger Management." TMZ broke the story ... Sheen personally fired Blair over the weekend after hearing that she was complaining about his work ethic behind his back.
Charlie Sheen gets co-star fired after she gripes about him
Selma Blair Is Not Returning to Anger Management
It's Official: Selma Blair Not Returning to 'Anger Management'
Hollywood Reporter Irish Examiner- E! Online- Los Angeles Times all 214 news articles »
Kanye West wins over critics with 'daring' new album 'Yeezus' - R...[Hide Story...]
The AtlanticKanye West wins over critics with 'daring' new album 'Yeezus'
By Piya Sinha-Roy. LOS ANGELES | Tue Jun 18, 2013 7:58pm EDT. LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rapper Kanye West pushes the boundaries of hip hop with his latest album "Yeezus," using aggressive electro-dance music beats to channel his anger and win ...
Review: 'Yeezus' is Kanye's darkest, most extreme album yet
Kanye West's Record Label -- Hunting Down 'Yeezus' Album Leaker
Kanye West's Lyrics From "I Am God" Read Out Loud
ABC News MTV.com- E! Online- Entertainment Weekly all 502 news articles »
Wednesday, June 19, 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 ...