Editorials from around New England
By The Associated Press
Jan. 12, 2018
Editorials from around New England:
The Caledonian Record, Jan. 10
This weekend Jasper Craven reported that a federal grand jury took testimony in October as part of a Justice Department investigation into a shady land deal she architected that ultimately killed Burlington College.
As Digger previously reported, the FBI and the assistant U.S. attorney for Vermont (who leads the criminal division), are "probing aspects" of the case as it relates to the former President of the now defunct school. Craven's report confirms that the case isn't going away any time soon.
As we've previously conceded, it remains unclear if Sanders killed Burlington College through innocent incompetence or something more nefarious.
It's a question once articulately posed by Carol Moore, in a letter "What Really Happened at Burlington College," to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The former Lyndon State College President had the misfortune of trying to rectify Sanders' devastating malfeasance. Though she fell short, she got to appreciate just how insidious was Jane Sanders' role. President Moore wondered:
"So, what really happened?
BC's fate was set when its former board members hired an inexperienced president and, six years later, approved the imprudent purchase of a $10 million piece of property for campus expansion. Enrollment that year was about 195 and the budget just over $4 million, less than half of this ill-advised investment. What were they thinking? Where was the Finance Committee when these decisions were being made?
More interestingly, what bank lends a small, private, unendowed college of that size and financial status an amount that so obviously outweighs its ability to repay? People's United Bank of Vermont. And the collateral? One planned gift of a revocable trust, payable upon the death of the donor, and the "promise" of another million-dollar gift. But, alas, no written record of such a "promise" could be found, anywhere in Burlington College's records.
Who is to blame for this appallingly inappropriate business deal? Perhaps a board that steered clear of the tough questions which needed to be asked. Or a bank in the state of an influential senator — a senator, as it turned out, with bigger ambitions?"
Those are the questions likely still bothering the feds. They were also enough, apparently, to make the Mrs. nervous enough to hire boutique law firms in both Washington, D.C. and Vermont.
She can certainly afford it.
Recall that she blew away with a quarter-million dollar golden parachute for running Burlington College into the ground. Then she and her husband purchased a third home for $600K on Lake Champlain. And Bernie must have made bank on his book tour . why else would he have blown off the St. Johnsbury Academy graduation last Spring, for the self-promotional European jaunt, after promising to attend?
Not to mention his new "Revolution" which is enriching even more members of the Sanders clan.
We wrote about the "Revolution" last year before it became televised. Specifically massive numbers of conscientious staff defections.
As Seven Days reported last year "at least eight employees quit 'Our Revolution'. after Sanders' former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, was brought in to serve as the group's president. They complained that Weaver planned to raise money from wealthy donors and spend it on television advertisements, rather than organize a grassroots political movement."
Affirmed Claire Sandberg, the former organizing director of "Our Revolution," — "Jeff would like to take big money from rich people including billionaires and spend it on ads . That's the opposite of what this campaign and this movement are supposed to be about and after being very firm and raising alarm the staff felt that we had no choice but to quit."
Raise money from wealthy donors and spend it on television advertisements? Where have we heard that before?
In 2016 Craven wrote a terrific report on Bernie Sanders' Presidential campaign and the $80+ million the "socialist" spent on ad buys during his failed bid for the Democratic nomination.
Little is known about the mysterious, brand-new media-buying company that spent the lion's share of that money. What we do now know, thanks to Craven's reporting, is that "Old Towne Media, LLC" likely clawed over $10 million in commissions for placing Sanders' campaign ads. We also know the ad agency came out of nowhere in 2014, moments before Sanders announced his candidacy. We know that Sanders seems to be Old Towne's only client. And we know something else, per Craven:
"Old Towne Media has another connection to Sanders: The two principal buyers for the company worked in the past with his wife, Jane. Jane Sanders, Shelli Hutton-Hartig and Barbara Abar Bougie were media buyers during Bernie Sanders' 2006 Senate race."
That's very interesting. Because in 2006, Senate Candidate Rich Tarrant "suggested Sanders' wife improperly profited from campaign ad buys." That was also just a few years before the Mrs. took the obscene golden parachute from Burlington College for running the place straight into the ground.
At the time of his report, Mrs. Sanders hung up the phone on Jasper when he asked her about "Old Towne." She also refused to respond to endless VTDigger inquiries on the Burlington College debacle.
Maybe all these shenanigans help to explain why Sanders refused to honor a pledge he made on the campaign trail to release details of his personal finances?
After all, Sanders entire "career" and presidential campaign were built on bashing "greedy" rich people and railing against money in politics. Now he and the Mrs. spend their time on dark-money organizations soliciting obscene amounts of dough . from unidentified greedy rich people . to inject into politics . creating a fortune in media-buy commissions. That last part also, coincidentally, is smack dab in the middle of Jane's wheelhouse.
If that's not a sellout, we don't what is.
The (Portsmouth) Herald, Jan. 12
You've got to wonder what members of the New Hampshire House were smoking on Tuesday when they voted 207 to 139 in favor of marijuana cultivation, possession and edibles for recreational use.
Last year, this same House voted to create a marijuana study commission to look into the many complicated issues surrounding recreational marijuana use and sales and that hard-working commission will not release its final report until November. In fact, the House Criminal Justice Committee, which held hearings on the bill, deemed it inexpedient to legislate, to give the study commission time to finish its work.
The vote is especially misguided in light of the early testimony the study commission received from experts from Colorado and Oregon, two legal recreational marijuana states, stating their biggest challenges come from edibles and home cultivation. Washington state experts are up next.
According to Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, who chairs the marijuana study commission, representatives from Colorado and Oregon report edibles are a problem because it is difficult to regulate the strength of the THC in the cookies, brownies and candy, that there has been a spike in overdoses among children accidentally consuming spiked goodies and among adults who don't realize they are consuming too much of the intoxicating chemicals. In fact, he said, Colorado has launched an education program and imposed more stringent labeling requirements to deal with these problems.
Homegrown plants, when cultivated by someone who knows what they're doing, can produce a lot of marijuana. Because homegrown is untaxed, citizens in Colorado and Washington have been selling their excess, creating a black market and undercutting taxable weed sales.
Speaking of taxes, another bizarre House decision was sending the bill to the Ways and Means Committee, which reviews revenue related legislation, since all taxing authority was removed from the bill. The only good thing here is that Abrami is also vice chairman of Ways and Means so he can bring his knowledge of the issue to those deliberations.
The position of this paper has long been in favor of decriminalization, which passed this year, but to wait and see on recreational marijuana. All New Hampshire needs to do is look across its borders into Maine and Massachusetts and see the chaos caused by lack of foresight and preparation.
The good news is that Gov. Chris Sununu has already said he's not going to support this bill, so it's dead on arrival if it even makes it to his desk. This will give the marijuana study commission time to finish its important probe into what Abrami calls "the good, the bad and the ugly" of legal recreational marijuana.
So far the commission has heard from Oregon and Colorado but it plans to speak with representatives from every state where it has been legalized to explore the many complicated issues created by legalized recreational marijuana. These issues, according to Abrami, include addiction, crime, driving while impaired (other states say they wish they had a better handle on this), medical issues including the impact on brain function on the young, cultivation and potency control, manufacturing and distribution (if edibles are sold in the state who will oversee their safety?), weights and measures, banking, taxation, impact on state brand, general social and family impacts, location of marijuana stores and much, much more.
There is also the recent major uncertainty created by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who indicated the federal government will no longer look the other way when federal drug laws are violated in states that have legalized marijuana.
Abrami notes that while poll numbers are strongly in favor of legal marijuana, when it comes time for cities and towns to allow marijuana sales within their borders, many just say no. All the nearby towns in southern York County, Maine, have imposed sales moratoriums as they wrestle with regulations.
The commission wants to hear the thoughts and concerns from all the state's departments and that is information the Legislature needs before it can make intelligent decisions.
We're glad the marijuana study commission plans to continue to do its research and report out in November. We strongly recommend the Legislature not do anything until it has the insights this group's work will provide.
Bangor Daily News, Jan. 11
Five years ago, Gov. Paul LePage, an avowed critic of alternative energy, was determined to drive Statoil, a major energy company, out of Maine. He succeeded in quashing the company's plans for $70 million investment in wind energy development here. In exchange, he threw his support behind a University of Maine offshore wind project.
Now, the Maine Public Utilities Commission, all the members of which were appointed by LePage, has added unneeded uncertainty and delay to the university project, putting at risk $40 million in federal money that is destined for Maine.
In 2014, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved an agreement between Central Maine Power Co. and the Maine Aqua Ventus project, the name of the University of Maine test project, under which CMP would buy power generated by the project for 20 years, at above market rates. The university plans to install two test turbines in waters off Monhegan Island. It would be the first test of floating turbines in North America. If the Maine test, which will use a university-patented technology, is successful, it could propel the state to a leadership role in offshore wind energy, which could mean more investment and much-needed jobs.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy picked the UMaine project as one of two — out of 70 — slated to receive $40 million in federal funding. The university is continuing to conduct environmental impact studies and is working toward obtaining state and federal permits.
Voters, in 2010, approved a $26.5 million bond that included money for an offshore wind demonstration site and private industry, including Cianbro, has invested millions of dollars in the project, which aims to develop a source of electricity that doesn't emit greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.
Now, this is all in jeopardy, as the PUC considers reopening the 2014 contract. This week, commissioners argued that much has changed in the energy world since 2014, such as lower natural gas prices and declining solar energy costs. These are valid concerns, but, a contract is a business agreement that shouldn't be changed without urgent reason. We don't believe re-opening the contract, and the months of delay and uncertainty that would follow, is the best course of action.
The university's Aqua Ventus project, while controversial in some quarters, has been vetted by state, local and federal officials for years. Reopening the contract not only adds unneeded delay, it also allows opponents of the project to refight battles that have already been resolved.
It would also, again, show that Maine is not an honest broker when it comes to business negotiations, especially if a project is controversial or doesn't align with the governor's whims.
The parallels with Statoil are clear. Privately, LePage's administration contemplated ways to void Statoil's deal with the PUC. Then, during the spring 2013 legislative session, LePage predicated his support for comprehensive energy legislation on the condition that lawmakers order the PUC to reopen the bidding process to allow a venture led by the University of Maine to submit a competing offshore wind energy pilot project proposal. This was after the PUC had given initial approval to Statoil, the only company to respond to the PUC's 2010 request for proposals for a deep-water, offshore wind energy demonstration project. Business owners implored the PUC not to renege on the deal, sending the message that Maine was not a reliable business partner.
The PUC should not head down the same path again with Aqua Ventus.
The Hartford Courant, Jan. 12
A city that desperately needed some good news got some on Friday: Mother Aetna is staying in Hartford.
When the word came last summer that the insurance giant was moving its headquarters from Farmington Avenue to Manhattan, it echoed across the region like a death rattle. Hartford, once among the nation's most prosperous cities, was losing its marquee tenant, the company that had called the city home since 1853.
Even if it was mostly symbolic — only a few hundred of the area's 5,800 Aetna employees would have been moving to New York — it was a devastating assessment of the region at the worst possible time. The state was in the midst of a budget crisis, the fiscal year was coming to a close with no solutions in sight, and Hartford was at the brink of bankruptcy.
Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini's words at the time were cruel. He told The New York Times that New York has "the ecosystem of having people in the knowledge economy, working in a town they want to be living in, and we want to attract those folks, and we want to have them on our team ... It's very hard to recruit people like that to Hartford."
Mr. Bertolini also told The Times: "We have continued to work with the governor and mayor of Hartford to try and improve the quality of life in the Hartford area, but that is too slow in coming."
That rankled. The quality of life in the Hartford area is top-shelf.
But there was some local satisfaction on Wednesday when it was learned that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had withdrawn a $9.6 million incentive package for Aetna to move there.
And now comes CVS Heath Corp., which had already announced plans to buy Aetna for $69 billion. It had been unclear what it would do with Aetna's headquarters until Friday. The news that Aetna would stay right where it's been for more than 150 years was good enough, but a CVS spokesman said it also plans to make Hartford a "future location of our center of excellence for the insurance business," or a corporate hub.
Terrific. A major national player in the health care industry is bullish on Hartford. It was a message that Hartford has exactly what the company needs, today and in the future. That's worth cheering.
But this is not a sign that the city's troubles are over — just that there's a solid foundation to build upon, that must be built upon.
As the health care and insurance industries evolve, growing into each other in innovative ways, it will be increasingly important to make certain that Hartford remains an industry hub. Insurance blends into finance, tech and medicine, and keeping a key insurance player rooted in the city can only help draw more business to the area.
There are signs that such growth is underway. Hartford Hospital's rapid expansion just south of downtown is one example. But momentum is easily broken, and CVS's decision to keep Aetna in place isn't a promise that a new day has dawned. An insult has been retracted — that's all.
Legislators in particular should keep this in mind as they gather in the coming weeks. Aetna could be the exception that proves the rule if the finances of the city and state remain shaky.
Just a few weeks ago, Christopher Swift, the CEO of The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., questioned whether Hartford's finances were stable enough to merit a pledged $50 million donation from a group of three major insurers. (Aetna and Travelers Cos. are the other two.) How a state oversight board handles the city's books might make the difference.
The legislature has to make the area a business- and growth-friendly environment with smart investments and by finding creative ways to alleviate the pressures of the state's inordinately heavy pension burden.
But regardless of what happens under the big golden dome, the city, region and state are grateful that Aetna's heart will remain where it belongs.
The Boston Globe, Jan. 10
For the past 16 years, Juana Portillo has worked for C&W Services, a Massport contractor, cleaning terminal B at Logan. Portillo and her husband, a maintenance worker at a building in downtown Boston, bought a home in Chelsea two years ago and have five American-born kids. Originally from El Salvador, Portillo and her husband are law-abiding, tax-paying residents of Massachusetts. Their kids attend the Chelsea public schools and are American in every sense.
Yet President Trump intends to throw workers like Portillo and her husband out of the country, a callous move that will also turn their children into collateral damage. On Monday, the US Department of Homeland Security announced the termination of the temporary protected status for El Salvador, a program that has allowed more than 200,000 immigrants like Portillo and her husband to legally live and work in the US. The termination is effective Sept. 9, 2019, meaning they have 18 months to leave or face deportation.
Beyond the cruelty of turning our backs on longstanding vetted immigrants and sending them to a country that cannot absorb them, ending protected status for citizens of El Salvador is a self-inflicting wound to the American economy.
The protections were granted to Salvadorans for the first time in 2001, after a series of earthquakes killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 1 million. The program has been reauthorized 11 times after different administrations have reached the same conclusion: Extraordinary conditions — poverty, governance challenges, extreme violence — make it unlikely the Central American country could adequately handle the return of its nationals.
That's still true. Conditions in El Salvador remain dire. Trump's own State Department issued an advisory warning American travelers of El Salvador's "high rates of crime and violence," adding that gang activity is widespread. "El Salvador has one of the highest homicide levels in the world."
The US announcement brought fears that a major source of income for this poor Central American nation will be cut off.
Meanwhile, the economic impact of the roughly 6,000 Salvadorans with protected status who live in Massachusetts is significant. About $400 million would be lost from state's annual GDP if they were to leave, according to a Center for American Progress study. They work in construction, the restaurant industry, as janitors, and in maintenance — like Portillo and her husband. Portillo's union, 32BJ SEIU, represents 18,000 property service workers in the Greater Boston area. A spokeswoman for the union says that at least 1,000 of their members are Salvadorans with protected status.
There's another universe of people affected: an estimated 190,000 US-born children of Salvadoran parents in the country on protected status.
"I don't plan on abandoning my kids here if the time comes for us to leave," said Portillo. "But it's tragic to take them to a country they don't belong and know nothing about. Our lives are . . . here. There is no future there for us."
Ten-year-old Gabriela Martinez feels the same. She's a US citizen and lives with her mom, Carolina Mata, and her teenage brother in Leominster. Mata has worked in the same plastics factory in Leominster for almost 17 years. The Trump administration's decision would be dire for Mata and her daughter. "Life in El Salvador is bad," Martinez said. "There are a lot of gangs that threaten people."
A lot can happen in 18 months, and Congress could extend the protections to save children like Martinez and families like Portillo's. The humanitarian case is clear. It is an advocacy fight that could use the voice of the local business community. The cleaning companies and factories and other employers that have benefited from the labor of Salvadoran workers should speak up for them and their families now.
The Providence Journal, Jan. 11
Few state agencies in Rhode Island have faced more criticism in recent years than the Department of Children, Youth and Families, which made headlines again this week with the settlement of a long-running civil lawsuit.
Filed in response to allegations of mismanagement that exposed children to molestation and abuse, the settlement — should it be approved by a federal judge — would require the DCYF to demonstrate improved performance in key areas and provide regular reports to the Office of the Child Advocate.
The department would have to establish targets for timely investigations, conduct annual assessments of incidents involving abuse or neglect, and develop an annual recruitment and retention plan for foster homes, to name just three conditions of the settlement. It would also have to hire a third-party monitor to review its progress. And if it failed to demonstrate improvement, the monitoring team and the child advocate's office could ask the U.S. District Court, where the agreement was filed, to intervene.
This is not as dramatic as it sounds. DCYF Director Trista Piccola, who has led the agency since January, said all of the required changes are already in place. She added that she welcomes the third-party oversight, because it would "help us to make sure that we are meeting those performance targets."
In fact, the department, charged with overseeing care for more than 7,000 at-risk children, has been trying of late to do many important things at once: increase its ranks of front-line workers, find more foster parents, reduce the state's dependence on costly and ineffective group home care, and do a better overall job. The agency is also trying to get back on budget (it is over by some $10 million in the 2017-2018 fiscal year).
In making long-overdue reforms, the department seems to be focusing on its mission to protect children and prevent tragedies like one that led to the 2007 lawsuit. In 2004, 3-year-old Thomas "T.J." Wright was beaten to death in an unlicensed foster home by his aunt and her boyfriend after spilling milk and yogurt.
It's important to note, however, that some still see cause for concern. Local agencies that run group homes with taxpayer money have emphatically questioned whether the department can absorb still more budget cuts, given the deaths and near-deaths last year of several children under the agency's oversight.
DCYF leaders have a responsibility to weigh such concerns very seriously.
Of course, as Ms. Piccola notes, one department of state government cannot solve all of the problems confronting children. Adults throughout society have a duty to better protect children in our rapidly changing culture. Statistics suggest that the explosion of single-parent households in America has put children in a far more precarious situation. Without both biological parents in the home, children's ability to succeed is compromised, and their exposure to abuse is many times greater.
The bottom line must always be: How do we best serve children? The DCYF, under Ms. Piccola, seems to recognize it has a solemn responsibility to use the best practices, employing efficiencies to make every dollar work toward its mission.
The public has a responsibility as well. It should be an active partner in making sure that new approaches help rather than hurt children in the state's charge.