Thursday, June 30, 2016

Government server security is a joke - why the attack on Hillary Clinton?

It's time to quit pretending that Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server is a bigger scandal than the sorry state of government computer systems including the State Department's.

I keep getting asked about the Clinton email investigation. So let me answer all your questions.

The issue of Hillary Clinton's private email server. Her explanation is that she wanted to use her Blackberry cell phone.

The thing is, I have a close friend who is about her age who loves the Blackberry and despises the smart phones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy phones. I'm actually older than both of them, so I understand why they feel that way. For the Millennials let me show you why:

For you iPhone Millennials, that's a Blackberry. While it is a phone first, it also can do texts and email. But unlike the "smart" phones you love, it has a real keyboard. And it is a QWERTY keyboard for those of us who spent decades typing, first on typewriters and then on computer keyboards. We make far fewer mistakes and we don't want the phone using some kind of auto-correct to change the words we type.

Like it or not, the Secretary of State should be able to use a Blackberry if she wants to, without some tech security wonk insisting she fumble with the latest hot smartphone. In making this statement I have credentials as a tech wonk.

I began working with a computer in 1970 - an IBM 360 - and was operating a computer services business in 1980 with Tandy Model II's. I maintained a sustained level of expertise with computers and the internet since. A decade ago I quit assembling computers and I don't run my own server because in both cases the complexities have compounded and maintenance is a nightmare for one old man. With that said, let's take a look at the truth about that whole government email/server security issue.

It is not unreasonable to assert that some of, if not most of, the worst computer operations in large organizations in the United States can be found in federal and state government.

And based on hacks during the first 15 years of the 21st Century, some of the world's least effective security measures could be found being used in the federal government's computer operations at:
  •  The White House
  • The Department of Energy
  • The Internal Revenue Service
  • The Office of Personnel Management
  • The Army Corps of Engineers
  • NOAA
  • US Postal Service
  • The Department of Education
  • The FBI
  • The Department of Homeland Security
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and
  • The State Department
The State Department is one of the worst. And it's simply because, unlike you or me or even the Clinton's, in order to update their equipment and software federal government agencies must use a 19th Century acquisition process that looks something like this:
  1. prepare a description of a need which must be integrated into the department's budget request (a one year process);
  2. get an appropriation from Congress (typically a two year process);
  3. get the General Services Administration (GSA) to prepare a complete request for bids (typically at least a six month process);
  4. get the GSA to receive and review the bids, issue a contract to the lowest bidder, and then issue a notice to proceed (another six months);
  5. monitor the work of the lowest bidder and sometime around 18 months into the work, fire them and hire someone else - not the lowest bidder - to actually finish the job at 400% of budget (another two years);
  6. teach everyone to use the system (another six months);
  7. discover that the "new" system is completely out of date and was out of date by the time Congress appropriated the money because this is 21st Century  and to be even moderately secure technology must be substantially upgraded in an ongoing 18 month cycle.
It appears that when he was Secretary of State Colin Powell used AOL email. He correctly felt that the State Department system was too primitive. He was used to the military where Congress provided blanket funding for updating state-of-the-art computer systems frequently using the military's own personnel. (Still it must be noted that The Joint Chiefs of Staff took its email system off line because of some suspicious probes over the weekend of July 25, 2015 - but that system provided warnings.) To his credit, Powell did initiate the process described above to assure that the next Secretary of State would have a system only two or three generations behind current standards.

Just to make it clear that I'm not creating a picture of a problem that doesn't exist, consider the following recent stories:
And, consider this 2006 story Hackers attack State Department computers which is an indicator of what was going on prior to 2012 after which we started getting more transparency about this matter from the federal government.

Finally, we can't ignore these November 2015 stories Iranian Hackers Attack State Dept. via Social Media Accounts and Facebook Notifies State Department Employees of Iran Hacks nor can we ignore this 2016 story ISIS-aligned hackers leak confidential info on 43 US State Dept employees.

For a more thorough review of 21st Century federal government computer security failures you can download and read Security Matters (1.8Mb PDF file).

So when Hillary reluctantly said her using a  private server "was bad judgment", as someone who can lay claim to at least some computer/device expertise I wholeheartedly disagreed with her. She did not use bad judgement.

First, there was no security reason to not use her own server as the State Department's servers offer almost no viable security.

Second there is no reason, indeed no excuse, to make the Secretary of State use a device that is awkward to use for her.

Finally, if it is so important to the American people to have the State Department retain control of the emails for all time, Congress should have funded any and all equipment and systems needed for the Secretary of State to function.

A nice negligible annual lump sum of $330 million ($1 a year per American citizen as an additional cell phone service tax because they think this is really important) to be spent as needed by nerds hired from those funds by the Secretary of State to do nothing but provide computer services and devices that are secure and also convenient solely for the Secretary of State and her/his staff. Most importantly, the spending of those funds must be exempt from all General Services Administration purchasing procedures.

The ultimate point here is that yes, there were rules put in place under the guise of security requirements. As with typical government bureaucracy, the rules focused not on the needs of employees nor were they realistically related to security. They just looked good on paper so that those who should be concerned didn't have to be - the rules looked good because they implied there was sufficient security in place when, in fact, frustrated tech employees knew better and knew the government environment will never allow for sufficient security because the mostly-tech-ignorant public elects mostly-tech-ignorant politicians to Congress.

And by the way, the FBI needs to divert from the Clinton investigation resources needed to do something properly computer security related so that we don't keep reading stories like Hacker Claims Breaching FBI Server, Exposes Details of 80 Miami Police Officers.

Let's quit pretending that Clinton's private server is a bigger scandal than the sorry state of our government computer technology. When Congress has funded for our government agencies proper computer technology by levying an excise tax on smartphones and tablets, then we can worry about whose email is stored where.

Finally, don't pretend that this is some reason not to vote for Hillary Clinton. It is only some reason to not vote for Republican candidates for Congress who have not addressed the subject of security for federal computers systems nor provided adequate funds for that security.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Will Queen Elizabeth II reign over the breakup of the United Kingdom?

Click on image to see a larger, more detailed version!
To many Londoners the "Brexit" vote results, 52% voted to get out of the European Union while 48% voted to remain in, are a shock. But what's already being proposed will be an even greater shock.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland includes England, Wales (annexed in 1532 and 1549) , Scotland (1707), and Northern Ireland (after the split of Ireland in 1922).

In 2014 the Scottish Government held a referendum on Scottish independence, with 55% of voters rejecting the independence proposal and opting to remain within the United Kingdom. But since then the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has surged, winning several elections.

EU membership was one of the key issues in 2014, with those campaigning for Scotland to stick with the United Kingdom arguing that an independent Scotland would not be able to remain a member of the bloc.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said today many Scots who had voted against independence for that reason were now re-assessing their decision. In the Brexit vote, 62% of the voters in Scotland voted to remain in the European Union.

Sturgeon said she will seek powers to hold a new independence vote because of her desire to keep Scotland in the European bloc. The popular leader said she was keeping a promise made by the Scottish National Party to consider a second independence vote "if there was a significant and material change in circumstance" from that which prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will.

Sturgeon stated,"I think an independence referendum is now highly likely, but I also think it's important that we take time to consider all steps, and to have the discussions, not least to assess the response of the European Union to the vote that Scotland expressed yesterday. I am absolutely determined in my responsibility to give effect to how Scotland voted yesterday."

"The Scottish government should immediately begin talks with the EU for Scotland to remain a member, even though the rest of the UK may exit, and to clarify that an independent Scotland would be the continuing member state, inheriting the UK's EU membership in the event of a 'Yes' vote in a Scottish independence referendum," said Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, chief executive of Business for Scotland, a business network and business and economic policy think tank which seeks to give a voice to business people who support Scottish independence.

Thursday's referendum vote in Northern Ireland had 56 percent of Northern Irish voters choosing to remain in the EU.

In Northern Ireland, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, an Irish republican political party dedicated to the reunification of Ireland and an end to British jurisdiction in the north of Ireland, called for a vote to leave the U.K. and unite with Ireland, an EU member.

"The British government now has no democratic mandate to represent the views of the North in any future negotiations with the European Union, and I do believe that there is a democratic imperative for a 'border poll' to be held," McGuinness said today.

The problem is Northern Ireland's present devolved system of government is based on the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement acknowledged:
  • that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom;
  •  that a substantial section of the people of Northern Ireland, and the majority of the people of the island of Ireland, wished to bring about a united Ireland.
Both of these views were acknowledged as being legitimate.

The agreement reached was that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland wished otherwise. Should that happen, then the British and Irish governments are under "a binding obligation" to implement that choice.

Despite the statements of the Deputy First Minister, Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, First Minister Arlene Foster, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, rejected Sinn Fein's call for a unification vote. The DUP was the only major party in Northern Ireland that backed the Leave campaign.

"Our nation has made a clear definition as to where they want to go. They backed hope, they backed aspiration, they backed the future potential of the United Kingdom and I am very pleased with the result." Foster said.

"We always knew that it was going to be difficult to get a Leave vote in Northern Ireland given that four out of five main parties were advocating a Remain vote and actually it was only my own party that was advocating a Leave vote."

Foster's father was a Royal Ulster Constabulary reservist during "The Troubles" and she was involved in  Ulster Unionist Party since college. She may very well be unable to prevent an Irish unification vote, particularly with her making reference to "our nation" wanting to leave the EU.

Sinn Fein already has their website set up for advocating for a vote offering this headline on its front page: Now is the time for a United Ireland, pledge your support, become an online supporter.

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy.  Its capital city is London, an important global city and financial center with an urban population of 10,310,000, the second-largest in the European Union. London voted to remain in the EU while the rest of England voted to leave.

The current monarch — since February 6, 1952 — is Queen Elizabeth II. It is ironic that in the 65th year of her reign - the longest reign in British history - the breakup of the United Kingdom could occur.

Monday, June 20, 2016

It's not the Democratic Party of 1964: be careful of the grumpy old white man's proposals

But this is more than about the ideas of a grumpy old white man, far more.

In 1964 the Democratic Party became the party of those groups of Americans who regularly find themselves economically and socially the target of systematic discrimination based on prejudice.

Newsflash - white old, middle-aged, or young middle-class or richer liberal activists and college students are not among those groups. And most certainly when they choose not to be a part of the Democratic Party membership but do chose to be uncommitted kibbitzers, they are not relevant to that Democratic Party goal to create inclusiveness

It must have come as a surprise to Bernie Sanders and his supporters when they received a June 18, 2016 letter from the the Congressional Black Caucus expressing its resolute opposition to two key reforms demanded by Sanders. The letter states:
The Democratic Members of the Congressional Black Caucus recently voted unanimously to oppose any suggestion or idea to eliminate the category of Unpledged Delegate to the Democratic National Convention (aka Super Delegates) and the creation of uniform open primaries in all states.
"The black caucus is immovable on this subject because our number one concern is going to be an always be the highest level of minority participation as possible at the convention," said Congressman Emanuel Cleaver who currently represents Missouri's 5th congressional district which has a population larger than that of Bernie Sander's State of Vermont. "You're going to see the same thing with the Hispanic Congressional Caucus. Mr. Sanders, if he had met with either or what's called the tri-caucus, he would have found out there is no flexibility." (Note: the Congressional Tri-Caucus iscomprised of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC).)

The thing is, a political party is a private organization created to achieve specific political, social, and economic goals desired by its members. It's not there for outsiders who wake up once every four years to start restructuring to make sure that when they come back four years later they can undercut the goals of its members. You want to change the goals, join, attend meetings, work in off-year and non-Presidential election years to elect party candidates to state offices and Congress. Or form your own party.

And let's get one thing straight.  Missouri's 5th congressional district not only has more people than Vermont, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver is a registered Democrat while Senator Bernie Sanders is not. Here's what you probably don't know....

In his home state of Vermont, there is no party registration allowing Sanders to accurately claim to be unaffiliated with a political party while still running for the Democratic nomination and sometimes calling himself a Democrat. In 2008, TIME told us about Vermont:
There are swing states. There are bellwether states. And then there is Vermont.

That makes sense. Vermont has only 625,000 residents, and they aren't wrestling with most of the problems that are dominating the campaign. Vermont doesn't have many immigrants; it ranks last in the nation in foreclosures; it's consistently rated the healthiest state. But if the politics of Vermont doesn't tell us much about the politics of America, it is still quirky and intriguing.

There is no party registration in Vermont, but it was once the most staunchly Republican state in the Union, supporting the G.O.P. in 28 straight presidential elections and enjoying a 108-year gap between Democratic governors...

Now Vermont is blue heaven, home of Ben and Jerry and Phish, the first state with civil unions for gays, the last state with a Wal-Mart and the only state that President Bush has somehow neglected to visit....

Nowadays, Vermont once again has a Republican governor, Massachusetts-born Jim Douglas, who's favored to win his fourth term in November. And it is a rural state, so its politicians tend to support guns and farms. It's even got some black-helicopter types in its rugged Northeast Kingdom. But thinking of Vermont as a northeastern version of Idaho or Nebraska because it's got rifles and cows is sort of like thinking of the Village People as tough guys because they had a cop and a construction worker. It's a land of teddy bears, organic cheese, planning charrettes, Buddhist converts and the Vermont Progressive Party, whose members include six state legislators, Burlington's mayor, and the only announced challenger to Governor Douglas. Most telling is the fact that it's the only state where self-identified liberals outnumber self-identified Democrats.

Which brings us to March 4. Vermont has the nation's second-whitest and second-oldest electorate....
"Sanders did a lot of things right in this campaign, he did a lot better than expected. At the same time he seemed to have a lack of understanding or lack of relationships with black leaders that you saw ultimately hurt him in South Carolina and other states with big black electorates,"  Doug Thornell, formerly the group’s communications director, said. "And this is something that the CBC is going to be very passionate and push back against. This is a way that African-American officials can represent their district and have a say in the process. They're not going to go along with this at all."

If I seem less than enamored with the Sanders movement and their foolish ideas for the Democratic Party, it is because Bernie was reelected to the U.S. Senate by 207,848 voters in 2012 while in that same year California's Dianne Feinstein was reelected to the U.S. Senate by 7,864,624 voters. In fact, Feinstein received more votes in 11 California counties than Sanders did in the whole state of Vermont.

There are no communities of people in Vermont that depend on the Democratic Party to fight for their residents like residents of Compton, Oakland, or East Los Angeles. Bernie and most of his supporters have no real sense what it's like to have extensive political involvement with a diverse population as does Dianne Feinstein. Let's look at an enlightening parallel in their experience holding public office.

Bernie Sanders in 1981 was first elected mayor of the largest city in Vermont, Burlington, then with a population of 37,712 with 218 black persons and 285 persons who identified as Hispanic.

Diane Feinstein was thrust into the position of Mayor of San Francisco, California, in 1978 following the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor and Gay Activist Harvey Milk. After identifying both bodies at the scene, Feinstein was shaking so badly she required support from the police chief.  It was she who announced to the press, "Today San Francisco has experienced a double tragedy of immense proportions. As President of the Board of Supervisors, it is my duty to inform you that both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed."

At the time, San Francisco had a population of 678,974 with 149,269 identified as Asian, 86,190 as Black, and 84,194 as Hispanic and with an estimated LGBT population of 105,000±.

In 1994,  Feinstein introduced the Federal Assault Weapons Ban which became law but expired in 2004. Bernie Sanders defended his pro-NRA record  stating with regard to his support for the 2005 federal  Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act  in an October 2015 debate that “if somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer and that murderer kills somebody with the gun, do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible? Not any more than you would hold a hammer company responsible if somebody beats somebody over the head with a hammer.”

Diane Feinstein is well aware that Harvey Milk and George Moscone likely would not have been killed if the weapon had been a hammer.

The difference between Sanders and Feinstein is personal and professional experience with things like shootings and dealing with the criminal justice system in a diverse, complex City; and providing financial aid to the poor in a diverse, complex City; and educating people in a diverse, complex City; and creating a positive environment for economic growth in a diverse, complex City....

The fact is, while Feinstein was serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, between 1972 and 1976 Sanders was the nominee of the anti-capitalist, anti-war Liberty Union Party of Vermont in two Senate and two gubernatorial elections in Vermont. He lost all four races and resigned from the party in 1977.

Bernie supporters seem to want to have Feinstein, a long-time Democrat who was elected to her position by 7,864,624 diverse voters, to be subject to the same requirements to be a delegate as a 20-year-old college student from Washington state who decided to register to vote as a Democrat for the first time while entering the door of a March 2016 Precinct Caucus. Sorry, but no. That's not the way political parties work.

Curiously Bernie supporters seem to have no performance standards. Bernie has lived in Vermont since 1968 - 48 years. Bernie spouts buzz words about the issues but what has he done about them in his tiny state where his influence should be great since he leads a state full of "independent" voters? Here are a few examples compared to California where Democrats lead:
  • Free college - Vermont state colleges have higher tuition than California state colleges including fees in California;
  • Minimum wage - if you work in Burlington, Vermont, for minimum wage you earn $9.60 per hour, in San Francisco $12.25, 28% more;
  • Health insurance - through Vermont Health Connect for a 35 year old single person making $45,000 a year in Burlington, Vermont, the least premium cost after any rebates $8,576 a year, while through Covered California for the same person in San Francisco, California, the cost would be $2,952 a year. 66% less.
Bernie has no credibility on any of these issues. But it is the age of the internet, as Donald Trump has demonstrated. There are just millions of uninformed Americans who think anything can be explained in 140 character tweets, as opposed to learning from extensive reading and studying, and from years of direct involvement.

Thanks for your recommendations on Democratic Party procedures and policy Bernie supporters, but as a lifelong Democrat who first attended a California Democratic Council Convention in 1964, I don't want independents deciding policy for Californian's.

If it means you want to elect Donald Trump President in November, well that's the way it is. And if you think not voting, or voting for some third party candidate, is not the same as voting for Donald, you don't understand the American political system which you probably don't.

In a swing state, if Trump gets 34% of the vote, Clinton gets 33.9% of the vote, and the Green Party candidate you voted for gets 8% of the vote, you and all your ilk elected Trump President - live with it for four years and see what you can accomplish by being truly uninformed about your government and politics.

As California's other U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer tweeted in February:  "Bernie is a Democrat ‘some days'." The fact that he has not conceded the nomination to Clinton is indicative that "some days" aren't these days.

Regarding the sexist nature of a grumpy old white man loser making demands on America's first woman major party presumption nominee, I agree with Barbra Streisand, the California resident who tweeted the facts at the beginning of this post.

Of course I too am a grumpy old white man but one whose state has two Democratic women United States Senators and includes in its overwhelmingly Democratic Congressional Delegation, House Minority Leader and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Hey Donald! George W. Bush defined "Presidential" in cases like Orlando

How to be Presidential: President George W. Bush speaking at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C on September 17, 2001.

Following the Orlando shooting incident, Donald Trump is attacking President Obama and Hillery Clinton because they don't call such terror attacks "radical Islamic terrorism." In doing so, Donald Trump is attempting to redefine what was established by President George W. Bush as "Presidential" behavior.

By clearly insisting that we identify a criminal with a religion, Donald Trump and his blustery, dangerous supporters have apparently rejected the very strong position taken by former President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. President Bush understood that fanning the flames of religious discrimination isn't Presidential, it is purely ignorant bigotry.

During remarks given at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C on September 17, 2001, Bush assured Americans that attacks committed by Al Qaeda were not representative of the Islamic faith: "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace, they represent evil and war."

In his September 20, 2001, address to a joint session of Congress, Bush again made clear that the terrorists who attacked the United States "practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics -- a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam." Bush spoke directly to the difference between extremist terrorists and Muslims: "I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. (Applause.) The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them."

On November 6 2001 President Bush delivered remarks to the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism during which he stated: "All of us here today understand this: We do not fight Islam, we fight against evil."

Today in a news conference, the FBI Director James Comey offered information that indicates the Orlando shooter
  1. was ignorant because he was pledging support to two organizations locked in a deadly war with each other in Syria; and
  2. was likely mentally ill.
Ignorant and crazy.

What's worrying is that would describe Trump's attempt to redefine how to be Presidential in responding to incidents like this. George W. Bush got it right, Barack Obama embraced Bush's approach, and Clinton intends to continue that approach. It's how to be "Presidential."

What we know is that Donald Trump is ignorant and crazy, not Presidential material. And his bigotry is as dangerous as the anti-gay bigotry of the Orlando shooter.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The real winners of June 7, 2016

The most significant winners of the 2016 Democratic nomination process are the generations of American women represented by this picture...
...and the voters as represented by this table...

...because 56% of those Democrats voting - 16+ million voters - chose to nominate a woman to be a major party nominee for President, to give her a real opportunity to become our first woman President of the United States.

Whatever the outcome is in November, this is an important, historic time.