A One-Minute Elevator Speech on Climate Change

Has someone ever asked you an important and complicated question that you’d like to answer, but you have a frustratingly brief time to respond?  Your time-limited response is called an elevator speech because you only have the amount of time it takes to go up or down a very few floors.  You’d start with the most succinct and encapsulating sentence, and then wrap with perhaps the most memorable.  Keep in mind that an average intelligent human can keep at most about six or seven things in short-term memory.  In a noisy or crowded elevator, little would be remembered unless carefully crafted. 

With regard to a question about the potential of an existential threat from climate change, this would be my elevator speech.  By my stopwatch it takes 54 seconds to cover these ideas.  I would hope that some of these points could be retained in the long-term memory of the person asking the question.

  1. The climate changes in response to multiple factors beyond human control or even scientific understanding.
  2. Climate change results from both natural and anthropogenic causes that vary in different environments.
  3. Nothing humans can do on a local, national, or global scale can prevent the climate from changing.
  4. A changing climate contributes to both beneficial and detrimental effects, but the relative benefits or detriments vary depending upon the location and species impacted.
  5. Carbon dioxide contributes significantly to warming only when water vapor and other factors are of minimal impact or even absent.
  6. Humans and other life must adapt to their ever-changing environment in order to survive and flourish.
  7. Only the most adaptable life will persist on this dynamic planet revolving elliptically and precessing obliquely around a variable star in a chaotically complex galactic reality.
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Energy Madness

An important goal of any government should be to ensure sufficient energy for human flourishing that is inexpensive, reliable, safe, and secure.   Without energy we cannot eat, we cannot move, we cannot stay warm or cool, and we cannot protect ourselves from the extremes of weather or a myriad of potential harms facing us in this contemporary world.  There is no more important responsibility for a government than to make sure we have the energy we need to survive and prosper.

Without apparent regard for this obligation, the new administration in Washington intends to replace our reliance on fossil fuels with so-called renewable energy.  Of the three dozen actions taken during the first week following the inauguration, five were related to this objective. The actions are justified as necessary to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  This follows from an assumption that carbon dioxide causes dangerous climate change or global warming which they call an existential threat.  The political opposition draws their arguments from different assumptions.

The Existential Threat Fallacy

Because Earth is a dynamic planet, the climate changes both from natural forces and from human activities.  Historical and geological records demonstrate this unequivocally.  Climatologists disagree about the relative impact of natural and human causes. The Earth’s most recent warming trend began in the middle of the 19th Century, following The Little Ice Age, a period of global cooling that drove the Norse settlers out of Greenland in the late 15th Century.  The rate of warming in the late 1800s, before increased burning of fossil fuels, is not significantly different from the rate of warming in the late 1900s.

There are many ways that humans affect how the climate changes that have nothing to do with carbon dioxide emissions. The most obvious of these is the altering of the earth’s surface through agriculture and urbanization.  This changes how heat and light are absorbed, reflected, or radiated back into the atmosphere and into space.  Human activities generate dust and aerosols that block sunlight preventing a portion of it from reaching the surface, a cooling effect.

Climate models have difficulty accounting for natural causes of climate change seen in the scientific record.  Model predictions depend upon assumptions and consequent calculations, garbage in, garbage out. Over the several decades of their development and refinement, the climate models significantly overestimated global warming when compared to actual warming as measured by instruments and satellites.  Satellite measurements of global temperature change over the past four decades show the most recent month of January was only a little more than one-tenth of a degree Celsius warmer than the thirty-year average monthly temperature.  Until satellites were used to measure atmospheric temperature, there was no way to directly measure global climate change.

The assumption that climate change or global warming is an existential threat is not supported by these models or by scientific evidence.  This fallacious assumption ignores the ability of humans and all life to adapt to changes that inevitably occur.  We have no way of knowing how the global climate might change if humans had no influence.  There is no agreement about a preferred global climate, even if humans could somehow achieve such a utopian condition.  Canada might prefer a warmer climate, while India might not.  Regardless, nothing humans can do with current or anticipated technology could possibly achieve an internationally negotiated ideal global climate.  Efforts to achieve such a condition would incur enormous economic costs with immeasurable, even unpredictable consequences.

The Carbon Dioxide Obsession

A complete misunderstanding of the properties and effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads to unwarranted political policy objectives.  The surface of the Earth is warmed by sunlight.  This warmth is radiated into the atmosphere as infrared electromagnetic radiation (heat).  In the atmosphere, carbon dioxide absorbs seven distinct wavelengths of infrared radiation causing a heating of the air.  When present, water vapor also absorbs infrared at six of the seven wavelengths absorbed by carbon dioxide and several additional wavelengths as well.  The amount of water in the atmosphere as water vapor (absolute humidity), clouds, ice, and precipitation changes with weather conditions.  The absolute humidity of air can range from near zero percent to as much as four percent of the atmosphere depending upon the environment and its weather.  The amount of carbon dioxide also varies but averages around 0.04 percent depending upon the surface environment and altitude.  To illustrate this point, consider an average sample of air containing 10,000 molecules at 298K (77 degrees Fahrenheit) at 50 percent relative humidity.  In this randomly selected sample, there might be 7,733 molecules of nitrogen, 2,074 molecules of oxygen, 96 molecules of water vapor, 93 molecules of argon, and only 4 molecules of carbon dioxide.  You’d need a bunch of samples of air before you’d find a single molecule of any other gas.  In humid conditions such as over the tropical oceans, you’d find more water molecules and perhaps fewer carbon dioxide molecules.  In cold deserts or other extremely dry regions, an average sample of air might contain very few water molecules, but slightly more carbon dioxide molecules.  Over much of the surface of the Earth, water vapor absorbs most of the infrared (heat).  Carbon dioxide significantly contributes to heating the atmosphere only when the weather is cold and dry, low relative humidity. Clouds may trap some of the absorbed heat by preventing convection.  In the absence of clouds and humidity, most of the heat is radiated toward the upper layers of the atmosphere and into space, causing the surface to get relatively cold.  Ironically, the presence of carbon dioxide in the stratosphere has a global cooling effect because the heat it absorbs is mostly radiated into space.

Any gas in the atmosphere that absorbs infrared is called a greenhouse gas for reasons that are quite unrelated to greenhouses.  Greenhouses warm because the heated air cannot escape.  The glass structure prevents loss of heat by convection (the movement of heated air from one location to another).  Greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere because their molecules absorb infrared energy which causes them to move faster.  We describe the average speed of molecules in a gas as the temperature of the gas.  The structure of molecules determines whether they absorb infrared or visible light and at what wavelengths.  Water molecules are bent at a tetrahedral angle (108 degrees).  This optimizes infrared absorption at more than a dozen distinct wavelengths.  Carbon dioxide molecules are linear and only absorb infrared when bent or asymmetrically stretched during collisions with other molecules.  This partly explains why carbon dioxide is not nearly as important a greenhouse gas as water vapor.  The more important reason why it is not an important greenhouse gas is because there is not very much of it in the atmosphere.  In most of the air, heat is absorbed by water vapor not carbon dioxide.  Clouds also block heat from escaping into space, but clouds also prevent light from getting to the surface.  Immeasurable changes in humidity and cloud cover overwhelm the warming influence of carbon dioxide.  This is one of the reasons why climatologists do not know which contributes more to climate change, natural or anthropogenic forcings.  Measuring global changes in cloud cover and absolute humidity are quite beyond current science.

Those politicians who obsess about carbon dioxide ignore the beneficial consequences of increasing concentrations of this life-giving gas.  It is plant food.  In fact, all food contains carbon that comes from atmospheric carbon dioxide.  As we’ve measured increases in the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere over the past 60 years, we’ve also observed tremendous increases in agricultural productivity.  Besides more food production to feed the population, carbon dioxide does contribute slightly to global warming which is arguably a net benefit to life.  For humans, warming is better than cooling.  No one knows if the Earth would be warming, cooling, or staying the same temperature if humans or other creatures and plants did not exist.  Maybe our carbon dioxide emissions are preventing the continental ice sheets from returning.

As for concern about changes in sea level, the oceans have been rising for about at least twelve thousand years, and they will continue to rise until the Earth enters the next glacial period.  Nothing humans can do will prevent this.  The rate of rise of sea level as measured by tide gauges and satellites is not changing significantly.  On the other hand, land levels also change and will continue to do so.  The Atlantic Ocean is expanding, and the Pacific Ocean is closing.  Even their levels are different.  The Great Lakes in the U.S. are rising at measurable amounts per year due to isostatic rebound.  This is from the retreat of the glaciers and ice sheets of the past glacial period that ended about 12 thousand years ago.

Other alarmists warn us about the acidification of the oceans.  They argue that increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes carbon dioxide to be absorbed into the oceans forming carbonic acid.  They forget or ignore several factors.  A warming ocean loses carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as just one small error in their thinking.  Even ocean water that is saturated with carbon dioxide would not be acidic for a variety of reason including the presence of natural buffering solutes present in large quantities.  Also, carbonic acid is but one moiety involved in a complex equilibrium system involving carbonate and bicarbonate ions, among numerous others.  Ocean water pH varies greatly at depth and in different marine environments but is almost always alkaline or basic not acidic.  Far more carbon dioxide and other substances are added to the oceans from volcanic sources on the sea floor all around the world.  Most reports of reefs dying or threatened are a result of pollution from human activities, sewage outflow, or other maladies both natural and man-made.  Reefs are quite adaptable and usually recover given time and proper conditions.  Atmospheric carbon dioxide is not the problem.

Almost all of the carbon ever burned as coal, oil, natural gas, wood, or animal dung is still here on the Earth.  It is just changed in form.  Some is now carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Some of it is in our bodies and the bodies of other living things, like trees for instance.  Some of the carbon is now dissolved in the oceans in various forms such as carbonate, bicarbonate, and other ionic and molecular forms.  Some of it is in rocks, such as limestone, or in soils in various substances.  Any of this carbon can be captured and converted to any useful form we may need.  All it takes is energy and know how.  This is why we will never run out of hydrocarbon fuels.  It is possible to convert carbon dioxide and water back to hydrocarbon fuels, just as happens in nature through photosynthesis.

The answer to all this obsessive nonsense about carbon dioxide is to remind those so inflicted that humans are incredibly adaptive.  If the seas rise, we can move inland as our ancestors did.  Sea level was about 300 feet lower than today when the earliest humans came to North America.  If it gets warmer, we can install more air conditioners and plant different crops.  If we run out of coal, oil, or natural gas, we can recapture the carbon and carbon dioxide and convert it back to any hydrocarbon we need.  We can also turn to nuclear energy in addition to other viable energy options yet unimagined.

Texas Illustrates the Point

This past week the State of Texas reminded us of what happens when governments fail to meet their energy responsibilities.  What happened in Texas could happen anywhere.  This was a case of officials deciding that so-called renewable energy from wind turbines and solar panels could replace the more conventional so-called non-renewable energy stored in hydrocarbon fuels such as coal and natural gas.  Pardon the use of euphemisms. The strategically chosen words “renewable” and “non-renewable” are gross misnomers that mislead us into false, even dangerous government actions.  What happened in Texas, like most catastrophes, resulted from several contributing factors.  I’ve identified about a dozen.

  1. It got extremely cold, so cold conditions worsened beyond what planners and government officials anticipated in their worst-case scenarios, and demand for electricity exceeded supply.
  1. Pipelines could not deliver sufficient quantities of natural gas and oil to power plants to meet the increasing demand because of the cold temperatures and also because of lack of electricity to run the pumps.
  1. One of the four nuclear power plants supplying electricity to the Texas power grid shut down for reasons most likely related to the extreme weather.
  1. Some natural gas power plants were offline because of normally scheduled maintenance that is typically planned at this time of year when the demand for electricity is usually relatively low.
  1. Wind wasn’t blowing and some wind turbines froze because they were not designed for this extreme cold weather in Texas.
  1. Solar Panels were either covered with snow or cloud cover prevented sufficient solar energy conversion to electricity during the daylight hours.
  1. Electricity demand exceeded supply resulting in managed or rolling blackouts being inadequate.
  1. Grid management policies artificially prioritize the purchasing of electricity from solar and wind sources and resale of that electricity to consumers.
  1. Governmental regulations and subsidies favor investments in this “renewable” energy over traditional sources such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear.
  1. The Texas grid and energy infrastructure are not properly winterized for this extreme weather.
  1. The Texas grid is not directly connected to other regional electricity grids, but those grids such as in Oklahoma and in the Midwest were also threatened by the severe weather conditions.
  1. Political virtue signaling to green energy activists over the past several decades created the circumstance in which the entire system was not prepared for the extreme weather.

Power plants, wind farms, and solar arrays convert chemical energy from fuels, mechanical energy from wind, and solar energy from the sun into electricity.  This electricity enters the electric grid where it is sold to consumers from the corporations that own and operate electricity production facilities and the electricity grid.  These are government regulated corporations.  They share and acquire their electricity through a market, and like any corporation that wants to survive, they want to pay the lowest possible price for the electricity they sell to their consumers.  Because of government regulations and subsidies, it has become highly profitable to construct large numbers of wind turbines and solar arrays in places like Texas.  Because of government subsidies (paid for by taxpayers) power corporations can purchase the electricity from these sources at relatively low cost (even negative cost in some circumstances).  The corporations are spending a larger and larger proportion of their capital to purchase electricity from so-called renewable electricity supplies.  Consequently, these corporations are investing a smaller proportion of their capital to build and maintain more conventional power plants that depend on hydrocarbon or nuclear fuels.  When the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, almost everyone is happy.  When a bad winter storm comes along, its cloudy and the solar arrays are covered with snow and ice.  That same inconvenient weather might give us unreliable wind and the turbines stop turning and producing electricity.  Unfortunately, those same turbines might even freeze.

Texas reports about thirty-gigawatt-hours of electrical energy potential from its wind turbines.  During the week when the extreme weather occurred, those turbines produced less than one-gigawatt hour of electricity.  At the same time, the electricity requirements in Texas reached nearly seventy-gigawatt-hours, higher than usual because of the cold weather.  Where would Texas purchase the electricity it needed?  If you study the electricity market during that week, you realize the price of electricity to power companies skyrocketed when the demand exceeded the supply.  The cost of electricity went through the proverbial roof, more accurately out of orbit.

Over the years, Texas, like other places, has been shutting down coal fired power plants and not replacing them.  It is not building new gas or nuclear power plants to replace the coal burning power plants, mostly because they use their limited funds to purchase wind turbines and solar arrays.  Governmental over-regulation makes the construction of nuclear power plants a prohibitively expensive, long-term project. In this current crisis, some existing power plants in Texas were under maintenance and unavailable to supply the electricity needed by the state. When the weather is frigid, even gas pipelines experience some difficulties delivering sufficient quantities of fuel when needed, especially if the demand exceeds the capacity to produce electricity.  In very cold weather, coal burning power plants have an advantage because the fuel is located on the property and readily available to produce the needed electricity.  All of these factors conspired in a tragic loss of power.  Industry and commerce shut down.  People died.  All because government failed its most important goal. Corporations responded logically, but perhaps immorally, to the regulations and subsidies of that dysfunctional government.

There is a silver-lining.   Because Texans are a spirited people who care about their prosperity, they will learn from their mistakes.  The question remains, will the rest of the country learn from the Texas energy catastrophe?  The new administration in Washington, D.C., and its embracing of so-called green energy, threatens to nationalize the Texas catastrophe.  For what purpose?

Green Energy is Not Renewable Energy

Energy is the resource for producing the power that heats our homes, feeds our families, turns on our lights, fuels our cars and trucks, and provides all the material and environmental comforts and protections we enjoy. Most people don’t realize that essentially all energy in our lives derives from nuclear energy.  Sunlight comes from nuclear fusion occurring within the sun.  The heat within the earth come from nuclear fission.  Nuclear fusion releases energy because the fused nuclei have less energy than the separate nuclei.   Nuclear fission releases energy when atomic nuclei break apart (decay) and the nuclei of the less massive atoms and particles have less energy than the nuclei of the original atoms.  These are completely natural processes upon which all life depends.  In fusion and fission, the energy that is released can take on many forms such as heat, light, and motion.  There are many ways the energy from this heat, light, and motion can change, be stored, and can be moved from one location to another.  Green plants convert solar energy (sunlight) into chemical energy.  This chemical energy becomes food and fuel.  The food we eat and the fuel we use provides most of the energy we need for life.

There is nothing renewable about solar and wind energy infrastructure.  Propagandists label their preferred green energy as renewable in order to fool us into thinking it is reliable and won’t go away.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Sunlight and wind represent radiant energy and mechanical energy but converting these forms of energy into electricity is expensive and technically complicated.  Many different materials are needed to construct wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries to store the inconsistent electrical energy they produce.  Many of these materials have strategic importance in international trade that is far more complicated than petroleum and uranium used in more conventional electricity generation.

Wind turbines require rare earth minerals for their magnets as well as copper.  Mining of rare earths predominantly occurs in China.  The environmental impact is significant.  According to recent congressional testimony of energy expert Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute, constructing a single 100-MW wind farm requires 30,000 tons of iron, 50,000 tons of concrete, and 900 tons of nonrecyclable plastics made from hydrocarbons. Ironically, concrete is made from cement and cement is made from limestone which is heated to break down the calcium carbonate to produce calcium oxide and carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere.  For every ton of cement produced, approximately 900 pounds of carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere directly from the chemical change taking place.  This ignores the carbon dioxide released in producing the electricity needed to heat the limestone.  Worldwide, about eight percent of carbon dioxide emissions come from the production of concrete.  Rare earth elements such as neodymium are necessary to make the magnets in the electrical generators of wind turbines.  Mining these elements requires moving incredible amounts of earth to obtain the raw ore to be refined and separated.  Heavy equipment running on hydrocarbon fuels do this mining.  As much as 160 tons of ore might produce one ton of this element.  The world currently mines about 7,000 tons of neodymium per year.  A world that runs on unreliable energy like wind and solar would require 40 or 50 times as much of this rare earth element.  The copper for electrical wiring of generator coils is an expensive metal to refine requiring vast amounts of energy to heat the ore and separate and purify the metal.  To obtain one ton of copper requires roughly 200 tons of ore to be dug up, moved, crushed, and processed.  The blades are composed of synthetic materials many of which are derived from petroleum.

The quantities of materials such as cement, steel, and glass for constructing solar farms would be 150 percent greater than for wind farms.  Additionally, solar panels require other elements such as aluminum, indium, arsenic, phosphorus, gallium, silicon, and germanium.  Each of these elements are mined at various places around the world and the extraction, transport and processing of the raw ores is energy intensive requiring the burning of fossil fuels.  There are significant environmental and international political challenges unique to the supply and transport of each element.

Since solar panels and wind turbines are unreliable sources of electricity.  A world that relies on these to produce electricity will require massive energy storage capacity, far beyond anything we can scale to in the next few decades.  The best modern batteries use lithium and cobalt among other elements.  Rare earth elements come from massive mines in Inner Mongolia, cobalt comes from the Congo, lithium comes from Chile and Australia.  China controls about ninety percent of the cobalt refining for batteries meaning the ore must be transported from Central Africa to China.  The strategic dependency of these supplies is far more complicated than petroleum or coal of which there is great abundance in North America.

Electric cars run on batteries that get their electricity from the power grid.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that means more than 80 percent of the energy to charge these batteries comes from coal, oil, or natural gas, and another 15 percent from nuclear and hydro.  Wind and solar provide little electricity to the grid and thereby to charge batteries, single digits of variable and unreliable energy.  If you calculate the energy efficiency of electric vehicles on average, considering production of the electricity for the grid, transmission, storage, and conversion to the energy of motion of the car, you will discover that electric cars are not more energy efficient that gasoline powered cars.  And that calculation ignores the cost of producing the batteries.  In his congressional testimony, Mark Mills describes the materials necessary to produce one single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds.  The refined material to fabricate the battery requires the mining, transporting, and processing of 500,000 pounds of material.  An internal combustion engine uses only 25,000 pounds of petroleum over the life of the car.  Less than one half a percent of all vehicles currently on the road are electric.  Just take a wild guess what it will take to achieve the goal stated by the clueless governor of California or the green energy enthusiasts in Washington, D.C. for all vehicles to run on electricity.  For what reason?  The most efficient way to store energy for vehicles is as the chemical energy of liquid fuels.

I haven’t even mentioned how much land is required for solar arrays and wind farms compared to traditional power plants.  Nuclear power plants require the least amount of land, but excessive and irrational fears prevent the expanded use of this safest  source of electricity.


The current administration in Washington aims to replace reliable hydrocarbon fuels with unreliable green-energy sources.  What drives this irrational desire to return modern civilization to the literal dark ages?  Do the irrational thought leaders expect to gain wealth or power?  Is it because they are tragically wrong out of ignorance of basic science and technology?  Are they financially beholden to special interests or nations that would gain from this international political insanity?

Climate change is not an existential threat.  Humans are not capable of controlling the climate or even deciding what climate to create.  Attempting to prevent climate change ignores natural climate variation and the economic hardships that would result from such an endeavor.  Renewable energy is not renewable.  It’s unreliable and expensive to convert to electricity.  Unreliable energy requires vast resources from other parts of the world that do not share the same interests as the United States, Canada, Western Europe, or other developed or undeveloped nations.  The recent catastrophe in Texas, as well as similar circumstances in California during the dry and hot months of the year, reminds us of the dangers of ignorance and governmental dysfunction.

It’s energy madness!

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A Harsh Assessment

This website allows me to express my opinions about any number of subjects.  Here, I have freedom of expression without much fear of censorship.  Fortunately, in that regard, those who read my articles do so of their own free will.  As stated before, I write for myself, not necessarily for my readers.  I find that writing is thought clarifying.

The other activity that I find thought clarifying is walking my dog on the many trails in the woods surrounding my home.  The motivation for this writing derives from my most recent walk.

The state of our nation and of the world concerns me.  Prior to my retirement about seven years ago, I didn’t have much time for big picture thinking about national politics.  Like most Americans, I paid attention and voted my political preferences, but my career required a certain degree of political neutrality.  Now I see things I do not like, and I have time to study and consider what I see.

We just inaugurated a new president.  The election was awfully close in key states that determine which candidate gets the electoral college majority.  Because the popular vote was decisive, it is easy to miss how close the election was.  Close contests in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and  Wisconsin were in dispute for weeks after election day.  Various combinations of three or more of these states could have resulted in a different president being inaugurated on January 20.  Some, including the former president, will always believe election shenanigans contributed to the final outcome.  Regardless, the fifty state legislatures certified the results which were accepted by Congress in a joint session on January 6. It’s over.

From my perspective, we replaced a president whose character is flawed with another president whose character is flawed, two not so typical human beings.  They exhibit  different personalities and leadership styles.  As the close election demonstrates, we are a divided country.  This is not new.

When I decide which presidential candidate will get my vote, the person on the ticket is one consideration but not the most important one.  I vote for the administration whose policies, initiatives, and appointments I prefer.  One publication I read listed 35 actions taken by the new administration in the first week after the inauguration.  I support none of these.  Some are dangerous, others are just stupid.  In the future, I plan to write about some that are particularly important.

The political motivation of the new administration is obvious, erase everything associated with the former president and purge all partisan opposition.  This goes along with censorship by social media, digital book burning, indoctrination curricula in our schools and colleges, a dishonest and partisan news media, a semi-permanent military presence in the capital, tyrannical emergency powers at all levels of government that are obviously unconstitutional, and an impeachment of an unimpeachable private citizen.  Is this okay?

The new president called for unity, but he meant obedience.  His words were written by speech writers.  His initial actions are influenced by special interests and money, not by any desire for the common good or for unity.  I fear for our country and our future.

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Why People Disagree

Way back before the Pandemic (BP), I wrote Why Intelligent People Disagree in an attempt to understand why otherwise smart people could come to completely different conclusions about important issues of the day.  Now I’m thinking I should attempt to understand why ignorant people latch onto different truths.  Before you get defensive, admittedly I’m ignorant about a bunch of things.  Unfortunately, we are all ignorant of a bunch of things, so being ignorant is a fact of life, not necessarily a malicious disparagement.  Problems arise when we lack humility to appreciate how much we don’t know but continue pontificating with insufferable arrogance.  I’m guilty.  I rationalize that stating my opinions is just an expression of my freedom to opine, a guarantee given to those of us fortunate enough to live in a country that celebrates freedom.   As many wise people have said and repeated, the answer to wrong speech is more speech.  By analogy, the answer to unworthy opinions is more opinions and more information.

To illustrate my point, yesterday, I watched two different half-hour presentations on YouTube by medical experts, physicians, both highly esteemed and credentialed.  One warned of dangers of the new vaccines, the other explained why these same vaccines should not be feared but embraced as miraculous innovations promising to revolutionize the practice of medicine.  Very few of us are capable of discerning which expert to believe, but most of us will form an opinion.  In my utopian world, I would want these two people to sit down in a room with no one else present and have a rational discussion about their opinions.  Again, in a perfect world, they would decide where they agree and where they disagree.  The points of agreement would be useful for us to know, more valuable than one expert’s opinion.  The points of disagreement would also be enormously useful, but for reasons of necessitating further study and not declarations of who’s right or wrong.

We don’t decide right or wrong opinions by voting or even by consensus.  We decide by further observations, more information, testing hypotheses, experimenting, and seeking the wisdom of others.  Allowing a disagreement to remain a disagreement is okay.  Many issues in science and in society remain unresolved.  The need for quick but uninformed decisions occurs rarely.  Is the vaccine safe?  Is it effective?   Much evidence argues yes.  Questions remain such as what about children, what about pregnant women, what about long-term consequences?  Do we wait until all these questions are answered?  No, we weigh the costs and the benefits, the pros and the cons, the alternatives that give us the most likely positive outcomes then we act.  Waiting for the perfect solution can be a deadly option.  We accept the fate that could arise from a bad decision because we humbly accept our limitations of knowledge and wisdom.

In this modern world of the Internet, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Parler, Instagram, Pinterest, Rumble, and 24-hour television news and opinion, as well as email, texting, and cell phones, there is no escape from dueling opinions of experts, pseudo-experts, faux-experts, and non-experts.  Our brains are perfectly suited for living in caves sharing stories around a fire.  The technology onslaught overwhelms us. We are not a highly evolved species, but we are superbly adaptable.

Whether they are intelligent or ignorant, people often disagree, sometimes with great emotional attachment to their opinions or beliefs.  The reasons are many.  What do we do about it?  Dueling is one answer, but it’s highly frowned upon and litigiously messy.  Wars are fought over disagreements with millions of victims in their wake.

Another way of dealing with disagreement is to choose the winner and silence the defeated opponent.  Who chooses the winners?  In the last few weeks, we discovered that Twitter chooses winners and silences the losers.  Amazon went one step beyond silencing opinions they didn’t like, they silenced a platform in cyberspace where those opinions could persist.  Even approved opinions are not to be seen, heard, or read on Parler, at least for a while.  What will Amazon do when Parler, or possibly some other enterprise exerts itself with even stronger opposition than before?  The war of differing opinions escalates.  Politicians demonize their partisan opponents, advertisers boycott networks, consumers boycott retail stores.  Does it ever end?  History provides innumerable examples of attempts to silence by powerful leaders and regimes.  None of them ended well.  The passion to control is addictive and dangerous, but eventually self-destructive.

What is the opposite of control?  Freedom!  Why do some people fear giving other people freedom?  They even fear allowing others expressing an opinion that may be at odds with conventional wisdom.  Why do political partisans try to dominate their partisan opponents?   Why is a master afraid to release a slave? The answers are many, some obvious, others not so much.  Is domination easier than resolution?  Is domination justified when winners believe they are sole owners of the truth?  Do the ends justify the means?

I know the answers to all these rhetorical questions.  Control of other humans is rarely justified, only when freedom is threatened, when life or property is threatened.  Control of opposing opinions is never justified.  Censoring and silencing are antithetical to our continuing evolution, our ability to adapt to changes in our world.  Ignorant people will continue to disagree as will intelligent people.  Celebrate their freedom while pursuing your own enlightenment with an open mind and a relentless spirit.

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An Imaginary Impeachment Trial

For most of my formal education, finding the square root of a negative number was deemed impossible and even prohibited. Then the math geniuses pulled a fast one.  You see, it was only prohibited in the real number system.  There is this infinite set of other numbers they ingeniously decided to call imaginary numbers.  Just like that we could find the square root of any negative number we wanted.  What fun.

Math geeks like me love to explore relationships between the world in which we live and the world of mathematics.  For example, removing a private citizen from the presidency after conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors seems a little odd, unless we consider it an impeachment followed by an imaginary trial and conviction.  It’s just like finding the square root of negative one.  When the deed is done, we can imagine it.  Great idea!

There are exactly five references in the United States Constitution dealing with impeachments. Let us explore how they might apply to an imaginary impeachment trial.

Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution:

  • The House of Representatives . . . shall have the sole power of impeachment.

Fair enough, and in this case the impeachment, which is analogous to an indictment in a court of law, pertains to a president who was still in office at the time.  Impeachment is like a charge or an accusation.  It is not a finding.  In the judicial system we believe the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a shadow of doubt.  Impeachment is not a legal accusation and the House of Representatives is not a grand jury.  Impeachment is a political process in which one body of the legislature decides by majority vote to accuse an office holder, in this case the President, of some impeachable offense.

Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 of the United States Constitution:

  • The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present.

The most interesting aspect of this clause relates to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who presides in a trial of the President.   The President’s term ended at noon on January 20.  Therefore, the Chief Justice is no longer involved.  Furthermore, nothing in the Constitution informs the Senate about who should preside in this case since the trial is now of a private citizen.  Since the Senate determines its own rules, it seems reasonable they could put it to a vote.  The Senate is split 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 2 Independents.  Assuming the 2 Independent Senators continue to caucus with the Democrats, a 50 to 50 tie would be broken by the Vice President.

Once the presiding officer is selected, there is a question of that person’s participation in any vote during the trial.  If the presiding officer is the Vice President as chosen by a majority vote, could the Vice President continue to cast a deciding vote to break a tie on parliamentary or procedural votes, or to reach the required two-thirds vote for conviction.  A presiding Chief Justice would not vote in such circumstances.  Another complication occurs if the Senate chooses one of the members to preside and not have a vote.  At that point, the party of the presiding officer would no longer have 50 votes, thereby losing its tie vote potential.  The Vice President only votes to break a tie when a tie exists, and a 50-49 vote is not a tie.

Article I, Section 3, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution:

  • Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States; but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment, according to law.

This clause presents another complication with this imaginary impeachment trial.  It quite clearly limits judgment to removal from office and disqualification to hold any office in the future.  It does not say “or disqualification.”  It says “and disqualification,” and therefore, if the Senate cannot remove a private citizen from office it should not be able to disqualify that private citizen from holding any office in the future.

This is an important understanding because we would not want the legislative branch of our government to have the power to prevent private citizens from running for president or any other office.  That would transform our form of government from one with three coequal branches to a quasi-parliamentary form of government where the legislative body essentially has veto power over the selection of the President.  All it would take is a two-thirds vote of the senate agreeing that treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors were committed by a private citizen.  How broadly could a partisan group of senators interpret what that means?  Of course, the Constitution never envisioned impeachment applying to private citizens, and it shouldn’t apply in this case or a dangerous precedent will be established.

Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution:

  • [The President] . . . shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

This explains why presidents cannot pardon themselves.

Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution:

  • The President, Vice President,  and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

This presents the crux of the matter.  Former presidents are private citizens and are not among the persons subject to conviction after impeachment.  This article argues against holding a trial.  This issue must be resolved before a trial can proceed.  Is this an issue subject to determination by the Senate?  Is this matter subject to appeal to the Supreme Court?  Legal scholars differ on this issue.  The courts have not decided the matter.  If the Senate proceeds and convicts, can the former president ignore the conviction on the basis of it being unconstitutional?

It’s just an imaginary impeachment, like finding the square root of a negative number.

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The Political Cost of Energy

The modern world, love it or hate it, requires energy and lots of it.  Everything we do uses energy, from transportation, to electricity, for heating and cooling our homes, for healthcare, for agriculture and food production, for every kind of industry, for operating retail stores, and on and on and on.  Energy security is vital to our continued prosperity.  People in undeveloped countries die because they lack energy, because they cannot turn on life-saving equipment or even the lights in their homes, hospitals, and clinics.  The poorest people in highly developed countries suffer when they cannot afford the energy to keep them safe or comfortable in their homes.  Energy is the stuff of life and of human flourishing.  The more expensive the energy we use, the less of it we can afford.  The higher the cost of energy, the more difficult the lives of the most vulnerable people.

Yesterday, we inaugurated a new president.  The new administration began with a number of executive orders signaling policy preferences for all to see.  Many of these obviously reverse the actions of the previous administration which is not unusual when a different political party assumes control of the executive branch of our constitutional republic.  The same thing happened four years ago and 12 years ago, and 20 years ago.  The parties disagree.  I just wish they would discuss and evaluate their differences before either party drives us over a cliff, or walks us off the cliff if we cannot afford to drive our cars.

Among the executive orders signed last night was the canceling of the federal permit authorizing the construction of Keystone XL pipeline.  This action by the new president is illustrative and highly symbolic.  If most people in the United States and Canada understood the implications and consequences of this presidential order, they would or should be incensed.  The Chinese Communist Party should be dancing in their streets with euphoric glee for they will most assuredly be enriched while witnessing the further decline of their chief economic competition.

Canada will sell its oil to the highest bidder with the most consistent market.  Oil moves by ship, by train, by truck, and by pipeline.  Shut down the pipeline (or even just parts of that pipeline) to the U.S. and oil products continue to move but only by ship, train, and truck.  One more thing to consider.  What is the safest and most environmentally friendly way to transport oil?  Hint, it’s not by ship, train, or truck.  What is the least expensive way to transport oil over long distances?  Hint, it’s not by train or truck, and ships are the only viable option over the oceans.

The Keystone XL pipeline is a multi-billion-dollar privately funded project and it already exists in certain places.  Billions of dollars have been spent on it and more would have been spent in the coming months and years.  Oil now flows from Hardisty, Alberta in Canada to near the Kansas and Nebraska border.  Other pipeline sections under construction will take a more direct route through Montana.  Reports I’ve read indicate that over a hundred miles of newer sections of the pipeline were added in the past year alone.  Did you know that Canada planned to spend almost two-billion dollars on solar, wind energy as well as battery energy storage to operate the two-thousand-mile pipeline system?  Without this investment alone, the same oil would be transported on trains and trucks using energy from hydrocarbon fuels.  So, how would canceling the Keystone XL pipeline reduce our dependence on such fuels?  How would shutting down the pipeline prevent the climate from changing?

The supply of oil is not as simple as most understand.  Refineries are designed to deal with different kinds of oil, some oil is light crude while other oil is heavy crude for example.  Oil from Canada is different than oil from Saudi Arabia or the middle east.  Different refineries handle different types of oil supplies.  In other words, reducing our supply from one source cannot always be made up from other sources without considerable expense.  And how is that expense covered?  By consumers of course.

When a multi-billion-dollar project is stopped before it is completed, thousands of workers are laid off.  In the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, many of these are union workers belonging to Laborers International Union in North American, The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, The Operating Engineers, and the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters.  Collective bargaining agreements were already negotiated with these unions and will now dictate how the workers are separated from their employment.  These people are from Canada and the United States.  Imagine how this will impact tens of thousands of people, their families, and even the towns where they live.

To me the most frustrating aspect of this extreme example of partisan motivated virtue signaling is the excuse used for its justification.  Ending the pipeline is supposed to somehow save the planet from catastrophic climate change.  This won’t have any positive effect on climate.  If anything, the transportation of the oil and gas by non-pipeline means will actually add to the continued reliance of hydrocarbon fuels.  So, its just foolishness, partisan foolishness of the worst kind intended to pander to people who don’t know better.  We are living in crazy times.

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Ridiculous Assumption: Tragic Consequences

How can one ridiculous assumption lead to millions of irrational decisions.  It happened!  It’s still happening!  I’m talking about a pandemic, specifically, the global response to a seriously infectious virus known as SARS-CoV-2.  It causes a disease called COVID-19 or CV19 for short.

Tragically, more than 300,000 of our friends and family members have died from this virus in our country and millions more around the world.  Uncounted numbers of others have died because of how we have responded to this pandemic.  The disease especially hits the elderly and people with other health challenges that compromise their immune systems.  Thanks to the remarkable efforts of brilliant scientists working with modern medical technologies not possible even a few years ago, we now have two vaccines approved in the U.S. and four more undergoing testing.  We also have therapeutic interventions that offer hope for most people who become ill with this virus.

For many months, I’ve been biting my proverbial lip, resisting the urge to write my opinions about the way most government leaders in our country and around the world choose to manage this crisis.  I did write about specific issues such as Closed Schools: Be Careful What You Wish For, Masks in a Sarcasm Free Zone, How Do We Decide About Schools?, and The Belt Order (S).  My wife, some family members,  and a few friends suffered my rants which focused on consequences far beyond the closing of schools and the mandating of masks.

Finally, a few days after November 20, 2020, nine months after the global pandemic was declared, there was some sanity and some clarity.  In my email that morning was a link to an article published in Nature Communications describing a study of ten million residents of Wuhan, China who were screened for the virus after an excessive government controlled lockdown.  Almost two dozen scientists contributed to the research.  I downloaded it and saved it on my iPad for careful reading.

The Occupation Distribution of Asymptomatic Positive Cases in Wuhan, China from Post-lockdown SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid screening in nearly ten million residents, Shiyi Cao, et al, Nature Communications, 20 November, 2020. 

One sentence in the research abstract grabbed my attention.

“There were no positive tests amongst 1,174 close contacts of asymptomatic cases.”

Let that sink in.  Not one person who was in contact with someone who tested positive but was not ill, ever caught the virus.  None!  Zero!  There was no asymptomatic spread detected in Wuhan.  If you weren’t sick, you did not spread the virus.

This should not surprise anyone who carefully considers how a virus, specifically how this virus, is spread.  People who are sick have elevated temperatures and they sneeze, cough, talk, breath, and touch, among other indiscretions.  They shed virus particles into the air and onto surfaces as well as the objects they contact.  Asymptomatic people are not sick and do not shed significant numbers of viruses into the environment.

Catching the disease comes down to two factors: viral load and susceptibility.  A person will become sick: 1) if a sufficient number of viruses enter their bodies, and 2) if their immune response is insufficient to prevent the virus from replicating and causing the illness.  Being around people who are healthy is not risky because they do not shed viruses in sufficient quantities to spread the disease.  This is true even if the person tests positive for the virus as demonstrated by this research.  Our testing thresholds are extremely sensitive which means that people can test positive, the virus is detected, while never becoming sick.  There are millions of people in the U.S. who have tested positive without becoming ill.

Jeffrey A. Tucker of the American Institute of Economic Research (AIER) published an article on November 22, 2020, Asymptomatic Spread Revisited – AIER, in which he addressed the absurd measures and restrictions taken for no good reasons because we assumed that asymptomatic spread was a thing.  It’s not a thing and most scientists understood this before the hysteria of COVID-19 overwhelmed us.  He quotes Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization back in June 2020, saying

“From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual.  It’s very rare.”  

The Wuhan study demonstrated it is not only rare, it does not happen at all.

Early in this crisis, government leaders were rightly concerned that a serious pandemic could overwhelm our hospitals and other health care facilities.  That happened in Italy.  It was already happening in some places in the U.S. like New York City.  They came up with a plan to shut down our country.  The lockdown was sold to us as “two weeks to flatten the curve.”  Historically, sick people were quarantined during epidemics to keep them from infecting healthy people who could go on with their normal lives.  This curve flattening strategy was an attempt to quarantine healthy people in order to delay the spread.  Lockdowns such as this don’t prevent illnesses from spreading, they delay the inevitable.  This was a purposeful effort to reduce the stress on our healthcare system, but there were other consequences.  Some argued the cure was worse than the disease.  I was one of those.  Many, including medical practitioners, have since joined the chorus.

Somehow, an assumption of asymptomatic spread took hold in the minds of governors and other officials who argued for continued lockdowns and isolation of healthy people in order to manage the course of the pandemic.  Schools were closed even when it was apparent that children and young adults were not susceptible to serious illness from this virus.  In fact, far more children die from seasonal influenza than from CV19.  Healthy working-aged individuals have a 99.995 percent chance of surviving if they become ill with this virus.  A majority of healthy adults who test positive don’t become ill.

Once the “curve flattening” ended, we should have opened up our schools and our economy.  I would argue that we never should have locked down in the first place, even for the two weeks, but that’s hindsight talking.  Instead, we should have protected the vulnerable people who suffered from so-called comorbidities and the elderly with compromised immune systems.  Everyone else could have gone to work, resumed their education, enjoyed entertainment and sports, gone out for dinner and theater, and just continued living their normal routines.  Anyone who became ill should have been isolated from others to limit the spread of the virus.  It still would have spread among the healthy population, just like colds and flu do every year.

The only people who should wear masks are physicians and health care professionals as well as the people who have the disease and for some reason must be around other people.  Cloth masks provide no protection and research has never shown any reason for healthy, asymptomatic people, to ever wear a mask, cloth, surgical, or N95, period!

We started with a bad assumption about the spread of this virus from people who are not sick.  Many bad decisions followed.  The consequences are far more devastating than the pandemic.

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Finding Explanations in the Game of Life

Those who know me understand my passion, perhaps a pathology, for sports and particularly for my teams.  One of the many reasons I love my wife derives from her tolerance for this among many peccadillos.  Sporting events, and entire seasons, can be allegorical of larger life issues and the human condition.  We are not a highly evolved species, but we continue to evolve.  The game and all that surrounds it, illustrates this almost perfectly.

Last night, a young college football player made a mistake that rather obviously cost his team, and all of the fans of his team, the satisfaction of an important win.  Instead, the other team celebrated their hard earned victory.  After the game, the internet, the sports pundits, and the fans exploded with rage aimed at the stupidity of this one player and his most egregious lapse.  It was a monumental mistake that possibly cost his team a spot in the national championship playoffs.  His university could lose substantial revenues because of his error in judgement.  The wrath of the football world came down hard on this unfortunate soul who committed a foolish act in front of millions of viewers on television.

What did this kid do?  He threw a shoe about 20 yards!  The yellow flags went higher and farther.  Too bad it was after he and his defensive teammates had stopped their opponent on third down forcing a punt with the game tied 34-34 and less than two minutes remaining in the game.  No one will ever know what might have happened if he hadn’t thrown the shoe.  He ripped it off the foot of the receiver he was covering who failed to make a first down.  Unsportsmanlike penalty, 15 yards, first down!  At least 99.995 percent of the people watching the game or hearing about the penalty, agreed.  How convenient it is to have one obvious act by one flawed human being provide an explanation for why the Gators lost the game. And therein lies a lesson for us all.

Why do we look for a simple explanation for complex outcomes?  Take this game for instance.  What if the Gators had made a first down or a touchdown on their previous drive instead of settling for the tie with a field goal?  Couldn’t we blame someone for that?  How about the other kid who didn’t catch the pass that would have maintained possession for the Gators?  There were more than 150 plays in the game and about half of them occurred under a dense fog that fell over the field on this dark December night in North Florida.  The star quarterback threw two interceptions and fumbled once.  Another defensive back missed an assignment that allowed an LSU receiver to strut into the endzone untouched.  Coaches called plays or players failed to execute them with bad results preventing scores for their team or allowing scores for their opponent.  The shoe was only one act at the end of a countless number of acts followed by other acts and decisions, all leading to the final outcome, a 37 to 34 victory for one team and a 34 to 37 loss for the other.   Importantly to my point, we have a convenient and beautifully simple answer for why our team lost.  The kid threw a shoe 20 yards.  Off with his head!

It’s human nature to search for explanations.  Finding one that explains everything is golden. We do this all the time. How fortunate to have a scapegoat to focus our emotions?  How satisfying to have one easily identified cause?  Someone to blame.  In reality, outcomes have seemingly infinite causes.  Many can share the blame, and scapegoats have fellow enablers who may be overlooked in our zeal to target the one most guilty party.

This innate tendency to oversimplify represents a human weakness.  It’s built into our language, all languages.  One word stereotypes an entire population.  One adjective describes a person.  One tweet ends a career.  One mindless act can end a life or many lives.  In a game of football, one bonehead mistake produces an outcome that is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  There will be another game.  There will be another season, there will be other players, other coaches, other teams, other games, and other fans.  Is it different in the game of life?

Now I should find a single word or perhaps a succinct phrase that sums up this human failing, this tendency to oversimplify complex events, diverse populations, and complicated people.  How about I just say we are not yet a highly evolved species, and that ends the discussion.

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The Hubris of Fact-Checking

Among my morning news stories, I found a thorough fact-checking of a fact-checking.  In truth, neither was all that factual.  The issue related to the surveillance video of election workers in Fulton County, Georgia.  One side argues the video is evidence of fraud.  The other side claims it is normal activity.  In truth, it’s a video open to many interpretations.  That’s not what I wish to discuss because I don’t have enough information to know who to believe.  I want to write about fact-checking.

Fact-checking someone’s opinion is like checking the wheels on a toboggan.  What is it about this all-too-common practice that makes my blood boil?  It’s the arrogance of one person claiming to know the absolute truth while alleging the person they disagree with doesn’t.  Where’s the judge and jury?  Besides, most fact-checking that I’ve seen is just as wrong in part or as a whole as the source being judged.  You can’t fact-check an opinion because it’s an opinion.  It’s not a fact.  We are each entitled to our opinions, right or wrong.  You can disagree with my opinion, but you cannot claim that it’s not my opinion.

When these elitist corporate publishers, providers of news, and the many social media outfits decide a story or a post is wrong, based on their fact-checking, what they are doing is elevating their opinions and marginalizing the opinions of others.  That’s allowed, but it’s not fact-checking, it’s disagreeing, and it is arrogant.  Their fact-check label is just a form of silencing or censoring.  It’s an attempt to control the information that is spread by discrediting the arguments and people they don’t like.

It’s not a lie if we believe it.  We have a right to be wrong.  God knows we all suffer that consequence from time to time.  It is an opinion which we are free to change if new information persuades us.  Silencing and censoring are assaults on truth.  Disagree as you wish, make your case, but don’t try to win the argument by preventing all dissent.  We make progress in this world, and in our lives, when all sides are heard and evaluated.  Toboggans don’t have wheels and opinions are not facts to be checked.

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Thoughts on the 2020 Election

In every election, especially presidential elections, the nation experiences a complex jolt of emotions.   We are not of one mind regarding the outcome, obviously.  There have been elections in my lifetime where the results were so one-sided and determinant that almost everyone accepted the results, 1974, 1984 and even 2008 come to mind.  In most other elections the contests were close, awfully close, and the losing parties were not willing to accept the results, 2000, 2016, and now 2020 illustrate the point.  Disappointment is understandable, but denial is neither healthy nor constructive.  Every president-elect calls for national acceptance of the results and pledges to represent all of the people.  Because there are always differences of opinion about policy issues, calls for unity represent some utopian delusion.  No political party ever changes its positions on important issues when their opponents assume the presidency.

The 2020 Election Outcome

Today, November 9, 2020, a week after election day, the vote totals are incomplete or inconclusive in six states where the count makes a difference including Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.  Five of these states lean toward the Biden/Harris ticket.  One state appears to favor the Trump/Pence ticket.  Recounting, rescanning, auditing, and recanvasing continues in these and other states with a December 8th deadline to complete this phase of the election.  The Electors of each state vote on December 14, in accordance with Article II, Section 1, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution.  The results are submitted to a joint session of Congress in early January presided over by the incumbent Vice President.  If at least 270 electoral votes are cast for one candidate, the Congress certifies the vote, and the president-elect is determined and inaugurated on January 20, at noon.  Until the Congress certifies the electoral vote, the apparent winner is nothing more than the apparent winner.  The news media plays no official role other than to sway public opinion one way or another as their editorial preferences dictate.  Declaring one candidate to be the winner before the election is settled is irresponsible in the extreme.

Allegations of election irregularities occur in every election.  That was certainly true in 2000 which required 5 weeks of court battles to resolve.  No one declared victory until the count in Florida was final.  In 2016, the Clinton and Stein campaigns alleged irregularities in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.  The final results and the overall outcome were not clear for a considerable time following election day.  There were even faithless electors who chose to vote or not vote contrary to their legislative requirements.

This 2020 election may be the most contested since 1824 when the House of Representatives chose the president by the contingent election procedure described in Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 and modified in the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution.  It appears that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will ultimately win this election, but several states need to complete their work and for the courts to issue their rulings before the electors vote in December.

This election is complicated by several states changing their election procedures, some unconstitutionally. Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 assigns responsibility for election laws “in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct,” and no governor, state or federal court, or anyone else can change those laws.  Clearly, the Pennsylvania Governor and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court violated the U.S. Constitution when they ordered and approved actions contrary to their own state laws without legislative approval.  This is a problem that the U.S. Supreme Court will consider in the coming days.  It may be remedied by the Pennsylvania legislature which has the ultimate authority to select electors regardless of what governors and courts may decide.  No conceivable outcome of the Pennsylvania presidential election would give Trump enough electoral votes to win the election.  He would need to win electors in at least two additional states, such as Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada as well.  The president-elect is not known, until all of these issues are resolved.

The justifications for changes in the 2020 election laws and procedures include the current pandemic causing many people to avoid gatherings such as might occur in crowded voting facilities on election day.  The changes allowed millions of voters to submit ballots by U.S. mail or to drop off ballots at designated containers and facilities prior to or on election day.  Late arriving ballots were accepted in some states and precincts, but not others.  The state and federal courts issued conflicting rulings in different states leading to confusion and distrust.  Additionally, election observers from each political party are required in all states to ensure the final vote count is trusted and accepted by most reasonable people.  Unfortunately, observers were not allowed in some precincts where the votes matter significantly.  The processing of ballots sent through the mail or dropped off at various locations requires additional procedures to assure a chain of custody is known.  It is important to know who voted and that they voted only once.  Checking this requires time and verification.

Even if blatant fraud and illegal ballots were counted in some states, there does not appear to be enough evidence to overcome the voting advantage.  Of the five states leaning toward the Biden/Harris election, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and one other state would need to flip to Trump to give him enough electoral votes to win the election.  This assumes that Trump will win in North Carolina, which is not final as of today.

Trump Versus Biden

It has been said by more than one pundit that the 2020 presidential election was a contest between those who love President Trump and those who hate him.  This is undoubtedly part of the story.  Many other voters prefer the policy ambitions and judicial appointments of the Democrat Party or the Republican Party and were less interested in the personality and character of the candidates.  Still others are obsessed with power and invest millions and even billions of dollars to influence the election for their purposes.  And finally, we have the uninformed voters who do what their told by others who tell them how to vote.  Hopefully, this last group washes as random noise in the process.  We can also hope the supporters of the winning ticket will be gracious in victory and work to represent the interests of all the people of our great country.  We can also hope those who are disappointed will accept the final results and continue to make their case for policy direction in a constructive manner.

The News Media and Big Tech

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press.  It’s a vital guarantee, but freedom also requires responsibility and accountability.  Because of modern technology, the press is very different than it was 20 or 100 years ago.  News outlets have always chosen sides in political contests.  This is true going back to the time of the American Revolution.  Differences of opinion exist and should exist, but censoring, silencing, and distorting of information is propagandizing of the most dangerous kind.

When an internet platform chooses to block opinions they don’t like, they are exercising editorial control and cease to be a neutral platform.  When a president has the ability to communicate with millions of constituents on that platform and is blocked, censored, or criticized, that is editorial control by a private corporation.  That is allowed under our Constitution, but they should not be exempt from the liability consequences faced by the traditional newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.  Editorial bias isn’t the problem.  It’s a feature of human nature, and it is remedied by competition.  Twitter chooses to editorialize on the utterances of a president, Parler does not and gains customers as a result.

When news corporations on television or any other communications platform lie to the public, leave out important information the public needs, and provide favored treatment to one candidate over another, that is their exercise of freedom of the press.  It’s not illegal, but it can be propaganda if it is intended to mislead or sway the public.  And it is irresponsible.  Again, competition should be the remedy for this.  Sources of news that turn out to be dishonest will lose their audiences.  News consumers will turn to other sources that are more trustworthy.  I’m seeing lots of journalistic malpractice.

The Long-Term Outlook

Presidents come and go.  The nation continues on.  In a decade, Trump and Biden will be fading memories.  While the Trump supporters are troubled by this apparent loss, they should realize that a Biden victory probably increases their chances of taking back the White House in 2024, assuming the U.S. Senate remains in control of the Republican Party.  If history repeats, Republicans may also increase their numbers in the House and Senate in 2022.  This is the way it usually goes.  However, if the Senate is flipped to the Democrats this year because both Georgia U.S. Senate races are won by Democrats in the January Runoff, then much can change.  Democrats have discussed adding two additional states with four new senators and also adding additional seats on the U.S. Supreme Court.  This would increase their likelihood of winning future presidential elections and interpreting laws consistent with their partisan interests.  The Republicans will strongly oppose such actions.

Our constitutional republic is blessed with good people who may disagree with each other, even vehemently.  Open dialogue free of censorship and propaganda offers us an opportunity to learn and evolve toward a better society.  Our national journey can be bumpy, but it is a long road with much to offer in the years ahead.

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