Civility

No, it’s not Okay to punch reporters.  I have some thoughts (best unexpressed) about reporters and pundits who couldn’t seem to move past the Benghazi Bamboozle and Ultimate Emails and give voice to reasonable opposition.  I have some thoughts about cable news outlets which prize confrontation above discussion, and who repeatedly request the services of Talking Point Bubble Heads (also best unexpressed.)  However, it is never appropriate to vilify The Press.  After all is said and said again, the Press is the only vocation protected by our Constitution. There’s a reason for that.

No, the press is not the enemy of the state.  To make this statement with any sincerity is to contend that the State should be (1) immune from criticism, (2) enabled to declare its own truth, and (3) able to defend its singular version of ‘reality’ against all comers.  This is not the basis for a democratic society.

No, the function of the press is not to make anyone feel comfortable.  Am I uncomfortable with some of the criticisms of the Affordable Care Act, yes, I am, but I am also willing to admit that the law needs some revision to deal with problems in the individual health insurance market.  I don’t need to be comfortable, I need to be informed.  I need information about options, such as a “public option,” or “single payer,” structures.  What I need is more light with less heat.  I would like to hear or read an explication of the problems associated market issues in the insurance business.  The function of the Press is to provide the informed discussion about those options.

No, punching out a reporter, and then cheering the assailant isn’t manly.  It’s cowardly.  It’s “Junior High.”  Or, it’s messaging for people who may be long gone from the creaking lockers of the ‘old high school now the junior high’ chronologically, but not so far removed in social and emotional immaturity.  It’s the bravado of the bar room.  It’s the bombast of the insecure.  It’s the reflection of the dark place in which to offer arguments against a political, or ideological sentiment isn’t differentiated from a personal assault.

No, physically attacking (or indulging in rancid verbal attacks) isn’t the new normal.  Such things are socially unacceptable.  They make the news broadcasts, as do highway accidents, gun fights, and public brawls — but that doesn’t make them “normal.”  Attaching the word “normal” to instances of brutality, incivility, and immature rancor is to demean the efforts of every parent on the planet advising children to behave themselves in both public and private places.  Norms are standards of social behavior, to be considered typical and expected.  We don’t expect people to indulge in emotional outbursts of undisciplined aggression.  That would violate our Norms.  As in “normal” behavior.

We could do with a bit more normality these days.

Comments Off on Civility

Filed under media, Politics

Speculation and Speculators

So, the President of the United States delivered a lecture to the members of NATO today about “paying up,” and focusing on global terrorism.  Fine and dandy…members who can pay, should pay and there is a need to address incidents of global terrorism.  That said, one of NATO’s prime reasons for existence is as a North Atlantic counterweight to RUSSIAN incursions into Europe.  And we have a President who seems preternaturally incapable of making strong comments about the Putin Regime.  Since everyone else is piling into the discussion, DB will add some questions to the combination Mare’s and Hornet’s nests.

How did characters like Flynn, Manafort, Page, Sessions et. alia. get involved in the efforts to effect the election of Donald J. Trump?  We all know they had contacts with Russians.  Some contacts were reported, others were not.  Mere contact with Russians doesn’t necessarily prove nefarious purposes, but the context and timing of some contacts is certainly open to question.  Investigations and inquiries will add to the chronology and context, but that doesn’t serve to shed light on WHY this cast of characters was drawn to the Trump Campaign.

Are there among us those who would do the Kremlin’s bidding? For purposes of their own, or at the behest of the administration?

What is it that the Kremlin wants?  The Center for Strategic and International Studies issued its Kremlin Playbook in October 2016, with the announcement that in Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Bulgaria:

“This research determined that Russia has cultivated an opaque web of economic and political patronage across the region that the Kremlin uses to influence and direct decisionmaking. This web resembles a network-flow model—or “unvirtuous circle”—which the Kremlin can use to influence (if not control) critical state institutions, bodies, and economies, as well as shape national policies and decisions that serve its interests while actively discrediting the Western liberal democratic system.”

How the Russians proposed to do this is summarized in Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s prepared remarks for the May 8, 2017 session on Russian Interference in politics. (note: PDF)

What elements might create the confluence between Russian interests and American politicians and political campaigns?   There are as many possibilities as there are individuals involved, perhaps ranging from personal animosities to broader financial entanglements.  Nor should we dismiss the possibility of a combination of motives.

One avenue of inquiry might be the financial relationship between the Trump business operations and Russian funding. Trump’s “comeback” from financial disaster in the 1990’s has been cited as evidence of a shift from American banks to a reliance on Deutsche Bank.  Evidence unearthed thus far doesn’t substantiate claims of Russian financial entanglement, however there is much to be said for the Deep Throat (Mark Felt) advice during the Watergate investigations — follow the money.

We know from the CSIS study that “Using shell corporations and other devices, Russia establishes illicit financial relationships to develop leverage against prominent figures, through the carrot of continued bribery or the stick of threatened disclosure.”

What might we learn as investigations of the connections between Trump businesses and shell corporations continue?   Would this explain the attraction of the ‘cast of characters’ to the Trump campaign and administration?  Would this help explain the use of other Russian tactics — propaganda, fake news, bots, and Internet Trolls? Hacking and theft of political information?  Timed leaks of damaging materials?

There are two courts in play in these controversies — the judiciary and the court of public opinion.  While it may be difficult to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a proximate cause of Trump’s pro-Putin stance is financial entanglement in a court of law, it’s far more likely that the political court of public opinion will find Trump’s proclivity toward pandering to the Russian Bear ever more unpalatable.  Stay tuned, it’s going to be a long and sometimes tedious ride.

Comments Off on Speculation and Speculators

Filed under Politics

Let’s Review and Make Some Conjectures

Senator McConnell couldn’t have made himself more clear to the Republican leadership — let’s please have less drama from the White House so we can get along with our agenda.  Less tactfully phrased, McConnell and his myrmidons such as Representative Mark Amodei (NV2) and Senator Heller (R-NV) isn’t going to do anything about the dolt in the Oval Office until after they get what they want.  They want two things: (1) to return the control of the health insurance market back to the insurance companies; and (2) to dismantle the financial and consumer protections enacted in the Dodd Frank Act, and the Sarbanes Oxley Act.  Not sure about this, then please consider the current push for the Choice Act:

“At a time when too many hard-working American families are still recovering from the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crash, deregulating Wall Street’s biggest firms again makes no sense. Yet the Financial CHOICE Act threatens to do exactly that.

It would allow the biggest Wall Street banks to opt-out of significant financial protection rules, while those banks that remain in the regulatory system would be blessed with watered down versions of once-tough protections, like living wills and stress tests. Perhaps most worryingly, the CHOICE Act would cripple two of the most important post-crash reforms: the Financial Stability and Oversight Council (FSOC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).” [the Hill]

Review: The CFPB was the agency which brought to light, and then levied fines against Wells Fargo for egregious violations of their customers’ privacy and financial interests.  Little wonder the banks aren’t happy with those “bureaucrats.” Less wonder why the Republicans aren’t going to do anything about the President who had to fire his National Security Adviser — until the Choice Act is safely delivered to his desk.

We should also recall that the Republican version of the healthcare reform act is much less about health insurance reform than it is about bestowing tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, to the tune of close to $765 billion over the next ten years.  We can easily conjecture that the GOP will do nothing about the man in the office who fired the US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, and then the emissary from the Department of Justice who warned him about the dangers presented by the presence of General Flynn.  At least nothing will be done, until the Republicans can cut Medicaid to the barest of bones:

His (Trump’s) promise would be violated by House GOP bill, as it seeks to freeze Medicaid expansion money for states in 2020 by withhold funding at the enhanced match rate for any new enrollees after that point. Other beneficiaries are at risk with the more long-term transformation that program stands to undergo under the GOP bill. The legislation would overhaul the program—now an unlimited federal match rate—into a per capita cap system, meaning that states would get a fixed amount of funding per enrollee. The Congressional Budget Office, analyzing an initial version of the legislation, predicted out of the 24 million Americans who would lose coverage under the earlier GOP bill compared to current law, 14 million were due to its changes to Medicaid. [TPM]

Given there is no CBO scoring on the current edition, we can’t be certain that States like Nevada which expanded Medicaid enrollment in order to make health care access affordable, won’t be left in the lurch — Congressman Amodei’s tortured logic to the contrary.  So, nothing is likely to be done about the executive who fired the Director of the FBI who was supervising the investigation of Russian meddling in our elections (and possible Trump connections to that meddling) until Medicaid cuts are also tucked into the President’s portfolio for a signing ceremony.

When will Republicans address the Leaker-in-Chief’s discussions with the Russian visitors to the White House?  Probably not until the budget cuts to the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, Medicare, Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education come to fruition.  Do we have a situation in which the following is true?  If the Trumpian honeymoon isn’t over, it soon will be.

That sentiment was echoed by a prominent GOP consultant I spoke to who asked not to be named to offer a candid assessment of Trump and congressional Republicans.
“The question for Republicans is whether this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said the source. “Forty percent approval is not the issue; an erratic, rudderless, leaderless White House is.” [CNN]

The camel’s back may not bend until the Republicans have seen their agenda realized, their Randian Dreams made true, and their Austerity Government imposed on the American people.   The damage of this administration and the Republicans in Congress who enable and excuse him is only starting to come to fruition.

 

Comments Off on Let’s Review and Make Some Conjectures

Filed under Amodei, Comey, conservatism, corporate taxes, financial regulation, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, income tax, McConnell, Medicaid, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics, public health

apologies

Again, I owe regular readers and all others, an apology for not updating this blog.  The reason is simple, a case of Shingles.  I’ll not bestow upon you my sermon on Get The Shot.  I will encourage anyone over 50 to get the vaccine because the rash is only the beginning. Anyone who has gone through this will attest that the ‘aftermath’ nerve damage is extremely unpleasant.  It shouldn’t be too much longer before DB is back to sitting comfortably and typing away, but for now I beg for your patience. Thank you very much.

Comments Off on apologies

Filed under Politics

Follow the Money: The Internet No-Privacy Act in the 115th Congress

The Verge offers a public service for American voters, compiling the votes on the Internet No-Privacy Bill HJRes 43 and the money received from Big ISPs.  Thus we discover that Senator Dean Heller received $78,950 from industry sources, which doesn’t put him “up there” with the $251,110 given to Senator Mitch McConnell, and the $215,000 awarded to Senator John Thune, but nevertheless a nice contribution.

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) received a tidy $22,000 contribution from the industry coffers.

What the resolution does is muddy the waters about enforcement of FCC rules, Verge explains:

“That brings us to the privacy rules. Through a rarely invoked law, Congress was able to take back the privacy rules set by Wheeler, effectively undoing his interpretation of what the Telecom Act says about customer data. That leaves a gap: we don’t know how Chairman Pai will interpret the law, or what rules he’ll set. He might replace them with looser rules that take after the FTC or wait to roll back the Title II interpretation overall. But until he acts, we can’t say for sure what carriers will be allowed to do.

At the same time, the absence of firm rules could be the whole point. Pai is a free-market conservative, and believes that companies will typically find the optimal solution without government interference. Holding off on setting new rules could be right in line with that philosophy, leaving companies to make their own judgments on customer data without fear that they’ll be punished for overstepping FCC guidelines. Unfortunately for privacy-minded consumers, that would leave few legal protections for private data shared with carriers.”

That last line is rather chilling.

What the advertisers want is a land amenable to “granular personalized targeting,” read advertising directed to specific consumers for specific products and services.  Those advertisers can just as easily be political groups and organizations.

The final irony is that Our information may be aggregated and sold to the highest bidders, but members of Congress are protected.  The ‘yes’ votes may be saying, in essence, “I’ve got my privacy, you try to get yours.”

Comments Off on Follow the Money: The Internet No-Privacy Act in the 115th Congress

Filed under Amodei, Heller, Internet, Politics, privacy

SJR 34 and Your Internet Privacy

The purpose of SJR 34 (and HJR 86) was simple: To allow Internet Service Providers to collect and sell your Internet browsing history.  Not only did Senator Dean Heller support this, he signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill on March 7, 2017, one of 23 sponsors to do so.  Who’s impacted by this? Anyone who links through Comcast (17 million customers), AT&T (another 17 million customers), Time Warner Cable (add another 14 million customers), Century Link (additional 6.4 million customers), Charter (another 5 million customers), and a host of smaller providers. [Ecom] (See also PEcom)

Nevada customers of AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, Charter, Cox and others, are also among those whose private browsing history can be tracked, collected, and sold off. [into link]

It seems bad enough to have the ISPs sell off information about browsing history to advertisers, who after browsing one day for sneakers, would want to be bombarded by advertising for the next year with sneaker ads?  Browsed for ‘best garden supplies?’ Expect ads for plant food, fertilizers, spades, and wheelbarrows for eternity? Then the scenarios become more pernicious.

Browse for information on asthma? Not only is the human browser now in line for a multitude of ads for medications, but there’s a hint here that some personal medical history may have been collected and sold.  The same issue might be raised about those looking up symptoms and treatments for everything from pediatric illnesses to Alzheimer’s Disease.  Thus far we’re only talking about the initial sales, and the use of the collections by commercial advertisers. However, there’s a question about what constitutes a buyer for the information?

The buyer might not have to be, for example, the Interpublic Group of New York City, one of the nation’s largest advertising firms. Could the buyer be the WPP Group of London, UK? Or, the Dentsu Group, of Tokyo. Could the buyer be RMAA, the largest advertising firm in Russia? Is there any protection in the bill to prevent the secondary sale of browser histories from an advertising agency to a data management and analysis company? What we have herein is a bill to allow the transfer of massive amounts of valuable data collected from individuals in the United States to the highest bidder, with little or no consideration of the after effects.

Gee, let’s hypothesize that I’m a foreign power with some experience dabbling in US state and national elections.  Let’s also assume that the foreign power is familiar with inserting ‘bots’ to drive traffic to particular websites, or insert fake news, confirmation bias ‘news,’ and other practices into the research patterns of American Internet users. What do I want? I want data on where those people ‘go’ on the Internet; the better I know my ‘target’ the better I can hone my message. Do those who go to Senator Bilgewater’s site also tend to go to sites concerning wildlife preservation?  If I can put these two bits of information together I can more effectively insert advertising either for or against the Senator. I can more effectively insert phony information into my messaging for the supporters or opponents of Bilgewater.  In short, I can ‘dabble’ more efficiently. Even more bluntly, have we handed our adversaries more ammunition for their advertising and propaganda guns?

The Senate twin in the House (HJR 86)/SJR 34 passed on March 28, 2017, only Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) voted in favor of the bill; Representatives Kihuen, Titus, and Rosen voted against it. [RC 202]

At the risk of facetiousness  on a serious topic, when Jill, of downtown East Antelope Ear, NV, goes online to search for a bargain on bed sheets, does she find herself viewing a plethora of ads for sex toys, a result of Jack’s periodic perusal of pornography sites? Would a simple search for high thread count sheets yield the splitting of those sheets in the Jack and Jill household? At least Jack and Jill will know whom to call about the issue — Senator Dean Heller and Representative Mark Amodei, who thought selling browser histories to be a grand idea at the time.

Comments Off on SJR 34 and Your Internet Privacy

Filed under Amodei, Heller, Internet, media, Nevada politics, Politics, privacy, Republicans, Titus

Infrastructure Funding and Financing: Another Trumpian Disaster in the Making

Let’s start with the ASCE’s report card on Nevada’s infrastructure.  The last report card on our kitchen table gives us an overall average C-.  Nevada’s two lowest grades (both D’s) are in categories for schools and dams. The claims from the current White House administration would imply that Nevada will see marvelous levels of investment in Job Creating Infrastructure Projects.  Not. So. Fast.

There are some questions related to projected infrastructure legislation which Nevada elected officials may want to consider very carefully.

#1. Does the infrastructure legislation address Nevada’s greatest needs?  The answer at present is “maybe not.” The commentary coming from the White House, and from members of Congress imply that most of the infrastructure plans are part of the Transportation budget.  [Hill] Again, roads and bridges are important, so are airports, but the greatest needs in this state are for projects and funding for upgrading schools and dams.

This past February a dam failed in Elko county, flooding farmland, homes, and stopping traffic on the Union Pacific RR. Obviously dams must eventually get their due. First, we should notice that the state of Nevada doesn’t keep a ranking of hazardous dams, most of which fall into the “earthen” category.  Secondly, it should be noted that a high hazard dam refers to the damage possible should the dam fail, not to the actual condition of the dams themselves.  Third, many dams in this state are privately owned.  About one third of our 650+ dams are constructed for flood control, another third for mining operations, and the remaining third fall into the amorphous category “anything else.” The state has been relying on 11 engineers to keep track of the 650+ dams, and Governor Sandoval’s budget proposal calls for three additional engineers in the Water Division for the next fiscal term. [LVRJ]

School facility upgrades and construction generally lie outside the common understanding of ‘infrastructure’ expenditures, being the province of local school districts, and based on the shifting sands of bond issues. Nothing signaled by the administration thus far would suggest expansion of federal interest in this category of infrastructure investment.

#2.  Will the legislation address Nevada’s needs for the construction and maintenance of roads and highways?  Maybe not.   The situation at present:

“The Nevada Department of Transportation maintains 5,300 miles of state highways, which includes many rural roadways within Nevada. Without an increase in the gas tax since 1992, the state funding levels have stagnated and Federal funding has remained at a similar level the past 5 years. Hence, the maintenance of the existing highway system has fallen behind and the state will need approximately $285 million annually for the next decade to catch up on the current backlog of highway maintenance. The current funding levels provide only 60% to 70% of the required funding to maintain the state highways. This has resulted in an increase in the number of lane miles requiring either an overlay or full rehabilitation from 28% two years ago to 38% currently.” [ASCE]

New construction is great, no one should argue against it where it’s needed to improve the flow and traffic and attendant commerce, however, when nearly 40% of the current roadways need overlays or full rehabilitation, the problem is focused on maintaining what we have at present not necessarily on new construction projects.

#3. Does the administration’s plan differentiate between financing and funding?  This is important.  A definition is in order:

“Infrastructure funding and financing are different concerns. Funding specifies how resources will be collected to pay for infrastructure construction, operations and maintenance, and repairs. Financing generally concerns how to raise the large upfront costs needed to build the infrastructure.” [EPI]

So, the administration has spoken of “a trillion dollars in infrastructure investment,” what does this mean?  For the administration is apparently means “leveraging private dollars.” Again, some translation is necessary.  What the administration is talking about is the financing of construction projects. And, we’re back to the difference between funding and financing — if states are facing the same questions posed back in 2015, when Republicans proposed that HTF projects be limited to the revenue accumulated from gasoline and diesel taxation, then many projects, especially of the improvement and maintenance variety will be put on hold. [BondBuyer] Infrastructure funding will be a function of how the administration budget addresses the issue of raising the money necessary to construct, operate, and maintain.  However, if the administration is speaking of “leveraging private funds,” then we should assume that the White House is referring to new construction.  And, now we enter the land of the P3.

A P3 is: “Public-private partnerships (P3s) are contractual agreements formed between a public agency and a private sector entity that allow for greater private sector participation in the delivery and financing of transportation projects.” [DOT]

Let’s put this question of infrastructure investment in purely financial terms:  Who benefits from P3 structuring?  Hint: It isn’t necessarily the state and local governments because bond yields for such things as school construction, road construction, and other large projects have been dropping since their “highs” around 1982 (13+%) to the current rates (3.5+%). [MuniBond]

Bluntly stated, it’s not the financing that’s a problem for state and local governments, they’re paying almost historic low yields (interest) on the bonds they’ve issued for major projects.  The administration is approaching the infrastructure investment issue from the wrong end of the stick — focusing on the financing and not the funding.

#4. Is the use of the P3 structure based on the needs and capacities of the states and municipalities or the desires of private investment?  Some attention is required because:

“In theory, they can(P3)  be effective—but they provide no free lunches. Funding must still be found for the projects—and ordinary households will end up paying the costs through taxes or user fees. In addition, the details of contract construction and oversight are daunting and require a competent, democratically accountable government to manage them. In short, P3s do not allow for simple outsourcing because they do not bypass the need to fund infrastructure or the need for competent public management.” [EPI]

Or, P3s don’t replace the more traditional methods of financing — local and state taxation is still required for paying project costs. There’s nothing ‘simple’ about these arrangements, and they require extensive oversight and management.  Before leaping into a P3 it should be revealed that these generally allow governments and investors to ignore the requirement of Davis-Bacon Act ‘prevailing wages.’ This may ‘create jobs’ but it doesn’t create ‘good paying jobs’ in the construction sector.

#5. Does the administration plan specify financing and funding of infrastructure projects or is it simply a “tax credit” giveaway to investors?  It certainly sounds like it at this point, but the administration, as is becoming more obvious every day, seems to be short on specifics, and the only solid at the moment is the “tax credit” portion of the pronouncements.  If this is a tax credit for projects already in the planning stage, then it’s hard to characterize this as a bright and shiny new proposal.

#6. Location, Location, Location?  Granted that Nevada is an urban state, with most of the population located in two counties, but the roads, bridges, and dams are aligned through predominantly rural areas. Investors, in P3 or other financing schemes, can clearly see the benefits of construction in urban areas (toll roads, toll bridges, etc.) Rural areas, not so much. Nor does the financing strategy address other infrastructure issues in urban areas — how, for example, does Clark County improve its public transportation facilities and components? Washoe County? Or, Douglas, Lyon counties, and Carson City?  How will investment be directed to poorer areas, or areas under served by current transportation systems? Stated more generally:

“The other problem is that Trump’s approach makes it less likely he’ll actually create new jobs. If the customer base can afford it, and they really need the infrastructure, then the project is almost certainly already profitable and private firms are already willing to do it. The tax credit just sweetens the deal on the margins. Where there’s demand, the private market can already create jobs. The less you’re willing to redistribute, the fewer new jobs you can create.” [TheWeek]

This is another point at which the magic hand of the Market fails on one side and succeeds on the other — where there is demand (and the capacity to meet that demand, the tax credits are minimally useful (except to investors) — where there is great need but little capacity to meet the demand, then the tax credits aren’t an inducement to job creation.

We need to take some care to observe whether the “infrastructure” plan is (1) truly about infrastructure needs in Nevada? (2) truly a job creating plan and not merely a way to get tax credit benefits to the investor class, or ignore the Davis Bacon Act requirements for American workers, (3) about getting the infrastructure investments where it is actually needed.

Caveat Emptor.

 

Comments Off on Infrastructure Funding and Financing: Another Trumpian Disaster in the Making

Filed under Economy, Federal budget, Infrastructure, Nevada highways, Nevada politics, Politics, public transportation