Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Peter, what did you do?!

Some people disliked yesterday's post. 

"How could you possibly give those climate-change skeptics a voice by describing their positions? They are simply wrong. The science is settled."

It isn't settled. Not in the minds of about half of American voters.

According to Pew polling this month, a majority of Republicans and a strong majority of White Christian evangelicals, not only don't think climate science is settled, they don't believe it. And other voters half-believe it, but they don't think it is important enough to do anything about. 

Pew: November 2022

A more credible poll in my opinion is the 2022 election. Republican candidates who treated rising carbon levels in the atmosphere as a negligible problem, or not a problem at all, got re-elected in all the places where Republicans do well, about half of America.

Democratic officeholders affirm that climate change is real and important. A majority of voters agree. Polls confirm it, as do my anecdotal observations. But that majority becomes less robust if a consumer is asked to pay a price in money or convenience. Only about 150,000 of Oregon's 790,000 customers--19%--pay extra for "Blue Sky" electricity, which is the electricity generated from renewable sources. Oregon Democrats in the legislature offered a step toward reducing CO2: A gasoline tax. The money raised would have been rebated per capita to consumers. The law would have given a market-based nudge toward driving less and driving fuel-efficient vehicles. It failed. The proposal generated a revolt by every Republican legislator.

My Democratic friends use phrases like "existential threat" to describe the rise in CO2. It is commonplace, even among rural Trump supporters, to presume that local farms' longer frost-free periods, the lower rainfall, and the new era of prolonged forest fires are caused by "climate change." A majority of people seem to think that "something is happening." That battle is won. However, there is no clear consensus that there is anything we can or should do about it. There is widespread denialism.

I think Democrats need to understand and confront denialism, not dismiss it. Some of the ideas claim CO2 is a positive good; warmer is better. More of the ideas are expressions of doubt. Maybe we aren't really warming and maybe a little CO2 is harmless. Who really knows? Most common are ideas reflecting powerlessness: It is all Mother Nature and there is no fixing her. Besides, why bother, since China and India are adding coal plants. 

My critics dismiss these arguments as thoroughly debunked. Maybe they are, to them, but not to everyone. The ideas are still out there and they provide the fact-basis to justify what is easiest to do. Most people like the freedom to do the easiest, cheapest, most convenient thing, which is to maintain the status quo. Maybe someone will invent something. Maybe this climate thing will all go away. 

I will cite an analogy with health. A physician friend tells me that the science is clear from multiple studies like this one among many others that a vegan diet will reduce my risk of death from heart disease. The data are clear. It is settled. But there is a price to pay to adopt a vegan diet. I have habits and inertia. Still, I am tempted to go vegan. I would answer a poll question "Yes" if it asked if I thought a vegan diet would lengthen my life. 

Doctor: But, Peter, clogged arteries are an existential threat to you. You die from this!

Me: Yeah, well, let me think about it.

And I do think about it. I think maybe the data are wrong. There are other researchers with different data. Maybe my life expectancy is controlled by Mother Nature and my DNA, not my diet. I temporize. Maybe if I ate fish, but never red meat. But there is a ham in the freezer and it would be a shame to waste it.

The purpose of my post yesterday was to alert Democrats. I think they over-estimate the consensus on climate change. They think the battle of the science of carbon and CO2 is won. It isn't. If it were, voters would act like CO2 is an existential threat. They don't.

I have invited some of my critics to offer Guest Posts. 

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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Climate science disagreement

Not all scientists think human-generated CO2 is a problem. 

The science of climatology has become utterly fouled by politics, self-interest, willful blindness, and group-think. Democrats outside of fossil fuel states don't dare openly question the "inconvenient truth" that human-caused CO2 is damaging the planet. Most Republicans have moved to an opposite, climate-skeptical position. For Republican officeholders, either CO2 is not an imminent problem, or at least there is nothing Americans could do. So don't bother.

Climate change skeptics cite facts that are a "convenient truth" for their position. Those facts justify the status quo. Democrats suspect bias and self-interest. But sometimes even a stopped clock is right. It is good to have an open mind. Besides, in politics, it helps to know what information is circulating.

1. It isn't man. It's nature. Climate-change skeptics note that the earth's climate fluctuates. This is obvious based on the geological record of tropical plant fossils in the Arctic, unmistakable signs of Ice Ages, remnants of swamp plants in the Sahara dated as recently as 5,000 years ago. The sun has variable output. We know the earth has variable tilt and an elliptical orbit. Sure climate is changing. It's natural.

2. We aren't warming. The data on rising temperatures is subject to dispute by climate skeptics. Temperature trends depend on start dates and what one considers "normal." We are warmer now than we were during the "Little Ice Age" that ended in 1850, but the earth isn't warmer than it was during the Roman empire. Who is to say what normal is? 

3. Nothing Americans might do matters. China and India are putting coal plants on line every two weeks and they aren't going to stop for decades or centuries. Climate change skeptics say that a Green New Deal is pointless.

4. CO2 greenhouse effect is modest. Climate skeptics say that clouds and water vapor are far more important than CO2. If temperatures rise a little from CO2, the extra moisture held in the warmer air will bounce radiation back into space. Moreover CO2's effect isn't linear. More CO2 has less effect. 

5. Don't over-react to CO2 numbers. Climate change skeptics say that CO2 amounts in the atmosphere are no hazard. Indoor rooms with people in them routinely have 1,000 ppm. U.S. submarines are allowed to have up to 5,000 ppm before they adjust the CO2 level down. There is nothing special about 200 or 400 ppm.

6. More CO2 is good for plants.  Climate change skeptics say that Americans have conflated CO2 with pollution. CO2 isn't smoke. CO2 is good. It is plant food, the building block of life. We pump CO2 into greenhouses to make plants grow better. CO2 will make the earth greener so forests will grow better and farms will be more productive. 

7. We need more CO2. It brings us back to normal. The continent of India is moving north into Asia. That has created a new and dangerous problem for the earth. Rain on exposed rocks of Tibet pulls carbon out of the atmosphere when atmospheric carbon mixes with minerals from eroding rock. That carbon eventually settles sequestered in the ocean bottom. The "carbon cycle" is in overdrive, making this an CO2-deprived period in earth's history. This may explain the unusual three-million year cold period of Ice Ages. We need to restore a healthy carbon cycle. This argument contradicts the argument that extra CO2 doesn't warm the earth, but both arguments have adherents.

8. More CO2 is essential to save the planet. Climate change skeptics include people open to the idea of imminent climate catastrophe. Ice Age cycle timing suggests that we are at the tail-end of a 15,000-year interglacial period. We are due--possibly slightly overdue--to go back to accumulations of winter snow in northern latitudes in North America and Europe. We are scheduled to return to 100,000 years of mile-deep ice sheets down to the 42nd degree of latitude, i.e. New York City. The industrial revolution's use of coal in the early 19th century may have reversed the "little ice age." That thousand-year cold period may have been the beginning of return to "normal." Thank goodness for coal. Going forward, it will take far more atmospheric CO2 to stop the inescapable effect of earth's elliptical orbit and the Northern Hemisphere's tilt away from the summer sun. The winter snow in Canada and Europe may not melt. It will accumulate. We do face climate catastrophe, but in the opposite direction from the one feared. Modern humanity got accustomed to a short, freak period of unusually warm interglacial weather. Fortunately, fossil fuel CO2 could extend the interglacial era.

There are other facts, trends, and climate models which give skeptics a basis for doing nothing. It is the job of scientists to be skeptical, to examine data, and to challenge existing paradigms. I welcome climate-skeptical scientists. We want to get this right.

Politicians, however, need not be rigorous. They need something plausible and pleasant to say to voters.  Climate change skeptics do not need to overthink with talk of carbon sequestration and albedo feedback loops. Items one, two, and three are sufficient for the purposes of climate-skeptical politics: Don't blame us; the numbers are uncertain; blame China. 

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Monday, November 28, 2022


I know, I know. 

An earlier version of the prior post said the Boston Massacre was in 1970, not 1770. It was a typo. 

We have made heroes out of the people in the Boston crowd, but from the point of view of the British they were a dangerous mob. The British fired into them.

The event helps make my point about the difficulty of government controlling mass protests. When there are enough people involved, it doesn’t come across as a police issue dealing with a one-off criminal. It pits “the people” against “the government.” Shooting the half dozen people in the crowd quelled the disturbance momentarily, but it did not succeed in intimidating Bostonians into quiet acceptance of British rule. It led to greater unrest. That led to the Tea Party. Militia groups formed and began storing arms. Then the British effort to find those arms in Lexington and Concord. Paul Revere rode his horse to warn them. George Washington came to the Cambridge Common to take command of the militia. Then open armed rebellion.

I have been critical of Portland’s effort to quell the violence that took place under the cover and distraction of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Portland in 2020. Oregon officials didn’t do enough, in my opinion, to stop vandalism and arson. There is a reason for that. It isn’t easy and it can backfire.

Crowds matter.

Kari Lake lost in Arizona. Her crowd shows it.

She lacks the mandate of heaven.

Click here: 25 seconds


Meanwhile, in China, crowds risk prison to make known their frustration over citywide COVID lockdowns. Some are chanting for a wholesale change in government. 



Video: 36 seconds

In America we bestow governmental legitimacy by constitutional rules. With elections. By appointments made by officials authorized to make appointments. Theoretically, what matters is the law, not the size of the crowd. Reality is a little different, especially
 when the crowd is assembled at a seat of government and the people in charge realize the crowd is too big to control by brute force. In a crowd of 100,000 people, or a million people, government loses its monopoly on the use of violence. Theoretically the entire military might of the government could be brought against the crowd, with tanks and artillery, and the crowd treated as an enemy occupying force. In reality, with every citizen carrying a camera, such use of military force is not possible. The country's people would see the government has lost its mandate.

The "Mandate of Heaven" is a Chinese concept that governments rule because it is the natural order of the universe. Heaven granted them power to rule wisely. The wise rule expected by heaven results in a contented people. A discontented citizenry shows the government stopped ruling as heaven expects, so it would have lost heaven's mandate. Thus it became illegitimate, and revolution is legitimate.

Polls and elections are abstract. People are tangible. Crowds are an in-your-face measure of popular discontent.

In 1770 disorderly crowd on a snowy night in Boston created what Americans call the Boston Massacre. In 1773 a Boston crowd boarded a ship and destroyed boxes of tea, the Boston Tea Party. Americans celebrate those acts of crowds. As Americans understand it, the crowd, not the British government, reflected the genuine mandate to govern in the face of unwelcome new laws. 

A small crowd is a message. Arizonians concluded that Kari Lake lost her election. She should go away. The giant crowd at the Stop the Steal rally on January 6 demonstrated that the protest of the 2020 election was not just sore-loser-Trump. He created a mass of angry people in agreement. Most commentary considers Mike Pence a key figure in that event. He stayed at the Capitol and counted all the votes.

Perhaps more important was the fact that Trump did not lead the mass of people into the Capitol. Law enforcement at the Capitol managed to gain control of the approximately 1,000 people who entered the Capitol. Had there been 50,000 or 100,000 people in the Capitol, there might have been no vote count. Congress would have seen the power of a crowd occupying the seat of government, a crowd too big to suppress with military force. The crowd would have the power. The Congress would be hostage.  Civic order might need to be restored by the Plan B in the Constitution, turning presidential succession over to the House of Representatives, with one vote per delegation.

A large crowd that will endure casualties has the power to replace governments. They have the monopoly on violence at the decisive place and time. Elections can be disputed. Reports on elections can be dismissed as fake news. In a large crowd one can see tangible proof of the will of the people and the mandate of heaven. 

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Sunday, November 27, 2022

What's the fuss with this Fuentes guy?

We have been hearing about some dinner at Mar-a-Lago, with Trump, Kanye West, and some other guy. 

Who is he?

Kanye West brought Nick Fuentes to join Trump at dinnerFuentes charmed Trump, telling him he was a big fan and that he loved the unscripted free-flowing Trump. Trump said he was impressed with him. Then Trump learned his background. Trump is backing away from Fuentes, saying he was a surprise guest, not a friend. 

Christian nationalism is a theme within Trump's populist America First agenda, but it is rarely expressed as bluntly as it is by Fuentes. Fuentes is a holocaust denier and anti-Semite. Many Trump-supporting evangelicals are overtly pro-Israel and pro-Jew. Others are receptive to talk of George Soros conspiracies, Jewish influence, and replacement of Christians by Jews. Trump presumes Jews have "dual loyalty," and says there are "good people" among anti-Semites. The politics within evangelical Christian community is complex and in transition, so Fuentes is divisive within the Christian nationalist pro-Trump base.

I don't find this pleasant, but it is important to know who is attempting to shape mainstream GOP thought. Fuentes is still on the fringe, but he has friends and allies among U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green, Paul Gosar, and others in the House GOP Freedom Caucus. 

Here he is: 

If any reader wants more of this, here is another clip:

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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Victim Stance

     "The single most destructive thinking error is 'victim stance.' If one is a victim there is nothing to fix. The problem is others. Inmates who use 'victim stance' are the least treatable." 

          Letter from career prison psychologist

Prison psychologists have a vocabulary for attempting the rehabilitation of prisoners. In group counseling sessions, psychologists and inmates discuss "criminal thinking errors." These are ideas that impede change to non-criminal behavior. These Criminal Thinking Errors include failing to be self-critical, failure to acknowledge one's destructive behavior, and using manipulation and deceit.

Donald Trump was unhealthy, the psychologist wrote me. He was deep into "victim stance." It might be a winning strategy politically, the psychologist thought. Victimhood gets near nonstop media support via Fox. Fox is backing away from Trump personally, but they embrace and amplify that core Trump message. Everybody is out to get you. Fox says that only they push back against the bias of the mainstream media. Fox dropped its "Fair and Balanced" slogan. Now they are the unabashed counterweight media source. Trump won with that message. America faces poverty, violence, war, and destruction, he said. You are a victim. "I alone can fix it." 

"Victim stance" thinking motivates voters. Email fundraising appeals are primary source material. The other side is overwhelmingly powerful and it is attacking you and everything you hold dear. Stop being a victim!

"Victim stance" is the direct opposite of the optimistic Reagan "morning in America" can-do route to personal fulfillment and national greatness. It is a different era now. We are amid "carnage" now. The Trump/Fox world is a dark forest of oppressors: Democrats, Biden, Obama, both Clintons, Pelosi, elitists, liberals, "woke" people, progressives, Blacks, feminists, non-Christians, ANTIFA, immigrants from Latin America and Asia, gangs, big cities like Chicago for violence, liberal cities like Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco for progressive lawlessness, Muslims, China, Fauci, the CDC, Deep State federal employees, groomers, pedophiles, traditional fake-news media, technology firms, George Soros, gun regulators, the FBI, the CIA, the Justice Department, RINOs and Republican turncoats, the January 6 committee, trans athletes, trans people generally, Critical Race Theory, books than normalize LGBT, climate change advocates, electric vehicles, wind turbines, mailed ballots, ballot tabulation machines. . . .  The list goes on.

"Victim stance" thinking, as prison psychologists note, is self-destructive. Fundraising consultants tell nonprofit agencies' boards of directors contemplating a major project that if they think they can raise the money, they can. If they think the project is too big, then indeed they cannot. Success depends on attitude.

"If I have to, I can do anything."

The "power of positive thinking" meme sometimes drifts into blaming the victim for outcomes. That is unfair. Adversity is real. Prejudice is real. Oppression is real. My own attitude here is shaped in part by a long career that required attracting and retaining clients. Attitude matters. Salespeople understand this.

There is a difference between the attitude of Black immigrants to America and the attitude of native-born Blacks. One has an expectation of open-ended opportunity; the other a memory of opportunities stifled and denied. Half full vs. half empty. Outcomes differ between the two groups. Second wave feminism of my young adulthood was an optimistic feminism of breaking loose from old restrictions. I call it "Helen Reddy feminism."  She sang, "I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman." Current feminism in #MeToo has emphasized longstanding injury, aggressions, micro-aggressions, intractable misogyny.  

I think it is possible that every injury experienced by Blacks and women is true. It matters--but it isn't useful. In fact, victimhood is debilitating. So is "victim stance" thinking. Useful is believing one can be better, that one can succeed notwithstanding adversity, that one can make the sale and have a happy client, that this is a great country getting better all the time, and that one can make for oneself a great life out of prison, free at last.

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Friday, November 25, 2022

A Gathering Storm

News out of China:
"China’s Communist party remains committed to its “zero-Covid” strategy that aims to isolate every case and eliminate the virus entirely. The government ordered an effective lockdown of several districts of Zhengzhou, with residents of the city centre not allowed to leave unless they have a negative Covid test and permission from authorities. The restrictions, which will last five days, affect more than six million people – about half the city’s population."  

                              The Guardian, Wed. November 23, 2022

Growing protests in China.

It may end up amounting to nothing. Some festering problems go away. Other problems deteriorate below the surface, as described in the famous lines from Ernest Hemingway: 

"How did you go bankrupt?"
"Gradually, then suddenly."

It is that way when snow accumulates deeper on a steep mountainside before an avalanche. It was that way with the stock market climbing higher and higher until Black Monday in 1987. I saw it with internet stocks leading up to March of 2000. I saw it with mortgage bonds before 2008. The president of my employer said we would keep dancing to the happy music of easy profits from making bad mortgages until the music stopped. Citigroup nearly destroyed itself and the country with it.

The Chinese government policy of zero tolerance for COVID built up frustration that erupted in protests in Guangzhou, the center of the manufacturing region of China. Foxconn employees, who assemble the Apple I-phone, are protesting their salaries and working conditions, and those protests overlap with the discontent with COVID shutdowns. This week residents broke out of their homes on mass, ignoring the COVID lockdowns. 

Click: 15 seconds

The discontent spread to Beijing, where signs were put up on an overpass. This is a big deal in China. It isn't done. Perpetrators face long prison sentences for this. One banner read: "
Go on strike. Remove dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping."

Headline: "China's COVID cases hit record as dissent grows over tough restrictions"
 Another banner read:

Say no to COVID test, yes to food. No to lockdown, yes to freedom. No to lies, yes to dignity. No to great leader, yes to vote. Don't be a slave, be a citizen.

At the cost of civic unrest, China's COVID lockdown policy was working to keep infection rates low. But now COVID is breaking loose. China, on the far lower right in this chart, is the outlier, with rapid spread underway.

If protests fizzle out, and they might, then it will be another false alarm in a fragile situation. Problems can fester for centuries; societies live with them. Or not. There could be serious consequences from these protests for the U.S. Disruption in China's manufacturing region around the Pearl River Delta will mean supply chain problems for us, making inflation worse, forcing the Fed to tighten further, and hastening and deepening a recession. 

If protests grow and their focus moves to Chinese leadership, then they have a crisis of governance. Americans who cheer a defeat of "Chinese communism" may come to regret the government that replaces this one. New governments have a mandate of change, to redress festering grievances. Covid lockdowns are only one of them. There is the Taiwan matter, the matter of settling the score after the Japanese occupation in WW2, the matter of the century of humiliation by Western powers, the matter of India in Kashmir. China may want to express its greatness militarily. Chinese citizens, filled with the elixir of pride and freedom, may insist on it

The spirit of revolution is closer to the surface in China than it is in the U.S. It helps explain why China surveils its citizens and suppresses dissent as closely as it does. China's government fears its citizens more than does ours. China has a lockdown, zero-tolerance mentality on both political dissent and COVID.

Bottling up problems works--until it doesn't. This may become our problem soon.

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Thursday, November 24, 2022

I'm grateful I don't own Tesla stock

I am grateful I have dodged some bullets.

Near miss

I didn't buy Tesla stock when it was flying high. It didn't make sense to me that it would be valued like a tech company that can create additional iterations of a useful software product at no cost, but sell them at a high price. That would be Microsoft. Cars are physical and they cost money to produce. Tesla stock price is coming back to earth. I dodged that bullet.

I thought owning a Tesla vehicle, though, would be cool and trendy. It would make a positive statement somehow about my values. It would communicate that I was an "early adopter," not a fuddy-duddy. 

Elon Musk has changed the brand. Now the whole "Tesla idea" represents more of that Elon Musk-style devil-may-care mania. He is acting like an impulsive teenager with a new Twitter puppy that he is treating very carelessly. There is something about watching Fox and Friends hosts praising Elon Musk for putting Trump and anti-Semitic trolls back onto Twitter--everyone look out!!--that changes the meaning of Tesla. Maybe now an owner buys an AR-15 to go in the trunk of the car. Pedestrians better watch out for the semi-self-driving car. Tesla customers are really just doing beta testing.

Tesla isn't cool anymore. I had been waiting until one of my current vehicles had trouble. Now I won't buy one. I dodged that bullet.

Dodging a Tesla bullet is a small thing. Nuclear war is a big thing. The Guest Post here on Tuesday about nuclear war gives me the willies. I'm grateful that so far we haven't blundered our way into civilizational suicide. I will stop with that.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Hunter Biden is a mess

Have Democrats learned nothing at all from Trump??

Change the focus. 

Hunter Biden is an embarrassment. He is an acknowledged drug addict. He used his father's position to get himself jobs and business deals. He was stupid and careless about it. He created embarrassing documents, some of which he left on a laptop. 

Hunter Biden will go through a bad period here. Republicans in the House announced they plan to investigate Hunter Biden nonstop. Fox News mentions Hunter Biden many times every hour. It is their excuse for not talking about Trump. Hunter's situation is not hopeless, however, if he does what Trump does so well. Attack. 

Mitch McConnell said that Trump incited a crowd to overthrow the election. Trump responds by saying that McConnell's wife has corrupt dealings with the Chinese. When pressed about taking documents, Trump said George Bush took them and stored them in a bowling alley and Obama took millions of them to Chicago. Trump's accusations are easily dispatched as false, but the focus changed from Trump to McConnell, Bush, and Obama. The tactic works. It takes shamelessness. Hunter Biden can do this. 

Of course Hunter Biden had access to jobs and business deals because he was Joe Biden's son. Every adult child of powerful people in America has some version of that advantage. It is one of the reasons parents work hard to get their children into elite universities. They get credentialed. They meet people who know people who are gatekeepers. Celebrity and relation to powerful people are one of the ways of getting through the gates to become a fellow gatekeeper.

Hunter Biden offers organizations association with a high-profile name. It is why opera singers are put onto the boards of banks. It is why retired generals are hired by military contractors to be lobbyists. It is why people who leave the House and Senate go to work on K Street. Given Hunter's sloppiness, I do not doubt emails and texts show that Hunter Biden was peddling access. Peddling access is what D.C. is all about.

When something is undeniable, lean into it. Name names. Make it costly for his accusers to accuse. Hunter Biden should be talking about the Saudi investment in Jared Kushner's new fund. Everyone in the financial services business knows that the Saudi investment smells of corrupt payback. Investment managers work years to build a track record that can justify an investment like that $2 billion Kushner got from Saudi Arabia. No fiduciary could justify it on objective merit. It was a payoff. It was a "thank you" for Trump foreign policy tilt toward Saudi Arabia. Friends help friends. 

And in this week's news, after close U.S. negotiation with Oman about staying neutral in the Saudi war in Yemen, Oman announces a big licensing agreement to pay Trump to use Trump's name. Sweet.

Hunter Biden should answer every inquiry about his behavior with a "whatabout."  Make their inquiry about Republican corruption.

Something like this:
Q: "What did you do for Burisma that merits the enormous amount they paid you?"

A: "They may have thought my legal advice brought credibility and intangible goodwill like the kind Ivanka Trump's trademark deal brought China. China was in intense trade negotiations with the Trump administration when China awarded Ivanka those million-dollar trademarks. Why aren't you looking at the jobs and qualifications of the adult children of members of this committee?  Did they get a job that someone else was better qualified for, just because their parent is in Congress? Did they go to Yale Law School?

He would sound unlikeable and unresponsive. The answers do not need to be responsive. He is pointing a finger. Hunter Biden now has the reputation and look of someone pathetic. He has meth teeth. He looks like easy prey. Fox News would not be so comfortable attacking him if Hunter's responses to them kept being about the Fox coverup of Bill O'Reilly's sexual predation and the qualifications of Rupert Murdock's sons to run the company. Change the focus. Make attacks boomerang. Of course, Biden would look like a guy who doesn't answer questions and who is constantly on the attack. That is the point. That might also be why Burisma would pay him handsomely. (That Hunter Biden can fight!) Better to look like a pit bull than a doormat.

Hunter Biden has a giant target, one that should be hugely uncomfortable for his attackers. Crony capitalism and crony politics are two parts of the same system. Hunter is in it. So are his accusers.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Bad news: Nuclear war will kill us.

Putin threatened using nuclear bombs. North Korea tests missile launches. 

I decided to buy some Potassium Iodide tablets. 

I needn't have bothered.

The premise of my purchase was that maybe people in places like Medford, Oregon wouldn't get blown to bits in a nuclear exchange. Thyroid glands will absorb radioactive Iodine unless they are given their fill of non-radioactive iodine. That's why I laid in a supply of Potassium Iodide for my family. Two tablets a day might keep people in a sheltering household safe during the worst of the fallout. Nuclear war didn't seem impossible. Accidents happen. Misinterpretations happen. 

Maybe, I thought, nuclear warheads would be aimed at military facilities, not out-of-the-way places like Medford. 

I wrote my college classmates. I said my first thought was that nuclear war meant near 100% of Americans would be killed, so any effort to "prep" for survival was pointless. But maybe there would be survivors. Maybe I need to lay in a store of supplies of medicines, food, and water. Did anyone have any data to share?

Dr. Ira Helfand did. He is Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and a Board Member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Two different organizations he has helped lead have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists had an article on him and his work. 

He wrote me:

Ira Helfand, M.D

Guest Post by Ira Helfand.

Peter, unfortunately your initial instinct is correct. It is possible that Russia could use one or two nuclear weapons in Ukraine without triggering a larger nuclear war, but I certainly don't think any reasonable person would bet on it. In the past, whenever the U.S. has conducted a war game simulating a nuclear a conflict between the NATO and Russia, the use of even a single nuclear weapon has almost invariably led to full scale nuclear war. Ukraine is not part of NATO and does not have its own nuclear weapons, but once we cross the nuclear threshold I think we have to assume that all bets are off.

Certainly the kind of war that you suggest ( "There could be an exchange of attacks on military and strategic sites: Aircraft carriers, power plants, hydroelectric dams, D.C., ports, railroad centers") would almost immediately involve the full strategic arsenals of both countries. The immediate death toll in the U.S. would be well over 100 million and the entire economic infrastructure on which we all depend would be destroyed. There would be no internet, no electric grid, no health care system, no system for distributing food or heating oil, no running water. There would be widespread radioactive fallout. And in the months following the initial attack, the vast majority of people in both Russia and the U.S. who were not killed in the initial attacks would also die--from starvation, from exposure, from epidemic disease, from radiation poisoning.

But this utter destruction of both countries is only part of the story. A large war between the U.S. and Russia would loft some 150 million tons of soot into the upper atmosphere dropping temperatures around the world an average of 18 degrees F. In the interior of North America and Eurasia, temperatures would drop 45 to 50 degrees F. Earth has not been this cold in 18,000 years, since the coldest period of the last Ice Age. Under these conditions all the ecosystems that have developed since the end of that Ice Age would collapse, food production would stop, and according to a study published in Nature/Food this past August, more than 3/4 of humanity would starve. Nature.

The same study also showed that a much more limited war, as might take place between India and Pakistan, involving just 250 100-kiloton weapons, less than 4% of the world's arsenal, would kill more than 100 million directly and put enough soot into the atmosphere to trigger a global famine that would kill more than 2 billion people and destroy modern civilization.

So, you will not be living with 19th century technology in Medford. You will probably be dead and if you do beat the very steep odds and survive, you will be living in something considerably worse than the Stone Age.

This is why it is so terribly important to get rid of these weapons. According to Robert McNamara, we have survived this far in the nuclear age, not because we had wise leaders, or sound military doctrine, or infallible technology. "We lucked out. . . . It was luck that prevented nuclear war." And if we don't get rid of these weapons, sooner or later, and probably sooner, our luck is going to run out.

Fortunately this does not have to be our fate. Nuclear weapons are not a force of nature over which we have no control. They are little machines, the size of an arm-chair. We have built them ourselves and we know how to take them apart. We have already dismantled some 60,000 of them.  We just lack the political power to make the nuclear armed states dismantle the 13,000 that remain.

Here in the U.S. we have formed the Back from the Brink campaign to build that political power and get our government to initiate negotiations with all eight of the other nuclear armed states for a verifiable, enforceable, time-bound agreement to dismantle their remaining nuclear weapons. It is possible that such an initiative would fail, but we don't know that, and we do know what is going to happen if we don't try. 

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Monday, November 21, 2022

Goodbye, Twitter.

Jennifer Angelo is funny, snarky, and quick-witted. She rebuts nonsense. She defends the truth.

She posts on Twitter.

Now that Twitter is on the ropes, I have discovered it. I want this blog to be considered thoughtful and fair-minded, so I have never paid much attention to Twitter. Twitter is blunt advocacy.

Jennifer Angelo is married to an occasional guest post writer and friend from my youth, Jack Mullen, so when I joined Twitter I clicked to "follow" her. That leads to my getting fed other posts chosen for me by what Twitter knows I read. That specialized feed makes Twitter addictive and dangerous.

Her Twitter description is: "Democrat, book reader, lawyer, animal rescue, married. Separation of church and state, guns, reproductive freedom." She writes that Twitter is in trouble. She isn't ready to say goodbye to it.

Guest Post by Jennifer Angelo, also known as Jennifer M.

Twitter has been going through some things. Since Elon Musk took over, a big percentage of employees has left or been fired, Musk has shared plans for the site and then changed them almost daily, and no one (except possibly Musk) thinks he has put the company on the road to profitability. He issued an ultimatum a few days ago telling every employee to either agree to a "hardcore" 18-hour-a-day work schedule or quit. A large number did the latter, including the guy in charge of employee badges. People at an office down the coast couldn’t get out of the parking garage because their badges wouldn’t open the gate. Musk asked the employee to return.

In light of all this, Twitter users have developed a sinking ship mentality, and I’ve been surprised by my feelings about a future without Twitter. I’ve been active on the site since 2015 and often ashamed for spending so much time there. I’ve often thought I’d be better off if it just went away. But last night I realized how much I’ve come to depend on the site as an outlet for my frustration about politics, a place to share jokes and opinions and, most surprisingly, a source of friendship and inspiration.

Twitter lets me talk back to people. I made my career as a lawyer and enjoyed debating. My early work was fighting consumer fraud, and I have abiding contempt for those who run scams of any kind. All that transfers nicely to setting the record straight on Twitter, where one finds an alarming amount of unchecked misinformation, both pre- and post- Musk. Whether anyone sees my tweets or not, it gives me satisfaction to debunk false claims (no, the IRS isn’t hiring 87,000 auditors), and to tell Trump supporters I see them for the brainwashed conspiracy theorists and MAGA cult members that they are.

It's also fun talking back to public officials who have abandoned the concept of truth (so much better than shouting at the TV). All politicians lie, but Republicans are shameless. Happily, Twitter gives me the chance to counter their lies directly (no, Democrats haven’t defunded the police) or, if short on time, just to tell them they’re crackpots and unworthy of their positions. My most-used word on Twitter? Nonsense. My most replied-to liar? Jim Jordan, who runs the GOP Judiciary Committee account (no, Jim, Trump isn't an innocent victim of Merrick Garland's political overreach).

If Twitter went away I would miss the witty people. “Last tweets” this past week had me smiling. “If this is my last tweet, I just gotta say one thing – I will never, ever buy a Tesla.” “If this is our last tweet, just remember: GenZ is the wrong generation to piss off.” “In case this is my last tweet, I just want to confirm that men cause 100% of unwanted pregnancies.”

There were others that got me thinking about Twitter as a place that adds meaning to people’s lives: “Might be my last tweet. I’ll miss the good sides of Twitter that are often overlooked – the humor, the links to epiphanous writing I wouldn’t otherwise have seen, and the range of smart people from across the planet.” “If Twitter goes down, I would want my last tweet to be…Thank you.” Many people share news of their illnesses and losses on Twitter, and the warmth and empathy of the people who respond has brought tears to my eyes. Seeing people be vulnerable enough to share personal information with the world and get only compassion from strangers reassures me that maybe we’re going to be all right.

So, maybe Twitter will carry on, maybe not. I hope it survives. I 
need the laughs, the connections and the opportunity to say my piece.

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Saturday, November 19, 2022


     "I love the South. . . . I'm a poor, White-trash redneck from the middle of nowhere in Tennessee. I am also a well-educated, well-traveled, godless liberal. If you can't reconcile those two things that's your problem. Not mine."

                   Trae Crowder, American comedian 

Some of American tribalism isn't political. It is regional. 

There is a lot of "the South" all over America. 

Trae Crowder: Click, three minutes

I recently stumbled across the comedian Trae Crowder. His humor plays off of a character: The southern redneck who describes the foibles of both blue and red America. His politics are blue. His culture is red. He can explore the quirks and self-delusions of both parts of America because he does it as an "insider" of them both.

Other comedians do a version of this. Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy have been around for decades.

Larry the Cable Guy

Jeff Foxworthy

Crowder's videos are about up-to-the-minute politics. Underlying it all is the premise that America has regional differences that should not be politically divisive, but are. Crowder's schtick demonstrates a point that this blog has made repeatedly for seven years. The presentation of the messenger is an inextricable part of the message itself and how it is accepted by the audience. The messenger--his accent, tone, biography, body language--are themselves most of the message. Yes, issues matter. Policy matters. But different messengers can get away with sending messages that others cannot. What registers as "all too true" when said by one person registers as offensive if said by someone else. Trae Crowder teases southern evangelical Christians for their support for Herschel Walker and it seems gentle and funny to my ear, even as he says they are fools and hypocrites. Amy Klobuchar, for example, saying it would come across as scolding the "other." It would be another instance of calling opponents "deplorable."

There is a lot of "the South" all over America. Rural America is "the South" even when it is in northern Idaho, Montana, central Pennsylvania, or Oregon. I have written here that I have men wearing Trump hats installing the irrigation system and trellises for the vineyard I am adding to my farm. I am paying serious money to men who support Trump. They also refused COVID vaccination and told me that since I have been vaccinated twice and boosted four times so far, I may be dangerous. People like me "shed" something. They aren't sure what I shed, but they heard the vaccinated shed. Why would I trust the competency of people who support a man who attempted a political coup d'├ętat and who believe crazy conspiracy theories about COVID? Because that is who lives in rural American, especially among people who do outdoor work.

Democratic readers of this blog might take a few pleasant minutes to watch a Crowder video or two. They are short and funny. Take the time to sit back, relax, and laugh. If a reader thinks being amused for a few minutes is too great a time-wasting self indulgence, do it for a serious reason. Consider it work--research. Think of it as kale for the brain.

The videos are a profound political lesson on message and messenger. I think the most plausible Democratic nominee for president will be someone from a red state, or at least a purple one. An urban blue state Democrat, sensitive to the values and tones of educated elites in the professions, in academia, and among Democratic activists, speaks a different language.  A Democrat who can unite America does not need to sound like Trae Crowder, but that candidate will need to sound OK to people who sound like Trae Crowder.

Want a little more? Here is his early warning about Trump:

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