Let’s Try Something Else.

No-major-partyTired!  That was all I could feel the day the Senate released its plan to replace Obamacare.  Not only had Senate Republicans formulated their bill in virtual secrecy, they had somehow seen fit to leave out nearly every free market cost control idea that they had promised to include.  No negotiation on Medicare drug prices.  No interstate competition for insurers.  Nothing to force hospitals to publicize their price structures.  No tort reform to protect doctors and hospitals from spurious lawsuits.  Nothing but a mildly saner version of the House’s previous work; in short, nothing to make their newly acquired blue-collar voters happy or to actually make the Affordable Care Act affordable, either for the country or its citizens.

It was as if Congress had determined to live down to its single-digit popularity rating.  After facing for months the stiff and steady verbal breeze coming from Senators Warren and Sanders, et. al. about how the only real solution to the healthcare conundrum was complete capitulation to Big Government and Bigger Debt, I had hoped the GOP would counter with a remotely defensible alternative.  Nope.  All they did was infuriate half the nation and disappoint the other half.

And so it goes. Democrats and Republicans, apparently dedicated only to the preservation of their respective tribes, each more  interested in blaming the other for the woes befalling the Republic than in fixing them.  The political landscape has become a living civil war battle site; one army led by a clinically demented megalomaniac seemingly devoid of empathy and the other rendered virtually leaderless as its sclerotic old guard struggles against semi-anarchic newbloods for whom no amount of empathy is enough.  As the war of words escalates with every rant and tweet, the temptation among the general populace to hunker down and disengage becomes stronger. Does anybody really want either of these two crews of zealots running things?

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GMOs – Why It’s Not an Argument We Can Solve With Facts

tomato_plant.svg.medI once read that, if two scientists have a disagreement, it’s easy to solve. They get more facts. And if they can’t get more facts, they happily have a beer together – friends until more facts arrive.

We’ve posted a number of commentaries about GMOs (genetically modified Organisms) on this site. There’s a new documentary that tries to address GMOs from a factual, scientific perspective. They even have Neil DeGrasse Tyson as the film’s narrator. (To which I say – why would an astrophysicist know anything about GMOs? I’m not sure that helps.) But as this article explains, they will fail to change anyone’s mind.

Even if you took the time to painstakingly verify all the claims and counter-claims, most people aren’t interested in listening or changing their minds based on the evidence… In reality, it ought to have admitted that what [GMOs are] facing is an ideologically charged debate that, like climate change, is increasingly immune to facts.

What about Monsanto?
For many people, the GMO debate isn’t over science. It’s over big tone-deaf uncaring corporations (bad guys) who send lawyers to public meetings vs friendly boutique farmers and consumers (good guys) who shake hands at farmers’ markets. Monsanto often fell into the stereotype, trying to side-step local concerns and throw their political weight around. It didn’t help than one of the first GMO crops to get publicity was a soybean that could be sprayed with Roundup. Great – allowing more poisons to be used on food. I continue to think that if the first major GMO had been Golden Rice the conversation would be different. Too late now.

GMO opponents can’t be dismissed. They use a piece of heuristic reasoning that often serves well: I listen to people like me who had time to investigate. Given how big the world is and how much effort it takes to research any significant topic, this is inevitable. I use the trick myself. And given the history of Big Tobacco’s assault on science, having the title doctor in front of someone’s name is no guarantee they can be trusted. The battle of the experts has become standard in law and the media.

So what are we going to do? About GMOs? Climate change? Contraception – gun violence – immigration – healthcare? This list is long. It will be a long sad slog back to a place where we can all find someone to trust.

It must start with a renewed dedication to facts. And with so many people rewarded for their BS this won’t be easy. But we’ve got to do it. Some people are trying. What ideas do you have?

We’re technical folk on this site and search for facts, so if you’re interested, more of our GMO posts are here.

Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Safety

320px-Rocky_Flats_refuge_003Activists who made a living protesting the Rocky Flats Plant are continuing their careers by using the legal system in an attempt to prevent public access to completely safe areas in the vicinity of the now closed Rocky Flats Plant. Vincent Carroll, a former editorial writer for the Denver Post, has written a powerful editorial filled with pertinent facts that deserves wide readership. I’ll submit a few key points from the editorial to encourage you to click on the link and read it in its entirety.

  • The title is “Activists ignore the science that says Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is safe.”
  • A lawsuit has been filed by activists to prevent access to the Refuge by the public, which, if successful, “…would also amount to a triumph of fear-mongering.”
  • The activists “…have stoked their exaggerated fears of Rocky Flats for too long and the habit is apparently incurable…”
  • “The rest of us can only marvel at their dismissal of science that has been conducted at the site and the consensus among relevant government agencies…that the refuge is safe for visitors and wildlife employees.”

There are many more important points in the editorial, and I request you forward the link to everyone you know who has an interest in the Rocky Flats Plant. My hope is that those who remain skeptical of the legacy of the Plant read and consider the information in the editorial. Thanks to Vincent Carroll!

Are You Ready for a Real Shutdown?

Sometime in the next few weeks Congress, as divided and intractable as ever, will begin its annual (or is it monthly?) confefe over increasing the Federal debt limit, bringing with it the usual hand-wringing over the possibility of a government shutdown.  In spite of a barrage of dire warnings from Congressional leaders and media pundits, the reaction of most of the public seems to have been a collective raised eyebrow.  Perhaps this has to do with the thick layer of unconcern that we have built up over the years regarding Congressional gridlock and media wolf-crying.  But there is also the inordinately small ripple of national disruption that occurred the last time the government ostensibly ran out of money.  Remember the year?  Me neither, so I looked it up.  It was 2013, during the fight over funding for Obamacare.

Why the blank in our memory banks?  Maybe because, for the 95% of Americans who neither work for the government nor were trying to get into Yellowstone National Park that week, this shutdown, like the 18 previous ones, had almost no immediate effect.  There are several reasons for this, the principal one being that the government didn’t really run out of money and most of it didn’t really close down.  Tax revenue continued to come in and Social Security checks continued to go out, as did welfare payments.  Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements were a little later than usual – no big deal, doctors and hospitals are accustomed to such.  Some Federal employees were furloughed, but none lost a dime of pay.  So-called vital services were unaffected.  On the scale of imminent disasters soon to befall the Republic only the Y2K Bug has been a bigger flop.

True, an extended shutdown (or an actual government bankruptcy, such as might happen unannounced on, say, next Tuesday) would have some dire consequences. Luckily, the 5% of Americans (the ones Congress really pays attention to) who are most directly affected when the Feds stop answering emails have always managed to scream loud enough to keep shutdowns brief.  The longest so far, during the Clinton Administration, lasted three weeks.  Apparently tourists upset at being turned away from the Smithsonian have a lot more clout than those silly economists worried about our existing $20 trillion obligation.

This time, however, the string of abbreviated interruptions may be broken.  President Trump recently mused that “what the country needs is a good shutdown”, which taken literally (as almost everyone loves to do with Mr. Trump’s pronouncements) is like saying somebody needs a good heart attack.  But there is occasionally a particle of sense in the President’s blatherings, and what he might be trying to say here is that a prolonged absence of government assistance (as well as the absence of government interference) might prod citizens to recognize what elements of the Federal bureaucracy we might be able to do without.  Or he might just be flipping a Tweet at Chuck Schumer.  What is certain is that if he is serious about confronting Congress over the debt ceiling, the 21-day Clinton/Gingrich shutdown record will be in real jeopardy come September.  Because when it comes to intractability, nobody in Congress is in Trump’s league.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that cities and states don’t need the Federal government to fight climate change, that they can do it on their own.  This Fall we may get a hard look at what else cities and states can, or can’t, do on their own.  It will most certainly be a learning experience.

Time to Find the Better Angels of Our Nature

Politics in America have become too tribal – more like rooting for a sports team that crafting national policies. In sports, if my team fouls but gets away with it, I’m happy. But the other team? They’re evil – and the refs are biased. Go Red. Go Blue. It makes for fun on Sunday afternoon, but it’s not good for our country.

And we are a single country. My fellow citizens are my brothers and sisters (and we all know how annoying siblings can be.)

It’s hard to find eloquent words, so I was pleased to recently run across this site.

Making us what the Constitution calls “a more perfect Union” – won’t happen until thousands and ultimately millions of Americans are willing to take a stand.

lincoln.svg.medAs one article notes

[The site takes] its name from a line from President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory … will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

This is what I grasp for in my own way – what I’d like to see from my nation’s leadership. But we don’t have to wait for Congress or the State House. We are, after all, The People.

Another article captures me: an angry moderate centrist.

Being moderate is not a political description; it is how one understands the motivations of others and how one solves problems. A moderate is a realist, accepting how people are, not how we would like them to be. A moderate is open to listening to the truths of others. It is a personality trait, not a political ideology.

If we become trapped in echo chambers, we only hear exaggerated caricatures of what “the other side” believes. If we lose the ability to find facts our decisions cannot succeed, because reality has a way of winning despite our best efforts to believe it away. If we cast our political opponents as the enemy, we live in a needless state of war. – metaphorical and sometimes literal.

I’m starting to explore this site and I invite you to help me. Do they have any good ideas? What do you think? We’ve got to talk.

Russia and Trump

I  decided to do this commentary after reading Gzep’s recent commentary about his disheartening experiences with the FBI associated with the government raid of the Rocky Flats Plant. His point, as I understand it in relation to his personal experience, is about current political turmoil in the U.S. based on hatred of Trump. I agree there are many who are interested in nothing other than destroying Trump. I’m submitting a different scenario, and that is that the Russians, who developed skills during the Soviet Union days in creating turmoil in governments of opponents, have won a major victory in the attacks on the U.S. because of the election of Trump!

I’m working on publishing a book about how Nuclear Deterrence prevented World War III and the role of the Rocky Flats Plant in providing that deterrence. One of the things that I’ve learned in researching information for the book is that the Soviet Union invested heavily in resources to disrupt anything positive with the West. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that the Russians now have allies in the U.S. government who have no agenda other than preventing anything positive during the Trump administration. The Democrats are desperate to prove Trump “colluded” with the Russians. In my opinion, Democrats are “colluding” with the Russians by doing everything possible to shut down government operations with the exception of Trump and Russia hearings and investigations.

My book presents evidence that the Soviet Union spared no expense in interfering with anything positive for its Western enemies during the Cold War. Examples are the billions they spent supporting anti-nuclear protests in Europe and the United States. They recognized that the only thing that was preventing their massive advantage in conventional military forces from easily taking over Western Europe was the nuclear arsenal of the United States and the belief that American leaders were willing to use it to repel an invasion. They therefore invested, unsuccessfully, about $2 billion a year in efforts to curtail the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The book also includes reference to the huge “disinformation” organizations in the Soviet Union and its Iron Curtain Allies. They were skilled at producing forgeries that supported their agenda. They produced a flood of forgeries after the U.S. embassy in Iran was taken over by revolutionaries, which provided a wide variety of State Department official stamps and stationary. My favorite example is how the Soviets created a false scenario when they set up a television expose that filmed recovery of forged Nazi documents from a lake. The forged documents targeted West German officials unfriendly to the Soviet Union by labeling them as Nazis.

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When Morals and Markets Align, Worlds Move

WindFarm_Fluvanna_2004Life’s too short to constantly revisit decisions made long ago, and it’s easy to root for your favorite team or stick with familiar – comfortable – old enemies.

It’s been noted before that people know some things are noble and pure, others are degrading and tainted. You don’t need a steeple-topped building to figure this out- we each have a spiritual side.

Unfortunately, we don’t all agree on what that means in practice, and it’s easy to label others as misguided, evil, “them.” Even when people do agree, it can be hard to sacrifice today for a (possible) improvement tomorrow. “You should” is always a hard argument to win.

Which is why this recent nationalgeographic article is so encouraging.

Falling prices for renewable [energy] and a growing sustainability movement from the bottom up have changed the global picture…

Solar and wind are now so competitive that they are crowding out coal in many countries. In the U.S., electric generation from coal dropped by more than half in the last decade. Utility scale solar, meanwhile, rose 5,000 percent during that same period… The pace is quickening because the transition is now driven by economics.

Government support, including tax incentives, helped get the ball rolling, but the market is taking over. Government still plays a role – California, for example, is pushing for electric cars and paying to retrofit buildings to be more energy-efficient, while demonstrating that curbing greenhouse gases doesn’t bust the economy.

But from China to India to Texas, people are discovering renewable energy is economically sound. It doesn’t matter if you’re Red or Blue when the Green makes sense.

Falling prices of renewable energy have dramatically improved the global outlook. Just two years ago in Paris, the world’s top two polluters outside the U.S. insisted they’d need lots more coal. That was especially true in India.

Today, entire regions across India are seeking 100 percent renewable power. India’s new plans for meeting future energy needs now call for far fewer coal-fired plants. China, too…

[America] withdrawing from the world stage on climate could also cede new markets, industries, and leadership on everything from international trade to geopolitics to China. That could be costly.

I believe that cutting pollution and greenhouse gases, and preparing mitigations for the changes already underway, are the right things to do for posterity. How wonderful if they become the right thing to do for me today.

And for you.