300 Words

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

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

Tweet

(coup2) The Peaceful Coup

This essay was posted on 2/25/24.

After fumbling an attempt to steal the election on Jan 6, the MAGA Republicans in the House of Representatives under the leadership of Mike Johnson and the direction of private citizen Donald Trump have found a way to paralyze the Legislative Branch so that nothing of value is accomplished. The much-needed military aid package and the immigration reform bill are both dead on arrival. Work on funding the government after March 1 is stalled by a House recess. The MAGA Republicans seem to be more interested in making President Biden look bad than in governing. If the MAGAs in Congress continue to govern by creating chaos without consequences, they could accomplish what they failed to do on Jan 6.

The problem is simple. The checks and balances designed to maintain the democratic elements of our government don’t work when a government branch chooses to fail instead of governing. With an election nine months away, it might be too late to save the dysfunctional mess in the House of Representatives under the spell of Donald Trump and, by implication, Vladimir Putin. Face it, in a government as divided as Washington is today, checks and balances don’t work.

President Biden needs to stay within the rules of governing, because any departure from the rules just perpetuates a broken Washington. The only way to repair the breaks is by a bipartisan choice to govern around the MAGA Republicans at least until Washington is working again. How far along is that discharge petition?

Tweet

(balance) The Unbalanced House

This essay was posted on 2/16/24.

The writers of the US Constitution inserted many checks and balances to protect against the collapse of our government into autocracy. The checks and balances deter one branch of government from abusing its power over the other. If Congress passes bad bills, the President can veto it, but Congress can override the veto, for example. The checks provide a way for the Federal government to retain its democratic spirit through self-enforcement.

The current state of our government clearly shows that checks and balances, by themselves, prevent nothing. Checks and balances don’t work when members of two branches collude. For example, Senate Republicans wouldn’t convict Donald Trump in two impeachment trials, so Trump was free to spend unauthorized funds on a border wall. Trump also openly organized fake electors and a Jan 6 riot in a failed attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Collusion for the sake of power leads to corruption. An example is the current House of Representatives. With a large contingent of Republicans and Mike Johnson all getting their marching orders from Donald Trump, the House is dysfunctional. It threatens US credibility in the international arena by withholding aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, and it threatens US security by refusing to pass an immigration bill that resolves most of Republican demands for handling border crossings. The House Republicans are acting like a group of autocratic dictators.

President Biden is in a corner. If he stays within the Constitutional rules, he is accused of being too weak. If he takes any unauthorized action, he is accused of being a Fascist dictator. Meanwhile, Ukraine still needs military help to defeat Russia’s widely condemned invasion, and migrants will continue to cross our border largely unchecked. And Gregg Abbott’s lethal wire barrier will remain in place.

Tweet

(food) The Price of Food

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 2/5/24.

Google and Microsoft Bing Copilot were used to research this piece.

A Washington Post article about the cost of food had some very misleading statements about the price of food. The article implied that, while inflation was lower, the price of food had not returned to normal. The implication needs a rebuttal.

Lower inflation doesn’t necessarily mean lower prices. Inflation is the percent increase in prices over last year. As long as inflation is positive, then prices will be higher than last year even when inflation drops. That means overall prices are higher than last year’s high prices, not lower. Overall prices get lower when inflation is negative, and negative inflation usually comes from a recession or economic downturn. Nobody wants that. In the last 75 years, only three years experienced negative inflation. It is safe to say that prices, in general, go up.

While overall prices tend to go up, individual items and groups of items will fluctuate, because of unusual market conditions. Some items actually get cheaper over time. Technological improvements have made televisions cheaper even while the cost of the overall market goes up. The cost of milk, bread, and broccoli have fluctuated over time but the long-term trend has been upward for all three. Expecting the price of food to go down, because inflation drops to a more normal 3.5% is unrealistic.

A big contributor to the price of food staying persistently high are the higher wages paid to farm workers, food packagers, warehouse workers, truck drivers, local distributors, super marker personnel, etc. Food-handling is labor intensive, and a lot of those food handlers got raises, because inflation often leads to higher wages.

After COVID most countries around the world experienced inflation, and the US got inflation under control faster than most. COVID caused the inflation, and the Biden administration dealt with it within their limited powers to influence the economy. To anyone disgruntled over the high cost of food: Instead of blaming President Biden, ask your boss why you are not getting an inflation adjustment in your salary.

Tweet

(drone2) The Drone War

This essay was posted on 1/24/24.

Google and Microsoft Bing Copilot were used to research this piece.

With the land-war at a standstill, Ukraine is switching to sling-shot stones thrown at the Russian Goliath. The stones are in the form of small, off-the-shelf drones designed and manufactured in Ukraine.

The Use of military equipment from the West by Ukraine is limited to defensive purposes within the Ukraine borders. The purpose of limiting the use of Western weapons is to limit Russia’s plans for expanding the war into Western Europe and beyond. The home-grown drones give Ukraine the military option to attack military targets in St Petersburg and Moscow, for example. Ukraine is taking advantage of this option. Some drones travel 750 miles to their targets in Russia.

Ukraine is attacking Russian military assets in the occupied territories and in the Black Sea. A large drone strike occurred in Crimea while the Russians were attacking the city of Avdiivka. A large explosion occurred at an electric generation facility in the Donetsk region. Russian Naval vessels in the Black Sea have been attacked by sea-drones. Ukraine is inflicting pain on Russia in ways not anticipated at the beginning of the war.

Russia is retaliating against drone attacks. Russia recently launched over 100 missiles and many drones of their own in one night against various targets in Ukraine. Most of the missiles were intercepted by Ukraine’s air defense systems, but there was still significant damage.

The outcome of the drone war is still not known. There is evidence, however that many people in Russia want the war to end. A Russian soldier’s wife asked an official when would her husband come home.

Maria said, "When they're brought back with no arms and legs? When they can't do anything at all because they're just vegetables? Or do we have to wait for them to be sent back in zinc coffins?"

Tweet

(oath) 2024 and the Constitution

This essay was posted on 1/16/24.

The 2024 election will be remembered as the time when the Constitution is on the ballot, but it’s not about the electoral college or abortion rights or the voting rights act or Citizen’s United. It is about whether government officials respect their oaths of office enough to retain our democratic values enshrined in the Constitution. Will the members of Congress respect their duty to put politics aside? Will the members of Congress put the needs of their constituents over the marching orders of one individual? It might depend on which party has control.

The 1974 resignation of Richard Nixon can help us in deciding how we vote this year. Articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon were adopted but never approved by Congress. Republican Senators, led by Barry Goldwater, urged Nixon to resign rather than face a certain guilty verdict during the impeachment trial. Nixon chose to resign. Goldwater and his fellow Republicans made a choice to put their Constitutional duty over Party loyalty, because the evidence against Nixon merited removal from office, in their opinion.

The 2021 impeachment trial of Donald Trump is a stark contrast to the Nixon departure. While many Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, acknowledged that Trump was guilty, they voted to acquit because Trump was no longer President when the trial began. As a result, Trump avoided being banned from the Presidency. Trump’s actions leading up to and including Jan. 6 were arguably at least as serious as Nixon’s obstruction of a crime and abuse of power against US citizens and merited a guilty vote. Republicans who protected Trump seemingly forgot their oath to protect the Constitution. They should have followed Goldwater’s example, and they have not learned from their mistake.

Tweet

(peace) Ukraine and the EU

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 1/7/24.

Microsoft Bing Copilot was used to research this piece.

Something awakened the US and Europe after Vladimir Putin’s all-out military invasion of Ukraine. It could have been Putin’s veiled threat of nuclear retaliation if the West overreacted. It could have been Putin’s violation of the UN Charter and international law. It could have been Putin’s apparent designs on controlling Eastern Europe. History will give us answers, but one lesson is clear. The pattern of military attacks on sovereign nations in our interconnected and very fragile world needs to stop.

The UN was formed after World War II with the purpose of bringing peace and stability between nations. The UN is often ineffective, especially when a permanent member-nation with veto power is involved. Removing veto power from China, Russia, and the US might be too difficult, so conflicts like the Ukraine war play out with little help from the UN.

An alternative solution is a relatively new concept. The European Union (EU} applies a set of social and political ideals that support a democratic government and a federated infrastructure that can monitor the member countries and help them when problems arise. For example, the EU has helped Greece and Italy overcome financial problems and refugee issues. While the assistance is not a cure, the political tension in Italy and Greece has moderated. The regional aspects and the ability to take direct action makes the EU an effective force for peace.

Ironically, Ukraine’s effort to seek rapprochement with the EU and NATO threatened Russia and led to the military invasion of Ukraine. The invasion led to military aid from Europe and the US to help Ukraine just as EU nations would help each other in a time of crisis. The military aid is helping Ukraine to keep the Russian bear at bay, but Ukraine clearly needs more help.

The Ukraine war tests the efficacy of the EU approach to manifesting peace in a hostile environment. While this test is inexact, it measures the resolve needed to solve a complex problem. If the US and the European countries back out of their commitments to Ukraine, they will raise questions about the level of commitment member nations have in the EU.

Tweet

(polls) The Real Ukraine Aid Question

This essay was posted on 12/28/23.

Microsoft Bing Copilot was used to research this piece.

As President Biden runs out of money for Ukraine aid, it seems that he is losing public support. The latest Pew poll shows that only 39% approve of Biden’s handling of the Ukraine war, and 41% disapprove. While the poll most likely reflects the popular view of the conflict in Ukraine, it should not mean that the US should abandon Ukraine.

Making the Ukraine war a pure popularity contest is black or white logic in which there are only two options, stay or go. This kind of logic always leads to poor decisions, and the Ukraine conflict is a good example.

Using a qualitative method that offers a fuller spectrum of options is a better choice. Instead of asking if the US should help or not help Ukraine, a more interesting question is: Should there be more aid, the same amount of aid, or less aid? A Pew research poll showed that 42% wanted more aid, 32% felt the aid was about right, and only 7% wanted less aid. 74% of Americans, according to a Pew poll, want the aid to continue or even increase, and only 7% want the aid reduced.

The two polls imply that a large percentage of the people disapprove of how the US handles aid to Ukraine because Biden’s aid packages are too small. The press and the politicians could be misreading the mood of the voters. Republicans in the House, for example, may be paving the way for major losses in November if they continue to pursue politics of obstruction over aid to Ukraine.

Both polls are true reflections of the public sentiment, but one poll may be a more accurate reflection of the public than the other.

Tweet

(price) Cheaper Electricity

This essay was posted on 12/20/23.

Microsoft Bing Copilot was used to research this piece.

Next year, electric rates will be lower for most Mainers, because electric generation costs for the two major providers will drop about 30%. The electric companies attribute lower natural gas prices as the reason for the rate decrease, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Lower natural gas prices are a reality. They fell in 2023 and are projected to fall again in 2024. Prices don’t decline arbitrarily. Supply and demand are the economic forces that drive natural gas prices. Lower prices come from a rise in supply or a fall in demand. It turns out that both conditions apply to natural gas.

Natural gas production is increasing and is projected to increase again in 2024, but demand is going down. The increase in demand started when electric generators switched from dirty coal to cleaner natural gas. The gas producers aren’t taking current drops in demand seriously. They should.

Lower demand comes from at least two obvious sources. Warmer weather may create a higher need for air-conditioning, but it also reduces the need to heat buildings. Warmer weather lowers demand, at least in Maine. And the switch from natural gas to renewables in electric generation is beginning to have an impact on natural gas consumption.

Natural gas consumption will continue its downward trend as long as renewable energy production continues to expand and replace natural gas fueled electric generation. Even the oil producers acknowledge the changing horizon by building wind farms and investing in carbon capture technologies.

Ironically, global warming and the switch to renewable energy has combined to drive down the price of natural gas and the price of electricity. It might even lower the price of food at your favorite restaurant.

Tweet

(latvia) Putin's Pattern

This essay was posted on 12/10/23 and appeared in the Portland Sunday Telegram on 12/24/23.

Microsoft Bing Copilot was used to research this piece.

In 1999, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin blamed Chechnya for an attack on a Russian apartment building. Putin followed up with a military invasion of Chechnya. The matter of actual Chechnyan involvement in the terrorist attack is still unresolved.

In 2008, Putin accused Georgia of genocide and other crimes. Putin followed up with a military invasion of Georgia.

In 2012, Putin claimed that Ukrainian extremists were harming ethnic Russians in Crimea. Putin followed up by using a covert military operation to annex Crimea.

In 2022, Putin claimed that the Ukrainian government was rife with radical Nazis. Putin followed up with a military invasion of Ukraine. The fighting in Ukraine is still ongoing with the help of military aid from the US and other NATO countries.

Now, Putin is accusing Latvia of mistreating ethnic Russians living in Latvia. Putin is following up his claims against Latvia with extra troop movements near the Latvian border, reminiscent of troop movements near the Ukraine border before the Russian invasion.

The pattern is clear. Putin is using fake claims and military power to bring former Soviet Republics back under Russian control. With Putin’s arguably illegal attacks on sovereign nations, this is not the time to cut off military aid to Ukraine. If we want to avoid a full-blown European war, the pattern of Putin’s military style diplomacy must be broken.

Tweet

(2025) The 2025 Project

This essay was posted on 11/30/23.

The idea for this essay came from a posting on Twitter, currently known as X. Microsoft Bing Copilot was used to research this piece.

Heritage Foundation’s 2025 Project contains an action plan for the next Republican President that they hope will be elected in 2024. The plan contains a number of troubling goals. The Project calls for firing up to 50,000 federal workers over politics. The Project advocates increasing the power of the President based on the controversial unitary executive theory. The Project intends to roll back climate change policies. The Project calls for using the military to squash public protests and for using the DOJ to arrest and prosecute political rivals. This is a plan that should have bipartisan condemnation, but a surprisingly high number of Republicans are silent.

By their actions, 3 Republican Senators are not silent. Tommy Tuberville is holding up the nominations of too many Military promotions to make a point about abortions. Ted Cruz is holding up State Department nominations to make a point about a Russian pipeline. And Rand Paul is holding up more State Department nominations over COVID-19 origins. These Senators are not winning any concessions and don’t seem to care. So, what is the point?

While there is no specific connection between the 2025 Project and these Senatorial holds, there is an obvious benefit to them in keeping these key government positions vacant until a new President is elected, if the President is a Republican. The actions of Tuberville, Cruz, and Paul are a stark reminder of the Merrick Garland hold that led to a new, conservative Justice on the Supreme Court. Imagine hundreds of key government positions filled by conservatives who are loyal to a President guided by the 2025 Project.

Preparations for the 2025 Project are already underway. And the project is much bigger than just Donald Trump.

Tweet

(roevwade) The Danger of Success

This essay was posted on 11/19/23.

Republicans used the Roe v Wade decision to win over Evangelical Christians in 1980 when they made the abortion ban a major plank in their platform. Over the next 40 years, the Republicans have held onto their evangelical political base by leveraging abortion and LGBTQ issues. But the politics of abortion are changing.

Over the next 40 years after 1980, the abortion rate has steadily decreased. The decrease has occurred under Democratic and Republican administrations, suggesting that the rate of decrease is not political. A lower pregnancy rate and the availability of contraceptives have also contributed to the decrease in the abortion rate.

Roe v Wade was overturned in 2022, after the Republicans managed to get 3 new, conservative Justices on the Supreme Court. Since that decision, Republicans have taken a beating in most elections and especially in abortion related referenda. Abortion votes is Kentucky, Montana, Kansas, and Ohio is especially noteworthy. Anti-abortion advocates lost in all 4 referenda. What changed?

The only change was the status of Roe v Wade. In the red state anti-abortion defeats, a significant number of conservatives voted to preserve abortion rights. These conservative voters probably did not change their minds after the end of Roe v Wade. They wanted an abortion option regardless of their personal beliefs. When Roe v Wade was in effect, voting for Republicans was safe.

Now that Roe v Wade no longer applies, and voting for anti-abortion Republicans is not as safe, a significant number of conservatives are seeking other candidates. Recent Republican defeats point to more Republican losses, until Republican candidates soften their position on abortion.

After more than 40 years of trying, Republicans succeeded in curtailing abortion rights. I wonder, will success spoil the Republican Party?

Tweet

(gaza) The Endless War

This essay was posted on 11/7/23.

The Middle East area once called Palestine has had many rulers. Before the Jewish state of Israel was established, the British Empire controlled Palestine, and before that, the Ottoman Empire controlled Palestine. When Israel was formed, the Palestinians were indigenous to the region without sovereign control. The UN plan called for the Palestinian area to be divided into two states; one for the indigenous Palestinians, and one for the Jewish settlers. The UN plan fell apart when the Arab leadership boycotted the proceedings and argued that the indigenous Palestinians should chart their own path, as was their right according to the UN Charter.

The original partitioning issue remains unresolved at least among the Palestinians and their neighbors. Since 1947, there have been at least 7 distinct conflicts that could be bundled into a 76-year war. It is safe to say that warfare isn’t working towards any meaningful resolution.

Israel’s current plan to batter the Gaza Strip until the hostages are released won’t work for Israel or Hamas and the Palestinians. If Israel totally demolishes Gaza, Iran will move in to rebuild a new, weaponized Hamas, and if Hamas continues to resist, Israel will continue to pound and kill Palestinians. This pattern has played out before with the same unresolved outcome.

The only way to end 76 years of war is to start over. From zero. Forget about all the injustices. Forget about all the needless deaths. Forget about all the things that have perpetuated 76 years of unresolved conflict. Both sides must come together without outside interference and decide for themselves how they will move forward together in a mutually respectful way. It can all start with a simple gesture.

Tweet

(johnson) The Broken House

This essay was posted on 10/29/23.

The new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson has been called, “Jim Jordan in a jacket with a smile.” Johnson’s resume is as radical as Jordan’s. He had a key role in the Jan 6 attempt to overthrow the 2020 election. He is critical of more Ukraine aid. He is strongly against abortions. He wants to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Johnson is against immigration and pro-wall. Johnson wants to curb our asylum policies. The only way you can distinguish Johnson from Jordan is with wardrobe preferences.

Mike Johnson and Jim Jordan are the same, politically. Why then would Republicans soundly reject Jordan and then throw unanimous support to Johnson? Apparently, moderate Republicans would rather support a Jordan lookalike than make a deal with Democrats, knowing that the MAGA agenda of Jordan and Johnson would go to the Senate and die. The odds that Congress will remain paralyzed are high.

In his public statements, President Biden has been optimistic about working with Johnson and the Republicans for the benefit of the people. Johnson may not welcome Biden’s gesture. The new Speaker will either implement the radical MAGA spending cuts and plunge the country into a recession or he will be fired for trying to accommodate Biden’s priorities, all because the Republicans are united at the hip of Donald Trump. There is no good ending for Johnson.

The election of Johnson as House Speaker did not inspire the stock market. The Dow Jones average fell almost 400 points in the two days after Johnson was named.

Tweet

(speaker) The Speaker Bottleneck

This essay was posted on 10/19/23.

Jim Jordan’s second attempt at gaining the Speaker of the House position failed spectacularly, and the Republican caucus rejected a plan to give interim Speaker Patrick McHenry enough powers to resume legislating. As a result, the House doesn’t have a speaker, and with no clear path towards resolving the problem, the House can’t conduct business. There will be no aid to Israel, no aid to Ukraine, and no resolution to the impending shutdown until the Speaker fiasco is resolved.

The Republican caucus in the House is so divided that it can’t even pick a leader. The MAGA Republicans want a leader that will let their minority control all legislation. The moderates want the House to be more productive than doing absolutely nothing. The largest group of Republicans are in the middle, extremely hesitant about taking sides.

The problem is simple. The Speaker of the House needs a simple majority of the entire House, including Republicans and Democrats. Because of the divisions in the House, the Republican candidates have failed to garner the near unanimous Republican vote needed to overcome the Democrats who have been supporting their leader, Hakeem Jeffries.

The solution is obvious if hard to swallow. The Democrats and a small group of Republicans need to choose a bipartisan candidate that both sides can trust. Democrats have said they can work with Patrick McHenry, for example. If the chosen candidate is nominated by a member of the opposing party, then the notion of bipartisanship would be clear.

After all, isn’t the ultimate goal to make bipartisan legislation?

Tweet

(pinetree2) Pine Tree Politics

This essay was posted on 10/11/23.

In the current campaign to form a public non-profit power company in Maine, the private power companies aren’t going to make an ad saying, “We charge more so we can cover the profits to our foreign owners.” Instead, they are making attack ads. When a side relies solely on attack ads, don’t believe them.

Case 1: While Pine Tree Power must pay the existing power company owners about $13.5 Billion for their distribution business, it will not put a big tax burden on the State and it won’t happen all at once. The plan is to pay for the business over a period of about 9 years by adding a small charge to the electric bills. Big users will pay more, and small users will pay less. Some of the debt will be covered by the income to private owners that Pine Tree Power will not be paying.

Case 2: While Long Island Light and Power Authority (LIPA) still has issues, there is more to tell. LIPA is an unusual public company that pays an outside, privately owned firm to handle the day-to-day operations. LIPA’s public-private model is not working, and a process to change the model has been started. Pine Tree does not plan to use the LIPA model. Instead, Pine Tree plans to take over existing operations while encouraging current workers to stay. LIPA’s issues are not relevant.

Meanwhile, customer satisfaction in CMP and Versant is still low. Maybe it is time for a change.

Tweet

(light) The Legacy of Lincoln

This essay was posted on 10/4/23.

Jon Mecham’s book And There Was Light recounts the life of Abraham Lincoln, focusing on the National struggle between slavery and freedom. The political division in the 1850’s echoes the political divisions in the US today. From 1850 until he was assassinated, Lincoln’s views on slavery evolved until he eventually made the end of slavery a necessary condition for ending the Civil War.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was a turning point for Lincoln, according to Mecham, because Lincoln referred to the Declaration of Independence and not the US Constitution. Four score and seven years ago made 1776 the important date to remember. The Declaration bases everything on the equality of men. Lincoln saw the Declaration as describing the aspirations of the new nation, and he grew to understand that those aspirations would not be achieved unless the Constitution was amended to make Black slaves free and equal.

The 1864 election was a referendum on slavery. A vote for the Republican Lincoln was a vote for abolition. A vote for the Democrat McClellan was a vote for slavery. 120 years later the 2024 election is a referendum on democracy. A vote for the Democrat Biden will be a vote to preserve our democratic republic. A vote for the Republican candidate presumed to be Trump is a vote to repeat the excesses of Jan 6 and move us closer to a dictatorship where a vote doesn’t matter without regard to the color of one’s skin.

Tweet

(trust) The Value of Treaties

This essay was posted on 9/27/23.

Before Donald Trump was President there was a policy in place to honor the international agreements of prior Presidents to maintain the reputation of the US as a credible and dependable leader in international affairs.

Trump changed the policy when he pulled out of the Paris Accords and the Iran Nuclear Arms Deal. President Biden has recovered a lot of ground by reestablishing our role in Climate Change and by taking a major leadership role in supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia. What would happen if history repeated itself?

Currently, Trump promises to end the Ukraine war in 24 hours. Ukraine won’t stop the war unless the Russians leave entirely, and Putin won’t stop unless he wins. Trump’s claim depends on stopping all military aid to Ukraine and forcing President Zelenskyy to capitulate. Based on the current Republican push to cut Ukraine aid, abandoning Ukraine is a virtual certainty in a hypothetical Trump Presidency.

Trump’s plans for global warming issues are well documented in the conservative Project 2025 document. The plan calls for gutting all efforts to fight global warming, and for resurrecting fossil fuel generated energy. Goodbye to Paris Accords and to our current leadership role in reducing greenhouse gases. Trump’s energy plan comes at the worst time because the growth in CO2 emissions is slowing down, an indication that global efforts are turning the corner.

The disastrous effects of Trump’s planned initiatives are only part of the problem. Big reversals in our international policies like this destroy our reputation as a consistent leader in world affairs. When we abandon countries that depend on us, our reputation and our influence diminish. When we abandon countries twice in a decade, our influence evaporates. Trump’s plan will bankrupt the US just like Trump bankrupted his casinos.

Tweet

(shift) Stopping Global Warming

This essay was posted on 9/17/23.

With more powerful hurricanes, more punishing droughts, disastrous fires, and more desperate migrants, the festering problem of global warming is coming to roost. When the oceans die from overheating, and the whales die from ingesting plastic. And New York is underwater, we will still be bickering about windmills killing too many sea gulls. After years of neglect, the earth’s health is bad in 6 out of 9 key measurements.

We have made a lot of mistakes. We waited too long before taking action. Many countries, including the US, have been inconsistent in their contributions. Wars and global politics too often take precedence. There have been significant efforts by some countries, but overall, there is no progress and our environment is getting worse.

If we want to come out of this challenge in a better place, then we must start with a global paradigm shift. World War II provides a model. Imagine what would have happened to the Allies if each country controlled their respective armies independently. Hitler would have won. The Allies recognized that a cooperative plan under consolidated leadership was necessary. The same applies to the war on global warming. While there is a great deal of talking, the level of cooperation has not translated well enough to action. This fight needs consolidated leadership to drive energy policy on a global scale.

All countries must agree to relinquish some control to a task force with the job of managing the containment of global warming on an international level. This model will only succeed if the task force can hold a country to its commitment over multiple administrations.

The shift to a limited world government needed to manage this task force won’t happen overnight, but we should take some real, tangible steps in this direction.

Tweet

(happy) The Rich and the Poor

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 9/6/23.

Healthy, working economies need rich people and the poor. The rich convert new innovations into commercial products that change and hopefully improve our lives. Rich entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs developed a unique, hand-held computer AKA a smart phone. The smart phone enriched Apple and made the smart phone an indispensable tool for many of us. And the poor carry out the basic functions, sometimes invisibly, that we absolutely need.

But how can we tell who is too poor or too rich. The people who are too poor are too easy to identify. They are the homeless tenting in our parks. They are the jobless who can’t find work for both good and bad reasons. They are the addicts. They are single mothers with too many children and too few job skills. The ones who are too poor are the ones needing the most help and the ones who drag down the economy.

The poorest Countries have struggling economies. Their governments can’t extract enough revenue from their economies to do the necessary things and also feed the poor. Countries in Africa and South America often lack the cash needed to help the poor, so poverty thrives in an unhealthy way.

When a country has a healthy economy that can feed and shelter everyone, then the government can choose to make it happen. Many European countries have made the choice to invest more in the poor. Countries like Sweden and France invest in their poor through government run welfare programs. They use socialist concepts within the context of providing forms of welfare insurance to the poor and the rich.

The US economy is big enough and active enough to also provide universal welfare insurance as well, but the US welfare system leaves too many without coverage. The naysayers don’t want to turn the US into a socialist state, and they don’t want to be overtaxed.

Sweden is a good counter example to the fear of socialism in the US. True, Sweden has socialized its welfare system that provides universal coverage, and Sweden has a high tax rate. Sweden supports the welfare system with a free-market capitalist economy.

Sweden’s social democracy works. Sweden is the 7th happiest country. The rich are not too rich, but they are rich enough, and the poor are not too poor. In 16th place, the US is a very happy country but not as happy as the Swedes. The US doesn’t need to copy Sweden exactly, but raising the tax rate in the higher brackets and making our existing welfare truly universal might make everyone just as happy as the Swedes.

Tweet

(ev) EV Mandates

This essay was posted on 8/24/23.

editorial in the local paper said that government mandates shouldn’t drive the switch to EV’s citing EV cost issues, individual rights, and what cold Maine winters will do to electric vehicles. Nickerson, an acknowledged EV fan, has turned the EV issue upside down.

The cost issues: The price of an EV is higher than the price of a gas-powered car, but that is not the whole picture. The cost of owning a car is the purchase price, maintenance costs, and gas costs less the resale value. Current comparisons show that the cost of ownership is about the same between gas-powered vehicles and EV’s. Over time, as the technology improves, the cost of EV’s will go down.

Maine winters: As battery technology improves, batteries will be better suited to Maine winters. And don’t forget that Maine winters are becoming milder as we continue to pump more greenhouse gases into the air. Maine winters are a problem now and an achievable goal for the future.

Individual rights: The question of rights violations depends on the reality of a government mandate, but the current plans don’t support it. Ford plans to be totally converted to EV’s by 2030. GM plans to build only EV’s by 2035. Chrysler plans to be all-electric by 2028. The EV-mandate will be market driven, not government driven. Furthermore, mandates allow people to keep their gas-powered vehicle, and anyone can buy a used car that is gas-powered. The conversion to EV’s has already begun and is too far along to be stopped.

Governor Mills’s mandate isn’t directed to car buyers. It is directed to charging station installers, electricity generators, and other industry providers that you’d better be ready and provide a smooth conversion to EV technology, because it is coming.

Tweet

(doi) The Declaration of Independence

This essay was posted on 8/13/23.

Social media comments have derided Trump attorney John Eastman for using the Declaration of Independence (DOI) as a legal justification for the failed attempt to overthrow the 2020 election on Jan 6. Detractors mistakenly think Eastman is confusing the DOI with the Constitution. Eastman is not confused, and there is more to the Declaration than meets the eye.

The DOI argues that England’s powers over the colonies have led to intolerable abuses that can only be resolved with a revolution. The DOI lays out a case for the colonies to break away from England and steer their own course.

What if the colonists lost the war with England. Would the DOI provide enough legal cover to protect the founding fathers? By fulfilling King George’s promise to carry out a fitting punishment on the revolution’s leaders, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others would be hanged summarily. The DOI would carry no weight.

As important as the DOI is to our Nation’s values and traditions, it is not a legal document, and the DOI’s predilection to revolution is not supported by our Nation’s laws. Eastman is grasping at legal straws, because our laws and our Constitution do not favor the overthrow of our governing process.

In fact, Eastman goes too far into uncharted territory. By relying on the pro-revolutionary text of the DOI, Eastman acknowledges that Trump’s purpose in Jan 6 is the illegal overthrow of the election process. He puts the label of insurrectionist squarely on Donald Trump’s shoulders.

Tweet

(frog) The Frog Metaphor

This essay was posted on 8/4/23.

In Al Gore’s environment movie, An Inconvenient Truth, a frog in a pot of warming water is a metaphor for global warming. In the movie, the frog ignores the slowly warming water and allows himself to be cooked. In his book about global warming, The Parrot and the Igloo, David Lipsky cites experiments showing that the frog is smart enough to jump out of the pot before being cooked.

Gore and Lipsky both miss the most salient point. What if the pot is so big and so high that the frog can’t jump out no matter how hard he tries. Then the frog gets cooked.

This July brought record-breaking heat to Central America, the Northern part of South America, and Africa. The heating pattern shows a widening of the tropical zone. With this unusual heat comes drought followed by water and food shortages. The lack of food and water inevitably brings gang violence and chaos. It is natural for people to jump somewhere else.

Many people from these hot zones jump to places like New York City that are not equipped to support the incoming flow of asylum seekers. So, the overflowing newcomers sleep on sidewalks and in empty sporting arenas, if they are lucky. The asylum seekers are like the frogs in a pot of hot water, but too many find jumping out of the pot is virtually impossible.

As long as there is no universal, coordinated effort to stem global warming, then the tropical zones will get hotter and wider and the asylum seekers will keep coming. The immigration problem is unsolvable at least in the near future. We don’t have an immigration problem. We have a housing problem and a feeding problem. And it is a national crisis.

Tweet

(nixon) The Trump Agenda

This essay was posted on 7/27/23.

Donald Trump wants to reestablish Presidential powers that were stripped away after Richard Nixon resigned. Trump wants to control independent government agencies like the EPA, the Federal Reserve, and the DOJ directly from the West Wing, he wants the authority to fire any government employee for no reason, and he wants the power of impoundment, so he can simply refuse to implement any Congressionally authorized program he doesn’t like.

Nixon flexed his executive muscles first. He ordered two AG’s to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Both refused and immediately resigned. Finally, Robert Bork agreed to fire Cox. Nixon’s problems continued after Bork appointed Leon Jaworski to succeed Cox.

Nixon had a real enemies list with names and short descriptions. The enemies were people that, in Nixon’s view, harmed him in some way. Nixon intended to use the government bureaucracy to punish his enemies. Journalist Daniel Schorr was surprised that he was on the list.

Nixon liked the Presidential impoundments privilege. Nixon abused the impoundment power by holding up Congressionally authorized funds that he disapproved of. Nixon’s abuse of impoundment was like an unchecked veto power.

Donald Trump’s grab for power echoes Nixon’s only it is louder. Trump wants control over all employees, not just key ones. Trump also wants control over more than just the DOJ. And imagine Trump with impoundment power. He would end efforts to combat global warming. He would cut aid to Ukraine. He would turn the DOJ into his own police force. Trump’s overreach is much bigger than Nixon’s.

The only difference between Richard Nixon and Donald Trump: Nixon didn’t crow about his power grab in public, and Donald Trump does. A word of caution. Nixon’s term of office didn’t end well.

Tweet

(freewill) Free Will and Physics

This essay was posted on 7/20/23.

The book Existential Physics by Sabine Hossenfelder covers a lot of topics that physicists argue about ceaselessly but are not typically found in regular physics books. One of those topics is the subject of free will: Does it or doesn’t it exist?

The concept of free will is inconsistent with the physics notion of a deterministic universe in which the physical laws of an object can be determined by the physical laws of its components. A person uses the neurons of his or her brain and the electric signals therein to make a decision. A physicist would say that the nature of a brain should predict any decision, so an unexpected choice based on free will should not happen. While my explanation is oversimplified it contains the spirit of Hossenfelder’s belief that there is no free will.

Hossenfelder relies too much on the mathematical approach and on an overreaching idea that physics must explain everything. Human behavior and social behavior have a level of inherent chaos and unpredictability that should disqualify inclusion in a mathematical model of physics that must be deterministic. Rosa Parks is a good example. The forces that made Rosa Parks decide to sit in the whites-only section of a bus were clearly driven by her own free will. The notion of free will is real, but it is independent of physics.

The humans on earth have a real physics problem that needs resolution. It is the threat of global warming created by human-induced greenhouse gases. In a world divided by nations and politics, all of us need to unite if we want to reset our climate. It will take an enormous amount of free will from everyone to overcome our differences. We have no choice.

Tweet

(ch4) The Methane Problem

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 7/13/23.

A recent article in the Smithsonian described how a Connecticut family farm saved money by using Methane captured from cow manure to heat and supply electricity to the farm. The farm processes 9,000 tons of manure each year. The process enables anaerobic micro-organisms to convert the manure into Methane, which is funneled to a furnace that provides heat and electricity. Methane extraction keeps the farm profitable, but environmentalists warn about the long-term environmental costs, because burning Methane adds Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere. Does it make sense, in the long run, to shut down the Methane capture process and develop ways to air out the manure and stop Methane creation up front?

For a gas that comprises only 0.00017% of our atmosphere, Methane is troublesome. Carbon Dioxide is the chief contributor of global warming with over 235 times more molecules in the atmosphere, but Methane makes up a lot of ground, because it is at least 80 times more effective at containing heat. The small number of Methane molecules store about 34% as much heat as do the much larger number of Carbon Dioxide molecules.

Methane breaks down in 12 years, on average, compared to 1000 years for Carbon Dioxide, and Methane levels in the atmosphere are increasing. Methane breaks down into water and Carbon Dioxide, so Methane’s contribution as a greenhouse gas doesn’t go away, but decreases greatly after the chemical change. Methane levels are low, because of the molecule’s relatively short life, but the concentration of Methane is increasing, because we are adding Methane faster than it is degrading, so the impact of Methane on global warming is increasing, like Carbon Dioxide. Methane’s presence in the atmosphere is a problem that must be solved.

The alternatives to burning Methane pose their own problems. Spreading 9,000 tons of manure on the ground to kill off the micro-organisms would require a lot of land and would threaten the local water supply, and switching to non-dairy milk is not feasible.

Until we find a better solution, burning Methane has less impact on greenhouse gases than releasing Methane to the air. And there is another opportunity. Food from restaurants and stores sent to landfills decompose and give off about 11% of the total Methane released into the atmosphere each year. Processing all this food along with the manure would reduce the Methane effect even further.

Tweet

(scotus) The Website Wedding Case

This essay was posted on 7/2/23.

The Supreme Court sided with a website designer who doesn’t want to be compelled to design web sites for gay couples, because her religious beliefs contradict the notion of a same-sex wedding. Unsurprisingly, the vote was 6 conservative votes supporting the website designer and 3 liberal judges supporting the gay couple.

There are surface problems with this decision. First, the gay couple and wedding website are only hypothetical. The Supreme Court ruled on a non-existent hypothetical case, and the complaining website designer was not the injured party, with no standing. Apparently, the Court made a hypothetical ruling that predicts how the Court might rule in a real similar case, except that this case establishes real, if unfounded, precedent.

The technical distractions in this case obscure the real issue, which involves discrimination. In a 2020 discrimination case, Justice Gorsuch supported LGBTQ rights in the workplace, based on Federal Law. In America, everyone has a right to live their lives and make a buck, including gays. Its Federal Law. Justice Gorsuch ruled in favor of the website designer, because the designer shouldn’t be forced to promote a message that she doesn’t believe in. Obviously, Justice Gorsuch doesn’t know what a wedding website is.

A wedding website helps a wedding party and guests prepare for a wedding in an efficient way. It is simply a good way to communicate between the wedding participants. No one else is remotely interested. A wedding website is not a political or moral statement. It is used by gay and straight couples to make their weddings run smoothly so they can get along with their lives. It sounds to me like a gay couple seeking a wedding website should be protected by Federal Law the same way the gay worker is protected or the gay shopper is protected.

Tweet

(arpa) ARPA and Inflation

This essay was posted on 6/24/23.

Republicans probably want inflation to rise again instead of dropping at a slow but steady rate. It is one of their campaign talking points. Republicans need talking points, but they miss the point on inflation.

A review of President Biden’s first big expense, the $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan Act also known as ARPA. The bill provided financial relief to individuals and families who were economic victims of COVID. The bill also provided money to states and municipalities for job training projects and providing relief to state budgets that suffered under the stress of COVID.

The ratings agency, Moody’s Analytics evaluated ARPA positively. Moody’s credited ARPA for curbing the effects of the COVID-induced recession. ARPA created 4 million jobs and helped speed up economic recovery in the US. While ARPA spending contributed to inflation, the effect occurred early in the recovery when businesses were raising their prices back to normal levels. At the same time, there was COVID induced inflation as well, including a contribution from the COVID Delta variant.

Moody’s assessed the effects of ARPA on inflation, but it did not go into whether the current inflation is harming the average wage earner. The experts are mixed on this. Some say that wages are keeping up with inflation, while other experts are pessimistic. Statista tracked inflation rates with wage increases. They showed that wages increased, but not as fast as inflation until now with wages still increasing while inflation is going down. Employers are, in fact, reacting to inflation, just not as fast as we would like.

In summary, ARPA shortened the recession, helped create jobs, and helped the US recover faster than other industrialized countries that did not make the same kind of investments as the US. Inflation is a nuisance, but not an issue.

Tweet

(now) Enlightenment Now

This essay was posted on 6/15/23.

The book Enlightenment Now by cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker tries to show how the views of the 18th century age of enlightenment are coming to fruition in the age expanding wealth and scientific innovation.

Pinker lives and breathes charts filled with data. He shows how increased wealth in a growing, industrial economy has also seen longer life expectancy, better health, plenty of food, more economic equality, fewer wars, safer cars, and a better, more satisfying life style. Pinker’s charts can be very persuasive.

One of the most interesting correlations developed by Pinker is the relationship to wealth and liberalism. Pinker’s graphs show that countries become more liberal as they become wealthier. He further shows that wealthier countries are more liberal than less wealthy countries. Pinker often reminds the reader that the graphs do not show cause and effect. They only show correlation. But if there is no causal relationship between wealth and liberalism, then why even broach the subject?

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, when survival is not a problem, you can include the needs of others with your own. You can choose to invoke more liberal views. Wealth can give you security and enable liberalism to grow, if that is your choice.

Not everyone chooses to embrace liberal views. A strongly divided US is a prime example. Some of the most conservative people in the US are the captains of industry who provide the bulk of financial support to conservative politicians in the hopes making the US less liberal. Those same captains of industry pretty much drive our economy and make themselves even richer and make the US even wealthier.

By making us all better off, aren’t these captains of industry also some of the biggest enablers of liberalism, the world view they most revile?

Tweet

(suspend) Ending the Debt Ceiling

This essay was posted on 6/8/23.

The most significant part of the bipartisan debt ceiling deal is the suspension of the debt ceiling for two years. This experiment will test whether President Biden can maintain the national debt at a responsible level during a time of relatively normal economic activity. The debt suspension experiment was tried just 4 years ago with, at best, mixed results.

In 2019, Donald Trump’s tax cuts weren’t paying the bills, so Democrats and Republicans made a deal and suspended the debt ceiling for about 2 years and into the next administration. The debt arrangement worked out well, because it gave the government some political leeway to deal with COVID’s high impact on the nation. Nevertheless, over $4 trillion was added to the national debt.

The 2019 debt ceiling arrangement sounds a lot like the current 2-year deal, but there are two significant differences. First, there will be new tax revenues from the 1% stock buy-back tax and the 15% minimum corporate tax on large companies. Second, the Republicans will be watching for large increases in the debt in anticipation of the 2024 Presidential election. If he wants to succeed in 2024, President Biden needs to have a tight grip on federal borrowing. So far, the debt to GDP ratio has gone down under Biden, and the downward trend needs to continue.

If President Biden, with Congressional support, can hold the line on spending and raise taxes, when necessary, then we can stop the needless political posturing over a debt ceiling that absolutely, unambiguously must be raised if we want to maintain our leadership role in world events.