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 all follow the 300 word limit.


(security) White House Security

This essay was posted on 2/14/17.

The Rob Porter scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. Sure, being custodian to many of the countryís most important secrets is a big deal, and Chief of Staff John Kelly should have done a better job of managing the situation. Rob Porter should not have remained on the job so long. But that is not the end of the story.

Donald Trumpís son in law and close adviser Jared Kushner also does not have full security clearance. The reasons for failing to give Kushner a clean bill of health are not clear, but there are a lot of possible reasons. For starters, Kushner has had suspicious contacts with Russians including an attempt to set up a secret back channel to Russia and a meeting with a Russian banker closely associated with Vladimir Putin. For some very real reason, Kushner is in the same boat as Porter. He is a legitimate blackmail target and has no business in the White House inner circle. But that is not the end of the story either.

Thirty to 40 White House staffers are handling secret documents without proper security clearance. With this many security risks, it is highly likely that someone ensconced in a White House job is shuffling secret documents to the Russians already. But again, that is not the end of the story.

What about the President? Trump has more allegations of sexual improprieties against him than I have fingers. There are allegations of money laundering through Trump apartment buildings. And there are business deals with Russians close to Putin. If Trump were vying for a job in the White House, he would probably not get full security clearance. That is the elephant in the room.


(russianleak) Russian Leaks

This essay was posted on 2/7/17.

The Russians have behaved in puzzling ways in their dealings with Donald Trump or Trumpís inner circle.

Take Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has close ties to the Russian government. She is willing to testify, according to a Bloomberg interview, that the Trump Tower meeting was set up to pass Ďdamaging informationí about Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign. Why would the Kremlin let Veselnitskaya snitch on Donald Trump, Junior?

Then there is the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He reported to Moscow that Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn wanted to set up a secret back channel to the Kremlin to shield pre-inauguration discussions, according to US intercepts. Why would a veteran diplomat throw members of Trumpís inner circle under the bus on a line that was bugged by US Intel?

Donít forget head of Russian Foreign Intelligence, Sergey Naryshkin, who has been sanctioned and banned from entering the US. Naryshkin and Russian spy chief Alexander Bortnikov flew to the US and met secretly with CIA director Mike Pompeo on or about January 23. On January 30, the Moscow embassy announced the meeting with a tweet, which alerted US media outlets of the meeting. Why would the Russian government and Russian-controlled news outlets announce a meeting that Trump tried to hide?

The motives behind these Russian leaks are unclear. They might be understood better if we knew what Vladimir Putin and Trump discuss at their frequent private conversations. Until then, I am left with the nagging feeling that Putin is sending Trump the message: Why donít you get rid of those pesky sanctions.


(sanctions) Donald Trump's Sanctions Problem

This essay was sent to members of Congress and posted on 1/31/17.

In July of 2017 and by a combined vote of 517-5, the US Congress overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation calling for new sanctions on Russia as a reaction to Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, but President Trumpís response has been missing in action.

Trump let the sanction deadline pass without implementing them. He said, unconvincingly, that the legislation by itself was deterrent enough, so there is no need to issue the new sanctions.

Trump is wrong. Russians continue to meddle in our politics and future meddling in our elections is inevitable unless the US acts forcefully. Failure to issue the new sanctions is a sign of weakness that we cannot afford.

The failure to implement the sanctions is a strong indication that Trump has unhealthy conflicts with Russia, and the conflicts are interfering with his ability to carry out his duties to an extent that is impeachable. Forget about collusion and obstruction of justice. Trumpís continued inaction is unacceptable.

If the threat of sanctions can cower Russia as Trump seems to indicate, then surely the threat of impeachment can make Trump act Presidential at least once.


(russia) The Real Russia Problem

This essay was posted on 1/24/17.

The number of allegations surrounding Donald Trump is growing and becoming a growing concern. The allegations include laundering money for people connected to the Russian government, helping the Russian campaign against Hillary Clinton, and obstructing justice. All of these allegations suggest that Trump has something to hide and could be easily influenced. By now Robert Mueller probably knows whether Trump is vulnerable, and others could know as well.

The person that shows up in the news is Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump and Putin have a cozy relationship that seems to border on a bromance. Trump canít say a bad word about Putin. Trump is in a state of denial about Russian tampering and has not lifted a finger to prepare for this fallís off-year elections. Then there are those sanctions. Trump canít come to grips with the idea of sanctioning Russia. While no one is charging Trump with anything, his actions toward Putin are a problem.

Vladimir Putin is not the only person who could profit from Trumpís allegedly spotty past. A group of Washington insiders could potentially do more damage than Putin, because they could influence Trump every day, and they could potentially jam a destructive, self-serving agenda through Congress. Someone inside the beltway pulling Trumpís strings could act invisibly with virtual immunity.

When I see the Washington scene evolving, I remember the clever construction of our government with its explicit separation of powers and built in checks and balances. Our government is strong, isnít it? Then I wonder why all those Republican members of Congress try so hard to protect Trump.


(racism) Donald Trump's Racism Problem

This essay was posted on 1/17/17.

Donald Trump calls himself the least racist person you will ever meet, but he continues to use racially charged words and actions that stir up emotions in his followers and in the targets of his abusive attacks. Last week Trump cited Ďshitholeí countries in Africa and the Caribbean, according to Senator Durbin, and ignited angry responses all the way from Africaís Republic of Ghana to Haiti in the Caribbean.

Trump may not be a racist in the same way as the racism of the American Nazi Party, whose racism is built on hate and fear, but his long, well-documented history of race-baiting remarks and actions tells a different story.

Trumpís form of racism has a darker side. He uses racism to further his self-interest. Trump prevented black apartment seekers from renting in his buildings to mollify his white tenants. Trump smeared a Mohawk Tribe to prevent them from opening a competing casino. Trump questioned Barack Obamaís citizenship to set the stage for his entry into politics. Trump characterized Mexicans as drug dealers, criminals, and rapists to set the stage for his presidential campaign. Now he disparages a whole continent of people to justify killing the DACA bill.

As President, Trumpís inherent racism is more dangerous than the racism of the American Nazi Party because it diminishes Americaís influence in the world. Trumpís racism disrespects the office he holds and disrespects the Constitution he has sworn to uphold. Trumpís racism disrespects every single American including each and every one of his most loyal followers.


(voteridlaw) The Voter ID Problem

This essay was sent to Maine State Legislators and posted on 1/9/17.

I urge you to reject Governor LePageís call to renew voter ID laws in Maine because there is little or no evidence of voter fraud in Maine or the US, voter ID laws are not designed to prevent many of the rare, documented cases of voter fraud, and voter ID laws discriminate against elderly voters, young voters, and minority voters.

Washington Post writer Scott Thistle found only 31 cases of voter fraud in 1 billion votes cast in recent years. Even so, voter ID laws are not reliable at preventing voter fraud. For example, Wisconsinís voter ID law would not have prevented a specific case of voter fraud, according to a Wisconsin court.

Instead of trying to solve a non-problem, the State of Maine should investigate our vulnerability to being hacked. The problem is real. The electronic evidence is conclusive. Attempts to hack and alter voter registration files occurred in many states. A hacking expert claimed that he accessed a voter registration file and modified data. He said that he restored the data before he exited. Russians continue to spread fake news items on the web. And they will be back at our voter files more prepared than in 2016.

Our voting systems should have paper backup and our voting machines should be isolated from web access. Electronic voter registration files should also be protected from unauthorized access and manipulation.

The State should take the lead now that little help will come from Washington this year. It will be almost impossible to recover voter confidence in our elections if we leave ourselves open to an attack. Protect the voting booth and the voter and say no to Governor LePageís voter ID law.


(1styear) The Collusion Problem

This essay was posted on 1/5/17.

President Trumpís actions in his first year of office are proving the prescience of Barack Obamaís criticism that Trump is uniquely unqualified. A partial list of Trumpís questionable activities:

I believe that Trump colluded with Russia either directly or through proxies, and Trump is trying to obstruct the Mueller investigation. There is too much circumstantial information. Members of Trumpís inner circle should not forget all 19 Russian government operatives they met last year, for example. These impeachable offenses do not make the list because Congress is preoccupied with collusion and obstruction and ignoring impeachable offenses that pose a much more immediate danger to the US.

Congressional Republicans are hanging onto Trump, apparently because he supports their conservative agenda, and they are under the misguided belief that they can control Trump. This strategy has a history of disastrous results.

Democrats are in a corner with no allies, except a public willing to take the streets, but the public needs more direction. So far, the public forum and Congressional Democrats do not appear organized as well as they could be.

There is a madness in Washington today, and the madness does not end with the White House.


(bynum) Issues Oriented Politics

This essay was posted on 12/29/17.

The 2018 congressional elections will soon dominate the news cycles, and one question remains. Will Congress become blue or stay red? A lot depends on the Democratic strategy. Will the Democrats attack the issues or will they attack Trump? The answer may dictate the outcome of the election and the possible outcome of the Trump Presidency.

Tulsa Oklahoma mayor G.T. Bynum may have the answer. The Republican upstart defeated the Republican incumbent by 17 points by appealing to the issues while his opponent used a standard partisan campaign that included a series of ads that attacked Bynumís character.

Bynumís winning strategy stuck to the issues important to Tulsa voters. Bynumís issues were not typical Republican issues. They focused on civic needs such as raising per capita income and raising Tulsaís population. Bynumís nonpartisan strategy attracted Republicans and Democrats. In Bynumís words he replaced partisanship with policy.

President Trumpís 39% approval rating, according to Real Clear Politics, is low enough that he appears to be an easy target in the 2018 election. Hillary Clintonís lack of success even with the help of Barack Obama and Joe Biden suggests that there might be a better way.

Modeling a campaign strategy after Bynumís successful one could be a good answer for Democrats. The issues seem to favor the Democrats. Polls indicate that voters want more healthcare coverage; not less, and they want to preserve Medicare, for example. Democrats can build campaigns around these and other issues and ignore the elephant in the room.

Partisanship peaked in 2016, but too many politicians still donít know it. Bynumís experience suggests that voters donít want the same old partisan politics. They are ready for some real change. Politicians who start asking the right questions will ultimately succeed. The rest will ultimately fail.


(3hurricanes) Three Hurricanes

This essay was posted on 12/19/17.

Three massive hurricanes hit the United States this year causing devastation in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and the surrounding area about the size of the State of Maine. Little progress has been made in the last three months. Too many people remain homeless, and many of them may never return to the Houston area.

Hurricane Irma struck Puerto Rico, whipped through the Florida Keys and continued along Floridaís West coast. Canals in the Florida Keys are still littered with wreckage after three months.

Puerto Rico is still trying to recover from Hurricane Maria. The devastation is so great and the recovery is so slow, that accounting for all of the dead is virtually impossible. After three months, over 30% of all Puerto Ricans are still without power; according to MSNBC journalist Chris Hayes.

The US was hit by three storms of the century in one year. While the federal government response varied in the three storms, the one consistent pattern was an inability for the government to do its job, and governmentís lack of responsiveness in Puerto Rico is particularly noteworthy.

President Trump is slow to spend money on hurricane relief. His tax reform bill calls for massive tax cuts, so he doesnít want to compromise the passage of the tax bill with a huge, hurricane relief expenditure.

Then there is the global warming issue. Trump says global warming is a hoax. He wonít acknowledge the plain fact that these storms are the most destructive storms in many years, and he wonít acknowledge the expectation that massive storms will happen routinely. To ameliorate Trump, the storm victims will just have to wait.


(catalyst) Importance of Dodd-Frank

This essay was posted on 12/12/17.

The catalysts for the last two great economic disasters were two kinds of speculation, and they involved a lack of banking oversight.

A stock market bubble triggered the great depression in 1929. The stock market bubble was fueled by the dubious practice of buying stocks on borrowed money. Too many luckless investors did this. When the market peaked, all of those loans became worthless, and banks were not prepared.

A housing bubble triggered the great recession in 2008. The housing bubble was fueled by the dubious practice of issuing mortgages to buyers who could not afford them. Banks bought those mortgages on the false premise that they were solvent. Once again, banks were not prepared. Fortunately, the US government was in a better position than in 1929, so they avoided a devastating depression, but too many homeowners became homeless.

Donald Trump wants to ramp up opportunities for speculation by repealing Dodd-Frank and removing regulations on borrowing that were put in place after the 2008 economic downturn. In Fed chairman Janet Yellenís criticism of Trumpís deregulation plans, Yellen wants to keep those regulations because they make the financial system ďsubstantially safer.Ē

The regulations have a purpose other than penalizing Trumpís friends. They are designed to forestall a major economic downturn by preventing the kind of shenanigans perpetrated by the mortgage industry prior to the 2008 debacle. If Trump gets his way, hold onto your hat and watch out for your retirement savings.


(taxbill2) Process of Legislating

This essay was posted on 12/5/17.

Grammatical integrity and exact meaning are important in legislation. Take the case in Maine legislation when an arguably missing comma created consternation in a legal suit over overtime pay. That is why legislators and their staffs should read and review bills before voting.

The amending process should result in a clean, unambiguous bill that can be inserted into appropriate sections of the law. Creating a bill that avoids legal problems as much as possible takes time, attention to detail, and adherence to a proven process.

The Tax Reform Bill passed by the Senate doesnít have the care and attention to detail expected of such important legislation. Instead, party leaders got the needed votes by making deals with skeptics. Promised amendments were jotted carelessly in the margins of the bill as deals were settled. Committee meetings were streamlined, and careful annotations were limited to handwritten notes. It will be a small miracle if the typed bill actually matches the intensions voiced in Fridayís deal making. Democrat Claire McCaskill asked for a recess to read the bill. GOP leaders refused, and the vote proceeded.

Grammatical errors will happen, but the tax bill has a much bigger problem. In their haste to pass a bill, the GOP departed from regular legislative procedures and introduced a high probability for errors. They almost ensured that something would be lost in the final translation from handwritten scribbles to the final, typed text, and the intent and meaning of the final bill would always be questioned. Legislators who could have stopped this travesty have forfeited their privilege to serve.


(wealth) Problem of Concentrated Wealth

This essay was posted on 11/27/17.

Why does the United States, the worldís richest nation, have a high murder rate, a high obesity rate, a high infant morality rate, a high mental illness rate, a high level of prison incarceration, high stress levels, a lower life expectancy, etc?

Social epidemiologist and writer Richard Wilkinson provides an answer in his TED talk. He shows with statistical correlations of data from about 20 countries that national wealth is not a factor. Nor are GDP, population, and level of government in social programs. The one consistent factor is wealth inequality. There is a very high correlation between the level of wealth inequality and the level of societal problems. Nations with higher inequality have more societal problems, and nations with a more equal distribution of wealth have less societal problems. The US, with a very high concentration of wealth, has more societal problems than most nations.

The Republican Tax Reform Bill provides huge tax cuts to the top 1%, so the bill will lead to more wealth concentration, not less. Wilkinsonís research suggests that the Tax Reform Bill will lead to more societal problems and more social instability, not less.

Wilkinson made an important observation. He said that the path to more evenly distributed wealth is less important than just getting there. Japan and Denmark are two countries with more equal wealth distribution and low levels of societal problems. Denmark is more socialized than Japan, but Japan has a flatter income distribution. My conclusion: If you want a stable society, you have to pay for it. If you donít want government intrusion, then you need to pay your workers a lot more.

Killing the Tax Reform Bill wonít fix our societal problems, but it is a necessary step in the right direction.


(taxbill) Tax Bill and the Republican Party

This essay was posted on 11/21/17.

Republicans claim that the tax reform bill is needed to spur growth in the economy and help the middle class. Unfortunately, the bill does neither.

There are some things in the tax bill that Republicans do not hide. The bill removes the alternative minimum tax provision. The bill eliminates the estate tax. The bill provides a lower rate for business income. And the bill cuts the corporate tax rate. These cuts do two things. They provide a big pot of gold to the top 1%, and they add $trillions to the national debt over time.

The Republicans try to solve the debt problem four ways. They donít provide middleclass real tax cuts, they make deep cuts in Medicaid and Medicare, they eliminate Obamacare mandates, and they pretend they have a good bill.

Republicans pretend there is a middle-class tax cut, but analysts show far less relief for the middle class. Any small tax saving wonít offset the increased healthcare costs created by Government reductions in Medicaid, Medicare, and Obamacare.

Republicans claim that the tax bill doesnít cut Medicaid and Medicare, but the related budget resolution does. Republicans also have the Ďpaygoí policy in which they must make expenditure cuts in lieu of adding to the national debt. Republican attempts at hiding the tie-in between the expense cuts and the tax cuts are failing.

The big question Republican legislators need to answer: If the tax cuts spur the economy so much, why do they need to make the healthcare cuts? Republicans know that the big tax cuts to the 1% wonít spur the economy, and admitting so would ruin the GOP mythology. My conclusion: Republicans in Congress owe allegiance to the 1% and not to us.


(koreadeal) Dealing with North Korea

This essay was posted on 11/13/17.

Donald Trump wants North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to give up his nuclear arsenal or face the wrath of the US. It wonít happen, and itís not just testosterone.

Bill Clinton can assume part of the blame, because he promised North Korea two nuclear plants for generating electric power if North Korea stopped its nuclear program. Clinton didnít have the political clout to pull off his part, and Kim Jong-il resumed his nuclear program. But Bill is off the hook.

George Bush talked Muammar Qaddafi out of his nuclear program in 2003, and the US under Barack Obama bombed Libya in 2011 to protect civilians. Because of this, Kim Jong-un doesnít trust the US. But Bush and Obama are off the hook.

Donald Trump should take the brunt of the blame. Trump threatens to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal unless Iran makes more concessions even as Iran is complying with the deal, according to official observers. Trumpís track record with the Iran deal gives Kim Jong-un every reason to mistrust Trump over any deal with North Korea. But Trumpís misdeals are not the greatest problem.

The root problem lies in the incredibly large number of nuclear bombs in the hands of just two nations, the US and Russia. The two countries have a combined total of about 3900 operational nuclear bombs, representing 90% of the world supply and enough to obliterate the world 39 times. Compounding the problem is Trumpís incredibly low 22% worldwide confidence level. If a nation with so much power and so little respect threatened you, what would you do?

If Trump continues on this course of action with North Korea, we may need to wait a long time before they disarm.


(trumpdoj) Donald Trump and the DOJ

This essay was posted on 11/6/17.

Former Secretary of Labor and author Robert Reich tweeted:

ďTrump doesnít understand that in a democratic society bound by the rule of law, presidents cannot decide who is prosecuted or for what.Ē

Reich responded to a radio interview in which Donald Trump called for an investigation by the Department of Justice of Hillary Clinton over allegations of misconduct. Even though the DOJ is part of the Executive branch of government, there is a hypothetical wall that maintains operational independence between the DOJ and the White House.

I suggested to my wife that Trump either doesnít understand basic American governance or he doesnít respect it. She proposed that both ideas might be true.

We were asking the wrong question. Knowing why the DOJ should be independent is the more important inquiry. An independent DOJ would avoid the precise interference that Trump is doing. The President should not use the power of his office to override the rule of law. MSNBC journalist and lawyer Ari Melber suggests that Trumpís statements regarding DOJ investigations might be an obstruction of justice and be illegal.

The founding fathers were not always right, but George Washington correctly asserted that the President should not be King. We should continue to honor Washingtonís position today.


(triphome) Two Trips Home

This essay was posted on 10/30/17.

Some coincidences are just coincidences. Some are more.

A few years ago my wife and I were heading east on the Long Island Expressway on the way to the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and home to Maine. The exit North onto Interstate 678 is tricky. I ended up going south toward JFK International Airport instead. It took me a couple exits and about 15 minutes before I could turn around and head north.

Somewhere on Interstate 95 the road dips down under a bridge, and there is an exit and an onramp, and there was an accident that happened maybe 15 minutes earlier. I ceased being annoyed by the wrong turn that I had made.

Two years ago, we were in a Brooklyn hotel overnight before leaving for Maine. As I approached our car the next morning, I noticed the gas cap on the ground. Someone broke it while trying to jimmy my gas cap off. We reported the problem to the hotel clerk, and I managed to shove the cap together well enough to go home. Our start time was delayed about 20 minutes.

On Interstate 91 North of New Haven, the highway bends through low rolling hills of grass. There were two cars on the right and a car on the left. About a half dozen young adults were walking around waiting for help. The accident happened maybe 15 minutes earlier, maybe 20 minutes.

When you think the world is just chaotic cause and effect, sometimes little things happen that remind you there might be more to it.


(taxreform) Donald Trump's Tax Reform

This essay was posted on 10/23/17.

Beware of Donald Trumpís gifts that he promises to deliver to the middle class. Trumpís tax plan clearly falls short, based on available information.

Trumpís promise of doubling the standard deduction has a huge catch to it. Trump is folding the personal exemption into the standard deduction, which is a clever way of saying that he is eliminating personal exemptions. An average middle-class family with three children would see their standard deduction and personal exemption deduction drop by $8,000, and their taxes would go up about $2,000. Trumpís promised child tax credits may offset his built-in child penalty, but there are no specifics. I am solid middle class, and Trumpís tax cut is not helping me.

Except for cuts in Medicare, I am lucky to be retired. I donít pay into deferred compensation plans like a 401K. To pay for the elimination of the alternative minimum tax, the estate tax, etc., the GOP is talking about cutting back the 401K tax exemption to about $2400. If an average family paid $10,000 in a deferred plan for retirement, their taxes would go up again by about $2,000. Trump has promised not to cut 401Kís. Weíll see.

Trump lies when he insists that he doesnít benefit from his reform. He benefits from dumping the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax, and he benefits from allowing small business income to be taxed at a lower rate. All of Trumpís businesses are technically small businesses, but they make a lot of money.

Trumpís promises are worse than empty. His plan will cut taxes for the top 1%, and it will make the rest of us pay for it.


(trumpdeal) Donald Trump and the Deal

This essay was posted on 10/16/17.

Robert Samuelson is wrong when he claims in an editorial on 10/13/17 that building Donald Trumpís wall is a fair deal for the DACA dreamers, but itís not about the wall.

I am not a fan of Trumpís wall. It will not do the job unless it totally surrounds the entire US border and each airport. Every port of entry would need to be manned by a garrison of unimpeachable border agents who would inspect everything coming into the United States. Trumpís wall is a waste of money, but the deal isnít really about the wall.

It is about Trump. The man cannot be trusted. Too many of his deals are like the failed Trump Ocean Resort project in Baja California that Trump aggressively marketed in 2006. He convinced 250 buyers to put down $32.5 million in deposits. The project failed without constructing even one building, and the investors lost their deposits.

The investors sued. They claimed that Trump fraudulently misrepresented himself as a developer. Trump settled without admitting any wrongdoing, and many investors lost their deposits.

If a deal develops that puts Trumpís wall up as a condition for a DACA bill, expect Trump to renege on DACA once the wall money is approved. Forgetting his obligations is and always has been Trumpís method of operation.

Trust is an important part of any successful deal making. Trump broke the trust of the Iranians as well as the other nations in the Iran deal, and there are repercussions from the mid-East all the way to North Korea. Trump is not the dealmaker he claims to be because he cannot be trusted.


(trumpdrive) What Drives Donald Trump

This essay was posted on 10/9/17.

President Trump is a vindictive man by his own words. He has said many times, ďWhen someone hits me, I will hit them back harder.Ē I didnít appreciate those words until now.

Trump is trying to undo Barack Obamaís legacy one brick at a time. After Congress failed to unseat Obamacare, Trump is still trying. His latest move is to cut back on free contraceptives. There will be more. While the public has mixed feelings about Obamacare, it clearly wants available healthcare. Trump and the GOP ignore the political winds and continue to swipe at Obamacare.

Trump is trying to negotiate NAFTA out of existence even as the Republican-leaning Chamber of Commerce objects. If Trump succeeds, you may see Mexico and Canada bypass the US.

Trump backed the US out of the Paris accords, and he is killing Obama era regulations designed to limit carbon emissions. Many of the renewable energy projects will continue unabated, and China will be the biggest beneficiary of Trumpís intransigence. Nevertheless, he persists.

The Iran deal is noteworthy. Trumpís key cabinet members all say that Iran is in compliance. Undeterred, Trump is leaving sanctions against Iran in place, and he is planning more. Trumps efforts to sabotage the Iran deal could lead to a reignited Iran nuclear program.

Clearly, Trump wants to erase any historical significance that Barack Obama may have made. What would drive him to take these actions and overrule his party, his cabinet, our world allies, and suffer disapproval by two thirds of the American Public?

At the White House Correspondentsí Dinner on April 30, 2011, Obama made some jokes at Trumpís expence. Everyone laughed, except Donald Trump. Is Trump hitting back at Obama? Just saying.


(trumpanthem) Donald Trump and the Anthem

This essay was posted on 10/2/17.

This is not about Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee in protest.

This is not about the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who said, ďIf I were a king, I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged. Ö Burning the flag is a form of expression.Ē

This is not about former President Barack Obama, who said, ďI believe that us honoring our flag and our anthem is part of what binds us together as a nation. But I also always try to remind folks that part of what makes this country special is that we respect people's rights to have a different opinion."

This is about Donald Trump, who said,ďWouldnít you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ĎGet that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! Heís fired. Heís fired!íĒ

Trumpís statement is not good law, and it is unbecoming to the office of the President. Accusing Trump of pandering to his base is an easy response. I have done the same before, but not anymore, because I donít want to paint Trumpís base as a bunch of deplorables. The Trump supporters that I know are fine people. I just disagree with some of their choices. In the future I will stick to the subject of Trump.

I still wonder why a self-described very smart man would misstate the law so badly and misrepresent his office so egregiously just to make a point. Does Trump disrespect his audience that much?


(falsechoice) The Problem with Graham-Cassidy

This essay was posted on 9/24/17.

All fifty state Medicaid directors opposed the latest Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare in a truly bipartisan message of disapproval. The directors rejected the Senate bill because it asked the states to continue their coverage and take on more responsibility with less money. The fifty state directors want to serve their constituents if they get adequate money and support to do the job, but the Graham-Cassidy bill falls short. What were Republicans thinking when they needlessly added such onerous Medicaid cuts to a bill meant only to replace Obamacare marketplaces?

The root cause of all the disapproval over the Republican replacement legislation is its emphasis on health insurance premium costs instead of addressing the real problem Ė the overall cost of healthcare, which is double what industrialized nations pay. The cruelest cost-cutting technique used by Republican lawmakers is penalizing high-risk patients with chronic illnesses. With an estimated 32 million fewer people covered by insurance as reported by the CBO, Republican plans do not serve the public, so they are unpopular with the electorate.

The GOP has an answer to the unpopularity. Fox News claims that the only choice is either the Graham-Cassidy bill or Bernie Sandersí single payer bill. Maybe. Maybe not. Foxís comparison is a false choice. The Graham-Cassidy bill is simply bad legislation, and the Sanders bill is far from being ready. It is clear that the public wants affordable healthcare. Republicans have a choice. Save the party or pass Graham-Cassidy.

Republicans have one chance to stave off the Sanders single-payer bill, and it is fixing Obamacare and making it work for everyone.


(newfascism) Confronting Fascism

This essay was posted on 9/18/17.

The German Brownshirts were one of the first fascist hate-groups. They were a notorious paramilitary arm of the Nazi party who regularly beat up or bludgeoned political enemies, Jews, and other targets of Nazi propaganda. The Brownshirts were instruments of force and intimidation during the rise of Hitler in Germany.

The so-called alt-right composed of white supremacists, the KKK, and Nazis share enough common goals and behaviors that they represent the new fascism in the United States. Fascist ideas have percolated in America for a long time, but the new fascism is bolder and more empowered since Donald Trump started his campaign for the presidency when he made the patently false suggestion that Barack Obamaís citizenship might be invalid. The number of incidents of domestic terror, intimidating politicians, and hate crimes including murder has spiked at an alarming rate since the November election.

The Charlottesville riot, with its tragic outcome is a benchmark of how violent confrontations have entered the political scene. Most observers agree that the fascist groups were the instigators, but an anti-fascist group confronted the fascist extremists with the intent to injure them. After all the haggling over who was at fault, the main message was lost: The intimidation of force and violence is now an integral part of our politics.

The confrontation between conservatives and progressives in Boston on August 19 was very different from Charlottesville. The violence was limited to a few incidental skirmishes, primarily because about 40,000 mostly peaceful marchers vastly outnumbered and overwhelmed the ultraconservative marchers.

In the span of one week, we saw two completely different events. The lesson going forward: Use overwhelming numbers when confronting violent extremism.


(2maines) The Mythology of Two Maines

This essay was posted on 9/11/17 and appeared in the Portland Press Herald on 9/14/17.

Charles Lawtonís editorial in the Portland Press Herald (9/5/2017) unsuccessfully tries to dispel the myth that there are two Maines p and appeared artly because the two-Maine claim is more about culture than economics. Northern Maine is rural, conservative and mostly Republican. Southern Maine is more urban, liberal, and mostly Democratic.

Maine is a microcosm for America and the two Americas. Rural America is more conservative and mostly Republican. Urban America is more liberal and mostly Democratic.

The problem in Maine and in America is the growing division between the urban side and the rural side. It is as if two separate countries (or states) are forming. The politicians arenít helping. Democrats tend to ignore rural America and concentrate on urban America, which is more receptive to Democratic liberalism. Republicans use urban America as the scapegoat for all of the problems in America when they appeal to rural conservatives as if liberalism were a dirty word.

Our politicians would serve us better if they understood that rural America and urban America are just two distinct parts of one whole. Urban America needs rural America for food, recreation, raw materials, energy, manufacturing, and the caution of conservatism. Rural America needs urban America for banking, politics, centers of commerce, and the need for new ideas.

Congress must find solutions that help both parts of America. NAFTA is a great example. The Trump administration wants to fix the manufacturing side of NAFTA, but it will be at the expense of US farmers that now profit from NAFTA. US manufacturing needs fixing, but NAFTA is the wrong approach.

The first party that understands the merits of serving both sides of the same coin will become the next dominant party. Neither party seems to be on the right track.


(harvey) Learning from Harvey

This essay was posted on 9/2/17.

Explosions occurred at the Arkema chemical plant located in Crosby, Texas because floods from hurricane Harvey caused a power outage, which stopped refrigerators and allowed organic peroxides to overheat, explode, and burn. Fortunately, the plant and the surrounding residential community were evacuated. The surrounding area will probably remain closed until all of the unrefrigerated containers of organic peroxides either explode or get neutralized.

There may be a much bigger problem in Houston. Refineries and plants have released about 2 million pounds of harmful pollutants because of the hurricane. The harmful health effects of the released contamination might never be fully known.

There are concerns about the toxicity of the smoke coming from the fire. The plant owners claim that the smoke is not hazardous. Nevertheless 15 law enforcement officers stationed nearby complained of ďheadaches and dizziness.Ē The officers went to the hospital for observation and were released.

Another question needs answering. Why is the plant in an obvious flood plain and near a residential area also storing unstable, hazardous material? Storms with the same devastating effect as hurricane Harvey are becoming more frequent, so the likelihood that refineries and related plants pose a threat is high.

Reflecting on the problems exposed by hurricane Harvey will not bring back the 45+ fatalities or fix the damage, but it does point out two reasons why many job-killing regulations can make us safer.


(afghanwin) Winning in Afghanistan

This essay was posted on 8/27/17.

After the Iraq war began in 2003, a friend and I discussed the problem of winning the war before leaving. During the discussion I suggested that we would not really know who wins until we leave, because winning involved leaving behind a viable country.

The US clearly did not win the Iraq war. We left behind an active insurgency that led to the occupation of a large part of Iraq by ISIS forces. The Iraqi forces are doing better now with US air support and with the help of US Special Forces units. The ISIS occupiers will be kicked out of Iraq. It is just a matter of time. Even so, victory can be claimed only if Iraq resolves its internal differences and becomes a functioning state.

National Security Advisor General McMaster says that winning in Afghanistan means that there are no terrorist groups and there is a sustainable nation. It would seem that an Afghanistan strategy would be designed to achieve that goal. The first Iraq strategy did not work, and the strategy fashioned in the Obama administration that focused on rebuilding the Iraqi Army did not work either. It is taking a common enemy Ė ISIS Ė to coalesce the Iraqi army into a fighting force.

An approach similar to the one used in Iraq could work in Afghanistan. The US forces should only play a support role and a training role. The heaviest fighting should be the responsibility of Afghanistan. In the end Afghanistan should be able to defend itself and maintain a stable economy.

As in Iraq, the success of this effort can only be measured when we leave.


(statues) Removing Civil War Statues

This essay was posted on 8/19/17.

Americans have a new awareness of the Civil War, but the causes of war are still debated, and the merits or demerits of the participants -- notably Robert E. Lee Ė are still debated. But most of these debates have little to do with the removal of all those Civil War memorials.

Appomattox changed the Civil War. When General Grant paroled the Army of Virginia and did not prosecute General Lee, the war changed from a rebellion to a civil war over slavery. The history says everything. Before the war, slavery dominated the economy. One third of the southern families owned slaves. After the war slavery was abolished.

While slavery was gone, racial oppression remained. Racial oppression took many forms including sharecropping, segregation, lynching, and voter suppression. Racial oppression also moved north when African-Americans emigrated from the South. Oppression endured until the civil rights movement, and though the forms of oppression change, it endures even now.

Most of the Civil War monuments were erected in the twentieth century long after the Civil War was over and settled. The monuments symbolized something more onerous than ante-bellum slavery. They represented racial oppression and the unattained promises after the Civil War era.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh quietly removed Civil War statues from Baltimore to avoid the violence of Charlottesville, Virginia, but I believe the action had deeper meaning. The removal of the statues punctuates the end of a long era of racial oppression in America. Time will show us just how long this ending will take.


(nkorea) Getting Tough on North Korea

This essay was posted on 8/12/17.

The Cuban missile crisis actually started in 1959 when the US arranged with Turkey the deployment of nuclear-armed missiles in Turkey. Russian officials were alarmed by the missile deployment so close to their borders, and the decision to deploy missiles in Cuba seems almost reasonable.

The Cuban missile crisis raised tensions between the two nuclear powers to the point that a major war seemed imminent until the players figured out how to talk to each other. Nuclear annihilation almost happened over missiles in Cuba vs. missiles in Turkey. The diplomats avoided nuclear war by agreeing to remove both sets of missiles, and the world settled into a long-running stalemate of a cold war.

The North Korea crisis has the same dispute as the Cuban missile crisis: North Koreans threaten us with missiles, and we threaten them.

If you look at Donald Trumpís bellicose tirades through the eyes of Kim Jong Un it should scare you. After 64 years, the Korean War is still not resolved, so Kim Jong Un still considers the US to be an invader not to be trusted. The behavior of North Korean leaders has been consistently adversarial toward the US, and any drastic change in policy by an American President could be interpreted as an act of war.

A negotiated way out of the crisis is the best choice, and a change of policy might actually help. We should look at Richard Nixonís China trip as a model. If we can establish a trading relationship with North Korea, they would have less reason to be suspicious. While we are not there yet, a negotiated peace is preferable to a non-negotiated war.


(leakedcalls) Donald Trump's Leaked Calls

This essay was posted on 8/5/17 and appeared in the Portland Press Herald on 8/9/17.

Conservatives often say that Donald Trump carries out his diplomacy with a blunt style. The Trump phone calls leaked to the press tell a different story, and it is a story that we should all hear.

When Trump discussed ĎThe Wallí with Mexican President Enrique PeŮa Nieto the conversation devolved into a stalemate over who would pay for it. After Nieto insisted that Mexico would not pay for the wall, Trump said ďYou cannot say that to the press.Ē Trump is more interested in looking tough for his base than in the economics of the wall.

Trump also had a contentious call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over an Obama agreement to accept 1250 refugees held by Australia. Trump tried to renege on the deal. ďBoy that will make [me] look awfully bad,Ē Trump said. Again, Trumpís main goal was to look tough for his base.

Some people are not so amused by the phone call leaks. David Frum calls them a dangerous national security risk. In this case Frum is off base. Trumpís diplomatic style is so outrageously unique that those world leaders called by Trump must compare notes with each other on a regular basis. Trumpís actual phone calls are more of a national security risk than the leaks could ever pose.


(skinnybill) Donald Trump's Skinny Repeal

This essay was posted on 7/31/17.

Just 12% of Americans support the latest version of the Obamacare replacement also known as Trumpcare. At this level probably half of Republicans donít like the bill. Even so, Republicans plowed ahead with repeal and replace.

Republicans spent a lot of political capital on arguably one of the all-time least popular bills. Republicans wrote at least three bills without expert input, without public scrutiny, and without any real debate. The last bill, the Ďskinny repealí was written during lunch break on the day of the vote. Many Republicans who voted for it also hoped it would never become law. By their actions, Republicans have clearly demonstrated that they donít like governmentís role in healthcare.

In most cases, the governmentís role is determined when a societal need or benefit is not supported well by the free market. Fire departments became a government responsibility when private fire departments became corrupt and abusive competing for insurance money. Public schools helped provide basic education to everyone. In the US, providing healthcare coverage to all citizens is taking longer.

The governmentís healthcare role in Medicare and Medicaid grew because the free market could not support the elderly and the poor, and Obamacare tries to cover the people still left in the cold. The need for healthcare coverage should not be debatable. The failure of the free market should not be debatable. That is why actually removing the modest gains of Obamacare has become political suicide.


(victimhood) Donald Trump's Emotional Appeal

This essay was posted on 7/21/17.

This essay is inspired by Imperium, a movie about conflicts between the FBI and white supremacists.

Donald Trump is having an atrociously difficult time passing healthcare repeal and replace legislation. His tax cuts are on the back burner. Jobs continue to leave the US for cheaper, foreign labor. Each day there are new revelations about secret meetings between Russia and Trump insiders. Still, the support of his base remains strong.

Trumpís strong emotional appeal still resonates with his base, and they remain loyal. Trump repeats his theme that American workers are victimized by money-hungry corporations, bad trade deals, so-called lying Democrats, etc. Trump does not need to deliver much relief to his base because just acknowledging their victimhood is good enough.

In the long-range, Trump will mostly deliver psychological relief, but not many benefits. His solutions are proving to be ineffective and unpopular. No matter. Trump measures his success only by his ability to hold onto his base.

The NAFTA trade deal is a good example. Trumpís mantra is ďA renegotiated NAFTA will bring back jobs to AmericaĒ. Trump is wrong about NAFTA. Eliminating NAFTA completely will bring back zero jobs, and we might even lose a few.

The real menace to American workers is not NAFTA. It is constant, irreversible, inexorable change going on all over the world. The US cannot reinvigorate its golden age by going back to the past. The US needs to apply its resilience and strength to make a new golden age out of the future.


(kparker2) Kathleen Parker's Press Problem

This essay was posted on 7/13/17.

Kathleen Parker has been a consistent critic of Donald Trump throughout the campaign and during his Presidency until her most recent column in which she aided and abetted one of the worst of Trumpís offences.

Parker claims that:

ďÖ [Trump] may be the president most disliked by the media since Richard Nixon.Ē

Parker clearly implies that the strong dislike of Trump motivates the press to be more negative when reporting on Trump. The press is more professional than that. Members of the press all have personal feelings, but most donít let their public opinions get personal. Most reporters follow the tradition of Walter Cronkite reporting the news dispassionately while keeping their political views mostly to themselves.

Donald Trump takes his news personally, and his angry diatribes toward the news media are effective. The Pressís unpopularity is rooted in Trumpís constant refrain that mainstream media is filled with Ďfake newsí. Trump has repeated the Ďfake newsí lie the requisite one-thousand times, so his followers believe it.

The job of the press is to be adversarial towards government officials, and officials should defend themselves. But Trump goes too far when he undermines the press with a calculated lie. He offends the Constitution he has sworn to protect.


(robotethos) The Robot Problem

This essay was posted on 7/5/17.

This essay (and every other essay) about robotics should be preceded by this disclaimer:

"The question of whether machines can think is about as relevant as the question of whether submarines can swim." -- Edsger Dijkstra

Robotics and artificial intelligence are now so much a part of our lives that the possibility of robots acting in an unethical or dangerous way is being considered. The usual question looks like this:

ďIs it acceptable for an A.V. (autonomous vehicle) to avoid a motorcycle by swerving into a wall, considering that the probability of survival is greater for the passenger of the A.V., than for the rider of the motorcycle? Should A.V.s take the ages of the passengers and pedestrians into account?Ē

I am reminded of Isaac Asimovís first law of robotics:

ďA robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.Ē

The question posed above is the wrong question. The question should be:

ďIs it acceptable for an A.V. to be driving if it must decide between a passenger and someone outside the vehicle.Ē

We cannot expect that an A.V. will always be safe. There will be accidents, and training an A.V. to be safer will not be easy. For now, the Asimov ideal is more of a goal than a reality. For the first problem with robots, depend on the Dijkstra reality. A robot has absolutely no clue about the essential impact of its actions.


(debthealth) The Republican Debt Problem

This essay was posted on 6/28/17.

The Republicans often justify healthcare cuts by complaining about the $20 trillion debt. Senator John Cornyn is a good example of a debt complainer. Somehow the $20 trillion debt seems to scare Republican members of Congress. Never mind that the GOP wants to raise defense spending and make massive tax cuts that will reenergize the growth of the National debt, Republicans are either lying to the American people or they donít know what they are talking about or they really want to take America back to the days of buggy whips.

Republicans claim that the national debt is too high. The $20 trillion debt is a big number but not unmanageable. in todayís economic environment. If our economy were the size of Italyís, the debt would be a problem, but our $20 trillion economy can cover the debt as long as Congress doesnít make big tax cuts and manages spending growth carefully.

Republicans claim that government spending is out of control. Government spending has been held to around 20% of GDP since the 1960ís, a period of nearly 60 years. Government spending is not out of control, but it increases in response to a growing population, a growing economy, and inflationary pressures. Drastic cuts like those proposed by the GOP would fix a debt crisis that doesnít exist.

The healthcare crisis that exists is getting healthcare to the 28 million uninsured Americans that Obamacare has not yet reached. Clearly the GOP healthcare plan that adds 22 million people to the uninsured roles does not solve this healthcare crisis.

It is time for the GOP to get past its hysteria over debt and start governing responsibly.


(trumpcare2) Sneaking through Trumpcare

This essay was posted on 6/20/17.

Congressional Republicans are taking a new approach with the Senate version of the healthcare bill. They are keeping it a secret from the public, Democrats, and even many Republicans. Republican Senator Rand Paul is vocal about not seeing the bill, for example. Keeping such an important billís details from the public is a huge problem, but the reason why the healthcare bill is being kept under lock and key is far more important.

Criticizing a secret bill is next to impossible, so I will make the reasonable assumption that the outcomes of the Senate version are just as bad as the House version of the bill. The House bill is a bad bill without doubt. Only 17% of Americans support Trumpcare. Senator Angus King called Trumpcare: Ďill-conceived, damaging, and down-right cruel.í

Republicans want to fund a massive tax cut by cutting government spending almost everywhere else including healthcare. The GOP bill cuts government spending by taking healthcare services away from too many Americans. The bill would take America to pre-Obamacare days and add over 20 million to the rolls of the uninsured.

The Republican strategy is to reduce healthcare insurance premiums by raising the rates on high-risk people including chronically ill patients and the elderly who have expressed their anger at town meetings across the country. Republicans donít address the overall cost of healthcare, so participants should expect that healthcare costs will go through the roof raising deductibles and making insurance unaffordable to a larger audience.

If Republicans manage to pass a healthcare replacement, they will face an angry electorate in 2018 especially if they also manage to pass the massive tax cut aimed at the richest taxpayers, including Donald Trump.


(altfact) Donald Trump and the Alt-Fact

This essay was posted on 6/13/17.

At a news conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Donald Trump spoke truthfully when he denied asking then FBI Director James Comey to pledge allegiance to him. Trump added, ďWho would ask to pledge allegiance under oath?Ē Still, Trumpís assertion is troubling when compared to Comeyís testimony.

Trump never asked for an oath of allegiance, according to Comeyís testimony in which Trump said, ďI need loyalty, I expect loyalty.Ē Comey was nonplussed by Trumpís remark and responded at first with awkward silence. Instead of asking for allegiance, Trump demanded and required loyalty, which attacked the independence that Comey relied on to make a thorough and unbiased investigation.

Trumpís press conference statement is an alt-fact -- a true statement about a fiction. While Trumpís statement is true, it is based on a conversation that did not happen. In contrast, Comeyís testimony has the sound of truth.

The second quote from Trump about pledging allegiance under oath is just as telling about Trumpís character. The obvious answer is: Donald Trump. During his campaign rallies he often asked the attendees Ė strangers Ė to raise their right hand and pledge their vote to Donald Trump. Trumpís rhetorical question just makes Comeyís testimony even more believable.


(climate) Adapting to Climate Change

This essay was posted on 6/8/17.

In his book Sapiens Yuval Harari asks: Why did mankind choose farming over hunter gathering when hunter gatherers work less and generally have more satisfying lives? I believe that mankind faced a growing hunter-gatherer population and a shrinking prey animal population. Mankind had upset the natural balance, so they switched to farming.

The pattern of solving sustainability problems with clever solutions is mankindís recipe for success. Unfortunately it is too successful. Now, mankind faces a growing population that is also affecting the natural balance. The oceans are getting hotter causing rising sea levels, the loss of seafood, increase in catastrophic coastal storms, and drought.

The problems are global. The concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is too high, but the problem is not just about fossil fuels. Drawdown , edited by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer lists other greenhouse gas contributors including: refrigerants, beef production, food waste, and farming techniques. We cannot solve this problem with each nation heading in a different direction.

The solutions to our future must be global and coordinated between nations. In the future, each nation must have equal voice, and decisions regarding the problem of restoring a natural balance must be collaborative. Otherwise we will fail. The concept of nationalism as the only driving force must be left behind in the twentieth century.

Eleven countries including the US and China have taken a leadership role in developing renewable energy , and the growth in greenhouse gases has leveled off even as the world economy grows. But much more needs to be done. The total solution includes political issues. The next real challenge will be to find a political framework that will truly sustain us.

President of France Emmanuel Macron said, ďLetís make the planet great again.Ē It is the only planet we have.


(poverty) Donald Trump and Poverty

This essay was posted on 5/31/17.

I grew up in one of Maineís small towns in the 50ís. Some say it was a golden age, but it wasnít golden for all. There was no federal war on poverty. Poverty was a local problem for each town. My town had its poor families. One family lived in a shack across from a working farm. The yard was cluttered with an assortment of junk, and there was no grass.

I remember kids at school whose parents had very little. The kids had a constant layer of dust and grime splotched on their faces. I remember them less and less as I advanced through school. They had dropped out.

It seemed that each town had a family to tend to. I went to the town dump with my father. Now it's called a landfill. We disposed of an old, rusting push-mower. On the way to the dump there was an old farmhouse in disrepair. On the next trip to the dump I noticed our old lawnmower sitting next to the farmhouse.

Lyndon Johnson declared the war on poverty in 1964 when the percent of people under the poverty line was 19%. By 1972 the percent had fallen to about 11%. While the percent has risen and fallen over the years it has never reached pre-1964 levels.

President Trump is cutting anti-poverty programs to pay for his tax cuts and his military. The Presidentís budget calls for cuts in anti-poverty programs such as food stamps, nutrition assistance, earned income tax credit, student loans, and healthcare.

History shows that Johnsonís goal to eradicate poverty is still too difficult, but we should not go back to the day when taking care of the poor was too easy.