Wednesday, May 16, 2018

McCain, Comey, and Mueller


Last weekend the Wall Street Journal featured a long article, adapted from a forthcoming book, by Senator John McCain on his role in the Russian collusion controversy. I won’t go into the details but would just like to point out one statement that illustrates the myopia of modern politicians.

At the very beginning of the article the Senator related that the so-called Trump “dossier” somehow came into his hands. After reading its inflammatory and potentially harmful accusations against candidate Trump, the Senator realized that the charges were unverified.

He then claims that he did what any other American would have done. He contacted James Comey, the Director of the FBI, and asked him to investigate the “dossier.” I know that the Senator is old and past his prime but can he really believe that any other American would have acted as he did?

In the first place, can an ordinary American pick up the phone and call the FBI director? Can an ordinary American even get James Comey’s phone number, or email address?  Moreover, what if I had found a scandalous article in some supermarket tabloid that claimed that Hillary Clinton’s top aide was an agent of the Iranian government? What would have happened if I had contacted my local FBI office?

Of course, Senator McCain is no ordinary American. Usually, when a Senator with a national reputation makes a request he can be sure that even the FBI Director will snap to attention.  However, it is interesting that when a committee of the House of Representatives tried to get information from the FBI on the Russian collusion issue, it eventually had to use subpoenas.

Former FBI director James Comey has also written a memoir that apparently deals not only with his tenure at the FBI, but also with his role in the events surrounded the 2016 campaign and its aftermath. I haven’t read the book but given his actions in the past two years, I find it hard to believe that he is telling the whole story. For example, I just discovered that in an interview with Bret Baier, a Fox News anchor, Comey seemed to be the only person in the country who was unaware that the Clinton/Democrat campaign was behind the infamous Trump “dossier.”

Finally, I think it is time for President Trump to wrap up the Mueller investigation. I suggest that the President give Mueller until June 30 to present him with a report of his findings. The special prosecutor’s investigation of Russian collusion in the election has not produced any evidence of collusion so far. It has been going on for almost a year and a half and an army of Trump hating lawyers has spent millions of dollars looking for someone to indict.  It is estimated that in its first six months alone, the Mueller probe cost over $6.5 Million.

If President Trump dismisses Mueller on July 1, there will be a predictable furor but it will subside over the summer. I would even suggest that the President Trump put an end to any investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails and even go so far as to promise her a pardon if she is ever convicted.

It’s time to move on and leave the election of 2016 in the past. There are so many more important issues facing the nation.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Federal Rent Subsidies 2018

The headline “HUD plan raises rents on poor” covered the entire width of the front page of the April 28 edition of the Connecticut Post. The story began with the following alarming lead:

"A plan by the Trump administration to triple rents for the nation’s poorest families is running into a wall of opposition from fair housing advocates and members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation."

Beneath the headline an insert quoted Connecticut’s Governor Malloy claiming that the Trump “administration is proposing to triple rent for low-income families.”

Reading deeper into the article one discovers that rather than a plan to triple rents on the nation’s poor, the Trump administration is proposing an overhaul of a subsidized housing act that dates back to 1937. The proposed bill is entitled the “Making Affordable Housing Work Act.”

In the original 1937 act a recipient of federal housing support would have had to contribute 30% of gross income for rent, a fact that no one ever complained about during the administration of President Obama. The new bill would require a recipient of federal housing assistance to contribute 35% of gross income for rent.

For example, a poor person with an income of only $1000 per month would have had to pay a rent of $300 per month during the Obama era, but under the new plan the rent would rise to $350 per month. An extra $50 per month is a 16.7% increase, not a 300% increase. The rent will not go from $300 per month to $900 per month.

It is true that a 16.7 % increase in rent is significant but I wonder if many will feel its force. It is almost impossible for a layman to read a congressional bill but it would appear that there are all sorts of exceptions and carve outs included for the disabled, unemployed and other needy persons.

Why then would the Governor make such an alarming claim? The basis for his claim stems from the provision in the 1937 bill that sets a minimum rent for those receiving a subsidy at $50 per month. That was over 80 years ago! The new bill replaces the old minimum with a formula based on the current federal minimum wage that would effectively raise the minimum to $150 per month.

I hope that as the “Making Affordable Housing Work Again Act” works itself through Congress some legitimate discussion and criticism of its many features will come to light. In his initial criticism Governor Malloy seems either ignorant of the facts or just plain malicious in his anti-Trump posturing.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Scammers 2018

Yesterday I got a phone call from a woman who identified herself as an agent of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). She claimed that I was under criminal investigation by the IRS and that I must contact them immediately. Actually, even at my advanced age, I quickly realized that it was not a woman or the IRS but a robocall scammer trying to defraud another senior citizen who stubbornly refuses to give up his landline.

You might ask why I answered the call in the first place given the unfamiliar number on my caller ID? Well, I do that for most of these incessant calls but sometimes it’s just easier to pick up the phone rather than fiddling around for reading glasses to see the number.  

A few days earlier I received an even more fraudulent message. The caller said it was my grandson. I do have grandsons of college age but due to the fact that they almost never call me, I expressed puzzlement about which one it might be. He then even asked “Don’t you recognize my voice?” It sounded a little like the one who was on a campus visit to Notre Dame so I went along.

He went on to say that he and some friends had gone out for a couple of drinks, gotten involved in an auto accident, been arrested for DUI, and jailed in Florida. It was obviously not a robocall but Florida is a long way from Indiana. I cursed him out and hung up the phone.

Who was the young man who makes a living by making calls like these? Who are the criminals who organize and run this fraudulent operation designed to prey upon grandparents?  Who was the woman who actually recorded the message from the IRS? Does she realize that when she records the message that she is acting in a criminal enterprise? What about the people who write the script and handle the technology? How can these people live with themselves or sleep at night?

I know that these operations are big business. The calls are incessant indicating that they must have some success. Seniors are being duped all over the country. I’ve read stories about granny withdrawing thousands from her savings account to rescue her imprisoned grandson.  You just need to search for IRS scammers to get an idea of the extent of that scam.

When I worked in sales, a popular form of advertising was “direct mail.” Statistics showed that the response rate was about 2%. If you sent our 1000 mailing pieces, you would usually get about 20 replies depending on the quality of the list you purchased. If you got back 20 “leads,” it would usually result in enough sales to pay the cost of the mailing and still produce a profit.  

Advertising is much more sophisticated and scientific these days but it still works on the same principle. Look at all the catalogs and flyers you get in the mail each day. Of course, advertising giants like Google and Facebook have become household words by applying mass mailing techniques online. Lately, the Federal government has been turning its attention to the so-called privacy practices of legitimate businesses like Google and Facebook.

Still, I don’t see why government could not stop the obviously fraudulent scammers and robocallers who invade our privacy throughout each and every day. I know one could say that people should be able to take care of themselves and avoid these obvious scams, but government does require warning labels on cigarette packs, and makes it a crime to drive without fastening one’s seatbelt.

With modern technology it should be easy enough to track toll-free-numbers that make millions of automatic calls, and require background checks to weed out the criminals. It is time we got these criminals off our phone lines. Free speech is one thing but our Constitution does not allow freedom of speech to machines or robots.