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

(mitch) Saving the Republican Party

This essay was posted on 1/19/20.

An unintended consequence of the Jan 6 failed Capitol insurrection was the closing of a political funding spigot from major corporations to Republican members of Congress who voted against Biden electors after right-wing extremists trashed the Capitol building and left five people dead.

Call it a coincidence. Call it a spark of patriotism. Senate Majority Leader is softening in his response to the Democratic Article of Impeachment. McConnell presumably would make a conviction vote from Republicans very painful, but he is releasing his minions to vote their conscience. Is it because Trump’s crime is so obvious? Trump campaign workers organized the march on the Capitol. Riot participants claimed that Trump told them to do it. Or Maybe McConnell worries that the loss of corporate money threatens his ability to regain a congressional majority?

The public response to the Capital insurrection says a lot about the politics. Donald Trump’s approval rating has plummeted since the attack on the Capitol. A 55% majority of Americans support Trump’s impeachment, and a 59% majority hold Trump responsible for inciting violence against the government. Corporate America appears to have a better understanding of the public mood than the large number of Republicans who still supported Trump even after their chambers were sacked.

Mitch McConnell may have softened, but his position on the Trump impeachment is still a secret, as it probably should be. The outcome of the Senate impeachment trial will tell us a lot about the Republican party. Will they listen to the potential loss of corporate money, or will they remain loyal to Trump’s base? The future viability of the Republican party may depend on it.

Tweet

(biglie) The Big Lie

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 1/12/20.

Before continuing, it should be understood that President-Elect Joe Biden didn’t steal the election. To say otherwise implies that the election fraud involved both parties in multiple states using fifty different sets of rules. It implies that the many controls in place don’t work. It implies that Donald Trump must have stolen the 2016 election, and Barack Obama must have stolen his elections. The election was certified because the election officials didn’t uncover enough irregularities to change the result. Biden won. Period.

The notion that ANTIFA is behind the Capitol insurrection is laughable. Never mind that there is no evidence. The idea that a liberal group would start a riot to stop the election of a liberal President is ludicrous.

Republicans are circulating two big lies now. They are: Joe Biden stole the election, and ANTIFA was behind the Wednesday insurrection at the Capitol. Shockingly, half of the Republicans believe the election was stolen. There are no surveys on the ANTIFA question yet. Both of these lies have been disproven one way or another. Why do people still believe them in the face of mounting negative evidence?

Big lies have a life-cycle. First, they get momentum on social media, but the attention span on social media is short. Second, politicians, like Donald Trump, keep repeating them. Repetition teaches people that the big lie has merit. Third, friendly news media validate the lies by repeating them on the news and by supporting them on opinion-shows.

All new outlets do not support the big lie, which leads to the fourth element, fake news. Protagonists of the big lie repeat early and often that unfriendly news outlets peddle fake news. Viewers begin to disregard the news outlets that provide alternate views, i.e., the truth.

The fifth item is news that supports the big lie. Republicans perpetuate the big lie when they object during the confirmation process to state-certified electoral votes for Biden under the claim, without real evidence, that the election is fraudulent. Combine the event with lie-friendly news coverage and mob-rule by believers emerges, as it did on January 6.

Big lies work. The politicians who promote them know better. They are lying, but the voters on the street believe them and repeat them. I know at least three, and I don’t know that many Republicans.

A lot of effort and planning goes into turning a big lie into a believed idea. The liars need all of that effort, because hiding the truth forever is virtually impossible.

Tweet

(jan6-2) A Bloodless Coup

This essay was posted on 1/5/20.

Donald Trump’s arguably seditious call to the Georgia Secretary of State is only the tip of the iceberg. The tactics pushed by Ted Cruz and others to form a commission to investigate all the rumored election fraud is more concerning, and the 50+ rejections in the courts of election fraud claims are not reassuring. It all revolves around the election of 1876.

The election of 1876 had disputes in four states, and three of those states had disputed electoral vote results. With little precedent to fall back on and a deadlocked Congress, they set up a bipartisan commission to resolve the conflicts. The commission failed. Apparently, a secret deal was cut. The Independent member of the commission was replaced with a Republican, and Rutherford B. Hayes won the election without a lead in the popular vote.

Congress waited until 1887, when they passed a comprehensive election law that addressed the short-comings uncovered in 1876. The 1887 law clarified the election process and the Congressional confirmation process. The law set up a safe harbor date after which election results would be beyond dispute. And the law set up unambiguous rules for handling election disputes. With the 1887 law, the election commission would not have been necessary.

The 1876 election issues and their collective resolution apply to 2020 and explain why Ted Cruz wants a commission. If the 1887 law is applied rigorously, Joe Biden prevails as the confirmed President-Elect. If, however, the 1876 dysfunctional commission approach is applied, then Donald Trump still has a chance, even though he was clobbered in the popular vote.

All of this Republican activity looks like a coup.

Tweet

(jan6) Counting Electoral Votes

This essay was posted on 12/28/20.

The election of 1876 has special meaning this year. In 1876, Democrat Bill Tilden beat Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote, but Tilden lost the electoral college vote after a deal was struck in which Hayes was awarded the electoral college and Reconstruction of the South ended. They needed the deal because three states each had two sets of electoral votes, one for Hayes and one for Tilden. Congress was deadlocked over the competing slates of electoral votes, so they had to make the deal.

Congress passed an election law in 1887 and amended it in 1948. The law was designed to remedy the flaws in the 1876 election. The end result is a set of procedures for electoral college voting and counting. The counting part is important this year.

The problems of 1876, are back in 2020. Six states each have two sets of electors, one for Biden and one for Trump. It will be up to Congress on January 6 to resolve the issue.

The electoral vote counting procedures have a resolution for more than one set of electors. If two sets of electors are present for a state and Congress can’t decide which slate is correct, then the slate certified by the Governor will prevail. With a Democratic majority, the House will vote for Biden. The Senate vote is not relevant because the Biden slates are the ones certified by the respective governors and should be counted, according to the law.

If, the unlikely outcome that Trump wins the January 6 count, thus nullifying the December 14 electoral college vote, then it would be in clear and blatant violation of the law.

Tweet

(popular) The Popular Vote

This essay was posted on 12/22/20 and appeared in the Portland Sunday Telegram on 1/3/21.

16 states with a collective total of 196 electoral votes have signed onto choosing presidential electors from the party that wins the National popular vote. If enough states sign on and make the collective total of electors 270 or more, then the president will be elected by popular vote. Is this a good idea?

Until now, I have favored the electoral college system, because close election disputes can be isolated to a small number of states. Resolve those isolated state issues and resolve the election relatively quickly. A close election decided by a popular vote has no isolated problem area, because every vote matters in every state, so choosing a winner is more complicated.

The elections in 2000, 2004, 2016, and 2020, all have electoral college results with only a 50-50 chance of reflecting the will of the people. In each case the electoral college result is decided by between 500 votes and 100,000 votes in from 1 to 3 states. These elections were decided by less than 1 tenth of 1 percent of the total vote. On any other day the losing candidate might have won. In the four elections, two presidents-elect won the popular vote and two presidents-elect did not. Maybe chance played a role.

In 2020, pundits defending President-Elect Joe Biden often remind us that Biden won the popular vote by 7 million votes. The popular vote seems to reflect the will of the people more than the electoral vote does.

A presidential election by popular vote would emphasize the most populous states, like California, Texas, Florida, and New York and make swing states irrelevant. The power and influence of these four states would grow at the expense of smaller states, but the president-elect would represent the will of the people.

Tweet

(worried) The Neverending Election

This essay was posted on 12/16/20.

First, Joe Biden is the legitimate and official President-Elect after crossing the 270-vote threshold as electors voted on Monday. Second, Donald Trump’s claim that he won the election at 10:30 PM, Nov 3 is patently absurd. Millions of mail-in, absentee votes are counted last in most states, and those legitimate votes put Biden ahead of Trump. End of story.

After the November election, Trump filed 50 lawsuits alleging millions of illegal votes for President-Elect Joe Biden, but Trump’s goal of overturning the election results died when the courts soundly rejected his claims. An attempt to overthrow the Pennsylvania vote was soundly rejected by the Supreme Court, and with the clock counting down, Trump tried a Hail Mary lawsuit issued by the Texas AG. That failed as well.

Undeterred, Trump said he worried that the US will have an illegitimate President (Trump meant Biden). I too worry about an illegitimate President. It’s not Biden. Trump does more than worry. He encourages pro-Trump demonstrations that advocate overturning the sovereign wishes of the voters. Fired up by Trump and recently pardoned Mike Flynn, protests recently led to four stabbings and a shooting.

I am also worried about Republicans in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and 3 other states who formed alternate, unauthorized electoral college meetings and voted for Trump. With six states in play, Republicans have a slim chance of using the alternate votes to make Trump the winner during the joint session of Congress that accepts the electoral vote totals. It would amount to a bloodless coup.

Mitch McConnell warned Senators against objecting the election results, but I worry when someone says the election is all over but the shouting.

Tweet

(facts) The Alternative Facts

This essay was posted on 12/7/20.

Kellyanne Conway introduced the idea of alternative facts at the start of the Trump administration. Alternative facts are two sets of contradicting assertions. The question is: Which set of assertions are provably false? They are the alternate ones.

Donald Trump makes some very pronounced assertions about the Presidential election. He claims he won the election. Trump claims he won in the swing states like Georgia, for example. He claims that thousands of mail-in votes for Joe Biden are invalid and should not be counted. Trump claims that all votes counted after Nov 3 should not be counted. He claims that voting machines were rigged. He claims that poll-workers cheated. He makes these claims even after the votes are certified.

The polling places and the courts tell a different story. About 50 lawsuits filed in behalf of Trump contesting election results have failed because judges, including Republican-appointed judges, didn’t find any evidence of substantial voter fraud needed to change results. None. Georgia is in the news now. Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp and Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, say that Joe Biden carried Georgia after two recounts. Voting machines are thoroughly tested before they are used. Accusations of poll-worker fraud have been debunked. The facts are clear and provable. Joe Biden won the election.

Unfortunately, Trump’s alternative facts have been spread by Trump and by all-too loyal Republicans and by Trump-friendly news media with the result that a large percentage of Republicans and other Trump adherents earnestly believe that Trump won. We are in a fact-based stalemate.

Joe Biden should be inaugurated President on January 20, and one of his goals is to work with Republicans, but compromising with Republicans will not be possible until all agree on the facts.

Tweet

(rigged) Rigging the Election

This essay was posted on 11/30/20.

The simple truth: The 2020 election was not rigged unless you consider the closed polling stations and the sabotaged post office, two ways to keep people from voting that were targeted at Democratic districts. Never mind the vote counts or the certified results or the reputations of the vote counters, and don’t ask Donald Trump. Just look at the State and Federal Courts. They have soundly rejected Trump’s unsupported claims of wide-spread voter fraud. If there is enough fraud to overturn the election, show me.

Trump’s strategy isn’t stopping certification, so he is relying on the Supreme Court to save him, and, with a 6-3 advantage, Trump feels confident. Legal experts predict that the Supreme Court won’t hear his appeals because they lack the specifics to make a case and because the issues only apply to state law and have been resolved in lower courts.

Predictions are fine, but the law can sometimes be unpredictable. When he appeals to the Supreme Court, Trump will create a two-headed monster. If, as expected, the Supreme Court rejects his arguments, Trump conservatives will feel unjustly betrayed and mistrust the court. If the Supreme Court upholds Trump’s appeals, then Trump’s vote will override the collective decision of almost 157 million voters. This election and future elections would be rendered moot and irrelevant. In either case, the court and the American people will lose.

All of this matters in ways that aren’t obvious. Ever since the election, Trump has complained that he won the popular vote, but the election was rigged by the Democrats. The courts rebuked him, but his supporters kept listening. Now, there is an important runoff election in Georgia for two US Senate seats, and Trump faces demoralized Georgia Republicans who think their vote won’t count in the ‘rigged’ election.

Tweet

(pardon) Pardoning Donald Trump

This essay was posted on 11/24/20.

Some Democrats are worried that Joe Biden will pull a Gerald Ford and pardon Donald Trump for the good of the country. Let’s forget that Biden has not yet officially garnered enough electoral votes, and Donald Trump is spending all of his Presidential time plotting with Rudy Giuliani a hostile takeover of the country. What would you do with Donald Trump if you were Joe Biden?

There are a few options. The first is to pardon him. It would be a questionable political move and might not have the desired effect of uniting the country. The divisions are real and they are huge. Pardoning Trump would only make things worse, because it would give him tacit permission to continue his destructive political career. Besides, pardoning Trump would not give him a free pass in New York where Trump is already facing investigations.

A Federal investigation would most likely lead to a conviction, but a lot of Trump’s crimes are of an impeachable nature that would be unnecessary for private citizen Trump. Nevertheless, a Federal investigation is needed even if it fails to uncover charges because we all need to understand what Trump did so we can prevent it in the future.

An investigation without a charge does not seem to be a fulfilling use of taxpayers’ money unless there is a catch. The charges could be held in abeyance as long as Trump behaves himself. Punishment doesn’t necessarily mean jail time. If there is a sword over Trump’s head that he can’t control, that might be punishment enough.

The paramount objective is not to punish Trump specifically but to find a way to move on and become whole again. We will do that, no matter what. We always have.

Tweet

(fraud) The Failure to Concede

The content in this story is too big for 300 words. This essay was posted on 11/15/20.

First, the facts. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump got 306 electoral votes and won the election. Joe Biden won the same number of electoral votes in 2020, after the votes were counted, and should become the undisputed 46th President of the US. Donald Trump refuses to concede the election and refuses to cooperate in the transition to the new administration.

Donald Trump claims massive voter fraud in Pennsylvania, where a half-million vote lead on election night was erased when all the mail-in ballots were counted. Trump claims falsely that the mail-in ballots are not valid, presumably because they arrived late. The ballots arrived on or before election day, but the processing of them was delayed. They were valid ballots. Trump’s claim is patently false.

Trump has also filed at least 18 law suits in swing states claiming massive voter fraud. All suits were thrown out due to lack of evidence. Bill Barr authorized federal prosecutors to investigate possible voter fraud. 16 assistant prosecutors reported back that there was no evidence of fraud.

Trump can’t win this election unless he flips 70-90,000 votes in 3-4 states, because his law suits are not finding votes to even flip one state. Trump must take another approach besides challenging ballots, so he relies on the false claim of massive but unproven voter fraud. Trump is trying to steal the election, and there are consequences.

Stealing the election is more than a violation of the people’s sovereign right to choose the President. It is the act of an autocrat and would mark the end of democracy as our election process becomes irrelevant. It would undermine our role in global politics as the champion of democratic governments. In the eyes of the world we would be less great.

Trump’s gambit is likely to fail as his law suits get thrown out and the election proceeds to a normal end, but Trump’s obstruction of the transition has consequences. Fixing problems in the State Department and other agencies will be delayed possibly for months. Repairs to the COVID pandemic will be delayed. Roll-out of the vaccine might have problems. Our enemies will have opportunities to damage us.

Biden is being punished by Trump for winning, but Trump is hurting everyone else more than he hurts Biden.

Tweet

(election) The 2020 Election

This essay was posted on 11/7/20.

It would be naïve to say that the US election system is free of voting fraud, but it is generally fair, or at least fair enough. The secret lies with the election workers who take their jobs very seriously and with the election process responsibility distributed to each of the 50 states.

With the election vote count is going against him, Donald Trump claims, without evidence, that Democrats are stealing the election through widespread voter fraud. Trump also claims that the vote count is held in secret and lacks transparency. He doesn’t understand that each party sends local representative to monitor the process and that there is a public broadcast of the proceedings. Trump’s most impactful accomplishment is the undermining of the election process.

In contrast, Joe Biden asks everyone to be patient, stay calm, and to let the process continue. He said in an address to the people:

“In America the vote is sacred. It’s how people of this nation express their will, and it is the will of the voters. No one, not anything else, chooses the President of the United States of America. So, each ballot must be counted. And that’s what we’re going to see going through now.”

Biden understands that electing the president is the sovereign responsibility of the people. In contrast, Trump doesn’t seem to care how people actually vote, because he plans to override it in the courts.

With 270 projected electoral votes, Joe Biden is the presumptive winner. For whatever reason, the voters have picked the candidate with a clear understanding of why we have elections over the candidate who could care less.

The people have made the right choice for this moment in our history.

Tweet

(dowjones) The Dow Jones Average

This essay was posted on 10/28/20.

Donald Trump’s favorite economic indicator, the Dow Jones Average, plunged 1,700 points in three days amid worries from new COVID spikes and the lack of a stimulus bill. The stock market is not the best indicator of economic health, but it predicts the onset of hard times very well.

Trump has dismissed the COVID pandemic from the beginning. He said it would be over in two weeks. He called it a hoax. He mocked the wearing of masks. He pushed for an early end to social distancing measures. The economy was more important. Now, Trump wants to let it spread out of control and let some miracle vaccine fix it.

Trump’s current COVID positions are making Wall Street traders nervous. The traders are nervous about COVID overwhelming the economy. They are nervous about Congress avoiding a badly needed COVID stimulus package while they confirmed Judge Barrett for the Supreme Court. When Wall Street traders are nervous, the Stock Market goes down. But Donald Trump is preoccupied with getting reelected.

So much of Trump’s foibles are forgotten. Remember the Russian meddling investigation? Remember all the corrupt cabinet members? Remember the gold star families? Remember the Kurds? Remember the bromance with Vladimir Putin? Remember the profiteering at Mar-a-Lago? Remember Charlottesville? Remember George Floyd? The timing of COVID has not been good for Trump.

Trump’s prediction that COVID will all go away when there is a vaccine doesn’t reflect the reality of huge daily case numbers and the inevitable rise in fatalities as hospitals fill up.

Trump’s decision to make the Barrett confirmation more important than a stimulus bill has impact. Wall Street traders responded with plunging numbers in the stock market amid worries of an economic downturn. Now it is time for the voters to respond as well – from a human perspective.

Tweet

(abood) Judicial Activism

This essay was posted on 10/18/20.

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave Judge Amy Barrett a lecture about how the Supreme Court operates. He describes how conservatives forced a decision on the Supreme Court resulting in a 5-4 majority favoring conservatives. Whitehouse cited 80 decisions also decided 5-4 favoring conservatives. Whitehouse is troubled by the high level of judicial activism in the courts and exhorts Barrett to be a change-agent.

Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court has consequences to the ACA decision and others, but the replacement of Justice Scalia was far more impactful. When Scalia died, conservatives lost their 5-4 edge, resulting in a 4-4 court where law mattered more than ideology. Worse, Barack Obama tried to fill the seat until Mitch McConnell refused to even consider Merrick Garland. Republicans under Donald Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch and preserved their 5-4 edge, leading to the scenario in Whitehouse’s legal lesson.

A 5-4 majority isn’t a conservative monopoly. Liberals have enjoyed periods with a 5-4 majority, and there have been periods where one justice held most of the power by being a swing voter. A 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court seems to bring out a higher level of judicial activism, at least in the eyes of the minority.

Activism can be a good force. It can make an injustice right. It can equalize an inequity. But many argue that activism doesn’t belong in the courts. The litigants should be the activists, and the justices should be the referees.

If a 5-4 court is an activist court, then maybe a 4-4 court or a 5-5 court would be fairer, or at least be less predictable. If, for example, Joe Biden added three liberal justices to the Supreme Court, he would not be packing the court with liberals. He would be unpacking the conservative super majority.

Tweet

(try) The FDR Rule

This essay was posted on 10/4/20.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a simple, effective strategy for dealing with the Great Depression. It is the same strategy used by our most innovative people. The strategy is: Take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.

One of Donald Trump’s greatest and most dangerous weaknesses is his inability to learn FDR’s simple maxim.

The COVID pandemic is a good example. In the middle of June when we had over 21,000 new cases per day, Trump declared that we turned the corner, and it’s time to restart the economy. Only we weren’t ready. In three weeks, we were hitting 70,000 cases per day, and hospitals were filling up in some states.

Trump waited until the case rate dropped to just over 40,000. Once again, he declared that it is time to restart the economy. Once again, the daily case rate went up. Meanwhile, the economy remains damaged.

Trump’s trade wars are another example. He has the strange idea that unfavorable trade balances are bad, period. He doesn’t see that the global economy provides enough options to counteract a trade tariff strategy. The most remarkable thing Trump’s trade war has accomplished is the devastation of small Iowa farms that depended on a China market.

Explain to Trump that the trade balance with Canada must be unfavorable simply because Canada has a much smaller market than ours, and he won’t listen. His answer, according to Bob Woodward’s book Fear: Trump in the White House, is: “I know I’m right. If you disagree with me, you’re wrong.”

Trump’s actions in the COVID pandemic and in his trade-wars have harmed the US, but he is apparently unable to invoke FDR’s simple rule. When he doesn’t let go of a bad idea, he just makes things worse.

Tweet

(sovereign) The Right to Vote

This essay was posted on 10/4/20.

We the people have one important role. To vote. It is the first and most important role of governing. Choosing the President and the Legislators is our only sovereign power. But it is under fierce attack by Donald Trump and by Republicans.

Trump announced his intentions at the first Presidential debate. He falsely claimed that 80 million unsolicited mail-in ballots would be full of fraud. Trump also implied that he might need the Supreme Court to win the election. These statements are not empty.

Pennsylvania Republican State legislators want to form an election oversight committee with subpoena power allegedly designed to ignore election results and have the legislators pick the presidential electors. They want to disenfranchise Pennsylvania voters.

The Michigan AG The Michigan AG charged two conservatives with felony voter intimidation. The two men, Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, allegedly called Michigan voters falsely claiming their personal information would be abused. The two men apparently made similar calls to voters in other states. Republicans want to suppress the rights of Michigan voters.

North Carolina election officials modified mail-in ballot processing rules to accommodate a larger voter turnout, but the Trump campaign had a different idea. They sent a letter to local election officials urging them to disregard the new voter guidelines. The Republican goal is to get more mail-in ballots thrown out. They don’t want all North Carolina votes counted.

Republican efforts to change the election results are not limited to three states. They want to force a Trump victory even if the ballots say otherwise. In some areas, state law enforcement and state courts are making a difference, but we can’t rely only on these institutions.

Voting is our sovereign right, and the best way of protecting that right is to exercise it and vote.

Tweet

(socialism4) American Socialism

This essay was posted on 9/28/20.

Socialist activity by a government occurs when the government owns or regulates a business. Socialism is omnipresent in the US.

It started with public schools and the US Postal Service. Land Grant Colleges followed. Then came National Parks.

Public transportation includes ferry services, bus services, subway systems, commuter trains, passenger trains, airports, Federal and State highway system, bridges.

Healthcare services include Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, Veterans Administration hospitals, Military hospitals, hospitals, nursing homes.

Recreational items include public beaches, State Parks, libraries, museums.

National and State research centers and laboratories working on energy research, COVID research, nuclear physics research, cancer research, renewable energy, agricultural research, and many other areas.

Public utilities including electric, gas, water, sewage.

Business regulations including work safety, environmental protection, clean water, securities and exchange, banking, product and food safety.

Each of these services runs in place of or in competition with privately owned businesses running in the free market. Most of them exist because the same level of service is often not feasible in the free market.

I make one simple assertion: This socialist intrusion is not anything like the old Communism practiced in the Soviet Union, and it is not anything like the new Communism practiced in China. And I ask one simple question: Has this socialist intrusion prevented you from pursuing a full and active life in the free market?

So, what are you afraid of?

Tweet

(fbi) Politics in the DOJ

This essay was posted on 9/23/20.

FBI Director Christopher Wray is under heat from Donald Trump over testimony to Congress in particular. Trump took exception to Wray’s characterization of ANTIFA as more of a movement than an organized group, and Trump didn’t like the reports that Russia is actively working to favor Trump over Biden in the presidential election. Based on generally reported news of ANTIFA and the Russians, Trump might be asking Wray to perjure himself before Congress.

There has always been a tortured history between the DOJ, the FBI, and the President, but a milestone occurred during Watergate when US Attorney General John Mitchell was knee deep in the Watergate conspiracy and other crimes while supposedly fighting for law and order. An outcome of Watergate was the independence of the DOJ from Presidential politics. Since then, the record has been mixed until Bill Barr took over the AG.

AG Bill Barr follows Trump’s lead. He has criticized FBI investigations not approved by him and for failing to cooperate with the Durham investigation. Barr is trying to keep the FBI aligned with Trump’s election goals. Barr openly campaigns for Trump. He protects Trump allies from prosecution. It’s all about politics.

Bill Barr acts like Trump’s taxpayer-funded private lawyer. The Trump Administration has completely forgotten the lessons of Watergate and fostered a DOJ motivated by politics instead of law.

Trump is talking about firing Christopher Wray because Wray won’t play along. Trump has the authority to fire Wray, but the firing would be politically motivated. The lesson of Watergate is simple. He should not fire Wray over politics.

By politicizing the DOJ, Trump and Barr have created an important issue to be decided by the voters on Nov 3. This abuse of power will not end until Trump is out of office.

Tweet

(fear) The Politics of Fear

This essay was posted on 9/15/20.

In 2016, Donald Trump remarked, "Real power is — I don't even want to use the word — fear."

Since then, Trump uses fear better than any politician in recent memory. Without evidence Trump called protesters in Portland, Oregon dangerous anarchists and agitators who hate our country. Trump falsely portrayed the Portland protests as being out of control. He painted a fearful picture that could come to your or my town. He made people fearful of the Black Lives Matter movement. What would be Trump’s purpose?

Fear is a distracting force. It can lead you away from the true issues. In the case of the BLM protests, the true issue is the discriminatory way many police departments treat non-white people. The discrimination is a statistical reality. Blacks are three times more likely to be killed by police than Whites. But if Trump uses fear tactics to make BLM the enemy, then the relationship between police and minorities becomes a side issue or maybe no issue at all.

Donald Trump is a consistent supporter of police actions, even when they are problematic as in the case of George Floyd. Trump has said that sometimes the police choke, as in making an error in baseball. Trump wants a tough law and order police force that cracks heads, but he doesn’t want us to think about the police. He wants us to blame the victims instead.

There is a dark side to the politics of fear. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Trump supporter went to Kenosha, Wisconsin to defend property from violent rioters. Instead, he shot three unarmed protesters, killing two. Kyle said he was afraid for his life.

Tweet

(herd) Herd Immunity

This essay was posted on 9/8/20.

Donald Trump is now trying to sell herd immunity as a strategy for fighting COVID. Trump’s strategy is to let COVID run its course among the younger population and protect the most vulnerable. He would stop testing. Stop social distancing and just get the economy blasting again. The percentage of people immune from COVID would rise to over 60%, and COVID would not spread. But there are severe problems.

There would be more deaths. Dr Fauci’s estimate is probably the most accurate. He simply says that the death count would be enormous. It might not work. Permanent immunity after infection is not guaranteed. The vulnerable would still get COVID. Trump offers no specifics in his plan. The strategy of doing nothing is, at a stark minimum, non-productive.

Herd immunity is not a strategy. It is an outcome. The best way to achieve herd immunity is with a vaccine that works. A viable strategy for getting to herd immunity is: Control COVID with social distancing, masks, and limited crowd sizes combined with testing, contact tracing and quarantine. Then apply mass inoculations with a fully tested, safe, and effective vaccine. Society and the economy can run at full steam after the vaccine-induced herd immunity takes effect. We will know it when the daily COVID numbers diminish on their own.

The consequences of this strategy are an economy that runs more slowly with more people needing government support – two outcomes that Trump dearly wants to avoid. He appears willing to sacrifice a whole bunch of lives to avoid them.

Tweet

(blm) Black Lives Matter

This essay was posted on 9/2/20.

When Donald Trump identifies the protests as out-of-control riots without acknowledging that much of the violence is from white supremacists and other fringe conservative organizations and when he supports current police tactics instead of reforming them, he stands clearly against the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest movement. Trump is on the wrong side of history.

Blacks in America are on solid ground about their often-difficult relationship with police. A Harvard study declares that Blacks are three times more likely than whites to be killed by police. The usual objection to this statistic is the fact that police kill more whites than blacks. I needed to know, so I collected the applicable data for the last four years. The Black death rate per million Blacks is three times higher than the white death rate per million Whites.

Some critics of BLM say all lives matter and add that Blacks don’t have a special privilege. Then why is there a three to one disparity between blacks and Whites in what really matters – lives?

All lives really do matter because Black lives matter. As a White person, ignoring BLM is not so simple. If I do nothing, will a Muslim be next? Will an Asian follow? When will it be my turn? Ignoring the problem diminishes the value I place on a Black person and denies some of his or her humanity, and it denies some of my own as well.

How can we fix police departments? First, acknowledge that there is a problem. Second, concentrate on practices and protocols. Third, adopt a community-centered approach to policing. We can find ways of achieving law and order without shooting someone in the back for no discernable reason.

Killed by PolicePopulation(millions)Deaths/MillionRatio
YearWhiteBlackWhiteBlackWhiteBlackB/W
2017457223249.2743.371.835.142.80
2018399209249.9643.731.604.782.99
2019370235250.5244.081.485.333.61
2020242123251.1044.440.962.772.87
Average3.07

Tweet

(fauci) In-Person Voting

This essay was posted on 8/24/20 and posted on the Portland Press Herald website on 9/8/20.

Trump supporters are now using Dr Fauci’s words to support in-person voting over mail-in voting. Dr Fauci said that in-person voting should be as safe as going to the grocery store as long as you meet the safety guidelines. I agree. In-person voting should be safe, and grocery stores can be good models.

In my area, grocery stores require masks for entry. Social distancing is strongly encouraged. The aisles are marked one-way. The registers all have plexiglass barriers. Waiting lines are marked for social distancing. All workers have masks. The stores are not overcrowded.

If polling places follow the same guidelines, they should have the same risks. That means, polling workers should be tested, gloved, and masked. There should be barriers between workers and voters. Ballots should be available with contactless exchanges. Waiting lines should be marked for social distancing. The voting process should be a one-way process in which the flow is monitored to avoid bottlenecks. The number of people voting at one time should be limited to allow social distancing.

Implementing safety protocols will take more polling-place workers, not less, and it will take more polling places, not less. Early voting should be encouraged and expanded, and, yes, mail-in voting will also make it safer for everyone.

How you vote is a decision that is either personal or based on necessity. I requested absentee ballots. I will vote at home and return them to our early voting location. Whatever you decide, please vote.

Tweet

(bottleneck) The Post Office Problem

This essay was posted on 8/18/20.

The Post Office claims it will run out of money by September because of shortfalls caused by the pandemic. Nancy Pelosi added $25 Billion for the Post Office, but the money is for keeping the Post Office open; it’s not there just for mail-in balloting.

Meanwhile new Post Master Louis DeJoy has been cutting costs in bizarre ways. He cut overtime. He pulled blue drop boxes off the streets. He even scuttled labor-saving mail sorters. His cost-saving measures are mostly bogus, but they help DeJoy’s investments in competitors of the Post Office.

DeJoy’s so-called cost cutting has had one side-effect already being felt. The mail is slower and less reliable. It is so slow that the USPS warned 46 states that the post office could not meet their mail-in voting requirements this year.

USPS spokesperson Martha Johnson told a reporter that “The Postal Service’s financial condition is not going to impact our ability to process and deliver election and political mail.” Does that mean the $25 Billion request to Congress isn’t really needed? Are DeJoy’s cost-cutting measures totally unnecessary? Is the COVID induced financial emergency real? Maybe. Maybe not.

Someone is lying. One liar’s test is to decide who has the most to lose. Trump could lose the election. DeJoy’s investments might not grow fast enough. Martha Johnson will still go to work. Based on this simple test and past performance, I trust Johnson more than Trump and DeJoy.

I believe Donald Trump when he said, “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. That means they can’t have it.”

Donald Trump is sabotaging postal efficiency and making it harder for you to cast your vote, especially if you are not voting for him.

Tweet

(model) The Contact Tracing Model

This essay was posted on 8/12/20.

Donald Trump doesn’t like testing. “If we didn’t do any testing, we would have fewer cases,” he said. Testing is much simpler than Trump would have you believe. It’s all about quarantine, probably the oldest remedy for a pandemic. Quarantine reduces the rate at which new cases appear, so it is an effective way to manage a pandemic.

There is an added benefit to putting an infected person in the hospital besides providing medical care. Patients in hospitals are effectively quarantined and are much less likely to spread COVID. Hospitalizing patients lowers the growth rate of COVID, but we can do a better job. If we can identify infected people earlier, we can quarantine them and lower the growth rate of the disease even more.

Testing identifies a new case, and contact tracing identifies people who have come in contact with a new patient. The contacted people can be quarantined and tested before they have the opportunity to infect others.

Testing availability and timely evaluation are a critical success factor in contact tracing. Maine expanded an aggressive testing program in July to include new test sites and increased laboratory evaluation capabilities.

Maine has continued to use contact tracing since mid-May, but it has reported results from contact tracing only for the period from May 14 to June 26. They discovered 190 new cases with contact tracing. These cases were monitored, quarantined, and isolated from other potential cases. A simple EXCEL model suggests that isolating the new cases prevented another 150 cases and contributed to a slower COVID growth in Maine. The effort is paying off. The daily new case count has gone down steadily from 49 cases per day when contact tracing started to 11 cases per day in August.

Update on 8/18/20:

The 7-day average new daily case rate has risen from 11 cases per day to 23 cases per day. I want to see if Maine’s contact tracing can get COVID back under control. I am optimistic.

Update on 9/2/20:

In the last two weeks of August, the average daily case rate rose to 24 cases per day. During the same period testing increased to 3471 tests per day. A large portion of the increase can be attributed to a wedding that reportedly spread to 123 cases and counting.

Update on 9/15/20:

In the first 15 days of September, the average daily case rate rose to 26 cases per day. During the same period testing increased to 4901 tests per day. The consequences of the wedding continued.

Update on 10/4/20:

In the last 15 days of September, the average daily case rate rose from 26 cases per day to 32 cases per day. During the same period testing increased from 4901 tests per day to 6570 tests per day. York County became the new COVID epicenter.

Update on 10/28/20:

In 12 days of the second half of October, the average daily case rate rose from 30 cases per day to 40 cases per day. During the same period testing decreased from 6060 tests per day to 5803 tests per day. The tests per case rate went from 204 tests per case to 146 tests per case.

The number of active cases is 766, exceeding the summer max of 714, but the number of people currently hospitalized and the current mortality rate remain low.

The testing level is about the same, but COVID is spreading at a faster rate. Maine needs either a new testing strategy or more tests or a return to stricter social distancing.

On Tuesday’s report, COVID clusters appeared in three counties; Cumberland, York, and Kennebec.

Tweet

(optimism) The Danger of Optimism

This essay was posted on 8/6/20.

Donald Trump’s optimism over COVID is boundless. He said it would be over in two weeks. He was wrong. He said a vaccine would be ready quickly. He was wrong. He said we had flattened the curve and it was time to reopen. He was wrong on both counts. Since June 20, the daily case rate has more than doubled to over 70,000. Now that the new case rate is going down, Trump is itching to reopen again, and he wants to reopen schools. Wrong again. Donald Trump’s false optimism is wearing thin.

As a nation, we have a simple choice. We can follow Trump’s advice or we can be realistic about COVID.

Realistically, the vaccine might not work, but if it does work, it still might not be ready for widespread use until well into 2021, optimistically speaking. We need millions of doses, millions of syringes, distribution of the medicine, and a willing public. Meanwhile we need to continue using masks and social distancing.

Realistically, we can’t contain COVID until we increase our testing capability, which means more tests and more labs. We need more testing to implement contact tracing and to monitor schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and essential businesses. Otherwise, the alternative is a shutdown.

Realistically, we will need to continue using masks and social distancing as long as the threat of another COVID wave exists.

Realistically, COVID will be around for much longer than we could imagine or want. Probably years. After hanging around for a couple millennia, the black plague still claims a few victims every year. The common flu still kills too many people every year. We may be adding COVID to the list of chronic problems.

We can hope for the best, but we should plan for the worst.

Tweet

(magic) Misdirection

This essay was posted on 7/27/20.

Donald Trump often resorts to misdirection when he wants to get his way. He has used misdirection all his life. When he needed money for a stalled project, he ordered trucks and graders to drive around and look busy to impress on investors that the project was in good shape. It worked. Trump got his money.

Trump is now using misdirection with the Portland, Oregon protests, which have been ongoing since the death of George Floyd. Recent protests had gotten more violent and destructive, but the local authorities recognized that the majority of protesters were peaceful. Then Donald Trump launched his misdirection in the form of Federal agents in combat fatigues, tear gas, and rubber bullets. The Federal agents are rounding up and tear gassing anyone that protests under the false assumption that all protesters are dangerous. Even the so-called Naked Athena got tear gassed.

Trump is now saying that Portland, Oregon is out of control just like all those other ‘liberal Democrat’ cities. He doesn’t say that his uninvited troops are contributing to the problem.

As a campaign strategy, Trump is portraying all Democrats as bad guys, and only he can fix them. He creates the problem and then blames his assigned scapegoat. This is classic political misdirection, but Trump wants us to ignore something that is more serious.

Trump wants us to forget that there are over 4 million COVID cases in the US, and there are 150,000 COVID deaths in the US, and the daily cases and deaths are rising out of control. Donald Trump wants us to worry about something else besides COVID.

Tweet

(police) Portland, Oregon

This essay was posted on 7/20/20.

Federal officers just showed up in Portland, Oregon and used tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons on peaceful protesters, sending one to the hospital with a fractured skull. They also grabbed and detained some of the protesters for no apparent reason.

The Federal agents physically attacked people who were protesting the use of excessive force by police officers. Note the irony. Navy veteran Christopher David joined the protest to ask the simple question: Why were the Federal agents violating their oath to the Constitution? The answer they gave him was a dose of irritating spray in the face and a broken wrist. Federal agents managed to escalate the anger of protesters until a serious confrontation emerged.

The Federal agents should have known better at face value, but they went to Oregon unfamiliar with the legal ramifications and the basic duties of the police work they were undertaking. The consequences of their actions are documented. They did more harm by being in Oregon than by simply watching the protests on TV.

Obviously, Oregon authorities at the city level and at the state level are demanding that the Federal agents unceremoniously leave.

Christopher David is right. The order sending Federal agents to Oregon without the knowledge or consent of Oregon officials is a violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, and that violation fostered numerous civil rights violations against Oregon residents.

Donald Trump resorts to hyperbole when he characterizes the mostly peaceful protests as out of control rioting. Apparently, Trump doesn’t like these protests in an election year. He surely wants them stopped, but Trump’s wishes don’t change the reality that peaceful protesting is a right protected by the US Constitution.

Tweet

(testing2) More Testing

This essay was posted on 7/14/20.

Donald Trump made the spurious claim that the increase in COVID cases is caused by an increase in testing. While more tests mean more discovered cases, the overall increase in COVID cases should be temporary. Test data from the State of Maine contradicts Trump’s claim.

Maine is a small state, population-wise with wide-open spaces. Most of the COVID cases are in the three southern counties. Maine’s per capita case rate is similar to Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Oregon, and Vermont.

Maine’s experience with COVID shows how increased testing combined with a controllable case load and contact tracing can work. Maine began to reopen in phases around the middle of May. The state is more open than in May, and the process is continuing.

The testing data used here is for diagnostic testing only because antibody testing doesn’t specifically identify newly infected patients. Testing increased in May and again in June. Maine now has 44 contact tracers and some additional volunteers. From mid-may until the end of June, contact tracers discovered 71 additional cases or about 4% of the cases during that period.

After an increase in cases in May the daily case numbers have been going down. The initial increase could have been caused by the reopening of the State or by increased testing, but the steady decrease after the peak is most likely due to testing and contact tracing.

The future is always uncertain with this pandemic. For Maine, it makes sense to stay the course. If the percentage of cases found by tracers holds or rises, then Maine’s health future will remain positive.

DateME CasesTestsPositiveCase/dayTest/dayPos rate
Apr 13448744344184603.9%
Apr 2290717691907274266.3%
Apr 291056206021056214165.1%
May 131515330351515338883.7%
Jun 524825798424824210853.9%
Jun 2129578062236193014175.0%
Jul 132949686939623416212.1%
Jul 12353912191843442222771.5%

Tweet

(mailin) Mail-in Ballots

This essay was posted on 7/8/20 and appeared in the Portland Press Herald on 7/10/20.

Without proof, Donald Trump and the Republican Party claim that the use of mail-in ballots leads to widespread fraud. My experience with mail-in voting doesn’t match Trump’s claims at all. This is how I voted in this year’s Maine State primary election.

The first step is to request an absentee ballot. I can request a ballot using a State of Maine web page https://www.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/AbsenteeBallot/index.pl. After filling out my name and address and attesting that I was the named person, I submitted the form. After receiving my confirmation number, I waited.

The State Election Commission forwarded my request to the town clerk for verification and processing. The town clerk first sent me an email confirming my voter registration and followed up with a ballot package. Inside the mailing were blank ballots and a return envelope with my name and address affixed. One of the three ballots was for candidates running from my political party. I was ready to vote.

My wife’s ballot arrived the same way. We sat down, voted, placed the ballots in our individual envelopes, and signed and sealed them. We chose to take the envelopes to the town office ourselves instead of mailing them.

The process was easy for us and verifiable by the town clerk. Election officials take their jobs very seriously. I firmly believe that my ballot will be counted.

When Donald Trump says mail-in voting is fraudulent, he is trying to keep you from voting. Don’t let him.

Tweet

(protest) The Mask Issue

This essay was posted on 7/2/20.

Medical experts recommend slowing down the spread of COVID with a shutdown of economic activity combined with social distancing and wearing facemasks. When we start reopening businesses and other meeting places, we should still practice social distancing and wear facemasks.

Experts aside, the rest of us are not so unanimous. We can divide society between those that preponderantly wear masks and those that don’t. The divide follows political lines. Most Trump supporters do not wear masks and do not honor social distancing. Most non-supporters of Trump wear masks and social distance.

The driving force in the political divide are the politicians, and the most visible one is Donald Trump, who has downplayed and contradicted the medical experts from the beginning. Trump disparaged testing. He hawked home remedies. He showed disdain for masks. Trump called the pandemic a hoax and just another flu outbreak. His denouement was the poorly attended and ill-advised Tulsa rally where masks and social distancing were scorned.

Republican governors are also giving bad medical advice in a failing attempt to restart the economy by reopening too early. Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets threatened to withhold COVID relief funds if county governments require people to wear masks. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis blamed Hispanic workers for the current surge in cases. There is no cohesive message. No leadership. Many governors are beginning to slow down the reopening, but only after the COVID genie left the bottle.

Mike Pence and Donald Trump are finally supporting the wearing of masks as if the first five months of the pandemic never happened. Mike Pence was actually caught on camera wearing a mask.

Trump’s and Pence’s medical advice isn’t backed by a federal mandate for mask wearing. Their statements continue to be based on politics over good medicine.