Police reform, GOP v SoS, Dr Thomas Holt on cybercrime

June 14, 2021

Note: I mistakenly referred to Tamika Palmer as Tamika Walker.  I apologize for the mistake.  ~Christine

Michigan Policast for Monday, June 14, 2021

  • US Senate Homeland Security Committee report on January 6 attack on the capitol
  • Dr Thomas Holt on cybercrime
  • GOP vs Michigan Secretary of State
  • Justice for All
  • More police news
  • Unlock Michigan
  • Political notes
  • Transcript

Folks to follow on Twitter:

Jump to a topic:

US Senate Homeland Security Committee report on January 6 attack on the capitol

Dr Thomas Holt on cybercrime

GOP vs Michigan Secretary of State

Justice for All

 

More police news

The sleazy but not illegal Unlock Michigan

“The decision by the Michigan Supreme Court doesn’t just allow Unlock Michigan’s illegally gathered signatures to count but will allow every future ballot proposal campaign to collect signatures illegally,” said Chris Trebilcock, an attorney for Keep Michigan Safe.

 

Political notes

 

Call your legislator

Remember – calling is often more effective than sending an email or filling out their contact form online.

Transcript

Gary Peters  00:03

We have seen a template of how democracies are undermined and we've seen it in other countries and, and if you look at the backsliding with democracies around the world, it's not from foreign threats. It's from within it's the corrosive powers from within those democracies. And when you think about one of the fundamental ways that democracies have failed around the world, it's because there's an attempt to undermine the credibility of elections by saying elections don't

 

Walt Sorg  00:30

matter. Michigan's Gary Peters is at the center of two major congressional investigations. The January 6, Trump inspired attack on the Capitol and the epidemic of cyber attacks on businesses and governments in critical infrastructure. I'm Walt Sorg.

 

Tenisha Yancey  00:44

The inefficiencies that we've talked about these last few months are the direct result of decades of disinvestment and neglect in this department, by the legislature and by previous secretaries.

 

Christopher Smith  00:56

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson pushes back on legislative critics who blame her for backups in Secretary of State branch offices. I'm Christine Barry.

 

Walt Sorg  01:05

Also this week, a full ethics bill passes in the State House. Some House Republicans want to starve Michigan's Largest cities by taking away the non resident income tax and an emotional plea from briona. Taylor's mother to Michigan lawmakers for police reform, and in a few moments, we'll be joined by one of the state's leading experts on cybercrime with his thoughts on protecting ourselves from online thieves.

 

Megan Cavanagh  01:30

This is Michigan Policast with Walt Sorg in Christine Barry, Michigan politics and policy and the National stories impacting our pleasant peninsulas

 

Christopher Smith  01:40

Two US Senate Committees issued a report during the week on the maga attack on the nation's capital. co chairing the committee was Michigan's Gary Peters, who chairs the senate Homeland Security Committee. Peters is the first to admit that they only covered part of the story. The role of former President Trump and his top enablers in Congress is still to be determined

 

Gary Peters  02:00

It is a limited scope. And that was the intent right from the beginning was to look at exactly what happened in terms of the attack that day how the security presence was deployed, where there were gaps, talk about the intelligence, understanding better, why it took so long for the National Guard to respond. It was simply to take a look at that. And the reason for that was that we knew that we had to get recommendations out as quickly as possible, that would help safeguard the Capitol to make sure that another another attack, like what we saw on January 6, would not be successful in breaching the Capitol and we wanted to get those recommendations out quickly. And that's why I was the limited scope. Peters committee is also at the center of the response to growing cyber terrorism and extortion, which is costing millions and ransoms into showing the capability of shutting down critical services.

 

Walt Sorg  02:51

Christine, we know that cybercrime, of course is a huge threat to the nation, we saw two major shutdowns in the last couple of weeks caused by cyber criminals, allegedly coming out of Russia, although Putin denies any knowledge of it, you know, it's one of those old Sergeant Schultz things I know nothing. I see nothing. But we're pretty sure it did come from Russia. This is your wheelhouse. This is what you do for a living you are in cybersecurity, and technology. from a purely personal standpoint, though, is it a risk to us as well?

 

Christopher Smith  03:23

Yeah. First of all, personal individual cybersecurity, your passwords, how you choose to conduct yourself online, what you click on that kind of thing. There is an argument to be made, that that's a matter of national security. And not just a matter for your own personal like, you know, protecting your identity, protecting your credit, and so on, which is also valid. But you have to consider that if you have if your email is compromised, your passwords are compromised. That means that anything that you have in whatever was compromised is open now to these criminals, and they're going to see it. And if any of that is work related, if there's any other passwords or any other kind of access, or if they can just get enough information to impersonate you to other people, you work with them, they can compromise that. And if you work at a colonial pipeline, or a JBS meat processor, or an airline or any other of these, you know really important, important as in big footprint places, you can compromise them as well. And while going back to your point about Russia, one of the interesting things about Russia saying, you know, See No Evil Hear No Evil, they're always going to protect those, those hackers, and we know they're coming from Russia because one of the ways you can kind of protect yourself from some of this is to install the Russian keyboard on your computer because some of this ransomware is designed to detect what language you're using. And if it finds Russian, it will just not activate These aren't nation, nation state attacks from Russia. But definitely the nation state in Russia itself is protecting those hackers.

 

Walt Sorg  05:09

I have found lately that I've been getting a lot of phishing attacks, through Facebook and Facebook Messenger friend requests that I know are fraudulent, or messages saying click on this, I saw you in this video. And it's pretty obvious that it's didn't come from a friend and it wasn't a video, is Facebook now becoming the hackers tool of choice in attacking individuals?

 

Christopher Smith  05:31

Yeah, I think all social media really is going to be that way Facebook is, by far the one they're using the most, because it just seems to be so much easier. There's so many more people, there are email systems, we have for so long, protected ourselves or tried to protect ourselves from spam and then phishing and spear phishing and just malicious attachments, that kind of thing. There's, there's a greater awareness about that. Nobody thinks when they click on a Facebook link from someone they think is their friend, that it's going to put them in danger. And so that is why these social media platforms are becoming sort of the tool of choice if they're going after an individual. Another thing is that when people are on social media, they tend to be a little bit more impulsive than when they're in email. Again, I think it's part of that awareness thing. But you know, I open up a Facebook message and I see a friend from high school I haven't talked to for so long, it could be easy for me to say, Oh, my God, and and just click on that link. Because, you know, yeah, I accept your friend request or yell open the link that you sent me. Because you're a friend and you're more impulsive, you know, on on social media, definitely watch out for those those links, double check on, you know, give it a think, you know, aren't you already friends with this person? Is this something really that they would send you Are you a good enough friend for them to say, Hey, here's something cool,

 

Walt Sorg  06:56

or just don't open attachment, any attachments from them, period. The other way to go to just be a be suspicious or contact them to confirm that it came from them?

 

Christopher Smith  07:06

Yeah, and, you know, one more thing I'll point out is the impact that the Internet of Things has had on cybercrime. Because by deploying all of these really cool things, like smart refrigerators and other smart appliances, or security cameras, or industrial control systems, you know, so that your, your maintenance people can stay at home and, and work on HVAC. Or you can have a remote support person, when those operational controls are compromised, depending on the configuration of the network, and that can let an attacker traverse your entire network. So for example, if you hacked into my security camera at home, you really see anything interesting. But if you could traverse my entire network, you would find everything that we we keep on our computers, you know, there's basic protections you can take here, you know, you have to change your passwords on the security cameras you get if you're a business, make sure that nobody is installing smart technology that you don't know about, for example, you know, you have to upgrade your upgrade your your thermostat, or whatever they come in, and they install a smart one and you haven't talked to your IT team about it. These are things you have to think about. And for sure, if you're a manufacturer, you have some some big operational technology out there that has to be protected, then you can get a firewall that protects every piece of industrial control of your industrial control system that you have out there. I think the big takeaway here well is that as an individual, with access to more than just your own computer, it is a matter of national security, that you protect your identity and protect access to your data. Because there might be something in there that when it's compromised does put us in jeopardy.

 

Walt Sorg  09:01

Well, I appreciate your expertise, Christine and your friendship and helping me traverse these new battles and find out even more. I reached out earlier this week to Dr. Thomas Holt, he's Chair of the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University. And his area of expertise is cybercrime. Professor Holt certainly appreciate your time to talk to us about this most timely subject. As we see the headlines about big companies and hospitals and governments being hacked, and being paralyzed. It scares all of us. Just how vulnerable is our infrastructure to the hackers, especially those overseas

 

Thomas Holt  09:39

Extremely. And I say that only because every kind of computer system whether it is brand new and completely patched or whether it's a legacy system from 20 years ago, every computer is vulnerable in some way, shape or form, whether it's on the hardware or the software. And so the question about hacking is really not if, but when.

 

Walt Sorg  10:00

I get notices all the time from the identity theft service that I subscribe to that my email address has been compromised, or maybe some of my signings have been compromised. How much is an individual? Am I at risk?

 

Thomas Holt  10:12

It depends on your exposures. So as an example, if you go on a lot of questionable websites and shop, your credit card information may be more vulnerable if you use very simple passwords across all of your online accounts. So if your password is something like password or something generic that's in a dictionary, it can be very easy to compromise. So as an individual, our risk level is proportional to kind of how we behave and what are cyber hygiene as an individual, what can I do to protect myself? What can the average person do given that we can't hire a full time IT director for our house? Yeah, that is a great question. Realistically, the most important things that you can do as a person is to try to use harder passwords and try to if you use one single email account, say that's where all of your financial account information goes to, that's where online billing statements go, things like that, try to use a very hard password on that email account and make sure it is unique from all the other passwords you use. And I say that because that becomes sort of your stronghold where all your sensitive information exists. So you want to harden that to the extent that you can. Beyond that, using good security tools on your home computer. So running antivirus, that kind of thing is very important, making sure that it's up to date. And the hardest one in practice is not responding to questionable emails. So when you get something that maybe claims to be from Amazon, where you need to open a receipt or something like that, doing your best to make sure that you don't respond to those messages that you ignore them that if it looks unusual, you don't click on any links, click on any attachments, anything like that, that's going to be the best to help your overall security.

 

Walt Sorg  12:01

I've noticed recently, I've gotten a couple of emails from folks claiming to be Amazon or others and just checking their originating email address seems to be a clue all the clue that you need to know that there's something funky going on?

 

Thomas Holt  12:16

Definitely, there are some very obvious sells. So if there's a lot of typos, if the email addresses don't match, if the link if they say it's Amazon, but the link goes out to some website you've never heard of before. Those are all telltale markers that this is not real.

 

Walt Sorg  12:31

From a policy standpoint what do the state and federal governments need to do that they're not doing now? Are there new laws that are needed,

 

Thomas Holt  12:39

To some extent, new laws would be helpful. And really, it would only be helpful to the extent that it would enable increased or enhanced prosecution. But the better step would be to try to find ways to enhance our cooperation internationally. So there's a lot of countries that we have good relationships with where there's potential to extradite foreign nationals if they engage in hacks. But we're at a point now, where there are sort of islands where individuals can exist with no risk of prosecution or extradition. As an example, the US does not have a an extradition relationship with Russia. So there's a degree of freedom attackers still there where they can attack the US with impunity. And just as long as they don't travel out of the country, or if they do, they go on vacation to a country that doesn't have a strong law enforcement presence there from the United States, they can keep doing it as long as they want. So they're trying to find ways to increase international cooperation or finding ways to leverage policy in a way that whether it's through economic sanctions, diplomacy, anything that would help to introduce deterrence, and find a way to reduce the sense that attackers have that they can just do what they want. President Biden, of course, is getting ready to meet with the Russian President Putin. And he has said that he is going to tell Putin what he wants him to know.

 

Walt Sorg  14:07

From your perspective, what does Joe Biden want Putin to know,

 

Thomas Holt  14:11

from my perspective, I think the first thing would be that the US is aware of what Russia is doing. If you look at all of the reporting around the attacks, even in the last few weeks, whether it's with the colonial pipeline, or going more broadly, thinking about solar winds that hack from December, these major events that have caused to a degree catastrophic air harm, or at least harm that we don't even understand the full scope of yet, most of which is originating from Russian actors. They've got to be put on notice that we're not going to tolerate this any longer, because the more we just allow these attacks to happen with no action on our part, whether its economic, whether it's removing diplomats from country or forcing the closure of embassies, there are strategies and tools that exist This, it's just a question of To what degree are we willing to pull the levers that we have to try to force some behavior change on the part of Russia,

 

Walt Sorg  15:08

let me go back to the individual. And the protections that they have. More and more of us now are storing our documents in the cloud, either backing them up to the cloud, or the originals are in the cloud, we back them up locally, hopefully, we have backups, at least, how vulnerable are these huge cloud servers to the hackers

 

15:29

It varies. And I say that for a few different reasons. One, the password that you use for your cloud storage account, if it's very weak, again, if it's a four or five letter word, or something that's in a dictionary, that can be easily defeated. There are multiple historical examples, we can point to have cloud storage providers being hacked remotely. So to a degree, their security is only good as the security of their end user population. So if you as an individual have a lot of sensitive information stored in the cloud, and you're using a bad password, then that means it's not very secure at all. More broadly, thinking about the security postures of those companies, they can be relatively secure. But the biggest challenge is that hackers have all the time in the world to defeat security. And thinking about how to best effect a target in a way that they're not going to identify is the bread and butter of a good hacker. And so they can have a strong security up front. But that always could be defeated by an attacker who's very careful and very creative.

 

Walt Sorg  16:34

I am on an apple system. And one thing that Apple does when you sign up for a password is it suggests a password, which is in fact, something I could never remember or, and a very complex are those, the best way to go.

 

16:48

Password keepers are helpful and password generators can be useful. The only problem is that if they are backing up on Tuesday, a hard drive for example, if you're using a password keeper or generator on your standard desktop or tablet computer, then if that device is compromised, or if it's ever in some way affected and you can't access those passwords, then the problem is you might be locked out of your accounts that you need to use. So there are some benefits and some costs. Depending on how you think about it, they can be helpful, they certainly generate hard passwords, but they can be too complex for the average person to remember. And so you want to try to find ways to recall what they are or ensure that the device is backed up in some way where you can access those again later, if you need to. Maybe good old pen and paper, just reading your passwords. It's hard to hack paper.

 

Walt Sorg  17:45

Very true, very true.

 

Thomas Holt  17:47

The only thing I would say in that respect is that a creative attacker and this goes more to a corporate environment. If you've got all your passwords written on a piece of paper under your keyboard, if it's an important enough target, somebody will go in and find that set of passwords.

 

Walt Sorg  18:03

Like a lot of people, I pay all of my bills online, I've handled most of my financial transactions online now, either through my credit union or directly through the company that is billing me. How safe is that compared to the old fashioned writing of a check?

 

18:17

It is secure, but there are points of risk. And I say that only because the infrastructure that we use, again is only as good as some of the passwords that we use. So if your email account, thinking again about it as sort of a stronghold, if the email account where your bank information goes, it uses a very simple password or use the same password for your email account that you do for your bank account, then the security of one can compromise the security of the other. So online banking and online payment systems can be useful. They are secure to a degree. And it comes down more along the lines of do you respond to a phishing email that introduces the potential for risk? Or is there a data breach where an attacker installs malware or in some way gets backdoor access to computer systems within that network. When that happens when those data breaches occur, there's nothing that you can really do is the individual consumer, then it is very much about what the institution has done or how they can stop that leak. Once the informations out, then all you can do is sort of manage and watch your accounts and check to see if there's any fraudulent transactions. But better financial institutions will shut down accounts, they'll reissue cards before customers will have any financial harm. But those are the two ways where those systems are likely to be compromised the personal side, you can at least reduce your risk. The sort of data breach side is a little harder to gauge. Most financial institutions are good. They're they're less porous than, say a retailer like Target or Amazon because those institutions do get compromised from time to time. So a smaller firm like, say a lawn care company or something like that, that uses a third party for payment processing, then hopefully they're secure. But you never know, are the use of Google pay and Apple Pay and similar services are more secure than directly entering your credit card information on with a retailer. And to be honest, I don't know, I've not seen enough information to date to really support whether one is more secure than the other, the only thing that I can say is that the degree of encryption in the storage can make them at least a little bit more secure in theory, but in practice, if your information is moving through a pipeline that's been compromised, so thinking about target as an example, that retailer had malicious software installed on the point of sale terminals in stores, so whatever kind of occurred, you were using, that data was getting captured as it flowed through their network. So that is a risk point that we can't necessarily resolve whether through Google pay or other means. It's certainly more convenient. And the storage of your data might be a little bit harder than say, just the way that Amazon stores your data on a server. But that's it's sort of 50-50 it's hard to tell.

 

Walt Sorg  18:23

Probably the best bet at least, is to change your password regularly for anyone who has access to your credit cards, your bank accounts.

 

21:16

Yes, yes, regular password fidelity is useful.

 

Walt Sorg  21:20

Professor Holt, we thank you so much for your time and your expertise. appreciate you joining us. Yeah, happy to be here. Thank you. One last note on cyber crime, the latest in phishing emails or spear phishing that I got, lately, were a couple from one that was supposedly from Amazon, the other ones supposedly from Norton, both indicating very large expenditures on my part that I clearly didn't make, and inviting me to call an 800 number or to email back or click on a link to deal with customer service on it. I almost fell for it the first time because it was from Norton Nanos for Norton securities. And I actually had that on my computer. And then I looked at it again and saw the return address was it certainly wasn't from Norton, so almost shows a close call.

 

Christopher Smith  22:07

Yeah, these criminals are refining their attacks, and they're doing more research on their targets.

 

Walt Sorg  22:14

Long gone are the days of the Nigerian prince who wants to transfer some money to the United States. That's long gone. Now.

 

Christopher Smith  22:21

There's one attack in particular, that's completely scary. It's a it's a attack on a law enforcement police department. And they were able to siphon off all of the security footage and the evidence in these different crimes. And they have like all the evidence, again, you know, that these Gang Task Force have been working on it's frightening on a different level, you know, that they can pull out video from police departments pull out their evidence. It's just and that could be as simple as the sheriff not changing his password.

 

Walt Sorg  22:51

Well, why don't we move on to other things that are bugging the state of Michigan?

 

Christopher Smith  22:54

Well, the 2022 republican campaign for Secretary of State continues unabated in the legislature, Republicans trying to pin the blame on Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for the difficulties in connecting with branch offices for routine transactions like auto title transfers and driver's licenses. Benson has repeatedly asked the legislature for the money needed to hire more staff. Lawmakers have responded by ignoring those please. And Benson continues to read juggle a staff she does have to reduce the delays which she is the first to say are unacceptable.

 

Tenisha Yancey  23:29

We have immediately added 350,000 new appointments for branch offices. They are online and available between now and the end of the fiscal year, September 30. Half of them are already available in the system we recognize there is value in being able to walk up to a branch and talk with a member of our team. So this month, we will begin placing greeters at dozens of our busiest offices front doors.

 

Christopher Smith  23:56

Now, here's what's interesting about Secretary Benson's response. It's almost like a hail mary from from my perspective, because she talks about placing greeters. She talked about reducing appointment time estimates that from 20 minutes to 10 minutes. Then there was something about a pledge from all the employees that they all work more efficiently. And I have the details in the show notes. But this is not a sustainable plan. And in fact, I don't think greeters is the right word here you should call them navigators or something because and the reason that matters is that it's already being mocked by the GOP, comparing them to Walmart greeters, and so on as that's just it's just mean you know, and this is classic GOP. Starve the public entity that is meant to serve us and then campaign on how that entity is failing, and they've hated her from day one. And I would argue that they do not genuinely even care how long you wait for an appointment because they had the opportunity to prevent this from I'm happening. And I'm not even talking about funding, I'm talking about phasing out the COVID extension so that the Secretary of State branch offices wouldn't be in this position. And they chose not to do that walk. And they had the information about it, they had the choice.

 

Walt Sorg  25:15

Well, the alternative they're proposing is going back to the old system, or you walk into a branch office, you took a number, and then you sat there for one to three hours waiting for for it to be your turn, at least if you have an appointment, which admittedly is hard to get. But if you've got an appointment, you can go in there and get served in a reasonable amount of time. A lot of people don't have half a day to spend getting their driver's license renewed, or to do the other things they have to do in person at a branch office. The only solution is to put up the money to get the staff to do the job if you want these jobs done. Somebody's got to do them. And Benson's doing the best she can with what the legislature has given her, but the fact remains that they want a political issue more than they want a solution. Another area where there's a huge partisan divide in Lansing is reforming the police. Democrats have unveiled a package of bills to bring basic reforms to law enforcement without defunding police departments just making them work better. Representative Tenisha Yancey says that a minimum the number of unarmed African Americans or literally killed by police must be reduced

 

Tenisha Yancey  26:22

nearly every day at least one person dies during a police interaction. This year alone, there was only six days that a police officer didn't cause the death of a civilian. That is entirely unacceptable. One death is one death to many. In here we have over 1000s that are happening across our country. Law enforcement is tasked to protect and serve the public not be judge, jury for executioner.

 

Christopher Smith  26:52

And to drive home their point lawmakers were joined by the mother of Breanna Taylor, the low of a woman shot dead in her bed when police botched a no knock raid. To make a walker said the pain of families losing loved ones as a result of overreaction or police error has to stop.

 

Tamika Palmer  27:10

We asked Michigan politicians to consider all the mothers in this country, Black and Brown who are not able to go back to normal after their loved one has had their life cut short to police brutality and excessive use of force tactics that are outdated, because normal does not exist for them anymore.

 

Walt Sorg  27:30

Christine we alluded to defunding the police as we are leading into the segment of the podcast. And that, to me is really a big part of the problem because it got off to such a rocky start, because of the term defunding the police people aren't talking about defunding the police. They're talking about reimagining public protection and Human Services. When you call 911 right now, and your house is on fire. You don't want a cop to show up. You want the fire department and that's what happens. But if you call 911, and you've got a domestic disturbance going on this the result of of mental illness or drug abuse, a police officer is not the best person to answer necessarily that call it maybe it should be a social worker, maybe it should be a public health worker, somebody along those lines, if those funds can be redirected. So the cops do what cops do, and firefighters do what firefighters do, and social workers do what they do. That's what this reform movement is all about. And in the process. Of course, we've got to stop this this mindset amongst a minority of police officers, that anything is justified to solve a crime they think may have been committed, or to bring in a perpetrator they think may be guilty. It's not a lot of cops, but it only takes one or two cops to make them all look bad.

 

Christopher Smith  28:48

And certainly the people who are killed in police interactions. I mean, it's there's some real harm done by those one or two cops that are doing the wrong thing. I don't think that every death caught or every death resulting from a police interaction is actually caused by the police officers. I kind of questioned that statement or maybe I'm using the word cause differently than they are.

 

Walt Sorg  29:12

I don't think they're saying that either.

 

Christine Barry  29:13

I certainly don't want police –  Ok, well, yeah, because I want to point that out because –

 

Walt Sorg  29:18

Well when you're George Floyd and you're unarmed and you're lying on the ground in handcuffs on your stomach with a cops knee on your neck for eight minutes. Yeah, obviously that's that's kind of going over to the liner or if somebody dies as the result of an encounter. That's because of a loop selling of loose cigarettes, which is exactly what happened in New York and or somebody is fleeing the police officers. They're unarmed. They're running away and they get shot in the back. Again, that's that's overdoing it.

 

Christopher Smith  29:46

Right? Yeah. Yeah, I agree. It's that word cause that I questioned I that I wanted to challenge a little bit. You know, the battle that's going on in the legislature right now is you just summed up the democratic And the republicans are pushing back saying we don't need a legislative response to police reform, police can police themselves. And then their second piece of that is how unattractive Do we want the career of law enforcement to be, and that kind of thing. If you can't control yourself, I don't want you attracted to policing at all. If you're if you're scared, of not having immunity to everything you do, don't go into that job. And I mean, that's just what it has to be a part of that is that you have to have everything you need to do your job properly, the training the support system, and so on. And if you do, then you don't need qualified immunity, you can be subject to the same justice system as the rest of us and I have a lot of cops in my family, I don't want them. for one second, I do not want them to hesitate to defend themselves. But I do want them to be mindful of their actions and respond based on their training and their intellect and not based on their emotion and not based on any subpar psychology of a bully who outgrew the playground, which I don't feel that my cousins are. Some of this really is bad decisions. You see it in videos all the time.

 

Walt Sorg  31:08

Another part of law enforcement that came into the news this week, was the revelation that the State Department of Health and Human Services through its former director, called on police last winter at the height of the pandemic, to do more to enforce the state's emergency health rules, most notably the requirements for masks in businesses, the representatives of law enforcement said, Well, no, we're not going to enforce those rules. That's not a high priority for us. And as we've noted in previous podcasts, some sheriffs actually came out and announced that they weren't going to enforce them because they thought it was unconstitutional. Both Robert Gordon and those sheriffs were wrong there was there's a middle ground. And certainly there needed to be some enforcement. But at the same time, with policing the way it is right now in the numbers of police, we have enforcing civil misdemeanors, which is what the mask violations were, for the most part, that is not a good use of police time, even though that could impact a life threatening situation.

 

Christopher Smith  32:07

There was such a divide on how the COVID response was being handled and what was being asked of the public. And I don't think that any police encounter over a mask would have been productive. I really think once you had the sheriff's and you had the republicans in the legislature coming out and saying that this is not necessary, or just kind of downplaying it and being seen in pictures without masks, and being together and then you know, getting COVID and then bragging about recovering from COVID when all these things are happening. And it just encouraged people to not wear masks to not social distance and it undermined the effort. So putting the police in now to enforce it makes it harder because Joe Public thinks liberty, I don't have to wear a mask.

 

Walt Sorg  32:56

At the same time you had businesses openly flaunting the rules to the point of keeping their businesses open after they lost their licenses to do business. And at that point, the police I think should have stepped in and enforced the law because you're at that point, you're getting beyond just an individual's minor, relatively minor action. You're now talking about a threat to the community if they're openly flaunting very important health restrictions.

 

Christopher Smith  33:21

Yeah, I agree. And that was that was crazy. You know the thing with with somebody like Karl Manke because I know who that the Mankes are here in Owosso where I am. I knew immediately oh, this is just another one of his stupid political stunts. He doesn't need money. He doesn't care if your hair is cut. He's just wants attention, you know. And of course, the Michigan militia showed up and everybody made it a bigger story than it should have been. But yeah, he should have, you know, they should have gone through that process, which I think they did to the extent they could, and then that bistro,  wherever that was, she actually had lost her her license to serve food. And that is also a different problem from just ignoring the cap on people coming in and what you could do and that kind of thing. So that should have been enforced. But it's it's hard to do that when those press releases are going out. sheriffs are saying we're not going to enforce it.

 

Walt Sorg  34:20

state legislators are standing in the door with the business owner of blessing the governor for putting in health regulations in the face of a pandemic that's not killed 600,000 Americans, just to make things a little bit worse for future pandemics. Republicans apparently are going to get their way on the petition drive to end the governor's emergency powers in the future. The Michigan Supreme Court has told the board of canvassers to send the unlike Michigan proposal to the legislature, the two Democrats on the board of canvassers had held it up because of very well documented violations of law and human decency. Whether petition circulators, who lied about it, who did all sorts of things that were illegal to collect the signatures, the Supreme Court ruled that the Board of canvassers role was simply to verify the signatures, that the underlying investigation was up to the legislature and perhaps the Attorney General. The Attorney General's already weighed in on it and said, but there's not enough evidence for her to proceed with criminal charges. And of course, this legislature has no inclination to do that, because they want the petition sent to them so that they can pass the law without the governor's signature, but just bypass the governor and the people and say that future governors have very limited powers when it comes to emergencies like this pandemic. It's going to happen there'll be another court battle over the constitutionality of the actual petition. But this looks like something that is a fait accompli, this is score one for the ability to go out and buy signatures.

 

Christopher Smith  35:48

Yeah, the sleazy but not illegal, unlock Michigan and its affiliate, the Republican Party. And frankly, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. You know, the Supreme Court probably did what was exactly right for them to do. There just wasn't enough evidence for the AG to find anything illegal. And so what could the Supreme Court do? You know, they acted based on the law, and that was probably probably a good thing. They did their job.

 

Walt Sorg  36:16

But we do have some positive news for a change as well involving actual bipartisanship in Lansing.

 

Christopher Smith  36:21

Yes, a bipartisan agreement on one aspect of law enforcement, providing protections for our oldest citizens. Attorney General Nessel headed up a bipartisan task force, which also included Supreme Court Justice Megan Cavanaugh, and representatives of senior advocacy groups for reforms protecting the elderly from being victimized by those charged with looking out for them. Justice Cavanaugh said a vital part of the package was beefing up the power of probate courts to intervene in cases where elder abuse is suspected.

 

Megan Cavanagh  36:54

With the reforms we propose today, probate judges will have additional tools in the law to make sure that the rights of people with guardians are protected. If there's one thing I heard over and over serving on this taskforce Is that pretty much by definition, being a guardian or conservator is not easy. It's an extremely important responsibility, but one which can be difficult to navigate. That's why training, transparency and certification is so very important.

 

Christopher Smith  37:24

She was joined by Christopher Smith from the state bar associations Elder Law Section.

 

Christopher Smith  37:29

This legislation does two relatively simple, very important things. First, it clarifies it puts into statute, the reasons why somebody should be skipped over and that priority list, it sets out the rules. So everybody knows and everybody can make their case in court transparently. And then, if somebody is not suitable to be a guardian, it asks the court and requires the court to lay down specific facts on the record as to why those closest to us are not suitable to be the guardian. The legislation would ensure that if we must be subject to guardianship, those closest to us will always be given first and adequate consideration.

 

Walt Sorg  38:13

I think it's really an important move forward, senior abuse, especially in financial bilking of seniors is really an underreported story, but it goes on a lot because seniors are so vulnerable, especially those that that are very old. I have several friends who are in that situation right now where they're basically incapable of taking care of their own affairs. In their case, thankfully, they're being cared for by somebody who's looking out for their best interest. But it's so easy to just go in and steal from them. It's unlikely anybody's going to find out about it. So I really welcome this package. And I'm so glad that the attorney general took the leadership along with Justice Cavanaugh in making it happen.

 

Christopher Smith  38:51

Yeah, I agree. This legislation deals with the kind of stuff that can turn a painful family matter into an excruciating, disruptive family crisis. And you know Walt, I feel like looking at this, it's an act of real governance. And I haven't seen that from Lansing in a long time. So it was kind of a feel good thing over a horrible problem that we have out there.

 

Walt Sorg  39:17

And the sad thing is, it will probably go completely unnoticed by most of the voters who will focus on extraneous issues like the governor taking an airplane to Florida or Mike shirkey, having his photograph taken with a bunch of extremist issues, which are they're much more interesting, but in the big scheme of things a lot more irrelevant as well.

 

Christopher Smith  39:36

Well, you know, what, Walt, real governance, real policy, genuine stuff like this. It's not sexy. It's not controversial, it's boring, it's tedious, and people don't want to pay attention to that. But that's where you know people like you and I get excited I think because I mean that's that's the stuff that really excites me. And and the other stuff, you know, police reform voter suppression is important as well, but I'm saying as you mentioned, this stuff is going to go unnoticed. And it's stuff that really matters.

 

Walt Sorg  40:07

Probably most people are unaware of the fact that the Congress last week passed a quarter of a trillion dollar funding bill to advance United States research and development in the competition with China. The reason it went unnoticed, it got bipartisan support, even Mitch McConnell voted for it, despite the fact that it came out of the Biden administration. But it got I think, 70-75 votes in the Senate. And it's a quarter of a trillion dollars. That's not exactly chump change, even in these days, yet, it's completely unnoticed, because there was no controversy about it. The old line in the news business was if it bleeds, it leads. And if it doesn't, it gets buried. Well, I got buried. And that's one small part of the bigger problem we've got with our system right now that we're really thanks to cable news, in large part, but because of social media as well, we focus on the commodity, the emotional and the controversial, rather than on the substantive. And that's one of the reasons why I like doing a podcast.

 

Christopher Smith  41:05

Yeah, we can do what we want.

 

Walt Sorg  41:08

Okay, normally, at this point in the podcast, we have a handful of short political notes, which we tend to talk about too long anyway, short takes on the news of the day. This week, we have a whole bunch of them. So I'm going to fix with one about fixing the damn roads. You may recall back bc that's before COVID. Governor Whitmer was talking about fixing the damn roads, and she's actually doing it. Despite getting no help from the legislature on the issue. We have seen an outbreak of orange barrels on our state highways, the nearly rivals the 17 year cicadas infestation on the east coast. But local roads are getting worse by the day due to a lack of resources because again, Republicans in the legislature won't put forth the funding needed for the local roads. One thing that would help a lot would be President Biden's American infrastructure investment plan, something that can be enacted without Republicans who don't seem really interested in getting much done. But it's being held back because of one single member of the US Senate, Joe Manchin, who just is uncomfortable with doing anything annoying, totally party line vote, we really need to have a discussion on one of these pods down the road of our whole system of government. We do not have a democratic system of government. We pretend that we are. But the reality is that for many years, we have been governed by the minority. Republicans rarely get more votes than democrats for the United States Senate cumulatively, but because of the way the Senate is set up, the republicans elected from small states have the same cloud as say the two democrats from California. The two senators from California, between them represent about 40 million people. The two senators Ryoma with equal clout in the senate represents 600,000 people. It's an incredible disparity. And in the house, in large part because of gerrymandering, Democrats have a significant majority in terms of total votes received in the election. But the slimmest of majorities in the last election democrats got like a 54 or 46 agent Total votes cast, yet they've only got a I think it's a five vote majority at this point in the US House of Representatives with a couple of seats vacant because of appointments and resignations, threatening to make things even worse for our local roads. There's an effort now by small town and suburban Republicans to rip away an important source of funding for our cities, the non resident income tax. Now that's a tax that cities like Detroit, Lansing, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, etc. I think there's 21 of them imposed on people who work in their cities but live outside the cities that's already been severely impacted by telecommuting, which has been going on during a COVID. But what they these Republican legislators want to do led by Representative Pamela hornberger of Chesterfield Township, which is in McComb County, she would prohibit these cities from collecting any income tax on people who work in their city. And that'd be a deathblow to some of these cities that have a lot of commuters coming in Detroit being one of them. A lot of their tax base are commuters that come in and work inside the city. And if they're not paying any taxes inside the city, Detroit is really hurt.

 

Christopher Smith  44:19

So the local government is responsible, at least in part for maintaining the infrastructure of the city and they have to use local funds to do that. But people coming in from outside of the city to work there every day. So every day using the infrastructure there wouldn't be responsible at all for any of it and I don't think that's fair. It shouldn't just be the residents. I don't know if this is meant to help push people out of the cities. I don't know if it's pandering to a base. I mean, I used to pay Lansing tax. I didn't live in Lansing but it didn't break the bank. Except for the first year what I didn't know I had to declare it quarterly and I got a huge fine at the end of the year because I had no declared it quarterly. But why? You know, here we go again, classic GOP starve the entity and then say look at how it fails,

 

Walt Sorg  45:09

well, maybe they could say if you come into a city income tax city, and you're from out of town, but you work in the city and you're not paying any taxes there, we will no longer provide you with fire protection or police protection, you're on your own. If you call 911, you'll have to bring in your insurer from your Township, or from your city outside of our city. Maybe that would get their attention. But you know, it is clear, it's not going to go anywhere. The governor will veto it if it ever got to her desk, so I'm not worried about that. But I just think the symbolism is horrible,

 

Christopher Smith  45:39

is alright, so I'm going to go back to Joe Manchin again. And this time his apparent belief that preserving the filibuster is more important than protecting voting rights. And I don't think this is a surprise that Joe Manchin is, is holding fast on this, you know, not doing anything with the filibuster. It reminds me of Senator Daniel Inouye and his famous speech about protecting the filibuster and minorities changing, I'll have a link to it, but it was it was really an impressive statement. He's not going to support moving forward by getting rid of the filibuster. And, you know, that's just Joe Manchin. Now there is data showing that his opinion is out of step with the voters. But for some reason, he just simply will not move on it.

 

Walt Sorg  46:29

Yes, the voters of West Virginia who disagree with Manchin's position. They support voting rights, and they also support the President's economic plan as well. And West Virginia needs the economic plan as much or more than any state in the nation. It's a very, very poor state. There's a very interesting op ed this weekend in the New York Times suggesting that one solution that might be acceptable to Joe Manchin, and might actually get us off the dime when it comes to getting things done in the US Senate would simply be to lower the threshold for ending filibusters from 60 votes to 55. That would still require some bipartisan buy in on the initiatives behind the particular filibusters. But it would at least make it possible because there are still a few Republican senators who are willing to talk across party lines, we've seen that happen time and time again, there just aren't 10 of the right now. And without those 10 votes, and without Joe Manchin being willing to get rid of the filibuster, along with Kyrsten Sinema, and perhaps some others weren't being as vocal about it. Nothing's gonna get done in the United States Senate unless it has the approval of mitch mcconnell. And he's already said he ain't a proven nothing.

 

Christopher Smith  47:37

Yeah, and it's ridiculous. You know, going back to your point about how the United States isn't a democracy right now. The counter arguments to everything that we're talking about are just slicker than baby oil. And they they have around this, okay. Well, you know, the US isn't supposed to be a democracy anyway. It's supposed to be a republic, and then they say, we're protected. We're supposed to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. But when they're the majority, then it's about winning elections. And if you won elections, you'd be in charge. On and on, it goes to the point that they've they've completely decimated our court system. It's game in the court system doesn't represent us at all anymore. I think it represents Liberty University. At the Heritage Foundation, I don't know who it represents doesn't represent you and me are in most of the people.

 

Walt Sorg  48:27

Five of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court, five out of nine, were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote.

 

Christopher Smith  48:34

Yep, yep. And it was never meant to be that way the process is supposed to be that you govern based on a forged compromise between the majority and the minority. It protects the minority, you know, from the tyranny of the majority, I truly believe that. But it's not meant for the minority to use it as a sword against the majority. It's meant to be a shield, it's being abused.

 

Walt Sorg  49:00

Okay, a couple of notes on the never ending gubernatorial campaign in Michigan. First of all, the governor's approval rating has dropped a little bit, which is no surprise, given all the controversies that she's been involved in over the last year and just the general dynamic of the pandemic. But still, she's got a 50% approval rating, which is, by the way, tied with the highest rating that Rick Snyder ever had for approval yet. It's the low point for Gretchen Whitmer. Her numbers, according to a poll, commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce dropped from February was 58%. approval to 50% approval now, she's still plus eight percentage points in the approval disapproval line. So I don't think it's anything for the governor to panic about. And the fact that Michigan we virtually were down to like a handful of COVID infections in the last few days. I think on Saturday, the reported 198 total infections in the state. At one point we were close to I think 8000 and The number of deaths last Saturday attributed to COVID was three, which is still three to many, but still looks a lot better than the dozens that were dying day after day after day. And as Michigan's economy comes back, and it's already doing a pretty good job of that, I think the governor's numbers are gonna come back up again, because people are gonna feel good about one COVID is in our past, it looks like in our rearview mirror, if we get people vaccinated and under still a challenge, and secondly, the economy's coming back strong, and with the initiatives of the Biden administration when it comes to manufacturing, and especially when it comes to all electric vehicles. That's really good news for Michigan as well. So there's a lot of things on her side. Item number two in our gubernatorial round up, Candace Miller seems to be the only republican that state republicans think can win elections. And now she's rolled herself out for lieutenant governor running with James Craig. That was the latest pipe dream of Republicans. But according to Tim skubick, the longtime political reporter at the Capitol, Candace Miller really doesn't want to run for statewide office, she's perfectly happy being in charge of the drains over in McComb County. And you know, she's in her mid to late 60s, she's done her thing. She's a wonderful woman. She's a very good candidate if she would run. But part of being a good candidate is you got to want the job and you've got to want to campaign. And she just doesn't have that fire in her belly. And also john James is continue to look for something to run for. And they're continuing to push him to not run for governor because they're tired of him losing the final one, which is skubick also reported, which I thought was really interesting is that the republicans are having an internal fight over who should be the chief campaign consultant for chief police, Greg, because they realize they need a strong hand at the helm of that campaign because they've got a candidate they are pushing her really does know knows nothing about running for statewide office and really doesn't have any platform to run on other than he's been a good cop for a long time. And it's a real nasty battle within the party. It's pitting john Engler against a run wiser wiser the chair of the republican party and angular of course the former three term governor so go getter Republicans continue to have these circular firing squads I love watching them

 

Christopher Smith  52:24

Engler versus Weiser as long as they both lose I'm happy now in the dumbest political story of the week, which is always really hard to to choose one round wiser demands an apology from Dana Nessel over a comment she made which was that the Regents at U of M all have my number except for Ron Weiser, I will give him my number. And I don't care that she wouldn't give Ron Weiser her number I you know, the AG is always, you know,

 

Walt Sorg  52:58

she's got a very sarcastic sense of humor. Funny woman. And yeah, sometimes, I know cuz I've kind of like that too. You say things that are just injustice, somebody decides they're going to take them seriously, because they've got an axe to grind. And that's all she would say she's not gonna overlook Yeah, and, and this, this all comes out of the sexual abuse thing at the University of Michigan and the revelation now the Bo Schembechler may have been covering it up. And it's really nasty. I don't want to get into it, because it's just so sad. And I hate trampling on the legacy of somebody who is dead. Yet, like Joe Paterno, who was another heroic figure for so many years in college football. Bo Schembechler's legacy may be permanently tarnished by this, especially when you consider the fact that his son said he covered it up.

 

Christopher Smith  53:45

Yeah, and I'm not. I don't know all of those sons, but one of them was really estranged from him. And I don't know if that was him. And like you said, we don't have to get into this. But I'm, I'm really proud Michigan alum. I'm really proud of Michigan, and I just love that university. But Bo Schembechler to me was never somebody who made that university special. I Honest to God never saw the big deal. But he's a symbol, and a lot of people loved him. And if he covered it up, you know, take down a statue is take away his name. We don't want to honor that. I don't know.

 

Walt Sorg  54:20

It's something that makes me appreciate Tom Izzo a whole lot more. Tom has represented Michigan State University for 40 years now. With nothing but honor, just as much as Krzyzewski did at Duke those are the people we want to look up to. And if some of our heroes aren't really heroes, we we should admit. In the State House, we've got a bill that demonstrates that appearances matter more than substance when it comes to ethics, by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the house has passed a bill supported by both the speaker and the Democratic leader, which they say is going to improve Michigan's Feeling great on ethics and transparency laws which have ranked among the worst in the nation. But all the bill does is it sets up a system for evaluating conflicts of interest of legislators, using documents that are not available to the public in which the judge and jury or other legislators, it is a very weak attempted ethics critics are very upset with it, no need to get into all the arguments against but it's basically self policing by the people who really need policing from the outside a little bit. conflicts of interests are a big deal in this legislature, especially with term limited legislators, because it's not a career for you anymore, your career is someplace else. And if you've got the power to use your official power to enhance your future, either ethically or unethically, the temptation to do so is overwhelming. Just look at the former president of the United States and all the crap people to enhance his business. While he was president. It was nothing to stop him. And that's what we've got Michigan right now.

 

Christopher Smith  55:57

Well, we mentioned earlier the governor's campaign focus on fixing the damn roads, or second big focus was on fixing the damn schools. And this week, she followed up on that pledge by proposing a $405 million investment in the Great start readiness program, which, which offers preschool to four year olds from low and moderate income families. Her proposal combines cash from different funds, including the COVID Relief Fund and the school aid fund. She's proposing that the funding be phased in and it's meant to fund a few different things like new classrooms and student transportation. And she's always out she's also asked for a $250 million investment of relief dollars to address the maintenance backlog in our state parks and trails. which as you know, wall is an economic development issue. Because so much of Michigan's economy relies on tourism and outdoor activities. We'll have all the details in the show notes. As per usual,

 

Walt Sorg  56:52

the investment in preschool for four year olds i think is tremendously important. We've had project headstart now at the federal level for decades, I think it was Lyndon Johnson program. And there is study after study showing that headstart really makes a huge difference in the development of children. And the payoff financially is massive. It's like an eight to one return on investment for every buck you spend on headstart down the road, you generate $8 back to the government because of increased economic productivity and activity. It is it's it's a great thing to do. We've got the money this year, thanks to President Biden Congress passing all that money that they borrowed from the Chinese. So let's spend it productively. That's one way to do it.

 

Christopher Smith  57:37

Yeah. And if to go back to something we talked about, in the last couple of weeks, if they're looking at that fourth grade reading law, that they're you know, if you don't pass reading in fourth grade, you get held back, then this just makes sense, to give this opportunity to the kids to get a head start so that they learn to learn at an earlier age.

 

Walt Sorg  57:57

Okay, I'd like to end this week talking about a subject that's going to begin to dominate our headlines more and more. And that's the criminal prosecution of Donald James Trump. And it looks more and more likely that he is going to be indicted in New York for financial crimes committed before he became president of the United States. His legal counsel in the White House, Don McGann has testified finally to Congress, in response to a subpoena that was issued. In the wake of the Muller report, you remember the Muller report, like five centuries ago? Well, they finally got McGann to testify after the Supreme Court told me he had to, and he confirmed that Trump committed obstruction of justice while President of the United States and Muller said quite pointedly during the hearings following the release of his report, that while he didn't believe that a sitting president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice, there was nothing to stop criminal prosecution of a former president. So all of that is going to happen right now. Add to that a six part editorial series in the Boston Globe, which concludes with the call for criminal prosecution of Donald Trump. It is a remarkable series. It's called fireproofing, the presidency or future proofing the presidency. And the point is that he did so many things that were criminal or should be criminal, that there's just all sorts of things need to be fixed, whether it's the nepotism of bringing Ivanka and Jared into the White House and giving them all that power. And using the White House to promote his businesses, using the White House to actually do business with his businesses and putting money in his pocket, subverting the Department of Justice subverting other departments to do his bidding. And now you've got this Eve or this subpoenaing of phone records of members of the Intelligence Committee just because he had a hunch they were doing something nasty on leaks. And by the way, they weren't and they found nothing but still he spied on them. He spied on their staff even spied on their families. All In the name of Donald Trump, using the presidency for his own purposes and for his own paranoia, and his own satisfaction of grudges, it was very reminiscent of Richard Nixon. But Nixon was nothing compared to this guy. But the Boston Globe concludes in their final editorial, this six part series, imposing stricter rules on future presidents by itself is clearly insufficient. Those presidents also need a clear message, one that will echo through history that breaking the law in the Oval Office will actually be punished that ethics policies and legal requirements will the existing ones and those Congress hopefully won't act in the future are more than just words on paper. Trump's presidency didn't just expose glaring legal weaknesses. It also made clear that our institutions are incapable of holding presidents accountable for breaking even our existing laws. Filing charges against former leaders is not a radical step. It's happened in the States. It's happened in other countries. They say it needs to happen against Donald James Trump. I agree wholeheartedly. It would be very wrenching for the nation. Certainly the mogga people would go bananas, it might lead to some violence. But I think at some point, you've just got to say nobody is above the law, even Donald Trump.

 

Christine Barry  1:01:12

I agree. And I agree that that I think it'll lead to violence. I don't think it'll be like widespread violence. I think it'll be just in a small section. And with that, it's time to bid you adieu for this week. Thanks so much for joining us again, and please call your state representative and ask him or her to support the Justice for All package. I'll have links in the show notes to help you with that. We also have a big bunch of other information in our notes and you can find all of it at www.michiganpolicast.com

 

Walt Sorg  1:01:42

And make sure you check out A Republic If You Can Keep It with longtime Michigan political insiders Jeff Timmer and Mark Brewer. Their guest hasn't been confirmed for this week yet. I noticed on the list of possibilities, and it will be another blockbuster episode that podcast debuts on Wednesday morning. You can find that podcast wherever you get this podcast. And with that. I'm Walt Sorg.

 

Christine Barry  1:02:05

I'm Christine Barry. See you next week.

 

Announcer  1:02:09

The Michigan Policast with Christine Barry and Walt Sorg is a production of Michigan citizens for a better tomorrow.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *