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.

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

Some Wednesday Why Questions

Several news stories have crystallized over the past few days forcing me to ask some why questions. Here are just a few on this Wednesday.

Why is the party that is adamant voter fraud is more prevalent the one who causes more of it? Today, the GOP North Carolina chair was indicted for bribing a public official with campaign donations. This is on the heels of the GOP Congressional candidate absentee ballot fraud issue and the unconstitutional gerrymandering that has gone on under GOP tutelage in NC.

Why are we playing politics with the President overriding an unheard of 25 security clearances, including two relatives? I don’t care what party is responsible, this should give all Americans pause, especially given the President’s poor attention to vetting, conflicts of interest and the fact his two relatives do not hold positions that were approved by the Senate. The CIA has been concerned about Jared Kushner’s culpability for some time, eg.

Why is the British parliament failing to read the tea leaves on Brexit? There is a petition with 6 million names asking for a cancellation of Brexit. When the petition was criticized for foreign involvement, it was determined that 96% of the names are UK citizens. I read today that Ford will re-evaluate what to do with two British car plants depending on what happens. They are not alone.

Why is Shell Oil pulling out of an US based petroleum industry lobby group beginning next year? Its shareholders are forcing the company to more demonstratively  address climate change and support the Paris Climate Change Accord. It should be noted Exxon Mobil shareholders asked the company to report back on what they are doing about climate change. Both companies were active on climate change research before they decided to pretend it was not a problem in public.

Why would the President even consider closing the border with our third largest trading partner, not to mention the people who live in Mexico and work in the US? This would be harmful to the US economy, per Senate leader Mitch McConnell (and many others) and even more so for border states. It also overlooks the greatest need to help with the chronic border problem – immigration judges. Walls and closures are just costly theatrics.

Why is it OK to want to trade with North Korea, but not Cuba? The real reason is Obama opened the doors to the relationship. For some reason, Trump has an unhealthy focus on things Obama did. But, trading with Cuba is desirous to many Americans and Cubans and is far easier to get a return on investment. Commerce is a good way to break down barriers.

That is all for now. Let me know what you think or if you have any more why questions.

 

Senator are you sure you want to poke the bear?

Senator Lindsey Graham is the new Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In his view, now that the Mueller report absolves President Trump of concerns over collusion, he wants to have his committee investigate those who accused the President. Really? Are you sure you want to poke that bear? Do you want hard-working, reputable FBI and CIA people under oath again testifying why they had legitimate concerns about Trump and Russia? Just as a reminder, you do know the President has a very hard time with the truth?

Let’s start with a quick recap. We have yet to see the Mueller report which, per Fox News is 700 pages long. We have only had a very brief summary. We should also note it was reported yesterday by several sources the Mueller grand jury is still quite active and we should be hearing more on that front, especially from the Southern District of New York. Here is what the dueling versions of the Senate Intelligence Committee said last month per NBC News:

“After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

But investigators disagree along party lines when it comes to the implications of a pattern of contacts they have documented between Trump associates and Russians — contacts that occurred before, during and after Russian intelligence operatives were seeking to help Donald Trump by leaking hacked Democratic emails and attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, on social media.

‘If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia,’ said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview with CBS News last week.

Burr was careful to note that more facts may yet be uncovered, but he also made clear that the investigation was nearing an end.
‘We know we’re getting to the bottom of the barrel because there’re not new questions that we’re searching for answers to,’ Burr said.

One Democratic aide told NBC News that while the Democrats do not contest Burr’s statements, they believe it lacks context. The aide said, ‘We were never going to find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude.” However: But they also made clear they haven’t found proof of their worst fear: That the president formed a corrupt pact with Russia to offer sanctions relief or other favorable treatment in return for Russian help in the election.

After it recently emerged in court documents that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared campaign polling data with a man the FBI says is linked to Russian intelligence, [Ranking Democrat Mark] Warner called that the most persuasive evidence yet of coordination.
‘This appears as the closest we’ve seen yet to real, live, actual collusion,’ he said on CNN.”

What Senator Graham has lost sight of is the number of people close to the President that have pleaded guilty or been found to have of lying to the FBI or perpetuating fraud. Roger Stone still stands trial. What the Senator has lost sight of is Mueller also indicted dozens of Russians for interference with our election. What the Senator has lost sight of his Michael Flynn was speaking with the Russians about sanctions relief before taking office and lied about it. What the Senator has lost sight of is the active grand jury, post report that has its eyes on things like campaign fraud, using the positions for personal gain, misusing charitable donations, etc.

Or, maybe he has not forgotten this and the strategy is a ploy to perpetuate that the Deep State is against Trump, as he portrays. The fact Trump lies more than he does not is irrelevant. It is too bad Graham’s friend Senator John McCain is not alive, as he would slap Graham upside his head for his sycophantic behavior.

But, back to my question. Do you really want to poke the bear? Republicans tried to paint Michael Cohen as a liar, but he quite believably uttered these words. The President is a “racist, he is a liar and he is a cheat.”

Renewable energy has become cheaper than coal

An article in The Guardian caught my eye yesterday, entitled “‘Coal is on the way out’: study finds fossil fuel now pricier than solar or wind.” This is not surprising to me as the production costs of solar and wind energy have significantly dropped over time, yet it likely catches some as a big surprise. Per the article:

“Around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to a new study.

‘Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,’ said Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. ‘Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace.'”

When all of the costs are factored in, coal is even more expensive than indicated above. For example, coal energy continues to be costly long after it is burned through ash maintenance, leakage and litigation. Yet, now production costs are largely higher for coal than renewables. As the article notes the decline of coal is passed the tipping point.

But, don’t just take the word of this article. In the first two years of the Trump Presidency, more coal plants have been closed than in the entire first four-year term of Obama’s Presidency. This would have happened anyway regardless of who was President, but I mention Trump as even someone who campaigned on keeping coal plants open cannot stave off this trend.

If that is insufficient, note there are currently more than four times the number of solar jobs than coal jobs in the US. And, the wind energy jobs are growing very quickly in the Midwest, with Texas, Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota among others leading the way. In an article called “Will 2019 be the year of the turbine – wind energy continues to surge in Texas” in the Caller Times, in 2017 Texas provided about 15% of its energy through wind and has and will continue to increase that percentage in 2018 and beyond.

I feel for the coal miners, but they are owed the truth and help in retraining for new jobs and some transitional financial support. In the same areas where coal is found, the wind blows and sun shines. I implore legislators to help invest in the new economy in these areas. This should have been happening all along as this trend is not new.

 

 

Fast break

With the NCAA March Madness tipping off, let me use fast break as a way to quickly comment on news items. For non-basketball fans, a fast break is an attempt to score before the defense sets up after a possession change.

– Congressman Devin Nunes is suing two Twitter accounts for making fun of his questionable and unethical actions as a Committee chair. Unfortunately, he has brought more followers to the two sites.

– There are a number of experienced and quality candidates running for the Democrat Presidential nomination. Dems need to avoid the “circular firing squad syndrome” which attack candidates’ imperfections. My suggestion is to listen to what each has to offer.

– The US President is headed to Ohio to save face by asking in person for GM not to close two plants hastened by his tariffs and not helping when asked last year. The union leader and two Ohio Senators asked  the President to help GM retool the plants to build SUVs rather than the sedans last year. Senator Sherrod Brown noted now the President is paying attention as it makes him look bad.

– The Brexit “troubles” continue, but hopefully the EU will agree to the delay. And, Parliament needs to use the time to clearly define what Brexit means versus staying with the EU, something they have not done. This needs to be thoughtful and data-driven. I would hate to see a state leave the US based on politics only to wake up to a terrible hangover.

That is all for now. I hope your bracket for the tournament is successful. Fast breaks are fun to watch and usually the team doing more of them wins.