Reforming The Filibuster

I was struck by this passage in the latest Imprimis issue, How and Why the Senate Must Reform the Filibuster.

But beginning in 1970, the number of filibusters exploded by a magnitude of 36-fold. There have been 1,700 in the 46 years since then. Why? Because in 1970, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield instituted a “two-track” system that allowed the Senate, by unanimous consent or the approval of the minority leader, to bypass a filibustered bill and go on to another. This relieved a filibustering senator of the job of having to talk through the night and it relieved his colleagues of their frustration.

The over-use of filibusters goes against the middle-class view of a well-functioning government. If the Senate would like to get back on the good side of the middle-class voters, a good start would be to get rid of the “two-track” system.

Braised Chicken With Leeks, Peas, and Cannellini Beans

This is a Cannellini version of Real Simple’s recipe, Braised Chicken With Leeks, Peas, and Butter Beans.Braised Chicken With Leeks, Peas, and Cannellini Beans I substituted Cannellini beans since I had beans on the shelf. With chicken thighs at 99¢ per pound at Sams Club, this meal is delicious and inexpensive.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 pound cooked Cannellini beans
  • ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill, plus sprigs for serving


  1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. ?Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon each ?salt and pepper. Cook, skin-side down, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  2. Add the leeks and garlic to the Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the leeks are just tender, ?6 to 8 minutes. Add the broth and sour cream and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken, skin-side up, and simmer over medium-low heat until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest piece registers 165° F, 12 to 14 minutes.
  3. Stir the beans, peas, lemon juice, and chopped dill into the sauce and simmer until the beans are hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve topped with dill sprigs.

Neil Gorsuch: Q&A with Randy Barnett

I enjoyed the Q&A with Randy Barnett. I knew Mr. Gorsuch embraced originalism but his skepticism of the Chevron deference is a big plus compared to the late Judge Scalia. Like Mr. Barnett and Gorsuch I feel the Chevron deference has transferred too much legislative power to the executive branch and made the government more partisan and dysfunctional. They also talked briefly about Mr. Barnett’s new book, Our Republican Constitution: Securing the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People, which I found at the local library. For those who are curious here is the video clip:

The Forgotten ACA Goal: Affordable Health Care

One of the greatest ironies about the Affordable Care Act was that it whiffed on providing affordable health care. Any idiot can expand Medicaid without paying for it. It takes a savvy group of politicians to bend the cost curve in a sustainable way. The key to sustainability was to focus on the unsubsidized health insurance cost.

The Hidden Health Insurance Goal

The Affordable Care Act supporters did believe in the importance of affordable health care. In fact, they had a very specific goal for affordable health insurance. When you go to it says that if the lowest cost Bronze-level plan available to you through the Marketplace is more than 8.13% of your household income then your health insurance is unaffordable. This implies that since the Marketplace subsidies cease at 400% of the federal poverty limit(FPL), the lowest cost Bronze-level plan should cost no more than 8.13% of the 400% FPL. As an example for a two person household, the lowest Bronze-level plan should cost no more than .0813 times $64,080 or $5,209.70 per year. This rate is not unreasonable. A couple of years ago my grandfathered health insurance plan cost that much.

Affordable Health Insurance For The Middle Class Means Affordable Health Insurance For Everyone

My Health Inflation

My Health Inflation

As a healthy family who not filed an insurance claim in twenty years, I find it exceeding odd that I cannot find affordable health insurance. As an example when I priced health insurance in the Marketplace last October, the lowest cost Bronze-level plan would cost me $12,696 per year. Even my grandfathered health insurance plan exceeds the 8.13% limit. The cost control performance of the Affordable Care Act remind me of the Zig Ziglar quote,

You hit what you aim at, and if you aim at nothing you will hit it every time.

The canary in the coal mine is those healthy people purchasing unsubsidized health insurance and yet this is the group that is most likely to be taken advantage of. When I look at five years of 13% increases in my health insurance premium, I feel like my insurance company took advantage of my situation. When I look at the $12,696 premium from the Marketplace, I feel like the government and the insurance companies conspired to take advantage of my situation. The Urban Institute has offered some ideas on fixing the Affordable Care Act such as a premium cap at 8.50% of income and an individual mandate modeled after Medicare. The premium cap at 8.50% of all income is a step in the right direction but I prefer 8.13% of the 400% FPL. Since I do not think the Affordable Care Act supporters and insurance companies have been honest with me over the last five years, I think the only way we can keep these folks honest is to have no mandate. Frankly, I have not found any Medicare participants who like their mandate so why push this headache on the rest of the population? The most pragmatic solution for me is to self-insure even though healthy, unsubsidized people are the foundation that allows us to offer affordable health insurance to everyone.  If the Affordable Care Act had any redeeming value to the middle class, I do not see it in this graph. We did not get more affordable health care.

Life expectancy vs. health expenditure over time, 1970-2014


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, site, and,  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,, and the, 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 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 and made the list but why did 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.