Monumental removal priorities

For today at least, and for sanity’s sake I plan to limit myself to following reports about  Trump’s latest outburst  of support for white nationalists to 140 character bites such as the one below.  This time President Trump angrily  went off script and perhaps the rails to totally reject  criticism of the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville Virginia.

gotta go

 

Norm McAllister plays the world’s smallest violin…again.

Just in case anyone still cares, you should know that, according to the Messenger, perennial victim of unfair antipathy toward serial sexual assaulters, Norm McAllister wants to have his conviction on one count of “prohibited acts” overturned.That’s right: following one aborted trial concerning accuser #1, a teenager at the time of the alleged assaults; the untimely death of accuser #2, and the defense’s successful end-run against all but one of the lesser charges concerning accuser #3, Mr. McAllister wants another bite at the apple of complete exoneration.

Nevermind the fact that he has twice put the state through the costs of preparation and jury selection to hear the case concerning accuser #3. You may recall that Mr. McAllister abruptly entered a plea of guilt after the first day of the first trial, because the audio evidence was judged so damning by his defense team. The next morning he demanded that he be allowed to revoke his plea and stand trial all over again, claiming his defense team had bullied him into the plea.  (whimper, whimper...)

If you read the comments on stories about these trials, made almost entirely by men…and men who were not in attendance at the trials, I might add…you will understand why Mr. McAllister has felt emboldened to play the victim, over-and-over again. With few exceptions, these gentlemen, enlightened by nothing more than brief second-hand summaries of recordings and testimonies, all conclude that McAllister did nothing wrong; often adding a superfluous observation to the effect that “women often lie about these things.” The passion of these remarks makes one wonder about the gentlemen’s own personal histories on consent!

Statistically, nothing could be further than the truth. Not only is sexual assault drastically underreported; on the occasions when it is reported, the deeply personal nature of the crime means that it is rarely brought successfully to trial. The percentage of false accusations is around 5% or less. Few men are ever held accountable for their sexual assaults.

And what is the possible sentence that Mr. McAllister is facing for his “unfair”conviction? All of $100. or a year in jail. Tsk, tsk…how unjust.

Worlds-smallest-violin

 

What saved a prized UVM botanical collection from destruction?

The Burlington Free Press reported an interesting angle to a recent storyit was a federal grant that saved a prized UVM botanical collection from severe fire damage. In addition to the efforts of fire fighters who responded to the fire at UVM’s Torrey Hall, some new storage units purchased by UVM in 2014 with National Science Foundation funding are credited with saving the irreplaceable plant and fungus collectionsaid to be worth as much as $6 million dollars.brought_nsf

The recent fire, accidentally caused by workers repairing and soldering the copper roof, could have been a disaster for the college’s Biology and Plant Biology departments collections housed there. Seven Days reported that firefighters from Burlington and Malletts Bay responded and had the fire “nearly extinguished” after several hours, but as “hot spots” flared up, they remained on fire watch for 24 hours afterward.

“If we didn’t have the funding support from the National Science Foundation, which provided us full replacement of the old cabinets, the material would have been incinerated. We would have lost the whole thing,” Dave Barrington, plant biologist and curator of the herbarium, said in statement from UVM, quoted in the Burlington Free Press

Built in 1863, Torrey Hall is listed on The National Register of Historic Places; several floors house the extensive and valuable plant collection. The Pringle Herbarium, according to UVM, is a critical resource for research activity in plant systematics the biological classification of plants and botanical diversity studies. In addition to keeping the collection safe from fire, water, and pests, the collection’s new storage units also speed a digital imaging project now underway. With the near-constant barrage of budget-cutting and belt-tightening demands from federal and state officials, this averted disaster is a practical reminder of what well-spent federal tax dollars can accomplish for the public good.

Oh, and by the way, Trump’s 2018 budget has proposed an 11% cut for the National Science Foundation. That slash was rejected by Congress, but their draft budget only level-funds the NSF and strictly limits the organization’s flexibility to distribute its limited funding to foundation-set priorities. This approach is seen as part of a continuing desire by Republicans in Congress to force the NSF away from research on social and behavioral science and significantly anything to do with climate change.

Vermont’s town clerks do the darnedest things!

Vermont may not have the criminal cachet of bigger states, but in one specialized area of wrong doing, we could claim some eccentric distinction.

That area is, of course, embezzlement by town clerks.

The latest tale of disappearing dollars in Coventry is told so well by Dan Schwartz of Vermont Digger that I will leave you to read about the epic failure by local authorities to bring the culprit to justice, from that reliable source.

Suffice it to say that Cynthia Diaz, now former town clerk, treasurer, and tax collector  of Coventry, is suspected of embezzling over one million dollars over the course of her thirteen year tenure by pocketing cash payments to the Town and writing unwarranted checks in payment to herself from the Town.

It appears that the situation was compounded by incompetence from the town select board and some rather odd behavior by the fired town lawyer, Bill Davies.

‘Turns out that Ms. Diaz had a history of suspicion for embezzlement from her previous employer, Gray’s Paving. Apparently she has been under investigation in one place or the other since 2005. The Feds have been on her tail for years. She was even convicted on two misdemeanor tax evasion charges; but no one’s managed to nail her for embezzlement before now, and she just kept getting re-elected.

Using the “carrot and stick” approach, she kept an intimidating Rottweiler in the office with her but also “forgave” some people’s tax debts, as it suited her. There were many irregularities, like a missing grand list, and many creative excuses.

She had a bank account in the Bahamas, was receiving wire transfers from
an ex-husband in Panama, and holds properties in remote locations like Hawaii.

How did Ms. Diaz manage to remain in office all these years? Apparently she was also pretty good at playing the martyr and had somehow convinced the voters that she was just a victim of a “witch hunt.”

Don’t laugh. That performance has worked in higher office than Coventry town hall.

The whole story is worthy of novelization. Diaz apparently had complete power over town offices and used simple key control to deny anyone access to anywhere she liked. When Scott Morley of the select board finally gained access to the attic above town offices, after people had remarked on the sound of animals moving about overhead, he discovered it contained feral cats and filthy litter boxes.

What the hell???

She has already destroyed the thumb drive of town records that she routinely carried back and forth to work, and other important paperwork also appears to be missing.

Finally, the grownups seem to have retaken the kindergarten, and the new town attorney, Paul Gillies, is hot on what’s left of her paper trail.

How things could have gotten so far out of hand in the little town of roughly 1,000 souls is a very good question until you remember my previously favorite embezzlement story from Isle LaMotte, (2009) in which the Town Clerk was the daughter of the select board chairman, who reimbursed the City from his own pocket when he learned that she had dipped into the till to the tune of $150,000. Because a second select board member was the woman’s boyfriend, they managed to keep the whole affair a secret. Those kinds of secrets rarely go undiscovered, and the culprit was ultimately sentenced to 90 days in the pokey.

You just gotta love this quirky little state.

Trump immigration plan like Canada’s? “You’d need to squint past major aspects of the plan”

Just before heading to his New Jersey Golf Course for an extended August vacation, President Trump previewed his immigration plan. The changes inspired, perhaps,  by the Canadian immigration point systemare found in the “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” (RAISE) Act. The legislation was originally sponsored in the Senate by Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.); reports suggested that if the measure is enacted it would slash legal immigration to the United States.

The Trump-endorsed plan will:

  • Reduce categories for family applications. Residents could still sponsor spouses and minor children, but not other relatives.
  • Abolish an existing diversity lottery.
  • Insist upon English proficiency to immigrate.
  • Redefine “immediate relative” to include children age 18 and under, down from the current age 21.
  • Deduct points for skilled workers whose spouses are less skilled.
  • Offer bonus points for select advanced degrees.
  • Give bonus points for applicants earning 150 per cent of the national average income.
  • Provide bonus points for some types of high achievers, but not others. Included would be certain categories of Nobel prize-winners and certain athletes, such as those who’ve won an Olympic medal.

Later at a White House news conference, Presidential advisor Stephen Miller repeated claims that the new legislation was inspired by Canadian immigration ruleswith some changes. The New York Times notes that while the Canadian immigration does rely on a points-based system, Canada’s approach, however, does not merely favor immigrants based on their skills but also uses a system that promotes a multicultural society. That, it must be noted, is something the RAISE Act would not do.  images 789

And Canada appears to have a much more compassionate attitude toward refugees. In fact Canadian officials are preparing a temporary welcome center for a surge of thousands of asylum seekers. Some of them would be refugees who found their way to the USA but are now fleeing north, fearful of what will happen to them at the mercy of Trump’s newly energized enforcers at ICE. These often desperate people took ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan seriously when he said undocumented immigrants “should be [more] afraid” under the Trump administration. As if undocumented workers in the U.S. haven’t always been afraid of family-busting raids by la migra, only now the raids are even more brutal and without rationale.

So, is the Trump-endorsed RAISE Act anything like Canada’s rules? Well, as one Canadian newspaper politely quips, it is: “[it] contains definite traces of Canadian influence — but to find them, you’d need to squint past major aspects of the plan.

Beyond the margin with Trump

Donald Trump started the week by continuing a prolonged twitter attack on his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Later he tweeted a ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces then made a widely criticized politically divisive speech to a national gathering of Boy Scouts. Soon came an on-the-record obscene and insane rant by his new communications chief Anthony Scaramucci. Quickly following the Mooch’s rant, Trump fired  his Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, and replaced him with the DHS Secretary, former General John Kelly. Woven into all that  chaos was the dramatic GOP loss in the Senate on a series of ACA repeal bills Trump supported.margincenter2

In reaction to all this chaos, The Donald turned on his own party and tweeted that the GOP “looked like fools” and threatened not to follow the Obamacare (ACA) law and to stop mandated payments to insurance companies. He left Washington, traveled to an event on Long Island and suggested to a gathering of police officers that they “…don’t be too nice” to alleged immigrant criminalsa comment widely perceived as a presidential call encouraging police violence. Here’s a link to a rundown of most of the events from the Financial Times

Watching this numbingly frightful week unfold, I remembered whatwhen the shock of Trump’s victory was still newseemed a worst case prediction of what was to come .

On November 29, 2016, only a few short weeks after the election, Rick Perlstein was interviewed by Sky News. Perlstein was a biographer of Nixon and a longtime observer of the American conservative movement, but his interview was cut short by the Murdoch-owned news channel. Although he never got the chance to make his comments on-air, Perlstein published his observations in the Washington Spectator.

None of these things [Trump’s unrealistic campaign promises], however, are possible.

So what happens next? His worshipful admirers cannot blame Trump for the stymying of this agenda: Trump is a god. It must be the people he told them to blame who are actually responsible. The lying media. The quisling Democrats. The sellout Republican establishment. Mexicans, of course. The more Trumpism fails, the more, and more violently, scapegoats will be blamed. And only some kind of stalwart resistance will stand between America and fascism.[emphasis added]

Remember, Perlstein planned to say these things in his on-air interview a mere 3 weeks after the election.

Here’s how he closed his piece: Maybe they [Sky News] didn’t like the direction I was heading; Sky News, after all, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, same as Fox. Or maybe I’m just being conspiratorial: Trump may soon be doing that to all of us. The margin has become the center. Paranoia strikes deep.

Looking back at this prediction from today’s perspective, six months further on in the Trump presidency, we have to say:  without a doubt, Perlstein called it. Except that we might say it’s the fringe, not the margin that is the center for now. If Trump was a flat-earther, we’d all be in danger of falling off the edge.

Surprise! Trump uses and abuses the LGBTQ community.

This morning, not satisfied with throwing his best political friend, Jeff Sessions, under the bus, Donald J. Trump once again betrayed his election promise to be “better for the LGBTQ community than Hillary Clinton.”

Of course, he did it in a tweet. Offering the wholly unconvincing claim that “his” generals had recommended the radical change in policy, the Tweeter in Chief proclaimed that henceforth, transgendered people would not be allowed to serve in the military, in any capacity.  No mention of what will become of the many transgendered people currently serving in the military.

That we are not the least bit surprised by either the injustice of the decision or the casual manner of its delivery gives testament to the horrifying trajectory upon which we have been traveling since Inauguration Day. We are becoming conditioned to the unthinkable.

This phenomena is, in itself, worthy of examination.

Donald Trump may be an ignorant fool, but he is a primitive master at distraction.

As Congress prepares to grill DT Junior and Paul Manaford, focussing public attention squarely on the Russian investigation, Trump is redirecting his enemies’ attention to the concerns of the LGBTQ community.

This is a safe outrage to court, as it simultaneously plays to his generally intolerant base.

If the ploy is successful, at least some of the news cycle will be preoccupied with the inevitable reaction.

The American public has already come to accept that Mr. Trump is an inveterate liar. So, no surprise there. That, on reflection, is a pretty shocking adaptation.

When you think of where we’ve come to since the turn of the century, when our liberal democracy was finally coming into its own only to be sent into a reactionary tailspin by 9/11, you have to acknowledge that Al Quaida succeeded in its expressed goal: to bring down the American way of life.

They could not have imagined a more effective partner than Donald J.Trump.

Brave New World: Workers implanted with microchips

This is from a couple days ago but there might be some GMD luddites who missed it. A snack company that supplies office break-rooms is testing out surgically implanting microchips in their own employees’ hands as part of a voluntary experiment.

Three Square Market’s CEO Todd Westby says: “[…] the implanted microchip makes it easier for people to pay for items at work. Instead of looking for coins, cash or a credit card, they would only need to place their hand in front of a scanner and electronically pay for their item.”

Three Square Market is planning to sell the technology to other companies and has partnered with a Swedish firm, BioHax International, to make the chip, which uses Radio-Frequency Identification to electronically identify stored information and near-field communication, the same type of technology used to pay for items with mobile phone scans. BioHax International: Digitizing Evolution

CEO Todd Westby Three Square Market shown with micro- chip on shoulder
CEO Todd Westby of Three Square Market shown with micro- chip on shoulder

The company reports 50 employees have voluntarily agreed to the chip implant. For those worried about privacy, the company says the data coming from the chip is encrypted and cannot be tracked they say.

If you wonder, as I do,  why Three Square Market at $300.00 a chip is shelling out $15,000 to make it easier for 50 employees to buy their own company’s snacks, well, it turns out the chips also function as  electronic keys to open doors and as ID login for company computers. And although the chip will not, so they say, track Three Square employees, the data will doubtless provide a time stamped record of when and where  employees opened a door or logged on.

Three Square Market’s Face Book page brags that their vending kiosk service for businesses break-room clients offers “three square meals daily without ever leaving the building.” And while in the building,  a Three Square seeing eye is on them watching who is coming and going for snacks because: A camera is mounted in our market to protect against theft; if inventory is off, we can check our cameras to see if and whom left without paying.

Or check on “whom” was goofing off at the snack kiosk?  Privacy assurances aside, Three Squares Market looks like a perfect fit for normalizing a new wave of corporate “Big Brother” style employee tracking technology. You may not be chained to your desk, but really what you’ve got is a longer, seeing-eye leash.

A Whistleblower on the Front Lines

There are so many angles to explore in the dysfunctional presidency of Donald J. Trump that we sometimes are overwhelmed into silence by the sheer number and variety of horrors unfolding before us. It is necessary, from time to time, to simply reach into the grab bag and drag one forward.

An essay in the Washington Post, by Joel Clement, a scientist punished by Trump for “whistleblowing,” is definitely worthy of attention.

Until last week, Mr. Clement, was the director of the office of Policy Analysis at the Department of the Interior. He has been reshuffled to the Department’s Office of Natural Resource Revenue where his scientific training will be ignored for financial number-crunching duties.

“…on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to ‘improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,’ the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies. “

His “crime?” Mr. Clement dared to opine on the impact of climate change on Alaskan native communities. In other words, he was just doing his job.

Mr. Clement had been vocal to his superiors about the urgency to address health and safety issues for indigenous peoples, stemming from the climate crisis. It was not something that the administration cared to discuss.

“A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers.”

Mr. Clement does not intend to quit. He has chosen instead to become a whistleblower to alert fellow citizens to the gross and deliberate misuse of human resources that this represents.
All those unfilled administration positions we keep hearing about?  They are just a symptom of the systemic collapse that is already underway, engineered by Steve Bannon and enabled by the Know-Nothing President, Donald J. Trump.