19 December 2020

The Biological Universe

I'm finishing up the new book The Biological Universe, by emeritus evolutionary biologist Wallace Arthur. I made some critical comments on my sometime blog The Gyromantic Informicon [q.v.] about this, but what follows is my specific take on what he calls his Huge Hypothesis, summing up his view of the entire subject. If the general subject of life in the universe doesn't really capture your imagination, you might want to skip the rest of this. 

He proposes that the evidence and reasonable inference supports the following "Huge Hypothesis." I paraphrase a good deal and add in some explanatory comments. These are, to use Thomas Huxley's phrase, "in the indicative," rather than the "potential," even though strictly speaking some of this has to be considered speculative. Most of it is pretty widely accepted in the scientific community today; the additional points I add at the end less so, but I believe they follow logically and are of the same order of certainty; namely, not certain but probable. 
  • Life first evolved somewhere in the universe not much later than 10 billion years ago.   [Arthur restricts himself to the observable universe, a space about 93 billion light years across in all directions with us at the center and containing approximately 2 trillion galaxies; the entire universe is much, much larger and, applying the principles of isotropy and homogeneity on large scales, is presumably all much the same]. 
  • The oldest instance of the origin of life was overwhelmingly likely to have been on a planet in a galaxy at great distance from the Milky Way, just because there are literally something like a trillion candidate galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of planets, in the observable universe ("OU" for short). 
  • Since that time, there has been a steady increase in the number of locales where life has originated and thrived for a time, and at least a good proportion of them continue to have life at the present epoch, such that some form of life is now relatively common in the universe. 
  • QED, the number of planets in the OU with some form of life, mostly limited to microbial life, is many trillions. (Note: every spiral galaxy, and probably many other types of galaxies, as well, have billions to more than a trillion planets, and a typical spiral galaxy like the Milky Way has hundreds of billions of rocky planets situated in the "habitable zone" of their stars where liquid water is possible. The same should be true of most galaxies).

    [Arthur includes an additional bullet point, that some systems have more than one inhabited planet; but I regard that as superfluous to the argument].

  • Most or all of the life in the universe is chemically based on carbon compounds. (There are many reasons for including this inference, which I consider to be quite ironclad, but I won't go into it here. My own surmise is that you could correctly say "Essentially all". Fortunately, nucleosynthesis in stars results in the production of a good deal of carbon). 
  • Add-in, not included by Arthur:  All, or nearly all, life in the OU has evolved a genetic information recording system that functions analogously to the nucleic acid system that evolved on Earth, although specific details vary considerably.   
  • Far and away most life in the OU is constructed of cells, although, again, the exact architecture varies considerably. 
  • Most life-bearing planets in the OU host only microbial life (single cell or small-aggregates of cells).
  • A large number (but proportionally fewer) of the life-bearing planets in the OU also host multicellular life.
  • At least some proportion of the biospheres that have evolved multicellular life have evolved "complex" multicellular organisms that conduct photosynthesis to utilize light energy directly (similar to Plants and other photosynthesizer macrobiota on Earth, such as "brown algae"); or that assume roles comparable to those of the Fungi and Animal kingdoms in the Earth biosphere (symbionts and parasites). 
  • On at least some of the biospheres that have evolved such "complex" multicellular "animals," some of them have evolved advanced motility, including analogs to skeletal (including exoskeletal) structure, musculature, nervous systems, and the beginnings of intelligence, in the sense of directed control by a "brain." 
  • With all intermediate levels occurring in numbers, some portion of the biospheres that have evolved such complex animal life have proceeded to the evolution of human-level intelligence, although exactly how that manifests varies considerably. 
This is where Arthur's Huge Hypothesis ends, but therein lies my principal criticism of his thesis. I think he overestimates the numbers somewhat, especially of the last phase, but I don't disagree with any of the above. I suspect there may be some side roads that lead to unanticipated variants of the types of life we are familiar with, but the main ideas here I believe are sound. But I think they really miss the mark when it comes to a reasonable anticipation of our possible future, which, necessarily, means something analogous to what is already the state of being elsewhere, where human-level intelligence already evolved, in some cases no doubt, a very long time ago indeed. So I would add the following additional levels of development, further along in the sequence. 
  • Some portion of human-level intelligent life develops external symbolic manipulation analogous to language, and eventually culture, and then advanced science and technology. This gives organisms the ability to direct their own evolution from this point, at least to an extent. 
  • Some portion of the technological species develop artificial biohabitats and are no longer confined to the surfaces of their planets of origin. [I would adventure that we are on the cusp of this development, and that there is no guarantee we will proceed to it; presumably frequently in the past and future, beings at this level do not make this transition successfully or never even try, for whatever reason]. 
  • Once at the level of "space-dwelling," most of the technological species proceed to colonize their star systems and later other stars, and to spread the form of life that originated on their planet to vast numbers of other locations in space, including but not limited to planets that did not and might never evolve life on their own, such that over time most of the life in the universe exists elsewhere than the planetary surfaces where it originated. 
  • There is virtually no natural limit to the expansion of life under the direction and impetus of intelligence; the future of the OU is for life to encompass a greater and greater proportion of the available locations where sustaining life is possible until some saturation level is reached in the distant future. [Comment: even if this development is relatively rare, it is a threshold; once it occurs, it tends to lead to a permanent change in the course of the development life over a very wide region of space, potentially including multiple galaxies before bumping into others similarly situated, because plausible rates of expansion of such extended biospheres entail small fractions of the age of the planets and galaxies in which they originate. So, ultimately, if this phase occurs at all, it will tend to fill all the available space everywhere].
We are directed by current modes of scientific thought to shun all teleology, but I think it's fair to assess that the "function" of advanced human-level intelligence (and beyond) is to make something like the final three stages of my "even huger hypothesis" possible. I envision an "Age of Life" that is just getting underway in a universe that will eventually be quite literally filled with life. 

I hasten to emphasize the obvious: most of the last two phases mentioned above lie in the future, in most locales. If some regions of the OU have advanced to the level of galaxy-spanning civilizations already, this would likely be apparent in some way were it already common, at least in the relatively nearby regions, say out to 500 million light years. Because, of course, if such developments were to have occurred at that distance, say, 450 million years ago, we would not see any evidence, because the light from that time would not have reached us yet. There could well be the first instances of extremely advanced civilization in parts of space that we just can't see yet. (This assumes, as I think is reasonable, that engineering on a literally galactic scale would change the quality of enough of the light coming from natural luminous sources that the presence of artificial technology would be inferrable). 

17 December 2020

Wallace Arthur's «The Biological Universe» and the role of human-level intelligence in the future of life in the universe

This is not really a review of the new book The Biological Universe, by Wallace Arthur; just a few critical points. 

First, Arthur hardly mentions the Fermi conundrum, which, in its fully evolved form, is one of the principal pieces of evidence for the inference that intelligent life, and, probably, what he doesn't like to call "complex" life, are, respectively somewhere between veryvery to extremely rare; and at least quite rare. Fermi isn't even circumstantial evidence for the the rarity of complex life per se, except insofar as the presumption is that if life elsewhere reaches the level of say the Cambrian era on Earth (highly complex, long-term stable biosphere with high degree of penetration of all habitats on the planet), it is probably something on the order of at least 1 to 3% likely to evolve to human level intelligence. And if you assume such intelligence is even 1% likely to survive to the level where it is a spacefaring and spacedwelling species, capable of spreading its particular architecture of life far and wide in at least one galaxy, then if you assume that life of this kind is relatively common (as Arthur does), the numbers still don't add up if intelligent life arising even on these life bearing worlds isn't also exceedingly rare. Note that the number of planets with microbial life at any given time is assumed by Arthur, plausibly, to be something like 10 million planets in a galaxy the size of Milky Way  (which is still something like 0.0001% of all planets in the galaxy). 
Bottom line, you have to acknowledge that the evidence best supports not a rare life or even extremely rare "complex" life but certainly a very rare human-level intelligence condition. Arthur doesn't really disagree with this but he doesn't address it well at all. The inferential evidence of rare intelligence as an implication that extremely robust and complex life biospheres may be more unlikely than he seems to believe is ignored. 

His main thesis is that the "rare Earth" view is wrong,* and he disputes the very concept of "complex" life, but ultimately his main evidence for this is the same old Earth-centric view of the probability of various "filters" in the evolution of life. Having said that, he did convince me that both eukaryotism (if that's a word)**, or some analogue of it, and photosynthesis are probably closer to inevitable than they are to being filters, in the sense of potential stumbling blocks to the evolution of more "complex" life. As is, apparently, the abiogenic origin of life itself. My best guess is that microbial life is at least as common as Arthur thinks it is, and that the principal reason that very robust biospheres like Earth's remain quite rare, and climax human-level intelligent-life conditions even moreso, is that these or other critical developments for the evolution of macrobiota and subsequently intelligence actually are relatively unlikely, and the universe just isn't quite old enough yet for them to manifest widely. Surely, we can surmise that as vast as the universe is known to be, as here on Earth, complex biospheres, including ones which have given rise to human-level intelligent beings, exist elsewhere in large numbers. But, and this is key from the human perspective, they are apparently very widely scattered. 

My last, and perhaps actually chief, criticism, is as follows. Arthur all but totally ignores the possibility that human-level intelligence itself, when it does evolve, is absolutely critical to the future history of biospheres from which it evolves. He blithely assumes that humans and their descendants will simply become extinct before advancing to a stage where they are spreading terriform*** life elsewhere in the Galaxy, and that we will never exceed the bounds of our own Solar system. My belief, which I think is reasonable inference not just gut feeling, is that if and only if the human species survives the current era, the spread of terriform life far beyond the confines of one star system will be extremely likely. I base this on two assumptions:  if we survive a few centuries, we will likely succeed in building self sustaining space habitats that contain more terriform biomass than the surface of the Earth, eventually. Further, we will likely figure out how to construct some kind of practical interstellar transportation (which could be generation ships or suspended animation, or, just possibly, quite fast in terms of fraction of light speed, drives). I take both of these developments to be generally more or less inevitable if technological societies evolve to the level where they can easily travel in and dwell in space near their home stars. The question then becomes how likely those developments actually are to occur, which translates to how prevalent technological societies are in the universe. And on that point, I hold forth two maxims. 1. Humans are very ingenious; our minds have evolved to the point that there really are no limits on what possible technology we can figure out and build in time; and 2. there is absolutely nothing in this scenario that is impossible. The same maxims should apply with respect to other human-level intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe. 

Arthur mentions virtually nothing discussed in this last paragraph. But they are crucial to his subject, which does purport to discuss the future of life. And if you generalize to other comparably situated intelligent species in a wider universe, the inference that even if we fail others will succeed is hard to avoid. 

*Reference is to the influential but widely critiqued book, Rare Earth, Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee (2000, 2003).
** Referring to the evolution of nucleated cells, widely believed to be necessary for the evolution of so-called "macrobiota."
***As far as I know this is an original coinage. The term is meant to refer to life originating on, or descended from life originating on, Earth. 


Red Dwarf stars and the Long Range Future of Life in the Universe

Posted this as an answer to a question, but it might conceivably be of interest to some people on its own.

Alien civilizations are very unlikely to evolve on a planet orbiting a red dwarf, for several reasons. First, the habitable zone is small and so close to the star, which by nature is prone to bright flares that can increase the brightness, including in dangerous ionizing wavelengths, by orders of magnitude within short periods of time. These flares are likely to make life very precarious if not impossible on any planets in the zone. Further, planets found this close to such stars will generally be tidally locked, with one face always facing the star. A third problem is that the peak radiation from such stars is in the infrared, so it isn't even clear that photosynthesis could successfully evolve and function in a biosphere on such a planet.
Interestingly, however, there is no real reason that life originating from outside such a system (and these stars constitute about 70% of all stars) could not be transported there artificially, and provided with habitats that would use the light of the star as an energy source. I happen to believe that the Age of Life is just beginning in the universe at large, and the role of intelligent species in assisting the seeding of life in places where it (including its intelligent forms) can exist but is unlikely to spontaneously evolve, will be quite simply incalculably important for the long range future of life in the universe in general.
Since red dwarfs typically have lifetimes in the hundreds of billions to a trillion years, these stars are likely to be the sites of surviving life for far longer than the universe has existed hitherto.

06 December 2020

The protein coding problem... one of the great conundra of biology... SOLVED

This is a sure-thing Nobel Prize and may turn out to be the most important scientific discovery in years. Essentially, we now finally know the language that life uses to create proteins, and how to predict the shape, function, and other properties of proteins that any given genetic code text will produce. This is enormously important, and may be the key to solving biological materials shortages, creating medicines from raw materials without having to laboriously process biological resources, and many other as yet unknown developments. This is comparable to the discovery of CRISPR Cas=9 (which google if you don't know what that is)... maybe more important. And one of the most amazing things is that this development was so computation- intensive that it was not actually human intelligence that solved the fundamental problems, but AI, guided by humans. It's a brave new world. 

02 December 2020

Sous vide (something other than politics!)

 A little over a year ago I bought a sous vide* bath, sous vide machine, vacuum sealer, and vacuum sealer bag rolls. (The machine is essential, they're about $140-200; the bath, essentially a plastic box with a lid, is not, you can use a stock pot. I recommend the vacuum sealer; the immersion method with ziploc bags is a pain and tends to leak, with bad results). 

At first I only used it to cook perfectly medium rare steaks, to be seared afterwards. (It actually works to sear them before, and is easier). 1 hour at 143°F and perfect color straight through. So I didn't use it that much. But I've discovered cooking  brisket or chuck for 7 or 8 hours at 145° creates perfect meat for pot roast; tender but actually still slightly rare; mix it into already cooked pot roast gravy and vegetables, which take much less time, and it's the best pot roast ever. 

And then there's turkey. We're just two people, so cooking a whole turkey, even the smallest ones you can get, is kind of impractical. So I buy the frozen bone-in breasts, which sometimes cost as little as $8 or $9 and make several meals or a whole bunch of sandwiches. And here's the thing. You can cook it for 3 hours at 165° and then put it in a very hot oven or broiler for 15 min., or you can even just skip that step; remove the skin, and just eat the meat, which is PERFECTLY cooked, moist, tender, and delicious. And the bones make excellent real turkey soup. 

* Not italicized, it's now a two-word syntactical unit in English, like coup d'etat (without the acute accent, since we don't use diacritics in English). Pronounced "soo veed."

25 November 2020


 Happy... and Safe... Thanksgiving to Everyone 

24 November 2020

Erasmo Acosta on the implications of the Fermi Principle and the future of man

 This is quite interesting, and is along the lines of some things I've written about myself. 

23 November 2020

Some thoughts on whether K stars are more likely to be the energy centers for living worlds than G stars, and some implications

Farflung correspondents, this is somewhat rambling and off the top of my head, reflecting my peculiar interests in universal principles of life and civilization. Posted it on Facebook. Got "TLDNR" (too long did not read") from my friend Sue, who often seems to think that's a helpful comment (it is not). Anyway, it occurred to me this might interest you. And if not, of course, you can simply not read it!


• I've found it fascinating to think about and read what is known about what makes Earth particularly suitable for life, and why there are good reasons to believe it is actually, after all, a highly unusual planet, such that while life of some sort (unicellular, bacterialike) is probably fairly common in the universe, there is pretty good reason to suppose that extremely complex life, in multilayered and globally interconnected complex ecosystems, evolved over literally billions of years of relative climatic stability... what we have here on Earth... may turn out to be really exceedingly rare. The universe is so vast that even very rare things happen many, many times, but that means they are widely scattered and probably unlikely to encounter one another. At least so far. The universe is larger in space than in time... if that doesn't make sense to you, think of it this way. There is a dimension, time, that is 13½ billion units long... back to the Big Bang or its aftermath. That is the operational degree of freedom for change and diversity in the time dimension. But, if some version the Inflation models which are apparently absolutely necessary to make cosmology work is correct, the spatial dimensions go far, far beyond 13 billion light years, because most of the universe is not the observable part, but the part that is too far away for light to ever get here from there. Think of it as having a short dimension in time (if you can get your head around 13 billion years as "short"), and the other three dimensions are almost unimaginably vast. Bottom line: the universe is yet young, yet developing, and while almost all of its "all-time" time as a dynamic and evolving reality is in the future, most of it will remain forever unknown to us because it lies in the untold hugeness of space the light from which can never reach us.
But back to abodes for life, and the conditions for it. Recently, it's been noted in several places where folks who think about this stuff talk about it that there are actually quite a few things about the Solar System and the Earth that are NOT quite ideal for life. Earth is prone to freezing over. It's happened several times, and eventually, if the internal radioactivity settles down too much for volcanism to break through the iceball, it would've been permanent. But even before that, our star is a little too active, and growing too bright (Main Sequence Stars get brighter continuously through their regular, hydrogen-burning lifetimes before entering their red giant phases). In a time less than the time that complex organisms have been present on Earth's surface (about 550-600 million years), the threshold for the beginning of loss of the oceans will be crossed; water vapor will begin dissociating and the hydrogen from water will begin to be lost at the edge of space. It's estimated that in something like 700 million to 1 billion years or so the Earth will have dried up and begun to resemble Mars. Other things, like the gradual diminution of Carbon dioxide from the failure of the carbon cycle (I recommend the book Oxygen, a Four Billion Year History [Canfield] for a description of this), will cause the Ice Ages to return and become permanent. In fact, the current brief epoch of global warming, destructive as it is (and it is), is actually only a temporary reversal of a very long term trend towards the failure of the greenhouse effect, which keeps Earth habitable. Without greenhouse gases, our position vis a vis the Sun would keep the Earth very cold. As the Sun grows warmer, paradoxically, the Earth would grow colder, but then at some point the temperature wouldn't be the main consideration, because global drying is what will make our planet ultimately inhospitable to life.
All this is quite far in the future, and if our descendants survive, they will have plenty of time to migrate elsewhere, but that's not really the point.
The question that I'm intrigued by is, given a world much like Earth, different in details perhaps but basically similar, would a different class of star be preferable? Lead to a longer period of time during which life might not only arise but flourish and the planet remain naturally habitable for longer?
(There are other interesting questions, such as would a slightly more massive planet be better suited (probably, to a point), etc., but this is the question that interests me at the moment).
And the answer seems to be, pretty clearly, yes. The Sun is a G2 star.* Estimated main sequence lifetime somewhere just under 10 billion years. It's just over halfway through that now. Stars as bright as the sun are relatively rare. It is well over the the 90th percentile in mass and brightness. Most stars are little red stars with less than a tenth of the Sun's light output, and, even more problematical, their peak output is well into the infrared and thus perhaps not too suitable for photosynthesis, and they tend to be quite prone to deadly flares (comparable to solar prominences, but to be warm enough for life a world orbiting such a star would have to be close enough to be seriously harmed by such flares). Plus, any planet in the "habitable zone" around such a star will likely be stopped or at least very slow in its turning with respect to the star, so it will have no day and night cycle like Earth, and that leads to all kinds of problems for habitability.
But what about the K type stars? Like Tau Ceti, Epsilon Indi, or 61 Cygni, for some relatively nearby real-world examples. These stars, dimmer than the sun but perfectly capable of illuminating somewhat closer-in Earthlike planets with stable and adequate luminosity. A little more orange, less white, but surely capable of supporting photosynthesis, and, here's what's most important. More stable. Slower rate of increase in brightness (which can be offset by changes in atmosphere or even deliberate advanced engineering). And, the big difference: such stars remain stable and continue shining much longer. The lifetime of a K0 (brighter end of the range) star, like 70 Ophiuchi, is about 20 billion years, while a K7 like 61 Cygni (smaller, dimmer) might live for 50 billion years or longer. And, importantly, they are something like ten times more common than G type stars. All spiral galaxies (and there are untold billions of them in the observable universe, and still more beyond that), have far more K type stars than stars like the Sun, and all those stars are just as likely to have planets. So relatively earthlike planets are substantially more likely to exist in orbit around K type stars than G type, and substantially even less likely to form around the next brighter class, F type, although that is perfectly possible also. The complication that the majority of stars are members of binary or multiple systems is another wrinkle, but at least some of those may be able to support habitable worlds as well. So planets capable of supporting life, whether introduced from elsewhere by intelligent beings like ourselves or naturally evolving on those planets, while not exactly common, almost certainly exist in incalculably large numbers in the wider universe. And even in very large numbers (billions) in our own galaxy. Even if problems causing delays in the development of life are common, we should consider the possibility that the age of "assisted development" (importation of complex life on purpose by intelligent spacefaring beings like our future selves) may be just getting started here and there in the universe. Remember that, overall, the whole universe is about the same age, and life, in all its complexity, takes time and is prone to failures from catastrophes. The past is long but somewhat limited, but the future is unimaginably vast; and some things take a really, really long time to get going.
Anyway, the periods of time that K stars can exist in the main sequence are longer than the universe is old. This leads me to speculate that by far most of the complex living worlds that will ever come into existence have yet to do so; and most of them will arise in systems with dimmer, longer lived stars than the Sun. The Age of Life is just beginning, and the Age of Civilization is mostly in the future.
Fun to think about, and these things may seem remote from our everyday lives, but they are real. We are the Ancients. The Elders. In the prime of the Dawn of Time... from the point of view of most creatures who will live in this part of the universe in all of time. If we don't blow it, we will play a major role in the future not only of this galaxy but beyond it, and will likely seed life from our world on many other worlds, where it will grow and flourish.
[And Donald Trump will be forgotten forever].
* "Main sequence stars" refers to stars in the main part of their lifetimes, where they are primarily fusing hydrogen for energy and are relatively stable. From brightest (and shortest lived and least common) to dimmest (and longest lived and most common), they are designated O, B, A, F, G, K, M. These designations refer to color, so other stars that have "evolved off the main sequence" also have these letters, but the ordinary so called dwarf stars form a normal continuum. The Sun is G2, meaning brighter end of G. (The scale subdivision runs from 0 (brightest) to 9, dimmest; a G9 might well be classified in another catalog as a K0). About 90-95% of all main sequence stars are dimmer and less massive than the Sun.

21 November 2020

A pretty bleak picture

Here's from Heather Cox Richardson sumup for today.
"The news today remains Trump's unprecedented attempt to steal an election in which voters chose his opponents, Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, by close to 6 million votes, so far. A close second to that news is that the leadership of the Republican Party is not standing up to the president, but is instead seemingly willing to let him burn down the country to stay in office.
"Never before in our history has a president who has lost by such a convincing amount tried to claw out a win by gaming the system. Biden has not only won the popular vote by more than any challenger of an incumbent since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's win in 1932, but also has won crucial states by large margins. He is ahead by more than 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania, almost 160,000 votes in Michigan, and between 11,000 and 34,000 each in Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nevada."
I would put it even more starkly. We have NEVER had a president who simply put himself and his interests above even the basic good faith adherence to constitutional democracy, AND who led a cult of death and disinformation whereby a majority of his party was prepared to believe, in the face of no evidence at all, that a secure and fair election was illegitimate.
I seriously fear our country will not easily recover from the disaster that is Trump and the Cult of Trump.

14 November 2020

Please read HCR's letter. Wow.

I've taken to reading Heather Cox Richardson's daily Letters from an American almost daily. But THIS one. Wow. I was truly alarmed by the depth of sheer fuckery our nation is in the middle of. And to think it would only be worse if we hadn't ... only just barely... voted to rid ourselves of the Orange Menace.


07 November 2020

This land is your land / Pete Seeger on the National Mall

Remember this? 2009. Brought tears to my eyes. We have so much to make up for. 


01 November 2020

Please read Heather Cox Richardon's Hallowween "Letter from an American"

Rather than more of the usual political commentary in the now last couple of days of the election, please read this lovely essay by Heather Cox Richardson. It may give you a little faith that our politics, as messed up as they are right now, are not actually cause for despair. Wishing everyone good fortune, health and happiness. 

28 October 2020

Some Reflections on the (Fingers Crossed) Post Trump Era

I know Trump's defeat is not inevitable even now. Continue to fight. Work. Vote. But indulge me in a little "post Trump era" reflection. Short term there's lots to say long overdue policy, etc. and we will all need to think about and become engaged in those issues to make the new government, assuming there is one, actually fulfill their promise to act in our interests.
But I'm thinking longer term here for just a moment. If there is one serious constitutional lesson to take from the Trump era, it is that to avoid the hijacking of the entire government by an ideological cult, as has happened over the last 40 years culminating in the full takeover of the Supreme Court this week, from happening again, we need more than just popular vote of the president. We need three enormous structural reforms and we need to work assiduously with the long term goal of achieving them, however long it takes.
1. We need to explicitly curtail the powers of the presidency. No one person should have the ability to completely derail the values, enterprise, and direction of our society. The presidency was never intended to be an elected monarchy, which is how the rightists see it, quite openly. The Constitution contemplates an ADMINISTRATIVE (synonym for "executive") branch, which may involve itself in crafting compromises, and propose legislation, but which fundamentally and necessarily leaves the determination of policy to Congress. Folded into this should be the obviously necessary elimination of the Electoral College and the direct popular election of the president.
2. Congress needs to be EXPLICITLY reformed. So that rules cannot be hijacked by one party to completely control the deliberations and actions of the whole body, as McConnell has done to an unprecedented extent in the Senate. There should be VERY FEW, maybe zero, supermajority rules. And any member of either body should be able to propose and put to a vote legislation. There is no valid reason for rules that prevent this; they exist only to undemocratically consolidate power. And folded into THIS reform must be a reform of the representation of the Senate. In the original 13 states the largest was not much more than 10 times the population of the smallest. Now, it is over 40 times, and that means 40 million people have the same representation as half a million in the Senate. A sensible and simple reform, that would retain at least half the "state" representation in the original Constitution, would be to increase the Senate to 120, with only ONE per state allocated that way, and the other 70 being allocated to those states which by population are entitled to additional senators as proportional to population as possible.
3. Court reform. It simply cannot be tolerated that a faction can control the judiciary for decades through political machinations. Term limits, expanded courts, explicit ethical rules requiring recusal when a justice has made statements indicative of prejudice. And not just the Supreme Court. The ENTIRE judiciary should be expanded and reformed. This area of reform, it should be emphasized, is urgent, and, apart from term limits, CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED simply by legislation under the current Constitution. We need to strongly push our own party leaders to take this seriously and act on it immediately.
Thank you to anyone who's read all the way to here.

18 October 2020

A sort of secular homily "What, then, must we do?"

 With the Trump campaign in what sure looks like collapse, perhaps we in the resistance to him need to take a look at a few things. I'll try to keep this brief. The title of my little homily was the title of a book by Gar Alperowitz. I think it comes from British utilitarianism, which essentially held that it is, always, the essential question of any and all politics.

We, as a nation and as progressives within it, are very lucky it was Trump, and not a competent right wing populist demagogue who was more than willing to trash norms, laws and even the Constitution to get what he wanted. Keyword competent, because of course Trump has been all the rest of that. We would not be looking at getting rid of him by means of a MERE election otherwise, of that you can be absolutely certain. The fact is, we dodged a bullet, and it's given us an opportunity. We probably won't get another, so we'd better make the best of this one.


We have to confront the reasons a Trumplike figure could win in 2016, and develop a comprehensive strategy of what we need to do to repair the degraded state of our society that made it possible. We have on the one hand the right wing enterprise to dismantle whatever extent of social democracy we had, from 1945 to 1975 or so, including remaking the courts into an almost Ayn Randian objectivist body intended to obstruct any reconstruction of that system, let alone progress in it. This is probably our biggest problem going forward in trying to do all the things we need to do to get our country functioning and addressing the real threats to our continued thriving as a nation... climate change, radical wealth disparity, inadequate public services. But we have also failed at developing an ethos that people can believe in. More than half of Americans think tariffs are the way to get jobs back after "globalization," and think deporting more "illegal aliens" will make them better off. We, as progressives, have to not only do a better job of messaging, but do a much better job of actually developing policies that will convince people who didn't study economics in college, don't work in the "new economy," and have watched their standard of living steadily falling over at least the last 40 years. And not just convince them, but actually deliver not just policies, but actually transformation. Development, infrastructure, research, and services that transform lives. Policies that not only promise, but actually deliver better jobs, more services where they live, better and fairer trade, industrial, and tax policies so that American products actually can compete in the world, and American wages are not only competitive, but matched by world class social services that make ordinary peoples' lives more liveable and less of a struggle. This is the mission of our politics. Things like democratizing workplaces, promoting a Green New Deal like nothing the world has ever seen, to develop renewable technologies and infrastructure that will not only be the envy, but quite literally the model and engine of the same development and equities worldwide. And we have to do this very quickly. Time is short. We have quite literally wasted the last 20 years, accomplishing almost nothing of what we need to do. We need to remake the American economy so quickly that everyone gets swept up in the enterprise, and becomes invested in it, believes in it because it is about them and for them.

This is an absolutely enormous challenge. Comparable at least to World War II. But if we fail in it, our politics will just whipsaw right back to right wing populism, and next time, it will probably mean dictatorship, full-on Depression, and a very, very bleak future for North America and much of the rest of the World.
Somehow we have to convey this vision, make this a reality, pull our leaders into a mode of leadership where they understand and seriously want to try to accomplish these kinds of goals. I fear we are not up to it. But, friends, we have no choice. This is our challenge. Our one chance. Our planet is in deep trouble and only by remaking the entire enterprise of our civilization towards a sustainable, equitable, and transformative economy with realistic but extremely ambitious goals can we hope to remain a thriving and prosperous society while we make the transformations necessary to proceed through the rest of this century.
I am 67. It is not my generation who must lead this. Biden really is, at best, transitional. But we need to convince him, and everyone who works for him, to do what it takes to make it possible for the next generations to get busy and do this, sweeping ethnonationalism and plutocracy away in a whirlwind of new enterprise that comes from the people and works for the people.

I am convinced this is possible. Not confident it will happen. But if we don't have a shared vision and determination it certainly won't, whereas if we do, we just might be able to do it.


27 September 2020

Misattribution of Fauci quote

I am advised that the piece I sent around as by Anthony Fauci is misattributed. It is actually the work of Amy Wright, of Asheville, NC. But although not written by Fauci, it is still correct in its details and essential point. Sorry for the misinformation. 

Fauci, sidelined by Trump, takes the gloves off and tells it like it is

This piece by Anthony Fauci is longish, but PLEASE READ IT. Everyone needs to understand this perspective on COVID.

"Chickenpox is a virus. Lots of people have had it, and probably don't think about it much once the initial illness has passed. But it stays in your body and lives there forever, and maybe when you're older, you have debilitatingly painful outbreaks of shingles. You don't just get over this virus in a few weeks, never to have another health effect. We know this because it's been around for years, and has been studied medically for years.
"Herpes is also a virus. And once someone has it, it stays in your body and lives there forever, and anytime they get a little run down or stressed-out they're going to have an outbreak. Maybe every time you have a big event coming up (school pictures, job interview, big date) you're going to get a cold sore. For the rest of your life. You don't just get over it in a few weeks. We know this because it's been around for years, and been studied medically for years.
"HIV is a virus. It attacks the immune system and makes the carrier far more vulnerable to other illnesses. It has a list of symptoms and negative health impacts that goes on and on. It was decades before viable treatments were developed that allowed people to live with a reasonable quality of life. Once you have it, it lives in your body forever and there is no cure. Over time, that takes a toll on the body, putting people living with HIV at greater risk for health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, diabetes, bone disease, liver disease, cognitive disorders, and some types of cancer. We know this because it has been around for years, and had been studied medically for years.
"Now with COVID-19, we have a novel virus that spreads rapidly and easily. The full spectrum of symptoms and health effects is only just beginning to be cataloged, much less understood.
So far the symptoms may include:
Acute respiratory distress
Lung damage (potentially permanent)
Loss of taste (a neurological symptom)
Sore throat
Difficulty breathing
Mental confusion
Nausea or vomiting
Loss of appetite
Strokes have also been reported in some people who have COVID-19 (even in the relatively young)
Swollen eyes
Blood clots
Liver damage
Kidney damage
COVID toes (weird, right?)
"People testing positive for COVID-19 have been documented to be sick even after 60 days. Many people are sick for weeks, get better, and then experience a rapid and sudden flare up and get sick all over again. A man in Seattle was hospitalized for 62 days, and while well enough to be released, still has a long road of recovery ahead of him. Not to mention a $1.1 million medical bill.
"Then there is MIS-C. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. Children with MIS-C may have a fever and various symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, rash, bloodshot eyes, or feeling extra tired. While rare, it has caused deaths.
"This disease has not been around for years. It has basically been 6 months. No one knows yet the long-term health effects, or how it may present itself years down the road for people who have been exposed. We literally *do not know* what we do not know.
"For those in our society who suggest that people being cautious are cowards, for people who refuse to take even the simplest of precautions to protect themselves and those around them, I want to ask, without hyperbole and in all sincerity:
How dare you?
"How dare you risk the lives of others so cavalierly? How dare you decide for others that they should welcome exposure as 'getting it over with,' when literally no one knows who will be the lucky 'mild symptoms' case, and who may fall ill and die? Because while we know that some people are more susceptible to suffering a more serious case, we also know that 20 and 30-year-olds have died, marathon runners and fitness nuts have died, children and infants have died.
"How dare you behave as though you know more than medical experts, when those same experts acknowledge that there is so much we don't yet know, but with what we DO know, are smart enough to be scared of how easily this is spread, and recommend baseline precautions such as:
Frequent hand-washing
Physical distancing
Reduced social/public contact or interaction
Mask wearing
Covering your cough or sneeze
Avoiding touching your face
Sanitizing frequently touched surfaces
"The more things we can all do to mitigate our risk of exposure, the better off we all are, in my opinion. Not only does it flatten the curve and allow health care providers to maintain levels of service that aren't immediately and catastrophically overwhelmed; it also reduces unnecessary suffering and deaths, and buys time for the scientific community to study the virus in order to come to a more full understanding of the breadth of its impacts in both the short and long term.
"I reject the notion that it's 'just a virus' and we'll all get it eventually. What a careless, lazy, heartless stance."


26 September 2020

My top Constitutional Amendments... if and when they become possible.

It's virtually impossible to amend the Constitution in our highly polarized political situation today. But if and when it again becomes possible, here are a few I think absolutely top of the list.
◘ Senatorial Reform. Increases the number of Senators to 120. Each of the 52 states (including Puerto Rico and D.C.) gest one senator for the core group. The remaining 68 senators are allocated to those states which, by population exceed the threshold for the fairest allocation by population, to be reallocated as necessary according to each Census, beyond the 1 per state. Many lower-population states would have only the one. Some basic rules to allow the efficient operation of the Senate and prevent any party from preventing votes on legislation should be included in the Constitution. (Same for the House).
◘ National Popular Vote of President/Abolition of the Electoral College; Creates a National Presidential Election Commission whose sole function is to accept, tabulate, and certify the result of the elections in the states. If no candidate receives an absolute majority of the popular vote, the top two would be subject to a run off three weeks after the November election. The president/vice president candidates would be considered as a unit, as they are now. Alternatively, states would be allowed to designate an automatic runoff by ranked voting, which would be recorded as the votes of the citizens of that state for purposes of a runoff.
◘ Federal Campaign Finance Reform and a series of Constitutional Declarations to the effect that 1. Corporations are not persons and the Congress may make such restrictions on corporations, as public trusts, including prohibiting from exercising political influence, as it deems fit and necessary. 2.That the regulation of the use of private money in political campaigns is not to be considered speech, subject to the protections of the First Amendment, except that Congress cannot completely prohibit the expenditure and solicitation of contribution of reasonable amounts to conduct political campaigns. 3. Explicitly permits the Congress to enact public financing of political campaigns and to restrict private contributions to political campaigns, and defining any other payments to politicians, political action committees campaign organizations as bribes, subject to existing legal sanctions against bribery.
◘ Enshrine a Constitutional Right to Vote, and explicitly define the minimum requirements for ensuring voting fairness, non-discrimination, prevention of voter suppression, restoration of felon's voting rights after completion of sentences, and access to voting without undue restriction as a mandate for all the states. Require that all elections be conducted with a physical record of each vote, subject to audit and authentication.

Ginsburg Judicial Reform Act of 2021 (proposed key provisions)

 Here's my idea for the Ginsburg Judicial Reform Act of 2021 (key provisions).
◘ Canon of Judicial Ethics to be applicable to Supreme Court Justices as well as all federal Judges, a Judicial Council created for all Federal Judges to refer conflicts of interest, crimes, and other conduct unbecoming of a judge to Congress for potential impeachment.
◘ Create a new level of Courts for prosecution of more minor offenses and Civil cases of lesser stakes
◘ Create approximately 200 new judgeships, including to populate this new branch
◘ Create 2 new Circuits of the Court of Appeal and resdistribute the existing circuits so that all of them, except DC, are approximately the same population. Create approximately 50 (48?) new justice positions to be distributed equally among the 12 Circuits
◘ Create Four new justices of the Supreme Court, and specify in the statute that the court may, according to its own rules as it may create, divide into two sections of six, with the chief justice to break ties.
◘ Specify certain restrictions, as deemed necessary, on the jurisdiction of the court, including, specifically that under no circumstances will the Supreme Court decide the outcome of an election; the limit of their power on suits involving voting in national elections would be to refer the matter for disposition by the Congress where an outcome based on the accurate count of popular vote cannot be determined.
As I understand it, all of these reforms are within the statutory power of the Congress and would not require a Constitutional amendment.

22 September 2020

This may not be workable, but, well, we need to think of ways to proceed in our predicament

 So the Constitution provides that federal judges serve during a term of "good behavior." And there is a mechanism for removing them, impeachment. But what if the Congress simply passed a statute that said that judges' terms, as per the Constitution, would end upon the finding of "other than good behavior," and then organized a Congressional commission, to review the performance and conduct of judges, and issue findings of whether they continued to be in a status of "good behavior" or not. And include in the statute a provision that this process is not subject to judicial review. Such a statute might face a court challenge, but could the court legitimately take jurisdiction over the Congress exercising, as it sees fit, both its right to determine what the jurisdiction of the court is, and to put into effect an ambiguous provision of the Constitution to exercise their proper control over the court? The argument would be in any case that impeachment is reserved for 'high crimes and misdemeanors,' but the Constitution seems to provide that there might be another mechanism to, in effect, fire judges who did not maintain "good behavior," clearly a lower standard? What say you to my thoughts here?

David Plouffe on Democratic strategy

No less an Obama Centrist than David Plouffe just said on Hayes's show that, having won the presidency and the Senate, in January Democrats should 1) end the filibuster; 2) expand the Court; and 3) extend statehood to Puerto Rico and DC. These aren't good campaign issues but they are a good governing strategy. To those who say, well what about the Republicans doing the same when they get power back?, I say, look, they have burned down the whole place, and taken no prisoners. This is all out war. We MUST fight back in the same terms they do: raw power. Then do everything we can to keep it, fairly and legitimately, but nonetheless keep it. Norms and traditions can be rebuilt, but not from a position of abject defeat and powerlessness. (He also said Mitch McConnell is "not even human. He's a cyborg sent here from another world to destroy this one." So, obviously, he knows what he's talking about! LOL).  

12 September 2020

Unhealthy Air in Portland

 My city is in a serious crisis of unhealthy air brought on by the firestorms. The entire Willamette Valley is blanketed by an inversion layer and is covered by smoke so thick you can barely see across the street. Running the AC fan to at least filter indoor air somewhat. Airnow.gov shows "very unhealthy," which is really bad.

View from our window; this is smoke not fog.

Portland has the most unhealthy air of any city in the world at the moment. I'm planning a short trip to California next week, but starting to think maybe we should just leave for a while anyway. It affects your throat and lungs, makes you feel a little ill, and burns your eyes. Blecch. 

Fortunately, the actual fires are about 30 miles away at the closest, and there is no wind at all. The fires are east of here, burning away towards the east from theri eastern margins. So we are not in imminent danger from fire. Just really bad air. 

Enter zip code on airnow.gov.  Our zip is 97267.

10 September 2020

Letter from an American

Once again, I'm urging folks to read Heather Cox Richardson's (near-) daily Letter from an American. You can't find a better "instant history" commentary anywhere out there. I have a couple of friends who avoid all the toxicity of cable TV and just read her letter. 

08 September 2020

Re: Heatner Cox Richardson's letters

One or two of my farflung correspondents asked if there was a ray to read Heather Cox Richardson's (almost) daily Letters from an American other than on Facebook. There is.  https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/ 


On Sat, Sep 5, 2020 at 3:04 PM David Studhalter (ds@gyromantic.com) <oldionus@gmail.com> wrote:
As a teaser for why you should subscribe on Facebook or wherever you can to Heather Cox Richardson's almost-daily summaries of the state of our union. 

07 September 2020

Heather Cox Richardosn September 6, 2020

  Sunday's letter from historian Heather Cox Richardson is pretty stark, but worth the read. 

Earlier this week, New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo warned that American democracy is ending. He pointed to political violence on the streets, the pandemic, unemployment, racial polarization, and natural disasters, all of which are destabilizing the country, and noted that Republicans appear to have abandoned democracy in favor of a cult-like support for Donald Trump. They are wedded to a narrative based in lies, as the president dismantles our non-partisan civil service and replaces it with a gang of cronies loyal only to him. ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Earlier this week, New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo warned that American democracy is ending. He pointed to political violence on the streets, the pandemic, unemployment, racial polarization, and natural disasters, all of which are destabilizing the country, and noted that Republicans appear to have abandoned democracy in favor of a cult-like support for Donald Trump. They are wedded to a narrative based in lies, as the president dismantles our non-partisan civil service and replaces it with a gang of cronies loyal only to him.

He is right to be worried.

Just the past few days have demonstrated that key aspects of democracy are under attack.

Democracy depends on the rule of law. Today, we learned that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who rose to become a Cabinet official thanks to his prolific fundraising for the Republican Party, apparently managed to raise as much money as he did because he pressured employees at his business, New Breed Logistics, to make campaign contributions that he later reimbursed through bonuses. Such a scheme is illegal. A spokesman said that Dejoy "believes that he has always followed campaign fundraising laws and regulations," but records show that many of DeJoy's employees only contributed money to political campaigns when they worked for him.

Democracy depends on equality before the law. But Black and brown people seem to receive summary justice at the hands of certain law enforcement officers, rather than being accorded the right to a trial before a jury of their peers. In a democracy, voters elect representatives who make laws that express the will of the community. "Law enforcement officers" stop people who are breaking those laws, and deliver them to our court system, where they can tell their side of the story and either be convicted of breaking the law, or acquitted. When police can kill people without that process, justice becomes arbitrary, depending on who holds power.

Democracy depends on reality-based policy. Increasingly it is clear that the Trump administration is more concerned about creating a narrative to hold power than it is in facts. Today, Trump tweeted that "Our Economy and Jobs are doing really well," when we are in a recession (defined as two quarters of negative growth) and unemployment remains at 8.4%.

This weekend, the drive to create a narrative led to a new low as the government launched an attempt to control how we understand our history. On Friday, the administration instructed federal agencies to end training on "critical race theory," which is a scary-sounding term for the idea that, over time, our laws have discriminated against Black and brown people, and that we should work to get rid of that discriminatory pattern.

Today, Trump tweeted that the U.S. Department of Education will investigate whether California schools are using curriculum based on the 1619 Project from the New York Times, which argues that American history should center on the date of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Chesapeake shores. Anyone using such curriculum, he said, would lose funding. Government interference in teaching our history echoes the techniques of dictatorships. It is unprecedented in America.

Democracy depends on free and fair suffrage. The White House is trying to undermine our trust in the electoral system by claiming that mail-in ballots can be manipulated and will usher in fraud. While Trump has been arguing this for a while, last week Attorney General William Barr, a Trump loyalist, also chimed in, offering a false story that the Justice Department had indicted a Texas man for filling out 1700 absentee ballots. In fact, in 2017, one man was convicted of forging one woman's signature on a mail-in ballot in a Dallas City Council race. Because mail-in ballots have security barcodes and require signatures to be matched to a registration form, the rate of ballot fraud is vanishingly small: there have been 491 prosecutions in all U.S. nationwide elections from 2000 to 2012, when billions of ballots were cast.

Interestingly, an intelligence briefing from the Department of Homeland Security released Friday says that Russia is spreading false statements identical to those Trump and Barr are spreading. The bulletin says that Russian actors "are likely to promote allegations of corruption, system failure, and foreign malign interference to sow distrust in Democratic institutions and election outcomes." They are spreading these claims through state-controlled media, fake websites, and social media trolls.

At the same time, we know that the Republicans are launching attempts to suppress Democratic votes. Last Wednesday, we learned that Georgia has likely removed 200,000 voters from the rolls for no reason. In December 2019, the Georgia Secretary of State said officials had removed 313,243 names from the rolls in an act of routine maintenance because they were inactive and the voters had moved, but nonpartisan experts found that 63.3% of those voters had not, in fact, moved. They were purged from the rolls in error.

And, in what was perhaps an accident, in South Carolina, voters' sample ballots did not include Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, although they did include the candidates for the Green, Alliance, and Libertarian parties. When The Post and Courier newspaper called their attention to the oversight, the State Election Commission, which is a Republican-majority body appointed by a staunch Trump supporter, updated the ballots.

Democracy depends on the legitimacy of (at least) two political parties. Opposition parties enable voters unhappy with whichever group of leaders is in power to articulate their positions without undermining the government itself. They also watch leaders carefully, forcing them to combat corruption within their ranks.

This administration has sought to delegitimize Democrats as "socialists" and "radicals" who are not legitimate political players. Just today, Trump tweeted: "The Democrats, together with the corrupt Fake News Media, have launched a massive Disinformation Campaign the likes of which has never been seen before."

For its part, the Republican Party has essentially become the Trump Party, not only in ideology and loyalty but in finances. Yesterday we learned that Trump and the Republican National Committee have spent close to $60 million from campaign contributors on Trump's legal bills. Matthew Sanderson, a campaign finance lawyer for Republican presidential candidates, told the New York Times, "Vindicating President Trump's personal interests is now so intertwined with the interests of the Republican Party they are one and the same — and that includes the legal fights the party is paying for now."

The administration has refused to answer to Democrats in Congress, ignoring subpoenas with the argument that Congress has no power to investigate the executive branch, despite precedent for such oversight going all the way back to George Washington's administration. Just last week, a federal appeals court said that Congress has no power to enforce a subpoena because there is no law that gives it the authority to do so. This essentially voids a subpoena the House issued last year to former White House counsel Don McGahn, demanding he testify about his dealings with Trump over the investigation into the ties of the Trump campaign to Russia. (The decision will likely be challenged.)

On September 4, U.S. Postal Service police officers refused Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) entry to one USPS facility in Opa-Locka, Florida and another in Miami. Although she followed the procedures she had followed in the past, this time the local officials told her that the national USPS leadership had told them to bar her entry. "Ensuring only authorized parties enter nonpublic areas of USPS facilities is part of a Postal Police officer's normal duties, said Postal Inspector Eric Manuel. Wasserman Schultz is a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

And finally, democracy depends on the peaceful transition of power. Trump has repeatedly suggested that he will not leave office because the Democrats are going to cheat.

So we should definitely worry.

But should we despair? Absolutely not.

Convincing people the game is over is one of the key ways dictators take power. Scholars warn never to consent in advance to what you anticipate an autocrat will demand. If democracy were already gone, there would be no need for Trump and his people to lie and cheat and try to steal this election.

And I would certainly not be writing this letter.

Americans are coming together from all different political positions to fight this attack on our democracy, and we have been in similar positions before. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln spoke under similar circumstances, and noted that Americans who disagreed on almost everything else could still agree to defend their country, just as we are now. Ordinary Americans "rose each fighting, grasping whatever he could first reach---a scythe---a pitchfork-- a chopping axe, or a butcher's cleaver," he said. And "when the storm shall be past," the world "shall find us still Americans; no less devoted to the continued Union and prosperity of the country than heretofore."






Russia: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/voting-by-mail-russia-trump-barr/2020/09/04/e3f0e500-ee60-11ea-99a1-71343d03bc29_story.html













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