Who Makes Policy Campaign 2016 Edition

Does the US want to keep Russian relations unstable?

This is an interesting question and this article in the Washington Post starts to answer this.

Currently, there are multilateral economic sanctions against Russia from a great deal of the Western powers. The article claims:

“From Russia’s perspective, the revealed preferences of goosing the Ukrainian conflict just before the G-7 summit suggests that the geopolitical benefits of destabilizing Ukraine outweigh the economic costs of continued sanctions.”

But what of the US, again this piece give some interesting thoughts:

So it appears that both Russia and the United States have a vested interest in continued conflict. Russia wants to weaken Ukraine, not be seen as knuckling under to sanctions, and wait for fissures to appear in the Western alliance. But the United States sees the calculus of conflict a bit differently. U.S. officials think that continued conflict will help to perpetuate the sanctions and the number of dead Russian soldiers in Ukraine. This elevates geopolitical risk and makes it harder for Putin to suppress the domestic costs of his Ukraine adventure.

I still have to ask: to what end? I am not sure I really see the reason on Putin’s end or on Obama’s.

Proposition 61 in California

I wanted to point this out to everyone in case you did not catch this. Prop 61 is a CA ballot initiative that seeks to limit the cost of prescription drugs. I think it is worth following, especially if you are interested in healthcare. Some reading on it is bellow.

I am not sure how I feel about it. I think pharma companies are greedy and that there has to be a better way to make drugs available to people at a reasonable cost based on their economic means. I am not sure, however, that this is the way to do it. I see the pharmaceutical companies making California pay dearly in the form of access to drugs which will only serve a self-fulfilling policy for those who are against the bill who say that access to medication will be the economic cost of the price controls. Which leads me to ask is that even moral? But that’s a different blog post.







New York Bombings, Minnesota Stabbings & the Presidency

In light of the pipe-bomb in Seaside, NJ.  The bombs in Chelsea, NY. The multiple stabbing in Minnesota. That the police arrested the New York bomber in the town next to where I live in New Jersey, I thought I would bring this back to political polling to take my mind off how close this was to all of us.

First, we know, historically, when the public wants to feel safe they tend to vote Republican. We also know that this race is tightening. I still wonder how but I think that a lot of it goes to questions of safety and who is to blame (Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans). I have my theories on why but my real question is, and we will find out in a few days, will the events of this past weekend give Trump yet another bump and close the gap. Five-thirty-eight has Clinton winning with 273 electoral votes. Yes, that’s three electoral votes away from a loss. A few weeks ago I thought Clinton would win in a landslide; now I am trying to see what state-level organizations I can donate money too.

So, do you believe that this will help Trump? If more terrorism happens between now and the election could we be rubbernecking a Trump Presidency as we speed toward election day?

Russia Polling Data

Americans view of Russia is getting better in 2016 according to Gallup.

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way and not footnote it at the end. The study sample size was 1,021 with a 60% minimum cell phone sample. The margin of error is 4% at p>0.05 (95% confidence level).

With the statistics in mind, when we break this down by age and party affiliation from 2015 to 2016 something interesting happens.

If you are under the age of 30 favorability increases 15% and 8% if you are over 55 years old. However, the 30-55 age group saw a fall in favorability for Russia of 4%, right at the margin of error. I am not sure there is anything interesting to glean from this.

But when we look at party identification something interesting does happen. For democrats, warm feelings toward Russia go up 3% which is within the margin of error so it could be that democrats have not changed. For republicans, however, the favorability toward Russia goes up a whopping 10%. This is interesting because I wonder if that increase could be a result of the GOP standard bearer, Donald Trump, talking so favorably about Russia while campaigning.

The other finding here is that Americans feel Russia is less of a threat in 2016 as compared to 2015 by 10% (from 49% to 39%). I wonder why this is with all the saber rattling and all of the issues with Russia and the US in regards to Syria. It would seem that as we circle the possibility of a second cold war with Russia that the perceived threat would stay the same or go up.

Our Computers May be a Little Less Secure…

Okay, without sounding like a conspiracy nut I admit that I am one who already believes that most of what we do on our computers is being watched by someone (or multiple someone’s: Apple, Microsoft, the NSA in a bunker in the middle of Colorado).

However, a revision to Rule 41 of the Federal Court Rules is certainly going to make it easier. First, the rule allows the government to forum shop for a single judge to issue “cyber” warrants across multiple jurisdictions. So a government friendly judge in Arkansas can issue a warrant for a group of undefined computers in Arkansas and New York. I will let the linked article explain more cogently than I why that is bad but suffice it to say it limits oversight of the government and erodes our fourth-amendment rights protecting us from unreasonable search and seizure.

This also means that with one warrant the government can hack many computers. Presumably, if they find evidence leading them to another “connected” computer there is no need to get another warrant. Put this into perspective. The government gets a warrant to search Baruch College computers. You have a personal computer and you log onto the Baruch network while you are waiting for class. You are now a connected computer and subject to search on an unrelated search for information. Your personal privacy has been eroded and you would not even know or in some cases may not even get notice of the fact that the government was snooping on your computer.

What of public networks like NYC net, the public internet that you can log into on the streets of Manhattan. Because it’s a government network do we even have a right to privacy of our personal devices?

This rule change was approved by the Supreme Court and I am flabbergasted that it was allowed. The implications of allowing unfettered search and seizure and the erosion of our fourth-amendment rights and protections is unfathomable.

See the articles here:

So … Now the Government Wants to Hack Cybercrime Victims

The Feds Will Soon Be Able to Legally Hack Almost Anyone

Weekly Wrap-up on China-US and Russia-US Relations

Okay, so a few interesting things have happened this week so let’s dive right in.

The first thing that I think is interesting is what is happening in the Philipines. The talking point is that the Philipines is hoping to ingratiate arms sales from China by declining to partner with the US on sea patrols.

For me, this is concerning. Does this mean that some nations may see a partnership with China as more beneficial than one with the US. I am not the only person to think this either.

Moving on to Russia. The negotiated cease-fire in Syria has held in the early days with minor infractions. In light of this, the State Department has said that in concert with Russia it will allow Assad and the Syrian government to engage in targeted bombing if the calm holds through the cease-fire expiration on Sunday.

For me, I don’t know how I feel about propping up the Assad regime but at least for now, and possibly through Sunday the fighting has stopped.

Freedom on the Internet

Hopefully, the Wall Street Journal will not put this article behind a paywall if it does I can post the text in a comment. This is an interesting piece, a story I have not followed, but it seems important enough to put it out there for comment and discussion. Essentially the piece states that the Obama administration is going to let the US contract with ICANN (the organization that has control over the root of all internet addresses (e.g. the www part of a web address).

This is concerning for a number of reasons. Right now ICANN has monopoly protection because it has direct oversight from the US government. With that gone, as the piece points out, there may be a challenge by authoritarian states to ICANN’s legitimacy.

Could this spell the end of a free (not cost wise but content wise) and open internet? I have to say it, but this is one situation where I think I may actually agree with Sen. John Thune and Rep. Fred Upton (Commerce) and Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Judiciary), and let’s be honest, I do not agree with these four very often.


Genocide, Holocaust and the Moral Cost of Hate.

My mom and I had been planning for well over a decade to go to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Since I am in DC this semester I had planned to fly her down from Boston and finally do what we had planned on doing for years. We did just that this weekend.

First, I suggest to everyone that you go to the Holocaust Memorial Museum while we are here. It is one of the most moving museums I have ever been to and it is worth remembering, and never forgetting, what a genocide on the scale of the Holocaust looks like.

That said, this was my second time visiting the museum. This time, my visit had a very different salience given the zeitgeist that is the 2016 election. We all know that Donald Trump is an authoritarian. This weekend we heard just that from Thomas Edsall and if you want a great primer on this Vox did the legwork.

What struck me was that the rise of Nazi Fascism (before the wholesale slaughter of Jews, Gypsies and Homosexuals began) is similar to some of the rhetoric of Trump. The blaming of other races for our problems (Mexicans and Muslims). This is very scary to me. Are we heading down this path? Could Trump’s predilection toward the authoritarianism lead America down a path to Fascism?

But we do not have to even look to Trump to see genocide and holocaust like behavior. Take Syria and the Syrian refugees. Much like Jews in the late 1930’s many nations are pulling the NIMBY card and refusing to take Syrian refugees, even limited numbers of them. Now the reasons are different as to why Jews were fleeing and why Syrians are fleeing; but, because Germany could not offload the Jews they were demonizing as the reason for Germany’s problems they enacted the final solution and began the wholesale extermination of millions of people. If Trump cannot build a wall could there be a final solution for Mexicans? Would my Puerto Rican husband be categorized as one because of his accent and skin tone? What happens to Muslims in the United States if Trump is President and there is a terrorist attack? Will Muslims be put in camps?

What about Darfur. The western world stood by and watched as one person attempted to cleanse their country of a race they saw as a threat or inferior.

This visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum has me thinking a great deal about whether or not it could happen again given recent events. Given the populist movements in America that see “non-American’s” as the problem? If globalization will raise people up to better lives around the world, which is arguably a good thing for humanity as a whole, how do we prevent those who are losing in the developed world from taking extreme measures?

It’s a hard thing to look at where we are and think that this could still happen, and in America of all places. Sadly, I think it could. Especially if the zeitgeist was just right. I have to then ask myself, what moral obligation do we have to fight back from this populist movement that we have in America? Does the RNC have a moral obligation to renounce Trump and his authoritarian populism? Can you be against Trump but still support the standard bearer of the Republican party and not de facto endorse the authoritarianism and populism and hate? Either way, we have to remember past atrocities and recognize when things may be going off course so we can correct things.

These are big questions. They are important questions. I wish I had the answers.

China Warns US to Stay out of South China Sea Dispute; Australians Divided Regarding China

Two stories about China seem to be interesting today.

First, China has said that with regards to the dispute in the South China Sea that it will gladly work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations but warned Washington to stay out of the matter in a veiled manner (see here).

The times had an interesting piece about how Australians are divided as to whether China (and the increase of trade with China) is a more important ally than the United states (43% – 43% with some undecideds). At the same time that trade has been booming with China, some Australians are concerned about China’s presence in the region and what that could spell for them. (See the Times piece here).

I am not sure quite yet what this means. I can say that with Russia being aggressive, China being dismissive, Australians wondering if China is a better ally then the US, I wonder to what extent the US has a good relationship in the East? Perhaps after 15 years of war in the middle east and using the stick to get what we want (and failing at that as well) the world is wary of what the US might do after November comes and goes.