October 16, 2017

Governor Scott Should Follow his Soul, Not the Advice of the Attorney General

Last month Governor Phil Scott said that the idea that the state is immune from all litigation “doesn’t give me a good feeling in my soul” and that it undermines trust in government. He said that he would consider appointing a special prosecutor to make sure we understand how Vermont happens to be the locus of the biggest EB-5 scandal in the nation. Last week he said he doesn’t believe now would be the right time for such an action because of the state’s pending lawsuit against the developers. Lawsuits take a long time. “Not now” could well be after unsolved problems which led to the EB-5 scandal further damage the state.

Scott says he is relying on the expertise of Attorney General T.J. Donovan, who’s doing “what he thinks is his best to represent the state of Vermont.” The Attorney General’s office is defending the state against a lawsuit alleging state complicity in the EB-5 fraud and, like any good lawyer would, is trying to have the case dismissed. However, the Attorney General, whose client is the GOVERNMENT of the state of Vermont, not the people of Vermont, is giving very bad advice from a public policy point of view.

Donovan argues that, if the state waived its sovereign immunity, state government would collapse. Without sovereign immunity “you wouldn’t have anybody working in government or anybody willing to make a decision in government exercising their discretion for fear of being sued,” he said. That argument is insulting as well as wrong.

Local governments don’t have sovereign immunity; people still work for them. Those of us in the private sector don’t have sovereign immunity; we make decisions (and get sued) all the time; we still do our jobs. Doctors don’t have sovereign immunity; they make life and death decisions – and put up with being sued. Teachers have no sovereign immunity. State workers won’t resign en masse if the state waives its sovereign immunity in a case which has blemished our reputation and which is, just as Scott feared, undermining trust in government.

Moreover, Donovan’s statements make clear that, since his office does have a responsibility to defend the state government and the state workers named in a lawsuit, the AG’s office has a conflict in fully investigating what went wrong. “The AG”s office is alleging fraud against Quiros and Stenger, that’s where we should focus,” He said. Certainly the AG’s office should be pursuing the case against Stenger and Quiros – one might even ask what took them so long – but what if government officials were criminally involved with these two (something which certainly has NOT been proven), would the AG’s office have to back off from the prosecution because any such allegation would damage the interests of its client, the government of the state of Vermont?

If the AG’s office can’t investigate possible state malfeasance, then there is the need for an investigation separate from the AG’s office. Moreover, even if the actions of state employees were entirely legal (as they may have been), shouldn’t the Governor, whose watch this did NOT occur on, want to know exactly what went wrong? Shouldn’t he want to know what went wrong now in case there are similar scandals brewing? Scott’s soul was right; public trust in government is extremely low. Now is the time for him to take advice from his soul and not from the AG.

All direct quotes in this piece come from a VT Digger article.

See also:

Vermont Should be Investigating Itself

Governor Scott Considering EB-5 Special Prosecutor

October 13, 2017

Trump’s Attacks on First Amendment Rights Are Appalling

Could the Trump Administration shut down NBC?

First Amendment to the US Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

President Trump tweeted “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!” He was enraged at what he says was a false story on NBC. Later he doubled down on his anti First Amendment sentiment: “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write and people should look into it,” I heard him say on CSPAN.

I’m not a member of the “resistance”; I support some of Trump’s policies and some of his actions; but I am appalled by these statements. Even if the NBC story is 100% wrong (it is thinly and anonymously sourced), the press has a right to be wrong. Reporterrs and editors often are. We can’t have a free press if there is some government agency deciding who is telling the truth and who gets to keep reporting. The whole point is that the press IS able and MUST be able to write whatever they want. We can turn off NBC in our houses but the government can’t do that to us. It’s OUR First Amendment right.

OK; we all agree on that. But could an administration which was so inclined actually take away NBC’s license? It’s unfortunately time to think about that.

On a superficial level, there’s no problem. NBC the network does not have a broadcast license because it doesn’t broadcast; it supplies content. Each of its over-the-air affiliates has its own license from the FCC. NBC owns only eleven stations; there are almost 200 separately owned affiliates. There would be a lot of licenses to take away, many held by rich and powerful people.

Moreover, since the demise of the “fairness doctrine” – needed when there were just a few broadcast licenses available in each area – the FCC has only considered technical and bureaucratic conditions in awarding and renewing broadcast licenses. Stations must stay within their allocated frequencies; can’t sell banned drugs; can’t knowingly abet a fraud (but let’s watch that!); have to pay their fees, file for renewal on time, and tell the truth in the paper work they file with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In theory a station could be shut down for pornography; that’s why certain words were banned on TV and radio. But that hasn’t even been threatened lately.

But let’s be paranoid. Broadcast licenses are worth hundreds of millions of dollars even now that most content stays on the Internet and isn’t broadcast at all. Suppose that the affiliates of an obstreperous network were suddenly threatened with license revocation for trivial technical violations – they probably exist and could certainly be alleged. Suppose a routine filing to move an antenna or make some other technical change were suddenly delayed almost indefinitely for “procedural” reasons. Might not the owner of the license pressure the network which supplies it with news to stop pissing off the President. All members of the FCC are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. FCC Chairman have been known to follow White House “guidance”. Business people have been known to bury their personal scruples to protect their investors.

It appears that the IRS was weaponized to some extent during the Obama administration. Could that happen with the FCC in the Trump administration? Unfortunately it’s the President himself who suggests the answer may be “yes”.

October 10, 2017

Fear Leads to Fascism

In an emergency, we’re used to giving up some liberties. If you’re in a fire, you do what the firemen say. In general we obey police orders. A city can impose a curfew to protect lives and property. A mandatory evacuation order can be given. In an extreme, marshal law can be declared and most civil liberties suspended (Lincoln did that).

There’s probably something in primate DNA which suspends our usual obstreperousness and makes us take orders in a dangerous situation.

But there’s a dark side to this survival trait: when we’re afraid, we forget that we want to be free. We listen for a strong voice, look for a master who will protect us, and focus on the immediate danger which has frightened us rather than the long-term risk that our protector will become a tyrant.

I saw this danger first hand a long, long time ago in 1968 when I was a National Guardsman mobilized for the Chicago Convention riots. We were stationed in our armory which abutted a park in the then-decayed northwest side of the city. We patrolled the park because that’s what soldiers do and because our helicopters landed there. It was hot, boiling hot. We were heavily armed.

 “I’m so glad you boys are here,” an old lady said. “We haven’t been able to come to the park at night for years.” She was Polish; her children had long since gone to the suburbs. The neighborhood was definitely not Polish anymore. And it wasn’t safe for her. She was happy to have an army on her street. We were no threat to her. We made her safe. She wasn’t worried about a civil society. She was afraid.

Mary and I bought our first handgun the day after the first night we spent in an isolated summer home. All the talk in the neighborhood was about the armed robbery that had just occurred at the drugstore. We weren’t giving up our freedom; but we also weren’t confident that government could protect us from the special danger addicts present. We acted (rationally, I think) but out of fear.

The City of Burlington can’t figure out how to protect its citizens – or even its police – from a group of dangerous miscreants in City Hall Park. Calling a social worker instead of a cop doesn’t work; but the cops are expected to act like social workers. Meanwhile people aren’t as safe as they should be downtown. People who are afraid will vote for drastic solutions (see election 2016).

The US is at danger from a North Korean sociopath armed with nuclear weapons and delivery systems. The North Korean arsenal has grown from test devices to a serious threat during Republican and Democratic administrations alike. It must be dealt with. Americans - afraid of an increasingly dangerous world including ISIS, Iran, North Korea and, of course, homegrown terrorists of the right and left and demented killers - elected Donald Trump. Will he over react? Is over reaction or under reaction more dangerous now?

This is a dangerous time for the country. To survive as the kind of civil society we want to be, we must both avoid over reaction and avoid under reaction to evil, which leaves people afraid. We do have to make our streets safe (yes, that means patrolled by police); we do have to take violent people off the streets no matter what mental illness, addiction, childhood experience made them dangerous; we must confront nations and non-nations which threaten us with harm.

Those of us inclined to vote for leaders who think dialog is always better than confrontation must think of the harm that ducking confrontation may cause. Those inclined to vote for authoritarians because we’re frightened need to realize authoritarians don’t give up power lightly. We all need to work for and find pragmatic candidates who know there are no easy answers; that not acting is itself an act.

A frightened electorate will vote for frightening leaders. Leaders who don’t keep us safe pave the way to despotism.

October 04, 2017

Your Android Phone is Eavesdropping

Are the Russians listening too?

I’m getting paranoid about devices listening to me.

Gotham Gal recently blogged about friends who started to get ads for things they never searched for but had recently talked about (not talked about online, just talked about with a group of friends). Alexa was the first suspect; she was there and she listens. But Alexa somehow would have had to sort out all the different voices and have some way of associating them with people and the computers and phones they use to search the web. Nevertheless, I always switch Alexa’s listening off unless I specifically want to talk to her.

Commenters on Gotham Gal’s post pointed a finger at the Facebook smartphone app. It would recognize its owner’s voice. It would know exactly where in the database to put the possible new interest and how to serve ads which catered to it. I don’t use the Facebook app or Facebook itself much, so I filed my suspicions away for future investigation.

Yesterday I realized that my Android was eavesdropping.

Screenshot

“say OK Google” it said in the search box of the home screen. If I said “OK Google”, I could then give it a voice command like “navigate to the nearest saloon”. Very good for handsfree driving. But, if it’s listening to see whether I say “OK Google”, then it has to be listening to everything I or anyone else says in the car and whatever I listen to on the car’s audio system. Maybe it ignores all that until it hears “OK Google” and maybe it doesn’t. How can I be sure? What if it thinks it heard “OK Google”; then I know it’ll send what it hears next to the Google cloud for interpretation.

What if it’s been hacked? There’s a story in today’s Wall Street Journal saying that Russians are hacking the smartphones of NATO troops. I don’t want to be alarmist but does that mean that if the phones are listening to the troops then the Russians can as well?

No thanks, I don’t want it to listen.

So, of course, I googled how to turn off “OK Google”. The instructions, even from third parties are simple but also misleading. If you go into settings for the Google app, you can turn off “OK Google”. Trouble is that doesn’t turn off listening, If you then say “OK Google”, you get an alert telling you that you turned off the functionality. The only way the phone can give you the alert, obviously, is if it’s till listening. Problem NOT solved.

But you can turn off eavesdropping. You go into settings for the phone, choose apps, choose the Google app, choose permissions, choose microphone, and turn it off. You’ll get the warning below and there are serious consequences for turning this off.

Warning

Once you have told the Google app it can’t listen, it won’t. Not even if you tap the microphone option at the right of the search box. It goes into listen mode in this case but never says it is ready for you to speak or even says it won’t listen. You have to type in your request. So you pay a price for stopping the phone from listening. For me the security is worth the price. If I want to talk to Google, I turn its ability to listen back on.

Android ought to support a mode in which the phone only listens AFTER the microphone button is tapped and this ought to be the default. Security is too important to have all new phones in an insecure mode. There is also no good reason, although there are some bad ones, to force a choice between convenience and security in this particular case. The microphone button ought to be an on-off switch for the microphone. Even better, there should be a hardwired mute button for the mike, as there is on Alexa, so it can’t be hacked on.

Note: I have a Moto Z2; it is possible that other Android phones behave differently. If you have an iPhone and you can wake it up by saying “Siri”, then it is always listening to you. You don’t know who else may be.

See also: Alexa – Cover Your Ears

September 28, 2017

Governor Scott Considering EB-5 Special Prosecutor

There is a chance that Vermont will investigate itself and find out how the biggest scandal in the EB-5 program nationwide happened here under state supervision. When asked at a news conference about the idea of appointing a special prosecutor, Scott said “[It’s] the first I’d really contemplated something of that magnitude, but it could be something that could be beneficial. We’ll talk about it.”

“We want to be as transparent as possible,” Scott said of the EB-5 program. “We’ll see what happens in the near future, but I want to make sure that we release all the information we can so that … people have some trust with the government,” he continued.

Scott’s point about releasing all information possible is spot on. So far the attorney general’s office, whose role is to defend the state and state employees, has done everything it can to prevent the release of information needed to understand what happened. On the one hand the AG’s office argued that, because of a doctrine called sovereign immunity, a lawsuit against the state should be dismissed and the legal process called “discovery” can’t be used to compel the state to release its records or former state employees to give testimony. On the other hand, according to VTDigger, the AG’s office also says that 50,000 pages of state documents about Jay Peak are exempt from release under the relevant litigation clause of the Vermont Public Records. These two arguments together are a dangerous catch-22 which comes close to a cover-up: 1) litigation can’t be used to compel disclosure; 2) because there is litigation, the Public Records Act can’t be used to obtain information.

Scott also said, correctly IMO, that arguing the state is immune from lawsuits doesn’t inspire faith or trust in government. “When I read the media reports, when I hear immunity, and that’s the basis for an argument that we won’t know what’s happening — that the state is immune from litigation — that doesn’t give me a good feeling in my soul.”

The EB-5 projects under investigation are not the only EB-5 funded projects in the state. But, even projects without a hint of scandal will have a harder time raising money both because the feds are threatening to and probably will shut down the state’s authority to regulate these projects and because the Vermont brand as a good place to invest has been damaged. Most important, we can’t trust a government which hides its own mistakes and protects possible wrong doing. If you agree that we need to investigate this scandal ourselves, please write or call the Governor’s office and support the idea of a special prosecutor. If you think the legislature should be more aggressive in investigating the executive branch, please write your legislators. Posting on Front Porch Forum is effective as well.

More at Vermont Should be Investigating Itself.

September 27, 2017

Live Discussion of Does Vermont Need a Special Prosecutor for EB-5 Scandal

I'll be on Mike Smith's show "Open Mike" on WDEV at 10:30 this morning to discuss how Vermont government ought to investigate itself to determine state government's role in the EB-5 mess in the Northeast Kingdom. The Attorney General's office is the lawyer FOR the state and is claiming, in that role, that the state is immune from prosecution and discovery in this matter. So hard to see how the AG's office can also investigate state agencies and officials.  Do we need a special prosecutor to determine what went wrong and assign responsibility? I think our brand, which was heavily used to market EB-5 investments. is endangered if we leave all investigation to the feds. At the very least, legitimate EB-5 projects in the state will be unfairly tarnished. At the worst we - and others - lose faith in the honesty of our state government.

The show is live streamed from the WDEV site and you can call in with your opinion.

More at Vermont Should be Investigating Itself.

VTDigger has been key to unearthing facts about this scandal. Their coverage, which has earned national recognition, is at https://vtdigger.org/eb5-an-investigation/.

September 25, 2017

Vermont Should be Investigating Itself

Our brand is becoming “non-sustainable”.

Tiny Vermont has the distinction of biggest EB-5 scandal in the country. EB-5 is a program which grants US residency to foreigners who invest in certified job-creating projects. Jay Peak Resort was built out with EB-5 funds. The same group which developed Jay also raised EB-5 funds for a biomanufacturing plant in Newport, VT, which is now a hole in the ground (really!) with no apparent prospects.

The government of the State of Vermont is impeding investigation of its own involvement in this scandal by withholding key documents and asserting immunity from lawsuits. The Vermont Legislature has yet to investigate this massive scandal and the State’s role in it.

According to VTDigger, which has done Vermont a great service by relentless coverage of this scandal:

“In April 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged [Ariel] Quiros [former owner of Jay Peak] and [Bill] Stenger [former President and CEO of Jay Peak] with 52 counts of securities fraud and with misusing $200 million in immigrant investor funds through the EB-5 visa program, which grants permanent residency to foreigners who invest $500,000 or more in U.S. businesses and create at least 10 full-time jobs. In all, 836 investors from 74 countries were allegedly defrauded by the developers…[Stenger has since reached a settlement with the SEC]

“Many of the investors blame the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center, an arm of state government that was charged with monitoring the EB-5 program in Vermont, for not properly overseeing the Jay Peak projects. Top state politicians, including Gov. Peter Shumlin, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Gov. Jim Douglas all promoted the developments to investors overseas on behalf of Stenger and Quiros.”

Last month the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which oversees the EB-5 program for the feds, wrote to Vermont that it is planning to terminate the State’s authorization to oversee the program saying “the Regional Center’s failure to provide adequate oversight and monitoring of its projects allowed the alleged malfeasance by Quiros and Stenger to occur and jeopardize the Regional Center’s ability to promote economic growth within EB-5 program requirements, as well as the EB-5 investors’ investments.”

Some investors have sued the State and former officials for their lack of oversight and active promotion of the projects. According to VTDigger:

“Megan Shafritz, the lead lawyer for the state, has said Vermont officials have 'absolute immunity' in the case, which protects them 'from the burdens of discovery and litigation generally.'

“Shafritz has urged the court to block the release of documents and the deposition of a key witness in the investors’ case until after the court has ruled on a motion to dismiss, which the attorney general’s office has yet to file.”

The former officials and the State are being defended by the attorney general’s office, which is the State’s internal law firm and usually defends actions against the State; the accused officials are certainly entitled to a defense.  However, if the AG’s office’s role is defense and protecting the State, then who represents the citizens of the State if officials are guilty of wrongdoing? Are we totally dependent on the feds and/or private lawsuits to protect us against state government malfeasance?

In the federal government there is a recognized problem with the Justice Department headed by the attorney general, who is a presidential appointee, investigating the president; that’s why we have special prosecutors. But in Vermont the AG is elected independently. Do we still need a special prosecutor because the AG’s office needs to defend instead of investigate and prosecute state officials? Hard to believe but, if so, we should appoint one to look at the state’s role in this fiasco!

Meanwhile where is the legislature on this? Where’s the investigative committee? Don’t we want to know whether the feds are right in calling us incompetent or worse? Don’t we want to know how our brand got tarnished by the biggest EB-5 scandal in the country? Complacency will lead to disaster.

September 20, 2017

Let’s Not Talk about CyberSecurity

Friends have asked me (since I’m an official nerd), whether I blocked credit agencies from reporting on my credit to potential lenders to assure that new accounts are not opened by imposters pretending to be me. Blocking makes it harder for someone to use your ss# for identity theft; but, since you give part of your ss# to request a block, you give the credit agencies even more information about you which might be exposed in a future breach. I’m not telling what I did.

Following the Equifax breach, Facebook is ablaze with security discussions as are other online forums. Here’s some free advice: Don’t post what you decided to do about your credit! Don’t say online whether or not you’ve stopped credit checks at the rating agencies.

Either way you make yourself an easier mark for those who want to steal your identity. If you’ve blocked opening new accounts, they can say that when they pretend to be you and work on getting the unlock pin or convincing someone to give credit without it. If you haven’t stopped new accounts, then they know to go after you directly. Information about you is what hackers need; don’t post it online!

While we’re at it, don’t say online what kind of home security system you use. Don’t helpfully review your home security system on Amazon or your blog. Don’t rate your home security installer any way but anonymously (and how do you know if you’re anonymous?) Why tell hackers or burglars what technology they’re dealing with? I’m not sure the decals like “protected by ADT” are a good idea since they give useful information. Maybe just “Very well-protected. While you were reading this your picture went to the cloud!”. I’m still wrestling with how to blog about my expanded home security system without compromising our security.

For good advice on dealing with the Equifax breach see Wired for Safety: How to deal with the Equifax security breach on VTDigger; it’s part of a weekly column on cybersecurity by the very knowledgeable digital forensics faculty at Champlain College.

September 14, 2017

The Dreamer Dream

It is now squarely up to Congress to assure that Dreamers have a path to stay and work in the United States.  If Congress does its job, some of those who were brought illegally to the US as children will have a much more secure future than they had under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), President Obama’s executive order.

From a Dreamer’s PoV, there are three problems with DACA:

  1. It provides amnesty and the right to work in the US only two years at a time; there is no path to citizenship or permanent residency.
  2. It is (as we’ve now seen) subject to withdrawal by the same kind of executive action which created it.
  3. The fact that it was promulgated as an executive order makes it vulnerable to the Supreme Court finding it unconstitutional. The Court split 4-4 (after the death of Justice Scalia) and allowed an injunction preventing a DACA expansion to stand.

If Congress were to pass a law which did simply what DACA did, issues 2 and 3 go away. I hope Congress can do better than that and provide a path all the way to citizenship for the Dreamers; but the perfect can’t be the enemy of the good. We actually have many more immigration issues to deal with than just the Dreamers; there are a large number of people who entered the country illegally as adults. We’re not going to just deport all of them either. But let’s take one bipartisan step at a time and make sure we do the right thing by the Dreamers.

According to WikiPedia:

To qualify for DACA, applicants must meet the following major requirements, although meeting them does not guarantee approval:[55]

  • Came to the United States before their 16th birthday
  • Have lived continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007
  • Were under age 31 on June 15, 2012 (i.e., born on June 16, 1981 or after)
  • Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making their request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS
  • Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012
  • Have completed high school or a GED, have been honorably discharged from the armed forces, or are enrolled in school
  • Have not been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanors, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety

(Remember that children born to illegal immigrants IN the US are US citizens already. No one can take their rights away.)

There will be, and should be, debates in Congress over whether these requirements should be made looser or more stringent. A danger will be that the far left and the far right will dig in their heels on some specific issues in hopes of torpedoing a compromise. Trump has already signaled the right that he is willing to do without their votes by saying he will NOT insist that building The Wall be part of the deal. He will want to see some enhancements to border security to be sure that good treatment of the Dreamers doesn’t incent another wave of illegal immigration.

TBD whether the Democratic leadership can or will walk away from their left wing. A bill doesn’t need a majority of Democrats in either house to pass; but it will need a sizable contingent of Democrats to make up for right-wing Republican defections.

The Dreamer issue is now squarely before Congress, where even Obama agreed it should be. This is a time to write your Congressperson and tell her or him to do the job he or she was elected for. Doing that job means compromise.

September 12, 2017

Both Parties Lost the Last Presidential Election

Will that loss put a dent in hyper-partisanship?

The Republican establishment lost during the primaries. Whatever Donald Trump may be, he is not an establishment Republican. Bernie Sanders came damned close to knocking off establishment Hillary Clinton. According to promotional leaks from her book, Sanders was one of the main reasons she lost the general election.

With no proof whatsoever, I think the two most important reasons people voted against the establishment candidates of both parties were disgust with hyper-partisanship and a realization that, despite the surface partisanship, the leaders of both parties are almost identical in their crony-capitalist support for major donors at the expense of the rest of the country. In fact, the PACs which represent Wall Street are careful to be major donors to both parties. Sanders most telling blows against Clinton were for her well-paid speeches to bankers.

Since the President isn’t a Republican or a Democrat in the traditional sense, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he can abandon partisanship when he thinks either the country’s or his own interests require bipartisanship. IMO he was right not to follow the Republican inclination to derive the most possible partisan advantage from the need to fund hurricane relief. Debt ceiling and budget debates can be put off until after the hurricane season and should not be put off longer. A Republican-majority congress has not passed a budget so, obnoxious as it is, a short continuing resolution is in order.

More importantly Trump signaled the fiscal-extreme wing of Republicans that they’ve lost their veto. As much as my own residual partisanship hated seeing the cat-that-got-the-cream smiles of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, I know that the polarizing right had to be defanged. However, so does the polarizing left; this shoe is yet to drop. But I’m an optimist; one shoe always comes off before the other.

A wonderful outcome would be bills that are routinely passed with some votes from the minority party. These bills will not be as far-reaching as bills which only Democrats or Republicans can support like ObamaCare or ObamaCare repeal, but they can be incremental steps towards solving the country’s problems.

Now for real wishful thinking: if a new middle forms, it should retain enough of the populism of the tea party and occupiers to abandon crony capitalism.

August 30, 2017

Unpardonable Pardons

Pardons are for guilty people. According to the US Supreme Court in Burdick v. United States, accepting a presidential pardon "carries an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it." If you disagree, as I do, with President Trump’s decision to pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it is probably only small consolation to know that, by accepting his pardon, Arpaio technically acknowledged he was guilty. Some people, including newspaper editor George Burdick, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, have refused to accept a pardon.

The presidential pardon power was controversial even as it was written into the US Constitution. Anti-federalists recalled pardon’s abuse by the British Crown and royal governors. Alexander Hamilton argued that the pardon power might be needed to end rebellions. He was prescient; George Washington pardoned the leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion on his last day in office.

President Andrew Johnson pardoned many Confederate leaders after the Civil War. Apparently some of their statues have been unpardoned.

I was outraged when Ford pardoned Nixon (outrage was less common way back then). With hindsight I’m not so sure. That pardon let the country move forward. It may well have cost Ford any chance he had for reelection.

President George H. W. Bush pardoned six participants in the Iran Contra affair including former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger. Independent prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh was outraged and said Bush might have been covering up his own complicity in the events that happened when Bush was Reagan’s Vice President. But the pardon ended the investigation.

As described in Wikipeida:

“…[President Bill]  Clinton commuted the sentences of 16 members of FALN, which is a Puerto Rican paramilitary organization that set off 120 bombs in the United States, mostly in New York City and Chicago.… The 16 were convicted of conspiracy and sedition and sentenced with terms ranging from 35 to 105 years in prison… Clinton offered clemency on the condition that the prisoners renounce violence, seeing as none of the 16 had been convicted of harming anyone and they had already served 19 years in prison. … The commutation was opposed by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons and was criticized by many, including former victims of FALN terrorist activities and the Fraternal Order of Police.[7] Hillary Clinton, then campaigning for her first term in the Senate, initially supported the commutation,[8] but later withdrew her support.[9]

“Congress condemned this action by President Clinton, with votes of 95–2 in the Senate and 311–41 in the House.[10][11] The U.S. House Committee on Government Reform held an investigation on the matter, but the Justice Department prevented FBI officials from testifying.[12] President Clinton cited executive privilege for his refusal to turn over some documents to Congress related to his decision to offer clemency to members of the FALN terrorist group.”

The power to commute sentences derives from the pardon power in the Constitution. Other Clinton pardons and commutations appear merely venal. They include:

  1. Fugitive financier Marc Rich whose ex-wife donated generously to both the Clinton Library and Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign. Again from Wikipedia:

“According to Paul Volcker's independent investigation of Iraqi Oil-for-Food kickback schemes, Marc Rich was a middleman for several suspect Iraqi oil deals involving over 4 million barrels (640,000 m3) of oil.[26] Longtime Clinton supporters and Democratic leaders such as former President Jimmy Carter, James Carville and Terry McAuliffe, were all critical of the Clinton pardon. Carter said the pardons were "disgraceful."[27]

  1. Susan McDougal who had loyally served eighteen months in prison for refusing to testify about Clinton’s role in the Whitewater affair.
  2. Roger Clinton, the President’s brother, on drug charges.

President George W. Bush was blamed both for commuting the sentence of Scooter Libby, former chief of staff for VP Dick Cheney, and for not granting him a full pardon.

FALN leader Oscar López Rivera refused to renounce violence so was not included in Clinton’s commutation. However, President Barack Obama commuted his sentence without conditions. The Washington Post editorialized:

“FBI agents discovered dynamite, detonators and firearms at two residences occupied by Lopez Rivera. At trial, a cooperating witness from the FALN testified that Lopez Rivera personally trained him in bomb-making.

“So Lopez Rivera is neither a low-level offender nor a nonviolent one. Nor, crucially, is he repentant…

“Obama's offer this week came with no such requirement [renouncing violence]— in puzzling contrast not only to Clinton's policy in 1999, but also to White House statements that Chelsea Manning deserved clemency because she accepted responsibility and showed remorse.”

Some of us, including me, also disagreed with Manning’s commutation. You’ll remember that she made her publisher, WikiLeaks, famous - before they became infamous when they publishing purloined documents from the Democratic National Committee.

One bad pardon doesn’t excuse another. I still think Trump was wrong to pardon the sheriff because he is condoning vigilantism by law enforcement. The pardon of Manning condones unilateral declassification of secret material by anyone through whose hands it passes. Washington was probably right to pardon the Whiskey rebels and I think Andrew Johnson was right to pardon Confederates. Since pardons are for the guilty, a President walks a fine line between healing and promoting bad behavior when he or she exercises the pardon power.

August 24, 2017

Don’t Believe Caller ID

Or the From address on an email.

Got a phone call from 802 760 xxxx the other day. My number is 802 760 yyyy. “A neighbor,” I thought, even though I didn’t recognize the specific number and it had no name associated with it. I answered. It was a scam. Didn’t stay on long enough to know precisely which scam and wasn’t close to revealing any identifying information or sending money in order to free my lottery winnings.

It’s unlikely this call originated in Stowe even though that’s where 802 760 xxxx numbers are. With voice over IP services like Vonage, you can actually buy a number anywhere; we used to have one in the UK so our daughter,who lived there, could call us cheaply. But this wasn’t a number designed to be called. This was a SPOOFED number, a number inserted into the data stream by the computer that was making the call.

In the old days of the hard-wired phone network, the phone company’s switch figured out what number a call came from because it knew which pair of wires the call came in on. That was then; this is now. All bulk calls including legit ones are placed by computers which tell the phone company computer the caller’s phone number. It’s no surprise that computers can be programmed to lie. The new thing is to have the fake phone number have the same area code and even the same exchange as the called number in hope that you’ll pick up and let yourself be scammed.

Similarly it’s easy to create an email which looks like it came from you. Scammers get hold of millions of emails with carelessly many people on the “to:” and “cc:” lists, usually from failure to use “bcc:” properly to hide email addresses.  The scammers create new email, which usually pretend to be from the sender of an innocent email the scammers have possession of to each of the listed recipients of the innocent email.  The subject is something generic like “Hey, look at this” or “wow, made me think of you.” The email either has a toxic attachment or an evil link. Open either at your peril. You can’t believe an email is from a friend just because it says it is. Sometimes these “spearing” emails are sent from an infected computer whose address book is being used; but usually they are just created from carelessly long address lists not put in the BCC field.

I don’t open attachments or follow links in emails unless I know that I know whom the email is coming from. If the email is from my friend, for example, and it has text that says the picture reminds me of you falling out of the sailboat on our last trip and I did fall out of a sailboat, then I assume it’s safe (if maybe not pleasant) to look at the picture. If I’m not sure, I write to the alleged sender FORWARDING the suspicious email and typing the address or entering it from my address book, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER by replying because a fake email will have the reply go back to the scammer, who will then reply “Yes, it’s real,” pretending still to be your friend.

We live in a dangerous cyberworld. Be skeptical and careful.

See CC’ing Will Get Your Friends Speared for how to properly use BCC.

August 22, 2017

Is Medicaid Helping Fuel the Opioid Crisis?

Probably.

According to Express Scripts, which is a large manager of pharmacy benefit plans including Medicaid, “Medicaid members are 10 times more likely to suffer from addiction and substance abuse than the general population.” Unfortunately Express Scripts doesn’t give a source for this statistic and it doesn’t appear in the full text of their report. This sentence may refer to both drug and alcohol abuse and it doesn’t help us untangle cause and effect.

Some people qualify for Medicaid because substance abuse restricts their income.  Almost 25% of 3.1 million Medicaid subscribers whose records were scrutinized in the Express Scripts study had opioid prescriptions in 2015.   Having Medicaid available to pay for pain killers relieves pain which people might otherwise have suffered. But does having Medicaid available encourage opioid abuse?

In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal  says: “Evidence suggests the program may contribute to the epidemic… Overdose deaths per million residents rose twice as fast in the 29 Medicaid expansion states—those that increased eligibility to 138% from 100% of the poverty line—than in the 21 non-expansion states between 2013 and 2015.”  Their argument comes from a statement Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) made, which doesn’t appear on his website and for which I can’t find a link.

In the statement Johnson quotes a letter he sent to the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, which I also can’t find online: “it appears that the program has created a perverse incentive for people to use opioids, sell them for large profits and stay hooked.”

If Johnson is right, this is a huge problem. The incentives are easy to understand. If an addict has anything of value, he’ll sell it to feed his habit (except possibly pills which he can take himself). The copay on legally prescribed opiates is far, far less than their street value. If there were no abuse, it would be truly extraordinary. What matters is whether the abuse is significant and is helping fuel the crisis

The WSJ’s only source for this statistic is “a federal Health and Human Services analysis requested by the Senator”. No link to any such study. No study I can find on Google. Because I think the subject is crucially important, I did some research. Age-adjusted opioid deaths by state for 2013 and 2015 can be found in a report from the Centers for Disease Control. I found a list of states which expanded their Medicaid programs here. Note that my source lists 19 states which didn’t expand eligibility while WSJ says 21. Since they didn’t give their list, I can’t reconcile the difference.

Using these sources, I get the same results as the WSJ. The statistical method is somewhat suspect, however, since it averages results from states with different populations. Population adjusted, deaths from opioids increased “only” 59% faster in expansion states.  Statistically, the fact that this correlation exists both state by state and in the aggregate increases the likelihood that it is more than a coincidence  , and so this is not good news.

Another possible reason to discount the statistic as being evidence of cause and effect is that there are demographic differences between the mostly red states which rejected Medicaid expansion and the mostly blue states which implemented it. WSJ tries to address this by comparing states with similar demographics: “Deaths increased twice as much in New Hampshire (108%) and Maryland (44%)—expansion states—than in Maine (55%) and Virginia (22%). Drug fatalities shot up by 41% in Ohio while climbing 3% in non-expansion Wisconsin.”

Here WSJ is cherry-picking to some extent. Vermont is more like Maine than New Hampshire is and Vermont is an expansion state. There was “only” a 6% increase in opioid-related deaths in Vermont from 2013 to 2015; but I can’t find many such exceptions among similar states. There are states like Vermont which did support Medicaid expansion and had relatively low increases: California (5%), Oregon (11%), Arizona (4%); but these are exceptions. Maine is the “no” state with the highest increase; most of the rest of the “no”s had relatively low increases or, in a few cases, decreases.

It looks like there is a statistical correlation between expanding Medicaid eligibility and increases in opioid related death rates. A statistical correlation does NOT prove cause and effect. There is also a possible explanation for cause and effect: the huge difference between the copay on opioids and their street value coupled with the need of addicts for money.

Only 4.1% of Medicaid’s costs are the direct fulfillment of opioid prescriptions according to The Express Scripts study. However, the indirect costs of addiction to Medicaid must be much higher both since addiction itself needs treatment which must be paid for and because addiction leads to diseases and accidents which must be treated. If Medicaid is fueling addiction, then its costs will keep spiraling up.

The cost of addiction to society is huge and growing. Addiction is devastating both to addicts and to their families.

If expanding Medicaid caused drug-abuse to increase significantly, then base Medicaid is also likely fueling the problem, which is actually a crisis. Although nothing above proves that expanded Medicaid causes increased drug abuse, there is clearly enough reason for urgent study. Since Medicaid administration is a state responsibility (with many federal rules), states – including Vermont – ought to both examine the safeguards against over-prescription and resale and do actual forensic investigation of possible abuse including, of course, doctors and pharmacies. Of course, the feds should be looking as well.

Making sure everybody has access to affordable basic health care is a laudable goal. Avoiding the unintended consequence of damaging public health and safety with misspent healthcare dollars is a necessity.

August 17, 2017

American Tears

My nephew Luke’s maternal grandparents are holocaust survivors. On his paternal side we’re descended from refugees fleeing Eastern European pogroms. Luke’s wife, Sokchea, survived the Cambodian genocide. The events in Charlottesville led Sokchea to write this sad and beautiful letter to their baby daughter.

My innocent girl, in a few years, you will learn humanity's saddest lesson. No matter who you are or what you do, there are people who will hate you. They will say it's because of the color of your skin or where your ancestors came from. But it's just because you are different than them.

On that sad day, your dad and I will hold you and we will explain to you that nothing is wrong with you. You are a little girl who is loved by two very different people who found love by embracing their own differences. You don’t look like mommy, because you are unique. You don’t look like daddy, because you are unique.

You will have people ask you "what are you?" You will even have people call you names just because you look different. You’ll be faced with the gawking pupils of white men who may look at you in disgust. Or worse. And then you'll wonder why there are white women who are doing the same.

I write you this today because I saw something that struck me. Today I saw a sign calling out Jews and condemning immigrants to hell. They’re talking about you. They want to burn your Jewish side and desecrate your Cambodian soul. And I kept wondering, “how can they think that about you?” If only they can see your smile. Feel the gentle snuggle of your hugs in the mornings. Laugh at your baby babbles. Or maybe if they saw how you've learned to fake laugh or cry to get your way, would they still carry those signs and chant hatred? I wish more than anything that I can explain to them that you are not evil. You cry, laugh, and bleed just like them and their children.

But in the end - what I really want for you to know is that you are different. And that that difference is what makes this world worth exploring. Worth enjoying. Worth loving. Because if we were all alike - then we might as well live in front of a mirror. When you finally lose your innocence and begin to learn what makes you different - please remember that difference is what created you.

Stay safe, my love.

August 16, 2017

Whataboutism

Trump, Obama, and Naming Evil

Nothing excuses Donald Trump’s failure to immediately denounce Nazis, KKK members, and white separatists in Charlottesville immediately and by name. Even this slime has a right to march and speak; but they have no right to violence.  Moreover, he should have disowned their claim of allegiance to him even before their march turned violent.

While it is probably true that there were also counter-demonstrators spoiling for a fight, blaming them equally for the death that resulted is like excusing 9/11 because some victims may have been anti-Muslim.

Trump is not excused by his predecessor’s inability to say “radical Islam”; Trump correctly criticized Obama for that so presumably understands the consequence of not being able to say evil’s name. Trump is not excused by those on the left who remain deplorably silent in the wake of violent campus protests against free speech.

Nor is Obama’s failure to lay blame for much terrorism on radical Islamists retroactively excused by Trump’s latest offence. Those who won’t defend free speech are moral cowards or would-be censors no matter what Trump does or doesn’t do. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

According to an article by Jeremy Peters in The New York Times:

“There is also a new political term to describe the circular firing squad in which right and left have blamed the other for the country’s degenerating political debate — ‘whataboutism.’”

“What about” excuses nothing.

As a civil (I wish more civil) society, we suffer from both too little and too much name calling. Nazis, fascists on campus, the current government of Venezuela, racists, and radical Islam need to be called out for what they are. Leaders have a responsibility to speak frankly; they also have a responsibility to let us know how they see the world.

However, not everyone who thinks that immigration cost him his job is xenophobic. Some very good people want to see more gun control; some very good people believe that abortion is murder. All proponents of gay marriage are not agents of the devil; all opponents of gay marriage are not deplorables (HRC was against gay marriage before she was for it). Not everyone who marches with a “Black Lives Matters” banner is a would-be cop killer nor is every policeman who shoots someone of a different race a racist murderer.

David Brooks writes (also in the NYTimes):

“…I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths. The intellectual virtues may seem elitist, but once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness, then everything else falls apart.

“The temptation is simply to blast the neo-Nazis, the alt-right, the Trumpkins and the rest for being bigoted, vicious and hate-filled. And some of that is necessary. The boundaries of common decency have to be defined.

“But throughout history the wiser minds have understood that anger and moral posturing are not a good antidote to rage and fanaticism. Competing vitriols only build on each other.”

There is no question these are hard and scary times. We make them worse both when we refuse to name evil AND when we label everyone we disagree with as being evil. Whataboutism excuses nothing.

August 14, 2017

If We’re All the Same, Who Needs Diversity?

“Diversity in schools and workplaces is crucial,” I remember being told, “because people from different ethnicities, places, economic situations and men and women have different points of view, different ways of looking at a problem.” My experience has been that diversity does bring all these benefits and more. Problems and opportunities are best attacked from diverse points of view.

But I have a question: If we’re all the same, then what does diversity mean? Why would it have any benefits?

An engineer at Google named James Damore wrote a memo on a company forum listing some statistical differences between men and women and giving reasonable although not conclusive sources for the differences he cites. He was supporting his argument that part of the reason there are more male programmers at Google than female is that women statistically may not want this job as often as men do. He’s been fired “for perpetuating stereotypes” even though he conscientiously pointed out that statistical differences between groups cannot and should not be used for judging individuals. It has become impermissible to talk about the differences which are one of the main benefits of diversity!

The Orwellian reality is that “diversity” has become a code word for uniformity of results. Somehow every subset of every profession should have a proportion of men and women, different ethnic groups, and different gender identities which exactly matches the population. I think we Jews are under-represented in the NBA just because statistically we are not very tall and don’t jump as well as certain other ethnic groups.

Like James Damore, I have to acknowledge that stereotypes which arise from some combination of statistical differences and prejudice do often prevent individuals from getting the consideration they deserve for jobs (and country club memberships). Like Damore I think this discrimination is wrong. Even more specifically I know that stereotypes and social pressure discourage some girls from pursuing “scientific” subjects and that these girls and society as a whole both lose by this stereotyping. One of my great pleasures as a grandfather is talking science and math with my granddaughters, both of whom have aptitudes for these subjects.

Even more important, though. I have tried to teach my children and grandchildren that nothing is unthinkable. What if less women than men want to be programmers? What if that’s the truth? We could look at the job and ask why it’s unattractive to many women. If the answer is that there’s a men’s club of programmers who make women uncomfortable, that culture should change.

But if the answer, or part of the answer, is that more (remember, we’re talking statistics) men than women are willing to (or want to) work in a job with minimal social interaction, why shouldn’t that choice be honored for those who make it? I’ve been programming for 57 years. Many of the great programmers I know have borderline Aspergers Syndrome. Many more males are diagnosed with Aspergers (and other autisms) than females. My point, and Damore’s, is that there is a spectrum of statistical differences between genders and so expecting all genders be equally represented in each profession is a dumb goal and leads to reverse discrimination and other dumb decisions.

 Individual choice as well as individual aptitude should determine choice of profession.  Opportunity, of course, must be equal; real results will vary.

Before judging Damore one way or the other, please read his paper. It’s interesting and well written.

Also please see an excellent op-ed in the NYTimes by David Brooks: Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O.

August 04, 2017

Hospital Competition Would be a Good Thing

Monday I blogged that ACA (aka the Affordable Care Act aka ObamaCare) is an unworkable political compromise between private health care and government run health care in which insurance companies become rent collectors but add no value. I asked “is it time to just give up the pretense and go to single payer?” – certainly something many on the left believe sincerely would be a good thing.

Reader John McClaughry commented:

“Don't cave in to the socialist "solution" - single payer - just because the fascist "solution" - ACA - fell apart. Replace the unconstitutional individual mandate with income tax based recapture of unpaid medical bills, plus capping the deduction for high priced plans, equalizing tax advantages for individuals, expanding HSAs, allowing catastrophic coverage, breaking up regional health care cartels, removing the efficacy requirement for pharmaceutical patents, allowing insurance purchasing groups, and imposing med mal tort reform. That's for openers.”

John’s suggestion that regional medical cartels be broken up is probably the most important.

A free market usually delivers better product at a decreasing cost over time. That’s even happened with energy despite fears of “peak oil” and it’s certainly happened with computers, telecommunications, and transportation. In order for a free market to work, there has to be competition. We business people don’t willingly lower our prices (and profits); we make reductions so our customers don’t desert us for lower-priced competitors. We don’t plow our money back into R&D just because we love to innovate; we make that investment because we’ll be out of business if a competitor has either a better mousetrap or one that costs less to make.

In much of the country including Vermont competition between hospitals is deliberately suppressed because of the socialist misconception that prices are lowest without the “cost” of over-capacity. Hospitals must get a Certificate of Public Need (CPG) in order to make an investment. They won’t get the CPG if a nearby hospital can demonstrate it already has capacity which will be duplicated. The CPG process assures no competition or pressure to lower cost and prices develops. In theory hospital rates are then regulated to make sure monopolies aren’t exploited. What really happens is that, without fear of competition, hospitals layer on costs such as high pay for doctors and administrators (but not nurses) or overelaborate facilities, which then justify higher prices.

In the competitive world, prices only go down if there is over-capacity. If my competitor and I are running our factories flat out, we won’t reduce prices. But we will add capacity (or someone else will). Pretty soon, as much as we don’t want to, we’re cutting prices to compete. If want to survive, we’re also desperately investing and innovating to distinguish our product and reduce the cost of production. Our customers win.

If there’s competition, some hospitals will fail; that’s a fact. Once airfares became competitive, some airlines failed (and survivors bought their assets at bankruptcy sales). Some of the hospitals which will fail will be “non-profits”. A socialist would say non-profits can offer lower prices because there are no investors demanding a return. Where that’s true, the non-profits will be survivors. If not, they deserve to fail – and should so that more efficient competitors can take their place.

If there’s competition, hospitals will be tempted to cut corners. That’s true and there are expenses we want them to trim. But what about safety? That’s what regulation is for. Airlines can cut costs (and prices) by jamming us in like sardines in the cheap seats; but they can’t put more people on a plane than can be safely evacuated. They can’t skip maintenance. Competitive hospitals will still have to be regulated, just not as much as they are now.

Of course competition is only effective where the consumers care about cost. That’s why McClaughry also suggests HSAs, available catastrophe-only plans, and income tax recapture of unpaid bills.

See also:

A For-Profit Surgical Center is a Good Idea for Vermont

Nice Business To Be In

Freedom, Responsibility, and Preexisting Conditions

Time to Face the Health Care Facts

 

 

August 03, 2017

Arlo by Night

What could be worse than a raccoon in the garden?

First Arlo, my DIY home video camera, discovered a groundhog in Mary's vegetable garden which is being raided faster than leaves can grow. While we were discussing groundhog-elimination strategies, Arlo made another discovery, this one using night vision.

 

In the end the raccoon climbs a ladder-like structure we shouldn't have left there to get to the raspberries.

So what could be worse? It only took a day to find out,

 

That's pretty bad and that was going to be my blog for the day... until a nice lady rear-ended me in traffic. Not my day.

Could be much worse, though. Only bent metal and plastic - and missing raspberries and grapes.

 

July 31, 2017

Nice Business To Be In

You’re in a business where the government requires Americans to buy your product. You’re only allowed to sell the blue-ribbon version of the product; you can’t legally sell an economy version. Many people can’t afford your product at the price you offer it; but that’s not a problem because the government will subsidize their purchase or just compensate you for selling at a “loss”. Competition is all but ruled out by laws which don’t allow a version of your product to be sold across state lines. Industry profits are setting records. What business are you in?

Health insurance, of course.

During last week’s fruitless debate on who pays for health care, Republicans threatened to repeal the individual mandate, the requirement that everybody buy or be offered health insurance. Not surprisingly the health insurance lobbyists were against letting people choose whether or not to buy their product. They pointed out, correctly, that many people wouldn’t buy at the prices they are charging. In Washington scorekeeping, people who choose not to buy insurance are people who will “lose their insurance coverage”.

Even worse, as the lobbyists pointed out, the people who would refuse to buy are young, healthy people who are very profitable. With the most profitable customers gone, rates would have to be even higher for everybody else. Unless Congress raised subsidies even higher, insurance as we’ve known it since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (aka ACA aka ObamaCare) would collapse. It’s hard to be sympathetic toward the insurance companies, which would have been hung in a noose of their own devising – costs going out of control because they can only offer plans no one can afford including coverage for pre-existing and politically expedient conditions and customers being unwilling and/or unable to buy. Strangely anti-corporate Sen. Elizabeth Warren was very concerned about the fate of the insurance companies. She quoted their dire predictions and neglected the attack I would have expected on their profits. Bernie Sanders lost no opportunity to criticize the Republican plan but was, at least in what I’ve read, uncharacteristically silent about profits. Warren and Sanders aren’t good long term allies for the insurance companies, however. They are honest that they want “single payer” health care. If we had that, insurance companies would be out of the loop entirely except perhaps for an opportunity to sell policies providing superior care to people with the money and willingness to buy them.

Although the ACA was passed with no Republican votes (sound familiar?), it was still a compromise between centrist Democrats who knew people wouldn’t like the mandatory coverage and weren’t ready to scrap private insurance and those who looked admiringly at government run and paid healthcare systems in much of the rest of the world.

 ACA has proved to be an unworkable compromise with some of the worst aspects of both public and private health; it’s a disaster financially even though less hospital bills go unpaid by patients. There hasn’t yet been a large-scale study showing improved health outcomes even though people who know their visits will be paid for are going to the doctor more. Costs are spiraling out of control. In my opinion keeping the private insurers in the loop has done nothing but pile on cost and complexity. Private solutions are beneficial when there is competition and a choice of both suppliers and product.  In many markets there are now one or only two providers; products must be gold-plated by government fiat.

Like many benefit programs, this one has proven to be a barbed hook. People are being subsidized by their own tax dollars (with a share subtracted for administration and insurance companies). They have no faith that they’ll be better off personally if cost of the “benefit” is done away with – and some won’t be. Even threatening to repeal the initially-hated personal mandate can’t pass Congress because the ACA (as well as insurance companies) will collapse without it.

So is it time to just give up the pretense and go to single payer? I think that would be a better alternative than trying to maintain the public-private monstrosity called ACA. I would prefer a truly competitive market both for health care insurance and for providing health care (with subsidies for the indigent as we do with food, fuel, and much else). Right now it doesn’t seem we have the political leadership to buck the insurance industry and get us either back to competition or to a government-run (ouch) system with no role for insurers who aren’t providing value.

Just to end on a happier note: Trump has tweeted a threat to make Congresspeople and their staffs buy their own health insurance on the exchanges. The ACA actually requires this but the Obama administration granted a waiver partially based on the fiction that each Congressional office is a small business with less than 50 employees on the average. That which can be waived can be unwaived. Might focus the congressional minds.

 

See also:

What if The Senate Really Debated Healthcare?

Freedom, Responsibility, and Preexisting Conditions

 

July 28, 2017

Arlo Captures Critter

At least on video.

I bought the basic wires-free version of Arlo as an experiment in DIY home security and am trying it in parallel with our traditional system. The first task we gave Arlo was to identify the critter who ransacks Mary's vegetable garden. It's taken awhile but finally Arlo did it. I thought it was rabbits; Mary bet on groundhogs. See the video for the winner

When first installed, Arlo gave lots of false alarms. The alerts can be received on your computer and/or smartphone. Birds were the most frequent cause. So we pointed him at a mass of critter-snack on the ground. Two days later, voila!

Note that you only see the critter leaving. This is because there is a delay between when motion is first sensed and when recording begins. We may have missed the critter a few times because of this so I tried turning up the sensitivity from 80% to 99%. Too many false alarms so had to turn it back down. According to marketing material Arlo Pro (more expensive) responds to motion almost immediately. You can mix and match so I'll probably put a Pro on critter duty and use the old camera for slow people.

 

See also:

Arlo: DIY Home Security

Alexa: The End of a Great Relationship

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