Category Archives: Politics

Heller Has “Concerns,” Let Him Know Ours

Nevada Senator Dean Heller has “concerns” about the TrumpDoesn’tCare bill, he’s had “concerns” before, however if the past is any indication we can expect that there will be some ‘change’ in the measure which will assuage his fretting and he will follow the directions from Senate Majority Leader McConnell and vote in favor of the GOP agenda. Thus far Heller has employed his “If it’s good for Nevada, I’ll vote for it” position — rather like the Yoga Headstand, Crow Position, Whatever — it means relatively little, indicating more often his Invertebrate Emulating A Specimen of Subphylum Vertebrata pose.

This health care bill isn’t good for Nevada.  In fact, it isn’t good for anybody.  Somehow, the dismal bit of legislation put forth after the secret sessions is suppose to address the needs of some 608,960 Nevadans who are currently enrolled in the Medicaid program.  These are people who are (1) aged (2) blind (3) low income, about $16,105 annual income for a single person, the income can be a little higher for (4) pregnant women, and (5) children from families in which the annual earnings are 200% of the poverty rate.   Even at the current level, Nevada still isn’t doing a masterful job of getting adequate health insurance coverage for children; we only have 70.6% of our eligible youngsters enrolled — among the lowest rates in the country.   The result of the GOP bill:

“Nevada’s current total Medicaid spending is about $6.4 billion, but the state only pays $1.1 billion of that; the rest is picked up by the federal government (for the population that was already eligible for Medicaid pre-ACA, the state pays a higher percentage of the cost than they do for the newly eligible population; for people who are newly eligible for Medicaid under the ACA, the federal government paid 100 percent of the cost through 2016, and is now paying 95 percent of the cost).

If Medicaid expansion is repealed and replaced with something that cuts federal funding below what the state currently receives, there are concerns that people could lose coverage or benefits could be cut. House Republicans’ proposal to transition Medicaid to block grants or per-capita allotments would almost certainly result in reduced federal funding.”

Any questions?  No matter if the expansion phase out is 3 years, 10 years, 15 years, a cut in funding is inevitably a cut in benefits (a cut in the insurance coverage) for Nevada citizens.

The analysis is terse and to the point:

“The Senate bill would also cap overall federal spending on Medicaid: States would receive a per-beneficiary allotment of money. The federal payments would grow more slowly than under the House bill starting in 2025. Alternatively, states could receive an annual lump sum of federal money for Medicaid in the form of a block grant.

State officials and health policy experts predict that many people would be dropped from Medicaid because states would not fill the fiscal hole left by the loss of federal money.

“The Senate bill creates an illusion of being less draconian than the House bill, but is arguably more so” on Medicaid, said Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University.”

“Illusion” is the correct term, there’s an illusion that Medicaid would not be decimated by Republican health insurance and federal budget proposals, accepting this illusion is delusional.  The AARP succinctly summarized the issues with the Medicaid cuts:

“The proposed legislation would also make huge cuts to Medicaid by taking $880 billion out of the program by 2026. How? By, among other things, fundamentally changing the way the program is funded. Under the AHCA, Medicaid funding would move from a federal guarantee to match all legitimate state expenditures on health care and long-term services and supports (LTSS) for eligible beneficiaries, to a capped payment system that would give states a fixed dollar amount per enrolled beneficiary.[i]  Although per-enrollee caps respond to changes in enrollment, they do not respond to increases in health care costs attributable to medical or pharmaceutical innovation, nor do they respond to other changes in the health care environment that could affect per-enrollee spending. Health care costs, we all know, are notorious for their rapid rise. The result: an ever-widening gap between cost and funding.”

Merely, delaying the onset of this “ever widening gap” is a callous statement that tax cuts for the wealthy are of greater importance to Republicans than extending health insurance coverage for Nevada citizens.

Contact Senator Heller at 202-224-6244, or 702-388-6605, or 775-686-5729

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Meanwhile back in the real world: Cyber Security Questions

If the American media can get off the horse race/predictable elections tangent it’s been on of late, there are some stories needing far more explication and analysis than they’ve received, a not-so-modest-list on one topic:

Cyber Security:  There are questions in this realm that need to be explored, and if I had my druthers there would be far more discussion of —

(1)  How individuals can secure their data, or at the very least be assured that the results of data mining operations can be regulated such that breaches can be minimized and misuse mitigated?  If you aren’t a bit disturbed by recent Congressional action to allow the collection and compilation of your information from the Internet to the providers — without your consent, and certainly without paying you for it — then please give this another thought or two.   There’s been entirely too much “ho hum” attached to reports of data breaches.  This, in the face of the fact that 47% of data breaches in 2015 were either malicious or criminal in nature.  In 2015 Anthem Inc. was hit, 80 million customers at risk; in 2014 Ebay was hit, 145 million customer records were compromised; also in 2014 76 million JPMorganChase customers had their data in peril. [Bankrate]

There have been other breaches, which hit the news flaring like a roman candle on the 4th of July, and then flaming out of view just as quickly.  Ok, the subject matter is technical and explanations can be tedious, but aside from advising people to secure their data and change passwords, etc. the media has been behind the story in too many cases.

(2) No state Secretary of State and no local election officials want to be the subject of allegations they’ve not secured voter information.  Our ears should perk up when any one or more of these officials say things even remotely related to “it can’t happen here.” We know that this has happened in at least 39 states, and it obviously DID happen here.  Again, if “meddlers” (a kind word for foreign interests — Russian) want to muddle our elections then a break-in to election rolls, coupled with a few changes here and there, mixed with the already documented problems with the Cross Check program, is an obvious recipe for serious issues.

Update:  And the the WTF Moment — Secretary of State Tillerson says his desire is to work with the Russian government on…Cyber security.  We might want to wait on this until we find out the full extent of Russian efforts to intrude on our election systems and election information sources??

(3) Now, imagine that a breach can be made of such things as the Republican National Committee data on US voters. Oh wait.  It has been left vulnerable, for 12 days no less, simply sitting in a cloud file in a nicely packaged spreadsheet format– of nearly 200 million people.  This may not count as a “breach,” perhaps more like a giant leak.  And, will this major spill be investigated?  Broadly reported? Endlessly analyzed?  If the past is any indicator — probably not.  Yet, if major parties or marketers are allowed (maybe even encouraged) to compile large files of voter/customer data, then what liability do these entities have in terms of securing what has been collected?

Common sense would appear to dictate that “if you collect it you must secure it.”  Further, we need to ask: Are current penalties for storing data in such a state that it is vulnerable to attack sufficient to deter collectors from sloppy data management systems? If you haven’t heard talking heads opining on this lately,  neither have I.

Perhaps we should.

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From Deep Throat to Deep Root: Republicans Careless With 200 Million Voter Files

Oh for the Olden Times when the Grand Old Party had its individual and collective knickers in a twist over Secretary Clinton’s “carelessness” with State Department e-mails on <clutch pearls here> a private server…  However, now we have to visit the Business and Technology section of the Washington Post to find the following:

“Detailed information on nearly every U.S. voter — including in some cases their ethnicity, religion and views on political issues — was left exposed online for two weeks by a political consultancy which works for the Republican National Committee and other GOP clients.

The data offered a strikingly complete picture of the voting histories and political leanings of the American electorate laid out on an easily downloadable format, said cybersecurity researcher Chris Vickery. He discovered the unprotected files of 198 million voters in a routine scan of the Internet last week and alerted law enforcement officials.” (emphasis added)

Translation:  Data mined information on 198 million Americans was  collected, collated, compiled, and then left for 12 days in an UNPROTECTED STATE for the eyes of any and all — criminal identity thieves, criminal scammers, and anyone who didn’t want to go to the bother of hacking into any server in any location.  For 12 days all this information was out there, like the food on a buffet — those in line just had to recognize what was on offer.

Where are the calls for hearings?  The Outraged cries for an investigation into how this could have happened?  The questions as to how we might be able to guarantee something this horrendous doesn’t happen again.

If a “good guy” could find this data during a “routine scan” what might happen when someone with less admirable intentions conducts a targeted scan of what’s available on American voters?

Let this sink in.

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Free Association: Follow The Money, Part Two

Recalling that the essential question is why does the current Administration conduct itself with such concern for Russian interests?  The explicit rationale is a rather vague: Wouldn’t it be nice to have better relations with the Russians?  Why and to what ends?  The tangle is greater, and more elusive, in this realm. Some information is public, some is public but wrapped in the comfortable enclosure of shell corporations, and some is hidden from public view entirely at the present.

What is publicly available from several credible sources:

Alan Lichtman — Fortune Magazine, 5/17/17; from Jeff Nesbit — Time Magazine, 8/15/16;  from Jeremy Venook — Atlantic, 5/10/17;  from Michael Crowley — Politico, March 2017; and from Yen & Salma, PBS.org, 5/28/17.  This is +by no means an exhaustive list, as a quick ‘Google’ of Trump + Ties + Russia will quickly reveal.

Further complicating the view, not all ties have to be monetary.  Some can be in the form of patents approved, patents themselves have financial value.  Others can be in the form of real estate transactions.  Still others can be maintained via a carefully crafted set of shell corporations each hiding the transactions between and among them.

The question may boil down to whether or not these ties are so substantial and of such depth that the administration is inevitably bound to respond in some kind to ‘return the favors extended?’

Yet another strand of wool concerns the possibility that the nature of some transactions is such that dealing with the partners constitutes anything from “exceedingly unwise and inappropriate,” to downright illegal.

Another bit of fluffy stuff:  Are some of the transactions made with or among individuals of such an unsavory character that merely dealing with them could render a person vulnerable to blackmail?

The only glimpse we have into some of the inquiries of the Special Counsel that offers any substantial clues to date concerns the hiring choices reported.  How nervous the administration might be about this line of inquiry may be perceived in the administration’s quick reaction which attempts to paint these hires as “tainted by politics,” a charge resting solely on campaign contribution reports during the last 29 years.  Perhaps the more important point is that the hires are specialists:  Andrew Weissman was the lead during the Enron investigation.  Among the hires are a specialist in counter-terrorism, a lawyer who has argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court, and a former assistant special prosecutor during Watergate. [BusInsider]  We might also be able to see something about the direction of the investigation(s) given that Robert Mueller is hiring prosecutors.

We can make some educated conjectures based on this:

“Robert Mueller in recent days has hired lawyers with extensive experience in dealing with fraud, racketeering, and other financial crimes to help him investigate whether President Donald Trump’s associates colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.”

We might also assume that if Mueller is described at meticulous,and Weissman is described as meticulous the investigation is going to last at least until the last T is crossed and I is dotted.  Patience.

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Free Association: Teasing Out The Investigation(s) Collusion Part One

There’s no law saying a blog post has to be explicative or hortatory, sometimes it can be a way to set down thoughts in order to organize their possible relationships, and that is what this post is intended to do.  We have an issue before us:  Why is the current President of the United States so dismissive of allegations of Russian meddling in the last US general election?  Why has he demonstrated so little interest in the results of intelligence community reports and briefings on the subject, and why does it seem that White House policy appears so aligned with Russian interests? (In the context of the NATO speech; the Cuban policy — opening a space for the Russians to fill in; and the changes in the GOP 2016 platform regarding Ukraine and Crimea.)

There are enough strands in this complicated situation to be analogous to a tangled ball of wool.  Teasing them out is a complex exercise on its own.

The “Collusion Strand.”  It’s far too early in the investigations as reported to draw any viable conclusions about possible collusion between the campaign/administration and Russian agents or agencies.

Exploring this strand requires the acceptance of the proposition that the Russians, did, in fact, attempt to meddle in the election with various levels of success in various forms of attacks.

We have evidence at hand that the Russians employed fake or misleading messages on social media in order to advance what they considered their interests in the campaign; which could be categorized as emanating from a desire to support Trump, and/or a desire to defeat Clinton.   We have evidence revealing that the Russians used “bots” and perhaps other means to amplify their messages.  We have evidence the Russians sought access to state and local election agencies, especially voter registration data, in at least 39 state revealed to date.  Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that there was an attack on our election processes and procedures.

If the Trump campaign benefited from the Russian activities, did it do so as part of a conspiracy (a combination or confederacy between two or more persons formed for the purpose of committing, by their joint efforts, some unlawful or criminal act) or, as an act of collusion (an agreement between two or more individuals to defraud a person of his rights, or to obtain an object forbidden by law; a secret combination, conspiracy or concert of action between two or more persons for a fraudulent or deceitful purpose.)

It seems that if we approach this from a legal perspective it could be argued that conspiracy/collusion should be of little interest since the Russians did not determine the outcome of the election, and therefore the “object” of their alleged collusion was purely a matter of political speculation.  Another perspective might be that the greater the level of ‘beneficial’ Russian injections which can be substantiated the higher the probability of meeting the elements for collusion and/or conspiracy.   The far less restrictive political perspective posits questions centered on the proposition that the greater the level of Russian interactions the greater the public perception of the illegitimacy of the election results.

Teasing along this strand a step further raises questions about the nature of any combination of efforts —  Was there no “combination” of efforts, or stated another way, were the Russian actions unilateral, and without coordination?  If so, then was the campaign the ‘accidental’ beneficiary of Russian efforts?  Was the campaign aware of any of these ‘unilateral’ actions — timing is everything?  If at some point in the campaign the officials were aware of these ‘beneficial’ Russian deployments and did nothing to stop contemporary actions or to prevent future incursions, then is the campaign culpable for illicit gains made as a result?

If there was a coordination of efforts, a direction of those efforts, or guidance provided by either party, then we may, indeed, be in collusion/conspiracy territory.

This speculation may serve to explain the Trumpian argument that Russian hacking didn’t matter because it didn’t change the overall election results; however, it really doesn’t explain all the permutations of possible interactions between the campaign and the Russians.

The next bit of rambling I should do is to explore the Money Strand … more later.

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Will Someone Please Save The Republican Party?

I’d have assisted with this, but I left the Republican Party years (decades) ago.  There was something about the distribution of the utterly debunked “None Dare Call It Treason” that was intrinsically repulsive.  There’s no small amount of irony in the fact that the book alleged the Leftist Elite were sabotaging America for the benefit of the Soviet Union, and that now we’re looking at a situation in which some erstwhile cold-warriors are now espousing “better relations with Moscow.”

What made Moscow dangerous then as now is that it’s the capital of a second world nation with a first world arsenal, complete with nuclear weapons.  It wants “respect,” translated to mean it wants a sphere of influence outsized in relation to its actual economic and political power.  Since its notion of a counter-weight to NATO, the Warsaw Pact, has collapsed the replacement concept is the renewed Russian intrusion into former Warsaw Pact nations — witness those “soldiers on vacation” advancing into eastern Ukraine. Witness the cyber-assault of Estonia.  Witness the efforts to undermine the NATO alliance.

It’s as much an adversary as ever, it’s just discovered a much more effective, and far cheaper way to attack the United States — bots and trolls and fake news and hacking; hacking into the data of at least 39 states.   However, now the descendants of Sen. “Tailgunner” Joe McCarthy aren’t touting the anti-Soviet line, some are clutching ideas such as “the vote tallies weren’t actually violated,” or “this is an hysterical response from Democrats who lost an election that looked like a sure thing.”   The Republican Party seems to have moved from the defender of free elections and the American Way to the cult of Personalities Without Principles — other than possibly self-aggrandizement and the controls of the apparatus of State.

The June 11 Gallup polling shows the presidential approval rating at 37%.  To declare this a measure of the “Republican Base” might be a bit deceiving — it’s actually the measure of those who approve of what the president is doing and saying.  The majority 63% no doubt contains a chunk of Republicans, many of whom would easily declare themselves as such.  The Punditry has opined at length about the Democratic Party’s issues with primary elections and candidate selection — however, the larger problem appears to be with the Republican Party the central organization of which could not hold against an insurgency of primary voters who defied conventional party wisdom and leadership.

The party of William F. Buckley and Clare Booth Luce has become the party of Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, and the Shade of Theodore Bilbo.  Bilbo would have fit right in with today’s vote suppressionists, perhaps with a bit more nuance, like advocating that “CrossCheck” flag everyone named Washington or Sanchez instead of promoting the use of whipping (Etoy Fletcher) with a wire cable.

How does the Republican Party deal with the elements associated with the Great White Whine?  A party which once argued persuasively that prosperity for all was the way to achieve economic power has driveled into a cult like organization promoting platitudes not platforms.  “Freedom” degenerates into a call for the deregulation of powerful institutions (especially financial) which define success in terms of quarterly earnings reports not national economic achievement.  “Liberty” devolves into an expression of justified avarice, rather than the adoption of the idea that equal opportunity is the force behind that Rising Tide that Raises All Boats.

Where is the party of “Personal Responsibility” when excuses are made for members of local police forces who embarrass their cities and towns with unjustified behavior based on irrational fears — generally of young black men.  Where are the calls for justice and responsibility when polluters are given permission to degrade local environments such that property values decline and development is all but impossible?

Where is the party of American Exceptionalism when industrial innovation and technological research, especially in regard to energy technologies, are blunted in favor of fossil fuels and late 19th century technologies like gas powered engines?

How did the party of progress become an amplifier for the dismal complaints of those who see victim-hood in a reduction of their sense of self worth, fueled by the funds from corporate interests which are primarily interested in analysts’ projections of corporate earnings in the next 90 days?

We have a two party system, which in many ways is far preferable to the European model of multi-party parliamentary systems.  At what point does the broadcast punditry cease fretting over the relatively minor debates within the Democratic Party and begin to focus on the forces which are driving the Republican Party into the realm of a regional party promoting the imagined grievances of the selfish, the ignorant, and the bigots?  It isn’t the Democratic Party that needs “saving.”  They’ve had decades to perfect the art of internal combustion and national re-invention — it’s the Republicans who need the help.

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It’s Not Watergate, It May Be Worse

I have to admit I “wallowed in Watergate,” back in the day — actually 45 years ago.  However, while we’re wallowing, I think we need to be aware of a point made by Elizabeth Drew this evening on MSNBC — Watergate was about more than the burglary of the Watergate office building and the Democratic Headquarters.   Correct; it was about the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, the unleashing of IRS audits on people listed as Nixon enemies, and other machinations; it was about a man who knew all the levers of power and how to use and abuse them to control the investigation swirling around him.   The same cannot be said of Donald J. Trump.

Before drawing too many comparisons to Watergate, perhaps it would be a good idea to focus on the contrasts.

Richard Nixon’s downfall revolved, or devolved, around the abuse of power by a man who know where the levers were located, and how to maintain his own power by manipulating them.  The present occupant of the White House gives every appearance of understanding that he has power, but hasn’t the expertise — nor, perhaps, the inquisitiveness — to understand that those levers have to be pushed and pulled with caution and a comprehension of possible consequences.

One element that did not enter into the Watergate Inquiry was a foreign adversary, and it would be a profound mistake to focus on narrow questions while paying less attention than necessary to this factor.  There are large questions to answer before we get down to brass tacks and 12.5 gauge nails like (1) Are the elements of collusion present? Or, (2) Are the elements of obstruction of justice satisfied.  Let’s remove these from view for a little while, and ask some other, more general, questions.

Have we elected a President who is so compromised by a foreign adversary that his policies are shaded toward addressing the interests of the adversary at the expense of US interests?

At worst, we might have a chief executive who is conscious of his compromised position and willingly initiates policies and actions which he intends to be in the interest of a foreign adversary.  On another hand, do we have an unconscious tool whose desire to ingratiate himself with the adversary colors his actions, pronouncements, and policies.  These aren’t necessarily legal questions which lawyers and former counselors can answer, except as a function of their investigations.  Thus, the first question which needs an answer becomes:  Is the President compromised?  If so, then how did he come to be in this position?

We have some indications, not yet rising to the level of hard evidence, that the chief executive is in a compromised position.  Item: The intensity of his desire to stop any investigation of Michael Flynn.  Item: The Steele Dossier, much of which can be substantiated, some of which has not be corroborated.  Item: The deletion of the Article 5 commentary and emphasis at the NATO meeting.  Item: The reluctance to ascribe the election tampering to the Russians, in the face of evidence from 17 intelligence sources and agencies.  Item: The ephemeral proposal to return Russian properties once use for intelligence gathering.  Item: The repeated refrain that it would be a good thing to have better “relations” with the Russians.  Item: The changes made to the Republican Platform in 2016 to reflect a more pro-Russian position on our relations with Ukraine.  No doubt there are more items which could be added to this list.

If the president is in a compromised position, one that is related to policies and practices that abet the interests of the Russians, then how should we characterize this?  Are we to identify financial interests as the driving force?  Are there philosophical drivers, such as a predilection for authoritarian rule?  Again, these aren’t legal questions; they are political, or financial, perhaps psychological — maybe a toxic mixture of these and others?  These questions, like the general ones raised during the Watergate Investigation, will eventually be answered.  Patience is required.

Now, we can return to the topic of Russian assaults on our electoral system.

Were the assaults on our electoral institutions — from state registration databases to social media fake news and feeds — the product of outright collusion between individuals involved in the Trump campaign, the product of collusion of convenience between individuals whose tacit acceptance of the meddling was taken as permission, or was all the effort on the part of the Russian agents seeking to derive an outcome to their liking?

Let’s recall that the underlying issue of obstruction of justice is connected to the answer to the questions listed above.  Is the “target of the investigation” alleged to be guilty of conscious and voluntary actions to obstruct investigations into the nature and scope of the collusion?

Before getting into these weeds — Do we know why the Russians hacked into our election institutions and processes?  Do we know the full extent of their efforts?  Do we know how they were able to generate social media messages and deliver them to targeted audiences?  Do we know how they know the best way to “weaponize” their results.  There are some answers available, some partial explications at hand, and some speculation associated with these inquiries.

In short, let’s remember that this investigation is in its earliest stages.  We should also remember that not all investigative agencies began their work at once.  Some investigations have been ongoing (Manafort/Ukraine), some were launched during the transition, others are newly organized.

The bottom line — not all the answers will be immediate, not all the answers will be palatable, not all the answers will be evidence of crimes.  However, the one point of comparison with Watergate that’s rather glaring is that those answers will be complex, interrelated, and probably not satisfactory to those who demand clear, black and white, totally dichotomous responses.  Given that we are discussing an assault on the very foundations of our democracy we need to get the best answers, not merely the most self satisfying ones.  History will write the epilogue.   We need to provide the informative chapters.

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