Polar Bears

 

polar bear 01

Polar bears, the icon of the global warming movement: theatened, endangered, possibly headed for extinction because of mankind’s indifference to saving the planet. Really?

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is a carniverous bear who roams the Arctic Circle area. It feeds mostly on seals. It is a big bear, and a male can weigh as much as 1500 pounds and stand nine feel tall on it’s hind legs. They are actually related to the brown bear; their distinctive color presumably evolved allowing them to survive better in their habitat. They live both on land and on sea ice, roaming their territory looking for prey. They are vicious animals, and will eat a human being as readily as a seal. Other creatures they encounter are just food to them. 

Their “territory” is pretty large. The area north of the Arctic Circle is over 7 million square miles in size. For reference, the continental United States is about 3.2 million square miles.

polar bear map

The polar bear is considered a “vulnerable species”,  by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, largely due to concerns about global warming. This group has classified 5196 animals and 6789 plants around the world as “vulnerable”.

So how many polar bears are there, and how is their “vulnerability” measured? That’s where it begins to get murky.

Part of the problem is no one knows how many polar bears there are. The only way to count polar bears is to fly over them and count. Since their territory is so large, and they are constantly on the move, this is not  a practical method. So what we have are estimates. Since much of their territory has been poorly studied (Wikipedia), estimates by biologists run from 20,000 to 31,000 polar bears in the world. Nineteen “subpopulations” have been catagorized, based on sightings of groups of bears in various areas.

Modern tracking of the bears has only taken place since the 1980’s and is expensive, tagging and tracking bears by helicopter. While there have been increased reporting of bear sightings around populated areas in recent years, some scientists argue that this should not be interprteted as increases in the bear population. Counting of  subpopulations is scattered, and some groups have not been counted since 1992.
The bottom line is that all counts of polar bears are estimates, based on very limited information.

Those worried about the fate of the polar bear contend that shrinking Arctic polar ice reduces the bear’s habitat and food supply, eventually leading to the extinction of the bear.

The Arctic Polar Ice:

In 2009, Al Gore warned the Polar ice caps could be gone in five years:

So is Al right? Obviously his 2009 prediction didn’t quite work out that way, the ice is still there. But is he right in general?

Maybe, maybe not.

It seems almost impossible to get anyhing but conflicting data on the Internet. I looked at dozens of sites; official, semi-official, quasi-official and unofficial.  — All kinds of different “answers”. I’m certainly not a scientist, but all the contradictions made me want to pull my eyeballs out. So here’s what I surmised:

It seems that over the last several million years, the Arctic has undergone over twenty glacial/interglacial (cooling/warming) periods. Some of these lasted for millions of years. The most recent interglacial period, known as the Holocene Interglacial period, lasted about 11,700 years. After warming during the  Medieval Warm Period (950-1250 AD), there was a cooling period from about 1300 to 1850, which has been called the “Little Ice Age”.  Although we appear to once again be in an interglacial period, It is not clear the length of time this will last, nor the cause.

There has been shrinkage of the Arctic ice in recent years. Of course it recedes and expands seasonly, but overall there has been shrinkage. I tried my best find out how much, but again, numbers are all over the place. Again it seems as much based on “estimates” as anything else.

From what I can put together, the Arctic ice pack has a size of about 5.3 million square miles. This shrinks currently to about 1.3 million square miles in the summer.  Most of the sites I looked at suggest the recent overall loss is about 13-15 thousand square miles per year. Some said that this is about 2 percent, but if you do the math, it’s actually .2 percent — big differerence.  At that rate, the ice will turn to water in about 500 years. 

Maybe, maybe not. Climate is a funny thing; it doesn’t follow rules, certainly not any of the rules of man. Over the eons, climate change has gone warmer to colder, to warmer to colder, over and over again. In any case, the Arctic Ice is not likely to melt in the next few years as Al projected.

Personally, I think it all has to do with the shifting of the magnetic poles, but more on that in a future article.

So over all, I’m not too worried about the Polar Bear. If things change enough, they’ll likely just move south and turn brown again, like their cousins.

brown bear

International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Summary of Polar Bears census counts

Medieval Warm Period

Little Ice Age

1968

 

time 1968

I missed 1968. Of course 1968 really happened, and I was alive then, but I missed it. I missed it because I was in Vietnam, and almost totally unaware  of the tumultous events that took place that year. So many dramatic events took place that they changed this country, and indeed much of the world. 1968 was the most significant year of my lifetime, and I wasn’t there.

When these events took place, I was barely aware of them. In Vietnam we had a single radio station, AFVN, which stood for Armed Forces Vietnam. It was the only radio station we ever heard. Fortunately or unfortunately, AFVN was heavily censored. We only heard what they allowed us to hear, and issues that were considered too “controversial” were not broadcast. As a result of this, I only learned of many of the major events of 1968 when I returned home late that year.

Looking back, I do believe 1968 changed everything.  Let’s look at the year month by month and see what happened.

January

1968 started out innocuously enough. In January, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau premiered on ABC. Johnny Cash performed his historic concert at Folsom Prison, and the Green Bay Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders in Superbowl II.

Things started to get dicey around the end of January.  On January 21st,  A B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed in Greenland. One was never recovered under the ice. On the same day, the battle of Khe Sahn began in Vietnam.

On January 22, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In debuts on NBC, and on the 23rd, North Korea seized the American Navy ship USS Pueblo and it’s crew.

FILE - In this undated file photo from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Navy USS Pueblo sails underway at sea. The ship is North Koreafs greatest Cold War prize, a potent symbol of how the country has stood up to the great power of the United States, once in an all-out ground war and now with its push to develop the nuclear weapons and the sophisticated missiles it needs to threaten the U.S. mainland. (AP Photo/USN, File)

USS Pueblo

To cap the month of January off, the Tet Offensive began in Vietnam on January 30, and by the next day , Viet Cong soldiers were attacking the US embassy in Saigon.

1202 Americans were killed in Vietnam in January

February

February 1st: In what would beome one of the most iconic and controversial photographs of Vietnam, photographer Eddie Adams captured the execution of a Viet Cong captive by Saigon police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan.

loan

On February 6th, the Winter Olympics opened in Grenoble, France. On February 8th, three protestors were shot and killed and 27 injured at the University of South Carolina by state police, in an incident that became known as the Orangeburg Massacre.

During February, actors Nick Adams and Gary Coleman died, and actors Josh Brolin and Molly Ringwald were born. Singer Frankie Lymon died of a drug overdose.

2124 Americans were killed in Vietnam in February

March

March started off calmly enough. Johnny Cash and June Carter were married on March 1st, and actor Daniel Craig was born on the 2nd.

Then, on March 8th, a Soviet ballistic missle  submarine sank 90 miles off Hawaii, with the loss of all the crew.

There was a nerve gas leak at the Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds, 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City,  on the 14th.

On the 16th of March in Vietnam, the My Lai Massacre took place.On the same day, Senator Robert Kennedy entered  the race for the Democratic nomination for President.

My son was born on March 28th. I was notified about his birth by the Red Cross about a week later.

On March 30, Celine Dion was born, and on the next day, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.

1543 Americans were killed in Vietnam in March

April

April 2nd: Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001 A Space Odyssey, opened in Washington DC.

king

On April 4th, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray. Almost immediately, riots broke out all across the country. Riots took place in over one hundred cities, with the largest in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington DC. The riots lasted for the better part of a week, and over 45 people were killed.

king riots

 

On April 11, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

On April 13, there was a total lunar eclipse, the first of two in 1968.

Anti-war protests in New York shut down Columbia University on April 23rd.  Timothy McVeigh is born on the same day. The musical Hair opened in New York City on April 29th.

hair

1410 Americans were killed in Vietnam in April

May

Early May settled down a bit in the U.S., but student protests expanded in Europe, especially in France, perhaps inspired by American anti-war protests.

May 17: Anti-war protestors, known as the Cantonville Nine break into a Selective Service office in Maryland and burned draft records. Two involved were Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan and his brother Phillip.

On May 22, the U.S.  Navy nuclear-power submarine USS Scorpion sank in the Atlantic, with the loss of all on board. On May 27, civil rights protesters rioted in Louisville, Kentucky.  The rioting lasted two days and two people were killed.

2169  Americans were killed in Vietnam in May

June

June 5: Senator Robert Kennedy was shot in the Ambassdor Hotel in Los Angeles  by Siran Siran, a Jordanian. He died the next day.

James Earl Ray is arrested on June 8th for the assassination of Martin Luther King.

1146 Americans were killed in Vietnam in June

July

All things considered, July was a relatively quiet month. The country seemed to take a breather. The CIA did launch it’s controversial Phoenix Program in Vietnam on July 1, Saddam Hussein first came to power in Iraq.

On July 17, the PLO committed it’s first skyjacking (El Al Flight 426), and Pope Paul VI issued his enclyclical Humanae Vitae, concerning birth control.

813 Americans were killed in Vietnam in July

August

August 5-8 :The Republican National Convention selected Richard Nixon at the party’s nominee for President. Spiro Agnew was named Vice Presidential nominee.

nixon agnew

August 20-21: 750,000 Soviet Union and “Warsaw Pact” troops invaded Czechoslovkia, using 6500 tanks and 800 aircraft, in the biggest invasion since World War II.

August 20-30: Massive rioting took place at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as the Democrats nominate Presidential candidate Hubert Humphry and Edmund Muskie for Vice President.

On August 28, John Gordon Mein, US Ambassador to Guatamala is assassinated in Guatamala City. He was the first American ambassador ever assassinated in the line of duty.

1080 Americans were killed in Vietnam in August

September

September 6: 150 women arrived in Atlantic City to protest the Miss America pagent. The first of the “bra burning” demonstrations, this was considered to be the first large feminist/women’s liberation demonstration.

Hawaii Five-O debuts on CBS, and becomes the longest-running show on television until 2003.  Sixty Minutes debuts on CBS.

September 30: Boeing Aircraft introduces the Boeing 747 to the public.

1053 Americans are killed in Vietnam in September

October

October 7: Singer Jose Fecliciano’s stylized version of the Star Spangled Banner at the World series creates huge controversy.

October 11: NASA launches Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission.

October 14: The Department of Defense announces it will send about 24,000 soldiers and Marines back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours.

October 18: At the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, two African-American atheletes raise their fists in the black power salute.

black power

600 Americans are killied in Vietman in October

November

November 5:  Richard M. Nixon wins the Presidential election, defeating Democratic candidate Humbert Humphrey,  becoming the 37th President of the United States

On November 20th, the Farmington Mine disaster in West Virginia kills 78 miners.

On November 24, four men hijacked Pan Am Flight 281 at JFK Airport in New York City, and flew it to Havana, Cuba.

703 Americans were killed in Vietnam in November

December

On December 20, the Zodiac Killer begins his deadly spree in California.

December 24: Apollo 8 enters obit around the moon. Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders become the first humans to see the far side of the moon.

749 Americans were killed in Vietnam in December

1968 was not an easy year  to forget. Assasinations, riots, and chaos seemed commonplace that year.  16,899 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines died in Vietnam. 

The year was a breaking point. Something snapped, and it seems possible today to look at the years before and after 1968 and see dramatic differences.  Every now and then in history major events seem to compress into a short period of time. 1968 was such a time, the only one like it in my lifetime. I hope I never see another.

Endnotes:

B-52 Crash in Greenland

Battle of Khe Sahn

Seizure of USS Pueblo

The Tet Offensive

U.S. Embassy Saigon

Orangeburg Massacre

My Lai Massacre

Civil Rights Act of 1968

Daniel Berrigan

Humanae Vitae

Farmington Mine Disaster

Zodiac Killer

 

 

Westworld – The Rise of Artificial Intelligence?

I recently  finished watching “Westworld”, an HBO television series based on the 1973 movie with the same title. Both were the story of a theme park filled with animatronic characters who interacted with the guests. The characters, called “hosts” were so advanced it was practically impossible to tell them from the human being “guests”. Without going too far into the plot line, this, in my opinion was an extraordinarily well-done science fiction story which seemed to be far too close to reality for comfort.

Sentience

The capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively. It is the ability to feel (sentience) distinguished from the ability to think (reason)

Westworld isn’t the first movie to explore the notion of artificial inteligence running amuck.It started with Hal 9000, the  infamously intelligent computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odessy (1968).

hal 9000

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that…”

Since then there have been countless movies about computers and/or robots turning on humans. In some cases the robots were monstrous and evil (Terminator). There were action/adventure robots (I,Robot), creepy (Ex Machina), and the franky disturbing  A.I. Artificial Intellgence, by Steven Spielberg.

Artificial Intelligence

The standard definition of artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence exhibited by machines. Generally, this is thought of as machines that imitate human cognative functions, such as problem solving.

The incredible recent advances have made AI an everyday experience. For example, search for something on Google. As you type in a few letters, suggestions begin to appear, as though Google is attempting to read your mind, and find out what you are looking for before you finish typing it. This is the common use of an algorithm, a self-contained sequence of actions to be performed. In the Google search (predictive text or autocomplete), to fill in your search, Google analyizes the last 10,000 searches in your geographical area, your bookmarks, your recent searches, your web browsing history, and the patterns of your browsing and searches. In other words, Google carefully looks at your behaviors as you fill in that search box, returning suggestions before you can even type them. Scary? It probably should be, but we’ve grown so accustomed to it, we really don’t even think about it. This is artificial intelligence from a machine, or in this case software, solving problems for you.

google algorithym

Google searches are of course, commonplace today. We accept them as part of our normal lives. How about Siri or Alexa? We ask them questions, they give us answers. We’ve adapted to speaking to our phones and computer systems, or is it speaking “with”? When does that interaction between man and machine begin to get muddy? — meet Samantha:

So when does the computer beome “real” ? When is it more than a machine?

British code breaker  and inventor of the Enigma machine Alan Turing proposed a test (now known as the Turing Test),  which suggests that if a person communicates with a machine, and cannot tell if the communication is from another person or a machine, the test has been passed. To paraphase a line from Westworld when a “host” is asked if they are human or machine, the host replied, “If you can’t tell , what difference does it make”?

So, could computers and artificlal intelligence become self-aware? Could they become sentient? Far fetched, perhaps, but some pretty smart folks have some qualms.

Stephen Hawking, the British physicist often referred to as one of the smartest people in the world, told the BBC “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he said. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”(1)

Bill Gates seems to agree: “I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” Gates wrote. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”(2)

Tessla founder Elon Musk seems to suggest the same thing: “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.” (2)

The question seems to be whether or not machines with AI can become conscious, or self-aware. Watch these tiny robots take a test:

“…It may seem pretty simple, but for robots, this is one of the hardest tests out there. It not only requires the AI to be able to listen to and understand a question, but also to hear its own voice and recognise that it’s distinct from the other robots. And then it needs to link that realisation back to the original question to come up with an answer.”

To find out how this little robot became self-aware, click link below:

Robot passes self-awareness test

Technological Singularity

This is the creation of an artifical superintelligence, one so sophisticated that it could become runaway, causing it’s own “intelligence explosion”, out of the control of it’s makers. The argument is that it is possible to build a machine that is more intelligent than man, and this machine begins to rebuild itself, literally writing it’s own software, growing more and more intelligent as it goes. A concept known as Moore’s law suggests that this is not only possible, but plausible and even likely over time.

Is this real, or just the stuff of vivid imaginations and screenwriters? Several of the people mentioned above are part of the Future of Humanity Institute, which seems to take these things seriously.

So maybe humans will be ruled by machines sometime in the future. Or maybe it’s just fun science fiction. Which brings us back to Hal:

 

Endnotes

1.Beware the Robots, Says Stephen Hawking

2. Bill Gates on Dangers of Artificial Intelligence — Washington Post

Future of Life Institute — Wikipedia

Technological Singularity

Artificial Intelligence — Wikipedia

Is Google tracking me?

Moore’s Law

 

But Will it Power a Kuerig?

 

kuerig

I happened to see an ad for an emergency generator on Amazon recently. For whatever reason, I scanned the listing for comments.  One person asked, what I suppose, is the pressing question of our modern times: “Will it power a Kuerig?”.

I thought about that for a minute:  A winter storm, a blizzard, power out everywhere. Hunkered down, hoping we don’t freeze to death with the heat off. What concerns me the most?  How can I get my Kuerig to work?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Kuerig thing is nifty; cute little cups that make just the right kind of coffee mixture you crave: Starbucks, Folger’s, Green Mountain. Whether its Nantucket Blend or Breakfast Blend, Hazelnut or Sumatran Reserve, it’s all in that little plastic cup. Pop it in the machine and you’re just seconds away from paradise. It’s just not my kind of coffee.

Coffee. I’m a serious coffee drinker, old school type. I started drinking coffee probably around the age of ten. I peaked in my twenties and thirties, when I was drinking a dozen or more cups a day. During my waking hours I was never without a cup of coffee. Back then, we made our coffee like this:

coffee-pot

This was called a percolator. Fill it with water, put coffee grinds in the basket inside, put the pot on a stove (or campfire for that matter), and heat the water. The water boiled, pushed up through the grinds, and like magic, coffee! The height of simplicity. No electric, no fancy gadgets, just coffee, water and heat. Coffee was, and still is a simple beverage. Basic. Fundamental. Just ask the old cowboys.

cowboys

Coffee was also cheap. For many many years a ten cent cup of coffee was standard in many diners. I remember a popular brand was Maxwell House, “Good to the very last drop” coffee. There were of course, other brands, but coffee was coffee. — Well apparently not.

In the late 1980’s, I met a woman from Seattle. She had come to New Jersey and brought her own coffee with her. She was the first “coffee snob” I ever met.  She would brew her coffee in her motel room and bring it to a restaurant in a thermos rather than drink the restaurant coffee.  She fussed and opined about the wonderful coffee in Seattle, and how backward we were in the rest of the country. I got to taste some of her wonder brew. It was good, but I didn’t see the fuss. I thought she was a bit of a snobby twit, and I think the coffee was Starbucks, which had not yet come East at that time.

The Coffee Shop

According to US News and World Report in a recent article, Americans pay an average of $2.70 for a cup of coffee in a coffee shop, leaving an average 20% tip ($.54), bringing the cost of that cup of coffee to $3.24. So what does that cup off coffee cost the retailer?

Coffee prices have varied over the years, largely due to trade agreements and growing conditions, but since 1976, the wholesale market price of coffee has remained between $.50 and $2.50 per pound. As of this writing, it is selling for $1.46 per pound on the commodities market. The mean price of coffee has been about $1.40  for forty years.

According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, one pound of coffee should yield 48 six ounce cups. Cutting that in half, we’ll suppose we can get 24 twelve ounce cups ( a Starbucks “tall”) from that pound. At the wholesale level, that’s a cost of about $.06 (six cents) per cup.

From the wholesaler, the coffee must go the the roaster, who roasts, packages, and ships the coffee to the distributor, bringing the cost per pound to around $3.00. Add in miscellaneous costs for loss, shrinkage,  other overhead, and profits, and we’re looking at about $6.00 per pound to the coffee shop retailer. That’s $.25, or twenty-five cents per cup.

Of course the coffee shop has lots of costs too; cream, sugar, the cup, napkins, and all the other overhead associated with running a retail business.  So if the coffee shop owner doubled his costs (100 percent markup), the coffee would cost the customer fifty cents per cup. If the shop tripled the cost, it would be seventy-five cents, quadrupled it, $1.00 per cup.

Which brings us to the average cost of $2.70 per 12 ounce cup. That’s a markup of almost 1100 percent!

Home Brew

The current price for our Maxwell House ” good to the last drop” coffee is running $6.00 – $8.00 per pound at the retail store. One pound of Starbucks coffee retail is about $15.00.

So let’s recap at this point. If I buy a pound of Maxwell House for, let’s say $7.00 per pound at Walmart and make it at home, it costs me about $.29 (twenty-nine cents) per cup. If I buy a pound of Starbucks and do the same thing, it’s about $.63 (sixty-three cents).

keurig-statbucksWhich brings us back to Keurig. In order to get a 12 ounce cup (keeping this apples to apples), you must buy the K-Mug pods. The price of these, from the Keurig website are about $14.00 per 12-pack. That makes the cost of your 12 ounce mug of coffee from the Keurig about $1.17 per cup. I couldn’t find Starbucks K-Mug size,  so we have to extrapolate a bit, making your 12 ounces of Starbucks K-Mug size about $1.76 per cup.

Before I go any further, let me stipulate to any coffee aficionados or “foodies” out there, I understand the “differences” in coffees — different types of beans, different growing areas, blends, etc. I get it. There is no need to tell me I’m comparing apples to oranges. People are willing to pay premium prices for all kinds of things, and if that is your desire, by all means, pursue it. I’m just painting with broad strokes here.

Here’s how I see the bottom line:

If I drink three cups of my $.25 per cup Maxwell House a day, that’s $.75/day or  $273.75 per year.

If you drink 3 cups of $1.76  Keurig Starbucks per day, that’s $5.28 per day or $1927.20 per year.

If you buy 3 cups per day in a coffee shop at the average price of $2.70 per cup, that’s $8.10 per day or $2956.50 per year.

Coffee sales in the United States alone are over $18 billion annually. Americans consume an incredible  400 million cups per day (half the population averages 3 cups/day).

Coffee prices are crazy, but some of the people who buy it are even crazier. A coffee shop in New York City recently opened selling “extraction” coffee (I don’t know what that is, and I don’t care) for as much as $18. per cup. (New York City, Most Expensive Cup of Coffee).  Some coffee aficionados are equating these coffee prices with the prices of craft beers, another overpriced commodity. Not to be outdone, Starbucks now has a “Reserve” coffee selling for around $7/cup.

“Starbucks, which introduced millions of people around the world to higher quality coffee and espresso drinks and now must find a way to avoid being labeled pedestrian when compared with upscale rivals like Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia, which are popping up in U.S. cities….” Yahoo News.

And so it goes. That ten cent “cup of Joe” is now a designer product, capable of being sold at extraordinary prices. Enjoy your Kuerig. You might want to consider purchasing a generator to power it if the electric goes off.

Notes:

USA Today – Price of a Cup of Coffee

 

Big Trouble in Little China

The world is holding it’s collective breath at the moment, courtesy of a pudgy, demented thirty-three year old with a bad haircut.

un

Kim Jong -un, son of Kim Jong- il, and grandson of Kim Il Sung, is the third psychopath in a line of psychopaths who have ruled North Korea since 1948.  Grandpop Sung started the Korean war in 1950, and the family has managed to stay in power and in the headlines around the world off and on ever since.

The 1953 cease-fire, creating North and South Korea allowed the South to become a vibrant world-class economy, while the North under the illustrious Kim family degenerated into a dark and dismal place.

Ostensibily Communist, North Korea is in reality a cult-state, with loyalty to the Kims a necessity for survival. The history of this family is mysterious, including indicators that the name was stolen from another family. That being said, the idiosyncracies of the family are well reported and can be found elsewhere. Our focus is on the current Kim, and why he matters.

Little is actually known in the West about Kim Jong-un. Little was seen of him publicly before his rise to power. Even his date of birth is not absolutely certain. Details of his early years are sketchy or kept secret. Rumors that he once attended Western schools under a pseudonym cannot be confirmed.  There are many reports of these stories and rumors which can be found elsewhere. He was declared the supreme leader of North Korea following the death of his father in 2011.

“…Kim holds the titles of Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Chairman of the National Defence Commission, Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army,[1] and presidium member of the Politburo Standing Committee of theWorkers’ Party of Korea.” 1

Since taking office, Kim reportedly has ordered the execution of several high ranking officials, including an uncle and likely a half-brother. It’s quite clear he will do anything to hold on to power.

Nuclear Weapons

North Korea began working on developing nuclear weapons in the 1980’s, under Kim Jong Il. In 1985 they agreed to participate in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weaons, but withdrew from the Treaty in 1993, after prohibiting United Nations inspections. Under President Bill Clinton, the United States tried to steer North Korea to peaceful uses of atomic energy; including  providing two light-water reactors to North Korea in return for an agreement they would not pursue weapons production. The wheels came off this cart when the Koreans gained access to Pakistan’s nuclear technology in the 1990’s. North Korea conducted the first test of a nuclear bomb in 2006.

The North Koreans tested a second nuclear weapon in 2009, larger than the first. In 2013, an even larger test was conducted. A test in 2016 may have been a hydrogen bomb, far more powerful than previous atomic weapons. During this same time, the North Koreans began developing and testing increasingly larger long-range missles. On September 9, 2016, they conducted the fifth and largest nuclear weapon test to date.

Throughout the period of North Korea’s recent nuclear development, the U.S. offered various “carrots” to North Korea in exchange for the agreement of the North Koreans to abandon their weapons program. The “carrots” included offers of oil and food. Years of talks with other interested countries including  the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan led nowhere. While there are lists and lists of the “objectives” achieved by diplomats, it is clear North Korea was simply using the talks as a cover while they continued to develop more and more powerful weapons.

Negotiations with North Korea have not worked. Sanctions by the U.S.  and United Nations and others have not worked. The clock is ticking, and the parties involved, and indeed much of the world, may be heading toward a precipice.

War

North Korean soldiers parade in front a portrait of former North Korean President Kim Il-sung during a military parade in Pyongyang's central square in this photo taken by Kyodo on September 9, 2011 marking the 63rd anniversary of the state's founding. REUTERS/Kyodo

North Korea has a formidable military, and they are not afraid to fight. During the Korean War (1950-1953), the North Koreans (with the help of the Chinese) fought the United States and United Nations allies to a standstill armistice in 1953. The UN Forces lost over 178,000 dead and 33,000 missing, along with over 450,000 wounded. Over 33,000 American troops were killed, and over 7,800 are still considered missing in action.The North Koreans/Chinese suffered over 367,000 dead and over 700,000 wounded. It is estimated over 2.5 million civilians were killed.

Today, the North Korean military is substantial. Over 700,000 frontline troops, 4200 main battle tanks, 4100 armored fighting vehicles, and 4300 artillery pieces account for some if it’s ground forces.

Its Air Force has 944 fighters and attack aircraft, along with over 200 helicopters. While North Korea has no aircraft carriers in it’s navy, it has over 70 submarines, a cause of great concern, expecially if they develop long range missle launching capabilities.

The bottom line is this: North Korea has a formidable military. They are not Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria. It would be beyond foolish to think that the United States could “take them out” quickly or painlessly. Any conflict with North Korea would likely bring casualties in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, many of them American.

Strategies and approaches

There are few potential ways to approach the situation with North Korea, and frankly none of them are good.

North-and-South-Korea-Meeting

Diplomatic — This is the approach that has been tried for years to know avail. The United States and the United Nations have attempted to have “talks” with North Korea, and gone nowhere. The “carrots” of oil, food, and financial remuneration in an attempt to get the Kim government to play nice have not worked. Sanctions, mostly financial, have also not worked, often because North Korea was getting help on the side from such places as China and Iran. Years of talking and “negotiating” have all been one sided, with North Korea using the time to develop bigger and better weapons.

seals

Clandestine — One of the more far-fetched notions recently has been “decapitation”; the notion that we could sneak into North Korea and assassinate Kim Jung-un, and possibly his high ranking advisors. The rumor was even floated that Seal Team Six, the team responsible for killing Osama Bin Laden were training for the job. Kim isn’t hiding in a safe house near Islamabad, he is heavily guarded by fanatics. Any attempt to sneak in and kill him is more likely in a movie than real life. There could be an exception to this, however: the Chinese. It seems likely the Chinese have well-inflitrated the Kim regime with spies. It seems somewhat plausible that they could have the resources to get to Kim and eliminate him. That being said, it’s still a stretch of the imagination.

Pre-emptive strike (non nuclear) —

North Korea is approximately 120,000 square miles, about the size of Pennsylvania.  It has military bases scattered all over the country:

NORK Air Force bases(Click on picture for larger image)

The map above shows only North Korean air force bases. There are naval bases and scores of army bases, many at least partially underground and hidden in the mountains. Taking out these bases is not a simple matter of firing cruise missles, as in Syria. A non-nulcear pre-emptive strike would have to be massive, and the logistics of planning such a strike would telegraph the activity long before it could be used.

Pre-emptive strike (nuclear) —

The doomsday option. The U.S. could indeed strike North Korea using nuclear ICBM’s. Such a strike would allow North Korea no time to prepare, and no ability to respond. The country would be destroyed, with millions of casualities. This option would almost certainly open the door to World War III, with consequences no sane person would even want to contemplate.

The bottom line is that there are no good choices here. None, not one.

Kim-Trump

Full Circle

We come back again to Kim Jong-un, and more importantly the current standoff between he and President Donald Trump. The United States wants North Korea to abandon it’s nuclear weapons, and North Korea is indicating it is doing the opposite; developing bigger weapons and better delivery systems. Years of negotiations have gone no where and the pot is at the boiling point.

There have been suggestions that Kim must know that regardless of outcome, war would inevitably mean his death and the end of his dynasty.  The sense is that this would somehow cause him to back down in the end. On the other hand, there have been suggestions that rather than “lose face” to the Americans, he would be willingly suicidal, and take his country with him.

To be sure, Kim may be insane or quite sane; there have been many like him before: Idi Amin in Uganda, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and certainly Adolph Hitler. All left their mark of destruction, up to and including world war, but all with one exception — none of these monsters had nuclear weapons. He cannot be left to his own devices, and time is not on anyone’s side.  His technology seems to be improving faster than the experts had originally imagined.  If the day comes that he can mount a nuclear weapon on an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S., or place a submarine with nukes aboard off the American coast, it is already too late.

The one possible solution here are the Chinese. While Korea is not a Chinese “puppet”, most of it’s survival depends on the Chinese for trade and support.  China does not want a victorious South Korea or reunified Korea on it’s border, but neither does it want millions of Korean refugees pushed across the Yalu River by a war.

The Chinese could possibly wage and/or assist in a coup against Kim. Removal of him and his most fervent supporters could take the pot off the the fire, possibly allowing for a less extreme governing force in North Korea. It seems at this point only the Chinese could do something like this, and if they did, everyone wins. If they don’t do something, this pot will continue to boil out of control, and everyone will lose.

We are living in a dangerous time.

 

Endnotes

1. Kim Jong-un –Wikipedia

2. Military comparisons — Global Firepower

3. North Korea — Wikipedia

4. The Korean War: http://www.history.com/topics/korean-war

Sports Movies

 

sports

Let me start off my saying I am not much of a sports fan. When I was a kid I followed baseball and collected baseball cards. In the mid 70’s, I followed hockey and the Philadelphia Flyers through their first Stanley Cup win. But that’s about it. I have my opinions about professional sports today, but I’ll keep them to myself.

What I do enjoy are sports movies. Football, baseball, hockey; I enjoy them all. I enjoy them because to me they are about what sports can really be, a metaphor about life.

My idea for writing this came after I sat down the other night and re-watched the movie Invincible:

I liked Invincible for a few obvious reasons: It was about my local team, the Philadelphia Eagles, and it was a true story; the story of the most unlikely player to ever make the NFL.

The movie is uplifting and fun, but most of all it’s about the underdog having his day in the sun.

Thinking about this, I realized that almost every sports movie made follows this same theme – overcoming all odds. Virtually every sport has had movies like this, and I’ve enjoyed almost every one. There are football movies:

The Replacements

Remember the Titans

Honorable mention: Rudy,  Brian’s Song,  Any Given Sunday , The Blind Side.

Then there’s baseball:

Field of Dreams

Major League

Honorable mention: The Natural, The Babe, Eight Men Out,  Cobb

and there is Hockey:

Miracle

Slap Shot

Basketball Movies:

Hoosiers

I started making a list of sports movie and discovered there are far more than I realized, covering every imaginable sport. I’ve seen most of them, often more than once. Besides the clips here, there are any number of heart warming and inspiring movies: Chariots of Fire, Seabiscuit, A League of Their Own, Friday Night Lights, Bull Durham, The Bad News Bears.

I think one thing sports movies do is remind us what we can find inside ourselves, if we dig deep. The characters in these movies, often based on real-life people, aren’t super heros. They are regular people who overcame obstacles, sometimes great ones, to achieve a goal. Their purpose is to inspire, to pull us to our feet, to believe that even what seems impossible might be possible afterall. Underdogs can be heros.

And finally, the quintessential underdog movie:

Rocky

Immigration Part Three — Who Gets In – And Who Doesn’t

 

statue of liberty tears

Recent decisions by President Trump regarding immigration have caused an outcry.  Critics screamed that Trump’s actions were unconstitutional. A New York newspaper front page carried an image of the Statue of Liberty crying.

The outcry was everywhere.  Every form of media reported it along with the oft repeated axiom that we, the “nation of immigrants” don’t do this! We welcome people, we don’t refuse them entry!

Well….. not exactly.

It seems we’ve been denying people entry into the United States for a pretty long time.  Different people at different times, but it was never pretty.

immigration law

Immigration law in the United States.

The first immigation laws in the US were enacted in 1882. The first group excluded were the Chinese.  About 300,000 Chinese had migrated to the US, many of them working on the building of railroads.  Xenophobia about the Chinese gave rise to the phrase “yellow peril”, suggesting the Chinese were taking jobs from native-born Americans.

Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, wrote an editorial that included this:

“The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception, without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order”

The government enacted the “Chinese Exclusion Act”,  prohibiting Chinese from entering the country. The act was enacted for ten years and was renewed for ten additional years. The act was not officially  repealed until 1943. In essense, we banned Chinese people for sixty-one years.

During the ensuing years, Congress banned imigration of people in bad health and poor education. Specifically banned were infectious disease carriers and “lunatics”.  After President McKinley was assasinated, anarchists were specifically banned in 1901.

In 1917, we added a literacy requirement and expanded the banned persons list to include: “alcoholics”, “anarchists”, “contract laborers”, “criminals and convicts”, “epileptics”, “feebleminded persons”, “idiots”, “illiterates”, “imbeciles”, “insane persons”, “paupers”, “persons afflicted with contagious disease”, “persons being mentally or physically defective”, “persons with constitutional psychopathic inferiority”, “political radicals”, “polygamists”, “prostitutes” and “vagrants”.

The same legislation banned people from the “Asiatic Barred Zone”, which included most of Asia and the Pacific Islands.

In 1921, Congress enacted the Emergency Quota Act, which created formulas allowing varying percentages of immigrants from other countries.  An annual cap of 150,000 immigrants was established, and countries were allocated 2-3% of that number.  The quotas were tilted, however to favor Western Europeans.  Southern Europeans, such as Italians, were discouraged by lower quota numbers.  Arabs and Asians were banned completely.

The law was modified over the years, favoring some groups, while restricting others.  Books have been written about the social and politcal machinations using the immigration laws.  The quota system basically stayed in effect until 1965.

Other Bans

Others have been banned from entering the United States, usually specific groups and for specific reasons. Such as:

Franklin D. Roosevelt  limited German Jews during WWII, fearing some could be German spies.  The most notorious of this was the German ocean liner MS St. Louis. The ship set sail from Germany with over 900 Jewish refugees. They were  denied entrance into the United States, and ultimately returned to Germany.  There are estimates that as many as twenty-five percent of those on board eventually died in concentration camps.

The Internal Security Act of 1950, banned Communists, despite being opposed by President Truman.  Sections of the act were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1993.

 Jimmy Carter banned Iranians during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980.

 Ronald Reagan banned HIV positive persons in 1987, adding HIV to the list of “dangerous and contagious” diseases.  The repeal of the ban was begun by George W. Bush in 2008, and completed by Barack Obama in 2009.

In 1981, Reagan banned “Undocumented aliens from the High Seas”.

Reagan also banned all planes, ships and trade from Nicaragua, and banned immigration from Cuba in 1985.

Bill Clinton at various times blocked individuals from Serbia, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

George W. Bush blocked immigrants from Haiti.  He also blocked some people from Zimbabwe.

Barack Obama blocked people who  engaged in transactions with North Korea, or who contributed to instability in Libya, Burundi, Central African Republic or Ukraine.   He also blocked people from Iran and Syria.

Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 —  Prevents travel to the US by anyone who has been in the following countries since March 1, 2011: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen.

So all in all, we’ve done our share of preventing people from other countries from touching our shores. Some of the reasons may have been good, others were petty, and some were outrageous. But that’s who we are; we’re not perfect, and our ideals don’t always match reality.

Considering things like terrorism in the modern world, it seems likely we and others will block foreigners from time to time and for various reasons. This is the nature of the human condition today.  Knee jerk reactions and outcries based more on emotion than facts do nothing productive.

Next: In part four we will look at the actual immigration process and see how it works.

References

National Law Review

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Public Law 189-236

Immigration Act of 1990

MS St. Louis — Holocaust Memorial Museum

Undocumented Aliens from the High Seas

 

 

They might be Giants…But they don’t have a college degree

hollywood

One of the things that really got my goat during the recent Presidential election campaign was the statement, repeated over and over again that those voting for Donald Trump were mostly those without a college education.

Pundits and talking heads clucked their tongues, implying the “educated” were voting for Clinton (or at least Bernie Sanders), while all the riff-raff would be supporting Trump. Pompous, sanctimonious and elitist. Their fawning snobbery made me sick.

One of the groups most outspoken this election were the celebrities. Every time I turned on the television it seemed, there was a celebrity pontificating why Trump was a horrible choice.

Since these folks are some of our most elite, surely they must be our best educated, right? I decided to check some credentials. Here’s a list of celebrities who do not  possess a college diploma:

No college degree:

Ben Affleck – college dropout (University of Vermont)

Jack Black – college dropout

Cher – dropped out of school at age 16

Louis C.K   — no college

George Clooney – college dropout (University of Cincinnati)

Miley Cyrus – Charter schools, private tutors, acting school. No college.

Johnny Depp – high school dropout

Leonardo DiCaprio – high school dropout – GED

Robert Di Niro – high school drop out (age 16)

Barry Diller – college dropout (UCLA)

Richard Gere – college dropout (Amherst)

Whoopi Goldberg – high school dropout

Chelsea Handler – no college

Angelina Jolie   – no college

Jimmy Kimmel – college dropout (Arizona State)

Jennifer Lawrence – no college

Rob Lowe – Santa Monica High School – no college

Madonna – dropped out of college (University of Michigan)

Michael Moore – college dropout (University of Michigan)

Rosie O’Donnell – college dropout (Boston University)

Sean Penn – Santa Monica High School – no college

Brad Pitt – college dropout (University of Missouri)

Mark Ruffalo – no college

Barbra Streisand – no college

Al Sharpton – college dropout (Brooklyn College)

Sarah Silverman – college dropout (NYU)

Ben Stiller – college dropout (USC)

Actually, they are in the majority.  Only about 32-34 percent of Americans hold a bachelor degree or higher. And that’s fine.  Many people can be perfectly successful without a degree, and many are, these included.

Until this election, education never seemed to matter, and indeed it shouldn’t.  Snobbery is never becoming. The next time the pundits talk about the “non-college educated”,  they should perhaps look among  their elitist icons.

Why Donald Trump Won the Election

presidential-seal

The pundits were wrong, and now as I write this piece the morning after the election, they are still wrong. They don’t get it. They never did, and perhaps they never will. Correction, they’ll pretend they knew, but they didn’t.

Throughout this nightmare campaign, Trump bashing, and indeed Clinton bashing dominated nearly every news cycle. Trump was a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, vile, perverted, etc. bastard. Clinton was a crook. The screaming and shouting and accusations back and forth never stopped. We had nominated the two worst people in the world, and your guy was always worse than mine. People completely missed the point.

The election was never about Trump and Clinton. They were figureheads, metaphors if you will for the underlying issues that we were never able to confront. The issues are clear, and they are there, and they are the reasons Trump won.

Before we address the real issues, let us take pause for a minute and discuss one important factor in Clinton’s loss.

Trump supporters are not “deplorables”. They are not overwhelmingly racist, homophobic, poorly-educated, gun-toting knuckle draggers that many Clinton supporters believed and the pundits wanted people to believe. They are the backbone of this country. They are made up largely of the former middle class which has all but disintegrated in the past few decades. They are not stupid, not by a long shot, and they mightily resented that condescending label foisted upon them by the media elite. If I heard about Trump’s “non-college educated” supporters once, I heard it ten thousand times. This was almost presented as some sort of qualifier, a ticket to correctness.

This patronizing and condescending tone prevailed throughout the election, oddly pushed not only by the Clinton camp, but from the Republican “elites” who clearly demonstrated what they thought of their own constituents.

Another factor in the repertoire was social issues. The “Deplorables” were against equal rights, hated immigrants and the LGBTQ community. They were racists and fascists, dragging their knuckles through the backwoods swamps of flyover country.  Wrong, wrong and wrong.

These issues were not the deciding factor in this election, no matter how much the pundits wanted them to be. Frankly, by moving these issues to the top of the Democrat agenda, they drilled holes in their own ship. While people care about social issues, they do not rise to the level of election-determining, not in 2016. There are far bigger fish to fry.

Laws and elections don’t deal with social issues, people do. Certainly the civil rights laws of the sixties were important, but they came about not from the top, but from the bottom. Society is always changing, much like the climate. We are a sea of individuals living side by side, and we learn to harmonize by our own actions and interactions. Laws can’t make people like each other. Presidents can’t dictate who will accept whom. These things evolve by their own accord and always have. People change, usually for the better. We learn from each other. Certainly there is discord at times, but this has also always been so. Making social issues the primary focus of a political campaign was a losing strategy all along.

Now let’s discuss why Trump won. There were four main issues, mostly either ignored or blown out of all rational proportion during the campaign. From least to most important, here they are:

 Number #4 Immigration:

Let’s first dispense with a silly notion: Trump supporters do not hate immigrants. Say that again; they do not hate immigrants. We are all immigrants to some degree of generations removed, and we all know that. We all know America’s history; “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” We know it, and we get it.

Trump supporters agree with legal immigration, to repeat the word: legal. We have immigration laws; whether we agree with them or not, they are the laws. If you don’t like the law, change it. But until the law is changed, it should be upheld. Rationales like illegal immigrants “do the jobs Americans won’t do”, do not get it. Change the law or uphold it.

And yes, people resented their tax dollars paying for welfare and food stamps for illegal immigrants. And why shouldn’t they, especially if they have lost their well-paying job and are scraping to get by. By definition an illegal immigrant is here illegally and by law they are breaking the law.

For months (years actually), I’ve heard about the need to “reform” immigration policy. Never happened. Congress was content to do nothing; Obama was content with allowing the laws to be broken. It could have been fixed. People wanted it fixed. The government ignored it and Trump said “Build a Wall!”  Trump and his wall metaphor became a target for hate from the left, but still the government did nothing. This should never have been an issue, but it was. The issue really isn’t about immigration, it is about government failure.

A final note on immigration: Trump’s comments about Muslim immigration were directed toward Syrian immigrants. He stated that it was impossible to “vet” these immigrants, and implied this was a possible avenue for terrorists to sneak into the county. He has yet to be proven wrong on this. No one in the Administration has ever explained how it would be possible to background check these immigrants, classified as refugees from that war-torn country. It is simply impossible to do anything but take them at their word, a definite national security risk, especially since ISIS has touted their ability to sneak potential terrorists into the United States. This part of the immigration issue was never about racism or intolerance as the critics suggested.

Number #3 Foreign Policy

We have a foreign policy, don’t we? Let’s take a look at what is going on:

Afghanistan: We still have thousands of troops in Afghanistan. We’ve been there now for fourteen years! Why? What is our mission? We have American troops dying there every week and no one in the government seems to be able to articulate why.

The Middle East; chaos in the region. Our officials celebrated the “Arab Spring” in 2010, and things have gone downhill ever since. Egypt is in turmoil. We helped take down Khadafy in Libya and there is chaos there. Syria is at war; and we’re backing who? Rebels? Which rebels? Do we even know anymore? Oh yeah, something called ISIS came along under our current foreign policy.

Secret deal with Iran? Why is all this secret? What deal are we striking with this country, and will this allow Iran to build nuclear weapons down the road? We don’t know that, do we?

Russia on the move, perceiving our weakness. Ditto China. The Philippines want us out.

And on and on and on…..

Critics and pundits have argued Trump would make a mess of our foreign policy? Really?

Trump supporters looked at what is going on today and concluded that Trump may make our foreign policy better, but it does not seem he could make it much worse.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing to those who voted for Trump was the notion of “globalism”.  This relatively new phenomena was first heard when George H. Bush referred elliptically to the “new world order”; the beginning of the idea that the United States was not special, but merely one nation among many. Trump supporters rejected that notion. They believe in American exceptionalism. Certainly this is an emotional belief, but a strong one.  Trump supporters want to be part of the world community, but on American terms. No country in history has done more to support and defend freedom around the world. No country has done more to rush to the aid of others in distress. This is exceptionalism, and Trump supporters believe this intensely.

Number #2 Trade

We have been told over and over that free trade with the rest of the world has been good for Americans. Certainly the availability of inexpensive goods and services has been positive. But what about jobs? What about the thousands of Hillary Clinton’s “Deplorables” who watched their jobs shipped off overseas, and saw their middle class dreams evaporate?

The Clinton Administration enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Since that enactment and combined with other free trade agreements, our trade deficit rose from $2 billion in 1994 to over $60 billion in 2015. Almost 700,000 jobs were lost, directly attributable to NAFTA. Some may argue these were replaced with other jobs as the economy grew, but even if this is so, which it is not, the “replacement” jobs are often at significantly lower salaries and lack the benefits the old jobs provided.

The Obama Administration has been pushing the TPP or Transpacific trade agreement, broadening free trade with Asia. Again, at what price? The price of more displaced American workers?

Curiously, when pressed for detailed specifics about the advantages of free trade, supporters always seem to come up lacking details. They are happy to cite numbers about GDP and other financial figures, but when it comes to citing actual and specific jobs, they always grow evasive.

The bottom line is that if a trade agreement is good for America, those supporting it should be able to point to specific concrete reasons why this is so. Absent that, Trump supporters don’t believe them.

Number #1 The Economy

It’s Still the Economy Stupid…

Back in May I wrote a piece suggesting that the main issue in the election was the economy http://williamwlewis.com/wordpress/?p=1506. I followed that with a second piece in August about the demise of the Middle Class: http://williamwlewis.com/wordpress/?p=1560 .

This is what bought voters to the polls in massive numbers, numbers never seen before in a national election. Above and beyond anything else, people are worried about their jobs, their families, and their future.

Whether it is trade agreements or technology or these plus other things, there are few bright lights on the horizon when it comes to the economy. In the United States, we are falling into two categories; those who have done well from these changes, and those who have not; winners and losers, the haves and have-nots.

The Middle Class have been a driving force in this country for the past seventy years. We have grown and prospered because of the blood, sweat and toil of those people labeled as “Deplorables” by Hillary Clinton. Without a Middle Class, the economy tips over. Without a Middle Class we are not the same country we once were. The Middle Class is what made America great, and that greatness is what Trump voters sought.

Trump supporters aren’t “Deplorables”. They’re not racists or homophobes or misogynists. They are just like you. They go to work, raise their families, and hope for the best. They don’t hate any more than you do. They watch TV, go to ball games, and probably eat the same kinds of food that you do. They are the same as you, not different.

The notion of division in this country is false, a construct of politics. The election is over, those barriers should fall. It’s time for everyone to stop fighting, shake hands and become Americans again. We have work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handicapping the Election

vote-01

We are just a few weeks away from what appears to be the most contentious presidential election of modern times. If presidential primaries are any indication, we might see record turnouts as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump battle for the White House.

Every day there are new polls, new assessments, and new predictions. To be sure, no one knows who will win, but as political sport, the prognosticators are out in force.  Predictions are often based on emotions and personal feelings; handicapping is assessing the situation using as much practicality as possible. Let’s attempt a bit of the latter.

We’re not really looking at the candidates here, but rather the individual states; their histories and their political tendencies coupled with the current reality on the ground. Contrary to most beliefs, national elections are not about the country as a whole, they are about individual states. States are different, as are the people in them. These differences determine who wins and who loses.

At the end of this piece, I will make my own prediction. My prediction record is 100 percent, because I have never done it before. I may be right, I may be wrong. I’d enjoy hearing your comments on my method and your thinking on this issue.

The Electoral College

Presidential elections are won or lost in the Electoral College. States are apportioned college “votes” based on population. The total number of votes is 538, based on the members of the House of Representatives (435), the Senate (100), and three additional votes for the District of Columbia. It takes 270 votes to win, as simple as that. The person who receives 270 or more votes becomes President.

This process, although seen as unfair by some, was designed to allow smaller, less populated states parity with larger populations. Without it, elections would solely be determined by the areas with larger populations, leaving many of the smaller populated states with no voice.

Most states award electoral votes based on a winner-state-all system. This means that whichever candidate receives the majority of votes in that state receives all the electoral votes for that state. Only two states, Maine and Nebraska award electoral votes based on a percentage of the votes cast.

vote-02Most of us are familiar with the “red/blue” electoral map, red for Republican and blue for Democrat.  For the most part, states tend to retain their color, often for many years. This is because the voting constituency tends to remain the same. Population shifts can cause changes, but generally take years to do so. For this reason, it is usually reasonable to predict that a state like Massachusetts will go “blue”, and a state like Alabama will remain “red”. The few states with a tendency to change back and forth more frequently are known as “swing states” and are usually the most closely watched during an election. The number of swing states tends to vary only slightly from election cycle to cycle.
All this being said let’s look at the 2016 election, region by region to see what is happening:

vote-03

New England:

New England is notoriously a blue region, and we should expect mostly the same this election. Clinton should prevail in Massachusetts (11), Rhode Island (4), Connecticut (7), and Vermont (3).

States to watch:Two states to watch in this region: New Hampshire (4) and Maine (4). New Hampshire is considered the most conservative state in the region, and Trump showed some early polling progress there. As of this writing, Clinton is polling six points ahead. Trump is faring somewhat better in Maine, and appears to be rising in the polls. Main splits its electoral vote, so Trump could take away vote or two.

If any red shows up in New England, it could be a long night for Hillary Clinton.

 

vote-04

 Mid Atlantic States:

Another blue region, the Mid Atlantic states most often remain the same. New York (29), New Jersey (14), Delaware (3), Maryland (10), the District of Columbia (3), and last but surely not least, Pennsylvania (20).

 State to watch: The Mid-Atlantic only has one state really “in-play” — Pennsylvania. Normally a blue state, the state seems to at least the potential for “swinging” over to red this year.

Pennsylvania has two major cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and a handful of smaller cities. Much of the rest of the state is small rural towns. Pennsylvania’s economy was once largely industrial; coal mining and steel production being two. Both of these industries have been crippled in the current economy, and the future of coal mining in general is under assault by environmentalists. The one bright industrial area in the state, gas and oil fracking, is also under environmental attack.

The rural areas of Pennsylvania are sandwiched between the two cities. Philadelphia has always been a Democratic stronghold, and will likely remain so. Western Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh seems to be shifting toward Republicans. Lack of industry coupled with an aging population seem to be propelling this. Another factor is that in the rural areas, like much of the country, voter turnout has fallen in recent years. Much of this population is white, and  non-college educated, a group largely seen as leaning toward Trump. If large numbers of this group decided to vote this year, there is a possibility the state could go from blue to red.  This a state to watch.

vote-05

The South:

Much of the South has been traditionally Republican territory in recent elections. Red states tend to include West Virginia (3), Kentucky (8), Tennessee (11), South Carolina (9), Georgia (16), Alabama (9), Mississippi (6), Louisiana (8), Texas (38), Oklahoma (7), and Arkansas (6).  One can be reasonably certain these states will remain red this time. There are, however, three Southern states that bear watching.

States to watch:

Virginia (13) is an interesting example of demographic change. Home of the Confederacy, Virginia had been a red state since the 1980’s years of Ronald Regan. In 2008, however, Virginia turned blue, along with neighboring North Carolina. Both states went for Barrack Obama twice.

A good part of the changing demographic in Virginia is the increase of federal workers in Northern Virginia. This part of the state has undergone a population boom in the last ten years. Thousands upon thousands of people working for the government or government contractors have poured in. Many of these people tend to vote Democrat, simply overwhelming the past nature of the state to vote Republican. As of this writing, Clinton is polling about 5 percentage points ahead of Trump, so the blue trend may prevail here. Nonetheless, this is a state worth watching.

North Carolina (15) is an important state to watch. Typically a red state, North Carolina voted for Barrack Obama in 2008, but for Mitt Romney in 2012. Sudden reversals like this mean the state is in play, and is considered a “battleground” state — either candidate can win. Current polling put Clinton and Trump in a dead heat in North Carolina, making this an important state to watch.

Florida (29) The biggest prize in the traditional South, and one of the most difficult to predict. Florida is another state, that while traditionally red, went to blue in the last two elections. It is also one of the most contentious (Bush/Gore 2000), largely due to a highly diverse population. Florida is a “must win” state for Donald Trump. Without winning Florida, it becomes hard to visualize him winning the election.

Racial and ethnic demographics will surely play a role in Florida. The state is 60 percent white,  20 percent Hispanic, and 17 percent black. A large percentage of the Hispanic population are Cubans, who tend to vote Republican. Florida also contains the highest percentage of people over the age of 65 in the entire country.

As of this writing. Florida is another “dead heat” in polling between Clinton and Trump. Of all the states to watch, not only in the South, but the whole country, Florida may well be the most important. It is not unreasonable to suggest that whoever wins Florida will win the election.

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The Midwest:

The thirteen states of the Midwest have stayed roughly the same for the last two elections. There are some possible changes this year.

First the no-change states: North Dakota (3), South Dakota (3), Nebraska (5), Kansas (6), Missouri (10), and Indiana (11) have been red states and are likely to remain so and go for Trump.

Minnesota (10) and Illinois (20), both blue states, will likely remain so.

States to watch:

Iowa (6): Traditionally a farm state that leans conservative has shifted a bit to the left in recent years as there are fewer family and more corporate farms and young people have not gone into the family business, but off to college instead. Iowa went for Obama in 2012. Currently however, Trump is polling about three points ahead of Clinton, still within the margin of error, but nonetheless, this makes Iowa another “battleground” state.

Wisconsin (10): Wisconsin has flip-flopped Democrat/Republican a number of times over the years, but has been a “blue” state since voting for Al Gore in 2000. There are some factors in play that deserve attention. First, neither Clinton nor Trump won their primaries in Wisconsin. The winners were Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz, candidates to the respective left and right of the current nominees. Governor Scott Walker (R) has been a controversial  figure, battling the teacher’s union. The Tea Party has also played a role in Wisconsin politics. Clinton and Trump are currently polling within 4 points of each other, making Wisconsin a “key battleground” state because of it’s high number of electoral votes.

Michigan (16): While Michigan has favored Democrats in the last four Presidential elections, the state historically has favored Republicans more often. Michigan is another state where Sanders beat Clinton in the Democrat primary. Clinton is currently polling about five points ahead of Trump in Michigan. That being said, Michigan is a “rust belt” state that has lost thousands of manufacturing (mostly auto) jobs to overseas trade, a position largely favored by Democrats. Trump’s appeal to disaffected, laid-off workers could tilt the balance here.  Michigan is another “key battleground” state.

Ohio (18): The crown jewel of the Midwest, politically speaking, and another critical state for Donald Trump. Ohio has voted for the Presidential victor more often than any other state (93% of the time). It has been both red and blue, voting for George W. Bush twice and Barrack Obama twice. Clinton and Trump are polling within two points of each other in Ohio, making this state an absolute horse race.  Ohio is another “rust belt” state damaged by jobs lost from foreign trade. Eight years of being a “blue” state does not seemed to have helped the Ohio economy, so it seems reasonable to see a swing to red in this state.

The West:

Five solid red states in the west — Montana (3), Idaho (3), Wyoming (3), and Utah (6), Arizona (11), and one solid blue, New Mexico (5),  none likely to change.

States to watch:

Colorado (9): Colorado is another state that went red for Bush and blue for Obama. Currently Clinton and Trump are polling about three points apart, too close to call. As a battleground state, Colorado is unpredictable. Traditionally red, the state has been becoming increasingly liberal, and in fact Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton here in the Democratic primary. On the other hand, Ted Cruz beat Trump here, the result of an influential right-wing Tea Party population. Colorado is a toss up state.

Nevada (6): Another state that voted twice for Bush and twice for Obama. Clinton and Trump are tied in the polling here. However based upon the primary turnouts, Republicans seem to outnumber the Democrats in Nevada by a significant number, making this a close call, but seemingly leaning toward Trump.

The Pacific Coast and Offshore:

Very easy to predict: California (55), Oregon (7) and Washington (5), all blue, all solid Democrat states.

Alaska (3), red. Hawaii (4), blue.

 Outcomes:

My count gives Hillary Clinton a pretty solid 16 states and 201 electoral votes. The same method gives Donald Trump 23 states but only 191 electoral votes. Since neither candidate has enough “solid” states to win, the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election will be determined by the remaining 11 “battleground” states.

Predictions:

New Hampshire — Clinton

Maine — Clinton

Pennsylvania — Clinton

Virginia — Clinton

North Carolina — Trump

Florida — Trump

Iowa — Trump

Wisconsin — Trump

Michigan — Clinton

Ohio — Trump

Colorado — Trump

Nevada — Trump

My totals give the victory to Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in a very tight race, 275 to 263.

As a footnote: my prediction includes Wisconsin going to Trump and New Hampshire to Clinton. If these two states reversed, New Hampshire for Trump and Wisconsin for Clinton, the result would be an absolute tie, 269 to 269, throwing the election choice to the House of Representatives.

Presidential elections are often personality contests, decided by the voters individual reaction to the candidate. I believe 2016 is different, in that there are two relatively unpopular/unlikable candidates. This time, I think more people will vote on their own political philosophies, liberal or conservative. Normally, this would maintain the status quo of previous elections, but this cycle seems to have triggered far more visceral reactions than I can remember in my lifetime. With neither candidate being strong, even within their own parties, it seems to me this could be the year for the apple cart to tip over, changing traditional expectations.

I may be right, I may be wrong. What is your opinion?