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.

Tweet

(recon) The Incredible Shrinking Bill

This essay was posted on 10/15/21.

President Biden’s reconciliation bill is running into a roadblock from Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. They are right-leaning Democrats from conservative states, and they don’t support the $3.5 trillion version, in part on economic grounds. Biden needs their vote to pass the bill in the Senate, because Republicans are united against passage, so Biden is willing to lower his expectations in a compromise bill with a $2 trillion price tag. The question is: How do you compromise?

Progressive Democrats want a comprehensive bill that hits all the bullets for a shorter period of time. Reducing the time frame from 10 years to 6 years would be about right. Moderate Democrats are more in favor of reducing the scope of the bill while retaining the 10-year fiscal commitment.

The rationale for a less ambitious bill is purely political. The Trump tax cuts could be restored to help pay for the bill. The annual outlay is much more manageable when spread over 10 years. And interest rates are low. From an economic perspective, the $3.5 trillion bill is very doable.

Politics in Washington is everything, so a compromise bill is inevitable. In my experience, when I have too many things going at once, I am capable of accomplishing nothing. In bills as in life, doing fewer things well is better than doing many things half way. So, I would choose to reduce the scope of the bill while maintaining the 10-year plan.

Tweet

(ceiling) The Debt Ceiling Problem

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 10/8/21.

Threatening to kill the US debt ceiling update is like floating in a life raft in the middle of the Pacific with one peanut butter sandwich and threatening to shred the life raft until it sinks unless you get the sandwich. It doesn’t make sense. So, why do they do it?

Congress established a debt ceiling during WWI, because they feared the war would generate runaway spending. Since then, Congress always raised the debt ceiling to cover immediate expenses and the US has never been in default. Failure to raise the debt ceiling almost certainly leads to financial catastrophe. Requiring Congress to vote on a bill that absolutely must pass makes no sense.

The ratio of federal debt to GDP has approached the 125% level after WWII, and we were not in financial default, and today’s high debt level would not be an immediate problem, unless Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling. The sword of Damocles is not the debt. It is the debt ceiling vote.

Congress can manage the debt level by cutting back spending or raising taxes. Congress doesn’t need to lower the debt as long as the debt level increases at a slower rate than GDP. The question then is: Should Congress cut spending or raise taxes? After WWII, the US needed to spend money, so Congress kept taxes high. The debt didn’t decrease in real numbers, but the debt to GDP ratio became more manageable. The same approach to debt management can still apply today.

Managing a company’s debt is different from managing US debt. A company’s ability to borrow money depends on its ability to repay the loan, but a sovereign nation as rich as the US can borrow money, because it can levy and collect taxes. The borrowing power of the US government seems to be dependent mainly on Congress’s willingness to raise the debt ceiling.

When Republicans threaten to freeze the debt ceiling and shred our economy unless Democrats concede on key issues, they negotiate in bad faith and practice bad government. It is time to change Congress or change the law. Or both.

Tweet

(voteno) Energy Corridor Ads

This essay was posted on 10/1/21.

A referendum in Maine will decide in November if an energy corridor bringing hydro power from Quebec to New England can be built, and the TV ads are already appearing. But the TV ads fail to address the main issues, and the ads are downright deceptive.

The vote-yes people who want to stop the energy corridor claim that the corridor is a bad deal for Maine. No, it isn’t. Mainers aren’t paying for it. Mainers benefit by getting a rate subsidy from CMP and by getting more stable electricity costs from cheaper hydro power going into the New England grid.

The vote-yes people who want to stop the energy corridor complain that all the profits go to foreign companies. This already happens. CMP’s profit from my current electric bill payment goes to their Spanish owners. Shutting down the energy corridor changes nothing, but saving the corridor would. A working corridor would mean less money going to fossil-fuel-based energy generators, and less air pollution.

The vote-no people who want to save the energy corridor complain that the referendum requires the legislature to retroactively approve similar projects using public land with emphasis on the dangers of retroactivity. The ad may actually have merit, but it has no punch. The vote-no people need to remind us more of the corridor’s benefits.

The two sides are not talking about the energy corridor’s impact on our effort to convert to renewable energy. The vote-no proponents appear to lack a clear vision, and the vote-yes proponents simply don’t want the conversion to renewables to happen, at least for now.

The best we can do with all the ads is to ignore them and make up our own minds. In my view, the New England power grid needs all the renewable energy it can get.

Tweet

(haiti) The Haiti Problem

This essay was posted on 9/24/21.

The Haitians trying to enter the US do not fall neatly into an asylum-seeker category. Being homeless and hungry after an earthquake in a country with a barely stable government is not really reason enough to seek asylum or refugee status. But the Haiti problem is easy to describe even with no quick solution in sight. If we send them back to Haiti, many will just return to US borders and try again. They are desperate.

Refugees from Haiti are not the only ones looking for a safe haven. In 2020, over 80 million people were displaced for some reason, and war was not the only cause. 35 million people sought help in other places because of extreme weather events and climate change. The refugee problem is getting worse and just helping countries achieve stable economies and build infrastructures will not be enough. We also need to deal with the man-made climate issues.

The US needs to look at Haiti less like a separate country with its own problems and more like a neighboring state whose problems are also ours. We need to help Haiti with its earthquake more like we help Louisiana or Florida when a hurricane comes ashore.

The US contribution to the global warming problem hurts Haiti as much as Haiti’s inherent poverty hurts itself. The US can help our neighbors by converting to a climate friendlier, renewable-energy economy.

If we help fix our neighbors problems, then it would also help our problems at the border. Unfortunately, all of this effort by the US will be too late to help the Haitians currently gathering at our Southern border.

Tweet

(20years) The 20 Year War

This essay was posted on 9/16/21.

After 20 years, how much did 9/11 change us. Yes, it affected the victims and the survivors in ways no one can understand. But 9/11 affected everyone, even Afghans living in the Helmond Province.

9/11 triggered a war in Afghanistan that started with the mission of capturing Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden left Afghanistan, but we stayed for 20 years. Over time, the mission evolved in ways that are hard to explain. It was part anti-terrorism and part nation-building, but our story doesn’t fully describe the Afghan perspective.

There are two realities in Afghanistan. One reality is in the area around Kabul. It is calm. It is bustling. It is more modern.

The other Afghanistan covers most of the country. It is a throw-back to earlier days. Women are rarely seen. Villages are poor. The people are a long way from Kabul, but they are close to the war.

The Taliban still has a presence in the provinces, so the war is still hot. Villagers are on the run to escape the battles between the Afghan forces and the Taliban. The Afghanis often hide in the ditches while their homes are bombed. Life is uncertain.

Shakira is an Afghan woman who has survived in the Helmond Province. Her oldest daughter knows only war. Many members of her family are dead from Taliban attacks and from government bombs. She is cynical, and she is tired.

After 20 years of living in the hell of warfare, Shakira and her friends just want the killing to end, even if it means that the Taliban rule once again.

Tweet

(texas) The Texas Abortion Law

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 9/8/21.

The Texas anti-abortion law uses a new wrinkle intended to avoid judicial scrutiny. Texas passed a law banning abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy, but the law provides no criminal enforcement. Instead, it gives anyone the authority to sue anyone seeking an abortion or anyone helping in an abortion. As a result, Texas argued that the courts could not order it to cease and desist, because Texas was not enforcing the law. Clever.

On a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court denied a request to block the new law while it was being appealed in the courts. The court did not rule on the constitutionality of the Texas law. It just could not determine how or if the law would be enforced, so the court let it stand.

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented for exactly the same issue. Roberts wants to determine if the Texas law should be blocked because it prevents proper judicial oversight. If legislators fashion laws that prohibit judicial oversight, as the Texas laws appears to do, then the law’s constitutionality needs to be debated before it becomes a common practice.

The Texas law’s dependence on civil suits raises other concerns. The question of legal standing is one. In a civil suit, the plaintiff should show how he or she was harmed, but the plaintiff in an anti-abortion suit doesn’t need to show damages. How many law suits will be started without real evidence? Then there is the burden of proof in a civil suit, which is not as strict as in a criminal case. The defendant’s civil rights may not be protected adequately. These questions should be debated by the courts before this law is enacted.

Seven states have already shown an interest in the Texas law, possibly with encouragement from the Supreme Court ruling.

There are, however, clear problems with the law that go beyond the question of abortion. In their rush to judgment, the court conservatives have put politics ahead of the law. By not doing their jobs, the court conservatives provide every reason to unpack the Supreme Court to make it more balanced.

Tweet

(rigged) The Election Law Problem

This essay was posted on 9/2/21.

Two articles in the Aug 20 edition of The Week are worth reading. The first article is about Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Facing a loss in popularity and a potential 20% deficit in next year’s national election, Bolsonaro is trying to change election laws, presumably to retain the Presidency even if he loses the election. The Brazilian legislature was not intimidated and voted Bolsonaro’s law down. Maybe Bolsonaro should take some advice from Republicans in the US.

The second article is about the state of Georgia. The Republican-led state legislature passed a voting law that empowers the state legislature to audit and overrule county elections. The state election board can use audit results as an excuse to override a local election. Because the state election board is controlled by Republicans, this law essentially empowers the state to name a Republican winner even though the actual vote count says otherwise.

Georgia is not the only state writing laws that empower state-level panels to override election results, and these laws may influence the makeup of Congress. Currently, the Senate is evenly split, and House Democrats hold a three-seat majority. If Republicans retake the House and pick up 17 seats in the Senate, then the Republicans could impeach and remove President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris for any trivial reason.

Picking up 17 seats in the Senate is a tall order for Republicans, but the new laws empowering states to override local elections could make a difference. Remember that newly-elected Democrat Raphael Warnock won in a special election and is up for reelection in 2022. It is too early for either party to be counting chickens.

Tweet

(sopko) Nation-Building in Afghanistan

This essay was posted on 8/27/21.

The Special Inspector General for Afghan Infrastructure John Sopko has published a highly critical report of our efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. We managed to lower the child mortality rate and increase literacy, but there is little else to show for the $145 Billion spent. The report provides some of the reasons why our efforts generally failed.

The mistakes are obvious. The US concentrated on completing projects, and spent little or no time evaluating the effect on the Afghan people, because US rebuilding efforts lacked a cohesive strategy with clear, measurable goals. The project implementors were often inexperienced trainers who failed to prepare Afghans properly. Many times, the US built infrastructure modeled after a US market that clashed with Afghan cultural values and social values. The US spent a lot of money, completing projects that the Afghans could not or would not take over after they were finished.

The war got in the way. In areas under Taliban influence, the citizens were reluctant to cooperate because they feared Taliban reprisals. In other areas, there was always the threat of being attacked. The war was a big problem.

The US tried to remake Afghanistan into our own image. They spent a lot of money, and they only made the Afghans angry. Recommending that the US get out of the business of nation-building seems like the obvious answer.

While we watch the failure in Afghanistan unfold, the US is also working on rebuilding stressed nations in Africa. If these ongoing efforts use the Afghan model, they will probably leave behind another set of countries with a bad taste for Americans.

Tweet

(taliban) Ending the Afghan War

This essay was posted on 8/17/21.

The US retreat from Afghanistan is pretty ugly. The Taliban have taken over the country much faster than expected, according to Biden Administration reports. While Kabul is in chaos, the Biden spokesperson said their main job now is to secure the airport. In the next few days, we will see if the US can pull itself together and rescue the Americans left in Kabul along with the Afghans who helped our soldiers. As bad as things seem, it is long past the time to leave Afghanistan.

Over the last 60 years, the US has essentially failed at nation-building in Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, and now in Afghanistan. Instead of building allies, we left behind many new enemies and many people who felt betrayed.

The story in Afghanistan is no different. The US built a good Afghan army, but there were complications. The Afghan leadership was corrupt. Donald Trump’s cockeyed negotiations led to the release of 5,000 Taliban soldiers and the reduction of the US troop level to 2500 by January. The Afghan army walked away from a losing situation. Biden’s Afghan planners should have reacted more strongly to the volatile political mood in Afghanistan, but all of this is hind-sight quarterbacking.

There are two issues. First, the issue of leaving Afghanistan. After 4 failures at nation-building, we should understand that either the US doesn’t know how to successfully nation-build or that nation-building doesn’t work in the modern globalized society. The US needs to abandon the strategy. Leaving Afghanistan is a good idea. The question is how we do it.

In the case of Afghanistan, the US trusted the Taliban too much and mistrusted the Afghan Army too little. And they pulled out American troops too soon. The question now is whether the US has time to fix its mistakes.

Tweet

(paul) Mask Mandates

This essay was posted on 8/11/21.

Rand Paul is just one Republican fighting mask mandates. He encourages people to ignore the facts while telling them to ignore government mandates. The science is simple. While cloth masks are not 100% effective, groups where everyone is masked have much lower COVID transmission rates. Rand Paul is actually encouraging people to increase their chances of getting sick and dying.

Rand Paul is also wrong about the government bans from Washington. The CDC and President Biden encourage people to wear masks indoors, but they are not mandating them. Instead, Washington is leaving mandates up to local authorities.

Governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida are not leaving the mask question up to local authorities, because they have issued state-level mask-mandate bans. You can choose not to wear a mask, get sick, and possibly die in Texas and Florida, and nobody will stop you.

The thought-process of these Republican leaders is not logical from any perspective, so their logic must be based on something illogical, like politics. They blame Biden and migrants from Mexico, but the people in the hospitals in Florida are Americans. The real blame should be aimed at a disinformation campaign that is validated by politicians like Rand Paul.

When you consider unintended consequences, all politics may not be good politics. Texas and Florida both have elementary school children who are too young to be vaccinated and also want to go to school. To go to school safely, students and faculty should wear masks, and adult faculty should be vaccinated. These standards can’t be met with mask-mandate bans. The fathers and mothers of the children know all of this, and they are not at all happy.

Paul, Abbott, and DeSantis could soon face unintended consequences from angry voters.

Tweet

(zoning) Zoning and Racism

This essay was posted on 8/5/21.

The Civil War did not completely end slavery, and it did not end discrimination against minorities. The 156 years of incremental changes have been embarrassingly slow.

Until 1917 communities could assign neighborhoods to different races, and they did. A supreme court ruling changed that. The Supreme Court ruled that local municipal restrictions violated the 14th Amendment, but racially-motivated Covenants continued until 1948.

A covenant is a restriction in a deed, and deeds to family houses might list the race restrictions of the property owners. Racially restrictive deed covenants were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1948, but the neighborhood zoning option remained.

Zoning laws can be effective discriminators by making rules that increase the cost of living in a neighborhood, yet the rules sound so benign. A zoning restriction that allows only detached, single family homes naturally increases the cost of the homes and therefore requires a higher family income. Similarly, prohibiting multi-plex homes and townhouses suitable for renters makes a neighborhood more expensive.

Coincidentally, Black families have lower family incomes than White families, on average. If the income gap were not there, Black families would have more choices. The minimum wage is too low. Black managers are under-represented in the workplace. The Black wage gap is not a coincidence. And the chain of coincidences continues.

Our economic system is achieving a social outcome that tends to separate White families from non-White families, but is this systemic racism? It seems so, until you take a closer look at the people controlling the various system components. The controllers holding the power in all levels of government and business are largely white men, but change is coming -- slowly.

Tweet

(propaganda) Propaganda Techniques

This essay was posted on 7/28/21.

This essay is based on a dialog with a Trump supporter. I believe that the Trump supporter’s statement is an interpretation of conservative media messaging.

Propaganda is a set of techniques that try to convince you of something without necessarily providing evidence or logic. The first step in coping with propaganda is to recognize it.

The following statement has many examples of propaganda techniques:

“It is the Democrat [sic] leadership that wants to ‘transform the Unites States.’ [Author Mark] Levin categorically argues that this transformation is a move to regressive Marxism which will lead to untold misery of the masses.”

The full statement uses the propaganda technique of glittering generality designed to make us accept an idea without proof. FDR transformed our welfare system, but he also kept us from Communism. LBJ ushered in civil rights laws and expanded welfare, but he is also started a war on Communism in Vietnam. Both political parties want to transform the US, but the allegation of Marxism is only speculation.

The connection of Democratic transformation to Marxism is the propaganda technique of name-calling designed to associate a person or idea into something negative so we reject the person or idea out of hand. The connection here is a hypothetical conjecture by an author and not a proven fact.

The reference to the author is a propaganda technique of a testimonial designed to add credibility to the conjecture. Citing an author’s credentials do not turn a hypothetical prediction into the truth.

Everyone uses propaganda to some extent. I started to cite Mark Levin’s conservative resume, but then deleted the comment. Liz Cheney and George Will are conservatives who do not share my views, but I agree with them regarding Donald Trump. One’s political views are not relevant to the credibility of an argument.

The techniques of propaganda can make you buy a can of beer just as easily as it can persuade you to ransack the Capitol Building. You will be ahead of the game if you can see the truth after you wipe away the propaganda. But will you know the truth when you find it?

Tweet

(hydro2) Energy Corridor

This essay was posted on 7/18/21 and appeared in the Maine Sunday Telegram on 7/25/21.

There is a continuing debate over the new electric line running through Maine that will bring electric energy into New England from Hydro Quebec. The sides are clearly drawn, but the arguments are often muddled by details.

As we undergo an inevitable transition from fossil fuel-based energy to reduced-carbon energy sources, we need to consider two important aspects, availability and risk.

First, we can never have too much electric power, and we face the prospect of increasing demand in the future. Higher power demands will come from electric cars and electric home heating as well as normal growth in demand for power.

Second, daytime solar power and weather-dependent wind power cannot cover 24-7 electric power needs adequately. The problems with wind and solar can be solved by diversifying power sources and upgrading our infrastructure to accommodate many small power generators and to provide electric storage devices.

The solar panels and windmills will pose an additional risk, because they are necessarily exposed to the weather. A hurricane could devastate solar farms, calling for contingency planning, for example.

The switch to electric power is inevitable, but the transition will have problems that we know about today and problems that will surprise us in the future. If we want to improve the chances of success in this transition, then building the new power line from Hydro Quebec is an investment we need to make.

Tweet

(reinstate) Revising 2020

This essay was posted on 7/12/21.

The pillow guy, Mike Lindell, claims that Donald Trump will be reinstated as president by August 13, without a shred of evidence that Trump won the election or any proof that reinstatement is a legal possibility. It is not.

Arizona Republicans are doing a sham audit intended to prove that the election was full of fraud. Pennsylvania Republicans now want their own Arizona-style audit. Republicans will keep counting ballots until they get a different result.

Meanwhile, Republican legislators are trying to root out the alleged fraud by proposing over 300 bills in state legislatures. A substantial number of these bills have become state law. These so-called anti-fraud bills are designed to reduce fraud by restricting the number of people who can vote. Fewer voters mean less fraud, especially when the voters are from the poor and from minorities.

Many political pundits from both sides dismiss the effort to reinstate Donald Trump, but they don’t consider the unusually strong support coming from the red states, and they don’t talk about the possible consequences.

The Jan 6 insurrectionists believed Donald Trump’s big lie strongly enough that they had no choice. An unrepentant Pennsylvania retiree, who was arrested, believed the false narrative that election was stolen. He sincerely believed he was doing the right thing.

Trump is still peddling his falsehoods. Republicans are still recounting ballots. Lindell still claims Trump will be reinstated. Trump followers, including far too many members of private militias, still believe the big lie. Our Democracy still needs protection from Donald Trump.

Tweet

(border) The Fake Border Crisis

This essay was posted on 7/6/21.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott asked other State governors to help out with border protection. South Dakota and Florida have each sent people to the Southern border to help slow down the higher-than-normal illegal immigration. Abbott and other Republicans call it a crisis, but is it really a crisis or is it the wrong crisis?

Granted, border crossings this year are higher than in 2019, but it doesn’t look like a policing crisis. There are 3 times as many border patrol agents as there were 20 years ago, and they now deal with a third of the immigration that occurred under Clinton. The crisis involves added support and infrastructure needed to handle the increased load. The number of border agents is not the problem.

I am not sure what the extra personnel would do. The extra officers are not in their normal jurisdiction, and enforcement of immigration law is the sole responsibility of the Federal Government. The helpers are probably better off if they treat the assignment as a virtual vacation.

It appears that Abbot, Ron DeSantis in Florida, and Kristi Noem in South Dakota are using government resources and taxpayer money to pull off a political stunt designed to make President Biden look bad.

The 3 governors would better serve their respective states if they stuck with state-related problems, like getting more residents vaccinated for COVID.

Tweet

(1887) The 1887 Electoral Count Law

This essay was posted on 6/30/21.

Donald Trump says he will be reinstated by August after his biased audits move the election counts in his favor and the Supreme Court upholds his claim to the White House. Most experts say it won’t happen because the Supreme Court will be in recess and would reject Trump’s wild assertions. I don’t know what the future will bring or how the Supreme Court will rule, but I know for sure that Trump should not be reinstated. It is against the law.

Donald Trump modeled his 2020 election shenanigans on the divisive and unruly 1876 election that reached the Congressional confirmation stage with electoral college results disputed in 4 states. In 3 disputed states, both parties submitted their own slate of electors with opposing results. Congress could not resolve the election, so Republican Rutherford B. Hayes became President, and reconstruction in the South ended. 1876 marked the official point when the Republican Party ceased to be the party of Lincoln.

In 1887 Congress passed the Electoral Count Act, designed to prevent the chaos perpetrated in 1876 from happening again. The law is still in effect and is still needed. In January, Mike Pence and Congress certified the election of Joe Biden, because the 1887 law bound Congress to accept the results of electors who had been certified by their state governor. Pence and Congress simply followed the law. Any attempt to reinstate Trump in August or any other time would be an illegal coup.

Will the 1887 Electoral Law prevail in future elections? In today’s polarized climate, I am not so sure.

Tweet

(immigration) The Immigration Choice

This essay was posted on 6/24/21.

President Biden’s immigration plan is a welcome departure from the implemented policies of Donald Trump.

Trump’s immigration moves were all about reducing the number of immigrants entering our country. His infamous child separation policy is only the tip of the iceberg. Trump cut legal immigration in half. He drastically reduced the number foreign-born skilled workers. Trump reduced the number of asylum seekers by 84%. The naturalization process became painfully slow. Trump moved asylum seekers waiting for a hearing to Mexico and away from oversight. Trump succeeded in making immigration harder.

Biden’s approach to immigration can be summarized by his legislative proposal that starts with a path to legal status and possible citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Biden’s approach addresses many immigration issues including: improved border resources and infrastructure, funding to states and privately run immigration services, better protection of immigrant workers, increased ability to prosecute border criminals and smugglers, improved immigration courts, and improved processing for asylum seekers.

Biden also takes the long view about immigration. Biden is funding an effort to uplift Central American countries in an effort to remove the corruption and gang warfare that is the reason behind the current migration to the US.

Biden’s plan will give the economy a long-overdue boost in manpower. Ever since Baby-Boomers started retiring for real in 2011 in conjunction with a decreasing birth rate, our economy has grown at the slow rate of 2% a year. More workers would fuel a faster growing economy, and the workers needed to make America greater can come from increased immigration.

Tweet

(marxism) The Marxism Excuse

This essay was posted on 6/14/21.

I have heard the 1619 Project described as a dangerous Marxist plot by Republican leaders often enough that many Republican voters consider the 'Marxism' claim to be true. But the 1619 Project is not Marxist dogma. Ask a Communist, if you don’t believe me.

Socialist Equality Party leaders don’t like the attention given to the 1619 Project because it pits Black workers against White workers when both groups should be fighting for the same thing. True Marxism is about the struggle between economic classes like blue-collar workers and factory owners. Preoccupation with a struggle between races just dilutes the purpose of Marxism and distracts from the aims of the Communist Manifesto. Contrary to Republican claims, Marxists do not embrace the 1619 Project.

A closer look at the Republican claim uncovers an uncomfortable problem. By equating the aims of the 1619 Project with a Marxist-like class struggle, Black Americans are stereotyped by Republicans as members of a worker class even though Black Americans span all socio-economic classes from homeless person to corporate CEO and even President of the United States. That kind of stereotyping seems to me to be racist.

Maybe all of us, including Republicans might learn something from the 1619 Project literature.

Tweet

(systemic2) The Evidence for Racism

This essay was posted on 6/8/21.

Too many Republicans argue that there is no systemic racism, when there is evidence falling out of the data clouds. I gleaned a few examples from a page that had 100 pieces of statistical examples of systemic racism.

The first red herring by systemic racism deniers is the notion that they are not racists, so how could they commit acts of racism? This is easy. Systemic racism is about exercising established rules and regulations that are inherently racist. Systemic racism is about what you do and not about what you believe. Given the evidence, I don’t believe a systemic racist denier when he or she denies being a racist.

The second red herring by systemic racism deniers is the claim that they earned their salary or job or wealth. Systemic racism is insidious, because each unequal rule or outcome leads to another. A student who doesn’t take Chemistry doesn’t get into a STEM program, so his or her income is lower. A denier should not claim superiority until all the systemic crutches have been removed.

The important question about the systemic racism problem we need to answer: Where do we start?

Tweet

(1619) The 1619 Project

This essay was posted on 6/1/21.

The 1619 Project, conceived by reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, tells the history of the US through the perspective of Black Americans. The goal of the project is to infuse the Project’s themes into the US education system.

Project critic Sean Wilentz claims the historical inaccuracies distort the conclusions. He says that the Revolutionary War did not depend on preserving slavery as 1619 claims, and he asserts that Lincoln did not necessarily want to send the freed slaves to an African colony as is claimed in 1619. Both criticisms are debatable.

Wilentz’s first claim has some merit. The 1619 claim that the British abolitionist movement scared the South into joining the fight is weak, because the British abolition movement gained strength only after 1787. There is, however, a third scenario.

The writers of the Constitution conceded slavery to the South in exchange for a strong central government. The Southern states’ concern over losing slavery came to fruition 78 years later when Civil War broke out.

Wilentz’s second claim is on more solid ground. There is strong evidence that Lincoln looked upon Black Americans as equals, but Lincoln still might have wanted to move them out of the country because he felt their cultural differences clashed too much to fit in. No one can tell how Lincoln would have acted because his Presidency was cut short with a bullet.

These criticisms should not disqualify the 1619 Project, because the Project tells the story of how the Black struggle for freedom is also everyone’s struggle to make us a better country. This story should have a bigger voice in our narrative. We will all be better for it.

Tweet

(manifesto) The Communist Manifesto

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 5/26/21.

It was proposed to me that the Democratic Party is lock-step aligned to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and is leading the US down the garden path of socialism, communism, and totalitarianism. The Republican Propaganda machine is promoting this ad hominem attack, and I fear that too many everyday Republicans take this nonsense as fact. I must start at the beginning.

Karl Marx published the Communist Manifesto in 1848 when the Industrial Revolution was gaining strength, Monarchs still had influence, and liberals tried to start a revolution. Government application of social programs was sporadic. Factories provided draconian benefits such as low wages, long hours, unsafe working conditions, overcrowded housing, and company stores. Factory-provided worker welfare was another form of economic slavery.

The Manifesto advocates a progressive income tax, free education, the abolition of child labor, and centralized transportation, education, and banking. These recommendations parallel Democratic Party ideas, but Marx goes further. He abolishes private businesses, many forms of private property, family structures, inheritance, etc. Marx describes a worker revolution followed by a new, communist society free of class distinctions. Marx’s aim is to correct the real problems faced by workers in the Industrial Revolution.

A lot has changed since the Communist Manifesto was published 173 years ago. There is a progressive income tax. Cities have subways and buses. There are public schools. There is a centralized bank. Children don’t work in sweat shops. Workers buy their own homes and shop wherever they want. There is a minimum wage. There is no slavery. All of these goals were resolved without implementing authoritarian communism.

At the same time communism has failed. Russia had a second revolution. China created its own capitalism and business ownership. Venezuela is still a failed state.

Karl Marx was wrong about fixing societal problems with communism. The kind of socialism needed to build a better society can be described simply as promoting the general welfare and can be applied to any form of government whether it is a democracy, a democratic republic, a monarchy, or a dictatorship. And it has been done successfully.

Democrats can implement their goals without an authoritarian government, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand communism.

Tweet

(conflict) The Conflict in Israel

This essay was posted on 5/18/21.

The Israelis and the Palestinians have been fighting each other for decades in short, violent wars, often with rocket attacks on civilians. The current violence is a continuation of a struggle over land that is now Israel and once was Palestine.

The fighting has gone on for days with rocket attacks and bombing raids in civilian areas covering both sides of the fight. In one attack a Palestinian father and daughter were killed by a rocket. They were part of a village near Tel Aviv shared by Jews and Arabs living together peacefully. The big question that seems to have no answer: How did this fight start?

The fighting started shortly after two incidents occurred. One incident involved the eviction of Palestinians from their family homes in a neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Israeli families claimed prior ownership of the land in East Jerusalem, and the courts and Israel law supported their claims. Palestinians, however, saw the land dispute as a way to push Arabs out of Jerusalem, so they protested the evictions in the streets.

The other incident involved Israeli soldiers using tear gas to disperse worshipers at the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. One can only guess what the Israelis were trying to do, but it is easy to see what happened. The violence and the protests escalated after the weekend confrontations, and the rocket attacks, violence, and civilian deaths continue to mount.

The two events may have been the spark, but the root problem is much greater. Starting around the World War I when Palestine came under British control, the Palestinian homeland shrunk as the Jewish homeland became more of a reality. The wars are a fight over the same land that defines who the Palestinians and the Israelis are.

Tweet

(plastic) The Problem with Plastic

This essay was posted on 5/10/21.

I have not met a Republican who refuses his or her Social Security check because it came from a socialist plague. Still, Republicans keep pushing the idea that fighting the ‘radical socialist agenda’ is more important than feeding hungry kids this summer. They don’t seem to understand that capitalism isn’t descended from God and is not always right.

Plastics are a prime example of capitalism gone wrong. Our world is infested with plastic utensils, plastic table cloths, plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic water bottles, plastic bubble wrap, and so many other one-use conveniences. All of this plastic is headed for a recycling plant or a waste dump. Unfortunately, too much of it settles in the oceans and eventually in the stomachs of our fish and marine mammals.

We can blame ourselves for much of this plastic litter. We are too careless and lazy. Someone else will fix it. Etc. But one-use plastic isn’t something we asked for. One-use plastic is cheap if you ignore the disposal, and many small businesses do. One-use plastic is cheaper than managing reusable utensils from the business owner’s perspective, so switching to plastics increases profit. Any good, free-market capitalist would agree. Free-market capitalism is the culprit, but we shouldn’t throw out capitalism over soda straws. A lot of today’s innovation comes from the free-market engine.

Plastic litter in the ocean is killing fish and threatening a major source of food. One-use plastic costs much more than is acknowledged in our free-market economy. Promoting the general welfare by fixing the plastics problem will require adjustments to the capitalist model, but businesses change too slowly unless they are pushed. That is where the government can play a role, even if it smacks of socialism.

Tweet

(preschool) The Case for Preschool Education

This essay was posted on 5/4/21.

President Biden’s new $1.8 trillion children and families plan attacks income inequality by providing better educational opportunities to the people who can’t compete in today’s free market.

Take the $200 billion Biden proposes for preschool education to all 3- and 4-year-olds. Expected income gains from pre-school programs are well established. Kids who have pre-school educational opportunities earn more than kids who don’t, and parental income is often the deciding factor. There is no question about the value of pre-school education programs.

If you think $200 billion is not affordable, remember that it is spread over 10 years. The cost is really $20 billion per year, one-half of one percent of the $4 trillion annual federal budget.

If you think pre-school education is socialism, remember that the free market has not succeeded in reaching the kids who need it the most. When capitalism doesn’t work, government can fill the vacuum, just as government has done with public education, the fire department, public transportation, and many other services not well-suited to the free-market approach.

If you think pre-school education is a luxury, remember that there are real returns on this investment. Closing the income gap can lead to less welfare, less crime, and a more stable society. Pre-school education is more than a fairness issue. It is an economic issue.

If we truly want a 21st century economy comparable to the world’s leading industrialized nations, then we need to adopt the children and families plan, and we need to come up with the money to pay for it. Just one question: Why is there so much resistance in Washington to expanding educational opportunities when that expansion can only help us be a stronger nation?

Tweet

(systemic) Racism and Bigotry

This essay was posted on 4/27/21.

Lindsey Graham wrongly claims that the election of Barack Obama and Kamala Harris proves that systemic racism doesn’t exist. Tell that to Black parents who give their children the talk about confronting the police. Racism is deeply imbedded in our society, but, ironically, Lindsey Graham is right that we can’t fix racism simply by changing the system.

Lindsey Graham is wrong about policing. The problems of public safety and police work need an overhaul. Violent crime has gone down, but drug-related deaths are an epidemic, and there is that troubling pattern of shooting unarmed citizens, especially minorities. Nevertheless, changing police systems and priorities may only achieve short-term gains. Racism goes deeper.

I won’t pretend to understand the Black family experience, but I know a little bit about bigotry and prejudice. I grew up in a small mill town in which the factory owners made it easier for Polish immigrants to come and work there. My father, of Polish descent, bought land from the factory and built our home there.

Two boys in particular, pushed me around until I pushed back. One lucky punch ended the harassment. I was different from them, and I remain so, by choice. On another occasion, a young boy told me an anti-Semitic joke that I never repeated. World War II had been over only ten years.

In both cases, I believe that the local kids learned about bigotry by watching how their parents behaved and by remembering what they said. Bigotry is learned earlier than we imagine. It is ingrained in our culture, and we can’t deny it away.

We can and should make changes to our Police Departments, but racial bigotry will persist unless we change our hearts.

Tweet

(minwage) $15 Minimum Wage

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 4/19/21.

The US would benefit by a higher minimum wage, but I am not excited about the $15 minimum wage proposal. Minimum wage is not just about economics.

For the record, the minimum wage of $7.25 is too low, if you compare how past minimum wages served a family of 4 with 2 earners.

YearMin WageIncomePoverty Level% of Poverty
1980$3.10$12,896$8,414153%
2009$7.25$30,160$22,050137%
2021$7.25$30,160$26,500114%

The minimum wage was not raised sufficiently in 2009 to provide a standard of living similar to 1980, and the situation is worse in 2021. A $10.00 minimum wage would elevate the minimum wage living standard to the 1980 level, according to the data. Arguing for a $10.00 minimum wage should be a no-brainer.

It turns out that 23 states are already over the $10.00 limit, while 20 states are at or below the $7.25 limit. The other states are in between. Each state is in a different economic place, so addressing minimum wage at the state level or at the municipal level makes sense. Except that it doesn’t provide people with a living wage across the board.

While most of the arguments for and against raising the minimum wage deal with economic and social issues, in practice, minimum wage is more political than economic. In the 2020 election, Donald Trump won 16 of the 20 states that held the line on the $7.25 minimum wage, and Joe Biden won 18 of the 23 states that have $10.00 or more. Minimum wage is a partisan issue.

The root of all politics is money, if not economics. Lower wages in Alabama can mean more business for Alabama in the same way that depressed wages in China means more business for China. Alabama makes a lot of cars, now, and a lower wage is a major factor. When Republicans fight to keep the minimum wage low, they are doing it for the big businesses that pay for their campaigns.

Making the minimum wage more equitable is easy. Just raise it to $10.00 and make annual automatic updates, based on inflation. It’s a simple, nonpartisan idea. How hard could it be?

Tweet

(hydro) Hydro Quebec

This essay was posted on 4/12/21.

The clean energy corridor through Maine has been criticized for bringing power to New England from Hydro-Quebec, a large dam generating hydropower. Big hydro-powered dams are not clean power, they say. But hydropower is more complicated than that.

The dams behind the Hydro-Quebec generators support animals and vegetation that die and rot, emitting greenhouse gases, but the dams will be emitting greenhouse gases whether or not New England buys the power. Maine’s many lakes also emit greenhouse gases for the same reasons. We don’t drain our lakes, and we shouldn’t opt out of the Hydro-Quebec deal, either.

Maine can meet its energy needs with wind turbines, according to the American Wind Energy Association, but that is not good enough. Modern electric grids need the stability and reliability of multiple electric sources. Maine needs to complement solar and wind power with nuclear and hydropower to provide alternate sources when there are failures or shutdowns.

Maine also needs enough capacity to meet a growing demand for electricity in areas not currently covered. We need more power to recharge electric cars, and to run electric heating systems like heat pumps, for example. The increased demand needs the reliable coverage of multiple electric sources.

Finally, Maine doesn’t stand alone. We are part of the New England grid, and we share New England’s responsibilities in the conversion to renewable energy. Ignoring nuclear and hydropower is too risky.

We need Hydro-Quebec in our future because we need solar and wind in our future.

Tweet

(bargain) The Infrastructure Bargain

This essay was posted on 4/6/21.

President Biden’s infrastructure proposal has garnered mostly negative comments from Republicans. Most of the comments are about the $2.3 trillion price tag. Mitch McConnell wants the proposal small enough to avoid the corporate tax hike recommended by Biden. Other Republicans say the bill addresses real needs but not with the so-called economy-killing corporate tax increase.

The $2.3 trillion price tag needs some context. Infrastructure expenditures are planned to occur over 8 years and would average $283 billion per year. The annual infrastructure price tag is less than half as big as the $600 billion annual military budget, for example. The infrastructure price tag is just 1.3% of the US annual GDP of $21.5 trillion when spread over 8 years. Even though $2.3 trillion is a lot of money, it is a bargain in the context of the US economic engine.

The corporate tax hike proposal goes from 21% to 28%, a substantial increase but a lower rate than before the Trump tax cuts. The corporate tax hike is estimated to take 15 years to pay for the infrastructure plan, so the annual financial impact of the tax hike would be considerably less than the $283 billion infrastructure price tag.

Will the Republican prediction of a failed economy occur because of Biden’s tax hike? The analysts don’t agree. While the tax hike will dampen the economy, the infrastructure projects will more than offset the tax hike with a faster growing economy and a job growth that increases by 2.6 million jobs, overall.

The infrastructure plan looks like a $2.3 trillion bargain that should raise the US up from 13th place in overall infrastructure effectiveness. The big question: Why are Republicans so scared?

Tweet

(voting) The Right to Vote

This essay was posted on 3/31/21.

Keeping voters from voting is a long tradition in American politics, and it is a bipartisan practice. In recent years, minorities of different colors and heritages have been the targets of voter suppression. Democrats have been trying to get them to the polls, while Republicans have been trying to keep minorities from voting.

Republicans during the second Bush administration closed voting locations that created long lines, and they were over-zealous in voter purges that had voters turned away from voting places because they were no longer registered.

Republicans got more creative. They required proof of citizenship. They repealed same-day voter registration, and they made it more difficult for community organizers to register voters. Voters were also tricked. They were directed to the wrong voting place or given the wrong voting date, for example. Republicans also made voter-ids mandatory in many places, and they required photo-ids.

Republican voter suppression has had mixed results in the final vote. An advantage in the electoral college has given Republicans three of the last six elections, but the popular vote has gone Democratic five to one. Now, the Republican advantage is waning as more minority voters in traditional GOP states choose Democratic candidates.

Republicans are expanding voting restrictions to include interfering with the election count and overturning results. A Georgia law allows the State Election Board to remove and replace a county board it deems necessary. An Iowa law allows the legislature to override electoral results.

All of these attacks on our right to choose a president are enough of a threat on the peoples’ right to choose the president that it makes the effort to strengthen the Voter Rights Act more important than ever.