November 9, 2017

"Senators Push to Abandon Social Security Numbers in Favor of a More Secure, More Digital Form of Identification" -- Now What Might That Be?

Senators Push to Ditch Social Security Numbers in Light of Equifax Hack

November 8, 2017

[TechCrunch] - Eyeing more secure alternatives to social security numbers, lawmakers in the U.S. are looking abroad. Today, the Senate Commerce Committee questioned former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Verizon Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia, and both the current and former CEOs of Equifax on how to protect consumers against major data breaches. The consensus was that social security numbers have got to go.

Rounding out the panel, Entrust Datacard President and CEO Todd Wilkinson offered some context and insight about why the U.S. should indeed move away from social security numbers — a step that the witnesses unanimously agreed was necessary if not wholly sufficient to protect consumers moving forward, in light of the Equifax hack.

"Over 145 million Americans’ insecure identities are now forever at risk, and they have limited ability to protect themselves," Wilkinson said. "A key question for this committee to consider is: What do we do now given these identities are forever compromised?"

Social security numbers are a privacy nightmare. While a consumer who gets hacked can replace credit card numbers and other account details, a social security number is permanent, linked inexorably to a real identity throughout a person's lifespan. In the hearing, Wilkinson and many of the Senators present argued that the U.S. needs to move to a dynamic system of personal identity, one designed with digital security in mind — a stark contrast with an inflexible legacy system that dates back to the 1930s.

"Some combination of digital multi-factor authentication... is the right path," former Equifax CEO Richard Smith said when asked about such a program.

Multiple times throughout the hearing, Brazil's Infraestrutura de Chaves Públicas system of citizen IDs through digital certificates came up as a potential model for the U.S. as it moves forward. In this model, a certificate lasts for three years at maximum and can be used to issue a digital signature much like written signatures are used now. Unlike its counterpart in the U.S., these identity accounts can be revoked and reissued easily through an established national protocol.

Members of the Senate committee also advocated for "rigorous" data security rules, expanding FTC authority to enforce them and stiffer penalties to motivate companies to protect consumers proactively.

"The parade of high profile data breaches seems to have no end," said ranking committee member Bill Nelson. "We can either take action with common sense rules or we can start planning for our next hearing on the issue."

Last month, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce made it clear that the Trump administration is also interested in abandoning social security numbers in favor of a more secure, more digital form of identification, stating that the form of ID has "outlived its usefulness."

Comments at Yahoo:

Tamper proof, illegal proof hack proof and not to be shared with a company that could duplicate or abuse this form of I.D.666 here we come.

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Says Carbon Dioxide is NOT a Primary Contributor to Global Warming

"The climate has changed and is always changing. As the Climate Science Special Report states, the magnitude of future climate change depends significantly on 'remaining uncertainty in the sensitivity of Earth's climate to [greenhouse gas] emissions,'" said White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah, in a statement.

March 20, 2017

[CNN] - Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said Thursday he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

"But we don't know that yet. ... We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis."

The statement contradicts the public stance of the agency Pruitt leads. The EPA's webpage on the causes of climate change states, "Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change."

Pruitt's view is also at odds with the conclusion of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere," NASA and NOAA said in January.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, co-chair of the Senate Climate Action Task Force, slammed Pruitt for his comments, calling his views "extreme" and "irresponsible."

"Anyone who denies over a century's worth of established science and basic facts is unqualified to be the administrator of the EPA. Now more than ever, the Senate needs to stand up to Scott Pruitt and his dangerous views," he said in a statement.

Schatz said lawmakers would hold Pruitt accountable through the appropriations process and oversight of the EPA, and by making sure he follows the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

Pruitt previously served as Oklahoma attorney general, where he rose to prominence as a leader in coordinated efforts by Republican attorneys general to challenge President Barack Obama's regulatory agenda. He sued or took part in legal actions against the EPA 14 times.

Democrats and environmentalists opposed Pruitt's nomination to lead the EPA due to his close relationship with fossil fuel companies and his history of casting doubt on climate change. Conservatives and the energy industry have cheered his efforts to push back on what they view as over-regulation under Obama.

Pruitt maintained on Thursday it's possible to be pro-growth, pro-jobs and pro-environment all at once.

"This idea that if you're pro-environment you're anti-energy is just something we've got to change so that attitude is something we're working on very much," he said.

Asked whether he would seek to roll back the EPA's 2009 determination that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases are a danger to public health, Pruitt suggested he would like to see Congress take up the issue.

"I think all those things need to be addressed as we go forward but not least of which is the response by the legislative branch with respect to the issue," he said.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases from automobiles. In 2014, it determined the agency could also regulate some sources of greenhouse gases, such as power plants.

Pruitt also called the Paris Agreement, an international accord aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change, "a bad deal." He said it puts the United States on a different playing field than developing countries like China and India.

The United States has vowed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. In comparison, China has committed to reach peak carbon emissions levels by 2030, but will try to reach that point sooner.

"I happen to think the Paris accord, the Paris treaty, or the Paris Agreement, if you will, should have been treated as a treaty, should have gone through senate confirmation. That's a concern," he said.

The Paris Agreement was negotiated by the State Department, and future adherence to U.S. commitments made under Obama will be guided by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson, the former chief of Exxon Mobil, said during his Senate confirmation hearing that he believes the United States should remain a party to the Paris Agreement.

White House-approved Report Concludes Humans are Behind Climate Change

Humans activity is behind the accelerated warming of the planet since the mid-20th century, the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment finds.

The report was prepared by 13 federal agencies and approved by the White House.

Its conclusion contradicts public statements by President Donald Trump and top administration officials who have cast doubt on humans' role in climate change.

November 3, 2017

[] - 2016 is likely to have been the hottest year since global temperatures were recorded in the 19th century.

Editorial: Challenge Illinois Public Sector Unions, Go to Jail. Seriously?

November 3, 2017

[Editorial - Chicago Tribune] - We’ve long suspected that many Illinois Democrats would tax sunshine and bakery scents if they could. Look at how Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle went after soda by the ounce. Our advice: Enjoy what you can while you can, because you never know what’s next.
The beverage tax (soon to be history, thankfully) seems a nuisance compared to a nasty corollary we saw recently employed by Democrats in Springfield: What we can’t tax, we’ll threaten with jail time.
It’s a disturbing worldview, but this is the political pattern in Illinois: Do everything to benefit those who can deliver money and campaign muscle. Everyone else, including most taxpayers and employers, can get lost. 
Our example today is a pro-union bill in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly that would prevent Illinois municipalities from setting up right-to-work zones, in which employees in union-protected positions could choose whether to join and pay dues. For legislators who are tightly aligned with organized labor, the proposed ban hits the spot. But it apparently wasn’t enough of a hint to local officials and employers about who really runs Illinois. So the bill’s backers included a stunning clause that said any elected official who defies the state ban on right-to-work zones would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. 
A Class A misdemeanor, if you’re wondering, is one step below a felony; it’s punishable by up to a year in jail. The outrageous message this bill sends to the world: Don’t even think of challenging organized labor in Illinois because we lock up troublemakers. 
The threat of jail time is gratuitous. If a local official defies Illinois law, the state can act to enforce compliance. There’s no need to threaten mayors or others with criminal prosecution. We asked around among legislative observers and couldn’t find a similar example. This was a brushback pitch by labor’s pet lawmakers. 
Note that this isn’t just a goofy proposal going nowhere. House and Senate members actually passed it. More in a moment. 
The specific target of the bill, we assume, is suburban Lincolnshire, which passed a right-to-work ordinance in 2015 that is now being challenged by labor unions in federal court. 
Our concern is the damage this proposal does to Illinois’ reputation among employers as an attractive place to do business. States are in constant competition to attract and retain investment and jobs. Chicago hopes to lure Amazon’s second headquarters, which will employ up to 50,000 people. Illinois was bypassed by Foxconn, a tech giant, and Toyota and Mazda. Something scared them off. We wonder what. 
Employers looking to invest and hire want to enter partnerships with local governments. Amazon couldn't be clearer in its request for site proposals: "A stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure will be high-priority considerations.” 
What do employers see in Illinois? High taxes, vast public debts and pension obligations nobody bothered to fund, onerous business regulations and a powerful adversary in the form of unions backed by elected officials. 
Here’s where right-to-work laws enter the picture: They don’t ban unions, they give individuals the freedom-of-association choice of whether to join and pay dues. That puts pressure on labor organizers to justify membership. Employers see right-to-work status as shorthand for a flexible, pro-growth environment that is welcoming to commerce. There are 28 right-to-work states. Illinois isn’t one of them. Wisconsin and Indiana are, and wouldn’t you know it, they are adding manufacturing jobs at a far faster clip than Illinois is. 
Given the politics here, Illinois won’t adopt right-to-work status anytime soon. That’s why Gov. Bruce Rauner initially proposed allowing communities to establish their own zones. The General Assembly saw Lincolnshire’s effort as a threat to kith and kin. So both chambers passed the local-right-to-work ban, which Rauner then vetoed. Two weeks ago, sponsors attempted to override the veto but came up one vote short in the House. The bill could come up for another override attempt within days. Opponents raised enough noise over the jail threat that sponsoring Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, said he would remove the criminal penalty. If so, that’s only because he needs that additional one vote. 
But what will be the next 10 bills in which legislators try to put uncooperative local officials behind bars? 
Illinois’ future won’t be determined by a workplace experiment in Lincolnshire. The economy won’t wither if the state remains a right-to-work holdout. Something has to give, though. Elected officials need to make Illinois more attractive to employers. Reforming tax policy, balancing the budget and addressing the pension crisis are good ways to advertise that Illinois is open for business. Criminalizing an economic development tool is not.

Joliet Illinois Scales Back City Employee Pension Benefits

The new policy comes on the heels of several Joliet Patch articles examining generous payouts for outgoing city staff.

November 2, 2017

[Joliet Patch] - The current administration at Joliet's City Hall has decided that enough is enough when it comes to some of the long-standing generous fringe benefits programs that were in place for city staff. City employees have received a memo from corporation counsel-interim city manager Marty Shanahan informing them the city's payout program is ending for employees choosing to wait until the eve of their retirement to cash out unused sick and vacation banks to pad their retirement pensions. That practice was allowing several employees to increase their retirement pensions, which was impacting city of Joliet finances.

In recent weeks, Joliet Patch published a series of articles examining the retirement payouts for several outgoing city officials including Jim Haller and Dave Mackley. Patch revealed that Mackley, who makes $118,000 annually, is also getting a payout of $104,155 spread out over the next few months for cashing out his bank of unused vacation and sick days that the city allowed him to accrue. March 31 is his last work day.

But that was only half the story. By waiting until the end of his career to cash out his vacation and sick banks, Mackley is able to pad his local government pension in a significant fashion. The city of Joliet determined that Mackley's $104,155 payout will also spike his monthly pension by an extra $1,319 per month. That comes out to be another $15,830 annually for Mackley's city pension.

"The past practice of extending the payouts for accrued vacation, sick and compensatory time over the last four months of employment will no longer be an option," states the Shanahan memo.

"Extending payouts for accrued vacation, sick time and compensatory time over the last four months of employment requires substantial additional city expenditures ... The new policy will continue the efforts of our city to lower long-term liabilities and future indeterminable expenses," Shanahan wrote to his fellow city employees.

For example, the 13 Joliet city employees who have announced their retirements during the past year will receive slightly more than $500,000 for cashing out their banks of unused sick, vacation and compensatory time, led by the $104,155 that is due to Mackley, who worked at City Hall for 33 years.

On top of that, however, Joliet realized it was also on the hook for an additional cost related to the impact that the payouts have upon the retiring city employee's pension.

"For example, to date, the additional city expenditures for the thirteen 2017 retirees totaled just over $900,000. This dollar figure is in addition to the $500,000-plus -- payouts for accrued vacation, sick time and compensatory time. Continuing this practice is clearly unsustainable," Shanahan warned in his memo.

The new city policy takes effect on April 1, the day after Mackley retires. Under the new regulations, the payouts for unused sick, vacation and comp time will be made in one lump-sum at the time of the employee's retirement, but these payouts will not be allowed to spike the retiree's pension. The new policy impacts the city's non-union staff, including upper management. Any changes to union contracts must be made through the collective bargaining process.

In any event, recent Patch articles highlighting Mackley's $104,155 payout struck a chord with readers.

Here are just a few of the many comments from our readers: