When I launched this series, I had no idea how often I’d have enough material for another edition. Turns out, it takes roughly one week. That’s almost one story per day. Here we go again with a healthy dose of Stupidity in the Public Sphere…
The Try to Fix a Problem, It Comes Back, Try the Same Thing Again, It Doesn’t Work, Try It Again, Another Fail, Try Again, You Know What They Say About History Repeating Itself Award goes to the Scott Administration for failing to address the repeated failures of the Labor Department. The weekend brought yet another story about unemployed Vermonters waiting weeks to get their checks or hours on hold to the Department’s call center.
It’s been one thing after another for DOL since the beginning of the pandemic. Its excuses have some truth in them; the UI system is a victim of long-term negligence at the federal level, and last spring’s tsunami of unemployment claims was unprecedented and unforeseeable.
Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington was dealt a bad hand, but he’s played it poorly. He has overseen failure after failure. Not only was he not fired or punished or removed to a quiet corner of the DMV, he actually got a promotion while his department was in flames. But it’s not all on him.
After the jump: Conspiracy theorists get their minute in court, a town ducks a feel-bad story, and a newspaper trolls avidly for advertisers’ favor.
In the face of an unprecedented flood of claims, many of them fraudulent, and the whole 1099 disaster, the administration has never sounded the “all hands on deck,” and committed whatever resources would have been necessary to help the overwhelmed DOL. Well, last spring it belatedly added staff to the department’s call center, but it either wasn’t enough or didn’t remain in place long enough.
Otherwise, the only intervention came in February after the 1099 debacle, when Scott parachuted in three administrators to help with the response (and/or gather intel for their boss). Maybe it helped, but it hasn’t changed the fundamental truth: The Department of Labor has been failing persistently for over a year, and the administration hasn’t done nearly enough to change that fact.
The award for Graphic Design That Instantly Betrays Your Conspiratorialism goes to the anonymous person or persons responsible for a series of videos that look more or less exactly like this.
This is far from the busiest or weirdest posting by these folks, but it’s representative. When your politics enter the Twilight Zone, you lose all control of your visual presentation. Think of it as graphics logorrhea.
These fine folks had high hopes for a Monday hearing in a lawsuit brought by six Vermonters against Scott, Attorney General TJ Donovan, and other worthies, for allegedly unconstitutional pandemic policies and misrepresentation of the facts about Covid-19. One of the six is perpetual crank candidate Emily Peyton, which gives you a pretty good idea of the nature of this crew. As of this writing, we haven’t heard the outcome of the hearing. But I’m guessing a quick dismissal followed by angry rants on the courthouse steps.
If you enjoy this sort of thing, or enjoy rage-watching this sort of thing, type in the link at the bottom of the screen. It’ll take you to a website for alt-right videos reputedly banned by YouTube. Or visit the equally out-of-control website of Vermonters Against Unconstitutional Lockdowns & Tyranny. (VAULT, geddit?) I’m not linking to it here out of principle, but it’s not hard to find.
Next we have the How In The World Did You Think You’d Get Away With It Award, which we will hold until the recipient can attend the ceremony. That would be one Anthony Mason, no relation to the late NBA star, who (cough, allegedly) shouted racial slurs while driving his pickup truck across the lawn of a Black man’s home in Richford and slammed into the porch. And threatened to kill the inhabitant.
Oh, and when he was arrested, Mason told police he is a racist.
The incident was originally reported by Seven Days; After his initial court hearing, VTDigger posted an account. He was charged with first-degree attempted murder and other charges with a hate crime enhancement. The judge, unsurprisingly, denied bail.
Mason’s court-appointed public defender didn’t have much to work with. His major argument was that the murder charge was too stringent because there’s no chance Mason could have actually killed his victim by simply driving into the porch. I believe the legal term for Mason’s situation is “screwed on your own petard.”
On to the Sweeping a Dead Elephant Under the Rug Award, which goes to the good people of Stratton, Vermont, who wanted nothing to do with rehashing the controversy over the cover of its Town Meeting report. The town clerk decorated the report’s cover with a nativist-adjacent statement against newcomers who “came here because you didn’t like there, and now you want to change here to be like there.” As I wrote at the time, a curious move for a town that’s entirely dependent on tourism and second homeowners. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
Stratton’s annual town meeting was finally held last week after a Covid-related postponement. And while the viral controversy was the biggest story out of Stratton in living memory, the folks who showed up for town meeting wanted nothing to do with it. As VTDigger reported, “Reports in hand, no one said a word at a gathering that unanimously approved an 11-item agenda without debate in 20 minutes.” Which, as the town clerk noted, was “a record.” And then, presumably, all quickly skedaddled.
Finally, we have the Who Do I Have to Blow In This Town to Get An Ad Buy? Award, which goes to Seven Days. It’s been running a series of advertiser-friendly stories called “Bottom Line” about how local businesses are coping with the pandemic. Last week’s installment was a sympathetic piece about the owner of Ecco Clothes in Burlington. And it was pretty damn shameless.
I fully realize that ad service is part of the journalism business. And I give the paper some credit for giving this series an identity separate from its news coverage. (I take back some credit for using the standard layout and labeling the stories as “News.”) I also fully realize that it’s been a tough row to hoe for Seven Days, which is heavily dependent on dining and event advertising — two segments decimated by Covid-19. In that situation, you gotta do what you can.
But this story brings no value to the reader. It’s a puff piece. There’s nothing unusual about Ecco’s story; it’s the struggle to stay afloat, just like every other retailer. I hope Seven Days can get some advertiser loyalty out of “Bottom Line.” Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.
Vermont is a really a bad joke – one of the most incompetently run, ethically-challenged and corrupt states I have ever lived. I mean the DOL managing UE data in an Excel spreadsheet (probably on a 386 running win 3.1 no less ) and screwing up a mailing exposing claminant data – this is absurd for a state in this day and age. Blaming it on lack of federal funding is lame. The head of the department should at least of fired the head of IT. The level of incompetence goes hand in hand with the level of corruption and unaccountability throughout Vermont little club of elites.
A couple of years ago I had an apartment building vacant for rehab. Usually the water and sewer bills were astronomically high but I expected them to drop for the period of rehab but they didn’t – the water department claimed that there was still usage equal to a building with 10 people living in it. Inspected for leaks and such and nothing so I investigated the automated water meter which I determined was dead. The WD refused to come out, saying there was nothing wrong with it and instead said they found a error in the billing and corrected it. The correction dialed the usage back to zero from the time of my first complaint and for the next several billings the usage stayed zero. I knew this was incorrect since work crews were working everyday using the toilet and water for various construction related tasks.
So being a old software developer and ham radio enthusiast I figured out how to intercepted the water meter transmissions (totally legal) for all the meters on the system and spent the next several months logging data for the entire town by driving around the entire area served by the water department. Additionally, I discovered a technical procedure for determining the function of a meter and went around to different neighbors homes and confirmed whether they functioned or not. I discovered that only about 10% of the meters on the water system were functional and reporting. While it is not unusual for a small percentage of meters to be dysfunctional, 90% indicates a serious maintenance problem. Additionally, most WD will note on their billing statements “estimated’ vs ‘actual’ reading informing the customer what the basis of the billing is. Reviewing the town’s meeting notes for several years – esp with re to the WD – indicated no discussions re problems with meters.
In researching the regulatory framework water works run by Fire Districts must operate under there are no rules governing meter readings. The Fire District can do what it wants. I went back over several years of billing and analyzed the usage pattern for my building and recognized that it was basically made up by adding consistently an average usage of 200 gals per day. This was totally fraudulent since the building would be vacate from time to time and level of occupants would change.
Questioning the meter manufacturer, I learned that the batteries used in these meters last at best 10 yrs and since most of the meters were put in 20 yrs ago and the batteries never replaced I figured that the Water Department had been fudging its billings for a decade or more. So now that I had several months worth of meter data and water to compare it to the Fire District’s data and so filed several FOI request to access the data. The Fire District did not respond at all. I attempted several time to do this and put the issue to each Select-board member personally and was met with total silence – one Select-board member said he would look into it but nothing.
The AG and DNR said there was nothing they could do since there were no laws governing meter readings for Fire Districts. So consumer pays usage based what ever the Fire District thinks they used – this can be a lot of money since water usage dictate sewage billings. Note that these revenue flows are the basis for bond issuance for infrastructure work so the the incentive to cheat consumers so that larger and larger bonds can be secured and those giant wads of monies find there way to local engineering firms and excavation contractors.
The smoke constantly blown up the public’s backside about how special we are here and how nice and grateful everyone is just covers up the years of rot. The press hasn’t been doing its for years – Digger is trying but I am sure they too are very constrained by the TPTB in VT.