300 Words

I write letters to the editor of my local newspaper. The newspaper arbitrarily limits letters to 300 words, and the newspaper web site strictly enforces the word-limit. At first I was annoyed, but annoyance turned to satisfaction when my letters became more concise and more effective.

Some of these letters do not reach a newspaper, but most follow the 300 word limit.


(pinetree) Pine Tree Power

This essay was posted on 3/29/23.

If you live in Maine you probably saw the TV ads trying to scare you into thinking that switching to public power will immediately cost a cool $13.5 Billion. Don’t buy into this bad deal, because it will raise your taxes, the ad says. I have not made up my mind over the Pine Tree Power public utility proposal, but I know that these ads are deceptive, and the people doing the talking are not aware of very many facts.

First, the price tag. In fact, the price tag is yet to be determined. I have seen estimates ranging from $7 to $11 Billion. The total asset value of CMP and Versant is around $5.5 Billion. The ad makers wanted a number that is believable but high. $13.5 Billion is both.

Second, paying for it. The ad seems to think that the cost of buying the private utilities will become a burden to taxpayers. The buy-in cost needs a business perspective. When CMP was last sold, the buyers saw a company that would make enough profit to justify the sale price. We need to do the same. We need to ask the question: Can we pay for the new utility out of the new public power company revenue without raising electric rates?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I hope there is a Pine Tree Power supporter who does.


(chatgpt) A Turing Test

This essay was posted on 3/20/23.

The headline says that the AI-based computer program ChatGPT can pass the bar exam with a very good score. What if every lawyer had a ChatGPT assistant to keep them apprised of the law? It might change the way lawyers work and the way we teach law. And it might give us better lawyers. So, I tried ChatGPT with cautionary results.

My first questions got some good answers. I asked ChatGPT how the Barack Obama presidency affected the 2016 election. The answer was a reasonable summary of the Obama years. I then asked how race affected the 2016 election. Again, ChatGPT responded with a good summary of events, but it lacked real numbers. Interestingly, the electoral college was not mentioned, even though Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won in the electoral college.

I asked a deceptively simple math question: Do any two consecutive integers have a common prime factor? The answer was no, and ChatGPT gave a reasonable example to show why there is no common prime factor.

I then presented a question that had no answer to see what ChatGPT would do. I asked: What is the first pair of consecutive integers with a common prime factor? ChatGPT should have answered that there is no first pair with a common factor. In fact, ChatGPT changed the meaning of common prime factor when it incorrectly claimed 1,2 as the answer.

I repeated these questions in other ChatGPT sessions and got different, wrong answers for both questions. In one case, it claimed that the number 1 is a prime factor.

Asking math questions to ChatGPT may not have been fair, but, even so, its inconsistencies in word meanings are troubling enough to say that ChatGPT is not yet ready to be a legal aide.


(spending) A History of Spending

This essay was posted on 3/13/23.

Republicans are holding our debt ceiling hostage and are risking default over so-called out of control spending. When you use the raw numbers, it looks like our spending is out of control. Compared to the decade ending in 1992, spending in the last 10 years has increased 335%, but that is a dishonest comparison, because our money and our economy are in different places.

Start with GDP. Our economy has almost doubled twice since the decade ending in 1992. With 3 decades of inflation, the dollar buys less, and the larger economy needs more services, so a growth in spending commensurate with the growth in GDP makes sense. If spending is compared as a percentage of GDP, then spending is only 10% higher now than in the decade ending in 1992. Spending is higher but not out of control.

Government spending right now is higher than normal primarily because of COVID. It was even higher in the last two years of the Trump administration, but, curiously, the Republicans did not panic. It will come down, but not as quickly as we want, because there is more going on than just COVID. The US is supporting Ukraine militarily, fixing our infrastructure, and dealing with an influx of immigrants seeking asylum. Look for spending to settle down at 18-20% of GDP as COVID and other issues get resolved.

Comparing government receipts between now and 1992 is more interesting. While spending as a percentage of GDP increased by 10%, receipts, including taxes, as a percentage of GDP decreased 2%. Clearly, there is room in our tax structure to resolve our deficit problem with a tax increase. It worked for Bill Clinton in the 90’s and the economy thrived.


(fox) Dominion v Fox News

This essay was posted on 3/7/23.

I have a bone to pick with mainstream media, including MSNBC and CNN, because they have been easy on Fox News [sic] over Fox’s support of Donald Trump’s big lie about the 2020 election. They all repeat Rupert Murdoch’s lame excuse that supporting Trump’s lie was all about making money and keeping viewers. Murdoch doesn’t want his listeners to know the real truth.

Murdoch blames it all on money to give the impression that Fox was fair and balanced until it started to lose viewers to Newsmax, OAN, and other radical right-wing news outlets. Murdoch is trying to establish a lack of malice toward Dominion Voting Systems, who is suing Murdoch and Fox for defamation to the tune of $1.6 Billion. This is all about money, but not the money from lost ratings.

The facts don’t match Murdoch’s point of view. Fox was fully behind Trump from the moment he came down the Trump Tower escalator to announce his intention to run for the Presidency. Fox continued to support Trump when he spouted his lie about winning the election while the votes were being counted. And the Fox people knew it was all a lie. Fox’s support of the big lie gave the nonsense some credibility, and it represented another mouth-piece to keep the big lie front and center in the news.

Fox News [sic] put journalism aside and became a promotional arm of Donald Trump. Fox just went too far.


(trees) A Book About Trees

This essay was posted on 2/25/23.

A comment of a tweet praising the value of forests said, “You must read The Hidden Life of Trees [by Peter Wohlleben].” So, I did.

Hidden describes how trees go about the process of living and dying from the inside out. It describes how trees help each other and work together to create the forest ecology. Trees with high capacities for photosynthesis feed trees not as well equipped, for example. They use strands of fungus to transmit sugar-water from the root of one tree to the root of another tree. The fungus benefits as well, because it needs some of the sugar water to feed itself.

In his journey through the forest, Wohlleben personifies trees a little too much. A driverless car’s reality of where it is going is much simpler than our reality of it, just as a tree’s knowing that it is feeding another tree is much simpler than our knowledge of it. Even so, Wohlleben tells an intriguing tale of a forest full of symbiotic relationships that work for the benefit of all its plants and animals. If people could do the same, we would all be better off.


(socialism5) Democratic Socialism

This essay was posted on 2/16/23.

The House of Representatives recently denounced socialism in all its forms including socialist programs in the US with a bipartisan vote in which over 100 Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the resolution. The problem: These legislators only focused on the bad actors, like Stalin, Pol Pot, Chairman Mao and others.

Interestingly, the denunciation of socialism included opposition to socialist policies in the US. That would mean the end of public roads, public sewers, public water, social security, public fire departments, the military, buses, subways, railroad stations, police departments, public parks, public schools, public postal services, Medicare and Medicaid. The urge to cherry-pick this list and say that the public library isn’t really socialism, for example, is great, but if you broadly condemn socialism in the US, you must accept the whole list as contemptible. In my view, all items in the list provide broad, useful services to large segments of the population.

The socialist institutions in the US have not turned this country into an authoritarian state, and countries practicing more socialism than we do, such as Sweden, Finland, and Canada have not succumbed to dictatorships. The premise stated in the House Resolution that socialism leads to dictatorships just doesn’t add up.

Socialism in countries like China, Russia, and Cuba was implemented by a revolutionary dictatorship that gained its influence from a disgruntled population that suffered with corrupt governments.

Ironically, countries that adopt socialist programs often want more socialism, not less. There is a simple explanation. According to the Freedom Foundation, the non-Communist countries with the most individual freedoms are also the countries that embrace the most socialist programs like universal healthcare and guaranteed retirement income.


(latemail) The Mail Problem

This essay was posted on 2/8/23.

My December credit card bill never arrived, and I depended on the bill to remind me that it needed to be paid. I only found out that I had a credit card problem when the card stopped working near the end of January. After I got the credit card straightened out, the credit card notice indicating the problem arrived too late to help me. It is seven days into February, and I still have not received the January bill.

While stopping at the post office to mail a letter, I asked about the all-too slow delivery of the mail. I got an unapologetic answer that they know there is a problem and they are understaffed. A postal agent remarked, “It’s happening all over the US.”

I would like to blame Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, but local restaurants and stores are all looking for more help. We have virtually full employment and a worker shortage at the same time. Something bigger than Louis DeJoy is going on.

In addition to an egg shortage that is driving up the price of eggs and other things, there is a worker shortage. There is also an immigration bottleneck because some cherry=picked judges in Texas won’t let President Biden untie Donald Trump’s immigration throttling policies.

Asylum seekers won’t become postal workers quickly enough, and they won’t fix the child care shortage or fix the reluctance to reenter the workforce over COVID fears, but keeping people who are ready and willing to work from entering the US just doesn’t make sense.


(edge) A Memoir in Diplomacy

This essay was posted on 1/31/23.

The book Lessons from the Edge is a memoir by Marie Yovanovitch, the US Ambassador to Ukraine that Donald Trump threw under the bus. Lessons is really two books in one, Yovanovitch’s experiences as a diplomat and ambassador in former soviet republics and then the account of her removal from office and her role as a witness in Trump’s first impeachment investigation.

In the first story, Yovanovitch explains: A goal of diplomacy in the former soviet republics is to establish stable, uncorrupt democracies and the rule of law though diplomatic means. A common theme in the book is to fund and manage projects that would provide government officials with a better understanding of proper, democratic behavior lost under Communist rule. Reform through diplomacy had mixed results when officials agreed to reforms but would fall back to the bribery and extortion that made them rich in the first place.

In the second story, Yovanovitch keeps pestering Ukraine’s Prosecutor General for promised reforms, and the prosecutor keeps ignoring her, because the chief prosecutor has the ear of the President. Rudy Giuliani comes along and apparently makes a quid pro quo with the corrupt prosecutor. If The prosecutor will ‘find’ some evidence against Joe Biden, Donald Trump will remove the ambassador. Trump removes the ambassador, but Volodymyr Zelenskyy wins the Ukraine Presidency and removes the corrupt prosecutor. Donald Trump does not get the quality dirt on Biden that he wants.

In the book Yovanovitch ponders that, while she worked to remove corruption from Ukraine, corrupt forces in the US worked against her. I can only speculate whether her anti-corruption efforts helped Zelenskyy win the election and change the course of history.


(freeze) Freezing the Debt Limit

This essay was posted on 1/23/23.

Republicans are threatening to prevent raising the US debt ceiling unless the Democrats agree to drastic spending cuts. Experts predict that a debt ceiling freeze would be much worse than a shutdown over spending limits because a default on US debts would catastrophically disrupt the money markets and might lead to a global depression. But the debt freeze is much worse than the experts predict.

Picture the debt ceiling stuck at the current level, so that the Treasury cannot borrow any money until older debt is retired. Congress would need to find $1.4 trillion in cuts just to balance the budget. To achieve this level of spending reduction while maintaining social security, Medicare, and Defense spending would require virtually shutting down everything else. This is a complete nonstarter.

There are other problems. Emergencies like hurricanes can’t be funded quickly without borrowing. Seasonal spending that doesn’t fit the revenue stream needs short-term borrowing. Unscheduled spending like supporting Ukraine or fighting a pandemic needs borrowing power. The US can’t function properly without issuing debt.

And what about spending? The level of spending today is higher than in the past. It is 6 times higher in 2022 than in 1986 under Ronald Reagan. The GDP is also higher, having increased 5 times the 1986 level. But federal spending as a percent of GDP has only increased by 16% in 36 years. The US is not experiencing runaway spending.

The Republican debt-ceiling gambit is dangerous and misguided enough that it should not succeed. If Congress fails to raise the debt limit, then President Biden should at least intercede and suspend the debt limit temporarily until Congress comes to its senses.


(default) The Debt Limit Crisis

This essay was posted on 1/12/23.

The success of our government depends on the notion that no government authority is absolute, and that includes the Congressional authority to manage the debt. Since 1917 managing the debt has been done by adjusting the government debt limit upward. The Constitution doesn’t put any conditions on this Congressional authority, so how could it not be absolute?

The debt management authority is not absolute, because Congress and the other branches of government share in the responsibility to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.

Kevin McCarthy and the Republicans want to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to force spending cuts in ongoing programs, and they plan to hold out until the US government defaults, if they don’t get their way. The impact of a government default is well-known and very painful. When the US Government doesn’t have the cash to pay its bills, everything stops. Social Security checks don’t go out. US troops would not be paid. Food assistance would stop. The US might need to stop supporting Ukraine militarily. And that is just the beginning.

Clearly, failure to raise the debt ceiling and a subsequent default contradicts government's responsibility to ensure domestic tranquility and the general welfare. Therefore, a primary responsibility in Congress is to manage the debt limit so that the government does not default. Failure to do so would be a failure of Congress.

Fortunately, our government has built in checks between different branches of government. In the case of a failure by Congress to act on the debt limit, President Biden could declare a national emergency and use an executive order to suspend all debt limits temporarily until Congress gets its act together.


(impass) Roadblocking the House

This essay was posted on 1/5/23.

After 6 votes to elect the Speaker of the House, the block of 20 Republicans voting against Kevin McCarthy still holds, and Democrat Hakeem Jeffries continues to lead McCarthy 212 to 201 to 20 for the ultra-conservative block and 1 voting ‘present’. It looks like this deadlock might not be broken. Imagine the 434 voting members of Congress (one Democrat recently died) spending the next two years trying to pick a leader and getting paid for it.

Don’t count on the gang of 20 breaking the deadlock. 14 of the gang voted against certifying President Biden’s election victory. Clearly, they would welcome a government failure at all costs to create a perfect campaign issue in 2024. The only candidate the gang would accept appears be one of their own members.

Kevin McCarthy says he won’t quit, so he will unwittingly carry out the wishes of the gang of 20. And any other moderate Republican candidate would have the same problem. The House rules require a majority vote, and McCarthy or any other nongang Republican can be denied speakership by the gang of 20. It’s simple math.

The only solution to this dilemma is to involve Democrats. I see 2 possible paths. The first is for 11 Republicans to vote ‘present’ which would lower the number of voting members to 423, reduce the majority to 212 and elect Democrat Hakeem Jeffries. The gang of 20 couldn’t stop this maneuver, because they would come up one vote short with 211 votes.

The second solution is for about 10 moderate Republicans to make a bipartisan deal with the Democrats and offer up a moderate Republican other than Kevin McCarthy.

Right now, the Democrats hold all the cards as long as the gang of 20 continue to revolt.


(marx) The Communism of Karl Marx

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 12/30/22.

My view of Communism comes mostly from the Russian and Chinese versions of Communism. I didn’t understand how little I really knew until I read Love and Capital by Mary Gabriel. Gabriel tells the story of Jenny and Karl Marx and the story of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. And it is the story about the origins of Communism.

Communism is a reaction to the state of workers during the Industrial Revolution. Marx observes that factory workers in the 1840’s are no better than feudal serfs. He also observes that 1840’s Capitalism rewards factory owners at the expense of the working class. While the factory owners get rich and empowered, the working class remains poor, like feudal serfs. Marx wants to eliminate class distinctions between entitled business owners and struggling workers. He recommends moving business ownership into the public domain so that the managers of business are accountable to everyone, including workers. Marx wants to replace Capitalism with Communism, but Marx’s Communism can coexist in a Democracy where business managers are elected by the people.

Marx’s Communist Manifesto contains some interesting goals, including; moving factory ownership. Banking, and transportation into the public domain, establishing a progressive income tax, abolishing inheritance, creating universal education, and abolishing child labor. Marx’s social aims are similar to a modern, progressive agenda.

Karl Marx was a pacifist who believed in an orderly conversion to Communism, though he learned that violent revolutions might be necessary. Capitalism was already established, so incremental changes could take place over the next 175 years. Unions and regulations have helped workers with more pay, shorter hours, and safer conditions. Social Democracies have accommodated a blend of Capitalism and Socialism. Communist China now has a highly regulated Capitalist economy. But Marx would still criticize today’s form of Capitalism.

Capitalism still supports a distinct class system where wealth has social privilege. Billionaires like Elon Musk and Donald Trump can break the law and let their wealth protect them in court. Unions are less effective today than they were when the world economy was smaller. Businesses can bypass unions by moving manufacturing, for example. The barriers to entry are too high in most markets, making real competition illusory. When comparing to Communism, Capitalism also comes up short.


(beschloss) The Nixon Precedent

This essay was posted on 12/21/22 and appeared in the Portland Press Herald on 12/28/22.

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss made a good point about Gerald Ford’s pardoning of Richard Nixon on the Monday edition of the Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. Beschloss originally thought that the Nixon pardon was good for the country, but he has changed his mind.

Pardoning Nixon paved the way for the likes of Donald Trump, who claims that the President can do no wrong, simply by being President. Taking a cue from Nixon’s experience, Trump interfered with election laws and procedures enough that the Jan 6 committee made 4 criminal referrals to the DOJ against him.

Trump’s effect on the election process continues. In Arizona, Kari Lake is taking her 17,000-vote loss in the gubernatorial race to court. The judge threw out 8 of the 10 charges made in Lake’s law suit. The 2 remaining issues are elements of fact already addressed in public statements. Lake’s prospects for victory are, at best, very dim. The only thing she will achieve is a lower level of trust and respect for Arizona elections. Kari Lake’s questionable attack of the election process is only the first by someone emulating Trump’s tactics. There will be more.

While Trump’s effort to change the result of his election defeat failed, the faith in our election process, though essential to our democratic tradition, continues to erode. We need to hold Trump accountable for his actions and avoid creating a second bad precedent.


(substation) The Domestic Terrorism Threat

This essay was posted on 12/14/22.

We have known at least since 1965 that our electric grid is extremely vulnerable. In 1965, a misguided relay in Ontario, Canada triggered a power outage that spread from Canada to the mid-Atlantic states. The outage interrupted people in different ways. 800,000 commuters were trapped on subways in New York, for example. Criminals also needed to take a break. Crime incidents were extremely low during the power shortage.

Vulnerable power grids have found a new audience. Domestic extremists have circulated a 14-page guide for sabotaging power grids with guns and other low-tech equipment. Makers of the guide spout racist and fascist remarks typical of white supremacist groups. They attack the power grid because electric substations are easy to attack and a successful attack fulfills the goal of creating chaos and unrest. There was an attack on a California substation in 2013 and another, similar attack this year in North Carolina. The North Carolina attack shut off power to over 35,000 households. North Carolina is not unique. Two other attacks were attempted and online chatter about sabotaging the power grid continues. Something akin to war is brewing among the domestic terrorist groups. But to what end?

Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stuart Rhodes considers Jan 6 as the first battle in a war. So do many Republican lawmakers, who communicated among themselves about obstructing the electoral process on Jan 6. But this is not only about Donald Trump

Oath keepers and other militia groups don’t like the changes happening in the US. They want to roll back the clock to simpler times. They are connected to Donald Trump, because they see a shared vision with him.


(ukraine4) Standing with Ukraine

This essay was posted on 12/5/22.

There is a lot of noise on Twitter complaining that the war in Ukraine is not in the interest of the US, that Ukraine is full of corruption, and funding of the war will bankrupt the US. It’s all hogwash meant to distract us from the real reason we should continue to provide military arms to Ukraine.

Is Ukraine corrupted by oligarchs? Oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky supported Voldimor Zelenskiy’s campaign for Presidency, for example. But Zelenskiy has been diminishing the power and influence of oligarchs during his administration. Kolomoisky’s influence in Ukraine has virtually vanished.

Will the Ukraine war bankrupt the US? Probably not. Money now spent for military arms to Ukraine costs the US about $5 Billion per year. The war in Afghanistan cost the US as much as $100 billion per year over 20 years. Afghanistan didn’t break us and neither will Ukraine. The US economy will survive.

Is Ukraine in our sphere of interest? Maybe, now. Vladimir Putin’s pattern of expanding Russian influence westward into territory previously controlled by the Soviet Union is troubling. The invasion of a country threatens global stability, and doing nothing is tacit permission to invade another country in the future. Our national security is threatened.

The key reason for keeping US involved in Ukraine is elsewhere. Russia invaded Ukraine in Feb 2022. US aid ramped up immediately and has been steady ever since, and the aid has allowed the Ukraine army to push back on the Russians. If the US suddenly stops supplying Ukraine aid, the Russians will most likely take over Ukraine, and the US’s influence among the nations of the world will disappear overnight. That is exactly what Vladimir Putin wants to see.


(basics) The Basics of Inflation

This essay was posted on 11/26/22.

Republicans tried to politicize the high inflation rate in the US during the last election. They blamed President Biden for the inflation and scorned the Inflation Reduction Act. It was all a ploy designed to distract from Jan 6 and other issues. Fortunately, the distraction was not successful. The voters were smarter than the politicians, who need a lesson in inflation basics. And the basics are easily derived from historical experience.

First, the causes of inflation are not limited to government spending. The 1946 inflation was caused by pent-up demand after years of war-time rationing. The 1969 inflation was caused by an economy that was growing too fast. Inflation in the 1970’s and in 2008 was caused by rising oil prices. The 1989-91 inflation was caused by the uncertainty of the Gulf War. The current inflationary period has pent-up demand after COVID combined with rising oil prices. A balanced budget, by itself, won’t fix inflation.

Second, reducing inflation takes time. An examination of the inflationary periods shows that it takes about a year to reduce inflation, under ideal circumstances. Magic fixes don’t exist. Biden’s inflation Reduction Act, for example, was passed this year, but the effects of the act won’t be felt until next year and thereafter.

Third, inflation is not the long-term problem. High prices are the problem, and reducing inflation will only level off prices. After inflation is down to a comfortable 2-3%, today’s high prices will still be here. Consumers will still have spending problems unless salaries are adjusted upward.

An unexpected and fast rise in inflation is a real problem, but pretending that there are simple solutions is dishonest chicanery.


(2022) The 2022 Midterm Elections

This essay was posted on 11/20/22.

The 2022 elections are historic in that the party in power, namely the Democrats, did not lose a huge number of seats, which is common in off year elections. Nevertheless, both parties had something to celebrate. Republicans have a projected gain of 8 seats and a narrow majority in the House. And Democrats will retain the Senate and may gain a seat as well.

The real story of the elections is in the motivating factors of the voters. Republicans were concerned about inflation, immigration, and crime. Democrats were concerned about the Supreme Court, abortions, and health care, and preserving the election process.

The key issue in this election appears to be the big lie. Republican candidates who denied the 2020 election result often lost when running for governor, Attorney General, or Secretary of State in battleground states such as Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. 8 out of 12 election denying gubernatorial candidates lost, for example. The voters knew what they were doing.

The election denier issue was not limited to offices with authority over elections. 9 House Republicans who denied Donald Trump’s loss were targeted with ads that challenged their election denial, and 6 out of 9 deniers lost. The Republican margin in the House might have been bigger if these Republicans simply conceded President Biden’s election win.

It is too early to claim total victory. 185 election deniers won and some will be in positions that matter. We simply do not know what harm these deniers will do to our election processes. We only know that the cancer is still with us.


(maya) The Trump Republican Candidate

This essay was posted on 10/30/22.

The following facts are listed in the spirit of Maya Angelou’s famous statement:
"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

In Arizona, Republicans who believe the election was stolen are intimidating voters who use drop-boxes to deliver their mail-in ballots. The harassers take pictures of the voters. Many harassers carry guns.

In Georgia, election officials are creating an alert system so that election workers can report threats from election deniers.

345 Republican election deniers are on the 2020 ballot this year. Many are running for offices that play important roles in elections. The Republican candidate for the Governor of Arizona is an election denier who could certify or not certify the 2024 election results. The Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Abraham Hamadeh brags about committing election fraud. Republican election deniers are running in Michigan and Pennsylvania, both important battleground states.

Republican candidates are courting extremists all too often. Washington Republican candidate for a House seat. Joe Kent had his picture taken with a white nationalist who extolls the virtues of Adolph Hitler. Marjorie Tayler Greene and Paul Gosar have white nationalist ties. And there are others, including Republicans in Michigan and New York.

Connections to white nationalists work in both directions. The Los Angeles Holocaust Museum received antisemitic threats after inviting Kanye West for a tour after West made antisemitic remarks. The threats to the holocaust museum are not isolated. Antisemitic attacks have increased in recent years. The connections between white nationalists and Republicans are ties that bind.

When you vote this year, ask yourself where Donald Trump is leading Republicans. Then ask yourself: Do you want to go there?


(porter) A Voting Decision

This essay was posted on 10/20/22.

The economy and inflation appear to be the hot buttons in this year’s election, but politicians and the news media have side-stepped a crucial reason for inflation until US Representative (D-CA) Katie Porter explained it in a recent hearing. The key reason for inflation is corporate profits that are at a record high level of 53% of the cost of goods purchased by Americans. A normal percentage is 11%. But inflation isn’t the only factor in my voting decision this year.

The Jan 6 insurrection plotted and incited by Donald Trump and his inner circle is a key factor in my voting decision. The peaceful transfer of power and trust in the election process are cornerstones to our democratic traditions and Republicans are flushing them down a toilet.

Global warming is an existential threat for reasons more serious than rising sea levels and destructive storms. Global warming threatens livelihoods all over this crowded planet and will surely create an uncontrollable war. Republicans obstruct efforts to fix this problem.

The war in Ukraine must be won, because Vladimir Putin will not stop after a victory in Ukraine. Eastern Europe will be next. And China will understand that Taiwan and other countries can be taken without consequences from the West. Too many Republicans do not see the urgency.

Jan 6, global warming, and Ukraine all override the US economy and inflation in the long run. That’s why I am voting for Democrats this November.


(reich) The Cause of Inflation

This essay was posted on 10/15/22.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will raise interest rates until inflation comes down. Republicans and Chairman Powell may be attacking the wrong problem, according to former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

Reich says that large companies, like ExxonMobil and Chevron are raising prices, in this case the price of oil, when their very high profits don’t warrant a price hike. ExxonMobil and Chevron both doubled their profits and are simply price-gouging.

Other large companies are raising prices without any real justification, Reich says. Kimberly-Clark and Proctor & Gamble in paper products raised prices as well as Pepsi and Coca Cola in the beverage industry all raised prices without any financial justification.

If these companies raise prices while making huge profits and hold onto their markets, Chairman Powell’s interest rate hikes are of small consequence. The solution to inflation may be imbedded in the reason why these companies can raise prices with immunity.

ExxonMobil and Chevron dominate the US oil market. Between them, they control 59% of the oil sold by the top 10 producers. While they may not have total control of the market, they are the most influential, and they made a combined $29.3 billion. Most of their customers need the oil badly enough to pay the higher price.

Proctor & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark also dominate their market. They control 75% of the baby diaper market. They raised their prices in 2021. Based on current birth rates of 12 births per 1000 people, the US will have 3.8 million babies this year and the demand for diapers will increase.

Robert Reich’s assessment of inflation makes the most sense. When two or more companies dominate a market that is in high demand, then they can control the price. Chairman Powell may need to look for better tools to reel in inflation.


(venezuela) The Venezuela Problem

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 10/7/22.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis probably violated Federal and Florida law by sending mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. The Martha’s Vineyard citizens fully supported the immigrants. They took good care of them and didn’t even seem to care that there were so many Venezuelans.

Problems in Venezuela have led to nearly 6 million refugees and migrants out of a population of over 28 million. The 6 million expatriates are going to neighboring South American countries, and many are finding themselves at the US border.

The reasons for leaving Venezuela are complicated. The main reason is the dysfunctional government that can’t control a failing economy and an increased level of violence, but weather changes are a growing factor.

The consequence of increasing temperatures and declining rainfall is chronic drought that makes farming more difficult, hydroelectric generation less reliable, and coastal flooding from rising sea levels. The weather-related problems make the political and social problems much worse, so many Venezuelans are becoming refugees.

A problem for the refugees is finding a place to land. Many of the neighboring countries also have severe droughts and similar societal pressures that the Venezuelans are facing. The Venezuelans heading north end up in the US, but the US has its own weather problems.

Global warming is truly global, but the major greenhouse gas emitters are few: the US, China, and the combined European Union countries. The largest per capita emitters are the US and Russia. The way to keep Venezuelans in Venezuela is to reduce global warming by converting to renewable energy and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. That will take decades to complete. In the meantime, we need to look at the immigration problem as something that will not go away.

First, we need to find a way to accommodate asylum seekers, because simply sending them back to Venezuela is not working. Second, we need to help the failing countries do a better job of stabilizing their economies and their societies, and the help must come with conditions, including the establishment of a true, democratic government.

We must recognize that global weather and food insecurity are our problem too. If we ignore them, the people of the world will flood to our doors, because they have no other place to go.


(think) One Person, One Vote Part Two

This essay was posted on 9/29/22.

If computer-driven gerrymandering is so successful, can computer-driven redistricting work to reverse gerrymandering? Maybe.

An alternative method is a computer-driven process that depends on nonpartisan demographic information such as population centers and racial or ethnic groupings. The model, starting with population centers, differentiates between urban-based districts and rural based districts. Because urban centers tend to be more liberal than rural areas, the population model appears to address the problem of diluting an urban area among multiple rural districts. Voters prefer the non-partisan population center approach, but redistricting, by itself won’t fix the underlying problem that voting habits are too predictable.

Predictable voters are carefully honed by the two major political parties. At least three factors use bad messaging to shape modern voting habits. First, wedge issues like abortion and gay rights tend to overshadow other, equally important issues. Second, attack politics focuses on the other candidate at the expense of the real issues. Finally, the influx of too much cash from anonymous donors feeds the dysfunctional political messaging.

Fixing the messaging problem is never easy. Stopping the political ads is almost impossible and most likely unconstitutional. The only way to fix the problem is to fix ourselves. While wedge issues are important, they are not the only problem. The climate crisis is real, but it won’t be addressed by focusing on a wedge issue. Most attack ads are full of hyperbole, and many are simply dishonest. Judge a candidate on what you see, not by the gossip you hear.

Bottom line: We need to think for ourselves and not let others think for us. If we look at both sides of the story, maybe we will surprise ourselves and become less predictable. And our vote will not be owned by a self-serving politician.


(onevote) One Person, One Vote Part One

This essay was posted on 9/22/22.

This gerrymander journey begins with Nick Seabrook’s book One Person, One Vote. The book establishes a persistent tradition of gerrymandering legislative districts in the US from the 19th century to the present time with a brief interlude in the 1960’s when a liberal Supreme Court tried to intervene. The modern version of gerrymandering uses election data and max-min algorithms on computers to create favorable legislative districts. With the right tools, modern politicians are very good at gerrymandering.

Modern voters are trying to take redistricting responsibilities away from politicians by forming redistricting commissions. 15 states have full-functioning commissions and there are a few advisory-only commissions.

Redistricting commissions try to form legislative districts that are compact and approximately the same size. They avoid gerrymandering tricks and base their planning on public input and population data. In the Virginia redistricting law, the legislature votes on the redistricting plan on an up or down vote without amendments. If the commission and the legislature can’t agree, the State Supreme Court decides. What could go wrong?

Redistricting commissions are not immune to political interference. Politicians can still run their algorithms offline, and they can interject preferences to the commissions. Some commissions have both pollical and non-political members, and the politicians will vote for redistricting options that match their party goals. Politicians can also share their preferences with like-minded voters who then present the political preferences to the commission as their own. Redistricting commissions can moderate gerrymandering, but politicians are not going away without a fight.

Is the goal of one person, one vote achievable? More to come.


(lgbt) The Freedom Holiday Lesson

This essay was posted on 9/12/22.

A number of people protested an online lesson about gender identity featured on the Maine Online Opportunities for Sustained Education (MOOSE) website. The lesson is aimed at young elementary students, including kindergarten.

The Maine Department of Education and Governor Janet Mills agreed that the material was not suited for kindergarten, so they removed the video. Nevertheless, the Republican Party is playing an ad implying that Maine is teaching its students about sex instead of basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

The MOOSE website doesn’t cover basic studies, but provides additional material meant to fill out a student’s knowledge. An assortment of areas is covered including; nature, environment, community, culture, life, etc.

The political ad left out important facts about the deleted lesson, which is one in a series dealing with freedom holidays including Independence Day, Juneteenth, and Women’s Equality Day. The deleted lesson covers the freedom to be LGBT+. The lesson explains what it means to be LGBT+ and, asserts that, despite a 2014 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriages, the LGBT+ community is not free.

The teaching community should respond honestly to students of all ages when they ask why another student’s parents are both men, and the response should support the 2014 Supreme Court ruling. Otherwise, the student and the parents will not enjoy the freedom they deserve.

The LGBT+ lesson’s assertion that a doctor might make a mistake in assigning gender identity is bothersome. Doctors use the only evidence available to them. But, removing the lesson is extreme. Some age-neutral editing would be a better solution.

The world is changing rapidly. Children of same-sex couples are coming to schools, and children are openly experimenting with their sexuality in all grade levels. Children, even in kindergarten, are much more aware than we might imagine.


(delusion) Donald Trump's Reality

This essay was posted on 9/4/22.

Donald Trump has lost touch with the real world, if you connect some of the dots.

Let’s start with Trump’s second impeachment trial in Feb, 2021. Trump’s team of lawyers asserted that Trump could not be removed from office, because he was a private citizen after losing the 2020 election. Trump’s legal case is spurious, but the case itself is not important here. The important issue: Trump’s case depended on the accurate claim that he lost the election and was no longer President.

Fast forward to the classified document case and Trump’s request to have a special master review the stash of government documents. Trump’s team argued that Trump still has complete control over his documents. In their 36-page brief, the DOJ lawyers argued that Donald Trump lost his control over the documents when he became a private citizen. Search for ‘Armstrong’ in the DOJ brief for the details.

In a strange way, Trump’s claim that he still has control over the documents is reasonable if you believe he is still President, or at least deserves a do-over election. First, Trump claimed that the 2020 election contained millions of fraudulent ballots, and now he claims that the FBI and DOJ hid crucial evidence that would have enabled his victory. Trump still thinks and acts like he is President.

Donald Trump cannot be a private citizen for the impeachment trial and then be President for the classified document case, unless he is off his rocker or desperate.


(freedom2) Freedom House Part Two

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 8/29/22.

From 2016 when the Freedom House adopted the current scoring method until now, US freedom declined from a score of 90/100 to 83/100. The decline started earlier. Freedom has been declining since George W Bush won the Presidency in 2000. During this decline, a sharply divided Congress was unable or unwilling to stem the steady loss of our freedoms. How are we, as a country, going to repair our political ills?

If the 25 criteria in the Freedom House analysis is the arch that holds democracy together, then the criteria representing the election process comprise the keystone that holds up the arch. The first step is to fix the problems in the election process. Freedom House identifies 4 problems; the electoral college; the counting and approval process, gerrymandering, and voter suppression. A 5th problem not specifically covered in the election process section is partisanship in the administration of elections.

Over the course of our country’s history, every political party has been guilty of rigging our elections one way or another, but right now, today the burden is on the Republican Party. They are caught in the dilemma of a changing demography in the US coupled with political views not in line with the Republican Party.

Republican politicians are disconnected from the public with abortion (61% approval), renewable energy (over 80% approval), LGBTQ in schools (60% approve teaching LGBTQ in schools), racial inequality taught in schools (62% favor some or a lot). With the electorate becoming more disenchanted with Republican talking points, politicians must choose between changing themselves or changing the electorate.

Our election process will not be fixed until we have an undivided Congress, and the only path is a voter revolution in which enough sitting Republicans are replaced by Democrats at the state and federal level so that the Freedom House issues can be resolved. Enough Democrats, but not so many that Democrats begin to think about 1-party rule, like the current batch of Republican radicals.

If the election process can return to a freer and fairer election system with more accountable politicians, then many of the other issues identified in the Freedom House report will take care of themselves.


(freedom1) Freedom House Part One

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 8/22/22.

Can Democracy Work? By James Miller describes the evolving definition of Democracy. At its simplest level, democracy implies that the people rule, unlike aristocracy in which the elite rule. But the lessons of history show that democracy is more than just about ruling.

Miller takes us through the struggles with democracy in ancient Greece and in the 18th, 19th, and 20th century revolutions inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the general will. The concept of democracy evolved into the 20th century, ending with an approach very different from the democracy of America’s founders or France’s revolutionists.

Miller’s final chapter concludes that modern democracy is more about effectiveness than form. A representation of this concept is found in Freedom House, a US government funded non-profit dedicated “to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world.” Freedom House rates over 200 countries and territories on their adherence to the principles of democracy according to 25 criteria.

The criteria are divided into 2 parts. The first part uses 10 criteria to measure a country’s effectiveness in maintaining the political rights of the people through free and fair elections. The second part uses 15 criteria to measure a country’s effectiveness in maintaining the civil liberties of individuals.

Each criterion is rated from 0 to 4. A country’s score is the sum of the 25 criteria and can range from 0 to 100, where 100 is the most democratic and 0 is the least democratic. In the 2022 ratings, the Scandinavian Constitutional Monarchies of Finland, Norway, and Sweden received top ratings of 100. Three countries, with three different styles of government, South Sudan, Syria, and Tibet received a bottom score of 1, indicating a non-free state.

The US had a score of 83, tied with Panama, Romania, Samoa, and South Korea for 59th place. 4 of the 5 countries have some form of a constitutional republic. Surprisingly, the US, the birthplace of modern democracy, is the 59th most democratic country, and the US rating has declined in recent years.

An analysis of Freedom House reports offers an opportunity to make our country and our individual freedoms more secure. More in Part Two.


(article5) Amending the Constitution

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 8/12/22.

Beware of the Constitutional Convention pushed by two conservative groups, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wants to amend the US Constitution by adding very conservative amendments. ALEC proposes giving states the right to repeal a federal law or regulation if two-thirds of the state legislatures vote to do so. ALEC also proposes that the federal budget must be balanced. And there are other amendments. A liberal group, Wolf-PAC proposes an amendment to reform campaign-finance laws.

Proposing a Constitutional Amendment through the legislative process takes the consent of two-thirds membership from both houses. With a deadlocked Congress, creating a radical Constitutional Amendment without support from both parties is impossible. The whole country is deeply divided, so why are the conservatives pushing for a Constitutional Convention?

With the Constitutional Convention process, the numbers favor conservatives. The ground-rules for a convention are not set in the Constitution, so they are an unknown element. If the convention gives each state one vote, then passage of the Republican amendments would be likely. Republicans control the legislatures in 30 states.

There is still the ratification process that requires three-fourths of the state legislatures to ratify amendment proposals. Republicans believe they can flip enough states to ratify the amendments in time, or they might declare the amendments law without ratification. The future is unpredictable.

Set aside the relative pros and cons of the new amendments. The assumption that Congress is hopelessly deadlocked is a red herring. Congress overwhelmingly voted for aid to Ukraine and for the addition of Sweden and Finland to NATO. Congress can come together on bipartisan issues that are also good for the whole country. These same criteria should be applied to any new Constitutional amendment.

Conservatives know their amendments are highly partisan, so they are using the Constitutional Convention process to bypass the legislature, which will not provide the necessary two-thirds support. The new amendments from both sides of the aisle are highly partisan, and too partisan to be enshrined in the Constitution for the foreseeable future.


(lion) Lions and People

This essay was posted on 8/4/22.

The Last Lions of Africa by Anthony Ham tells stories about lions and people dealing with each other in Africa. The stories tell about how Africans are trying to keep lions from disappearing while they also want the human population to be safe.

Two of the stories relate the experiences of former lion killers, who use their skills to keep lions in conservation areas alive. The stories tell a lot about the strange and strained bond between Africans and African lions.

While the efforts to make lions and people coexist are having some successes, the problems of a growing human population show how fruitless this task can be. If current population trends continue, lions will lose their hunting territories and disappear from the wild.

Killing off alpha predators is a pattern with humans. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Harari comments that humans tend to exterminate the alpha predator everywhere they go. Lions in Africa and tigers in India have no special pass on extinction in the wild.

Lions are the canaries warning of the danger caused by too many humans, and they are joined by other canaries. Bees are disappearing. Birds are less numerous. Butterflies are not common. Coral reefs are threatened. The oceans are warming. Whales are endangered. All of these canaries are pointing to the same problem: Too many humans.

Mass extinctions are not new to earth. There have been five of them. The earth always recovers, and recoveries always bring major changes. But none of the mass extinctions was caused by a species that should have known better. Maybe we have time to fix all of these problems, if we live up to our name, ‘a wise man’.