President Hillary nixes Pardon for Sanders/The Burlington College Thing

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Babyface Bernie

Now that Hillary has schlonged him by hook and crook, Bernie needs to fear for his future. Sure, Hillary will be forced to do a reach-out. Bernie will get the star treatment at the Dem Convention. Progressive promises will be made. The party platform will be symbolically tweaked. Little Debbie may even go down. But if Hillary is elected president, vengeance will be hers.

Bill Clinton has already said Bernie’s supporters will be “toast” come election day. Can Bernie’s burn be far behind? The strength of Bernie’s challenge has been a humiliation for Hillary. And she doesn’t do forgive and forget. Not for Hill that Godfather distinction between personal and business. Political opponents aren’t reps of valid difference; they’re agents of the perpetually churning vast conspiracy (launched by the right, swollen by the left) out to get the Clintons.

First, they came for Bill.

Then they came for Hill.

Trying to cheat her of the throne she’s earned by being married to him.

O to be a fly in the mind of potential President Hillary as she plots Senator Sanders’ future

“I’ll show that socialist nobody. How dare he manspread all over MY party. I’ll put his office in the Senate basement bathroom. Committees? Don’t make me laugh. (Cackle cackle.) Funding? That– and a nickel! As for those ‘rumors’ of a federal investigation into the Burlington College thing– lawyer up, Bernie and Jane! I’ll be hands-on at the Justice Department.”

The Burlington College Thing

Burlington is Vermont’s biggest city (pop 42,452) and the home turf of Bernie and Jane Sanders. From 2004 till 2011, Jane was president of Burlington College, a private, non-profit liberal arts college. Burlington College was very small and very progressive. Official slogan: “Start a fire”. (Presumably a socially transformative one, not just a wienie roaster.) The college closed this May after staggering along financially for years. The killing burden was a $10 million mortgage loan engineered by Jane Sanders in 2010. Jane’s goal was to expand Burlington College via relocation to a more impressive setting. At the time, the college was operating out of a former supermarket which served a surrounding blue collar neighborhood.

Until a few decades ago, Burlington was primarily a working and middle class town with naturally occurring affordable housing. Though there were certainly social divisions, it was a pretty laid back place. Teens called it “Borington”. Thanks to progressive planning by local pols (including former Mayor Bernie Sanders) and assorted public and private real estate players, Burlington has been transformed into a hip happening city blessed with stacks of cookie cutter condos attractive to wealthy folks with a taste for views of Lake Champlain. Not that affordable housing doesn’t exist– subsidized digs are available for the qualified. Social divisions? Considerably more pronounced.

Jane Sanders’ aim was to move Burlington College out of the supermarket and into a former Catholic orphanage set on thirty-some wooded acres overlooking Lake Champlain. The lake front land was traditionally treated as public parkland by locals. In its day, the orphanage had a sinister reputation; the building eventually transitioned into headquarters for the Burlington Catholic Diocese. It was/is a mound of Victorian stone. A big place for a student body of roughly 200 (130 full time) but Jane reasoned that if you buy it, they will come. And while the acreage was extensive much of the building was unusable due to disrepair, keeping the actual learning space cozy.

Jane arranged for the college to purchase the building and surrounding acreage from the Burlington Catholic Diocese. They were eager to sell. Their coffers had been depleted by $17 million in settlements paid to litigants claiming diocese leaders covered up for predatory priests.

The deal Jane Sanders engineered was a private/public combo platter. The Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Finance Agency issued $6.5 million in tax free revenue bonds. People’s United Bank bought the bonds; Vermont College was on the hook to People’s for principle and interest. Also in play– a $3.5 million loan from the Catholic Diocese (guess those litigants didn’t totally strip the coffers) and a “bridge loan” of $500,000 from local developer Tony Pomerleau, a vintage Sanders supporter.

Long story short: Burlington College wasn’t able to meet its obligations and this spring, People’s United Bank lowered the boom.

Attempts had been made to save the college. But fund raising efforts were inconsistent and the results disappointing. Student body growth never met projected numbers. In 2011, Jane Sanders was ousted/retired as president– with a $200,000 parachute. The next president was the college’s former chief financial officer and a friend-of-Jane. She quit a few years later after receiving a no-confidence vote from students, faculty and staff. Eventually, the acres of lake front land surrounding the college were sold to a developer. (More condos coming soon, affordable slots included!) The money from the sale was helpful but insufficient. And the college’s accreditation was set to be canceled, due to its long running financial woes.

The announcement that Burlington College was closing was made the day after this year’s graduation ceremonies. No warning was given, students and faculty were left scrambling. Many are still twisting in the wind over things such as financial arrangements, transcripts, and pension plans.

Whether recent rumors of a federal investigation played a part in the suddenness of the endgame are unknown.

The issue said to be of federal interest? Jane Sanders allegedly misrepresented the college’s assets and projected income to the tune of $2 million when engineering her purchase deal. (Among other things, a future death bequest was painted as money in hand.) And as we all know post housing-bubble collapse, fudging assets and income to obtain mortgage loans qualifies as bank fraud, a federal crime.

Of course, in her eagerness to “start a fire” Jane may have just made mistakes. Ones the college board of directors didn’t spot. And Jane still has the support of the Burlington Catholic Diocese; its leaders say proceeds from the sale of the college property (the college building was recently purchased by the same developer who bought the surrounding land) covered what they were owed. However, some parishioners are not so sanguine and want legal action.

Meanwhile, the last few Republican Party animals in Vermont have been writing letters to Washington, requesting a federal investigation. Their most recent missive even targeted Bernie; claiming they have credible info that Senator Sanders improperly pressed People’s United Bank to do Jane’s deal. Bernie’s spokespeople characterize the charges as political lies.

In normal times, I’d say Bernie and Jane have nothing to worry about. Questionable real estate deals involving politicians on their home turf are a dime a gazillion. Intent to defraud is hard to prove. And as we all know post housing-bubble collapse, mortgage shenanigans are rarely prosecuted. But these aren’t normal times. Hillary could become president. And with her, any stick will do to beat an enemy.

I like Bernie– even if he did help turn Burlington into one more Bobo Paradise. I admire his grit. His run has been inspirational in many ways. I voted for him in the New York State Democratic primary.

For his sake– and Jane’s– I’m praying Trump wins in November.

 

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The Working Class Rides Again!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

work_or_riot_cropped

Holy moldering Marx, the working class is back! Drawn out of hiding by the Donald and Bernie. Cheerleaders for the Ownership Society who pushed subprime mortgages and equity draining as a substitute for NAFTA-gone jobs are aghast. As are devotees of identity politics. Solidarity Forever? Screw it. An overarching concept like class, with its multi cultural inclusiveness, could undermine decades of hard work fanning social divisions.

As for snobs on both sides of the political divide, for them it’s a real knuckle-drag to see the return of the “great unwashed”. Yes, West Virginia– there still are folks who use that phrase. Or think in its terms. That many of them are no better off economically or secure in their futures than the Morlocks they imagine and despise matters not. Illusions of superiority are as comforting as a baby’s blankie.

So– where has the working class been hiding? Answer: in plain sight. Only the term “working class” disappeared, not the actual people.

In an infamous scene from Sex & the City, the gals are discussing their sex lives (did they ever discuss anything else?) while getting a pedicure in a Korean nail salon. Miranda, a high-powered attorney, is dating a bartender. Charlotte, an art gallery manager with a wealthy husband, says the relationship has no future because a bartender is “working class”. The gals all laugh at such an archaic concept. Then the camera pans down to show the Korean women kneeling at their feet…

The term “working class” began fading out in the 1970’s; its erasure has been helpful politically to both left and right. The boon to the right is obvious; no working class means no need for organized labor. Not saying that not using the term is the sole reason unions have shrunk to a ghost of their former selves– just that it’s harder to organize people when they can’t name the group with whom their economic interests lie. And when that increasingly nameless group is made to appear ridiculous, boorish, and bigoted the organizing gets even harder. I mean, who wants to identify with–

Archie Bunker

Ah, Archie. The creation of liberal TV god Norman Lear, blue collar Archie ruled the sitcom world in All in the Family between 1971 and ’79. Talking trash with little cash. The latter wasn’t a sympathy factor, just another indicator of Archie’s social inferiority. Some claim Archie was an anti-hero and that white viewers secretly identified with him while pretending to scorn. But anti-heroes, after decades of cultural presence, tend to segue into respectability. So why does the term ”Archie Bunker” remain an insult?

Archie Bunker was an ugly stereotype. One that was allowed to stand because its target, the working class, was no longer deemed worthy of respect. Also because those being targeted were ambivalent about identifying as “working class”. Doing so flew in the face of middle class aspiration. Plus, the term was an ideological one associated with communism, our Cold War enemy, and in this country with hoary political groups still fighting the Stalin v. Trotsky wars. Many such groups featured the word “workers” in their titles. Comrades dressed the part, circa Woody Guthrie. The New Left called these groups “Old Left”. By 1971 their worker-centric influence had dwindled to an echo.

Not so New Left influence. Thanks to their piggy-backing the counterculture, rads of the New Left were hip and happening. Their cultural judgments carried weight. And from them, the working class got no respect.

Few groups on the New Left called themselves “worker” anything. In New Left minds, American workers had been corrupted by the success of organized labor and were now part of the problem not the solution. They had houses, cars, and televisions. Refrigerators full of beer. Cupboards stuffed with white bread. They worked in factories that belched pollutants and/or produced gas-guzzlers that carried people away from urban slums to suburban tract homes with lawns. (The New Left, with its amazing ability to intuit hidden motives, knew the exodus was really about racism not lawns.) But the biggest sin was support for the Vietnam War. That most working class people had kids, siblings, spouses, or friends fighting the war was no excuse. In Vietnam, the USA was Hitler. Which made all its supporters back home “good Germans”. Something New Left activists took great moral pride in not being.

Back to Norman Lear. Creator of Archie Bunker. Wealthy as hell but still an ace identifier of all things working class ugly, Lear has denounced Donald Trump. No surprise. Trump’s blue collar supporters are often called Archie. “Meathead” aka Rob Reiner, liberal son-in-law of apocryphal Archie, has also delivered a finger wag.  Apostle Meathead spreading his Creator’s Word…

One Last Thing

Thankfully for fans of the TV working class, Archie Bunker wasn’t the only blue collar guy to grace sets in the 70’s. There was also Detective Columbo of the LAPD. Underestimated. Rumpled. Smoking a cheap stogie, driving a beloved beater. Unlike Archie, Columbo never talked politics. All he did was ask homicide suspects gazillion nagging questions. Relentlessly. The payoff being his nailing arrogant elite types who thought they could get away with murder.

When I look at the people cheering Trump– and Sanders– at rallies in post-industrial places I don’t see the face of Archie Bunker. I see Columbo bringing it home. I can almost hear it…

“One last thing. Nothing important. I just need to clear up a few small details. It won’t take long. I know you need to get on with ruling. But first, can you tell me where you were when American jobs were being exported, cheap labor was being imported, and working class/middle class incomes were stagnating?”

Everybody into the beater!

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