November 11, 2020

Stalk2Stem

Time to replace corn with trees.

40% of US corn is used to produce ethanol. According to numbers from the US Department of Energy, substituting a gallon of ethanol for a gallon of gasoline avoids an average of a little over 6 lbs. of “net” CO2 emissions.  The fossil fuel needed to grow, transport, and distill the corn is counted; but the CO2 which comes from the burning ethanol is ignored since it was recently captured by the corn – that’s why we call these “net” emissions. Using these calculations, an acre grows enough corn to save 1.38 metric tons of CO2 annually.

However, an acre of Midwest farmland planted in trees removes about 3.5 metric tons from the atmosphere each year. The trees are 250% more effective at CO2 reduction than corn!

From an environmental point of view, it would be a huge gain if all the ethanol-producing acres were turned into forests. 39 million acres of trees would remove 136MMTCO2 (million metric tons of CO2) annually from the atmosphere, 82MMTCO2 more than would be saved if all that corn were turned into ethanol. The trees will keep sequestering CO2 virtually forever. The ethanol only helps so long as there is gasoline use for it to replace. It doesn’t do anything for cars parked while their owners work at home or for electric cars.

From an economic point of view, with ethanol prices below the cost of production, the farmers and refiners are in an unsustainable business.  They were lured into producing ethanol by government mandates requiring at least 10% ethanol in most gasoline even though ethanol is more expensive to produce than the gasoline it replaces on a cents per mile basis. The Farm Bureau says “A Pull Back in Corn Acres Is Needed”. They explain that ethanol demand, which had already flatlined before the pandemic, is now in steep decline because Americans are driving less. Prices for ethanol are well below the cost of production. Ethanol refineries are shutting down; farmers are worried that they’ll have nowhere to sell their crop.

From a political point of view, there are three and a half years until Iowa has its next first-in-the-nation primary. The incoming Biden administration has promised to do significant green things without pinning itself down on specifics.

For environmental, economic, and political reasons, now is a very good time to start growing trees instead of corn (stalk2stem) in much of the Midwest. Obviously ethanol production isn’t going to stop all at once and there will be other uses beside growing trees for the land which will no longer be growing corn. Step one, however, is to end all further ethanol subsidies and start phasing out the ethanol mandate; we don’t want to mindlessly expand an already failing program.

There will be a net loss of farm and refinery jobs; trees require a lot less care than corn. But these jobs are doomed as the demand for ethanol continues to decline; an orderly transition to other crops is necessary. National and state programs to buy farmland and turn it into productive forests is as necessary for Midwest corn growers as it is for Vermont dairy farmers. The stalk2stem program can at least partially be financed by ending subsidies for further ethanol development. Growing trees is one of the cheapest ways of reducing greenhouse gasses (GHG). The wood products industry will grow with a new supply of high-grade lumber and wood can increasingly replace concrete structurally for additional GHG savings.

I look forward to hiking the Iowa woods.

Sources

According to a study by the Argonne National Lab quoted by the US Dept of Energy, there is an average 34% reduction in GHG when ethanol is substituted for gasoline. These are lifecycle numbers and take into account the energy which goes into growing the corn and refining it. Gasoline emits 19.4 lbs. of CO2 per gallon so substituting a gallon of ethanol for a gallon of gas saves a little over 6 lbs. of CO2. On average, each acre of corn turns into 462 gallons of ethanol annually. CO2 savings from an acre of corn is 3047 lbs. or about 1.38 metric tons per acre per year. According to the University of Minnesota, an acre of Midwest forest sequesters about 3.5 metric tons/year. The rest is just math.

See Also:

Trees Are the Right End of the Stick for CO2 Reduction in Vermont

The Science Behind the Trillion Tree Campaign

US Chapter of One Trillion Trees Announced Today

November 05, 2020

Almost Half Your Fellow Americans are Disappointed and Frightened for the Future

Stop calling them names!

My liberal friends are asking these questions on Twitter and other fora: Why did so many Americans – more than last time – vote for Trump? Why didn’t they see the light when we called them deplorable racists? Why wasn’t the mainstream media effective at convincing everyone that Trump is the devil incarnate? Why didn’t they do what we told them to do? What’s wrong with America, especially the South and the middle of the country? How could “Hispanics” have increased their vote for Trump? And why don’t they embrace the term Latinx instead of Latino and Latina?

The better questions are: What  can we learn from the fears and aspirations of our fellow Americans? How do we come together during a pandemic and in a dangerous world for a better and stronger America? Almost half of America is as afraid of a Biden presidency as you were of four more years for Donald.

As it looks now, Joe Biden will win the presidency and Republicans will maintain a slim margin in the Senate. For me, this is the least bad of the outcomes possible. Although I voted for Biden mainly because of Trump’s dangerously unstable personality, I found myself reacting with visceral fear at the thought of either candidate winning. I think Biden has a much more stable personality; I think the left-wing of his party, which may or may not control his presidency, is a danger not only to the economy but also to free speech and an independent judiciary.  I abhor Trump’s racist dog whistles; I’m appalled by the “liberal” racist view that racial preferences are required and that minorities are monolithic blocks rather than independently thinking Americans. Hopefully, a Republican Senate can block very bad ideas like packing the Supreme Court or rush admission of new Democrat states.

The very good news –   so far –   is how smoothly the electoral process seems to be going (fingers crossed). Neither Antifa nor the Proud Boys attacked voters or polling places. There was no excuse to call out the National Guard or suspend voting. Counting seems to be going well. There will be some litigation, but everyone was prepared for that. Record turnout is a good sign for America. Record turnout during a pandemic is even better. Process is incredibly important to preserving democracy.

Biden will be better at working with Congress than either Obama or Trump. In a rosy scenario, we can go back to having a legislature which passes laws after debate and compromise and away from having law made by judges and executive orders. It’s time to be hopeful. It’s time to respect each other.

November 03, 2020

The Fairness of the Election Will Not Be Determined by Who Gets Elected

This morning the Dallas Democratic and Republican chairs issued a joint statement which reads in part:

Joint statement

I’ve never known my friends to be so anxious about our national future. This includes both friends who are voting for Biden and those who are voting for Trump (yes, I have friends who are voting for Trump.) Starting today, election day, is time for us all to calmly assure that our processes are followed and that the will of the voters, as expressed through electoral college votes, is respected.

All of my friends (but not everyone) are passionate about protecting our rights and our democracy. Each side believes, to an extent I’ve never seen before, that 1) election of the candidate they oppose will lead to the end of America we would know it; 2) that the other side is attempting to win in undemocratic ways. Many Democrats believe that Trump will refuse to leave even if defeated (he deserves a lot of the blame for this feeling) and will become a dictator especially if elected fairly to a second term. Many Republicans believe that Biden, if elected, will be steam-rolled by the anti-democratic, anti-free speech, anti-police far left of his party; and that a disarmed citizenry? will be left at the mercy of rampaging mobs.

Since both sides passionately believe what they believe, almost everyone is terrified. One side or the other is going to have to make the best of whomever is elected. The best way to assure that our Democracy does survive is to accept the results of the election and then work for what you believe in and against what you don’t. You do expect the other side to accept defeat, don’t you?  They are just as afraid as you are.

Obviously both sides are striving for electoral advantage and would like the election rules to be interpreted in a way that gives them the most votes or their opponents the least. It looks like we will have record turnout, which is a good thing, even though mailed-out unrequested ballots do increase the risk of fraud. In many states it is easier to vote than ever before although still not as easy as some people would like. People who previously were disenfranchised, like convicted felons in Florida, will be able to vote for the first time.

It is true that Trump supporters would prefer that some of these expansions of the electorate not take place because they suspect, probably correctly, that these new voters will favor Biden. It is also true that the Democratic Party’s passion for increasing the voter rolls and fighting even reasonable attempts to protect against fraud is motivated more by a quest for votes than a quest for justice. Let’s be honest with ourselves. From the record early turnout, it does not appear that voter suppression is very successful, at least not in most places.

Thought experiment: Do you expect Democratic lawyers to fight to make sure Trump ballots are not unreasonably invalidated? Do you expect Republicans to fight for Biden ballots? That’s not the way the system works. As they always have, each side will fight to invalidate questionable opponent ballots and to validate questionable ballots on their side. That’s not fraud. That’s the way a competitive system works. We do, however, have a right to expect that, when these disputes reach the courts, they will be adjudicated in a non-partisan way no matter whose appointee the judge is.

Hopefully we are ready to block hacking interference, foreign or domestic, with the polling process itself. If there is significant fraud, we must face it, not deny it. If there is intimidation at the polls, it must be dealt with harshly today, election day, no matter which side or sides the instigators come from. Both sides have radical fringes who believe our system is corrupt and must fall; we cannot let the fringe conspiracy beliefs, sincere or not, drive us into post-election hysteria and tear the country further apart.

I’m afraid we may not know the election results for a couple of weeks; hope I’m wrong but remember Bush v Gore when only one state was in doubt. This year, because of both politics and Covid, we’ve had the biggest one-cycle change in election procedure ever in many states. Then results are going to take time to sort out whether Trump likes it or not. More mail-in than in-person ballots will be invalidated because mail-in is more complicated; this has happened in every election and is not sure proof of voter suppression.

It’s hard to accept in our partisan passion but the fairness of the election will not be judged by who gets elected.

Good luck to America.

Also see: Are You Ready to Accept Defeat at the Polls?

October 29, 2020

Are You Ready to Accept Defeat at the Polls?

Both sides are ready to cry foul.

President Trump has infamously refused to say whether he’ll accept the results of the upcoming election. That’s unacceptable, of course. If the election is close, both sides will demand recounts in key states. That IS acceptable. There will be legal challenges from both sides in recounts; that’s acceptable, too. The huge number of mailed-in ballots will complicate sorting out the conflicting claims; that’s inevitable even if it’s something President Trump has predicted (“without evidence” as the NY Times likes to say unless you count the primaries as evidence – I do).

Maybe the election won’t be close. But, even if it is, the claims will eventually be sorted out by courts at various levels. Once that’s done, whether you’re for Trump or Biden, are you ready to accept the result? Or are you going to spend the next four years trying to reverse whatever decision your fellow Americans made.

If you are a Trump supporter and he loses, are you going to claim that the election was stolen by biased media and/or crooked mail-in ballots or by holdover Democrat-appointed judges? If you are a Biden supporter and he loses, are you going to complain that the election was stolen because of Russian “interference” or because some mail-in ballots were invalidated by Trump-appointed judges? In either case are you going to try to undo the proclaimed election result either by force or by the now over-used impeachment tool.

Do we relitigate Bidengate for four years even if Americans elect him knowing full well that he didn’t recuse himself in the Ukraine when he should’ve. What about Trump not releasing his tax returns? The voters knew about that before the last election.

What about foreign interference? Do we really think that citizens of the most ad-saturated nation in the world were significantly influenced by a puny ad spend by other countries or even by foreign-originated false news? Why do we even use the word “interference” for anything but tampering with actual votes? Radio Free Europe used to try to influence politics and even insurgency in other countries by broadcasting our version of the truth.

Best for the nation is acceptance of the results post the recounts and court cases. A huge number of us will have to face the fact that the person we didn’t vote for is the President. Big deal; that’s what happens in a democracy. Doesn’t mean we have to buy into policies we don’t agree with but does mean we shouldn’t consider ourselves a heroic “resistance” just because we didn’t get our way in the election.

I will wish success to whoever is President because his success is ours. I’ll support polices I do agree with such as radical closing of tax loopholes (only way to raise the taxes the rich pay), a higher minimum wage (never thought I’d say that), charter schools and school choice, freedom of speech, and mandatory Covid vaccinations once the vaccines have been thoroughly vetted. I’ll oppose things I don’t agree with like reestablishing the non-treaty with Iran, allowing excess methane emissions from oil wells, racism including racial preferences, continuing the chokehold teachers’ unions have on education, and limits on free speech from the left or the right.

And I will respect the opinions of those who don’t agree with me… except those who don’t think I have right to an opinion different than theirs. Here’s to a more civil four years coming up.

October 26, 2020

Dystopia, The Novel

Not happy reading for the times.

An early US indignity in Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: a Family, 2029-2047 is China’s successful claim to +1 as its international calling prefix. That ain’t nothing.

There is no pandemic in this book, which was published in 2016; but there was “the stonage”, a period in 2024 when a Chinese hack brough the Internet and the economy to a standstill. A huge huge stimulus package was enacted; the Internet was resuscitated. The Dow was soon setting new records (sound familiar?). The economy came back to life but more dependent on stimulus and Federal Reserve monetization of US debt than ever. The world kept buying US bonds. Economists explain that a reserve currency can essentially be printed without limits. The world kept buying US bonds… until the day in 2029 when the Treasury bond auction failed.

But that can’t happen to the world’s reserve currency. True. Turns out Russia and China and our friends in the Middle East have secretly prepared the bancor, a new international reserve currency which the rest of the world quickly adopts. The dollar plummets against the bancor, which Americans are not allowed to use. Whoops, there goes the economy. This time the Dow doesn’t come back. A lot of people aren’t rich anymore and a lot of pension funds are worthless.

The official line is that the bancor is a plot against the security of the US like 9/11 (which it sort of is). “Oh, that’s certainly how the White House is playing it”, says one about to be impoverished character. “Big conspiracy. Threat to national security. Nothing to do with a Congress that won’t rein in entitlements. Nothing to do with the deficit, or the national debt, or a monetary policy modeled on the population’s waistline. Only evil outside forces conniving to destroy the greatest country in the world,”

Since the US cannot roll over its debt, it repudiates it.  “All Treasury bills, notes, and bonds are forthwith declared null and void,” the President says. Moreover, the government seizes all gold including jewelry in private hands at a price in dollars which is confiscatory since the dollars are now so depreciated. Not only are most fortunes lost – “Hooray,” say those who are against inequality; but the middle class is now officially broke as well. Dollar savings are decimated by inflation. Only those with government jobs can struggle by because their salaries are pegged to inflation and paid with newly minted dollars. But tax rates aren’t indexed to inflation so even government workers are losing purchasing power.

Real estate should be a store of value; but, as public order disintegrates, those with weapons simply seize property from those who are less well-armed.  An apathetic and underpaid police force either can’t or won’t stop the chaos. Mexico closes its border to stop an influx of desperate “Ameritrash”.

Depressed yet? I am but it’s hard to stop reading because this is also an excellent novel with interesting characters.

We are often told what will happen to us if we don’t listen to “the science”. Economists aren’t really scientists and scientists aren’t even unanimous about anything. But what if we should be listening to the classic economic lesson – for which there is much historic evidence – that countries which print money for short-term political reasons (and to alleviate suffering), eventually fall into dystopian chaos? What emerges from the chaos is usually ugly.

BTW, my harping on the dangers of debt is non-partisan. Republicans – and especially Trump – rarely spare the public purse when favor can be bought. And many Democrats have convinced themselves that the lesson of the Obama stimulus is that debt never has to be repaid (so far they’ve been right and they will be until they aren’t). There is no right economic vote in this election.

The New York Times Book Review says “Shriver has always seemed to be few steps ahead of the rest of us, but her new novel establishes her firmly as the Cassandra of American letters.”  

If we’re not going to listen to “the science”, perhaps we should listen to Cassandra.

See also: The Stock Market Doesn’t Seem to Care Who Wins the Election

October 20, 2020

The Stock Market Doesn’t Seem to Care Who Wins the Election

That Should Worry Us.

In the runup to an election which will determine both the presidency and control of congress, the stock market has been almost oblivious to changing poll numbers and has stayed near its all-time highs, which were set AFTER the pandemic sprung from the bat cave.  The Pollyanna explanation is that the stock market focuses on the long-term and the long-term prospects for the US economy are good no matter who the next President is or whether the Democrats control the Senate as well as the House.

The Pollyanna explanation is BS. There is almost nothing as short-term as the stock market. Ask the CEO of any public company (I was once one such), what happens when quarterly earnings are released, forecast, or hinted at. The mob of investors (and robot investors) who rush in or out are about as long-term oriented as my eleven-month old puppy at dinner time.

The market is reacting to the twists and turns of more stimulus. Today it was down quite a bit because Nancy Pelosi gave the White House a deadline of tomorrow for making a deal and nothing has happened yet. If the White House doesn’t cave, says Nancy, no deal until AFTER THE ELECTION. That’s three weeks away, too long-term for the stock market.

Demand created by printing money and shoveling it out the door is hardly long-term. The demand evaporates as soon as the stimulus stops. But the stock market has become addicted to the temporary high of the stimulus drug. The addiction actually began with the recession of 2008. Remember Obama’s close to one trillion-dollar stimulus (seemed big then) and the bailout of the banks, which was another sort of stimulus. Although the federal government didn’t start writing huge stimulus checks again until Covid hit, the Federal Reserve never took back the money which it had poured into the system and kept interest rates incredibly low.

The Federal Reserve is being even more generous now with its low or no interest lending – quite literally printing money. Notice that big bank earnings exceeded expectations in the last Covid-ridden quarter. The banks benefitted both from having almost free money from the Fed to lend to their biggest clients (not small businesses) and also from huge fees they received for helping the government shovel stimulus money out the door.

Back to the stock market: in order for it to keep going up, there needs to be more new money buying stocks than there is money leaving the market from selling. The money flows in and out of the market are more long-term than the daily stampedes – sort of like tides and waves. There has been a tidal flow of money into the market since 2008, thanks again to the Fed which has force-fed funds to the banks at the top of the economic pyramid. Most of this money doesn’t trickle down, it buys assets and creates bubbles. Housing and stock market bubbles are the easiest to inflate and we see them swelling around us. Moreover, when interest rates are low, savings accounts and bonds aren’t attractive, so anyone who has any spare cash is very tempted to put money into stocks.

Notice that none of the reasons I’ve given for the movements of the stock market have anything to do with what’s happening in the real economy. They have everything to do with what government including the Federal Reserve is doing. Lately the market seems to go up on bad numbers like a slowdown in the jobs recovery. Why? Easy. Bad numbers make it more likely that more stimulus drug will be administered.

But isn’t the market worried that Democrats will raise taxes and reduce rich people’s investable funds? Apparently not. Biden’s rise in the polls hasn’t hurt the market. Two reasons why, in my view: 1) Democrats will raise taxes but they’ll put even more money than what increased taxes net them into the economy as stimulus; 2) Biden Democrats aren’t any more serious than Donald Trump about increasing the amount that rich people pay.

If Biden were serious about raising taxes on the very rich, he’d be talking about closing loopholes, not raising rates. If loopholes reduce taxable income to zero, doesn’t matter what percentage of zero a taxpayer must pay. If Biden and Pelosi were serious about making the system more progressive, they wouldn’t be pledging to undo the most progressive part of the Trump tax cut: the low limit on federal deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT, it’s called), which hurts only the wealthy. Actually, AOC understands and is “right” on this issue; but she’s giving Biden a bye.

The stock market doesn’t care that we have an awful choice again to make in this election because it believes the fix is in and that stimulus, Fed largesse, and tax loopholes will remain under both Trump and Biden. The stock market doesn’t care that Trump’s lack of effective national action to help states deal with pandemic and leadership by bad example are crushing the economy or that Biden’s focus on continued subsidies, especially to anybody who paints him or herself green, will grow weeds where trees and factories ought to be. The stock market doesn’t care about the real economy. Until the music stops….

And that’s one more reason we should be very worried in this annus horribilus.

See also: Don’t Watch The Dow!

October 08, 2020

Sampler of Reaction to Moonquake

Don’t worry; this is just fantasy reaction.

First the fake news: At 8:07PM Eastern Daylight Time last night observatories and amateurs alike reported a series of strong moonquakes. The face of the man in the moon no longer looks familiar. The cause is yet unknown. Violent protests have surged in Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis.

@realDonaldTrump: There is absolutely nothing to worry about. I have ordered My Homeland Security to guard against a possible dangerous influx of Loony Aliens. So-called Sanctuary Cities are hereby warned against endangering Earth’s security.

The Federal Reserve: We have supplied extra capital to banks and loosened solvency requirements.

Antifa: The lily-white face of dominance has been shattered. Violence is necessary for change to be real.

Proud Boys: We are standing by to protect the rights of white people against this huge leftwing plot.

Wall Street: Dow Jones up 1053 points on news of Federal Reserve action.

Joe Biden: Uh… I have not really been briefed on this. During the Obama-Biden administration we did a much better job of dealing with this kind of situation than Donald Trump is doing.

NY Times Headline: Lunar Catastrophe; Women and Other Marginalized Groups Expected to be Most Impacted

QAnon: The deep state is galactic.

Presidential Press Spokesperson of the moment: This President has done more for the Earth and Moon than any previous administration in half the time.

Chuck Schumer: This unprecedented event makes it absolutely impossible to go forward with confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nomination.

Mitch McConnell: It is now even more imperative that we immediately bring the Supreme Court up to full strength. In this unprecedented situation, the Founders’ original intent is more important than ever.

Another NY Times Headline: Trump Falsely Accuses Loonians of Lunacy.

American Federation of Teachers: Our members cannot be asked to shoulder the risk of the sky falling without extra compensation.

NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio: New York City schools will close.

NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo: New York City schools will remain open.

First responders: We haven’t had any calls yet. If we are called, we’ll do what’s needed.

Bernie Sanders: Cawporate greed.

Fox News: (picture of Airforce One flying past changed face of the moon with Star Spangled Banner playing.)

Chicken Little: They should have listened to the science.

October 06, 2020

Covid is the Ill Wind that Brings Opportunity to Vermont

Wealthy people are coming to Vermont for refuge. They are turning seasonal homes into permanent homes, buying homes, expanding homes, and building new ones. After years of trying everything to stem the net exodus of tax-paying people including bribes to get people to move here or work from here, Covid is doing what we couldn’t do on our own and may help save the state and education budgets from a spiral of decline.

Realtors are working flat out. So are electricians, carpenters, plumbers and everyone else needed to add a work -from-home room or change one person’s dream house into someone else’s dream. Home prices are going up rapidly. The importance of a good Internet connection is even greater than it was before. These aren’t retired people; they intend to work safely from here.

We’re entitled to pat ourselves on the back to some extent although other resort areas are experiencing similar immigration. The fact that we’re so far (cross your fingers) the safest state in which to shelter from Covid helps. Many of these newcomers already know and are well-disposed to Vermont because they have vacationed here. A month of demonstrations around City Hall in Burlington is nothing like what’s been happening in real cities.

The benefits and costs

Jobs selling, building and remodeling homes for the refugees as well as continued jobs supporting their lifestyle. They will be restaurant patrons as restaurants reopen and their guests will stay in hotels as the virus wanes. They’ll recreate here even more than they did before. Epic Pass sales in Stowe are significantly higher than last year.

More sales tax revenue whether they shop here or have Amazon ship to a Vermont address.

Property transfer taxes are already coming in. New and remodeled houses will add to the base for property tax and help take pressure off the education fund. However, as towns reappraise, properties similar to the ones being purchased are going to see their appraisals and probably taxes go up.

Increased prices for housing. Good if you’re selling a house. Not so good if you’re buying or renting.

An increased base for Vermont nonprofits to fund raise from. The challenge will be to involve the newcomers in the community as quickly as possible.

Well-heeled demand for better broadband. Buildouts paid for by those now working from Vermont can also serve those who have not been attractive enough prospects for the cable companies on their own.

The big kahuna: more income tax revenue. This good be huuuge if we play our cards right. Most of these people are continuing to work at their old jobs, which they now know can be done remotely. Consider an investment banker who moves here from New Jersey and keeps on investment banking from her Zoom room in Stowe. Is she working in Vermont or New Jersey? To whom does she owe income tax? Our taxes are high but states like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have similarly high or even higher state taxes. She may have a choice of which state is her tax residence. To whom does she want to owe income tax? We want that choice to be Vermont, of course. We don’t need rock-bottom taxes to compete, just be slightly better than the competition. Also need to make sure our tax structure is among the first in the nation to be work-from-home friendly.

Is this Just a flash in the pan?

Once there’s a vaccine does the panic subside and everything return to the old normal? I don’t think so. The old normal is gone.

Many high-earning people have learned they can work from wherever they want to live. They don’t need to be at many meetings in person. They don’t need to travel incessantly. The slow movement to remote work became an avalanche. Remote work works. Many people will decide they don’t want to go back to the office in the city and don’t need to live within commuting range. If 1% of the people in the urban areas in the Northeast decided to come to Vermont, that would be more than we could handle.

Fear of pandemics will linger even when the novel corona virus fades into the seasonal flu.

Urban unrest and urban decay are getting as bad as they were when the wave I rode in on left the cities and suburbs in the late 60s and early 70s and came to Vermont. Many of that wave were “trust-fund hippies” (not me). This wave is high earners.

The urban problems are likely to get worse before they get better no matter whom is elected next month. Vermont is entering a virtuous cycle of more state revenues without higher tax rates – maybe we could even lower tax rates and provide good public services. The cities have the opposite problem: declining revenue as businesses go remote and both revenues and property values fall.

And in conclusion…

The new normal is giving Vermont a sudden opportunity for growth and prosperity just when stagnation seemed to be intractable. Growth will bring problems as well as opportunities. Making the most of the opportunities and mitigating the problems of growth are our challenges for the next decade. Should be fun.

See also: Forward to a New Normal

After the Pandemic: A Lot Less Commuting

John McClaughry: Orienting Vermont’s new immigrants

October 01, 2020

There Are Problems with Mailed-In Ballots

Don’t let Trump have that excuse.

Nearly 100,000 New York City voters have been sent invalid absentee ballots, with wrong names or addresses” – headline in the NY Times debate day, Sept. 29. Apparently Donald Trump does not think this is false news because he quoted the number accurately in the debate.

On August 3rd another Times headline read: “Why the Botched N.Y.C. Primary Has Become the November Nightmare.” The story goes on to say: “Nearly six weeks later, two congressional races remain undecided.”

According to the Times today, many more Democrats than Republicans have requested mail ballots (perhaps because Trump doesn’t want them to). This scares Republicans, according to the story, but it is beginning to scare Democrats as well. “This year, with a huge increase in mail-in ballots, and slowdowns in mail delivery, experts have estimated the number of mail-in ballots that are disqualified may exceed one million. While more than 140 million Americans are expected to vote, the discarded ballots could make a difference in competitive states.” Even in a normal year, the rejection rate is one to two percent. This is not a normal year, in case you haven’t noticed.

The Times comforts itself by repeating its mantra that Trump is making “false claims” about mailed ballots as if you could actually make a false claim about something which hasn’t happened yet even if you’re a pathological liar. But the twin dangers that many mailed ballots will be rejected and that an unprecedented wave of mailed ballots will actually leave the election result in doubt through many court cases (which both sides are gearing up for) are very real.  It is possible that mis-mailed ballots or ballots sent to people who didn’t request them and don’t intend to vote could be harvested by others; we haven’t sent out unsolicited ballots before. To some extent, that’s bound to happen. The worst case is that Trump has an excuse or even more a reason to contest the will of the voters. It also won’t be good if Democrats think the election was stolen from them because of contested ballots being decided by Trump-appointed judges. Many Democrats have yet to accept the 2016 election.

So it’s up to us. I’m 77 and have some other Covid comorbidities.  At first I thought I’d vote by mail as I did in the primary. My intent now is to vote in person against Trump. I don’t want any doubt about my vote even though there is no doubt where solidly blue Vermont’s three electoral votes will go. Please consider voting in person yourself if you are physically able. Consider it an act of protest. Consider it an act of resistance. Or consider it thanks for having the privilege of voting for our leaders and an acknowledgement that this privilege  and all our freedoms are fragile and under attack from both the left and the right.

See also: Trump-Proof the Election

We Need Massive Turnout and Unambiguous Results from the November Election

I Voted for Donald Trump

September 29, 2020

The Speech I’d like to Hear from Joe Biden

Could give him the landslide that would be good for America… or not.

“My fellow Americans, my opponent has refused to agree to cede power peacefully if you vote him out of office. We know you will not be deterred by his threats. Americans stand up to bullies. His scorn for our democracy, which also includes his threats to muzzle a free press, is reason enough for us to use our ballots to remove him from the highest office in the land.

“Donald Trump is not a president of ‘all the people’. He has exploited and widened racial gaps which still sadly exist between us. He tolerates and appears to condone rightwing violence.

“As your president I will not tolerate assaults on your freedom or right to live securely and peacefully no matter what ideology is used to justify violence and no matter what the color of the skin of those who threaten you. It is a sad fact that those who believe America is inherently evil have sometimes taken advantage of American’s revulsion at incidents of racial violence to launch violent attacks on their fellow Americans and to burn and loot businesses, many of them painfully built by minority and immigrant people bravely working their way out of poverty.

“As your President I will demand that our central cities and poor rural areas get the effective, firm, and fair policing that their residents want and deserve. I will not tolerate brutality by police, whether racially motivated or not. I will strive for more funding to keep the peace, whether that funding goes to police departments or to relieve the police from having to deal with some mental health issues. Let me be clear, though, I believe that almost all our police are brave and fine people who deserve our support. I know that our minority citizens want to live free from fear of both police and gang violence.

“Unlike my opponent, I understand that most policing is a local and state responsibility under our Federal system. I also know that our federal government is responsible in situations where local governments won’t or can’t act constitutionally or to keep the peace. It took federal action to end slavery when slave states asserted a right to nullify federal laws; Eisenhower used federal force to assure the integration of the University of Mississippi when George Wallace stood in opposition in the doorway. In countless emergencies throughout our history the National Guard has reinforced overwhelmed local authorities. That great tradition will continue on my watch.

“Donald Trump often threatens to shut down what he calls the “fake media”. I have news for him; the media is real even though it is not always right. Fortunately we have great diversity of opinion – even diversity of prejudice – in our media. It cannot be any other way in a democracy. The American people need exposure to many points of view; the issues we deal with are complex. There would be no greater danger than government control over media – whether new media or old. You can count on me to stand for a free press.

“You can also count on me to stand for your right to free speech even if your speech is unpopular. It was not long ago that writing about contraception was banned and public support for abortion and gay rights unthinkable. We Americans did hear a diversity of views; we did change our minds. America is great because it can change its mind and can right its own wrongs. We will continue to right the wrongs of slavery and racism; and, as your president, I will protect your right to speak your mind.

“Four years ago, some of you voted for Donald Trump because you thought he was the best candidate to support your rights as Americans and because he reflected your just pride in America. You hoped he would succeed. I certainly understand and respect that. Unfortunately he has now refused to affirm your constitutional right to elect a president or turn one out of office. He has not been able to lead effectively through the Covid crisis. He has deepened America’s wounds instead of attempting to cure them.

“Today I am asking for the votes of all Americans. I will not be perfect; I will not agree with you on every issue; but I will do my best to lead a united America whose own best days are still ahead.”

“Thank you.”

I am going to vote against Donald Trump whether Biden makes this speech or not even though I voted for Trump last time around. I will almost certainly vote for Biden even though I disagree with him on many important policy issue, not that my vote for president matters in solidly blue Vermont. I will vote in person if I am physically able in order to leave no doubt and to show my respect for the sanctity of free elections and my luck in being in a country which has them.

But I’m afraid the election will be tight and the outcome perhaps in legitimate doubt for a period of time. Both sides have and should have the right to question improper procedures and dubious ballots. It would be better for America to have a landslide in the electoral college so that the result is indubitable (as Trump’s election was whether you like it or not). I think if Biden can move back to the center from which he came, if he can indorse the values and address the fears of most Americans, if he can criticize violence and speech control no matter whom the source, he will earn and receive that landslide even though he will lose some extremist votes on the left and will not get extremist votes on the right in any case. There are few undecideds left; but their votes will be decisive in this divided country.

Most important, a candidate who takes this approach to freedom and democracy will be in a good position to govern.

See also: Trump-Proof the Election

We Need Massive Turnout and Unambiguous Results from the November Election

I Voted for Donald Trump

 

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