Red flags all over the place

The Mueller report concluded that there was no evidence the President and his team colluded with Russians to influence the election. But, they also concluded the Russians successfully influenced the election through social media and facilitating the hacking, modification and release of emails. That middle word gets overlooked, but per Thomas Rid (a cybersecurity expert at Johns Hopkins University who has closely studied Russian operations) in an interview on PBS Newshour, the Russian agents would modify things they leaked.

Further, per an article in MSN.com, entitled “Mueller report shows Trump campaign left itself wide open to Russians, officials say,” the Trump campaign naively opened themselves for being used. Here is a quote from the article which can be linked below.

“The Russians came up against a group of people who were not intelligence savvy and who were predisposed not to listen to the intelligence and counterintelligence community,” said Luis Rueda, who spent 27 years as a CIA operations officer. “The Russians made a very bold and aggressive attempt to take advantage of that — to try to compromise people, to try to leverage their access.”

More will come from the pending court cases, but this article notes the Mueller report paints a very unflattering picture of the Trump campaign and White House. I personally believe there was collusion, as they did not interview the President and they also did not dive as deep as they could have. To me, there was too much story changing going on, especially about financial ties to Russia, for there not to be some nefarious effort going on.

Setting that aside, even if there was no collusion, the Russians were invited in to play and they would not do this unless they had something to gain. I encourage you to read the attached brief article. Or, check out the PBS Newshour interview because the Russians will not go away in 2020.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/mueller-report-shows-trump-campaign-left-itself-wide-open-to-russians-officials-say/ar-BBWh5Sc?ocid=spartandhp

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/after-mueller-revelations-how-to-protect-election-integrity-in-2020

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A specific deficit problem – Social Security and Medicare

While we have an annual US deficit approaching $1 trillion on budgeted revenue around $3.4 trillion, nothing much is being done about it or our current debt of $22 trillion. A tangible subset of this problem includes Social Security and Medicare, which were reported yesterday by trustees to run out of money in the near future – Medicare by 2026 and Social Security by 2035.

A nonpartisan group called The Concord Coalition, who tracks and reports on our debt and deficit issues, offered the following statement.

“Today the trustees once again warn that Medicare and Social Security are not on sound financial ground,” said Robert L. Bixby, Concord’s executive director. “Sudden and substantial benefit cuts await beneficiaries in less than 20 years — well within the lifetimes of many current beneficiaries — if lawmakers fail to act. Any ‘political leader’ worthy of that title, including those out on the 2020 campaign trial, should make it a priority to find solutions that are both fiscally and generationally responsible.”

Bixby added: “The trustees’ warnings seem all the more alarming because the country is not in a position of current or projected fiscal strength. Delaying reforms, however, would simply exaggerate the generational inequities of reform. For example, the trustees say it would now take an immediate and permanent benefit cut of 17 percent to keep the Social Security trust fund solvent for 75 years. Waiting until 2035 to take action would increase that benefit cut to 23 percent.”

As a retired actuary, I have written before about a few ideas, not limited to the following:

– increase the Social Security taxable wage base to above $180,000 drawing more FICA taxes from employees and employers;

– reduce Medicare retirement age to 62 and use ACA funding for that group to shore up (it will help the risk pools of both groups);

– limit cost of living increases on Social Security benefits along with measured changes to select Medicare benefits;

– increase judiciously FICA taxes to shore up shortfalls (Medicare Part A is currently 1.45% and Social Security is 6.2% up to the taxable wage base of roughly $128,000). Medicare Part B premiums change annually.

Please encourage your legislators to act now on these issues. Bixby’s caution is a good one. As we age as a country, it will only add pressure. Also ask candidates what they propose. Do not let them off the hook with a non-answer. Deferring action has been the norm.

A little bird and a big crow

While at a stop light, I saw a flying metaphor. A little bird (about three inches in height) chased off a big crow who is closer to a foot in height. The little bird chased the bigger one for well over 100 feet, most likely a mother defending her nest from an egg stealer.

I feel the big crow is analgous to the America First mindset, where we are devaluing our relationships and bullying people into action. Now, some might say we have always thrown our weight around. Yet, our allies are reacting to being treated worse with tariffs and talk of more, our pulling out of multilateral or global agreements, our denigrating respected multinational groups, and telling countries who they can and cannot do business with.

The little bird represents individual countries, businesses and farmers who are doing what they must to perpetuate commerce. When certain avenues are closed or made difficult or costly to use, they have to find new suppliers or customers. They are chasing away the impact of the crow. It is a simple equation – the more difficult an entity becomes to deal with, others will seek other options. Plus, the more difficult we make it for all transactions, then fewer transactions will be made and global trade will suffer.

It is reported the President reached out to former President Jimmy Carter. The reason is Trump’s having concern over an ascendant China. This was happening any way, facilitated by actual long term planning by China. Yet, what Trump fails to realize is his role in greasing the skids. By retrenching from our position of strength, pulling out of a Trans-Pacific trade deal meant to even the playing field with China, he has allowed China to fill the void. By telling countries they will face tariffs if they deal with Cuba and Iran, we are greasing the skids for China to fill the void.

These little birds have to eat. They will look out for their best interests. If they must acquiesesce to the big crow, those actions will be remembered, if they are needed in the future by the crow. It should be noted,  a foreign diplomat said two years ago, the strength of the US is its allied relationships – failing to nurture them comes at a cost.

And, that Chinese bird is getting even bigger and faster than this old crow.

This must stop

I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend, yet we had another event which we cannot let define us. The tragedy in Sri Lanka sheds a spotlight on what must stop. The three recent Black church bombings in Louisiana do the same; this must stop. The many shootings at churches, synagogues, and mosques must stop.

The victims do not deserve this, no matter where they worship. The perpetrators have some warped view of extremism. They are terrorists irrespective of what religious master they serve. They are hate mongers and murderers. They will not build a stairway to some perverted view of righteousness. Their names should not be mentioned, as they do not deserve recognition.

These actions of hate must stop. The underlying hate must stop. If someone’s view of religion inspires them to hate or kill others, that is not God or Allah talking. That is a narrow-minded form of extremism. These folks are murderers,

We need these actions strongly condemned by all leaders. We need religious leaders to promote a message of inclusion. A ministry of exclusion is religion at its worst. One person’s exclusion becomes another person’s hate. And, to a small subset, the words inspire violence. This also holds true with political leaders,

What can we do? If your spiritual or political leader speaks of exclusion, ask them to stop. If they don’t stop, vote with your feet and leave. Our leaders need to be our better angels – if they are not, find another leader and call them on the carpet.

If you see some followers who are echoing or speaking of violent acts, tell the authorities or more even-tempered religious leaders. Zealotry can lead to violence. If you hear unproductive words, push back or tell someone. This is even more true if they come from leaders.

But, most importantly, we must be civil to one another. We must demand civility from our leaders. Fear sells, but is an unsustainable governing approach. We deserve better from our leaders. We must also demand peace. We need more diplomats, not fewer. We need to value the mavens and dot connectors. Relationships are to be courted and nurtured.

This has to stop. Stop the words of exclusion. Stop the words of hate. And, let’s do what we can to stop the violence.

Let me close with one of the greatest examples of faith I have witnessed. After the Charleston AME Zion church shooting, the surviving family members forgave the shooter. That is powerful. Let’s be like them. But, let’s stop it from happening the next time.

 

Maybe the GOP should consider impeachment

The Mueller report paints a pretty damning portrait of the current US President and his modus operandi. The many hours of testimony also validate the findings of two of the more thoroughly investigated books about the Trump White House – “Fear” by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward and “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff. To be frank, maybe the GOP should consider impeachment as they should be as concerned or more about the President.

These three investigative reports paint a picture of chaos and a mercurial man whose worst impulses must be managed. While he obstructed justice (to my way of thinking), it would have been even worse had his staff not refused to act on more than a few illegal or unethical requests. It is akin to the children hiding the car keys from an increasingly demented parent.

What should be of great concern is the fact 14 cases, two of which are now known, are recommended by Mueller and his team for prosecution. Anyone who has worked with the President should be very scared right now. Adding to that are the thoughts of Mark Shields and David Brooks who note with sadness the threat of Donald Trump on our democracy and institutions.

I also understand that criminal collusion is not being pursued, but I find it hard to believe we can sum up these actions to unwitting participation in Russian influence and horrible judgment. There are too many interactions with Russians – too many conversations, too many meetings, too many financial discussions and too much lying or not remembering to think that is all it is. Maybe that is where some of the future court cases will lead us.

I read yesterday a different way of thinking of Russian involvement. If we think of the attack as an actual bomb attack, wouldn’t we want to get to the bottom of this? All along, I have felt the Russia involvement with the US President is related to financial  issues. Trump has been not forthcoming about his financial relationship in Russia.

So, as more of the Mueller report impact rolls out, it is the GOP who will be harmed the most. The closer people fly to Trump, the more their reputations will be tainted. The question I often ask “is this the man you want to spend your dear reputation on?”

But, setting all of this aside, is this the person we want hold up as our leader? Our word is not trusted, as the man who is in that role is not trustworthy.

PS – This footnote was added on 4/24/2019 as it links to an excellent article where a member of Trump’s transition team is calling for his impeachment.

A Former Member Of The President’s Transition Team Calls For His Impeachment

A few Mueller takeaways and one question

Let me be brief. I have three key takeaways from the Mueller report news’ summaries. My sources are PBS Newshour and ABC News, since I have not read the report.

– the Russians successfully influenced the election and Trump officials were unwitting participants in the process and guilty of horrible judgment.

– the President did and tried to obstruct justice; he would have been even more guilty if colleagues acted on many illegal or unethical acts he asked them to do. They protected him from himself (note this is important as all of those folks are gone).

– there is a very interesting addenda item – there are 14 more cases that have been recommended for prosecution by Mueller and his team. That should scare many.

The key question that must be asked is a simple one. Why did the President obstruct and try to obstruct justice even more if he were not guilty of something? An innocent person would not have done so. Why questions need to be asked more often in Washington, especially with this President.

 

On the downhill side of hump day

Tomorrow, the infamous Mueller report will be released in redacted form. Of course, the AG has called a press conference, so there are no guarantees. I would not be surprised by anything at this point. I do see a scared President.

What I find interesting is Giuliani and crowd are preparing a rebuttal, yet we have been told they had not see the report. I did not believe this for one bit, but I find it odd that you can write a rebuttal to a report you have not seen.

What I also find interesting is how someone can tout the summary conclusions that the AG offered and then denigrate the underlying report. This was akin to Trump saying Michael Cohen lied to Congress, except when he was bragging on Trump.

Herman Cain said he will keep his hat in the race for the Federal Reserve Board. This is giving the GOP Senate leaders heartburn as they see him as unqualified and unfit based on past issues. They have a right to be concerned, in my opinion.

Mayor Pete has some sound advice for his fellow Democrat Presidential candidates – do not make this about Trump bashing. I agree. Mayor Pete has impressed every where he has gone for interviews.

Speaking of impressing, Bernie impressed the Town Hall attendees on Fox. Dems need to do more of this, as their message is overall better than the current President and GOP. It is not perfect and needs to move to the center more, but talking about healthcare, job training, climate change, e.g. is much better than a border wall. By the way, the President, who feels Fox is his network, has fumed twice for Fox hosting Bernie. I find this amusing.

Finally, I was quite tickled when the President started criticizing Bernie’s taxes that he released. The response should be simple – “Mr. President, you are welcome to do this as I realized my tax returns. Where are yours? What are you hiding?”