300 Words

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

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

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(moadodo) The Perilous Safety of Isolation

This essay, posted on 5/16/18, was inspired by Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us.

Moas and dodos are extinct birds with a lot in common. Neither species was capable of flying, and both species lived on remote islands, isolated from predators until humans invaded their island paradise. Each bird was virtually extinct in less than a hundred years after humans arrived.

The remoteness and isolation afforded these luckless birds kept them alive for years but did not prepare them for the deadly change created by the arrival of a super alpha predator. The changing world did them in.

One of the major change agents of the 20th century is Robert McNamara. After his controversial role in the Vietnam War, McNamara headed the World Bank. It was there that McNamara made an impact. He made raising global poverty a priority as a way to avoid ruinous wars. Sound familiar? Under his leadership the World Bank became a driving force in that effort. McNamara left the World Bank in 1981, but his poverty program continued.

Poverty has not been defeated, but great progress has been made. Worldwide poverty dropped from 42% in 1981 to 11% in 2013, about the same as the poverty level in the US. The world did not eliminate poverty, but the so-called third-world countries have almost disappeared.

Donald Trump is leading us down a path of nationalistic isolationism. He is retreating from the global activism started by George H. W. Bush with NAFTA and continued by each succeeding President. Much of that involvement is a direct response to the emerging world marketplace fostered by McNamara and the World Bank.

Trump’s pivot to a more isolationist attitude may seem safe and familiar, but it is as doomed as the dodo, because it refuses to fly with the rest of the world.

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(irannuke) The Iran Deal

This essay was posted on 5/10/18.

Donald Trump’s decision to drop out of the Iran nuclear deal is based on a clumsy lie. Trump wrongly implies that Iran is secretly developing a nuclear bomb. He bases his lie on Israeli Prime Minister Netenyahu’s disclosure of Iranian malfeasance that actually occurred as much as 15 years ago and took place before the Iran deal was even negotiated. In fact, the revelation of Iran’s secret program was a major reason for making the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Trump knows he is lying, as do the other members of the Iran deal, including UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China. They know it is a lie, because Iran has been open to a robust inspection process, and Iran has kept its part of the bargain. Iran has not tried to cheat on the deal.

Iran also knows that Trump is lying. Iran says it will try to remain in the deal with the five remaining signers, but if the deal doesn’t hold, Iran intends to restart its uranium enrichment program. In simpler language, if the deal fails, Iran will build a bomb.

Trump can’t let Iran build a bomb if he wants to maintain any influence over North Korea. If Trump wants a shot at the Nobel Peace Prize, he needs to have a successful negotiation with North Korea and he needs to keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions bottled up as well.

Those pesky sanctions against Iran could uncork the bottle. Trump needs to ignore his own bluster and implement weak sanctions against Iran -- sanctions that will not hurt Iran but might appease his base.

Trump is playing a dangerous game, and he is the novice among a slew of veterans. Unfortunately, he is the one with the biggest gun.

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(adhominem) ad hominem Arguments in Politics

This essay was posted on 5/2/18.

Two weeks ago, I commented on a positive review of the book The Creature from Jekyll Island. I noted that the reviewer is associated with the John Birch Society, a very conservative organization, and I was called out on my ad hominem statement. I questioned the reviewer’s politics instead of his review.

The Creature from Jekyll Island is about the formation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. I needed to find out what this book, which has an ardent following, is all about. After reading some of the drama, I skipped to the chapters on the economics of currency. The book waxes about the positive values of the gold standard and blames inflation on our current currency also known as fiat money. I saw the connection between the John Birch Society and this paean to economic ideas that don’t work.

My initial comments on the Creature book seem like an ad hominem argument on the surface, but the book is political as is the John Birch Society. My review of the book’s contents is consistent with my initial reservations. I am not a fan of the book or the John Birch Society.

I may revert to the messenger more than the message sometimes, but the king of the ad hominem argument is Donald Trump. He questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship. He referred to Ted Cruz as ‘lyin Ted’. He attacked ‘Little Marco’. Then he went after ‘crooked Hillary’. Trump called the former FBI chief James Comey an untruthful slimeball. He accused the FBI leadership of bias against him even though the FBI arguably contributed to his victory. Donald Trump consistently attacks the messenger and not the message.

The real problem with an ad hominem attack: It turns an honest debate into a popularity contest.

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(rcarson) Remembering Rachel Carson

This essay was posted on 4/26/18.

The March 26 issue of The New Yorker contains Jill Lepore’s article about Rachel Carson and Carson’s environmental activism. Carson was a marine biologist with a unique affinity to the sea, but she is best known for her book Silent Spring, which lamented the environmental destruction caused by DDT.

Carson’s activism helped launch a flurry of environmental bills including: the Clean Air Act, the Wilderness Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Silent Spring was also instrumental to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

The makers and purveyors of DDT worked in a world full of chemistry labs and books, and the scientists felt they could manage nature. They didn’t understand that robins are vulnerable to DDT through nature’s food chain, and we are as vulnerable to DDT as robins.

The Trump administration is working hard to scuttle 50 years of environmental progress. Besides rolling back government programs on climate change, the administration is attacking a broad range of programs including: clean water regulations, car emission standards, mine waste disposal rules, protection of endangered and threatened species, and air quality standards.

In a parting shot to Rachel Carson’s legacy, EPA chief Scott Pruitt recently removed landmark scientific studies on the health impacts of air pollution and pesticides from consideration when making new rules.

How ironic that Donald Trump’s administration is trying to resurrect the oil-friendly 1960’s and Rachel Carson, dying of cancer, wanted to write another book. LePore ends her article with Carson’s own words:

“We live in an age of rising seas. In our own lifetime we are witnessing a startling alteration of climate.”

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(debtmyth) Facing the National Debt

This essay was posted on 4/18/18.

Republicans kept insisting that $20 trillion is way too much debt. Then they passed legislation that immediately shot the debt to $21 trillion. Republicans tend to perpetrate myths about the National debt.

The first myth: $21 trillion is just too much debt. Claiming that $21 trillion is too big totally discounts the effects of inflation over the years. I remember when 2 bucks bought 6 gallons of gas. Thanks to inflation 6 gallons of gas now costs about $16. In 1960, an average family earned about $6700. Today, the average family earns about $59,000. Inflation lowers the buying power of the dollar, so $21 trillion is smaller than it looks.

The second myth: Austerity reduces debt. While austerity reduces debt in a typical household, the same trick doesn’t work in government. Government spending props up the economy so reduced spending leads to a shrinking economy and lower tax revenues. In the end, austerity fixes nothing. Look at recent history. Austerity is failing in Greece. It is failing in Italy. It is failing in the UK. Austerity will fail in the US.

If the debt is still scary, it can be fixed with a simple change. Change the currency to a new dollar that is worth ten old dollars. The price of gas would be about a quarter and family income would be about $5900. The debt would be about $2.1 trillion. Society would continue to function as it does today only with different value markers.

There is just one problem. Donald Trump would not be a billionaire.

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(tradedef) China's Unbalanced Trade

This essay was posted on 4/11/18.

Donald Trump’s latest whipping boy is the nation of China. Trump complains that the $500 billion trade deficit with China needs to be fixed, and he claims that tariffs on Chinese goods are the answer. Trump overstates the trade deficit with China. It is actually about $375 billion. Putting the tariff debate aside, the large trade deficit with China isn’t as big of a problem as Trump makes it out to be.

Nike footwear tells a different story. Nike generates $21 billion selling footwear worldwide. Nike makes the footwear in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. While Nike contributes to China’s trade surplus, its non-US sales account for about 60% of footwear revenues. Nike’s markup over manufacturing costs for footwear sold outside the US about covers the trade cost for footwear sold in the US. Sure, Nike sends a lot of money to China, but it recovers most of it from other countries offsetting the trade imbalance with China. So what’s the problem?

One problem is China’s substandard working conditions and low wages. During the 1990’s Nike became a leading example of sweatshop abuse at its Asian factories. After some very public protests, Nike changed its tune enough to acknowledge its problems and improve its factories. However, problems still remain, and Nike still takes advantage of substandard working conditions and low wages. Nike likes the arrangement in China because it makes Nike more competitive in the worldwide market.

Trump claims that tariffs against Chinese imports will make a difference. Don’t count on it. Companies like Nike have a market base large enough to absorb the extra cost for goods sold in the US. Tariffs may satisfy Trump’s base, but tariffs will only lead to higher prices. Who knew? Trade and tariffs are really complicated.

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(ptsd) Outsourcing at the VA

This essay was posted on 4/4/18.

I recently tweeted about David Shulkin’s dismissal from the VA and suggested that outsourcing services would not improve the VA. Unfortunately, my tweet was inelegant, and I received some pushback. One critic reminded me that 25% of returning veterans suffer from PTSD. The comments brought me back to an event that I witnessed 40 some years ago in a bowling alley.

On that night a young man stepped onto the bowling lane and aimed his ball at the pins. As he took a step toward the foul line, a loud bang resonated through the building. Another bowler who was older but not wiser purposely dropped his own ball. The noise rattled the younger bowler. He approached the older man red-faced and yelling. His teammates and family constrained him when he lifted his own ball and tried to throw it at the instigator. The young man was led out of the alley. His bowling was over for the night.

Another bowler standing next to me knew more about the two antgonists. He said in a low voice. “Why does he keep doing that?” He was referring to the older man, the instigator.

David Shulkin is out at the VA, and a large-scale outsourcing strategy is likely to begin. The VA has had its share of problems, but I think its main goal concerns the veterans. I fear that an outsourced VA will be more like the older bowler and less like the teammates of the young man, the one who needed the most help.

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(drugwar) The Drug War and Oxycontin

This essay was posted on 3/28/18. It also appeared online at the Portland Press Herald on 4/6/18.

Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, but Ronald Reagan really got things started by greatly increasing the number of arrests for drug-related crimes. The 1980’s also saw large increases in prison terms for drug offenses. The war on drugs changed many lives but it did not stem the rising tide of drugs in America.

Now Donald Trump wants to double down on drug enforcement by making the sale of drugs a capital offense and by increasing anti-drug enforcement. The checkered history of anti-drug enforcement since the Reagan years has not worked, and Trump’s booster shot will probably fail as well. It is way past time to start addressing the problem instead of the politics.

A sound alternative to incarcerating drug users are more drug rehabilitation centers, but do they work when only 1 in 5 patients remains sober? While drug rehab programs don’t have great statistics, they match up well with other rehab programs and generally improve the lives of those seeking treatment. Drug rehab programs may be frustratingly ineffective, but the alternate way to get out of the drug cycle is an overdose.

Drug overdoses have always been a problem, but the frequency of overdoses started to skyrocket around 2010, and the rising number of deaths may have been caused by a change to the new gateway drug Oxycontin. In 2010 Oxycontin was reformulated, making it harder to crush and snort the drug. The new formula and subsequent restrictions to the manufacture and sale of Oxycontin led users to other, cheaper drug sources such as heroine.

Fixing the drug epidemic will need a balanced approach between vigorous, legal enforcement and drug rehabilitation programs. It will take time, but it will take longer unless we close Pandora’s box of codeine-based pain-killers made for the mass market.

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(trumplies) Donald Trump and his Lies

This essay was posted on 3/20/18.

Donald Trump is a self-proclaimed liar now that he admitted to a group of donors in Missouri in which he told Justin Trudeau that the US has a trade deficit with Canada when he had no idea what the facts were. He just made it up, he said. When Trudeau objected, Trump defended his lie by making up timber and energy numbers. One undeniable truth about Donald Trump: He is a damn good liar.

The actual trade numbers makes Trump’s lie more interesting. The US has a $23 Billion deficit in traded goods but a $25 Billion surplus in traded services. Trump’s lies mostly exposed his complete ignorance and lack of preparation about trade between the US and Canada.

Trump also told the Missouri donors that Japanese regulators dropped bowling balls on American automobiles to keep them off the market. Trump later claimed that he was joking, but observers noted that Trump’s demeanor didn’t indicate joking. It doesn’t really matter. Trump’s history of torturing the truth is so well established that everything coming out of Trump’s mouth gets fact-checked.

Trump’s lack of veracity makes him a dubious diplomatic negotiator. His lack of credibility will make any favorable outcome in the NAFTA negotiations unlikely, potentially leading to US withdrawal from NAFTA with a consequential loss of trade and jobs. Trump’s lack of credibility will also make a favorable outcome to negotiations with North Korea unlikely, potentially leading to a war in the worst case.

Trump has lied himself into a corner with virtually no way out. I do not see any good ending if Trump insists on playing a leading role in US diplomacy. I sincerely hope that I am wrong.

Postscript: Kathleen Parker suggests in her column (3/20/18) that the conversation between Trump and Trudeau might not have happened.

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(coinsorter) The Friendly Bank

This essay was posted on 3/14/18.

When we moved we joined a new bank. It was the friendliest bank, at least according to the bank. They had lollipops and free pens and a coin sorter that was free to bank customers.

The coin sorter featured a friendly game. If you guessed how much money you were sorting, you got an insubstantial gift like a refrigerator magnet that had the bank’s phone number on it. We used the coin sorter a couple times. We always guessed the value, but we were never even close. There is an art to guessing the value of a pile of coins. Count them first.

On about the third visit to the coin sorter there was a sign indicating it was no longer available for use. We were curious, so we asked the manager why they pulled the coin sorter. He said that commercial customers were abusing the privilege, so they had to discontinue the service. We continued on as customers, but we took our coin sorting business elsewhere.

A few months later I noticed a small article in the paper. The friendly bank was caught skimming a small percentage off of each batch of coins. The bank was pretty safe as long as the customer didn’t know the exact value of the coins. I then understood the purpose of the little guessing game. The bank wasn’t quite as friendly any more, and it probably never was.

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(nodeal) Donald Trump's Republican Deal

This essay was posted on 3/7/18.

In 2016 before the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump appeared to have wrapped up a first ballot nomination. There was talk about a rules change that would have freed delegate first-ballot obligations as a way of circumventing a Trump victory. Subsequently, Republican leaders met with Trump in Washington, DC. I remember Trump’s motorcade driving to the meeting place. It made good press. Apparently, Republicans made a deal to back Trump. What were they thinking?

Donald Trump never met a deal he couldn’t break. He shafted rent-control tenants. He reneged on promises to Trump Shuttle airline pilots. He didn’t pay numerous contractors. He left casino investors hanging out to dry after he milked the resorts into bankruptcy. In Donald Trump’s world Trump always wins in a deal. The other side isn’t important.

Republican leaders still support Trump, because he is appointing the judges they want and putting forth the legislation they want, but there are signs of frustration. Trump isn’t listening to them on NAFTA and on Tariffs, for example. In both cases, economists predict an economic downturn that would be hard to explain to voters.

Another Trumpian trend is unsettling. Trump’s foreign policy moves seem to coincide very closely with a big monetary advantage to Trump or to a family member. The Qatar incident is a prime example. A Qatar bank denied a loan to Jared Kushner’s real estate business, and the Trump administration subsequently backed a blockade of Qatar and jeopardized US troops stationed in Qatar. In crime and politics, there are no coincidences.

Redirecting Trump down a more conventional path is not just unlikely. It is inconceivable. Republicans are mistaken if they think they can control Trump. Sadly, there could be a lot of losers in this deal.

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(liheap) Funding LIHEAP

This essay was posted on 3/1/18.

The Low Income Home Energy Program (LIHEAP) has been a government service for a very long time. LIHEAP provides limited energy assistance to cash-strapped households trying to stay warm in the cold winter months. Maine has a lot of cash-strapped households, and LIHEAP is an important part of Maine winters.

The LIHEAP program has been unfairly criticized as unnecessary because energy providers are required by law to provide enough fuel to customers in the winter. The criticism is only partly true. In reality, adequate service by energy providers is not possible without some form of compensation. That is where LIHEAP helps fill a need.

LIHEAP has had its ups and downs over the years, but it is still helping Mainers. So far this year over 40,000 Maine households have received fuel assistance from the program. The program manages to serve all qualified LIHEAP applicants, and there are indications that more households could use the help but, for some reason, don’t apply. Clearly, LIHEAP is good for Maine, but that might not be the case next year.

LIHEAP is one of many cuts in President Trump’s budget next year. The LIHEAP cut leaves too many people out in the cold and needs to be funded by Congress.

Making home heating more affordable is a best way to reduce annual LIHEAP costs. Two simple approaches are: One, lower heating costs by encouraging renewable energy investment. Two, raise low-end salaries by raising the federal minimum wage.

Government doesn’t need to buy fuel oil for people, but government should ensure that everyone can be warm.

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(snowwars) Fighting the Snow Wars

This essay was posted on 2/20/17. A reader pointed out to me that the Cleveland snowfight actually occurred in 2015. The essay has been modified slightly to reflect that.
-- Peter (2/22/18)

During a snowstorm two Clevelanders got into a heated dispute over fallen snow that ended with an assault charge. I tweeted the news feed with the added comment:

"This looks like someone trying to emulate Trump's confrontational attitude"

As with many comments in the Twitter Universe, this comment was a spontaneous expression of my feelings, though it represented my strong disapproval of President Trump’s polarizing campaign style that evokes too much anger and fear in the electorate. During the campaign, the fear and anger often turned into fighting between Trump supporters and protesters. Now the anger and hostility is showing up on a snowy street in Cleveland.

Among the responders to my comment, an apparent Trump supporter Joe Shlabotnik replied:

Joe Shlabotnik‏ @GSCK702 Feb 11
Replying to @sandboxpete @NBCNews
Identify the Trump voter in this video.

I usually respond to a thought-provoking comment, but I didn’t know what to say. After thinking about the response and talking about it to my wife, I replied:

“I don't know which one is the Trump voter, but that is the least relevant issue. I know many Trump voters who would behave better. Donald Trump's angry, confrontational posture incites both sides of the political spectrum.”

I was curious, so I visited Joe’s Twitter page. Joe’s page is liberal enough that I needed to frame his challenge in a new light and with new depth.

Joe reminded me to really look at someone before you try to figure him or her out.

I was also reminded to check the dates of the story. The snow fight occurred in 2015. It was more of a harbinger than an outcome. I should have looked closer.

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(security) White House Security

This essay was posted on 2/14/17.

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

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

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

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

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(russianleak) Russian Leaks

This essay was posted on 2/7/17.

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

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

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

Don’t forget head of Russian Foreign Intelligence, Sergey Naryshkin, who has been sanctioned and banned from entering the US. Naryshkin and Russian spy chief Alexander Bortnikov flew to the US and met secretly with CIA director Mike Pompeo on or about January 23. On January 30, the Moscow embassy announced the meeting with a tweet, which alerted US media outlets of the meeting. Why would the Russian government and Russian-controlled news outlets announce a meeting that Trump tried to hide?

The motives behind these Russian leaks are unclear. They might be understood better if we knew what Vladimir Putin and Trump discuss at their frequent private conversations. Until then, I am left with the nagging feeling that Putin is sending Trump the message: Why don’t you get rid of those pesky sanctions.

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(sanctions) Donald Trump's Sanctions Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(russia) The Real Russia Problem

This essay was posted on 1/24/17.

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

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

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

When I see the Washington scene evolving, I remember the clever construction of our government with its explicit separation of powers and built in checks and balances. Our government is strong, isn’t it? Then I wonder why all those Republican members of Congress try so hard to protect Trump.

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(racism) Donald Trump's Racism Problem

This essay was posted on 1/17/17.

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

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

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

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

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(voteridlaw) The Voter ID Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(1styear) The Collusion Problem

This essay was posted on 1/5/17.

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

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

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

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

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

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(bynum) Issues Oriented Politics

This essay was posted on 12/29/17.

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

Tulsa Oklahoma mayor G.T. Bynum may have the answer. The Republican upstart defeated the Republican incumbent by 17 points by appealing to the issues while his opponent used a standard partisan campaign that included a series of ads that attacked Bynum’s character.

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

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

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

Partisanship peaked in 2016, but too many politicians still don’t know it. Bynum’s experience suggests that voters don’t want the same old partisan politics. They are ready for some real change. Politicians who start asking the right questions will ultimately succeed. The rest will ultimately fail.

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(3hurricanes) Three Hurricanes

This essay was posted on 12/19/17.

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

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

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

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

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

President Trump is slow to spend money on hurricane relief. His tax reform bill calls for massive tax cuts, so he doesn’t want to compromise the passage of the tax bill with a huge, hurricane relief expenditure.

Then there is the global warming issue. Trump says global warming is a hoax. He won’t acknowledge the plain fact that these storms are the most destructive storms in many years, and he won’t acknowledge the expectation that massive storms will happen routinely. To ameliorate Trump, the storm victims will just have to wait.

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(catalyst) Importance of Dodd-Frank

This essay was posted on 12/12/17.

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

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

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

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

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

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(taxbill2) Process of Legislating

This essay was posted on 12/5/17.

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

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

The Tax Reform Bill passed by the Senate doesn’t have the care and attention to detail expected of such important legislation. Instead, party leaders got the needed votes by making deals with skeptics. Promised amendments were jotted carelessly in the margins of the bill as deals were settled. Committee meetings were streamlined, and careful annotations were limited to handwritten notes. It will be a small miracle if the typed bill actually matches the intensions voiced in Friday’s deal making. Democrat Claire McCaskill asked for a recess to read the bill. GOP leaders refused, and the vote proceeded.

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

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(wealth) Problem of Concentrated Wealth

This essay was posted on 11/27/17.

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

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

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

Wilkinson made an important observation. He said that the path to more evenly distributed wealth is less important than just getting there. Japan and Denmark are two countries with more equal wealth distribution and low levels of societal problems. Denmark is more socialized than Japan, but Japan has a flatter income distribution. My conclusion: If you want a stable society, you have to pay for it. If you don’t want government intrusion, then you need to pay your workers a lot more.

Killing the Tax Reform Bill won’t fix our societal problems, but it is a necessary step in the right direction.

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(taxbill) Tax Bill and the Republican Party

This essay was posted on 11/21/17.

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

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

The Republicans try to solve the debt problem four ways. They don’t provide middleclass real tax cuts, they make deep cuts in Medicaid and Medicare, they eliminate Obamacare mandates, and they pretend they have a good bill.

Republicans pretend there is a middle-class tax cut, but analysts show far less relief for the middle class. Any small tax saving won’t offset the increased healthcare costs created by Government reductions in Medicaid, Medicare, and Obamacare.

Republicans claim that the tax bill doesn’t cut Medicaid and Medicare, but the related budget resolution does. Republicans also have the ‘paygo’ policy in which they must make expenditure cuts in lieu of adding to the national debt. Republican attempts at hiding the tie-in between the expense cuts and the tax cuts are failing.

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

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(koreadeal) Dealing with North Korea

This essay was posted on 11/13/17.

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

Bill Clinton can assume part of the blame, because he promised North Korea two nuclear plants for generating electric power if North Korea stopped its nuclear program. Clinton didn’t have the political clout to pull off his part, and Kim Jong-il resumed his nuclear program. But Bill is off the hook.

George Bush talked Muammar Qaddafi out of his nuclear program in 2003, and the US under Barack Obama bombed Libya in 2011 to protect civilians. Because of this, Kim Jong-un doesn’t trust the US. But Bush and Obama are off the hook.

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

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

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

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(trumpdoj) Donald Trump and the DOJ

This essay was posted on 11/6/17.

Former Secretary of Labor and author Robert Reich tweeted:

“Trump doesn’t understand that in a democratic society bound by the rule of law, presidents cannot decide who is prosecuted or for what.”

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

I suggested to my wife that Trump either doesn’t understand basic American governance or he doesn’t respect it. She proposed that both ideas might be true.

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

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

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(triphome) Two Trips Home

This essay was posted on 10/30/17.

Some coincidences are just coincidences. Some are more.

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

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

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

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

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

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(taxreform) Donald Trump's Tax Reform

This essay was posted on 10/23/17.

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

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

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

Trump lies when he insists that he doesn’t benefit from his reform. He benefits from dumping the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax, and he benefits from allowing small business income to be taxed at a lower rate. All of Trump’s businesses are technically small businesses, but they make a lot of money.

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

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(trumpdeal) Donald Trump and the Deal

This essay was posted on 10/16/17.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(trumpdrive) What Drives Donald Trump

This essay was posted on 10/9/17.

President Trump is a vindictive man by his own words. He has said many times, “When someone hits me, I will hit them back harder.” I didn’t appreciate those words until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(trumpanthem) Donald Trump and the Anthem

This essay was posted on 10/2/17.

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

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

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

This is about Donald Trump, who said,“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

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

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

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(falsechoice) The Problem with Graham-Cassidy

This essay was posted on 9/24/17.

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

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

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

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

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(newfascism) Confronting Fascism

This essay was posted on 9/18/17.

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

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

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

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

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

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(2maines) The Mythology of Two Maines

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

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

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

The problem in Maine and in America is the growing division between the urban side and the rural side. It is as if two separate countries (or states) are forming. The politicians aren’t helping. Democrats tend to ignore rural America and concentrate on urban America, which is more receptive to Democratic liberalism. Republicans use urban America as the scapegoat for all of the problems in America when they appeal to rural conservatives as if liberalism were a dirty word.

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

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

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

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(harvey) Learning from Harvey

This essay was posted on 9/2/17.

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

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

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

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

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