Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Cruising the Web

Reuters interviews African Americans who regard the whole controversy over the Confederate flag a distraction. Ya think? And I'd go beyond the problems mentioned in the article about violence in their communities and racism from the police. There is a lot more to the economic problems so many blacks face and it has nothing to do with the Confederate flag.

Ah, the Greecification of the United States draws ever closer.
The governor of Puerto Rico has decided that the island cannot pay back more than $70 billion in debt, setting up an unprecedented financial crisis that could rock the municipal bond market and lead to higher borrowing costs for governments across the United States.

Puerto Rico’s move could roil financial markets already dealing with the turmoil of the renewed debt crisis in Greece. It also raises questions about the once-staid municipal bond market, which states and cities count on to pay upfront costs for public improvements such as roads, parks and hospitals.

For many years, those bonds were considered safe investments — but those assumptions have been shifting in recent years as a small but steady string of U.S. municipalities, including Detroit, as well as Stockton and Vallejo in California, have tumbled into bankruptcy.
But sure, let localities, cities, states, and the federal government just keep piling on more and more unfunded spending. That'll work.

Jim Geraghty looks at Katherine Archuleta, the head of the Office of Personnel Management, and the results of appointing someone for the political and demographic boxes she can tick off rather than for her true competence for the job.
Before becoming the head of OPM, Katherine Archuleta had no background in the kind of work the agency does. Archuleta, a lawyer and former Clinton administration official, was national political director for President Obama’s reelection campaign. She served as the chief of staff to Secretary of Labor Hilda SolĂ­s, and was the City of Denver’s lead planner for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Like the president, she has roots in “community organizing”: She co-founded the Latina Initiative, a Colorado organization aimed at getting more Hispanic voters involved in politics. (In 2011, the Latina Initiative suspended its operations, citing insufficient funding.) Nothing in this record suggests any expertise in the vitally important human resources and record-keeping functions OPM is supposed to serve.

Before the hack, Archuleta’s primary goals at OPM appeared to be increasing the diversity of the federal workforce and implementing Obamacare’s changes to federal workers’ health-insurance options.

Her July 2013 confirmation hearing was brief and relatively controversy-free. Senator Mark Udall, (D., Colo.), introduced her and declared, “she has an impressive range of accomplishments that make her completely, totally well-qualified to be director of OPM.”

Archuleta mentioned her determination to “build on OPM’s health care experience” including “implementing its provisions of the Affordable Care Act.” She did say she would “prioritize the improvement of the agency’s Information Technology systems” and pledge to create the position of Chief Technology Officer, but that came in the context of a discussion on OPM’s difficulty in moving to a digital system for handling retirement services for federal workers. The topic of cyber security only came up during a brief discussion of whether OPM had sufficiently skilled personnel in that area....

Upon her arrival in the post, she was touted by the Obama administration as “the first Latina Director” of OPM. The White House website declared, “Katherine shares President Obama’s vision for diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce” and added, “OPM has recognized and acknowledged the underrepresentation of Hispanics in the federal work force, and the potential and talent they have to offer.” Information technology and cyber-security were not mentioned.
The blame doesn't fall all on her, of course. The Congress could have been more concerned with cybersecurity, not only in her confirmation hearing, but all along. But she clearly wasn't qualified to deal with the threats the agency was facing even when it became quite clear that cyber attacks were a problem.
While Archuleta, the administration, and its allies were busy hailing a new era of diversity in the federal government, OPM’s apparently long-standing cybersecurity vulnerabilities remained unattended. Slate has noted that OPM knew as early as 2013 that “sensitive data was not secured” and “security measures were not even tested to make sure they worked.” Worse yet, the agency “was unsure even of how to fix these problems,” and hadn’t fixed them as recently as this past April, years after the system had been repeatedly breached.

When news broke of the first of those breaches, in early 2014, Archuleta went so far as to insist in public that there was nothing that needed fixing.

In March 2014, OPM became aware of a partially successful Chinese hack into its systems. On July 9, 2014, the New York Times reported that “Chinese hackers in March broke into the computer networks of the United States government agency that houses the personal information of all federal employees, according to senior American officials, targeting the files on tens of thousands of employees who have applied for top-secret security clearances.” Officials quoted in the story said the hackers gained access to some of OPM’s databases before federal authorities detected the threat and blocked them.

Archuleta was quick to downplay the breach, declaring in a July 21, 2014 interview with Washington’s ABC affiliate that, “We did not have a breach in security. There was no information that was lost. We were confident as we worked through this that we would be able to protect the data.”

Even now, as the full extent of OPM’s security failures is slowly beginning to come into public focus, Archuleta has barely backed off that stance. She repeatedly told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee two weeks ago that she couldn’t say if any non-personnel information was lost in the 2014 hack.

Her answers under oath in front of the Oversight Committee two weeks ago left Republicans and even some Democrats convinced she either knows exceptionally little about the state of her agency’s cyber-security or she’s comfortable lying about it, insisting that breaches aren’t really breaches and that obviously insecure systems are secure....

“Since 2007, the OPM Inspector General has continuously pointed out serious deficiencies in OPM’s cybersecurity posture. OPM’s response has been glacial,” wrote Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s cyber-security subcommittee, in a statement calling on Archuleta to resign. “While I appreciate that Ms. Archuleta inherited a difficult situation, her first budget request continued to reflect the status quo even as the OIG’s warnings continued.”

Langevin said cyber-threats can’t be solved, only managed, but admonished Archuleta for treating the difficulty of that task as an excuse for not developing “a risk-based cyber strategy.” He concluded, “I have seen no evidence Ms. Archuleta understands this central principle of cyber governance, and I am deeply concerned by her refusal to acknowledge her culpability in the breach.”
If this is the incompetence demonstrated by the leader of one previously rather obscure agency, just imagine the vulnerabilities in other government agencies? But, hey, what's the problem as long as we can have a diverse workforce?

As Republicans head out to vote in the GOP primaries next year, they'll be doing something that Donald Trump hasn't done in over a decade.
Records reviewed by National Review show that the mogul-turned-candidate never bothered to cast his vote in the past six presidential-primary elections — even in 2000, 2004, and 2012, years when he floated the idea of running for the Oval Office.

Even as Trump filled candidates’ coffers, he skipped the 2002 general election, failing to cast a vote for U.S. representative and governor, among other positions. He’s also sat out several city and state elections in the past 15 years, while donating heavily to candidates in the same races. In some of these elections, it appears Trump’s ever-changing party registration rendered him ineligible to cast a primary ballot. But in many others, he could have voted but didn’t.
I guess he has just figured out that money speaks louder than voting.
Records reviewed by National Review show that the mogul-turned-candidate never bothered to cast his vote in the past six presidential-primary elections — even in 2000, 2004, and 2012, years when he floated the idea of running for the Oval Office.

Even as Trump filled candidates’ coffers, he skipped the 2002 general election, failing to cast a vote for U.S. representative and governor, among other positions. He’s also sat out several city and state elections in the past 15 years, while donating heavily to candidates in the same races. In some of these elections, it appears Trump’s ever-changing party registration rendered him ineligible to cast a primary ballot. But in many others, he could have voted but didn’t.

The Washington Post has a big piece on how Jeb Bush profited from his connections to having a father who was president in the years before he became governor including a very questionable deal involving a Nigerian water project.
At first glance, Jeb Bush’s dual biography as a businessman-
politician can be hard to reconcile. Bush the politician presents the image of a man who is appealing, well-disciplined, intelligent and moderate. Bush the businessman has sometimes lent his name and credibility to money-making ventures that involved dubious characters.

He and his friends have explained this seeming incongruity by saying that he has been the victim of people who took advantage of his good nature.
Republicans might complain this is a hit job attempting to conflate Jeb's business background with the Clintons' sleazy deals. But, with all the possible candidates out there, it helps to have the media serve to thoroughly vet the candidates. Choosing Bush would immediately negate a line of negatives about Hillary - that she is the candidate of a dynasty from yesterday. Do we really want to surrender the high road when it comes to attacking the overall sleaziness of the Clinton rise to riches? That might be a risk worth taking for a top-flight candidate, but I'm just not convinced that Jeb is worth it.

Jennifer Rubin catalogs mistakes from Republican leaders in response to the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage. I must agree that I regard it as a disqualifier for a candidate for the presidency to talk about defunding the Supreme Court or ignoring its rulings. I didn't think Bobby Jindal had any chance for the nomination, but his response talking about getting rid of the Supreme Court greatly disappointed me. In response to a much worse decision, Abraham Lincoln didn't talk about getting rid of the Supreme Court after Dred Scott. And Rubin is right that Ted Cruz's hyperbole just makes him sound silly. No matter what one thinks about the decision, no Supreme Court decision ranks up with "some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation's history."

Robert George has some wise words on symbolism with regards to the Confederate flag and downplaying Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill.
Haley acknowledged that while the flag contained many positive connotations for the citizens of her state — regional pride, cultural heritage, familial connection — it was also inherently a divisive symbol. Many, after all, see it (fairly) as a banner of racism, slavery and terror.

In short, it wasn’t something all residents of the Palmetto State could look to with reverence and unity.

Frankly, that’s a wise view to take in considering objects that the government chooses to honor with an official imprimatur: Err on the side of those representing the polity’s common civic values.
Frankly, I don't care a bit about the Confederate flag and think Republicans are making a mistake to get so upset about what was for so long part of the Democratic Party. I grew up in Illinois, but have lived over 30 years in the South and I don't think that the Civil War is the high point for the South. It is quite possible to celebrate one's Southern heritage without celebrating the part of Southern history that symbolizes for so many people slavery and Jim Crow. And those who say the War was not about slavery because so many of the soldiers were poor whites who didn't own slaves ignore the truth that the war wouldn't have been declared in the first place if the leaders of the South had not feared that the Republican Party's opposition to the spread of slavery to the new territories would limit slavery in an impermissible way. Without that fear, there would have been no secession and without secession there would have been no war. Wealthy Southern whites were able to convince non-slaveholding whites that the war was about resisting Northern aggression, but secession preceded everything. Lincoln would never have conceived of sending troops to the South if there had not been secession and seizure of federal property. I know that some of my readers greatly disagree with my thoughts on this, but I've studied that period very intensively and read a lot of the speeches, documents, and letters from the time. I agree with what Ulysses Grant wrote in his memoirs about the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox:
I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us

And Robert George that, while it is just a symbol, having Alexander Hamilton on the currency rightly celebrates a leader of our nation's history and he should not be downgraded just because it is on the schedule to revamp the $10 bill next and there is so much pressure from some quarters to put a woman on the currency.
In other words, a bureaucrat opted to stick to a bureaucratic timetable, rather than looking at the larger picture.
And if ever a moment called for broader reflection, this is it.

Every time someone uses American (printed) money, they look at history; they engage with a figure the government has sanctioned and, likely, celebrated.

Save perhaps for George Washington himself, Alexander Hamilton is most responsible for much of the glue that binds this nation together — its financial system.

It was his firm belief that a young nation that fought a war for independence together should pay off its debts together. In that view, he was initially opposed by Thomas Jefferson, who thought Virginia shouldn’t be burdened by the financial problems of less-wealthy states.

Hamilton ended up winning the day and the Compromise of 1790 the two men forged (alas, the moving of the capital from New York to outside of Virginia was collateral damage) was one of the signature moments in the early days of the young United States.

More important to today (and the post-Confederate flag discussion), Hamilton was an abolitionist, whose best friend attempted to raise a regiment of slaves to fight in the Revolutionary War, promising them freedom for their service (a moment recognized in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” musical heading to Broadway next month).

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s currency timetable means Jackson’s $20 bill — adorned with the face of one of the biggest slaveholders to ever enter the White House (who, unlike Washington, opted not to free his slaves upon his death) — will remain untouched for at least another five years.

Jackson went from owning nine slaves when he purchased his Hermitage plantation to 150 at his death 40 years later.

While not alone among early presidents in owning slaves, Jackson adds the forced relocation of Indians from tribal lands to his ledger. The so-called “Trail of Tears” has often been referred to as genocide.

That this de facto founder of the modern Democratic Party was nicknamed the “people’s president” is one of the great ironies of history.

Look, slavery is a part of our nation’s history. It’s not something that we can ever expunge from our memory — nor should we try.

But we can — and should — take advantage of the moments when we’re already engaged in the discussion to consider which figures are worthy of remaining in the forefront of our national consciousness, and which ones can take, well, a back seat in the pantheon.

It's never enough, is it? Now Bernie Sanders wants to go beyond Obamacare to a single-payer system.
Bernie Sanders isn't satisfied with the Supreme Court's affirmation last week of President Barack Obama's health care law.

Instead, the Democratic presidential hopeful said on Sunday he wants the United States to adopt a "Medicare-for-all" single-payer health care plan.
I guess all his time in government has blinded him to how Medicare is bankrupting the country. Here is Avik Roy of Forbes from three years ago.
The Trustees of the Medicare program have released their annual report on the solvency of the program. They calculate that the program is “expected to remain solvent until 2024, the same as last year’s estimate.” But what that headline obfuscates is that Obamacare’s tax increases and spending cuts are counted towards the program’s alleged “deficit-neutrality,” Medicare is to go bankrupt in 2016. And if you listen to Medicare’s own actuary, Richard Foster, the program’s bankruptcy could come even sooner than that.

Here’s how the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services summarize the findings, which carry the formal title “2012 Annual Report of the Boards of Trustees of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds” :
[Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund] expenditures have exceeded income annually since 2008 and are projected to continue doing so under current law in all future years. Trust Fund interest earnings and asset redemptions are required to cover the difference. HI assets are projected to cover annual deficits through 2023, with asset depletion in 2024. After asset depletion, if Congress were to take no further action, projected HI Trust Fund revenue would be adequate to cover 87 percent of estimated expenditures in 2024 and 67 percent of projected costs in 2050. In practice, Congress has never allowed a Medicare trust fund to exhaust its assets.

The financial projections for Medicare reflect substantial cost savings resulting from the Affordable Care Act, but also show that further action is needed to address the program’s continuing cost growth.
The Trustees, by saying that Medicare will go bankrupt in 2024, instead of 2016, are simultaneously saying that the program will increase the deficit by several hundred billion dollars. This is precisely the insight that Charles Blahous, one of the Medicare Trustees, explained in his recent report on the program.
But Bernie Sanders would rather indulge in his Socialist fantasies than pay attention to fiscal realities. Maybe reporters can ask him about the increased spending he wants to pile onto the federal government in light of Puerto Rico's bankruptcy. But he probably wouldn't be able to see any connection.

I guess the triumphalism of the left and the demoralization of the right regarding the Supreme Court was a mite bit premature.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Obama administration failed to consider costs when deciding to regulate mercury pollution from power plants.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must consider costs before deciding whether regulation is "appropriate and necessary." Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority decision. Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Matthew Continetti analyzes Hillary's chameleon-like qualities.
What we have, on issue after issue, is a presidential frontrunner uninterested in leadership, who holds an ambivalent attitude toward notions of political courage and intellectual independence, who is devoted exclusively and mechanically to the capture of high office. She has latched on to the president’s ad hoc and failing Iraq policies because her party’s base supports them; gone from opposing same-sex marriage as recently as a few years ago to marching at the vanguard of America’s latest Cultural Revolution and saying that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed”; pledged to “go further” than Barack Obama’s constitutionally dubious executive amnesty despite being silent when her husband signed tough immigration bills in the ’90s, and despite having voted for an amendment that helped kill a pro-immigration bill in 2007; waffled on a trade agreement that she backed while secretary of state; and somehow avoided committing to an intelligible and consistent position on the Keystone Pipeline despite taking money from the anti-Keystone billionaire Tom Steyer. Is there any doubt that this supposed pro-Israel Democrat will back whatever nuclear agreement President Obama is able to reach with Iran, no matter how much he capitulates to the ayatollah’s demands?

Hillary Clinton’s approach to politics is cynical, uninspiring, robotic. She’s a chef who follows the recipe without exception, who’s too afraid of failure to challenge the authority of either her superiors or her customers. She’ll be a president suitable for the age of intelligent machines. Like a Terminator she is fixated on her mission – though the Terminator has more personality, greater charm. There’s an assumption behind all her latest moves, a programming code that determines the automaton’s behavior: that the country’s demographics and culture have changed to such an extent that a winning campaign needn’t do more than identify and mobilize core supporters by assuming the various poses most likely to drive them to the polls. There’s the chance the code could be garbage.

Clinton isn’t the first politician who’s inconsistent – far from it. What she and her husband have pioneered is a mode of inconsistency, an entire lifestyle of ideological flexibility the goal of which isn’t public-minded but wholly self-interested.