We Just Might Be Starting to Reform Mass Politics by Nominating Outsiders (Observations on Dem Party Primary)

There will be much punditry in the coming days on what meaning we can cull from yesterday’s primary. My main takeaway: we just might be on the cusp of reforming party politics in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by nominating outsiders – those Democrats who are not supported by the closed Democratic Party apparatus.

I’ve got two examples and then a comment on the Gubernatorial race.

First, with 98% of the precincts counted, Maura Healey routed Warren Tolman for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General (62% to 38%). Healey is just the kind of candidate we need in statewide office and I’m tickled pink that she won. Now I know Warren Tolman (he was one of only two politicians that impressed me last year when I was running for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional district). I like him and he’s clearly a smart and informed guy. But I completely disagreed with his campaign strategy of running to be an “activist” AG. It sounded to me that Tolman really wanted to be governor, so he ran for AG as a stepping stone.

Maura Healey, in contrast, focussed on her experience in the AG’s office, with civil rights cases, e.g., and actually prosecuting cases. You know, the stuff of an attorney general. Virtually all of the Democratic political insiders supported  Tolman. Even Gov. Patrick endorsed him earlier in the week. Why? Well they (a) knew him; (b) agreed with him politically; and (c) liked him. There you go. Great reasons for supporting a candidate.

Unfortunately, in Massachusetts we have a very closed Democratic party apparatus. They rarely support outside voices, preferring instead to stick with known quantities. Unfortunately, what this means is that over time these known quantities become beholden to those party insiders. This isn’t about ideology. No, Healey and Tolman agreed on all of the major progressive issues. So why did the insiders support Tolman? They knew him, agreed with him and liked him. And so they gave Maura Healey not a second look.

Put aside my differences with Tolman over the proper role of an AG for a moment. If two candidates are both competent, intelligent, hard-working and agree with me on the issues, I will always vote for the outsider. Professional politicians in this state (and in the country writ large) are at the root of our problems. Where there is concentrated power, seemingly unchallengeable and entrenched power, we must work hard to check that power. That just as valid in our state as it is on the national level.

For our second race, let’s move on to the 6th Congressional district where political newcomer Seth Mouton displaced the nine-term member of Congress, John Tierney as the Democratic nominee. Yes, Tierney had his ethical problems. That’s likely what did him in (it is notoriously difficult to unseat a member of Congress in their own party’s primary). But I’d still like to rejoice that we will likely have an outsider as a member of Congress. When was the last time that happened in Massachusetts? A long, long time ago for sure. Joe Kennedy (4th district) doesn’t count (a Kennedy can never claim outsider status). And Katherine Clark in the 5th district doesn’t count either (she’s been a politician moving up the ladder in Massachusetts for ages).

We also had an outsider running for governor: Don Berwick. Unfortunately, he couldn’t win in a three-way race against Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman. And regardless of how Coakley tries to position herself as a candidate not of the party elite, she’s a professional politician thru and thru. And a bad one too. Oh sure, I agree with most of her politics. But let’s face it: she’s the one who gave us Scott Brown. She’s the one person in the country most responsible for the Democrats losing a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. She did it by running an absolutely miserable campaign. Don’t want to be the attorney general anymore? Lost a Senate race? Okay then, how about governor? Please. That is the definition of a professional politician.

Sadly, Coakley will almost certainly lose to Republican nominee Charlie Baker in November. So please don’t forget Don Berwick. We’ll need him in four years to run against a Governor Baker. Such a shame.

Moral? Progressive Democrats need to stop listening to the political clique that runs things in Massachusetts, and start voting for new candidates, independent Democrats, into office. There are plenty of possible candidates who are just as progressive as those who are supported by the political elite, but aren’t hampered by the groupthink and political control of those who are running things. These prospective candidates can be smart and likable, but they’re not able to be controlled by Democratic clique. That’s why they’re not supported, even ignored by the party. And that’s precisely why we should be voting them in.

In another state we’d have a robust Republican opposition. And I’m most definitely not a Republican. Since the GOP is anemic in our state we as Democrats need to step up ourselves and reform our own party from within. We’ve just barely started. Now let’s get this ball rolling.

Save Us From the Professional Politicians – Vote for Don Berwick for Mass Governor

If you live in Massachusetts, please vote today for Don Berwick for Governor of the Commonwealth.

Don knows heath care, is world-renowned in the industry, and can certainly go toe-to-toe to with the likely Republican nominee, Charlie Baker (an animal of the insurance industry).

Don is known for his actual management experience. He is a practitioner of lean management techniques which he is uniquely qualified to bring to the Commonwealth.

Don is an intelligent, hard working and nice guy. I met him last year when I was on the campaign trail. Don was working hard introducing himself to as many Democrats as he could well over a year prior to this primary.

Don is the only Democrat who is against the soul-sucking and poverty-perpetuating casinos in the Commonwealth.

Please help save us from another lackluster and impossible loss from Martha Coakley in the fall. Coakley, the woman whose ineptitude brought us Scott Brown and made President Obama’s job so much more difficult after she lost the Democrats a fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Don’t just listen to me — here’s an article from the Boston Globe making just that point.

Professional politicians are just that, career folks who are building themselves for the next job. That’s what you’ve got with Coakley and Grossman.

And finally, it’s Don Berwick’s birthday today. Let’s give the people of Massachusetts a great gift: a gubernatorial nominee who can beat Charlie Baker and who would be a tremendous asset on Beacon Hill.

Prediction: It Will Be Revealed NSA Surreptitiously Altered Chips Enabling Control of Smartphones and PCs By NSA

The full power of the United States government is awesome. The Edward Snowden revelations regarding NSA gathering and analysis of communications (foreign and domestic) highlights two important principles of U.S. intelligence agencies’ approaches: macro- and micro-.

On the macro-level Snowden has shown us that the U.S.’s approach has been to gather everything: all electronic communications and store these data in huge data centers, including their newest archive in Utah.

On the micro-level Snowden’s revelations demonstrated that the mechanism to gather these data is to hack major transit points (massive telecommunications data switches that route them). Historically the NSA tapped intercontinental telephone communications cables (for example, undersea cables) by splicing these copper cables by teams based on submarines. Later they splicing progressed to fiber-optical cables which is done in such a way that the data can both be harvested and appear to be untouched as they continue on to their intended designations.

The NSA’s modi operandi have been to exploit any concentration of data — why hack millions of individual computers when hacking one communication switch would yield the same effective result?

Hacking these switches (for example those manufactured by Cisco Systems) can be effectuated by the NSA by one of two methods: reprogramming the firmware (programmable software embodied within the chips that are used to build the switches) or by hardware modifications to components on the switches themselves. Heretofore it has not been seriously considered that these hardware hacks could have been made as it was “obvious” that no such modifications could have gone undetected for many years. Undetected by the designers and implementers of the chips themselves.

But there is little doubt in my mind that it is only a matter of time before it is revealed to the public that the U.S. intelligence community (likely the NSA) has implemented hardware changes within the end-user computers (e.g., Windows PCs,  Mac laptop, and UNIX, Windows or Linux servers) and personal smartphones to make at least targeted- (and perhaps wholesale-) gathering of the actions performed on these devices possible.

These NSA hardware hacks (micro-level approaches) would be put in place to enable the gathering of specific user actions (even keystrokes, or hijacking cameras and microphones on these computing devices) at the lowest level of components on the circuit boards of these devices.

The reader may recall that Iranian centrifuges were hacked through the joint efforts of the NSA and Israeli intelligence by creating the Stuxnet worm. The worm was placed within the Siemens programmable logic controllers that directed the functions of the centrifuges through the oldest of intelligence techniques: exploiting human frailties. In that case, a USB drive was purposely “lost” in an area where an Iranian with access to these centrifuges would find it, then plug it into a computer that was located within the physically-separated (and internet-detached) centrifuge environment. Once the USB drive was inserted into that computer, it would look for Siemens PLCs on that supposedly secure and isolated network and infect them with the Suxnet worm.

In a similar way, we will undoubtedly soon discover that the NSA has been able to insert “back doors” into physical hardware components (such as keyboard controllers or other specialized ASIC chips) that are part of all of our personal computers and smartphone devices. That is, seemingly off-the-shelf electronic components will be shown to have been altered to have back doors inserted into the mass market computer chips themselves, most likely without the knowledge of the manufacturers of those very components or of the manufacturers (e.g., Apple, Hewlett Packard and IBM) of the computing devices that make use of them in their designs.

It will likely be revealed that some of these back doors were implemented with the cooperation of the computer manufacturers. But the far more onerous reveal will be of the modifications to the low-level components that even those who use — and the companies that designed these chips were not aware.

How would this have been accomplished? Through human intervention. It would only take one well-placed employee in, say, Texas Instruments or American Semiconductor, to insert such a backdoor into such a seemingly pedestrian physical component. Such a hack would not be easily detectable through normal operations (just as the syphoning off of mounds of data from Cisco switches by the NSA was undetected, only to eventually be revealed by Snowden).

That is, we will soon learn that every single personal computer, personal smartphone and probably even basic cell phones have been turned by the NSA into devises that can be controlled by the United States intelligence community remotely.

You may recall that in the May 28, 2014 NBC interview of Edward Snowden by Brian Williams, Snowden revealed that smartphones which were seemingly powered off could be remotely turned on and taken over by the NSA.

The revelation that the NSA has the capacity to look at every function that is performed by the vast majority of personal computers and cellphones will be forthcoming. Perhaps it is the “even bigger” revelation that Glenn Greenwald mentioned during the same Brian WIlliams show that he would soon be making.

The U.S. intelligence community has the capability of gathering a huge amount of data on the macro-level by making targeted changes to vulnerable components (the micro-level) that have up until now been assumed to be benign.

The power of the U.S. intelligence community is awesome indeed. And that is precisely why we need to keep it in check, lest we slip into into a true security state in which all personal communication is accessible by the U.S. government.

That could be world changing and frightening power indeed, and power that is currently insufficiently balanced by legislative checks on that executive power.

My First Book Review

Kurt Fusaris, a prominent political blogger from Arlington, Massachusetts, interviewed me about my views on gridlock and other issues discussed in his recently published book The Reagan Memes: The Path from Reagan Conservatism to Modern Day Gridlock (and how to get out of it). It’s an amazing review—not only because of its whole-hearted praise, but also because Fusaris was supporting another candidate at the time.
The original review was nearly 5,000 words long! Clearly, the author had plenty to say. In the interest of brevity, only selected passages are given. The original book review, in it’s entirety, can be found here.

Excerpts from the book review follow (with my emphasis added).

        ______________________________________

I had a chance to sit down with Martin Long, an Arlington resident running for Congress. Mr. Long is also the author of the newly published book entitled “The Reagan Memes: The Path from Reagan Conservatism to Modern Day Gridlock (and how to get out of it)”.  It is available now at the Harvard Bookstore for $24.95 and should be available through Amazon in digital format on its Kindle devices. The e-book version is expected to be priced at $19.95. Mr. Long is also a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.

Asked what inspired the book, Mr. Long answered quite simply and without batting an eye.  “The book was inspired by the fact that the Republican Party is weird,” he told me.

One thing is clear: whether Martin is elected to Congress or not, his book, “The Reagan Memes: The Path from Reagan Conservatism to Modern Day Gridlock,” is a must-read for anyone who truly wants to understand how Congress got as messed up as it is and how we can go about fixing it.

Mr. Long is a self-proclaimed “ideas” guy.  The Avocado likes “ideas” people (even if we don’t always endorse them).  When we talked, one of the first things he said to me was, “ask me anything . . . what have you got?  I don’t even have to prepare.”

I do not want to give away the whole book, but Mr. Long goes on to say that we need to go all the way back to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 to understand today’s gridlock in Congress.

“Essentially,” he says, “it comes down to six major themes that take their origin from Reagan’s first campaign.”  Those themes include: reduce big government, lower taxes, decrease regulation, trust in the free market, strong national security, and family values.

Martin Long’s book . . . is a real page-turner as well as an eye-opener.

The problem in Congress is that Reagan’s themes, which Mr. Long will acknowledge had their place when put in the right context at the right time (the last part of the 1970’s and early 1980’s) are now well past their expiration date. . . . It is only due to changing demographics and some changing national views on certain issues (e.g., the much broader acceptance of gay marriage) that we are starting to see the beginnings of a GOP that is imploding.

I asked him why he is running for Congress when there were so many other strong progressives running.

“Look, they’re all nice people,” he told me. Like me, he agrees that progressive Democrats can sometimes contribute to even greater polarization – and that simply doesn’t help produce meaningful legislation.

“My opponents are all about women’s rights and gay rights and strict gun laws, and so on . . . and again, that’s all very lovely, but none of that speaks to the heart of the problem.  Until you address and fix gridlock, none of those positions matter.”

Mr. Long goes on from there, explaining how the Reagan themes of lower taxes and reducing big government have also become misleading memes today.  Lower taxes sound good, but when the middle class and working class end up shouldering a lot more tax burden in the form of payroll taxes and increased local property taxes because the Republicans decide to give away more capital gains tax breaks, suddenly, it doesn’t sound like Republicans are really for lower taxes – certainly not for everybody.

“It all comes down to what is another of the Republican big lies,” he says.  Up until 1983, Social Security was pay-as-you-go. When you retired, your return would be equal to what you contributed.  However, in the 1980’s, Reagan did something sneaky. The nation was sold on the idea that Social Security was going to go broke soon and unless taxes were raised substantially, when the Baby Boomers retired, there would not be enough workers to support a large pool of new retirees. This was utter hooey, but many people bought it.  “What happened?” Mr. Long asked me rhetorically.  “That extra revenue went into the general fund and later (not so coincidentally) much of that same revenue went not to bolster Social Security – but instead, it was repurposed in the form of capital gains tax cuts and tax rate reductions  for the very wealthy.

So why then is Martin Long running for Congress? He’s running because, as he explains in the book, he knows how to take the lead on fixing the problem since he knows its roots.

While Mr. Long might agree with the assertion that electing more Democrats would help the progressive cause, a far better long-term approach (if one actually wants to end gridlock) would be to create more ideologically balanced Congressional districts, re-drawing the lines in every Congressional district such that there is more parity among Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters. This would necessarily force candidates to always run to the middle if they hope to get elected – and ultimately, it would compel them to govern and (gasp) actually legislate in the middle if they want to retain that seat.

Mr. Long told me that if elected to Congress, he would use the leverage and visibility a Congressional seat provides to use the national media in the effort to explain what is really going on and how to fix Congress. He said that only by continuing to beat that drum can we hope to truly sell that message and effect change.

I highly recommend that you read his book. . . .  In fact, I recommend that all members of Congress read this book now, in addition to future candidates for the House.

We truly like Mr. Long and what he has to say.  Regardless of how you vote, we are confident that if you take the time to read his book, you will learn something.

I learned a lot when I talked with Mr. Long and I learned still more after reading “The Reagan Memes”.  However this election turns out, we feel Mr. Long is clearly the smartest candidate in this race.

The Reagan Memes Is Now Published!

The Reagan Memes: The Path From Reagan Conservatism to Modern Day Gridlock (and how to get out of it)

The Reagan Memes: The Path From Reagan Conservatism to Modern Day Gridlock (and how to get out of it)

The Reagan Memes: The Path From Reagan Conservatism to Modern Day Gridlock (and how to get out of it).

Well, you’ve all been waiting for it, and as of yesterday, my book is available through the Harvard Book Store (in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA) not just as a print-on-demand item, but also on the political shelf.  Pick up a copy.  It’s $24.95 (soft cover, physical real book).

You can also get the e-book for Kindle through Amazon here for $2.99. (Amazon doesn’t let you give it away.)

You can get a hard copy by contacting me directly, or in Cambridge here:

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel (617) 661-1515
Email info@harvard.com

http://www.harvard.com/

On Bombing Syria: How Would I Vote?

No.

I’m always data-driven and am willing to listen to the president’s arguments and reason. But I remain a skeptic. Today, I would vote no and don’t anticipate changing my position.

Time to Consider a War Surtax

With a few days left before Congress considers President Obama’s request to authorize a “limited and narrow” response against the Syrian regime, it’s an appropriate time to reflect upon the factors involved in choosing to deploy military forces.

            There are five considerations that should weigh heavily on the president’s mind, as well as in Congress’s deliberations: core U.S. interests, our responsibility to humanity owed to our unique place in the world, the military response itself (proportion, adequate, meaningful), future risks and cost.

             Unfortunately, the Washington discussion has focused on the first four. All the more reason that the last one deserves our attention at this time.

            We went into Iraq for all the wrong reasons—phantom weapons of mass destruction, bad (possibly “cooked”) intelligence, impatience and a bit of hubris. We demonstrated once again that decisions made in the context of heightened emotions are often flawed. The result was a war whose ultimate duration and cost apparently never crossed the minds of the past administration. Too bad. There were many unanticipated costs: Too many servicemen and women were sacrificed. A trillion dollars on the U.S. credit card (three trillion, if you total all current and future obligations). A mounting federal debt that many still refuse to acknowledge was caused in part by our nearsighted military excursion. (That, and simultaneous tax cuts for the rich.)

            I don’t have ready advice for the Congress on how to vote. Let’s wait for the coming full debate and the associated facts for that. But I do know what should be done to protect our future selves: amend the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (commonly referred to as the War Powers Act). As it currently stands, the president is required to notify Congress within 48 hours of introducing our armed forces into hostilities. The president must then seek Congressional authorization to continue past 60 days.  My proposal is to amend the Act so that after 120 days from the commencement of hostilities, an across-the-board war surtax would automatically be imposed. Wars have historically been funded by new taxes. The Civil War, World Wars I and II, even Vietnam all brought with them new approaches to taxation. Iraq and Afghanistan were notable exceptions. It’s time to stop fooling ourselves: wars are expensive and it’s time we confront that reality and plan for it. Not just for Syria, but for all future conflicts.

            This simple Congressional action would have several benefits. First, it would give additional impetus for a president to consider more carefully his or her options. The president would have to build broad support among the American public – not an easy task in the face of a war-weary, perhaps cynical citizenry. It should be noted that the British House of Commons recently rejected Prime Minister Cameron’s request to participate in holding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to account. Second, it would keep open-ended, billion- and trillion-dollar wars off our credit card. (Keeping the cost of war off the books was something that the Bush administration was particularly adept at.) And third, a newly amended War Powers Act just might restore Congress’s authority to wage war. Congress was given that authority and responsibility in the Constitution for a reason – so that the people, through their representatives, could decide when it is in the national interest to commit ourselves to foreign entanglements.

            What would I do if I were in Congress – go with the president as a loyal Democrat or refuse him the authority in this instance? I certainly know this: In the future, I would not vote “yes” if there were not first a vote on my War Powers Act amendment.

            There are many ways to bypass Congress. My point is to make it harder and to be more honest with the American people.