Doctor talking to his female senior patient at the office

Column | Medicare Part D Keeps Doctor-Patient Control Alive and Should be Allowed to Continue

Suppose the Federal government has created a program that saves taxpayers money, promotes individual freedom, and gets a 90% satisfaction rating from the people who use it.  Should it:

(a) Bury the evidence and let nobody speak of it again;

(b) Effectively dismantle the program by adding lots of new bureaucracy and interfering with what made it work; or

(c) Learn from the success and try to duplicate it in other places?

If you chose answer (c), you’re probably a reasonable tax-paying citizen. But that won’t get you very far in Washington. All too often, what matters there isn’t results — it’s grabbing power wherever you can. You and I can see a clear case of this misdirected bureaucratic energy in the push to have the government micro-manage the lives of people who use Medicare Part D.

Part D is an endangered species: A government-sponsored program that works really well. Since it went into effect in 2006, Part D has done some remarkable things.

First, it has given patients a great deal of choice. Most states have between 20 and 30 different program plans available. Those choices give patients the wide-ranging benefits of competition for their business. It’s hard to think of any business where the quality of customer service doesn’t rise when there is more competition to serve the same customers.

The competitive forces driving private providers to serve these patients also means that Part D has consistently delivered budget savings, costing the government much less than initial expectations and keeping costs to patients well in line, too.

But the most important feature of all is that Part D puts individuals and their doctors in the lead to determine what will lead to the best health and quality-of-life outcomes for patients. It’s easy to overlook the fact that many prescription drugs are used to prevent pain, suffering, and discomfort down the road.

Whether it’s a therapeutic prescription for a condition like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, an anti-anxiety medication being used to enhance a patient’s mental health, or an antibiotic or anti-rejection drug used to help someone recover quickly and successfully from surgery, most prescriptions are used to keep bad things from happening. That saves money, which is good — but it also prevents a great deal of suffering.

For this to work, however, patients and their doctors need to be in control — not bureaucrats. The threat of growing interference by office-holders and power-seekers in Washington could topple all of the benefits that come from today’s well-functioning Medicare Part D. We have heard politicians call for government to set price controls and establish firm ceilings on how much can be spent on patient care. But the big picture is that bureaucratic manipulation of prescription prices is nothing but window dressing. Proposals to force Pharmaceutical companies to pay a ‘rebate’ of up to 40% of their drug sales to Medicare is nothing more than a tax that will drive up the cost of prescriptions and insurance for seniors.

Part D works because of competition, not Washington pencil-pushing. The more government seeks to manipulate and take command over the program, the less patients will benefit from the power of competition. The cure to health-care costs isn’t to drive more decision-making to government, but to stay out of the way of patients and their doctors so they can use whatever therapies make the most sense to prevent illness and disease. Today’s Medicare Part D does that. It should continue to do so tomorrow.

 

Nansen Malin is a political activist living in SW Washington State. She is the former Americans for Prosperity WA State Director and is active in social media.

 

[photo credit: alexraths, depositphotos.com]
20140226_LegWA_0104ks-Hill_adj

Sen. Andy Hill announces recurrence of lung cancer

Washington state Sen. Andy Hill, (R-Redmond)

Washington state Sen. Andy Hill, (R-Redmond)

In a message posted to his campaign website Monday afternoon, state Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond) announced that he is battling lung cancer for the second time.

Hill had been cancer-free since 2010 when he overcame a serious bout with the disease including participating in clinical trials of experimental treatments.  His doctors found new evidence of cancer during a recent screening.

Hill, now serving the second year of his second term as a state senator, has been a driving force within the Olympia Senate Republican caucus leadership, most notably being the lead budget writer during several concurrent sessions of tense budget negotiations.

Although Monday’s message to supporters didn’t specifically address how the news would impact his term in office, he may have alluded to it when saying, “…[T]here are tens of thousands of Washingtonians and millions of Americans who are fighting and living their lives with some form of this illness right now as well. They don’t let it slow them down and I don’t intend to let it either.”

The entire text of Hill’s message to supporters is as follows:

 

Dear Friends,

During my time as both a candidate and as a state senator I have worked to maintain close communication with all of you as a part of my commitment to honest and accountable representation.

And while I thrive on the input I receive from across this district and the region, I consider honesty and accountability a two-way street. And that’s why I wanted to give you a personal update.

As most of you know, seven years ago I was diagnosed with lung cancer. Thanks to our great health care system and terrific doctors, I was able to be part of an experimental trial drug and quickly became cancer free. That drug soon became available to all and it and its successors have protected me for many years.

But the body can build up an immunity to specific treatments and last week my doctors discovered a small recurrence.

Those of you familiar with my story know I take a tough approach to this chronic condition and, as a result, I will be undergoing aggressive treatment including traditional chemotherapy followed by new cutting-edge medications.

I appreciate the concern so many of you show regularly for my well-being and I want to remind you that there are tens of thousands of Washingtonians and millions of Americans who are fighting and living their lives with some form of this illness right now as well. They don’t let it slow them down and I don’t intend to let it either.

We live in a tremendous community with great advances in the medical field and outstanding doctors. I am confident that, working with them, I’ll have a clean bill of health again soon.

I draw strength from the support and the prayers on my behalf from so many of you and I am asking you to keep those coming—particularly on behalf of Molly and the kids.

Thanks for everything and warmest regards,

Andy

 

 

New York City – NY – USA – September 3 2015: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during press conference at Trump Tower. [photo credit: iStock.com/andykatz]

Guest Contributor | Open Letter to Washington State Republican Party Leadership: There’s Still Time to Rescue Our Party

Dear Washington State Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison, National Committeeman Jeff Kent, National Committeewoman Fredi Simpson, and Washington delegates (and by extension all delegates to the Republican National Convention),

I am writing in advance of the Convention to implore you to do your duty to the Party and to do everything within your power to preserve it. Donald Trump must not be the nominee!

For over the past decade I have volunteered my time and money supporting the Republican Party and its candidates on a local, state and national level, because I understood that the Republican Party is the only way to promote conservativism in American governance. But now I am alarmed that nominating Donald Trump risks closing this last avenue for conservatives.

I am not asking that Trump be blocked from getting the nomination just because I consider him to be a despicable person. Or his long history of misogyny, shady business deals, racist statements and questionable behavior. Or because the media that gave him an overwhelming share of fawning coverage in the primary is poised to do its best to destroy him from now until November. Or because he polled the weakest of all our primary candidates, has no proficiency in campaign fundraising or establishing a ground operation or running a campaign, has the highest unfavorable ratings in history, and will almost surely lose in a landslide. Or because that landslide loss will cost us control of the Senate, perhaps the House and many other offices down ballot. Or because he is not a conservative, having shown during the debates that he literally does not know the meaning of the word! Or because he has had so little involvement with the Republican Party (and much more so with the Democrat Party) before asking for its highest nomination.

The main reason why a Trump nomination would be so disastrous and so poisonous to the continued existence of the Republican Party is this: The core message of his campaign is that our Republicans in Congress have all been bought out by the “special interests”, and are not capable of making “good” deals with the Democrats. How exactly do we campaign for other Republicans when the top of the tickets maintains that Republicans are corrupt and incompetent and is actively running against the Republican brand?

It’s not news to anyone that a sizable portion of America is deeply unhappy with the state of affairs in Washington DC. They are angry and blame Republican majorities in Congress as unwilling and unable to stop President Obama’s liberal agenda and unconstitutional executive orders (even more so than they blame Democrats for supporting them). They are not interested in hearing explanations about the separation of power and the messy business of compromise legislation in a divided government. Educating them on how American democracy works and the Republican Party’s role in it is a difficult task, one we need to improve at. But the solution is not to give up all efforts to inform them and instead agree with them that the Republican Party is the problem!

As the presumptive nominee, Donald Trump has already made statements indicating his willingness to “negotiate” away from Republican positions on taxes and minimum wage. Once the Republican Party has irreversibly committed to make him our nominee, he will be free to moderate his positions in a rush to the center for the general election. Can you name a single plank in our party platform that you are sure Trump won’t suggest breaking in the name of being “flexible”? And what if our nominee insists on selecting a Democrat as his Vice President in the name of bipartisanship? Once nominated, we are chained to a man who has exhibited no particular loyalty or affection to the Republican Party or its principles, and are bound to support whatever he says or does.

Yes, the Presidency is just one office. But we have seen in the past five years how a non-conservative President can not only block all reforms from a conservative Congress, but advance liberalism and the power of the state through the use of executive orders and the Federal bureaucracy. A President Clinton would be no different than Obama. But if by some miracle Donald Trump actually wins in November, how can we have any confidence that he will be any less of a liberal than Hillary Clinton? When Democrats oppose his judicial nominee, or building the border wall, or repealing Obamacare, what makes you believe he won’t simply cave in to them, twist a minority of Republican arms for support, and declare it “the best deal ever”? Trump is not a conservative, he is a populist, and a President Trump would do whatever he thought would make him popular. I have no faith that he would undertake the difficult conservative reforms so needed by this country, and every reason to believe he would continue the liberal practice of buying popularity with public funds.

And yes, Donald Trump is just one man, and he will be gone and forgotten in a cycle or two. But the image of the Republican Party casting aside its core values and endorsing a media-created populist will haunt us for decades. Trump is the embodiment and confirmation of all the standard liberal libels against the Republican Party. He is a rich, old white guy whose sole motivation is to make himself lots of money and pay less taxes. He’s a corporate CEO that will sell out American workers by using cheap legal and illegal alien labor, and by outsourcing jobs to Mexico and China. He’s a chauvinist who views women as little more than sexual objects. His statements on keeping Latinos and Muslims out of the country reveals his bigotry. And, as Trump himself has claimed, Republican politicians are bought and paid for by the moneyed “Establishment” with campaign contributions – which includes himself now that he has dropped the pretense of “self-funding”.

And what will we have achieved by catering to the whims of primary voters who have lost faith in both the Republican Party and American democracy? After four disappointing years of Trump or Clinton, will they be any more likely to vote for Republican Party candidates in 2020? Will they vote again at all? Will we be left with selecting another rich liberal celebrity know-it-all saying populist and vaguely conservative things long enough to win the primary (Maybe Mark Cuban or Kanye West)?

The first and only obligation of delegates to the National Convention is to select a nominee that can be supported by a majority of Republicans. While Donald Trump has won a small majority of bound delegates in the primary, he has only received about 40% of the vote, even less if you exclude the vote of those who do not have the best interests of  the Republican Party in mind. His support among delegates like you, made up of those with a history and a loyalty to the Party, is even lower. While it is possible to get a majority of the Republican Party to coalesce around Donald Trump in the name of unity, the same is true of any of the other 16 primary candidates. The difference is that, while conservative Republicans were able to fully support less conservative candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney, we cannot support a nominee that is not a conservative at all.

Pressuring Republicans to support a candidate opposed by a majority of the Party in order to “stop Hillary” will only fracture the Party. A sizable number of good Republicans like myself will conclude that a Republican Party that has given up on advancing conservative principles and instead stands only for being “Not a Democrat”, is no longer worth supporting. Whether that number ends up being 1 million, or 5 million or 10 million I can’t say – and I don’t know if those millions of missing votes will make a difference in the likely Trump defeat. The real damage will be the long term loss of untold hundreds of millions of dollars and hours volunteered by those formerly reliable Republicans, and it is foolish to believe that they will be replaced by Trump supporters who are largely apathetic to the political process.

The current path we are on is clear: nominate Trump, and Republicans will be humiliated by his actions in the campaign, and crushed by his loss in the election. The Party will lose millions of its most faithful supporters, and gain nothing from the Trump supporters, who by and large already dislike the Party. The Party will have missed an opportunity against a historically weak Democrat opponent, and four more years of liberal policies may forever close the window on winning the Presidency.

There exists a different path, though. Convention delegates are not bound to the candidate picked by the MSM, nor are they bound by the rules written four years ago at the last convention; they are obligated to select a nominee that a majority feels would be best for the Party. When they adopt the rules for the 2016 Convention, a simple majority can vote for a rule (such as requiring a super-majority on the first ballot) to prevent Trump from winning on the first ballot. Then we will find out which candidate is truly acceptable to a majority of Republicans. It might be Ted Cruz, or John Kasich, or Marco Rubio, or one of the other candidates that dropped out earlier, or even a non-candidate. It may be long, it may be messy, but in the end we will have a nominee that the Party can in good conscious support and who has a chance of victory in November. Even in the best of election years, a Republican faces a narrow path to a White House victory, but we simply could not do worse than the current “presumptive nominee”: an unprincipled, unethical, unreliable, uncouth, un-conservative, un-Republican, unpopular populist.

-Brett Malin

Boomerang in front of a blue sky

Column | Be careful, workers. A vote for minimum wage is a vote against yourself.

With Washington State looking to join California and New York in instituting a $15 minimum wage, it is important to understand the actual consequences of such a law. But rather than debating the projected economic impacts, let’s use an easier concept that everyone understands – self-interest.

Obviously, it is in the self-interest of the minimum wage (and near minimum wage) worker to be paid more money. But the real issue is where does that extra money come from? The proponents of the $15 minimum wage law would have you believe it comes solely from the pocket of the business owners, in the form of less profit. Even if the business owner has to raise prices to stay in business, these extra wages are still supposed to come from the owners. They maintain the illusion that this is the only source of the higher wages, because it is the only way that the worker will actually benefit from a mandated higher wage.

But there are several other possible sources for the wage increase. Some employers may offset the increase with cuts to other benefits they currently give, such as paid vacation or sick leave or health care, resulting in no real advance in pay. Others, such as some Seattle area restaurants have done, will raise their prices but institute a no-tipping policy, leaving the employees in many cases earning even less than before. They may just cut hours, leaving an employee who worked 30 hours at $10 with 20 hours at $15. While they may have to work less hours to earn the same wages (assuming they were not one of the employees laid off completely), they find themselves under pressure to work that much faster/harder.

The other recourse employers have is to not pay the minimum wage at all. They might find that the investment in machines to replace $15 an hour workers makes much more sense. They might simply do without that worker doing less than essential tasks, like greeting or sweeping up. They might move their business to another state or another country where labor costs are cheaper. For example, thousands of jobs have moved outside the Seattle city limits since they instituted their new minimum wage law, and an earlier, much smaller increase in the Washington State minimum wage led one company canning asparagus in Eastern Washington to move their entire plant to South America. Being out of work from a $15 an hour job is certainly no better than being out of work from one that pays less than $10.

So which of these alternatives is the low wage worker likely to get? As much as they would like the business owner to foot the bill, the employee is not the one who makes the decision – the business owner is! And the business owner, in their self-interest, will largely choose to let the employees pay for the mandated $15 minimum wage, because in America (at least for now), business owners still have the freedom to make that choice.

[photo credit: gavran333, depositphotos.com]
February 8, 2015 - Houston, TX, USA.  Monopoly money

Public campaign financing could be headed for the ballot in Washington state

 

By now, Washington state voters are familiar with the Seattle Process:

  1. A policy proposal is sketched out on the whiteboard at Democratic HQ.
  2. A beta test commences on the hustings — the Seattle electorate is a test group for determining how to get the public to approve the experimental idea.
  3. Having used Seattle as a proving ground, the idea is pushed in Olympia, then a statewide initiative (if legislative efforts are not successful), and even exported to other states.

Now, another Seattle-hatched idea — socialized financing of political campaigns — is being uploaded into the statewide mainframe.  The current piece of political malware is Initiative 1464, a sleeper measure headed for the November 2016 ballot that may pose a real threat to balanced elections and informed policy in Washington state.

Also known as the Washington Government Accountability Act, I-1464 is a near-clone of the Honest Elections Act passed in Seattle last year and is being promoted as a necessary measure to curb the influence of mysterious ‘dark money’ in state politics.

“It’s going to transform how we do elections in Washington state in a way that brings more focus back on the little guy.” That’s what political consultant and I-1464 co-sponsor Alex Hays told KING 5 political reporter Natalie Brand in a recent interview.

In reality, I-1464 appears to be little more than a new way for Democrats to game political campaign financing rules to their favor, neutralize the input of the business community and activist groups in the formation of public policy, and possibly even lay the tracks for taxpayer subsidization of non-citizen non-voter political contributions.

What would I-1464 do?

The surface appeal of I-1464 is obvious.  In the words of its sponsors is that it would “restore public trust and confidence by requiring greater transparency and increasing political accountability, limiting the influence of lobbyists, strengthening enforcement of campaign-finance and ethics laws, and empowering small donors to ensure everyone in Washington has a voice.”

The real implications of I-1464 are something quite different than those progressive platitudes.  On closer inspection, the measure seems to be little more than a Trojan horse designed to capture the interest of disaffected voters across the political spectrum to enact rules that would provide an almost permanent advantage to interests with a stake in procuring Democratic control over state politics.

No lobbying for you

Many of I-1464’s provisions lay a minefield of “gotcha” rules between informed lobbyists and public officials.  The proponents don’t shy away from disclosing their intent; they want to make it harder for to lobbyists to operate.  In reality, some of the teeth in I-1464 would come as close to criminalizing lobbying — a constitutionally protected right — as any law has tried to do in recent memory.

Although the lobbying profession is a favorite scapegoat and rare stories of abuse are highly public, the positive role that the lobbying community plays in providing informed testimony and insight on proposed legislation is woefully underreported.  Sometimes when an association representing small grocers sits down with the governor, it’s part of an effort to save jobs and keep consumer prices low.  In fact, it’s not popular to say it, but much of the time that’s the outcome, if not the objective, of lobbying efforts.

The bad news in I-1464’s anti-lobbyist provisions is compounded because of evidence that the measure also appears to carve out exemptions for unions.  It’s hard to see how the public will be more confident in government when the laws and regulations are developed from only the half of the facts that prejudice to he union’s benefit.

Maybe some reform of how lobbying is done would be helpful, but I-1464 is too extreme and would have the unintended consequence of making our public officials less informed.

Spreading the political wealth around

The feature of I-1464 that is likely to get the most attention though is its provision to set up a system for public financing of some political campaigns.

Under the proposal, qualified register voters would be eligible to receive $150 per election cycle in “democracy credits” to be spent on qualified election campaigns.  It would require mandatory mailings from the state to registered voters to notify them of available credits.  The entire process would be administered by the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

Although the proposal for using one person’s money to pay for another person’s political speech would initially be restricted to legislative races in even-numbered years, I-1464 explicitly makes provisions to expand the program as early as 2021.  The Legislature would have the ability to amend the initiative even sooner than that, as we know from experience.

But most alarming is a portion of the law that appears to require the PDC to develop a program for distributing democracy credits to permanent resident aliens living in Washington state as early as 2019.  Read carefully from the text of the Act:

By December 1, 2019, the commission shall develop and adopt regulations to allow any adult natural person who is a bona fide resident of the state, not eligible to register to vote under state law, but eligible under state and federal law to donate to a candidate campaign, to request to be verified by the commission as an eligible individual for participation in the program in the year 2020 and thereafter.

That section appears to be crafted to require the state government to give foreign nationals with permanent residency status (read that as possessing a green card) publicly funded vouchers to make contributions to political campaigns.

Who’s backing I-1464?

Integrity Washington is the campaign committee formed to get I-1464 on the Washington ballot.  Who is Integrity Washington?  As with most things, that’s a matter of who’s paying the bills.

As of the end of March, Integrity Washington has received $337,402 in cash contributions, according to filings made to the PDC.  More than two-thirds of the campaign cash — $225,000 — has come from Every Voice, a next-generation progressive political org born out of a 2014 merger that absorbed a super PAC funded by Jonathan Soros.  (Yes, that Soros family.)  The next largest contributor to I-1464 so far is Represent Us, at $100,300.

Modeled on ballot-proven Seattle-grade socialism

Every Voice and Represent Us also played big in the passage of Seattle Initiative Measure I-122, the Honest Elections Act passed by voters of Washington’s most populous city in 2015.  Represent Us lists I-122 as one of the group’s “wins” on their website.

What did the measure do?  In part it required some property owners in Seattle to pay higher taxes to finance “democracy vouchers” for public financing of political campaign contributions.

It will surprise no one that the same city that elected a self-described socialist to its city council also passed I-122 by a 27-point margin.

A total of more than $1.4 million was spent by the proponents of I-122, $390,860.23 of which came from Every Voice.

(Some might suspect that the overkill funding of I-122, a slam dunk measure, was really an early investment in the statewide effort to be named later, now known as I-1464.)

Although the evolution from I-122 to I-1464 has shuffled the cast of characters — I-1464 co-sponsor Alex Hays is a political consultant with a large number of Republican legislators on his past and current client list — Every Voice and its funders are calling the tune.ScreenCap ntegritywashington_org_who-we-ar

(As of this posting, Hays’ picture and bio are still featured on the Integrity Washington website.  Click image to right to view a screen capture.)

In order for Washington voters to weigh in on the proposal, Integrity Washington will need to collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot — just a few thousand less than 250,000.  In mid-February, only weeks before a half dozen Bernie Sanders rallies occurred in Washington, a $100,000 deposit was paid to a California-based signature gathering firm.  Petitions have already been sighted in Seattle.

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Washington state charter school fix will become law without Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature

On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee ended speculation on whether he might veto a bill passed by the Legislature to restore the state’s public charter school system to legal status.

Instead of taking an action that would have closed schools for thousands of students for the second time in a few months, Inslee chose not to sign the bill, which under state law allows its enactment.

Washington state voters narrowly approved permitting a publicly funded charter school system in 2012, but legal challenges resulted in the state Supreme Court ruling the law unconstitutional the Friday before Labor Day of last year, only days before most enrolled students were to begin classes.

Inslee’s only Republican challenger in this year’s election, Bill Bryant, has been a vocal supporter of charter schools and made a statement on Facebook regarding the governor’s non-signing of a major piece of education legislation:

https://www.facebook.com/billbryantwashington/posts/540942949410944

In a letter sent to Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Inslee laid out his reservations regarding the bill and his reasons for stepping aside to let it become law.

“I am not interested in closing schools in a manner that disrupts the education of hundreds of students and their affected families,” Inslee wrote.

He went on to reiterate his belief that the new law will not resolve his concerns that charter schools lack accountability to the public.

“… I remain deeply concerned about the public accountability and oversight provisions of this bill. At its foundation, our public school system relies upon locally elected boards to oversee expenditures of taxpayer money,” the governor wrote.

Some might say that the fact that the voluntary nature of enrollment in charter schools provides an incentive to provide quality instruction that generates a quicker and more powerful response to the needs of students.  Others might be skeptical of Inslee’s implication that traditional public schools are publicly accountable either.

The 106-year-old state Supreme Court decision that formed the crux of the decision ruling charters unconstitutional last year used language to establish a standard for accountability that most traditional public schools would have a hard time meeting.  From School District No. 20 v. Bryan:

“The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.”

In the present day, contracts negotiated between elected school officials and teacher’s unions have severed the chain of accountability to voters the Bryan decision sought to protect.  In fact, charter schools are more apt to operate in the spirit of Bryan in this regard.

If Gov. Inslee is truly interested in preserving public accountability — and there’s no reason to suspect that he is not —  then voters should ask him to move forward from his non-signing of this bill and propose major reforms to ensure real accountability in all of our schools.

Click to read Inslee’s letter to Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

Editor's note: After first publication, this article was updated to include a statement made by Bill Bryant on the governor's action.
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Surviving Trump will require cultural change inside GOP

Donald TrumpWhere does Donald Trump’s support come from?  The answer is easy to know but hard for the members of the Republican old guard to accept.  For those who have the courage to embrace reality and let change happen, it begins with a two-word prescription for the GOP moving forward: BE REAL.

The appeal of Trump with conservative voters is replete with ironies and irrational conflicts too numerous to list here, but it is a reaction to a real problem — a critical breakdown of trust that exists between Republican party elites and its true base.

Trump’s supporters aren’t a canary in the coalmine — that bird died long ago, keeling over from exhaustion after chirping angrily for several consecutive election cycles at heedless party leaders.

(This ingredient in the cocktail of Trump’s appeal surfaces in a survey conducted by the RAND Corporation on the 2016 presidential election.  The RAND survey found that the largest determining factor of a person’s intention to vote for Trump was a feeling of alienation or not having a voice.  Respondents who agreed with the statement “people like me don’t have any say” were 86% more likely to prefer Trump.)

Some still contend the rift doesn’t exist; others confirm its existence but try to invalidate its legitimacy.  Those who have spent time in both worlds within the GOP, however, know the divide is real and growing.

Because ignoring the sentiments of voters is always a losing strategy, the time is now to view the precipice of a Trump nomination as a last chance to accept that cultural and structural changes inside the GOP are now matter of survival.  The change starts with breaking out of a dysfunctional cycle in which voter loyalty is taken for granted far too much.

When elected officials fail to live up to expectations, some voters shrug, some turn cynical, and others get angry.  Smart politicians are careful to minimize those conflicts with voters.  If they aren’t careful (or are careless), then voter anger leads to removing them from office through elections.  It can, and does, happen, but voters have learned that unseating a bad politician is no guarantee of replacing them with a good one.

It’s clear what Trump’s support indicates: voters have lost so much faith in the system that they’re willing to crown an anti-Republican hero to savage the party that has failed them.  Their animus is visceral and it’s real.   Apart from the vicious and angry tone, dog whistle racism, and absence of candor by Trump, real is exactly what the Republican party needs more of.

It’s time to recognize that the party machine that recruits and supports candidates, trains politicians on how to deploy talking points and manage appearances, has failed.  It’s time to admit that Congress functions in a way that values deal-making more than keeping promises to voters, not to mention upholding the promises made to the nation by its founders.

It’s a matter of survival because Trump voters are only a militant subgroup of voters who have come to see Republican politics as unresponsive and disinterested.  They have given up believing that there a culture capable of radically resetting its standards will spontaneously grow inside of Republican leadership.  They know that in the giddy atmosphere of election season, that status quo will flip the switch on its dusty conveyor belt, sending candidates forth to deliver passionate promises to fearlessly fight to change how Washington, D.C. works.  Above all, candidates will promise to be different.

“Forget all of the others,” Candidate X purrs. “I’m the only one who listens to and understands you, baby.”

Voters haven’t ever been naïve in their decisions to tie the metaphorical knot and bond to a candidate.  Intellectually, they know the ephemeral nature of campaign promises and they have faith that an ongoing dialogue on the issues will keep elected officials focused on representing their interests.  Some voters even believe — perhaps more irrationally — that they can count on politicians to support their deeply held beliefs, even those not specified in the fine print of the political nuptials.

It’s like the opening act on a Nicholas Sparks-esque pragmatic political romance, but too often Stephen King takes over to author the conclusion and the reality shift is entirely responsible for voter disillusionment.  Yes, the romantic swashbuckler still has sparkling teeth and mesmerizing eyes, but the voter realizes a bit too late that they forgot to carefully vet the candidate as having any tolerance for political risk.  To make matters worse, the candidate’s affection for voters has morphed into a languid infatuation with holding office.

There is a trail of micro- and macro-betrayals that animates much of Trump’s base.  Despite wishful protestations by some pundits, those perceptions do have some rational basis, even if Trump’s campaign is doing nothing more than courting them into the mother of all bad relationships.

There certainly isn’t a single political event that spawned the outbreak of Trumpism, but it’s obvious to most political observers that a trail of controversial actions (to be fair, most of them orchestrated by Pres. Obama and the Democrats to create wedges within the GOP) added to friction inside the base.

In 2010, voters gave the Republicans a majority in the U.S. House.  Did those voters have a warm feeling about the 2011 budget sequestration compromise in which two core universal Republican values, fiscal discipline and strong national defense, collided head-on and national defense lost?  It’s inarguable that the sequester deal forced Democrats to accept a reduction in deficit spending, but the mandated cuts to defense spending given up by Republicans accelerated a gutting of the U.S. military.  Most Americans have the perception that the world is becoming a less safe place.  Do Americans believe the size and scope of the federal government is shrinking?  It’s hard to imagine that a storyline like that doesn’t benefit to Trump with fed-up voters.

Other warmed-over “wins” such as the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank or the mystifying maneuver by Republicans in the Senate to define as an executive order what by all definitions would be a treaty with Iran on nuclear weapons.

The problem is that to far too many political insiders, the outrage over any of these transgressions is perceived as an overreaction or extremism and an organization that moves to invalidate the emotional response of its base is courting disaster, particularly when the damage is multiplied through millions of voters, each of whom has scars to bear from a sucker punch, or two, or ten.  When enough voters carry enough scars, an impulse for punishment of the perceived assailant — or in the case of the GOP, a group some feel hasn’t done enough to actively restrain the assailant — is inevitable.

Trump leverages these psychic woundings with devastating effect like a Lothario lurking in the bar down the street from divorce court.  It may be the single strategic reason behind his campaign’s stubborn lack of specifics, a void that translates as an absence of commitment.  It could also be the reason that his incivility, crassness and an almost total lack of civic knowledge don’t seem to diminish his appeal.

It’s too simple to say that his crudeness is enjoyed just because it’s a rejection of unpopular modes of politically correct speech.  It seems more possible that all of the hot talk between Trump and his army about the border, and RINOs, and making America great again is just rhetorical heavy petting on the way to a misguided, heated and emotional act of vengeance?  After all, if you’re a voter who feels they’ve been abused by smart, prepared and polished politicians (grrrrr), a natural instinct is to seek the exact opposite.  Trump is the exact opposite of smart, prepared and polished.

As with most hate-inspired flings, the one who comes away more harmed is usually the one who went in already wounded.  In the case of Trump, if his supporters are successful in handing him the nomination, it will be all of us who have to make the walk of shame.

A great deal of goodwill could be restored by allowing Republicans to simply be real.  The appetite that disaffected voters have for anything different doesn’t have to be fed by anyone who figures out the right buttons to push to get votes.  It could be someone of substance and credibility, but they have to pass the authenticity sniff test in order to be palatable.

For once, maybe a politician says they’re sorry for breaking our political hearts, or owns up to a bad vote.  That kind of honesty is a start toward restoring the amount of faith necessary to avoid sending spurned voters running into the arms of a Trump.

On the local level, being real has had some encouraging results, but Republicans should exercise caution in thinking the Trump effect is only a national phenomenon.  In many state legislatures across the country, such here in Washington state, Republicans have been made enormous progress toward restoring faith with voters.  But it doesn’t take much for that goodwill to be squandered by careless votes or positions dictated by special interests.

There’s a thirst for change, it’s reaching a critical mass, and those who want it have very little patience for anyone who will avoid taking the fight to Democrats on core issues.  Republicans might even forgive our team for losing a good battle, as long as they see clearly that one is being fought.

[Editor’s note: This article has been substantially edited for content since first publication, but no factual elements have been changed.]

[Image used under Creative Commons license: DonkeyHotey]
Image rights: http://depositphotos.com/33199947/stock-photo-mobile-security-with-mobile-phone.html?qview=33199947

5 critical things people may be getting wrong in the Apple encryption debate

(Spoiler: It’s not even really about encryption.)

Who knew that something as friendly as the iPhone would be the catalyst for a debate on where we draw the line between privacy and national security?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking help from Apple to disable a security feature — after 10 unsuccessful password attempts, all data is automatically “wiped” from the device — on an iPhone phone used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Riswaan Farook.

Although a healthy conversation is taking place, there’s a lot of misinformation being carried into this important debate. We should dispense with the less logical arguments and define our terms.  Here are a few common arguments being made in support of Apple’s stand to deny the government’s request that are worth taking a closer look at.

1. “If Apple cooperates, eventually the government would have a backdoor into all iPhones.”

The problem with this argument is that it ignores the issue at the heart of the matter: the iPhone feature designed to self-wipe the device after 10 unsuccessful password entries.  The FBI isn’t asking for Apple to give them a key, they’re asking for them to disable the data equivalent of a neutron bomb within the phone.

Let’s use an analogy of home security for a thought experiment.  The iPhone’s self-wiping feature isn’t a lock on the front door, it’s the equivalent of an explosive booby-trap rigged to demolish the home to prohibit unauthorized entry.

The proper question in this debate should not be whether backdoor encryption keys should be created — they should not be — but whether it should be legal to sell street versions of devices that conform to the security specifications of the world’s most dangerous organizations.

Put another way, yes, any move by Apple to remove this feature from one of their phones would downgrade their user’s data security, but should we be permitting companies to market phones with this nuclear option?

(Is it possible that Apple only sidesteps charges of aiding in a crime because the wiping of the phone makes it impossible to document what evidence has been destroyed by software specifically designed for that purpose? Maybe.)

2. “The government already has the information they need. They don’t need what’s on the phone.”

This is perhaps the most ridiculous argument roaming out there.  In the investigation of terrorist attacks such as the San Bernadino massacre, there should be no stone left unturned.

Consider that in the wake of 9/11, scores of human assets were busily gathering intelligence data on high value terrorists.  Intelligence experts acknowledge that hard drives, phones and physical files often contain critical information not found through other means of investigation.

Smartphones are computers and can store files and information not discoverable by accessing phone records.

Furthermore, is it likely that a terrorist who used a phone with a self-wiping feature would have chosen that place to hide the most critical information?  Yes, if that terrorist was smart.

Note: When confronted with this counter-argument, privacy advocates will immediately pivot back to argument #4.

3. “Apple has already turned everything over, including what’s backed up on the cloud. There’s no reason they need to get into the phone.”

This is an interesting subspecies of argument number 2 that manages to almost surpass its ridiculousness.  It stems from a persistent desire by many to treat digital spaces as having different rules than physical ones when it comes to lawful search.

Start thinking of your smartphone in the same way you do a home or a car.  Now consider that an FBI agent has a warrant to search a home rented by a suspected terrorist.  Upon arriving at the home, the agent finds the landlord in the driveway surrounded by boxes and other items.  The landlord says, “Everything’s here.”  Does the agent take his word for it?  We all know the answer to that question.

In the case of Apple, no one would suggest that they are withholding evidence found on the terrorists. Still, the public deserves to know that law enforcement doesn’t outsource the critical matter of evidence gathering.

4. “We shouldn’t give up privacy to get security.”

This bastardized version of Benjamin Franklin’s admonition — “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — is frequently cited by privacy advocates.

But privacy advocates have lost an important distinction by making the loose translation.  Even though they may be mutually necessary in a free society, liberty and privacy are very different ideas.  What’s more, Franklin wasn’t originally writing about liberty in that sense.  Franklin first made the statement in 1755 in a letter to the British-appointed governor of colonial Pennsylvania concerning a proposed tax.  If you want to know how the quote is being misused, please read the original text.

It should be said that Franklin also never advocated that anyone charged with a crime and receiving due process should be exempt from search.  Half of the Bill of Rights deals with due process because the framers saw the need to constrain the government’s power, not to eliminate it.  Nowhere in the five amendments dealing with due process, crime and punishment is a right to destroy evidence contained.

5. “If Apple gives the government the ability to search a terrorist’s phone, they’ll have access to all phones.”  

There’s some legitimate reason to worry about a government backdoor, but the government isn’t asking for Apple to create a backdoor.  This standoff isn’t a matter of Apple not wanting to hand its encryption keys to the FBI (though that would be inarguably their legal obligation if we were talking about any other type of property), it’s a matter of an Apple-designed feature in the iPhone operating system that wipes the drive after 10 failed password attempts.

We should have an expectation of privacy and the Fourth Amendment matters.  We have the right to put things in places where no one — including the government — can see them until government comes to us with a legally acquired warrant.  We do not, however, have the right to rig our property to for self-destruction in a way that thwarts legal searches.

Image: WSDOT

Column | The time has come for Washington to elect its state transportation chief

Even in politically heterogeneous Washington, one issue can bring people to agreement like no other: transportation.  Democrat, Republican, or independent. Rural, suburban or urban. Employee, employer or stay-at-home mom.  Everyone is affected by their ability—or lack thereof—to move from place to place.

Randomly strike up a conversation in Yakima, Vancouver or Seattle about the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel project — “Bertha” — and universal eye-rolling and molar-grinding will ensue.

In the crescent of ‘burbs and burgs east of Lake Washington, from Everett to Auburn, mentioning Interstate 405 tolling will elicit a similarly sour response.

Mentioning ferries among island-dwellers now qualifies as a micro-aggression.

Problems of mismanagement and waste within the ferry system are heirloom-grade dysfunctions in the culture within the State Department of Transportation.  Other more general road and bridge-related issues stemming from departmental priorities which are seriously out of step with the reality are more recent additions to a growing collection of grievances the public has with the agency.

Over decades, the changing cast of characters in the Legislature and the governor’s mansion have gripped opposite sides of a tug-of-war rope on transportation, one side pulling hard for reform and the other pushing back to maintain the status quo.

More than a decade of Democratic dominance over the state House has provided the time necessary to put the right people in charge of the right committees, a firebreak of Machiavellian brilliance in its construction, manned by representatives whose own political fate is insulated from the fires that rage around them.  There’s no better example of that stalemate than the decision by state Rep. Judy Clibborn’s (D-Mercer Island) refusal to hold a vote on a bill to remove tolling on one lane on the north section of I-405.  (Taxpayers had been told that an increase in gas taxes would be used to create the additional lane for general purpose use.)

In theory, voters can break through Clibborn’s obstruction (beyond which exist the failsafe options of a blockade by Speaker of the House Frank Chopp and a veto from Gov. Jay Inslee) at the ballot box.  Ultimately, Inslee appoints the director of the Department of Transportation who sets the tone inside the agency; Inslee could be voted on if voters chose to make the election a mandate on transportation policy.

But in the real world, the temperature of anger on single issues rarely rises to a level in state politics needed to cook an individual elected official on Election Day.  It’s a problem of diffused accountability.

It’s true, the governor does appoint the head of WSDOT, but the matter of direct accountability is less clear. After all, the governor is responsible for managing a range of things and promoting a broader agenda.  It makes the decision to reject a governor on the basis of transportation policy a bit like declining an invite to a Super Bowl party based only on the quality of the chili being served.  Because transportation is something that affects everyone, it is a matter best decided on an a la carte basis.

Voters deserve to have a more direct path of accountability when it comes to the government’s involvement in their daily lives.

The time has come to make the Washington State Department of Transportation accountable to the people, by allowing the people to choose its top official.  Such a change would shift the agency’s relationship to taxpayers and create a mechanism through elections to align our transportation system with the needs of Washingtonians.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  It won’t be easy.  The state constitution would need to be amended and that begins in the Legislature.  Would Republicans be willing to make the promise to voters that they would pass the necessary legislation if voters gave them control of both legislative bodies?  If they did campaign on such a promise — one element of a contract with Washingtonians — it would send a clear message that their party stands for direct accountability to the public on matters that affect our daily lives.

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

Column | Inslee’s case for Syrian refugees is based on a seriously flawed reading of history

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

When a Republican politician steps out to take a minority position on the issue of the day, they can expect to be portrayed by the media as an outlier, ranging from simply being out-of-step to an enemy of freedom. When a Democrat swims against strong public opposition, they are labeled a champion.

Today, the Washington Post ran this headline on The Fix political blog: “This governor just made the most powerful argument yet for accepting Syrian refugees.” Building from that grabber, journalist Amber Phillips shined a warm spotlight on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, one of 10 governors still voicing support for the Obama administration’s plan to bring at least 10,000 refugees into the U.S. And as is so often the case, the media’s effort to lionize another Democratic champion leads with a lie.

Phillips writes with careful intent:

There’s a saying I recall hearing as a child… : “Don’t make decisions when you’re upset.”

If you do, the saying goes, you risk making a decision guided by the same fear and anger that caused you to be upset in the first place instead of making a decision guided by reason.

Having set the scene, Phillips introduces the public to its hero:

That’s essentially the argument Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) made in a succinct but powerful interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Wednesday morning about why America should accept 10,000 Syrian refugees who need a home. America is understandably afraid after the terror in Paris and its roots on the migrant trail from Syria, he said, but if we close the door on Syrian refugees, we are doing so out of fear, not any reality-based rationale — and that would be a mistake.

Then, for those who might still hold on to their concerns, Phillips and Inslee shove a mirror in front of Joe and Jane America, and imply that fear is only a manifestation of darker blemishes on our nation’s soul:

To emphasize his point, Inslee recalled a moment in American history when the nation collectively did just that: Made a mistake because it was afraid.

“I live on Bainbridge Island, this little island just west of Seattle. And it was the first place where we succumbed to fear, in 1941 after Pearl Harbor,” he said. “And we locked up Washington and American citizens, and we sent them to camps for years while their sons fought in the Army in Italy and were decorated fighting for democracy.”

Inslee’s reference of course, is to Japanese internment camps.

Phillips ends her piece by concluding that “reason is a better guide than fear.” Yet, Inslee’s position is not based on reason. His case for welcoming Syrian refugees into the U.S. and Washington state is based on emotion and a very flawed reading of history.

Only two days ago, Inslee made a shaky linkage to compare the Syrian exodus to the Vietnamese refugee crisis of the 1970s. (There had never been serious threats to the homeland stemming from the Vietnam War aside from those committed by homegrown terrorists.) As he skimmed further back in his world history notes to the mid-20th century, the governor’s ability to interpret the lessons of the past is even less steady.

Inslee’s thinly veiled analogy between the forced internment of American citizens who were ethnically Japanese during World War II and the present-day decision to allow Syrian citizens to be settled into the U.S. is ludicrous in the extreme. Depriving U.S. citizens of their rights on the basis of race was an ugly process, but one that bears no similarity to the current case of Syrians.

The governor’s approach is a mix of shame and emotion intended to produce compliance, not consensus. It follows the president’s slanderous line of attack on opponents of the refugee plan. Most disappointing, it further polarizes this important discussion making it harder, if not impossible, to find common ground.

This is the game into which our political discourse has devolved — a rhetorical three-card Monte game in which facts, emotions and half-truths are swapped quickly through the dialogue to produce “truthiness,” a warm feeling that gives us more comfort and social acceptance than reality ever can.

If Inslee was just a professor teaching bad history, the damage from his erroneous lesson would be measured only in dozens of minds wasted. But the concerns of citizens and experts about security risks and whether adequate safeguards can be put in place are legitimate; because the stakes are high we should demand intellectual rigor from those who wish to influence the debate.

[Image credit: iStock]

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