Cutting The Cord With Fioptics

Cincinnati Bell Telephone Speed Test on 2017-01-21Last week I got an offer from Cincinnati Bell I could not refuse. They offered to upgrade my Internet to 30 Mbps, keep my home phone, and give me video streaming for about the same price as I was paying for the Internet and the home phone. Due to our distance from the road cable TV has never been an option. Getting the Internet from the telephone company was our best option. Our farm is about 8000 feet from the telephone company equipment providing us with Internet access. That distance pretty much guarantees us slow Internet access. As an example, my Internet was advertised to be 20 Mbps but I never had a speed test greater than 7 Mbps. On the other hand, if the technology had improved enough to support faster Internet over longer distances, I could replace DirecTV and save over a hundred bucks a month.

The installation went smoothly until I got home and turned on the television in the bedroom. Both the television in the bedroom and the living room locked up. When I ran a speed test on my laptop it said I had only 2 Mbps. Video streaming is never going to work at this speed! So I called Cincinnati Bell and they sent out a technician. After a little bit of troubleshooting, he replaced the ADSL filter. My engineering background says that changing the filter should not affect the Internet speed but my speed was now 24 Mbps.  That is three times faster speed than I ever had. I am confused but not complaining. Even when I run just one television the speed test is showing 21 Mbps. This is more than enough capacity for me to watch football while my wife watches a movie. As soon as my wife is comfortable programming the DVR we should be ready to cut DirecTV from our budget.

CyberSecurity Tips For Both Political Parties

The American people want to believe that both political parties and our journalists will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.  Instead they found out that:

  • Glenn Thrush is actually a political hack masquerading as a journalist.
  • From time to time Donna Brazile gets debates questions in advance and had no ethical problems passing it on to the Clinton campaign.
  • The supposedly neutral DNC was actively trying to undermine the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign despite telling everyone they were not doing that.

This loss of innocence was one of the major reasons behind the success of Mr. Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” theme. Although the intelligence community is trying to divert attention from the gross incompetence and ethical shortcomings of the DNC, Mr. Podesta, and those journalists, I feel it is my responsibility as an old IT guy to remind both political parties and journalists that you are the first line of defense in cybersecurity.  Gross stupidity can easily defeat the best cybersecurity plan. So here are my tips:

Stop Doing Ethically Stupid Stuff And Writing About It In Emails

It is better to be thought a cheater than to write an email that removes all doubt! As an example the Donna Brazile “From time to time” email could have been written a  thousand different ways that would obscure the source while preparing Ms. Clinton for the subject matter. A simple rephrasing of the question would have at least given Ms. Brazile plausible deniability as a cheater. Ms. Clinton’s worst debate answers are far better than the stigma from being caught cheating. Of course, a more ethical person would not have divulged the question to Ms. Clinton. Most of the journalists mentioned in the Wikileaks releases doing ethically stupid stuff probably regret writing about it in an email. The lesson that should have been learned is that embarrassing emails in the wrong hands are very valuable. You have just provided the reason for even more hacking attempts!

Treat All Communication Devices As Non-Secure

Whether you are in the privacy of your home or at Starbucks you should assume that someone is trying to intercept your communications. It could be the NSA, Russian intelligence, or just some script kiddie having fun.   If only a small portion of your emails are about yoga and wedding preparations, you really should not have a private email server. Who were the adults in the room advising Ms. Clinton about the security risks associated with the Secretary of State having a private email server? Brian Krebs of KrebsOnSecurity sums it up best.

There are some fairly simple, immutable truths that each of us should keep in mind, truths that apply equally to political parties, organizations and corporations alike:

  • If you connect it to the Internet, someone will try to hack it.
  • If what you put on the Internet has value, someone will invest time and effort to steal it.
  • Even if what is stolen does not have immediate value to the thief, he can easily find buyers for it.
  • The price he secures for it will almost certainly be a tiny slice of its true worth to the victim.
  • Organizations and individuals unwilling to spend a small fraction of what those assets are worth to secure them against cybercrooks can expect to eventually be relieved of said assets.

Health Reimbursement Accounts Are Back For Small Businesses

As part of the 21st century Cures Act health reimbursement accounts(HRA) were restored for small businesses yesterday. Qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangements are now exempt from the Affordable Care Act group health plan requirements. Without the exemption the small businesses using a HRA would face severe penalties for having a non-compliant “group health plan”. The small business I work at terminated their health reimbursement account at the end of 2014. They replaced it with a monthly cash bonus.

Will Health Reimbursement Accounts Make A Comeback In 2017?

My boss indicated that he would like to offer a Health Reimbursement Account in 2017. Potentially this sounds like a good deal even if we have to give up our bonuses. Pretax money goes about 20% farther. The problem is in the details.

  1. What happens if you have a subsidized health insurance plan purchased through ACA exchanges? Zane Benefits implies that HRA payments will lower the premium tax credit. If the HRA amount is greater than the premium tax credit the employee will get a small benefit. Otherwise the only beneficiary is the government.
  2. What happens if an employee wants to self-insure? Zane Benefits implies that the employee needs an ACA compliant health insurance plan to claim qualified out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Fake News Versus Dissenting Opinions

Last week I was shocked to find that Google had banned the latest PragerU YouTube video as hate speech. As a regular listener to PragerU videos I was curious to see the video that went over the edge. From my experience hate speech is definitely not PragerU’s style. The video in question, Was Born To Hate Jews, is by a devout Muslim who describes his transformation of someone who hated Jews to gradual acceptance. Some Muslims might disagree with this man’s opinion but it was not hate speech. When did one Muslim’s decision to accept that Jews are okay and do not need to be wiped off the map become hate speech to Google?

That incident led me to question the subject of ‘fake news’.  A Washington Post article, Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say, had started off this mess. In one of the great faux pas of modern journalism the Washington Post said,

One of them was PropOrNot, a group that insists on public anonymity, which issued a report identifying more than 200 websites that, in its view, wittingly or unwittingly published or echoed Russian propaganda.

Okay, let see if I understand this correctly. The Washington Post is saying that ‘fake news’ during the recent elections came from Russian propaganda efforts. This is a considerably different story than the one portrayed by NPR in their story, We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned. The Washington Post went one step further and relied on a list from an anonymous source, PropOrNot. I hate to complain about the lack of journalistic standards but you have to ask the question. At what point did they get a little concerned that this organization might be a ‘fake news’ site just like the ones they were complaining about?

Is The PropOrNot List ‘Fake News’ Sites?

Someone had to do this and obviously the Washington Post was not up to the task. So I went over to the PropOrNot site and took a look at the list. The first thing I noticed was that the list was not ‘fake news’ sites by the NPR standard. The second thing I noticed was that I read several of the sites on a regular basis on the list. They are:

All of these sites express dissenting opinions. Many of the sites express libertarian opinions. From a cursory review of the list I can detect at least three themes, managed economies, Anti-War, and Truth in Government.

Managed Economy Theme

The first group, Stockman’s Contra Corner, oftwominds.com site, and zerohedge.com,  are critical of our government’s attempt to manage the economy. Their writings have more in common with the old Keynes versus Hayek debate. The most famous person in this group is former Congressman, Mr. Stockman, who wrote a New York Times bestseller, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America. Ironically these free market oriented writings are critical of Russia’s managed economy.

Anti-War Theme

The second group, Lew Rockwell, antiwar.com, and the ronpaulinstitute.org, probably got included on the list due to their libertarian, anti-war dissents. Lew Rockwell and former Congressman Ron Paul are Mises Institute board members who are critical of the government’s efforts at regime change. Ironically both President-elect Trump, President Obama, and most of the Democratic party are critical of past regime change policies. It is a pretty big stretch to say that this group’s complaint about regime change “unwittingly echoed Russian propaganda”.

Truth In Government

Wikileaks and several other truth sites represent the truth in government group. Wikileaks is the only  site who I might concede wittingly helped Russian propaganda. Although Russia may have been involved in getting the emails to wikileaks, the emails are not ‘fake news’.  I went to the wikileaks.org site and confirmed that the DKIM signature said that the emails had not been altered. In the greatest irony of the fake news cycle, the Podesta and DNC emails were so damaging to the Democratic party election chances because they were true news stories.

How Much Do You Need To Write About Russia To Be Included On The PropOrNot List?

Maybe sites make the list because they write a lot about Russia. It is pretty obvious why pravda.ru and rt.com made the list but why did nakedcapitalism.com make the list? Its title implies that it devoted a lot more time discussing capitalism rather than Russia. Was this false advertising? Since the site displays a topic list with the number of posts pertaining to each subject, I downloaded the list and did some calculations. Russia was 47th on the list. The Russian posts amounted to only 0.47% of the 61,907 posts. They were just behind CEO compensation and well behind Europe(28th) and China(30th). Looking at these numbers it is difficult for me to see how this site got on the PropOrNot list. Maybe this is why the folks at nakedcapitalism are suing PropOrNot.

Mixing Business With Racism Is Crazy

Last week I was shocked to get a Penzeys Spices newsletter with the title, “Newsletter +Racism Update!” As an IT professional I am familiar with the current best practices for email marketing practices. This title was a completely unnecessary risk to the business. For many businesses this is their peak season. Suffice to say anyone in their right mind would recognize this is the season to connect with their customers in positive ways. It takes about twenty postive engagements to overcome one mean spirited engagement. This is not the time to toss your marketing plan out the window because your candidate lost an election. You actually have to be an adult about running a business. To compound the problem he actually wrote in the body of the newsletter, “The open embrace of racism by the Republican Party in this election is now unleashing a wave of ugliness unseen in this country for decades. ” Regardless of how you felt about the election this statement will antagonize half of the population. Then on the next day I cringed again as he wrote another email with instructions on how to unsubscribe from the newsletter if the previous email bothered you. I am not making this up! On the third day he wrote again. This time the title was, “Opt-out results for racism update email!” When will the insantity stop!

To Opt Out Or To Not Opt Out Has Nothing To Do With Racism

I checked my records and my first order with Penzeys Spices was in 1996. Typically this is the time of year I stock up with their products. They have a great selection and good product quality but they are not the only business selling spices.  Recently I have been weaning myself away from them because I bought too many spices. To save myself from myself I opted to purchase spices locally when I run out. Jungle Jim’s has a great selection of spices. Someday I may buy bulk quantities of spices from Amazon. The important point is for a business like Penzeys Spices to remember is that customer retention is crucial. Customers have plenty of reasons to opt out of your newsletter without you forcing the question. Do not encourage them to opt out for an issue unrelated with your business. The number-one rule of business is to stay business-focused.

David Burge On Lefties

David Burge On Lefties

Senator Sessions And The Black Belt Voter Fraud Case

Once again I find myself fact checking the main stream media. When I read the USA Today article, Black Belt voter fraud case in Alabama shaped Senator Jeff Sessions’ career, I was surprised to find out that the prosecutors alleged that three people altered ballots for a 1984 primary election. One group of Democrats were defrauding another group of Democrats. This reminds me of the tactics used by Clinton supporters against Mr. Sanders. There was merit to the case since the defendants admitted that they altered the ballots but only under directions of the voter. Despite this admission the Democrats allege that this case was brought primarily to suppress black voter turnout. Allegations of voter fraud continue to dog at least one of the counties in the Black Belt, Perry county. In 2008 the New York Times reported new allegations of voter fraud. In 2012 tuscaloosanews.com reported a scandal involving a town in Perry county. According to the 2010 census this town had approximately 1,140 people older than 18 and yet it had 2,587 registered voters. If we admit that there were questionable voting practices in the Black Belt, what does this say about Mr. Sessions record as attorney general?

What Does Voter Suppression Mean In A Safe Democratic District?

In the most recent House election for Alabama’s 7th district which encompasses most of the Black Belt, Terri Sewell, won the election with 98.4% of the vote. You have to go all the way back to  1967 to find a Republican winning this district. None of the general elections were close. Obviously Mr. Sessions and the Republicans had nothing to gain from voter suppression. Republicans had almost no chance of winning any political office in the Black Belt. The Black Belt was and still is a safe Democratic district. The real political battle is over who would win the Democratic primary. So the only person who had a motive to report voter fraud was the person who lost the Democratic primary. In an ironic twist the Democrats are mad at Mr. Sessions because he respected the right of that person to have a fair election.

Which macroeconomic theories will rise or fall because of Donald Trump?

Tyler Cowen wrote an interesting post, Which macroeconomic theories will rise and fall in status because of Donald Trump?, that explored the potential rise or fall of macroeconomic theories under the Trump administration. I decided to jump on the bandwagon and offer my suggestions. Here are his choices and comments.

1. “The multiplier is high.”  That seems ready to decline in status.

2. “Even wasteful expenditures can boost demand and help pull us out of secular stagnation.”  Ditto.  “We need to do stimulus right” will make a comeback.  And I see “the distributional effects of stimulus really matter” lurking around the corner.

3. “Tax cuts aren’t as good as government spending.”  That actually may rise in status, especially if Congress gets the bargain they want — lots of tax cuts — rather than what Trump wants.

4. The notion of how a credibly irresponsible leader can improve macro performance won’t get cited as much.

5. Austrian-like theories of how there can be a boom in the short run, yet with great long-run dangers, will return to prominence, albeit with modifications to the original Austrian story.

6. Criticizing countries with trade surpluses will decline in status.

7. The efficient markets hypothesis will decline in status.  It imposes too much discipline on our judgments of leaders and their policies.  The more certain we are of our own judgments, the more that evidence contradicting those judgments should be downgraded.  Right?

My Choices For Macroeconomic Rise Or Downfall

  1. Zero Interest Rate Policy(ZIRP). We have sufficient evidence to conclude that a Zero Interest Rate Policy does not stimulate the economy. ZIRP stabilizes a financial crisis when it is timely, targeted, and temporary. It is not a substitute for a good, long term monetary and fiscal policies.
  2. Financial Engineering. The zero interest rate policy encouraged many companies to borrow money to buy back stock. Now the Federal Reserve is planning to raise interest rates. How are these self liquidating companies planning to raise sales without borrowing even more money?
  3. Wall Street Bailout of 2008.  The longer we go with stagnant wages and slow GDP growth the more the bailout resembles Japan’s Lost Decade. Hopefully, if we have a recession our policy leaders will not continue to borrow failed ideas from the Japanese.
  4. All Bubbles Matter. The Wall Street bailout did not reduce the systemic risk posed by the derivatives market. Now we get to watch the European Union deal with the systemic risk posed by Deutsche Bank and multiple Italian banks. At some point we have to admit Keynesian economics is more prone to bubbles than Austrian economics.

The Shame Game

There was a kerfuffle at the University of Virginia when President  Teresa Sullivan sent an email urging students to “remember their own responsibility in the world” following President-elect Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.

“By coincidence, on this exact day 191 years ago — November 9, 1825, in the first year of classes at U.Va. — Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes,’” she wrote. “I encourage today’s U.Va. students to embrace that responsibility.”

Instead of embracing this noble challenge 469 faculty and students chose to complain about Thomas Jefferson. They argued that the author of the Declaration of Independence, former President, and founder of the university was a bad choice for a “moral compass” because he “owned hundreds of slaves”. Instead they chose to bite the hand of someone trying to help them. Although the history surrounding Thomas Jefferson and slavery is interesting, it was not relevant to Ms. Sullivan’s point. When the words, slavery, racism, and Hitler, pop up in a discussion, the intelligent part of the discussion is over. Unfortunately the faculty and students resorted to using the same shame game strategy Ms. Clinton used unsuccessfully against Trump supporters. If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The shame game is a trap for those who are unwilling to engage in intelligent discourse.