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.

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(pence2) Mike Pence's Choice

This essay was posted on 6/23/22.

Donald Trump wanted Mike Pence to save Trump’s Presidency by breaking the rules. He wanted Mike Pence to choose alternate electors with improper certifications on the Jan 6 Electoral College count In Congress. Mike Pence had other ideas. Experts not aligned with Donald Trump advised Pence to ignore the alternate electors because they are illegal. Mike Pence had no choice, if he wanted to follow the law. At least that is what seems to be the case.

The National Archivist received alternate slates of electors from seven states. The archivist did not include the alternate slates for the Jan 6 count, but alerted State authorities, instead. Arizona and Michigan reported receiving the documents from the National Archives. The other states would have followed the same pattern.

Senator Ron Johnson’s Chief of Staff alerted the Pence team that Johnson wanted to deliver slates of electors from Wisconsin and Michigan, because they were not delivered to the National Archivist, he said. The move by Johnson’s team would have avoided the National Archives. The Pence team declined the offer.

Mike Pence was not handed any alternate slates during the Jan 6 count. Pence had no choice, because he didn’t have the opportunity to choose.

Mike Pence could have testified before the Jan 6 Committee, but he chose not to. Instead, he is busy preparing a run for the White House in 2024. I wonder, if Pence were actually given a choice on Jan 6, what would he have done?

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(giuliani) Consequences of the Big Lie

This essay was posted on 6/17/22.

Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Fox News are all accused of defaming Dominion Voting Systems, maker of the Dominion voting machines. Giuliani, Powell, and Fox News played key roles in the propaganda campaign that followed the 2020 election. Giuliani, et al tried to instill the false idea that Donald Trump actually won the election. A big part of their narrative was a series of preposterous claims that the Dominion voting machines cheated to the tune of a few million votes, and they ignore election checks and balances and the multi-party oversight of voting and counting.

The propaganda campaign failed to keep Trump in power, but the relentless attacks on the 2020 election are beginning to bear fruit. In New Mexico Republican election officers refused to certify a county election over unproven Dominion voting machines. A primary candidate in Kentucky who lost by 36 percentage points wants a recount because she wants to check the voting machines. A Nevada Gubernatorial candidate refuses to concede while trailing by 11 points and talks of claiming voter fraud if he loses.

Except for the Trump faithful, the accuracy of the Dominion machines is not a real issue. Dominion has active defamation claims against Giuliani, Powell, and Fox News. The Fox News trial is scheduled for April 2023, after the 2022 elections.

Even outlandish lies can become real when repeated often enough, and the effectiveness of propaganda methods are working very well for Trump, so well that the facts laid out in the public Jan 6 hearings might not penetrate the propaganda fog.

One last note: I can’t determine whether the three instances of voter machine paranoia are consequences of the propaganda campaign or orchestrated events designed to keep the voter machine paranoia active. Today, the truth is never clear.

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(s2992) Innovating Technology

This essay was posted on 6/9/22.

Large companies often have modest beginnings. Apple Inc. started with two techies and a new idea. Microsoft Inc. started when two techies adapted the BASIC computer language to a personal computer. These modest beginnings grew into two of the most influential companies in the tech industry today.

The American innovation and Choice Online Act (S.2992) is a bipartisan effort in Congress designed to address the tech market dominance by Microsoft, Google, Amazon and others. The bill gives small tech companies a better chance to compete against the big companies.

The tech giants must be nervous, because there is an aggressive ad campaign full of scary hypotheticals meant to frighten the average citizen and meant to provide a politically safe reason for a Senator to vote against the bill. Past history seems to indicate that the big companies already know how to maintain a grip on their market share, even when faced with difficult regulations.

In the 1990’s Microsoft Explorer was competing with Netscape for market share. In 1996, Netscape was the dominant browser. Four years later MS Explorer was the king. For some reason, Microsoft inserted some non-standard features in their version of JavaScript, a common browser language, and web developers learned these features in training sessions. Netscape used a different version of JavaScript, so web pages developed by Microsoft-trained developers often failed in Netscape. I imagine that intermittent glitches on Netscape may have soured users on the once popular browser.

Bills like S.2992 will foster some change in the tech industry, and some new innovations will be made. But in the end, the big companies will probably find a way to stay big.

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(perjury) The Michael Sussmann Case

This essay was posted on 6/1/22.

Michael Sussmann, a lawyer formerly representing Hillary Clinton, was found not guilty of a perjury charge filed by Trump-appointed Special Counsel John Durham, ending a long legal fiasco.

The story starts when Michael Sussmann reported to former FBI General Counsel James Baker that he had computer data showing a possible back-channel between the Trump campaign and Russia. Durham indicted Sussmann for perjury and included so-called factual background information about the case. Sussmann’s information did not lead to any significant finding by the FBI.

Right-wing conspiracy theorists ran with the so-called factual information in the Sussmann indictment and claimed the Clinton campaign tried to infiltrate Trump Tower. Trump ranted that the Clinton campaign tried to fabricate a link between his campaign and Russia. Trump claimed that this scandal was bigger than Watergate.

The reporting of the trial exposed the smoke and mirrors. Durham’s perjury charge was not about Trump’s alleged nefarious links. Durham only charged that Sussmann lied when he asserted that he brought the information to the FBI as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Clinton Campaign. The perjury charge had absolutely nothing to do with the supposed factual background information that Durham felt obligated to reveal.

False right-wing conspiracy theories are nothing to laugh at. Just last week I received a tweet proclaiming that the allegations against Michael Sussmann proved Trump’s innocence. Now we learn that the allegations against Sussmann prove nothing, not even Durham’s charge of perjury.

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(trail) Trail of Hate

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 5/19/22.

All of the following quotes and excerpts, with one exception, are examples of the most sinister lie, a lie that uses exaggerated facts to instill fear and induce violent behavior.

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists… People are flowing through. Drugs are coming across. Flowing across. We’ll make our borders twice as strong.”
--- Donald Trump 2016 campaign speech

"I think this will be the last election if I don't win. I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you're going to have people flowing across the border, you're going to have illegal immigrants coming in and they're going to be legalized and they're going to be able to vote and once that all happens you can forget it. You're not going to have one Republican vote. …"
--- Donald Trump, 2016 interview with David Brody

‘The Jews will not replace us.”
--- Chanted by white supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville, VA, August, 2017.

“Try to impeach [Trump]. Just try it. You will have a spasm of violence in the country. An insurrection like you've never seen. Both sides are heavily armed, my friend. Yes, absolutely. This is not 1974. These people will not stand for impeachment. A politician who votes for it would be endangering their own lives. I’m not advocating violence, but I’m predicting it.”
--- Roger Stone interview.

“The left, not only the gatekeepers on Twitter – become hysterical when you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. They’re trying to change the population of the United States. .. Our country is being invaded by the rest of the world. The country is being stolen from the American people.”
--- Tucker Carlson on Fox News, May, 2022.

To top it off, they want to grant amnesty and a path to citizenship to 8 million illegal aliens. Yes, there is definitely a replacement theory that’s going on right now. We are killing American jobs and bringing in illegal aliens from all over the world to replace the Americans who will not comply with the tyrannical orders that are coming down from the White House.
--- House Rep. Lauren Boebert, May, 2022

On 5 December, he wrote, “I will carry out an attack against the replacers, and will even livestream the attack.”
According to his messages, many of which were featured on the platform Discord, Gendron identified Buffalo’s Tops grocery store as “attack area 1” due to its proximity to a predominantly Black neighborhood. He also identified two other locations in Buffalo as places to “shoot all blacks.”
--- Payton Gendron, Buffalo shooting suspect

My father was Doctor William Pierce. He was considered the most dangerous and influential white supremacist or neo-Nazi in North America over a 30-year period. He was physically and emotion ally abusive from the time I was probably 2 years old. He was also the author of the book The Turner Diaries where a white nationalist overthrow of the US government happens. There were a lot of parallels in that book and what happened on January 6. Hate is a disease. Hate is a mental disease. It’s the product of a deluded mind. I would offer that there’s an alternative. There’s a different choice that you can make. We all have a choice.
--- Kelvin Pierce, YouTube video, Jan 4, 2022

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(ninth) The 9th Amendment

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 5/9/22.

Justice Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court draft opinion arguing for overturning Roe V Wade was leaked. While the leaked document is subject to changes, it foreshadows a historic vote and has led to protests across the country. In the end, someone’s version of the law will prevail. I can’t guess whose version that might be.

In 1973, the Supreme Court established the right to have an abortion in a 7-2 decision. The decision argued that the 14th Amendment’s protection of an individual’s right to privacy and protection against prosecution without due process made prosecution of an abortion case unconstitutional, presumably because the Texas law in question would invade individual privacy and deny due process, in the court’s opinion. The 1973 ruling was more about striking down the anti-abortion law than in creating an abortion right.

Justice Alito claims that the 14th Amendment’s statements about life, liberty, and property are too abstract to be construed as applying to the right to an abortion. Alito claims that a right not specifically identified in the Constitution must be established by historical usage and practices. He claims that abortion doesn’t qualify as a right, based on historical practices.

Alito’s claims lead to the 9th Amendment:

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

The 9th Amendment has been largely ignored, possibly because lawyers have overcomplicated it. To me, a simple, direct interpretation of the text says a lot. The amendment says that any potential right should not be denied simply because it is not specifically identified in the Constitution, and any potential right should be given the same respect as the listed rights. The denial of a right, therefore, can only be made based on the rules in the Constitution, as is the case in the 1973 decision.

Justice Alito could argue that, under the current environment with publicly accessible abortion clinics, that the privacy and due process rules no longer apply. True. But the environment would change if abortion is made a crime. Alito’s argument misses the legal points that the 9th Amendment requires.

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(nukes2) Disposing Nukes

This essay was posted on 4/29/22.

Absent a treaty, Western countries won’t step in with troops to help Ukraine defeat the Russians because nobody wants to start WW III – except Russia. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia gives the world a clear message that Russia puts expansion ahead of world peace. So, the US and its allies provide help to Ukraine in the form of military equipment. The additional equipment is making a difference, because Ukraine soldiers are inflicting heavy damages on the Russian army and are holding the line on significant Russian advances. Putin responds by threatening to inflict nuclear warheads on the Western powers.

The NATO countries helping Ukraine are in a quandary. Putin’s invasion must be defeated, but the prospects of a nuclear war make it hard to calibrate just how much help is prudent. Putin has a similar problem. Nuclear saber-rattling is not deterring Western arms suppliers, and Russian forces are stalled. Putin may need a nuclear weapon to force a victory in Ukraine. He wants to win in Ukraine, but not at the expense of having his lavish palace on the Black Sea vaporized in a nuclear retaliation. Both sides have their own catch-22.

The threat of a nuclear war makes the Ukraine war too dangerous. We must abolish nuclear weapons if we do not want another nuclear showdown in the future. The disposal effort should be managed by all nuclear powers under the control of the UN.

Disposing all nuclear weapons seems like an impossible task. There will always be trust issues and the threat of a rogue state secretly making a bomb will continue. But the Ukraine crisis shows we have no choice if we want a stable future.

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(carbon2) Declining Carbon Emissions

This essay was posted on 4/21/22.

Since 2005, carbon emissions in the US have decreased by about 12%. Since 2005, the US has decreased carbon emissions more than any other country. But achieving President Biden’s goal of 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 will require changes that the country may not be prepared to make, even though a 65% majority of Americans want a better plan from Washington.

How did we get here? 2005, at the beginning of George Bush’s second term is an interesting starting point because carbon reductions didn’t kick in until at least 2007. Since then, most of the reductions come from savings in electric generation; from renewables and mostly from windmills and from a switch from coal-fired electric generation to natural gas.

There was a big carbon emission dip in 2020 because the economy shut down over COVID, but there was a subsequent rebound in 2021. The primary reason for the bump was a shift from natural gas back to coal in electric generation, because of higher gas prices.

Now we are in a place where a significant chunk of President Biden’s carbon reduction initiative lies on the Senate floor because two Democrats sided with Republicans. Washington DC does not have a historically consistent energy policy. Carbon reduction leadership belongs to a few states.

13 states have initiated 100% clean energy policies and many municipalities and counties throughout the country have done the same. Most of the credit for US progress belongs to the states and municipalities. It is now long past the time for Washington to stop playing partisan politics with carbon emissions.

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(geese) Geese in the Spring

This essay was posted on 4/13/22.

Early this morning, I heard honking geese, a sign that spring is here and summer is coming. At first, I picked up a honk in the background noise. Just one honk, then I heard the sound of wings flapping in the air.

When I walked through the garage, I heard more honking. When I went out in the morning drizzle to pick up the paper, the honking grew louder. I looked down the street in the direction of the noise. In the distance two big birds were flapping their wings as they strutted around discussing what to do.

They saw me. The next moment, the two geese jumped into the air and flew in my direction, honking in unison, the same way they sailed through the drizzle. They flew over me, just twenty feet away and soared off and to the left in perfect formation. They shouted, “Spring is here. Spring is here.” At least it sounded like that.

Once almost extinct, Canada Geese are now abundant enough to be a problem in some parts of Canada and the US, thanks to the efforts of conservationists and government policy. When we fix the problem of too many geese, we need to do it so they stick around. Geese in the spring are too important to lose.

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(spending) The COVID Spending Package

This essay was posted on 4/5/22.

Republicans and Democrats finally reached an agreement on the COVID spending package. We need the spending package now, because current funding will run out before the pandemic runs down. I would be happier if the package were closer to the $20 Billion requested by President Biden.

The bottleneck in the COVID package was with Senate Republicans who wanted offsetting cuts to other programs as a way to keep spending under control. Initially, Democrats objected to offsetting cuts in other COVID programs.

The new $10 Billion package is entirely offset by spending cuts agreed to by both parties. I hope this passes soon, because the pandemic is still an ongoing problem. The US has experienced a steady 32,000 daily case rate for the last three weeks. Over the same period COVID-related deaths have been around 700 reported deaths each day. On an annualized basis, the current daily rates project to 11 million new cases and 250,000 deaths. The pandemic may not be in the news, but it is not over.

Republicans exaggerate fiscal problems. A small increase in debt won’t bankrupt the largest economy in the world, and the inflation problem is caused not by spending but by the pressures of COVID and the Ukraine war. Current inflation issues are widespread over many countries, including the US.

I am not advocating fiscal irresponsibility. Government expenses should more or less match income, but holding expenses down to the current income level is only one way to maintain a balance. Raising taxes is another way.

Raising taxes is anathema to Republicans. It seems that holding the line on taxes is more important to Republicans than keeping people safe from COVID.

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(nukes) The Threat of Nuclear War

This essay was posted on 3/29/22.

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy wants to stop Russian shelling of Ukraine cities with a no-fly zone, but he won’t get it until hostilities stop. There is a rule left over from the cold-war: A nuclear power never threatens another nuclear power over diplomatic disagreements, because a destructive nuclear war might start. That is why President Biden and other European powers are helping Ukraine with military supplies but not with military intervention.

By avoiding direct military intervention, the major powers are letting the Russian military make deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets. As a result, Ukraine cities have been flattened, and over 100,000 civilians are trapped in Mariupol without food, water, or electricity. The attacks on civilians in Ukraine are war crimes, according to modern international agreements.

Ukraine is not the first example of criminal violations by the Russian military. Chechnya, Georgia, and Syria all experienced indiscriminate attacks on civilians by the Russian military, and the Russians got away with it. The same kind of attacks in Ukraine are not surprising.

Meanwhile, there is an ongoing effort to make Iran stop its development of nuclear weapons. We have tried, without success, to stop North Korea’s nuclear program as well. If there is urgency to stop Iran and North Korea, why is there no urgency to remove nuclear weapons from Israel or India or Pakistan or the United Kingdom or France or China or the United States or Russia?

After Putin’s flagrant disregard for international law and the rights of individuals, we can no longer assume that a nuclear power will always be responsible. The hard part will be figuring out how to get rid of all the nukes.

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(jackson) Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 3/23/22.

Senate hearings on the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for Supreme Court Justice have started, but Republican Josh Hawley is stirring the waters over politics.

Josh Hawley falsely claims that Jackson is soft on sex offenders, and his allegations are echoed on social media enough to know that Hawley is trumpeting the Republican talking point of the day. But the attacks against Jackson lack context and depth.

For one, Hawley fails to point out that Jackson favors lower sentences for nonviolent sex offenders of her peers, IE, working judges. Nonviolent sex offenders are people who look at and are obsessed with banned pornography. These are people who look at porn pictures or watch porn flicks. The incidents of nonviolent sex offenders acting on their impulses and raping a child are extremely rare.

Hawley’s argument is based on mandatory sentencing guidelines issued by Congress. The mandatory nature of the mandatory guidelines was rejected by a Supreme Court ruling, because judges should consider all factors in a case before sentencing a defendant. The Congressional guidelines referenced by Hawley are, in effect, irrelevant.

Unlike many of the current Supreme Court Justices, labeling Jackson as a strong liberal is difficult. For example, Jackson opposed liberal groups in favor of Donald Trump more than once. Jackson has shown that she keeps her political views separated from her legal opinions, as she should.

Why, then, is Hawley using a questionable talking point against a judge who very well might be more centrist than the current liberal minority on the Supreme Court? The answer could be about politics. If Jackson is portrayed as being soft in sex offenders, then it will be harder to confirm Jackson when Republican Senators, fearing a voter backlash, are reluctant to support her.

As I write this, I don’t know if Jackson will get the confirmation she deserves, but I do know that Jackson does not deserve Hawley’s dishonest attacks.

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(road) The Road to Ukraine

This essay was posted on 3/16/22.

The road to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a circuitous one that started in 1991 when Ukrainian voters chose to separate from Russia and form their own government. The Ukraine problem festered when a slew of Eastern European countries joined NATO starting with Poland in 1999. The inclusion of the strategic Baltic states in 2004 must have irked Putin. He longed for the old Soviet Union,

Putin’s military adventures started with the takeover of former Soviet Republics of Chechnya and Georgia. The Russian Army performed poorly in both wars, and both countries remained independent. But Russia got what it wanted, because both governments have close ties to Russia and, by extension, to Putin.

Putin has had puppet governments in Ukraine, but the puppets have been overthrown each time by public revolts. So, Putin concentrated on rebuilding his army, and he found a way to take Crimea while the Western powers watched.

Russian intervention in the Eastern provinces of Ukraine must have touched a nerve in Kyiv. In 2019, Ukraine added to its Constitution that Ukraine’s goal is to join NATO and the EU. If Putin wanted to fulfill his ambition to restore the territory and influence of the Soviet Union, he would need to stop Ukraine. We see in the shattered streets of Mariupol what Putin will do to keep Ukraine under the Russian tent.

I don’t know a lot about Ukraine and Putin’s war, but I am absolutely sure that a successful Russian outcome will not end Putin’s expansionist dream.

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(ukraine3) The Ukraine War

This essay was posted on 3/9/22.

From the day he became Prime Minister of Russia in 1999, Vladimir Putin’s goal is restoring the territory and power of the former Soviet Union. His latest adventure is the absorption of the Ukraine into the new Russian empire. He first nibbled at Crimea. Then he nibbled at Ukraine’s Eastern provinces. Now he attacks the whole of Ukraine.

Ukraine has put up a much stiffer resistance than expected, and most of the world is united against Russia. Sanctions are affecting the Russian economy, and military assistance in the form of weapons and bullets have kept Ukraine in the fight -- for now.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly asked the Western allies to establish a no-fly zone that would stop the bombing of civilian areas, but Zelenskyy would take jets, instead. Poland has offered jets, if they fly out of Germany. The Europeans fear a retaliation from Putin that could escalate the current war. Right now, Ukraine is not getting either.

President Biden must somehow keep Ukraine equipped well enough to prevail. If Ukraine falls to Russian pressure, Putin will act sooner than later. I expect to see Russian troops amassing around the borders of the Baltic States. Putin needs more access for his navy. The Baltic states joined NATO and the EU, so an attack on them would inevitably lead to an epic confrontation between Russia and Europe. And the US.

To win this war, Biden may need to challenge Putin with more than Stinger and Javelin missiles to stop Putin’s takeover of Ukraine. He may need to give Ukraine the jets they need, even if they fly out of Germany. We must realize that starting World War III is solely Putin’s decision to make, and Russian success in Ukraine will likely make the decision for him.

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(mainecdc) Governing Facts

This essay was posted on 2/28/22.

The data cited in this article is based on daily reporting of cases by Maine CDC and worldometers.info.

A primary goal of governing should be to get your numbers right. The root causes of the following tale are less important than the outcomes.

The Maine CDC bureau has been candid about COVID data from the beginning, so I felt comfortable when the Omicron variant started to take off, because CDC reports in Maine held steady at around 900 new cases per day from mid-December until mid-February. The 900 per day case average was high for Maine but not even close to the National figures.

During the same period, National numbers averaged 118,000 cases per day until it peaked at 850,000 cases per day in mid-January. National numbers have been dropping ever since.

Maine has gone in the opposite direction, because of a 46,000-case backlog reported in late January. Since the announcement, average new-case reports in Maine have jumped to as high as an average 3700 cases per day.

What are the consequences? From mid-Dec until late January, Maine CDC apparently under-reported cases and therefore understated the risks in Maine. In February, however, Maine CDC played catch-up and over-reported new cases, even though many of the reported cases were from recovered patients. During February Maine CDC overstated the risks while actual new-case numbers were declining in line with national averages.

The last consequence is the most important. Maine CDC’s untimely reporting confused me and probably many others. The public trust in the CDC is at risk, hopefully not so much that future announcements from the CDC would be ignored.

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(birds) Fixing Air Pollution

This essay was posted on 2/21/22 and appeared in the Portland Press Herald on 2/23/22.

Like the birds who breathe poisoned air, too many people die each year world-wide from bad air. The World Health Organization estimates that over 7 million die from bad air. And over 4 million die from the air outside their homes, from air that is not under their control.

Conditions are improving in the US, according to Environmental Science & Technology Letters (ESTL) as the quality of the air around us improves. Still, over 100,000 pollution-related deaths occur every year in the US. The primary pollutant causing the most deaths is fine particulate matter created from humans. What can we do about it?

First, identify the sources. ESTL identifies 5 key activities that contribute to pollution: electric generation, passenger cars, industrial boilers/internal combustion engines, residential cooking, and livestock rearing. ESTL also identifies 3 key processes that contribute to pollution: diesel, gasoline, and coal combustion.

Second, change the way we do pollution-making activities. We can reduce pollution if we switch to renewable sources of energy, electrify our cars, switch to electric motors for industrial uses, and eat less beef.

Third, get feedback. As US mortality rates have dropped, so has the use of coal in energy production. The correspondence between the two declining rates at least corroborates the claim that burning coal is bad for health.

If we end our love affair with coal and oil as a source of heat, we will do more than save the polar bears. We will also save the birds, and maybe save ourselves.

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(jan6-3) Legitimate Political Discourse

This essay was posted on 2/13/22.

The idea that Jan 6 was a peaceful demonstration gone wrong is completely absurd. It is beyond debate. The riot videos, the speeches, the shouts to hang Mike Pence, the stop the steal motto, Donald Trump’s admission that Mike Pence should have overturned the election all point to a conspiracy around the Jan 6 failed insurrection. And the John Eastman memo outlining numerous ways that Trump could overturn the 2020 election is also an outline for sedition. Nevertheless, the Republican Party’s official stance is to call Jan 6 events “legitimate political discourse.” Why would they say that?

The polling for and against the Jan 6 planners and attackers has gone up and down with the shifting rhetoric. According to a CBS poll/You.gov poll, 76% said it was a protest that went too far, 63% said it was an attempt to overthrow the election, 55% called it an insurrection, and only 28% called it defending freedom. This was a multiple-choice survey.

Republicans are caught between a Trump and a hard place. If they support Trump’s claims of a stolen election, they will disenchant 60% of the voters. If they acknowledge the Jan 6 failed insurrection for what it is, they will certainly receive Trump’s wrath and probably lose in the primaries.

Republicans have found a clever, if dishonest alternative; legitimate political discourse. The implication that the election was stolen will not be uttered unless it is by Trump to the faithful. Republicans hope that the voters will forget about the broken windows, stolen laptops, bashed heads, the gallows, and lost lives by election day.

The Democrats need to keep the Jan 6 failed insurrection front and center, so no one forgets.

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(takei) George Takei’s Book

This essay was posted on 2/3/22.

A Pennsylvania school board considered banning a lot of books recently, including I am Not Your Negro about the writer James Baldwin, Fry Bread: A Native American Story, Malala’s Magic Pencil, and They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (rhymes with okay).

Many school board members supported banning the books at the first meeting with the following views: The local Diversity Committee was trying to teach children they are racist. There is no racism problem. They weren’t rejecting diversity. They were rejecting one-sided stories about diversity. These books would create division and make White children feel bad about themselves.

The issue was tabled, but the controversy didn’t die. About 200 students and their parents protested against banning the books. Their protest paved the way for the school board decision not to ban these books.

I learned of this incident while reading a Tweet from George Takei. He cited the attempt to ban his book and urged everyone to read it. So, I did.

The graphic novel They Called Us Enemy tells the story of how 120,000 Japanese-American were sent to internment camps through the eyes of a child and his family. During World War II, the government confiscated their homes and livelihoods, and the families were herded into military-style camps with barbed wire fences and armed guards. The only discernable reason: The families were of Japanese origin.

On one side, the individual rights of the internees were severely violated. Many, including George Takei, carried emotional scars long after the internship.

Then again, it was wartime, and extreme measures were called for. But to fully appreciate this time in the American experiment, you need to appreciate the other side by reading George Takei’s memoir.

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(motive) Voter Rights

This essay was posted on 1/25/22.

Republicans have been predictably consistent about the voter rights bill. Mitch McConnell claimed that states are not engaging in voter suppression. He reminds us of the high turnout on 2020 as evidence that the US voters have nothing to worry about. Susan Collins echoed McConnell’s words about the 2020 election in her praises for the way elections are managed in the US. Their words assured Democrat Joe Manchin who said the government will always protect your right to vote. President Biden would call this all malarkey, and he would be right.

In 2021, 19 states passed restrictive laws designed to make it harder for people to vote, So the election universe today makes voting more difficult than in 2020. Don’t count on help from the DOJ. Ever since the 2013 Supreme Court decision to remove federal oversight of state election laws, it has become harder for the DOJ to protect the individual right to vote. Don’t count on Joe Manchin’s assertion that the government will protect you.

The Republican motive behind its opposition to the Voter Rights Bills was expressed by Party leader Donald Trump when he said on Fox News that Republicans will never be elected again, if it passes. In this statement Trump acknowledges that his party’s agenda is not popular with a majority of voters even in Republican states. The traditional path to winning elections is to change your platform, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Republicans.

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(pence) Forged Electoral Votes

This essay was posted on 1/17/22.

Michigan AG Dana Nessel referred to Federal Prosecutors the case involving Republican politicians who forged a document declaring Donald Trump the Michigan winner in the 2020 election. The forgery case is old news. It was covered in December, 2021 when Electoral College voting was taking place. Nessel’s investigation in Michigan fills in the gaps. Nessel says she may file charges.

The Republicans were rebuffed at the entrance to the Michigan Senate Chambers, because the authorized Electoral College vote was taking place. Nevertheless, the Republicans voted for Donald Trump. They compiled and signed a document that looked official enough. And they sent it to Washington. Six other states carried out similar forgeries.

An official from the National Archives in Washington alerted Michigan officials of the forged documents. They said the documents were invalid, because they were not signed by the Michigan Governor.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump ordered Mike Pence to choose the slate of electors voting for Trump over those voting for Biden, and thereby throw the Electoral Vote count into turmoil. With former VP Dan Quayle’s guidance, Pence played by the established rules and chose the Biden slates.

There is only one problem. The National Archives were clearly aware that these Trump slates were forgeries, so they would not have provided them for the Congressional tally on Jan 6. In reality, Mike Pence did not need to wrestle with his conscience.

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(choice) Choosing Election Reform

This essay was posted on 1/9/22.

I asked my best friend: What is more important, passing election reform bills or fixing global warming? Both items are super critical right now. The big lie still flourishes among the conservative minority, and Republicans are passing voter suppression laws and voter subversion laws that remind me of the dictatorships in Kazakhstan and Russia where the same party always overwhelmingly wins elections.

Meanwhile, a large chunk of Antarctica as big as the state of Florida is about to break off and raise the sea level by as much as 10 feet. The pace of global warming is speeding up enough to give everyone a chill down their spine.

After a short pause, my best friend said, “Election reform. Without election reform, we can’t fix global warming.”

My friend is right. Without election reform, it will be easier for Republicans to regain power and rule with a minority President. Important issues like the switch to renewables will be slowed down or postponed when they should be accelerated. Election reform is necessary before everything else.

It makes me wonder in hindsight why so much effort was spent on the Build Back Better Bill when its implementation depends on a reform-friendly government. Only at the last hour did I realize, with some coaching, the full importance of election reform. And I was not alone.

So I ask the question: Why do we always wait until the last minute before we fix the most critical things?

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(science) Following the Science

This essay was posted on 12/31/21.

I cringe when a politician claims to follow the science when making a claim. I wonder what the politician is hiding.

The politician obviously doesn’t realize how undependable the science can be. Science is a good starting point for technological advancement until it doesn’t work. Isaak Newton’s physics is a good example. It helped us build the industrial age. It helped us build steel buildings. It helped us build motorized cars. But Newton’s physics fail when it comes to the modern GPS system that relies on satellites for determining a location. Clocks on the GPS satellites run a little faster than earth clocks, contrary to Newton’s assumption that time is a universal constant. Newton’s physics yield incorrect results, so the GPS developers use Einstein’s general theory of relativity to make the proper adjustment.

In the GPS example, Newton’s science makes a prediction that contradicts the observable data, so the developers use Einstein’s science to resolve the contradiction. The key factor was not the science. It is the evidence.

Science is just a model that predicts outcomes in nature. We expect the model to work, because it worked before and before again. When the model fails, we adjust it until it works.

A politician can say: “I looked at the scientific evidence, and the evidence shows that COVID vaccinations are safe and they save lives. But a COVID shot is not effective forever, so be sure to get your booster shot when you need one.”

Politicians should defend their claims with evidence and leave the science to the scientists.

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(straw) The Trouble with Straws

This essay was posted on 12/20/21.

A single plastic straw is not a big deal, unless you factor in the millions of straws used each day in the US. It makes me feel good when I turn down the plastic straw that I don’t really need, but I am kidding myself. The millions of straws used minus a few straws is still a big number. And plastic straws are only one of many single-use plastic items that end up in our landfills and our oceans each year. The problem is finding a solution that works.

Recycling could help, but only 9% of consumed plastic is recycled. Even though plastic straws contain recyclable plastic, the recyclers don’t want them because the straws clog up their sorting machines. Until we only consume plastic that won’t plug up sorting machines, recycling will remain an unattainable goal.

Cleaning up the oceans could help, but we consume far more plastic than we pull out of the oceans. By the time we get a handle on the ocean problem, the fish will all be dead or too contaminated to eat.

We could put a disposal tax on plastic straws. The tax would need to be about 2 cents a straw to make paper straws competitive. I don’t know how a disposal tax could be enforced.

If we want to see any significant change, it will need to come from ourselves. If one person, stops using plastic straws, nothing will change. If a million people stop using plastic straws, it will make a small dent. If a 100 million people stop using plastic straws, then we could start seeing real changes.

Join me and others and stop using plastic straws. It might make a difference.

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(cavuto) The Politics of COVID

This essay was posted on 12/12/21.

The first phase of the COVID pandemic lasted about a year in the US, when COVID was mediated with shutdowns and mask requirements. We learned to watch football in empty stadiums. The actual effectiveness of the shutdowns and mask-wearing is debatable. Maybe the pandemic would have been worse without the shutdowns, but it was still pretty bad.

President Biden ushered in the current phase of the pandemic when he announced that government efforts will depend on more vaccinations, anti-viral medications, and better access to testing. COVID is not cooperating as daily case rates rise and daily death rates refuse to diminish.

A large minority of Americans continue to avoid vaccinations even in the face of studies based on actual COVID case data showing that being vaccinated is safer than remaining unvaccinated. Unvaccinated people are 33 times more likely to be in an ICU. Unvaccinated people are 40 times more likely to die from COVID. And unvaccinated people had more non-COVID deaths than vaccinated people.

The COVID pandemic will not be resolved by blaming the unvaccinated, but it might help to understand the source of their fears. One source of negative information are political leaders who present false choices between liberty and safety. Another source of negative information are conservative news outlets that often portray false medical claims as true.

All of this partisanship surrounding COVID makes Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto’s very personal statement quite remarkable. Cavuto is fully vaccinated, and he contracted COVID. Nevertheless, he credited the vaccinations for saving his life. He also urged his viewers to forget about the problem of mandates and get vaccinated. Because of his statement encouraging vaccinations, Cavuto received death threats.

No wonder COVID thrives.

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(vigilante) Vigilante Justice

This essay was posted on 12/2/21.

I will never mistake opinion writer Kathleen Parker for a Democrat, but she makes some very good points about the current vigilante culture that seems to be growing mostly in the South. She just doesn’t go far enough.

Parker doesn’t distinguish people who carry guns routinely to the grocery store as easily as they would carry guns to a rally from people who carry guns as adjuncts to the police department. Kyle Rittenhouse said he went to Kenosha Wisconsin to protect property. Three Georgia men shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery because he looked suspicious. A few years ago, George Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was conducting a neighborhood watch at the time.

The justification for each of the three shootings was uncertain enough to warrant a trial. In two cases, an innocent verdict was made because the jury was convinced that the shooter was defending himself. In the other case, the shooters were found guilty, because their claim of self-defense was unconvincing.

The three cases have a lot in common. The vigilantes were armed. The vigilantes were not trained. The vigilantes did not strictly follow common police procedures. The three incidents all ended in one or more fatalities. Each state had laws authorizing a citizen’s arrest with guidelines for the use of lethal force.

The vigilante laws that permit untrained people to act in place of police without supervision must carry as much as or more responsibility for the lives lost than the people who pulled the trigger. Georgia repealed its citizen arrest law after the Arbery killing. Other states should follow Georgia’s example.

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(civilwar) The Bloodless Civil War

This essay was posted on 11/22/21.

A civil war is going on in Washington, and it is led by Donald Trump and Trump loyalists. Trump wants to retake the White House with a one-plank platform based on Trump’s unsupported claim that he actually won in 2020. If it were only that simple.

Trump’s campaign is already under way, and it is unlike any other. First, Trump convinced 12 Republican governors to sabotage COVID relief by demonizing vaccinations. In Trump’s plan, President Biden must not have any success, even if it means more Republican casualties from COVID.

Second, Trump relentlessly purges the Republican Party of Trump dissenters from the Washington inner circle to State governments all the way down to municipal boards. Washington dissenters like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are being pushed aside because they voted for Trump’s impeachment. Trump is trying to force out Republican governors like Kay Ivey in Alabama over a cancelled Trump rally and Mike Dewine in Ohio over Dewine’s recognition of Biden’s Presidential victory. Republicans showing the slightest disloyalty to Trump should watch their backs.

Third, Trump is changing election rules in Republican controlled swing states to ‘fix’ 2020 laws that prevented Trump from overturning election results.

Republicans, led by Donald Trump, are playing hardball as they try to override the popular vote in the 2024 elections. Many of their strategies have the odor of authoritarianism because they are designed to override popular votes in favor of electing Trump.

President Biden’s strategy to seek bipartisan solutions is right-minded, but we aren’t yet ready for cooperative government. First, we must curtail Republican efforts to establish Trumpian authoritarianism in 2024.

For starters, Democrats need to be more vigorous in the prosecution of the Jan 6 instigators, including Donald Trump.

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(eastman) The Eastman Memo

This essay was posted on 11/14/21.

Constitutional lawyer John Eastman wrote a memo describing how Donald Trump could return to the White House even though Trump lost the election, fair and square. The big question: Was this roadmap more than hypothetical?

The memo directs the presiding officer, Mike Pence to acknowledge multiple slates of electors from the swing states and then put the ‘disputed’ slates aside. In the 7 swing states going for Joe Biden, Republicans created an alternate slate of electors that voted for Trump. It is not clear if these alternate slates made it to Mike Pence’s hands.

After the counting, the memo directs Mike Pence to follow the 12th Amendment and ignore the disputed states. Based on the electoral count without the disputed states, Trump would win.

If Democrats object, Pence would order the disputed election to be turned over to the House of Representatives, which resolves disputed elections by giving each state one vote. Republicans have majorities in 26 states, so Trump would be the winner.

If the Electoral Count Act is followed, the disputed states would be decided in separate chambers. The memo directs Senate Republicans to filibuster the session and force a stalemate. Again, the House would decide for Trump.

When Mike Pence did not follow the Eastman script, Plan-B went into effect. Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and stalled the counting process. The attackers never found Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi, so the riot failed and electoral counting resumed.

The Eastman memo has a nagging problem. It only makes sense if the Electoral Counting Act is ruled unconstitutional. On Jan 6, the Electoral Counting Act was still in effect. The Supreme Court must rule the Electoral Counting Act unconstitutional, for the plan to succeed. Were Supreme Court Justices in on the Eastman plan from the beginning?

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(equilibrium) Living with COVID

This essay was posted on 11/8/21.

The COVID pandemic has been stubborn over the past month. In the US the overall daily new case rate has been holding steady at about 72,000 new cases a day, and COVID deaths have held at about 1250 deaths per day. It is as if we are at an equilibrium point where new COVID cases are not offset by the current level of mask wearing, social-distancing, and daily COVID vaccinations. I wish it were that simple.

After 6 months, it appears that the three major vaccines are becoming about half as effective as in the initial period after vaccination. While the vaccines are still fairly effective at keeping people out of the hospitals and maintaining a higher level of recovery, the effectiveness at preventing hospitalization and death is lower after 6 months. In addition to relaxing behavior, the long-term reduced effectiveness of the vaccines is a factor in the persistence of COVID.

It looks very much like COVID is becoming an endemic disease like HIV or the flu. The level of new cases and subsequent deaths will be up to all of us based on how we act and how many medical breakthroughs our scientists achieve. For now, we can reduce the number of cases through vaccinations and annual or semiannual booster shots, if the population is willing, and we can reduce the severity of each case with anti-viral medication.

It is long past the time for us to put politics aside and collectively figure out how we will deal with COVID now and for many years in the future.

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(coup) The Slow-Walking Coup

This essay was posted on 10/29/21.

Republicans are cleaning house in State governments. Election officials who fail the Trump loyalty test and are being replaced by workers who are willing to bend the rules for Trump and Republican Party. This is happening in Texas and other red states turning blue, but that is not the whole story.

Republicans are passing new election laws in battleground states that will restrict access to voting, but the laws also form the basis for attacking elections that Republicans don’t win. Georgia is a good example. Georgia’s new law doesn’t just restrict access. It makes some voter assistance activities illegal. Giving a water bottle to a voter waiting in line is illegal. Voter assistance by nonprofits is illegal. The Georgia law discourages voters, and it also makes it easier to question the legality of ballots. Donald Trump made the concept of challenging any election you lose acceptable so far, and Republican state legislatures are now enshrining the Trump model in law.

We now have Donald Trump and most of the Republican Party conspiring to make sure there is a Republican President in 2025, regardless of the actual winner in 2024. Republicans are slow-walking their version of the Jan 6 insurrection by legal means.

There is a simple legal way of putting an end to Republican shenanigans: Kill the filibuster and pass the voter rights legislation that the Republicans have bottled up in the Senate. The voter rights legislation will reverse much of the damage done by Republicans at the state level. Democrats need to act fast, because time is short.

And don’t worry about the long-term consequences of killing the filibuster. If the current batch of Republicans take over, their first act will be to kill the filibuster anyway.