Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Breaking Obamacare: Missions Accomplished

The news, just before the election, that Obamacare premiums will jump an average of 22%, is just bad for Democrats across the board no matter how you slice it. Republican governors refusing to take money set aside to soften the blow for consumers through expanded Medicaid and health insurance companies bailing out of the single-plan market have largely succeeded in damaging the system in enough states to put the burden on shifting costs to premiums as Sarah Kliff explains.

Premiums are rising on the Obamacare marketplaces largely because the people who signed up for coverage were sicker than the insurance companies expected. This led some health insurers (like Aetna and UnitedHealth) to leave the marketplace. The insurance companies that stayed behind realized they’d have to charge higher premiums in order to cover their members’ medical bills.

What does this mean for Obamacare customers? Most Obamacare enrollees (83 percent) receive subsidies that limit the amount they have to spend on premiums. They only have to spend a certain percent of their income, and then the government will cover the rest.

These people will likely be somewhat insulated from the premium increases. But the premium hike could still be disruptive. These people might have to switch to a new plan if another insurer is offering a lower premium than the one they currently use.

But another 17 percent of Obamacare enrollees don’t receive premium subsidies. And these people are going to be in a really tough spot. They’ll need to decide whether they want to continue spending more to buy their same coverage — or if the insurance doesn’t provide enough value at the higher price.

What does this mean for the future of the law more generally? That’s really hard to tell right now — but there seems to be two plausible interpretations of the data.

One is that this is a one-time course correction. When Obamacare launched, premiums were much lower than analysts had expected. Insurance plans are now bringing their premiums more in line with expectations, and after they do that, they won’t have to make these big rate increases again.

The other is that this is the start of a series of higher rate increases for the health care law — that these new, high premiums might encourage some healthy people (especially those without subsidies) to leave the individual market. Subsides act as a powerful counter-balance to this second scenario, though, by capping enrollees’ contributions.

In either case, these numbers are bad news for Obamacare — we just don’t know how bad, exactly, the news is at this point.

Keep in mind that Republicans and health insurance companies are extremely eager to make the second scenario real, figuring that if they can wreck the system badly enough, and make their own constituents and customers suffer enough, that they will demand a full repeal of Obamacare to be replaced by a Republican "plan" of some sort.

The fact any Republican plan wouldn't actually lower premiums at all but dramatically cut coverage and put millions of Americans back in jeopardy of medical bankruptcy every year, well, somebody has to pay for it, after all.

I don't think this will cost Clinton the race, it's too late for Trump at this point.  But if I'm a Republican strategist in a Senate or House race, or a governor's contest in a red state, I just got handed the lifeline that could very well keep Congress in GOP control and put GOP governors in Missouri, NH, Vermont and WV with more empty promises of "Forcing Clinton to repeal Obamacare".  Hell it might even save Mike Pence's chair in Indiana and even Pat McCrory's job in NC.

We'll see if there's enough time left to affect downticket races.

Frankly Stein's Monster, Con't

Even this late in the game we have third party stupidity from people who should know better (i.e. anyone not named H.A. Goodman) involving Jill Stein and voting for the Green Party as a magical cure-all from the horrific Clinton administration that hasn't happened yet. Today's contestant is Vox's Ben Spielberg.

There is both a principled and strategic component to voting choices in presidential elections. In principle, citizens should cast their votes for whichever candidate’s views align most with their own. Strategic voting, on the other hand, includes a voter’s assessment of the probability that various voting choices will lead to desired outcomes. 
These components are related to some degree; voters are more likely to agree about which candidate to vote for if they agree in principle on which candidate is best. Yet principled and strategic voting are not the same. One might believe a third-party candidate to be optimal, for example, but still vote for a major party candidate because of the higher probability that the major party candidate will win the election. 
This decision can be a self-fulfilling prophecy —third-party candidates would be more electable if their supporters decided to vote for them — but it can also be rational, depending on how one evaluates the differences between major party candidates and the downside risk to voting for a bad nominee. 
I believe social justice advocates committing to vote for Hillary Clinton in the present election have a misguided strategy — I’d argue that good policy in the United States is set back more by strict lesser-evilsism than by the possibility of a Trump presidency. (In short, millions of people are suffering under the status quo, and I think a pledge to vote for a Democrat who won’t fundamentally change that just because she’s better than Trump deprives us of the bargaining power we need to challenge the status quo in the long run.) But I respect that others evaluate the trade-offs inherent in third-party voting this year differently. Their reasoning is generally coherent.  
What isn’t coherent, however, is many Democrats’ ridicule of the Jill Stein candidacy on principle. If they believe what they say they believe — that America needs aggressive action to dismantle institutional racism and sexism, combat climate change, end mass incarceration, promote a richer democracy, and achieve economic justice — they should acknowledge that Stein is the candidate who, if elected, would be most likely to advance those goals. Stein’s platform is significantly better than Clinton’s, and, unlike with Clinton, there’s little reason to doubt that what Stein currently says gels with what she’d actually support if she became our next president.

So if you really cared, you'd vote for Stein instead of Clinton, and that if Trump ends up president, that's actually better "policy" for marginalized groups.  Come to think of it, that's actually H.A. Goodman's exact argument before he went full alt-right and dedicated his platform to destroying Clinton and everyone who votes for her.

I really do love such helpful advice from holier-than-thou liberals about voting.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Last Call For The Italian Job

Don't look now, but we could be six weeks away from yet another Brexit-level crisis in Europe, this time as Italy faces a referendum in early December that will make or break the government of Italian PM Matteo Renzi.

In the town of Pontida at the foot of the Italian Alps, Alberto Frassoni cheerfully admits he knows nothing about the country’s upcoming referendum, not even the date. 
What the unemployed 48-year-old does know is that the economy isn’t working for him. 
“The euro ruined us because prices doubled,” says Frassoni, who supports the anti-immigrant Northern League that wants Italy to abandon the single currency. “A few things have changed, there are better public services for young and old people, but my job opportunities haven’t changed.” Foreigners “have taken work away from me,” he says. 
It’s the sort of discontent that populists are thriving on, taking them from the vocal fringes of politics right into the mainstream. After Britain’s stunning decision to withdraw from the European Union, now comes another ballot that could topple a leader should Italy defy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi over what, on paper at least, is the constitutional issue of reducing the size and powers of the Senate.

Should the December 4th referendum fail, Renzi has promised to resign as PM, and a narrow loss is looking more and more possible as Italy turns to protectionism and populism (sound familiar?)

What is clear is that many voters don’t know what it’s really about. They fret over the economy, immigration and Italy’s future in or out of the euro. 
Renzi, 41, now has a little over a month to champion a reform that promises to end the political instability that has toppled dozens of governments since World War II. But polls show he could be narrowly defeated, an outcome that is likely to lead to elections and potentially a leader who wants to take Italy out of the euro. 
Pontida stands out neither for its beauty nor rough edges, riches nor poverty. Every year, though, it hosts the annual rally of the Northern League, making it a touchstone for its followers. A poster on the main street proclaims: “Renzi slave of Europe and banks.”
The good news for the prime minister is that Frassoni, a former delivery driver, is among a third of the electorate who polls show might not even vote. There’s also at least 20 percent of voters who haven’t made up their minds in surveys that put Renzi’s “Yes” campaign trailing by four percentage points.

It's a bold move by Renzi, but if it fails, Italy will almost certainly elect a PM who will want to make sure that Italy is the next country out of the euro currency or the EU entirely.

Keep an eye on this one.  So far the EU has dodged plebiscite bullets in Spain but Lithuania's new government is very nationalist and more such elections around Europe are certainly on the way, the big one being France next year where President Hollande is pretty much doomed and Marine Le Pen and her French Trumpites are waiting in the wings.

2017 is the year the EU could crack up completely, folks.  We may get out alive in November but the rest of the world won't be so lucky.

The Next Midterm Massacre

Chris Cillizza makes the case that even if the Democrats win back the Senate and achieve the impossible and win back the heavily gerrymandered House, that a 2018 Democratic midterm meltdown (without Donald Trump to drag down the GOP ballot) all but guarantees Republican control of Congress for the second half of a Clinton term.

If we are being honest, the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is effectively over. Which means that the big fight over the next 15 days is for control of the Senate, where Democrats need a net gain of four seats to retake control. 
That prospect is looking more and more likely of late — thanks in large part to Trump’s collapse at the top of the ticket, a fall that appears to be dragging down the likes of Richard Burr in North Carolina, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Joseph J. Heck in Nevada.

What few people talk about — but should — is that this could be a very short-lived majority for Senate Democrats, as the 2018 field is remarkably bad for them. 
The numbers for that year are stunning: 25 Democratic or Democratic-affiliated independents are up for reelection, compared with just eight Republicans. That’s as lopsided an election cycle as you will ever see.

But a look inside the numbers makes the Democrats’ challenge in 2018 all the more daunting. Fully 20 percent of the 25 Democratic seats are in states that then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried in 2012 (and even Trump is likely to carry on Nov. 8): Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. 
All five Democratic incumbents in those states are expected to run for reelection, a prospect that gives Democrats a chance in each. But with 2018 looking almost certain to be the first midterm election of a Hillary Clinton presidency, it’s hard to see how her party avoids major losses in red states.

I hate to even consider the notion that a twit like Cillizza is correct, but...he's correct.  Jon Tester, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin are all going to face very long odds in 2018, plus Tim Kaine's seat would be open in Virginia and Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bill Nelson in Florida, and Bob Casey in Pennsylvania would all be incumbent Dems with seats in play.

And if the midterms are yet another disaster the way 2010 and especially 2014 were, Democrats losing all of those seats would be a nightmare.  There's nothing at this point to make me think the DNC has their crap together enough to pull it off, either.

I'm not saying this is a done deal by any means, but the time for Dems to get the ball moving on defending the ramparts is going to be November 9th.  A third midterm disaster is just going to undo any gains made this year and then some.

But now that I've got that out of my system, the time to start moving on 2018 is just a few weeks away.  I know people don't want to hear that, but it's what the GOP is going to do, trust me.

We have to be ready.

The Big Orange Log Cabin

When it comes to LGBTQ rights and the Republican Party, apparently there are folks who sincerely believe that Donald Trump is the best the GOP is going to get on the issue to the point where they freely say they will continue to back him over Hillary Clinton folks like California GOP delegate Charles Moran.

As Trump’s chances of winning the election appear to continue to drop in the waning days of his campaign, many gay conservatives, an unexpected segment of the Republican Party, are still backing him.

“Donald Trump is the best candidate that the LGBT community has ever seen come out of the Republican Party,” Moran said. “We see a consistent line from Donald Trump that being pro LGBT and pro inclusion is a good business decision and I believe he’s going to bring that with him in the White House."

Trump earned a lot of credibility with gay Republicans when he became the first GOP presidential nominee to positively refer to the gay community in a convention acceptance speech, saying, “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. Believe me.”

When that comment drew applause from the audience, Trump then ad-libbed -- “And I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you.”

Moran said he was not expecting Trump to talk about the LGBTQ community in that speech.

“Right after his speech people were starting to text me, ‘What does the ‘Q’ stand for?’” Moran said. “So I said, ‘It’s either queer or questioning’ -- an instructional moment. And I like being able to have those with the Republican Party.”

Moran points to Trump’s LGBTQ inclusiveness at Mar-a-Largo -- Trump’s Florida country club -- where he says Trump broke with tradition by allowing gay members. Moran also notes that Trump publicly supported Elton John’s marriage to David Furnish.

“We see a consistent line from Donald Trump that being pro-LGBT and pro-inclusion is a good business decision and I believe he’s going to bring that with him in the White House,” Moran said.

Despite the fact that Trump’s Christian conservative running mate Mike Pence enacted anti-LGBTQ laws as governor of Indiana, such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Moran said he’s comfortable with Pence because he’s “not running for president.”

Moran notes that Pence later amended the religious freedom law after meeting with LGBTQ groups, which he says shows Pence is willing to listen.

Moran said he does get a lot of flak from his friends for being a Trump supporter.

“The running joke is that it’s so much easier to be gay in the Republican Party than it is to be a Republican in the LGBT community,” he said.

And it's easy and reductive to call Moran "self-hating" and throw up your hands and say "what is wrong with them?" but that's as unfair as saying that about black Republicans or Latino Republicans or Asian Republicans who still support Trump.

My problem is wondering how you're still Republican at all with Trump as your candidate given the abject awfulness of his behavior and the rest of his stated platform.  As I've said before, the problem with Trump as the GOP candidate is not Trump, but the people who selected and accepted him as the nominee.  They are the folks who threw up their hands and said "Well, he's not Hillary."

When you stand for nothing, and are against everything that's happened over the last eight years in the White House, you get Trump. And these are Republicans who find Trump OK and Mike Pence to be a bridge too far?

PS, the official platform of the GOP on LGBTQ rights are "you have none."


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Last Call For The Chief Executives

It's not just the Senate that is in danger for the GOP, but several governor's mansions are up for grabs this year and the Republican brand is suffering across the board, so much so that Democrats now have a serious shot of picking up several governor's mansions.

Democrats were initially uncertain about their chances to make strides at the gubernatorial level, given the number of conservative states — Missouri, West Virginia and Montana among them — the party had to defend. But the recent polls have given them a reason to be more optimistic.

“We’re in a map right now where we’re pleased, on a race-by-race basis, at how this looks,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “Everyone expected that 2016 would be a difficult cycle for Democrats because we were defending more.”

A Ball State University poll released Wednesday, conducted for WISH-TV in Indianapolis, shows former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg (D) leading Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) by a 48 percent to 43 percent margin in the race to replace Republican Gov. Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s running mate.In North Carolina, another Republican-led state, three surveys released this week show Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) locked in a tight race with Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who has faced nationwide backlash over the state’s law on public bathroom use for transgender people. Polls conducted by CNN and Survey USA showed Cooper with a narrow lead, while a survey conducted by the conservative Civitas Institute showed McCrory slightly ahead.

Surveys in two states led by Democrats, Oregon and New Hampshire, show Democrats up by significant margins in gubernatorial races.

A University of New Hampshire poll conducted for WMUR showed Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern (D) leading fellow Executive Councilor Chris Sununu (R) 44 percent to 38 percent. A MassInc poll conducted for WBUR released last week showed Van Ostern up 47 percent to 44 percent. Current Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is running for Senate, hoping to boot the vulnerable GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

In Oregon, polls conducted for The Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting show Gov. Kate Brown (D) leading her opponent, little-known physician Bud Pierce (R), by double digits. Republicans had hoped Oregon voters might punish Brown for supporting a ballot measure that would raise corporate tax rates, though the opportunity never materialized.

The one pickup Republicans are looking for?  Vermont.  Go figure.

With two weeks remaining before November’s elections, Republicans’ best opportunity to pick off a Democratic-held seat appears to be in Vermont, where unpopular Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) decided not to seek a fourth two-year term. A Castleton Institute poll conducted for Vermont Public Radio this week, the first poll of the race, showed Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (R) and former state Transportation chief Sue Minter (D) in a statistical tie, with Scott up 39 to 38 percent.

Minter will campaign this weekend with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), who is wildly popular in his home state. Democrats believe Minter can ride a favorable wave to the governor’s mansion, while Democrats have sought to portray Scott as a New England Republican divorced from the national party’s conservative reputation.

Sure hope Bernie has enough juice left to save his own state from the GOP.

All In All He's Just An Orange Prick With A Wall

If there's any state where Donald Trump's lofty promises of a giant wall to keep out those people should play well, it's Arizona.  But with two weeks and two days before the election, giant walls aren't playing well in Arizona.  Not at all.

Donald Trump rode to the top of the Republican ticket promising a "big, beautiful, powerful" border wall with Mexico to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants. Along that border, however, Americans are more likely to call the wall a "waste of money", according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.

The results show that while the New York businessman may have expected his tough stance on immigration to fire up support nationally, it seems to be falling short in a state heavily affected by illegal immigration, and where he is now facing a surprising challenge from his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Asked if a wall would be “an effective barrier or a waste of money,” 47 percent of Arizona residents picked “waste of money” and 34 percent picked “effective barrier”, with the rest picking neither, according to the poll
. Among Republicans, 21 percent picked "waste of money” and 57 percent picked “effective barrier."

Most Arizonans also believed it is not realistic to expect Mexico to pay for the wall, something Trump has vowed would happen if he’s elected president on Nov. 8, according to the poll.

The results lined up closely with nationwide opinions of Trump’s immigration policy: 49 percent of American adults say the wall would be a “waste of money” and 31 percent say it would be an “effective barrier.

Uh-oh.  It seems like all Trump is doing is making sure Latino voters do just that this year: vote.

Florida is another closely-fought state that has seen large levels of illegal immigration, though by sea rather than by land. Some 41 percent of voters there said they believed Trump’s wall would be a “waste of money”, while 36 percent thought it would be an “effective barrier”.

Progressive activist groups in both Florida and Arizona have been using Trump’s hard line on immigration against him to mobilize Latinos for Clinton, who advocates a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants. Mi Familia Vota, for example, says they registered more than 15,000 people in Arizona this year.

We'll see what happens.  Trump may be the best thing to come along for the Latino vote ever.

For Democrats, that is.

Sunday Long Read: No Class Twits

I'm on Twitter as a social media platform and it's pretty useful and even fun from time to time, but the reality is the company has had a decade-long problem with harassment of women and the folks behind Twitter still haven't bothered to take the kind of steps needed to address more than cosmetic damage.

On May 22, 2008, Ariel Waldman ran out of options. Waldman, then a community manager and blogger, had signed up for Twitter in March 2007 and in months had become one of the platform’s 100 most followed accounts. She was, by her own account, “addicted” to the service.

But soon after, the abuse began — for no reason other than that Waldman was a woman writing articles that occasionally touched on sex and technology. In June 2007, a stalker posted some of her private information in a string of threatening tweets. Waldman contacted Twitter, which banned the user in question from the public timeline. But over the next eight months, the targeted abuse and stalking intensified. By March 2008, exhausted and disillusioned by a torrent of tweets calling her a “cunt” and a “whore” and publicizing personal information like her email address, Waldman reached out to Twitter again, this time to the company’s CEO, Jack Dorsey. After a series of phone calls to the company went nowhere, Dorsey and Twitter went silent. So in May, Waldman went public, detailing her ordeal in a blog post, which caught fire in media circles.

Twitter, then still a startup, was fresh off a buzzy SXSW debut, and Waldman’s post was an unfamiliar bit of bad press, depicting Dorsey in particular as an unsympathetic, even cowardly, chief executive. “Jack explained that they’re scared to ban someone because they’re scared if it turned into a lawsuit that they are too small of a company to handle it,” Waldman wrote. While Twitter founder Biz Stone issued a formal acknowledgment of the problem, arguing that “Twitter is a communication utility, not a mediator of content,” Dorsey was silent. Co-founder Ev Williams was more critical, posting tweets that cast doubt on Waldman’s claims and halfheartedly apologizing with a simple “our bad.” Waldman was crushed. “Prior to my coming out, I had great relationships with them and considered some of them my friends,” Waldman told BuzzFeed News this month of the fallout. “I took it very personally. It sucked.”

More than eight years after Waldman’s ordeal, harassment on Twitter is rampant — so much so that it has become a primary destination for trolls and hate groups. So much so that its CEO declared, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.” So much so that numerous high-profile users have quit the service, citing it as an unsafe space. Today, Twitter is a well-known hunting ground for women and people of color, who are targeted by neo-Nazis, racists, misogynists, and trolls, often just for showing up. Just this summer, actor Leslie Jones was driven off Twitter after a barrage of racist comments and death threats, only to return after a personal reassurance from Dorsey himself. Last week, Normani Kordei of the pop group Fifth Harmony also stepped away from the service after suffering years of “horrific and racially charged” tweets. Despite its integral role in popular culture and in social justice initiatives from the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter, Twitter is as infamous today for being as toxic as it is famous for being revolutionary. And unless you’re a celebrity — or, as it turns out, the president of the United States of America — good luck getting help.

According to 10 high-level former employees, the social network’s long history with abuse has been fraught with inaction and organizational disarray. Taken together, these interviews tell the story of a company that’s been ill-equipped to handle harassment since its beginnings. Fenced in by an abiding commitment to free speech above all else and a unique product that makes moderation difficult and trolling almost effortless, Twitter has, over a chaotic first decade marked by shifting business priorities and institutional confusion, allowed abuse and harassment to continue to grow as a chronic problem and perpetual secondary internal priority. On Twitter, abuse is not just a bug, but — to use the Silicon Valley term of art — a fundamental feature.

Twitter does have a lot to offer.  Unfortunately part of that offering is nearly guaranteed harassment and racist attacks (and the era of Trumpism sure as hell hasn't made the issue any better.)  I've had to fight off racist clowns on a regular basis, but I know the harassment can be orders of magnitude worse. I've been downright lucky by comparison to some friends of mine.

And the fact of the matter is people are leaving Twitter for that reason.  The company is scrambling to find a buyer and potential suitors are walking away at this point because of the harassment issue.  I'm finding I'm spending more time on Tumblr and other platforms these days, and even Facebook is better at curbing assholes. Whatever the next step in social media is, I hope the lessons of Twitter's 10-year campaign of failure are learned.

Down The Ballot, Down The Hole

The Trump Effect is blasting its way through the ranks of the GOP House and Senate candidates, and what were largely considered safe seats, like Sen. Marco Rubio's in Florida, are now toss-ups as Trump's collapse spread through the rest of the party like the disease he is.

Just months ago, Senator Marco Rubio was seen by the Republican establishment as one of its best hopes for taking back the White House. Now, Representative Patrick Murphy, a second-term congressman, iswithin striking distance of defeating Mr. Rubio in the senator’s race to keep his seat.

The race is the most consequential among several in Florida in which Republican incumbents find themselves in unexpectedly tough fights. The plight of Florida Republicans — who seem largely resigned to a Clinton victory, given Hillary Clinton’s four percentage point lead in the polls — is in large measure a result of the name at the top of the ballot. But Donald Trump’s candidacy has only accelerated trends that have changed Florida’s political landscape in ways that Democrats have been more adept at seizing.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of Florida’s congressional delegation, is fighting more vigorously than she ever has to fend off a Democratic challenger, Scott Fuhrman, a businessman who has little name recognition and is campaigning against Ms. Ros-Lehtinen’s rigid defense of the Cuban embargo. President Obama won the district by a tiny margin in 2008 and by nearly seven percentage points in 2012. This year, Mrs. Clinton is leading Mr. Trump by 17 to 23 percentage points in the district, according to polling commissioned by Mr. Fuhrman.

The changing Latino electorate is the key factor, with Cuban-Americans, who once swung reliably Republican, increasingly up for grabs, particularly younger voters who are more socially liberal than their parents and less dogmatic about the Cuban embargo. Some 58 percent of Latino voters in Florida back Mrs. Clinton, while 28 percent support Mr. Trump, according to a recent poll commissioned by Univision.

This pains Rudy Fern├índez, one of the architects of the Republican Party’s efforts to earn Latino votes during the 2000 and 2004 campaigns, which were instrumental in George W. Bush’s Florida victories. “It was a very inclusive message, a positive message, Reaganesque,” Mr. Fern├índez said. In November, he said, he will unenthusiastically vote for Mrs. Clinton and hope that Mr. Trump’s defeat forces a reckoning that reboots the party’s approach toward Latinos.

What this has meant for Mr. Rubio is that he can no longer rely on Cuban-Americans as a stalwart base in a state where many voters have become alienated by his hard-line conservative positions on issues such as gay rights, reproductive rights, gun control and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and by his shifting stance on immigration reform. Of course, the Trump factor is substantial, too. Mr. Rubio, who once called Mr. Trump a “con artist” wholly unfit to be president, now backs him. Many former Rubio supporters find that galling and indefensible.

For these reasons, Florida voters should support Mr. Murphy. But defeating Mr. Rubio, who earned a reputation on Capitol Hill as a disengaged lawmaker who skipped scores of key votes and hearings, shouldn’t be the only motive.

Mr. Murphy’s positions on climate change — an issue that Mr. Rubio seems deeply ignorant about — gay rights, gun control and comprehensive immigration reform make him by far a superior representative for Floridians. Mr. Murphy has also challenged Mr. Rubio’s obstinate support for the failed embargo on Cuba, which puts him on the right side of history and, increasingly, public opinion in Florida.

So the question is will the Latino turnout be high enough to send Little Marco packing? We'll find out in a couple of weeks.  I certainly hope so.  And he'll have Donald Trump to thank.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Last Call For Rigger Mortis

Donald Trump's dangerous rhetoric is now openly threatening to ignite a crisis in confidence among the American voter weeks before the election even happens.

Donald Trump has repeatedly called this year's presidential election rigged and has coyly said "I will keep you in suspense” on whether he would accept a Hillary Clinton victory, but many Republicans are less circumspect, according to a new poll.

Only half of Republicans would accept Clinton, the Democratic nominee, as their president. And if she wins, nearly 70 percent said it would be because of illegal voting or vote rigging, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday.

Conversely, seven out of 10 Democrats said they would accept a Trump victory and less than 50 percent would attribute it to illegal voting or vote rigging, the poll showed.

The findings come after repeated statements by Trump that the media and the political establishment have rigged the election against him. He also has made a number of statements encouraging his supporters to fan out on Election Day to stop ineligible voters from casting ballots.

The U.S. government has accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations and state election systems.

Clinton has said she will accept the results of the election no matter the outcome.

The poll showed there is broad concern across the political spectrum about voting issues such as ineligible voters casting ballots, voter suppression, and the actual vote count, but Republicans feel that concern more acutely.

For example, nearly eight out of 10 Republicans are concerned about the accuracy of the final vote count. And though generally they believe they will be able to cast their ballot, only six out of 10 are confident their vote will be counted accurately.

Among Democrats, about six out of 10 are concerned about the vote count. They, too, believe they wi1l be able to cast their ballot, but eight out of 10 are confident their vote will be counted accurately.

The problem with this idiotic "both-siderism" is that there's very real evidence that Democratic voter suppression is happening in red states and the fact that this will be the first presidential election since the Roberts Supreme Court neutered the Voting Rights Act, and the latter especially will have serious consequences.

This year's presidential election will be the first in a half-century without the significant presence of federal observers at polling places. That's because in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, and when the court wiped out that section, the statute that provided for election observers went, too.

The landmark decision in Shelby County v. Holder doesn't mean civil rights officials are totally disarmed. The Justice Department will still send out "hundreds" of "monitors" to oversee Election Day compliance. But the number is smaller than it was before, and monitors can only enter the polling place if local officials agree. Observers, by contrast, had a statutory right to be inside polling places. They were trained specifically for the task. There also were many more of them, and they had far more authority than monitors.

"We can't deny the costs of Shelby County" in terms of enforcement powers, says Vanita Gupta, assistant attorney general for civil rights.

"The hope is that just by having the presence of the federal government at polling sites, even if we may be slightly more diminished or spread thinner, that our sheer presence has sufficient deterrent effect and gives voters the confidence that they need to feel like the process is fair," she adds.

Gupta says she expects federal monitors to fan out over half the states on Election Day.

None of these monitors, however, will have the automatic legal clout that observers did.
Unlike monitors, observers typically were stationed inside polling places to watch partisan poll watchers and to make sure rights were enforced. They would also verify that the number of voters jibed with final vote tallies. Indeed, they could even go inside the polling booth to make sure assistors were accurately recording the votes of people who needed help casting their ballots.

Gerry Hebert, who served in the voting section of the Justice Department for 21 years, says the presence of federal monitors is "good as far as it goes, but it doesn't really replace that kind of on-site complete oversight within the polling place."

So yeah, that's what the real issue is, Donald.

Scion Of The Times

Donald Trump, a man who managed to go bankrupt running casinos and probably couldn't figure out how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without burning down three neighborhoods in the process, is finding out the hard way that being an orange racist snack product is in fact bad for branding.

Amidst reports that occupancy rates at Trump Hotels have slipped this election season, the company has announced that new brand hotels will no longer bear the Trump name.

The newest line of luxury hotels, geared towards millennials, will be called Scion, the company said.

“We wanted a name that would be a nod to the Trump family and to the tremendous success it has had with its businesses, including Trump Hotels, while allowing for a clear distinction between our luxury and lifestyle brands,” Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger said in a statement.

Although Trump Hotels has said the new name has nothing to do with the eponymous businessman’s presidential campaign, empty rooms at the hotels have caused officials “to reduce rates during the peak season," according to New York Magazine.

Nightly rates at the newly-opened Trump International Hotel in D.C. plummeted below $500 while practically every other five-star property was sold out for the International Monetary Fund conference two weeks ago. And after his remarks about Mexican immigrants, two celebrity chefs backed out of their contracts to open a restaurant in the hotel.

According to Hipmunk, bookings at Trump Hotels plummeted 59 percent during the first half of 2016 and data from Foursquare shows a 17 percent drop in foot traffic at Trump properties since June 2015, when the reality TV star announced his presidential bid.

Trump Hotels, however, refutes the analysis.

“Our business at Trump Hotels is stronger than ever and we are incredibly excited about the future of Scion, the newest brand in our hotel portfolio,” Ivanka Trump, who is the executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the brand, said in a statement.

“The data reported by both Hipmunk and Foursquare is manipulated to appear meaningful, when, in reality, the information is inconsequential and does not provide an accurate representation of our performance,” a Trump Hotels spokesperson told Travel + Leisure.

The hotel occupancy data is also rigged, apparently.  Who knew. What you do know is which hotels to avoid in the future, right?

A Series Of (Clogged) Tubes

If you're like me, you had to deal with serious problem getting on some of your favorite internet sites on Friday because of a massive attack on the net's ability to handle and route web site requests.  It would be like if all the East Coast's traffic lights went from green to red and back to green every couple of seconds, because they all got conflicting commands to change the lights.  Nobody would be able to get anywhere, and that's what happened with Dyn's DNS servers and internet traffic 24 hours ago.

Dyn offers Domain Name System (DNS) services, essentially acting as an address book for the Internet. DNS is a system that resolves the web addresses we see every day, like https://www.WIRED.com, into the IP addresses needed to find and connect with the right servers so browsers can deliver requested content, like the story you’re reading right now. A DDoS attack overwhelms a DNS server with lookup requests, rendering it incapable of completing any. That’s what makes attacking DNS so effective; rather than targeting individual sites, an attacker can take out the entire Internet for any end user whose DNS requests route through a given server.

“DNS registrars typically provide authoritative DNS services for thousands or tens of thousands of domain names, and so if there is a service-impacting event the collateral damage footprint can be very large,” says Roland Dobbins, a principal engineer at Arbor Networks, a security firm that specializes in DDoS attacks. 
DDoS is a particularly effective type of attack on DNS services because in addition to overwhelming servers with malicious traffic, those same servers also have to deal with automatic re-requests, and even just well-meaning users hitting refresh over and over to summon up an uncooperative page.

Now, Internet backbone companies like Dyn deal with these attacks all the time.  But this was an attack of such incredible scale that it took even them by surprise.

The overall picture is still somewhat hazy, but more information has become available as the day has progressed. Initial reports indicate that the attack was part of a genre of DDoS that infects Internet of Things devices (think webcams, DVRs, routers, etc.) all over the world with malware. Once infected, those Internet-connected devices become part of a botnet army, driving malicious traffic toward a given target. The source code for one of these types of botnets, called Mirai, was recently released to the public, leading to speculation that more Mirai-based DDoS attacks might crop up. Dyn said on Friday evening that the security firms Flashpoint and cloud services provider Akamai detected Mirai bots driving much, but not necessarily all, of the traffic in the attacks. Similarly, Dale Drew, the chief security officer of Internet backbone company Level 3, says that his company sees evidence of their involvement.

So America's internet-enabled devices, from cameras to DVRs to baby monitors to thermostats and lighting, are all small computers able to serve as unwilling hosts in an army of devices that can send these requests to flood the internet's traffic cops, and America just hasn't been thinking about how many of these devices there are, or how to secure them from malware that recruits them as a massive network of attackers.  The problem of course is that this scenario shouldn't have taken Dyn by surprise at all:

There’s also a potential motive to use a Mirai hack against Dyn, or at least a certain irony in it. The company’s principal data analyst, Chris Baker, wrote about these types of IoT-based attacks just yesterday in a blog post titled“What Is the Impact On Managed DNS Operators?”. It appears he has his answer. And that all DNS services, and their customers, should be on notice.

And the notice is "We failed.  Do better.  The next attacks will be coming."  The reality is that expecting American consumers to upgrade the firmware on their internet-enabled toasters is exactly what led to Friday's event, because the companies selling "the Internet of Things" aren't selling them with any protections.  And we're going to be dealing with cleaning that up for quite some time.

Pants On Fire Time Again

It's actually kind of refreshing to see an awful political analogy from the Village these days that doesn't involve Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but this one from the WSJ's James Taranto may be one of the all-time duds ever misfired as he compares Obamacare to...exploding cell phones?

Outside of politics, perhaps the worst new-product launch of 2016 was the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Released in August, it was recalled twice and finally withdrawn from the market last week, all because the device has a tendency to catch fire or explode.

It’s an apt analogy for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as ObamaCare—and that’s not our opinion but that of President Obama himself. Here’s the president in a speech yesterday at Miami Dade College in Florida: 
The point is, now is not the time to move backwards on health care reform. Now is the time to move forward. The problems that may have arisen from the Affordable Care Act is [sic] not because government is too involved in the process. The problem is, is that we have not reached everybody and pulled them in. And think about it. When one of these companies comes out with a new smartphone and it had a few bugs, what do they do? They fix it. They upgrade—unless it catches fire, and they just—then they pull it off the market. But you don’t go back to using a rotary phone. You don’t say, well, we’re repealing smartphones—we’re just going to do the dial-up thing. That’s not what you do.

It turns out ObamaCare compares unfavorably even by that analogy. Several years ago this columnist switched our TV and internet service to Verizon Fios, the fiber-optic service offered by the company whose local operation was long ago known as New York Telephone. Signing up for Fios, it turned out, also entailed giving up traditional copper-wire analog phone service in favor of the newfangled digital kind.

We hadn’t used a rotary phone since childhood, but we happen to own an antique one. This morning we plugged it into the wall and attempted to dial a number. It took a long time, as you have to dial 11 digits now even for a local call—but it worked. If you like your phone, you can keep your phone (save for the Note 7). Verizon 1, ObamaCare 0. 

Well, if you think a national health care exchange is like making a phone call, sure, Taranto has a point.  He goes on to cherry-pick and complain about the parts of Obamacare that haven't come to pass yet, mainly because individual GOP governors have done everything they can to make sure the system fails, with the stated goal being that enough broken, badly running GOP spit and bailing wire nightmares will cause the whole health care system to collapse.

They don't really have a plan B.

That would be the correct analogy to the Samsung Note 7.

But we could instead talk about the tens of millions who have insurance now and the fact that despite Republican sabotage, the plan is still covering more than 90% of Americans.

But sure, let's keep making lazy, silly, and ignorantly cutesy analogies about a guy the GOP has chosen to replace with an orange racist snack product covered in cat hair.  We should really trust the judgment of the folks who thought Donald Trump should be president, right?

Tell me another one.  Pants on fire.
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