Would there be news without COVID-19 and elections? 

Just what would have filled our media pages and hours in 2020 if COVID-19 and our presidential elections hadn’t provided multiple stories each day?

 Just what have we missed? Coverage of events that would have happened without COVID–rodeos, festivals, fairs, conferences, and sports events, including the summer Olympics themselves. Space launches. (Launching of the Mars Rover and Space X’s delivery of new crew members to the International Space Station were great news, but a lot more happened this year.) Trade wars. Recovering animal species.    

But the topic that would have filled pages and minutes week after week of 2020 would have been–drum roll, please–cyber hacking and ransomware.

Where did I get such an idea?  Look at these headlines: “Top Cyber Security Experts Report: 4,000 Cyber Attacks a Day Since COVID-19 Pandemic” (MonsterCloud, Aug. 11) and “Every Patient Medical Record Has Already Been Hacked And HIPAA Can’t Help You” (Edward Bukstel blog, Jan. 6). 

And check these statistics: the FBI reported that cases increased from 1,000 to 4,000 a day this spring; Microsoft reported that attacks involving “phishing or social engineering” have increased from 20,000 to 30,000; and Monsterware reported that ransomware attacks were up 800%. 

Plus there are clever, malicious villains with names like Evil Corp, the MAZE gang, Cozy Bear (aka APT29) and Fancy Bear (both Russian government), and the 100,000-member cyber-Unit 61398 (Chinese government). 

The backstory is that hackers started serious blackmailing of major companies in 2011. Little made the news though; the damage in public confidence was seen as harmful to both the company and the general economy.    

Prior to the 2016 election hackers broke into computers of the National Democratic Party and several state election systems. In 2017 hackers broke into the system of Equifax and got birth dates, social security numbers, addresses, and financial information on 143 million Americans. By this time, every email address in America was receiving attempts to get that same information–plus money. 

Recently, hospital systems have been heavily targeted. Nine were attacked during the three weeks prior to our Nov. 3 election.  One system, Universal Health Services, operates 250 facilities.  

One set of conspirators–known as Wizard Spider or UNC1878–is believed responsible for all nine of those attacks and, perhaps, 75% of all cyber attacks on hospitals.    

Attacks use software, usually Ryuk, to encrypt data so that it is not readable. Even though a system has backed up its data, all its computers are infected and unusable. It is forced to rely on paper-based communications. Results of scans and tests must be hand carried or FAXed. Some systems have practiced this, but it is time consuming and increases stress levels.  

Encryption data can be uploaded to systems weeks before being activated. Apparently, hackers waited for the recent spike in coronavirus cases. 

Hospitals are prime targets.  Lives are at stake. Systems are vulnerable because of the number of associates who have access to the system, e.g.accounting firms, consultants, medical transcriptionists, venters, etc.  Records on patients include a lot of data not available elsewhere so it is worth top dollar on the “darknet.’  And threatening to publish select  information–perhaps emails concerning lawsuits?–increases the pressure to pay ransom.  

Ransom costs are in the millions. The FBI has distributed security information and asked companies not to pay, but so far there seems no other way to deal with an infected system. 

Okay, major criminal activity isn’t uplifting or inspiring. Yet, ransomware seems to be one issue that Americans aren’t divided on. With the election over, maybe we’ll find more issues like this.              

A lesson from Thanksgivings past 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is asking Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving. 

Usually it’s the weather bureau making that call.

And when the wages were 50% higher on the coast and family was in Idaho, my husband Bill and I took that warning to mean only that we needed chains, water and snacks.

Two days before we left for Idaho for Thanksgiving 1969, Boeing had notified Bill he’d be transferring 40 miles north to Everett. The drive home gave us time to think. If he got a different job, he wouldn’t have any time off for Christmas. But if he stayed and the rumored layoff happened, he could end up competing with thousands of other job hunters.

Before leaving Idaho, he decided he’d pick up his tools Monday.

It was dark and snowing lightly as we started the grade up to Snoqualmie Pass. Less than two hours from home, we were making plans. Bill quitting Boeing made the job interview I had Monday important.

Then traffic stopped. Just stopped. It snowed more. We waited. Bill joined a group going car to car seeing who needed help. They handed kids apples and oranges and managed to find a camper with people willing to heat milk for an infant.

I fretted about wasted time.

Not until the third hour–as the snow got deeper and reports indicated the line was longer than we’d imagined–did my priorities shift. People died during mountain snow storms, but our little community had blankets and shelter and companions and snacks.

Time didn’t matter. Living did.

When, after five hours, traffic began moving, we slid off the road. Tow trucks would only stop for cars blocking traffic. We waited.

Later we learned the stopped cars extended seven miles. A truck had jack-knifed and idling cars ran out of gas while waiting for the road to be cleared. More cars ran out of gas as those were cleared.

After that, we celebrated most Thanksgivings with friends on the coast, but one time–when our daughters were three and four–we ventured to Spokane.

When we heard a storm warning, we left Spokane early so we’d be over Snoqualmie before dark. But we had hardly started when wind and snow worse than any other we’d seen hit. At one point, Bill stopped to chip away ice that was rubbing the tires. The engine ran badly afterward, and he opened the hood to find ice and snow blocking the air filter. He took it out and promised we’d get another.

But nothing was open in Ellensburg.  We called an old high school friend and her husband met us at the main road with a snow plow. Snow was piled up to our door handles.

When I called my principal to say that I’d miss Monday, he said, “Teachers get sick days, but they don’t get too-gutless-to drive-the-pass days.” I assured him no amount would persuade me to take two toddlers over Snoqualmie that night.

The next day, with a new air filter, we started up Snoqualmie on freshly grated roads under sunny skies. Had we been overcautious?  Then we saw a school bus that had slid off a four-foot embankment and landed on its side. I could only imagine how frightened and shaken the kids would have been. How hard it must have been for injured kids waiting in freezing darkness.

There’s an old saying that warns about winning the battle and losing the war, about concentrating on the short term rather than the future.

May we all keep our eyes on the future.

Voters call on Biden to manage crises

“Just what do you see in Biden?”  

It’s an honest question. Biden is not as charismatic as John Kennedy or Barack Obama. He’s not promoting changes as far-reaching as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

But Biden is a manager. Many voted for him because they believe he can improve the U.S. responses to the coronavirus pandemic and to global warming.

 Even as the number of new coronavirus cases daily doubled to over 92,000 in the final six weeks of the election, Trump continued to say he’d done a great job preventing deaths and the disease was really no big deal.

Biden, on the other hand, offered management. He planned  a national supply chain to oversee the distribution of supplies, including a vaccine that must be kept on dry ice and delivered in two shots three weeks apart.

He proposed requiring wearing of masks on Federal property and encouraging governors to follow recommendations of health care experts. Under him, the U.S. will rejoin the World Health Organization and revive the National Security Council’s global health unit that Trump disbanded.

 Biden has also determined to ask Congress to fund testing and treatment for the uninsured and under-insured, a public health workers corps of 100,000 people to assist in contact tracing, and assistance to keep businesses and schools open.

Protecting the health and welfare of citizens is one of the basic duties of democratic governments. Voters longing for a leader who accepted that responsibility might have been the source of Biden’s entire five million vote edge.

Yet, there was a second major source of Biden’s support.  After 20 years of warnings, many people–particularly young voters– see climate change as a serious threat to their futures.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, over 49,000 wildfires burned nearly 9,000,000 acres this year. Acres burned surpassed previous records by mid-September, but 47 fires were still active on Nov. 10.

Every year from 2016 through 2020 has set new records for tropical storm activity in the Atlantic. There’ve been 31 this year. A record 12 made landfall in the United States.

Globally, the 10 hottest years have occurred since 2005.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, a third of the contiguous United States were either ‘severely to extremely dry’ or ‘severely to extremely wet’ during July.

 Early in his administration President Trump revoked all regulations addressing climate change and promoted oil drilling, even in previously protected regions.

Biden plans to replace that executive order with one supporting reducing greenhouse gases. He may reinstate California’s right to require more stringent emission standards for cars and trucks and prohibit new drilling permits on federal lands.

Biden can restore the size of the Bears Ears National Monument and stop promoting energy production on the continental shelf.  He may also order studies of environmental danger spots around the country and monitor pollution in threatened communities.

And he can order the methane monitors at well heads turned back on, hopefully making our natural gas exports once more acceptable to countries like France that disapprove of reckless pollution.

Biden will also renew our endorsement of the Paris Accord, which has no binding regulations, but will signal that the U.S. is returning to world leadership.

If Congress cooperates, we will also see more support for renewable energy and a reduction in subsidies for fossil fuel producers.

Democrats didn’t invent these crises–one might say they were acts of God–but Democrats are being called upon to lead in mitigating them. Let’s all hope that Biden can turn things around as well as Presidents Clinton and Obama managed to do.

Results deny claims of Democratic fraud  

My condolences to Trump supporters. It’s hard to lose any political race, but close ones are agonizing. (Democrats know about that.)

I’ve talked to enough Trump voters to know that the President they admire is a very different one than I see. They speak of accomplishments that I hadn’t heard of before, things like Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and bringing home the remains of soldiers lost in action decades ago.

To me, Trump will always be the President who encouraged division and violence in America. At times, he seemed to want civil war.

I once feared that the race problems of the 1970s could only end in war. In time, though, laws were changed, schools were integrated, and employers changed their policies. Problems remained, but there was less heat and more progress.

Americans can get along again. We decide.

Right now I believe we can all be thankful that the predictions of violence during these past few weeks were not only exaggerated, but wrong. Americans have addressed this election with a sense of commitment that shows deep respect.

Some do worry that Trump won’t leave the White House peacefully, that his army of supporters will fight for him.

Yet, I don’t think we’ll see widespread violence. Unexpected Republican victories are hurting Democrats–we had so much hope–but they have also put a big hole in the claim that we somehow rigged this election.

If Democrats had planted thousands of ballots, one would expect a Democratic sweep at least as big as the polls predicted.

It didn’t happen. Republicans won at least five of the U.S. House seats that Democrats were predicted to win ‘easily’ or ‘narrowly.’ They are also on track to win 24 or more of the 28 House races polls called ‘tossups.’  (At the time of this writing, Joe Biden has been declared winner of the presidential race, but counting continues for 25 House and four Senate races.)

 Even the most avid Trump supporter should doubt that Dems planted ballots with votes for a Democratic president and a Republican Congress.

If the Republican leadership supports throwing out the thousands of ballots that would have to be eliminated to give Trump victory in three more states, they would be endangering Republican down-ballot victories.

Okay, maybe I’m being a pollyanna, trying to find the silver lining in a cloud of defeat.

Democrats lost as many seats in the U.S. Senate as they gained.  With run-off elections for both Georgia Senate seats coming in January, there is still a chance to reach the magic 50. But two Democratic victories would be expecting a lot from a state that’s been Republican until now.

And Democrats will probably retain the majority in the House, but they won’t be as cocky.

In Idaho, Democrats lost two seats in the legislature–Rep. Jake Ellis (District 15 just west of Boise) and Rep. Chris Abernathy (District 29, Bannock County). I don’t know Chris, but Jake is a good person–a retired fireman who listens to voters and cares about workers and schools. He will be missed.

So Republicans again have a 58 to 12 advantage in the Idaho House. The Senate remains at 28 Republicans and seven Democrats.

And it is 40 years since a Democrat represented Canyon County.

Idaho is one of the few states where President Trump received more votes in 2020 than in 2018. A lot of people are hurting.

 But over 75 million Americans voted for Biden and an end to the storms and furor of the Trump administration. May their decision prove to be a wise one.

Concerns about courts won’t end with today’s election

Will we know election results by tomorrow morning?

The answer for most Idaho elections is yes. Voters must have voted–or be in line to vote–by 8 p.m. tonight.

The presidential election, however, is different. Twenty-one states will accept ballots that arrive later. Seven states have cut off dates between Nov. 13 and 17.

Justice Kavanaugh stated that Election Day deadlines are meant to avoid chaos and accusations of cheating that would come if late ballots “flip the results of an election.” 

Justice Elena Kagan replied, “There are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted.”

There were lawsuits over this–Republicans objected to counting late results, and Democrats, to not counting them. Over all, the Supreme Court supported the state governments’ right to decide. 

After all, one of the strengths of the American system is allowing states to try a variety of procedures.

 I was worried when the Court allowed the Texas governor to limit ballot deposit boxes to one per county. Harris County is nearly the size of Delaware and has four times the population.  

But the Harris County clerk opened 21 early voting locations and had some open for 24 hours during the final days. Voters had options.   

There were probably more than 500 lawsuits over the election process this year. The Supreme Court didn’t decide on Reclaim Idaho’s request for more time to gather initiative signatures because lower courts had made conflicting decisions, and it wants to consider all arguments together.  

When this election is over, the Supreme Court will remain a major issue. For years the Court has usually had a 4-4 split with one swing voter. We now have a 5-3 split so Chief Justice Roberts’ swing vote may have no influence.  

Prior to 2017 justices generally had to be approved by 60% or more of the Senate. This pressured presidents to appoint justices that appealed to both Republicans and Democrats.  Justice Ginsberg received 93 votes in the Senate; Stephen Beyer, the other Clinton appointee, 87. Chief Justice Roberts, appointed by George W. Bush, received 78. Obama’s two appointees, Sonia Sotomeyer and Elena Kagan, received 68 and 63. 

But Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell changed the rules in 2017. President Trump’s nominees were all approved by 54 votes or less.  

With Trump’s appointees, the Court now has two Jews and six practicing Catholics. Justice Gorsuch was raised Catholic, but is now Episcopalian. (Only eight other Catholics have served in the Court’s history.) 

Next Tuesday the Supreme Court begins hearings on California v. Texas. The question is whether the entire Affordable Care Act is invalid since Congress eliminated the “individual mandate” in 2017.  

If the Court throws the ACA out–as Republican officials are advocating–millions of Americans will lose their health insurance because of pre-existing conditions and others simply won’t be able to afford coverage.

Court decisions on abortion rights will follow. According to Planned Parenthood, there were at least 16 abortion cases before Federal appeals courts in June. Scholars believe the Court is more likely to allow states to limit abortions out of existence rather than to openly overthrow Roe v. Wade. A Tennessee law, for example, would outlaw abortions after six weeks even though procedures other than pills are dangerous for women before that time.  

Such decisions–and the public reaction to them–will determine whether the American people retain their trust in the Court. I believe the majority of Americans don’t want people dying without health care or mothers in jail because they couldn’t face having one more child. 

None of five or six options for limiting the Court sound good today, but that may change.