Friday, November 25, 2016

Required Reading for the President Elect

Dear President Elect:

Congratulations on your success in the election. As you have seen and can bear witness, the tools of Democracy that built the United States of America into the already great country it is... these tools DO still work as they were designed to work. We hope you understand that any further invective regarding Democracy being "rigged" will absolutely not be tolerated;  your words were insulting to the service men and women who have shown, through their actions, that they believe in U.S. Democracy. We hope your actions will demonstrate respect and honor for their service.

The architects of the documents known as the Constitution thought this "Developing the Future of a Continent" thing through pretty darn well.  The Electoral College is a facet that they specifically engineered within these documents to distribute weight of voting power more evenly among rural and urbanized states.  That the American people, as a whole, demonstrated the power of the Electoral College this election cycle is indeed momentous.

In fact, this is why I write today.  Because your understanding of ecosystems will be key to your success -- or failure -- as a President.   

Ecosystems are entities that provide life, nourishment, and sustenance to multiple generations of inhabitants.  Indeed, there is no human power and there are no human efforts that can match the efficiency inherent in a natural ecosystem.  Many Americans consider sustenance-producing ecosystems to be a gift from God. Others simply respect the fact that ecosystems have been producing sustenance for humans for thousands of years, allowing certain individuals to thrive under certain conditions.  What those conditions are, exactly, only the architect in nature understands.  The constant is the gentle reminder that operations within and among those individuals in an ecosystem are very delicate and easily damaged by recklessness.  Do you understand that recklessness creates damage, Mr. President Elect?  

Now let's talk about your Proposed Contract. There are some great ideas in here, and there are some ideas that need work. It isn't that bad for a first draft, and you definitely deserve a +5 for creativity.  Before getting too carried away, however, it seems there are a few history lessons you may have forgotten. Lessons, specifically, regarding the legacy of our Public Lands.

Reading Requirement:  Brush up on History.  

Your new job comes with a temporary stay at the White House, and you will have the opportunity to listen to and implement some ideas from an often-ignored and frequently unheard slice of America. As such, your first assignment from them is to read this collection of essays.  Numerous authors and numerous citations to important historical events transcribed to National Archives are documented within in this book, From Conquest to Conservation: Our Public Lands Legacy

It is a non-political, facts-heavy book with some additional narratives from individuals who've lived in and cared for land and people and creatures on the fringes of modern society.  Our Public Lands are areas that your Presidential predecessors and the American people as a whole have chosen to preserve for very specific reasons: Economic reasons that have nothing to do with money. Ecological reasons that have everything to do with clean water, breatheable air, healthy fish, and abundant wildlife.  Logical reasons that that nobody with a real estate license will ever be privileged enough to  know.  Spiritual reasons, for nature as a healing power.  Legacy reasons only future generations will be able comprehend and understand.
The vast majority of people who voted for you are people who hail from the antithesis of NYC. They are a very different kind of person from what you are used to wheeling and dealing for the latest gold-plated tower in the latest trendy big city.  They are also very different from the kind of penthouse-renting person you typically cater to.  Surely you will need to familiarize yourself with the kind of person who just doesn't understand extravagance.  This book will allow you to do so... it presents Rural Americans' opinions from both sides of the aisle, and it outlines in very clear and certain terms things that you must understand if you are to be a successful President.

People who value the heritage of the land do not value exploitation of land.  They care about economics and "jobs", but not the the point it infringes on their way of life.  They care about building new and better structures and infrastructure, but not the the point it will infringe on the way of life for their children or grandchildren.   This seems almost counter-intuitive but it simply means that it does NOT involve breaking out the bulldozers and cranes without FIRST taking some serious environmental assessments.    

First and foremost you must understand:  Residents and respecters of rural America do not want swaths of pop-up housing "For Rent".  They build it, they own it.  The development that will take place in these fringes of America must be done without greedy Realtor companies involved at all.  This will surely upset a great deal of your fellow politicians whose going-concern is tied up in bribes they've taken from the Realtors... but do not be swayed by their delusions.  The truth is that Rural America despises lobbyists.  They despise anybody out to exploit the equity of their land. Since you, Mr. President Elect, are someone whose entire personal wealth has come from exploiting people, we don't expect you to understand.  So here's the explanation:

"Exploitation" has taken and can take many forms: over-plundering natural resources, like coal (leaving residents susceptible to environmental disasters like landslides), toxic waste, illegal dumping, destroying the water table, and more.  

Development does not have to be destructive.  There are ways to plan for development and to implement those plans in a way that optimizes the right balance of economical and ecological objectives.  

As a final friendly warning, please do not be hoodwinked into thinking that the voice of Rural America comes from people like the Ammon Bundy Occupants. That mutation of delusional individuals is a group of terrorists who do not represent the heart or soul of Rural America; quite the opposite, in fact.  When the land dictates, through climate and vegetation, that it is not conducive to grazing cows, respecters of the ecosystem do not graze cows.  Nor they do not throw tantrums and wield guns on property consecrated for preservation of ecosystems when land doesn't happen to be conducive to grazing cows.

Land stewardship is frequently about simply leaving places alone, refusing to put a price tag on the cost of disrupting that land for human use when other species can make better use of the land than humans can.   Because our sustenance as humans will always be tied up with the sustenance of other species.  

There is a documentary called A River Between Us that everybody, including you, should watch in order to understand some of the things that are at stake here.   The people who were on this continent before the ships with white ancestors sailed... they have many more generations of observation and wisdom to share regarding these ecosystems that we all must share... Many of us have already conceded to their greater wisdom, and to their understanding of the interconnectedness of water and sky and land to sustain us.  It's not about sacrificing one for the other; it's about practicing restraint with respect.

I'll leave you with these final thoughts.

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Exposing Fraud at a California POA

This letter was sent to the CA State Board of Equalization

Dear Board:

Please open an investigation into an entity known as Association Management Services and its registered agent, Nicholas Mitchell. I've gathered some evidence that points to an overwhelmingly obvious situation of tax fraud, embezzlement, and misappropriation of funds happening at a POA I accidentally became a member of when buying a lot from a county tax sale.

Background: When I bought a small parcel in a way-out-in-the-boonies place in 2014, I paid all the back/overdue taxes on it to Siskiyou County and was thus deeded title to the land. However. Shortly thereafter, I suddenly found myself assaulted with demands for POA payments (POA fees going back to 2013) from an entity known as "Association Management Services", operating from PO Box 307 in Weed, CA.

Aside from the fact I didn't know that by buying land I'd be bullied into paying some company annual dues and fees on the land I already have legal title to (Siskiyou County did not disclose this information to me when I purchased the lot), something just seemed off about the original invoice he sent me in 2014.  A $50 "transfer fee" tacked on...  POA fees being racked up before title is even legally transferred... other weirdness.

A small bit of research, and I discover something odd... this "company" demanding payment is actually just one person: one person named Nicholas Mitchell. I was not able to determine the legal organization of his business entity “Association Management Services,” in order to determine how to file complaints for invoicing mistakes; but my research did uncover many interesting things. Things that, when taken all together, point to not only misappropriation of funds, but also almost certainly, mail fraud and tax fraud.

Nicholas Mitchell is the Registered Agent of Association Management Services … however, he's also the registered agent of MSPOA, Inc. (source), and at LEAST two other HOAs.

This seems like a lot of HOAs and POAs to "manage," doesn't it? Mt. Shasta Vista alone describes itself as: "Some 1,640 far flung, mostly juniper and sage parcels averaging 2.5 acres each." So if we look at MSVPOA and Siskiyou Highlands Property Owners Association and Timberline Court Homeowners Association, there's something that doesn't sit quite right in terms of magnitude and ability to manage when you're just one person. My intuitive hackles detected a probable pattern of abuse and fraud at a rather large scale.... I bet his Realtor(TM) buddies are involved somehow...

143 Main Street vs PO Box 307 Weed, CA 96094

Mitchell is clearly trying to be a "smart" criminal. He's registered various business entities (listed below) to cover his tracks; some show up as a physical address and some show up as the PO Box.  All of them seem to operate – in one way or another -- out of a real estate agency. So let's look at all of these businesses in the context that he "manages" them, such that they can feed each other, maximizing his ability to embezzle ... "cooking the books" to minimize actual expense while maximizing reported expense.

NOTE: website URLs can be accessed on my website link @ end of letter.

(1)  "Mount Shasta Vista Property Owners Association"
File Number:    C0495803

(2) "Siskiyou Lake Highlands" POA, Inc.
File Number:      C1848778   

(3)  "Timberline Court Homeowners Association"
File Number:    C1930623

(4) "Elite Real Estate Group" Specializes in creating foreclosures, marketing foreclosures, collecting fees on foreclosed parcels/properties when they are resold or rented.  This company stands to benefit immensely if Mitchell's proposal to enact aggressive "foreclose" on POA fees in arrears gets passed.   (we're not going to link to this website from here, but it is "Get My Home Now . com" (without spaces))

(5) "Association Management Services"   The shadiest of them all in terms of legal entity, this appears to be Nicholas Mitchell's personal consulting business, how he collects his "salary" from MSVPOA?   

(6)  "Rental Management Services"  source    2 employees, eh?

(7) "Alpine Association Management"  (source (8) The "Wooly Sheep Inc" (source #1, source #2)  Not sure what this is... but if it's attached to PO Box 307, it is a definite IRS flag.

(9) "Siskiyou Lake Highlands Mutual Water Co" (source #1, source #2).

(10)  "Siskiyou Lake Highlands Property Owners Association" (source).

Yes. That's 10.

As I am sure your office is aware: "Post Office Expenses" are such a common tax deduction for businesses that most auditors wouldn't think twice about them being legitimate. However, given this setup, it's clear that there is only one P.O. Box funnelling numerous legal entities. One address for rent and lease expenses, too… are each of these POAs responsible for 1/10th of the agency's ACTUAL expense, or are all of the POA members being told theirs is the only “Association” being managed, and thus requiring full bill being footed by each of them?

Many times have I requested the financial statements of the POA I paid dues to to check the numbers myself; however at this point, Nick Mitchell is completely ignoring my communications.  

(As a heads up, I have been quite vocal in my discoveries (posting them on by blog) during my numerous attempts to get my concerns resolved… so I am slightly worried this might have given Nick Mitchell and his Realtor buddies time to destroy evidence, shuffle funds, fabricate receipts, etc. I am writing your office as a last resort).

In any case, it's clear that he is mixing up all these legal entities in one PO Box, that means there should be just exactly one PO Box bill being paid to our most wonderful United States Postal Service.  This also means that whatever "Postal Expense" is recorded on the legal books of each of these 10 entities (some of which are supposed non-profits) is indeed NOT TRACEABLE and is thus being FALSIFIED in records to the cities, states, and federal government --- to both the public and to members. Fraud indeed. Little markers that point to putrid, rotten corruption.

I am also concerned with his role in spreading misinformation regarding his inability to be “fired” when communicating with property owners.  

According to what they are touting to members Nick Mitchell has "bulletproof" job security… (NOTE: this information is not deemed factual; it is simply information MSPOA, Inc. wants parcel owners to believe; it is available on  here the ~33rd paragraph.) :
If we ever folded, the Association would not only face the ignominy of having failed to work together to preserve over 1500 parcel owners’ common interests, but have insult added to injury by paying some disinterested professional — often a bill-by-the-hour attorney, bankruptcy trustee or accountant — to take over current volunteer board decisions that could leave members voiceless in home front matters now taken for granted. All in addition to the salary already paid our professional manager, who’d stay on.
This is so wrong it should be criminal... the association folds, but he gets to keep his salary AND gets to decide which one of his Real Estate buddies will "profit" from the association folding? Or even  threatening to fold, as the case may be?

Is it coincidence that the REALTOR agency he works at specializes in the footwork needed to start foreclosing properties? There are plenty of people out there who make a buck on threats alone. How often does your office audit real estate companies that do this kind of terrible thing?

Clearly Nick Mitchell the "consultant" is abusing whatever power of attorney he has, using FUD to promote his and his cronies' highly unethical agenda which includes:   
  • Imposing (what may be illegal) transfer fees that benefit no one but him and his companies, personally
  • Accelerating the pace at which properties can be "foreclosed" upon for lack of paying these fees (which appear to start accumulating before a parcel owner even has legal title)... snowballing them before a parcel owner even has a chance to be aware they exist.
  • Aggressively adding collection costs to a parcel owner's invoice at random intervals -- possibly dependent upon how much vengeance he has toward an individual entity.  He clearly does not like me and all my questions.
  • Deliberately denying parcel owners a neutral channel of grievance for his (and his company's) invoicing mistakes or intentional inflations. 
  • Continually refusing to provide clear and open book accounting to the parcel owners regarding use of their fees and funds.
  • Probable mail fraud and tax fraud.
  • Misrepresenting real estate expenses across multiple legal entities (only a gut feeling since I've been unable to audit the financial statements myself)
As a final note, regarding my latest invoice from Nick Mitchell's "Association Management Services"... I moved in October of last year, and paid for mail forwarding.  However, I never received these invoices they are claiming I was sent. I am certain they were not sent.

Last year at the members' meeting, the manager had a "brilliant idea” to help the association.. that plan is to start aggressively "foreclosing" on parcels, adding a weekly fee to parcel owners who have overdue invoices.  Absolutely disgusting. 

Real estate agents are by far the most sleazy, maleficence-intentioned people in existence. There seems to be no despicable thing they won't do to extort a few thousand dollars here and a few more there... it adds up so quickly. In my observation, REALTORS and their agents are by far the most deliberately tax-evading “professionals”, continually abusing the spirit of the law.  It is criminal what they do, gleefully marking up their "services" beyond what is fair and reasonable, forcing people to take out bigger loans to give them lump sum payments. 

Yet somehow, some way, they continually manage to pervert the system... over and over and over again.  This is wrong. I'm petitioning for MAXIMUM JAIL TIME for Nicholas Mitchell and for each and every individual who conspiring as part of his criminal scheme to defraud landowners. 

L.S. Cook, MBA

Note:  Comments on this story disabled.  To participate in the discussion or to learn how to take action as a citizen taxpayer, POA, or litigant in a class action suit, please see:  which is where we're collecting facts, research and sources.  If you know of other POAs implementing similar schemes, please follow a similar path:  gather evidence, find others victimized in the similar way and report the facts when you contact the Attorney General or the tax fraud reporting entity of your state.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fennica escorted out of Portland

Today was a day for the books, at least in terms of environmental activism.  The Fennica, an icebreaker employed by Shell Oil, received a police and coast guard escort as it exited the Port of Portland early Thursday evening.

A police and coast-guard escort

Protesters from Greenpeace who'd dangled suspended from mountaineering equipment under the St. John's Bridge ~40 hours or so prior to this escort were ready to attempt to slow down this boat's as it was in a hurry. 

Three of the 13 dangling protesters were forcibly removed from the bridge, so this boat could go underneath, and make its way back to the Arctic, where it will stand by in case one of the cap stacks blows a gasket.
Fennica got an escort because it was in a hurry, and under a deadline.  Yup.  Break out the big guns in law enforcement to ensure that corporate interests get where they're needing to go, when they need to get there.





Tuesday, March 17, 2015

KwikPay and RenWeb -- Nelnet's malware exploits the student loan industry

Was your student loan debt acquired illegally?  How malicious is KwikPay?  The $133 Billion Dollar Questions...

If your student loan balance is going nowhere, and if you use or have been enticed by your loan "servicer" to use a little piece of software called KwikPay -- you may wish to read ahead.  Especially if your intentions are to minimize the actual dollar amount of interest (or interest + principle) paid. 


Background: doing a little research on something only tangentially related to student loans, I happened across a couple intriguing posts on reddit... have a read  here, here and here.  Immediately my intuitive hackles went up:  something is not right.  And thus the "little" research led to more research, and some pretty interesting discoveries. 

First and foremost: be informed that any company that uses KwikPay or Renweb is, in some way, affiliated with Nelnet.  This is not good thing.   

Nelnet, AKA "National Education Loan Network, Inc." is a behemoth publicly-traded, for-profit company that operates under a vast number of names and pseudonyms.  Nelnet operates at least 47 subsidiaries (probably more today; but as of 2008 there were at least 47 -- see Footnote 1) and handles upward of $133.6 BILLION DOLLARS in student loans debts.

This might be an admirable or impressive feat but for the reality that most of the "business" associated with these student loans was obtained illegally.

Keep in mind that the $133.6 BILLION DOLLARS number does not include side deals where Nelnet has aggressively marketed its KwikPay malware and injected it into supposedly "competing" loan service companies such as Edfinancial, Charter One Bank, First Mark Credit Services, etc.   How on Earth one company has been "entrusted" with so much student loan debt-handling is beyond comprehension.   

The fundamental problem with KwikPay is exactly like this redditor mentioned -- that the portions of your payment getting applied to interest and principle are seemingly random, especially for borrowers with multiple kinds of "loans" bundled (aka "consolidated") under this one servicer.  

This malware is programmed to apply interest vs. principle in a way that forces borrowers to maximize interest payments paid to the banks; this, of course, increases both the amount and the lifespan of the loan and makes paying it down that much harder.  The formula for even "simple" interest:  I = prt is easily manipulated when you let them play with the other variables in whatever manner they wish.

Getting this straightened out is not only something they make difficult, but something that they actively discourage you from doing (or know how to do).


Some recent data about Nelnet from a recent earnings report:

"Nelnet Reports Fourth Quarter 2014 Results -

- Servicing $133.6 billion student loans for 5.9 million borrowers under government contract
- 30 percent increase in payment processing revenue driven by RenWeb acquisition
- Purchased $6.1 billion of loans during 2014"

Historical Facts: 

Nelnet was sued a few years ago under the False Claims Act. The details of this
case were obtained through WikiLeaks, and links to the source documents have been included for convenience:

The TL;DR version of a 285 page suit:

As part of some incentive for "quick and dirty" regulation compliance, Nelnet was able to inject its malware into numerous Colleges, Universities, and alumni associations; students and graduates from over one hundred colleges and Universities (see list starting on page 14 or Footnote 2) ... were steered toward using Nelnet's exit counseling software -- software that was specifically designed to induce students into a transaction with Nelnet and JP Morgan / Citigroup for any FFELP consolidation loans.  Highlights from the case:
  • Nelnet made fraudulent and misleading statements on its website that consolidating the FFELP loans with Nelnet entitled them to a 6 month forebearance.
    • By conducing them to consolidate FFELP-eligible loans before their grace period runs out, and by offering them forbearance for which they are not entitled, Nelnet yields loans with higher interest payments and loan balances that extend for longer than they otherwise would. JP Morgan and Citigroup delight in this.
    • Nelnet failed to reveal that by consolidating, borrowers would lose certain rights the government grants on Perkins loans (lower interest rates, ability to discharge) 
  • JPMorgan and Citigroup were named as aiders and abettors to Nelnet for "knowingly assist[ing] in the improper acts, plans, schemes and transactions"
    •  There was a single plan for Nelnet, JP Morgan and Citigroup to obtain payment of US money by presenting as many FFELP claims as possible.  JP Morgan and Citigroup took advantage of this plan to obtain the maximum amount of US money, with overt wrongful acts
  • Nelnet agents were required to make 100+ telephone calls per day soliciting people to complete loan consolidations; they were specifically instructed to present misleading statements regarding eligibility and savings over the life of the loan.
    • However, the facts have shown that "individuals who consolidate their student loans with Nelnet end up paying more interest over the life of their loans and make payments for longer periods of time"

Very sadly and quite unfortunately... Nelnet, JP Morgan and Citibank's attorneys + lobbyists were (and still are) very powerful.  They weaseled the judicial system to get this lawsuit thrown out (albeit from one man, not from anybody else who wishes to pursue it).   The bad guys got a small victory -- it was “settled” for a measly $55 million (, none of which went to distressed students who were taken by this scam.

The original whistleblower – Rudy Vigil – had worked for Nelnet in the heyday of scamming students out of college – he ended up financially destitute and is reported to have filed bankruptcy. 

Now, About RenWeb...

So with that little whistleblower blip taken care of, and the asset of a formula that has been "proven" to work with little or no takedown by the government, Nelnet now sets its sights on target: RenWeb.

RenWeb is a recent acquisition.  It at first appears to be an innocent and simple tool that can allow parents to track their childrens' school involvement; however, it is much more than that.  Pieces of RenWeb allow students to apply for tuition and financial assistance... and it gathers both performance and income-sensitive data, data that is surely very valuable for targeting likely defaulters.  Given Nelnet's historical actions, it's highly likely that this is an attempt to duplicate former success by getting the malware injection even sooner into the process -- by going after students' parents and a number of private or religious-based institutions.

To Do:  

The CFPB is soliciting borrowers’ complaints. The agency invites borrowers to submit complaints online or call a toll-free number: (855) 411-2372.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is just about the only political person who can be counted on to stand up for the rights of student borrowers.  But if you know of any more, please mention them...

Expect to see a lot of lawsuits on the horizon for Nelnet and its cronies.    

KeyWords:  EdFinancial, Nelnet, Kwikpay, Student Loans, 5280 Solutions, Firstmark, Renweb

 Footnote 1:  Some of Nelnet Subsidaries (direct + indirect) are known as Education Solutions, Inc (Lincoln, NE); First National Life Insurance Company of the USA (Lincoln, NE); Lincoln Square Funding, LLC; Nelnet Student Asset Funding Extendible CP;  M &P Building LLC (Lincoln, NE); Peterson's Nelnet LLC (Lawrenceville, NJ); CUnet, LLC (Wyckhoff, NJ); Loanstar Assets Partners, LP (Delaware); Loanstar Assets GP (Delaware + Nebraska); Chela Education Funding, Inc. (NE); College Bound Loans, Inc. (Warwick, RI); National Honor Roll, L.L.C. (Lynbrook, NY); Student Marketing Group, Inc. (Lynbrook, NY);  FACTS Management (Lincoln, NE); infiNET Integrated Solutions (NE);  Shockley Financial Corp (Aurora, CO); SLAAA Acquisition Corp (Lincoln, NE);  Student Loan Acquisition Authority of Arizona, LLC (Delaware + Nebraska); National Education Loan of New England, Inc. (Warwick, RI); MELMAC, LLC (organized in Delaware - based in Portland, ME); MELMAC, Inc. (organzied in Nevada - Portland, ME); NHELP, Inc. (various states and cities); InTutition, Inc. (organized in Florida, based in Lincoln, NE); ClassCredit, Inc. (organized in Florida, based in Lincoln, NE), FirstMark Services, LLC (Woodbury, MN); 5280 Solutions (direct subsidiary Littleton, CO);  National Higher Loan Education Program, Inc (Lincoln, NE);  

Footnote 2:  Schools targeted by Nelnet between 1998 - 2008:  Boise State University; Bowie State University; Central Michigan University; Cleary University; Clemson University; Cleveland State University; College of Charleston; Colorado State University; CC of Baltimore County; ECU; Eastern University; Washington University; Embry-Riddle; Emporia State U; Florida Coastal School of Law; Florida International University; Fort Hays State; Georgia College & State University; Georgia State U; Georgia Tech; Grand Canyon U; Hawaii Pacific U; Idaho State U; Indiana University; Iona College; James Madison University; The U of Kansas; Kansas State U; Langston University; Le Moyne College; Life University; Louisiana State University; Manhattan College; Medical University of OH; Miami University; Midland Lutheran College; North Carolina State; Northeastern State U; Northern Illinois U; Northern Kentucky U; Northern Michigan U; Northwestern State U; Norwich University; Ohio University; Oklahoma Christian University; Old Dominion University; Prescott College; Queens University of Charlotte; San Jose State U (SJSU); South Dakota State U (SDSU); Tarleton; Texas A&M; Texas Tech; Troy University; University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC); Union College; The University of Akron; U of Alaska - Fairbanks; U of Arizona; University of Central OK; U of Colorado; U of Dayton; U of Detroit-Mercury; University of Illinois; University of Kentucky; U of Louisiana; U of Missouri;  U of Maryland; The University of Memphis; University of Nevada; University of New England; University of New Mexico; University of North Florida; University of South Alabama; The University of South Dakota; University of South Florida; University of Toledo; University of Wisconsin; University of Nebraska at Kearney; University of New Orleans; Washburn; Wilkes University;   

Footnote 3:   This author believes that you should never trust website software that uses ".aspx" in its URL bar.

Footnote 4:  Malware is computer software that injects itself into a system and adds significant transactional burden and "load" to systems.  It does not go away on its own and must be forcefully removed.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why I'm a boat rocker.

"You're rocking the boat.  They don't like that."  

A comment I heard just this week... one woman chatting with another woman about how she did it... how was she able to overcome the overwhelming gender bias in this industry and join a team with an employer who actually cares?

How did she do it?  By not rocking the boat.

I've had this ... I guess we could call it a "conversation" with myself at various points in my life.  Usually it's when I'm getting washed ashore and clinging to dear land, gasping for air:  Oh, geeze. I rocked the boat too hard, again!  And everybody, like, freaked out.  They threw me overboard!  How dare they!?  

Why did they do that?  Because I rocked the boat.

Yes, rather than risk their boat getting toppled by little me, they decided that the smartest thing to do is just throw the boat rocker overboard.  Gee thanks.  But the interesting thing is that never has any team member from any boat I've been thrown from stopped with pause to think or ask logical questions about things like physics or wind, materials science, currents or compass...

Because all they can see is that their boat is getting rocked.   

If only they could see... logical questions have logical answers.  It's not the boat rocker who ultimately destroys the boat and ruins everything; it's the boat rocker who exposes the vulnerabilities of the boat and can help everybody be more prepared.  Before it's too late.  But the key is that ... you've gotta let the boat rocker stay on the boat.  Having somebody who's not afraid to push the limits of our boat is a good thing. 

The dearth of women and women in leadership roles in technology is obvious to anybody who has worked in technology.  Once in a while somebody will create a little movement ... some noise or a "non profit" or a summit or something.  But these blips are hardly ever noticed on the larger radar.  They fade and disappear.  People forget.  Men keep getting promoted over women, and they almost never have to fight quite as hard for the raises or pay they deserve.  Venture capitalists keep gladly seed-funding extras from The Social Network.   Firms from A...Z (pardon the pun) keep gladly throwing millions at startups which have been documented to willfully discriminate and retaliate against women.

Partially my (yes anecdotal) observation, but I'm not the only one who has noticed.
"We need a national conversation that examines the barriers that hold women back and prevent us from achieving true equality. Additionally and just as importantly, we need personal conversations among us all -- managers and employees, friends, colleagues, partners, parents and children -- where issues about gender are discussed openly.
The blunt truth is that men still run the world." ~ Sheryl Sandberg 2013

My two cents for the conversation is pretty simple:  there are only two different kinds of humans in the world:  Those who actively exploit women, and those who actively speak out against the exploitation of women.   Keeping your mouth shut for fear of rocking the boat -- this is a form of apathy all its own.  

The exploiters have general strategies:  when she's smart, competent, hard working, and nice, underpay her.  She's easy to take advantage of.  Besides, when we really drill down and look at things, she just doesn't  deserve the same basis as the guys on her team.   Or better yet -- why allow her to be part of the company at all?  Why not make sure she's thoroughly plundered of her wages by a middleman "temp agency" or headhunter?  The more fear and job insecurity you can instill in her, the harder she'll try. 

The other strategy the exploiters take is this:  when she's  smart, competent, hard working, and strong enough to stand up for herself, the exploitation takes the form of failure to hire, hiring with a longer "probation" period, bullying, biased performance reviews, or the ultimate insult of getting fired.

I've tried both the "nice" and the "strong" approach, and the unfortunate reality is that neither one really works.   The number of people who actively exploit women is still too big, and the quantitative number of women who aren't afraid to rock the boats is still too small.

But I'm not about to stop rocking boats.

Because it's not the boat rocker who ultimately destroys a boat.  It's the boat rocker who exposes boats that simply do not possess enough integrity to handle the seas.  And those are boats I don't wanna be on anyway.