Republicans may be surprised by the 2022 midterms

There’s a problem when you are ruled by a minority. Unless they are careful in the exercise of their power, you can expect a boomerang effect.

We saw it, or at least a “boom”, in Tuesday’s primary election in Kansas. It included a ballot question on whether to amend the state’s constitution to prohibit abortions. Kansas is unusual in that it’s written into their constitution. Nearly sixty percent of voters in Kansas said no.

In 2020 and 2016, Trump won the state with 56% of the vote. Registered Republicans have a 46%-26% lead in voter registrations over Democrats in the state. Turnout in what was supposed to be a sleepy election in August was huge. It’s quite clear that a significant minority of Republicans voted to keep their abortion rights.

Generally, Republicans have no problem passing laws that stick it to minorities. But Kansas is 86% white, which means that the principal victims of tighter abortion laws in the state would be white women. The vote was supposed to be close, but it was a blowout.

Kansas’s situation is unusual, which is why since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, heavily gerrymandered Republican states have had few qualms about creating draconian antiabortion laws. I can understand why they would feel entitled. In its Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court has said that unlimited money can be spent on campaigns, and most rich people tend to be conservative. This allowed them to gerrymander their legislatures so they never lose power, making it hard or impossible for incumbents to lose elections. The Supreme Court seems likely to take up a case in its next term to harden the cement, so to speak. A number of members of the court have already spoken up supporting the idea being tested in North Carolina that its supreme court can’t overrule state election laws that don’t conform to the state’s constitution.

Republicans are hoping the 2022 midterms not only let them regain control of Congress, but also control state secretaries of state, who oversee and certify elections. They will find it convenient to overturn the will of the electorate when federal elections don’t go their way. Fortunately, we’re not quite there yet. And if this national disgust at the Supreme Court’s Dobbs abortion decision can be held for another three months, their goal of controlling Congress again might slip too.

Increasingly, it looks like they’ve already lost the Senate. This is in part because they are nominating candidates endorsed by Donald Trump. Consequently you get a series of really awful candidates that will be loved by Trumpers, but not by the general electorate. Democrats have a slim four seat majority in the House. Most experts who have studied redistricting have determined that overall recent gerrymandering is unlikely to render more Republican seats. Democrats may have a small advantage. We won’t know until the results come in, of course, but motivated voters tend to vote disproportionately. Hence the Kansas blowout.

History tells us that the 2022 midterms should be very bad for Democrats. Recent inflation statistics and gas prices should make it an easy year for Republicans to wrest legislative control again. But gas prices are down about $1/gallon from their peak. Inflation should ease with lower energy prices. And with just three months to go until the midterms, what’s happening now will set the frame for most voters.

In the short term, the only thing that will keep abortion laws in check will be federal legislation codifying the right to an abortion. Since 53 percent of voters are women, and women bear the primary impact of tightening antiabortion laws, they are going to be plenty of motivated women voters. Moreover, it’s simply a myth that Americans are antiabortion. 71% of Americans support women having the right to terminate a pregnancy. Only briefly over the decades has polling on this question slipped below 50%. Generally, it’s been popular by double digits. By some polling, abortion rights is the number two issue motivating voters, with only a receding inflation concern ahead of it.

We can expect voter enthusiasm to be high this time, not just from Democrats, but especially from Democrats. Assuming our election system isn’t so corrupted by voter suppression and corrupt election officials, there is probably a 70% chance that Democrats can maintain the U.S. Senate and perhaps a 55% chance they can retain the House.

All this is being helped by a series of popular bills passed by Democrats that looked unlikely just six months ago. There are more on the way, including the Inflation Reduction Act which among other things allows the government to negotiate pricing for certain Medicare drugs, a hugely popular proposal supported by even a majority of Republicans.

Such an election outcome would be highly unusual. It’s generally a safe bet to assume the party in power will lose it, but this is not a normal election year. It may be that checking the Supreme Court and Republican overreach may be what voters care most about. It may turn out to be not only the most consequential election of our time, but with turnout rivaling that in a presidential election year and an utter surprise to many political prognosticators.

Why the Inflation Reduction Act is a big deal

Yeah, prices have gone way up. I do notice inflation, but it’s mostly at the grocery store. I’m still getting my mind around paying $8.99 for a pound of premium ground beef. Perhaps it’s hitting us the most in our exploding cat food costs. Because one cat has lost most of her teeth, she needs wet food. Good and nutritious wet food is expensive. I’d guess a can of her chow is up about 25% compared to a year ago.

But that’s about the extent that I notice it. You’d think I’d notice it at the gas pump, which I do. It’s just that aside from driving to travel, I fill up about four times a year. Also, my wife has a fully electric car, so we’re using less gasoline than we used to. Her old car got about 22 mpg. All this is possible because we’re retired, we can afford to buy new cars for cash and, since the pandemic, we don’t travel much. So effectively our gas costs have gone down.

We’re sheltered in other ways. For example, I have a pension that’s fully indexed for inflation. Social Security, which I receive, sort of is too. And we own our house. No mortgage to worry about, so no rent increases either. Our biggest rising housing expense is actually our property tax. We’ve crossed the $10,000/year mark, which seems surreal to me. But we’re living in Massachusetts, not known for skimping on social services. But we save in taxes in other ways. As an ex-federal employee, they don’t tax the value of my pension, so that’s about $4000/year saved right there.

What made all this possible is, frankly, a well-paying career with a very generous pension, being relatively well sheltered by various forms of insurance, a booming real estate market in the Washington D.C. area and not more than a little white privilege. Also, we stopped after one child. It helped to be a bit of a spendthrift. This comes from being a child of child of the Great Depression.

We still make money in retirement. I consult part time from the convenience of my home. Since I’m a geek and web developer, I can supplement my income safely and remotely. It doesn’t usually feel like a hassle because it’s work I enjoy and it’s generally less than full time. It’s all extra money to spend as I want. Without this work, most likely I’d be struggling to enjoy retired life. Most retirees find they want to keep working in some form in retirement. It gives some purpose to your life and staves off the boredom.

But also we have solar panels. They paid for themselves about eighteen months ago. Since then we make money off them. Our state allow companies to buy credit for our clean energy so they don’t have to get greener. Just last month we got a $2000 annual check because we went solar. We’ve expect about $10,000 more of this income before our program ends. But since we’ve been generating most of our own energy, we aren’t buying much of it from the grid at about $.24/kwh. Electricity is very expensive around here.

You probably aren’t as fortunate as we are. So I’m guessing $5/gallon gas hits you like a gut punch. If I were a renter, finding my rent shooting up twenty five percent a year would too. It’s likely your wages aren’t keeping up with your expenses. So I have no doubt that your life is pretty scary right now. You generally have no choice but to pay $5/gallon for gas, because you’re still paying off your car loan. Getting a pricey electric car, even with the tax incentives, likely isn’t an option to reduce your inflation. Basically you are giving gobs more money to those who need it the least, like big oil companies. With little competition, of course they’ll take you to the cleaners.

The Federal Reserve’s “solution” to inflation is to increase interest rates. If you want to buy a house to control expenses, well, it’s less likely you can buy one with a 5% mortgage rate, so you’re stuck with huge rent increases instead. The same is true if you need a new car loan. Hopefully the Fed can contain inflation before you lose your job. And you can bet that interest rate increases will minimally impact rich people. To the extent we are rich, our major problem is that our investments have lost value. It’s likely a temporary condition.

Which is why a bill up for a Senate vote, the Inflation Reduction Act, is a big deal if it can actually get enacted. It’s actually well named, just not a quick solution to inflation. But it does start to give consumers the tools to actually control inflation. Expanding credits for clean energy products, like electric cars and efficient heat pumps, allow those who opt for them to not only create a healthier environment but control their cost of living. My wife got a $7500 tax credit on her Nissan Leaf, which reduced its actual cost to about $24,000. Since it doesn’t use gas, it’s affected only by electricity prices, which tend to be regulated and less costly than converting gasoline into energy. And since most of our electricity is generated by our solar panels, she drives largely for free.

The Federal Reserve’s idea of cutting inflation is to reduce demand by raising interest rates, which generally means a lot of working people get stiffed. A smarter way to cut inflation is to reduce the cost of volatile expenses through real competition and making it easier to afford new inflation-resistant products.

Shifting from gas to electric cars reduces the demand for gas, which should lower its price while also reducing the cost of transportation in general, in the long run. The electricity to run it should be much less expensive than gas. Without an engine, there are fewer repair expenses. Electric vehicle owners typically pay half the repair costs of those car owners with gas engines.

The bill is a significant attempt to fix the real causes of inflation. We create inflation by continuing to do things the way we’ve always done them. In a sense, the faster something’s cost inflates, the less it fits into our changing world.

Impoverishing people indirectly through higher interest rates is a stupid way to reduce inflation. But absent laws like the Inflation Reduction Act, it’s largely a problem for the Federal Reserve, which has few other tools. But systematically enacting smart laws like this one gets at the root of the problem, and is unlikely to throw people out in the street too. With luck it will also be big part of a real solution to address climate change. Inflation won’t be a problem if we are all extinct.

Missing Secret Service text messages are a conspiracy you can believe in

It looks like the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), which protects the president, vice president and certain other high-ranking officials, is missing a whole lot of text messages that occurred on or around January 6, 2021. The messages appear to have been lost this January, curiously starting two days after the January 6 Select Committee in the House asked the USSS to preserve the records.

There are so many conspiracy theories out there that so far I haven’t subscribed to any of them until this scandal made the news. As an ex 32-year of federal employee, I went “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!”

Instantly, I knew this didn’t pass the sniff test. While it’s possible these missing texts were an example of grand incompetence within the USSS and its parent, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that’s actually the kind of conspiracy theory I couldn’t embrace. But someone or someones deliberately trying to bury these record, well, that certainly passes the sniff test. It’s not just inherently suspicious, you’re kind of crazy to think it wouldn’t be — at least, if you spent any time working in the federal government, you’d know just how mind-blowing it is that this actually happened.

Or maybe we’re just being lied to, which is quite plausible, but not something you would expect from the USSS whose safety mission requires trust. If you are a federal employee, however, it is made painfully clear that anything you do on official channels is a public record. Whether the records deserve to be retained indefinitely is a matter of law.

I doubt there is a federal employee anywhere who has spent more than a year in government and touched a work-related computing device that hasn’t been reminded about the need to preserve records. In my agencies it was a once a year reminder, mostly for people who got actual U.S. mail. These were typically digitized and placed in locked metal filing cabinets, and tagged with a records number which was placed in an official log. Official responses went in there too.

The stuff on our official electronic devices was magically archived somewhere. It was so important there were procedures to keep backup copies offsite. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was tasked to collect these official records, and there were hosts of agency employees who made sure it happened as seamlessly as possible.

I don’t know NARA’s record retention policy. Some records are more important than others. Freedom of Information Act requests, for example, are very important. Emails sent among my employees were not typically, unless they became political somehow because they spanned agency boundaries and needed to be seen or concurred on by our senior executives. Annually I was asked to flag these emails. I can’t recall ever flagging one because I was far enough down on the government’s totem pole that I didn’t interact with these figures. The closest I came was an occasional meeting with our associate director, who was on the Senior Executive Service.

Curiously, I retired eight years ago this Monday, on August 1, 2014. Before retiring I had to search for documents like this. I didn’t find any, but I did find some documents associated with the Privacy Act that I kept under lock and key in my office. They got shredded and that was good. They contained confidential information about my employees that was no one else’s business and they were in paper. Their digital equivalents were in various vaulted electronic archives.

Although I’ve been retired for eight years, I’m betting that if needed all my emails from the ten years I worked at the U.S. Geological Survey are stored in a government cloud somewhere. I’m also confident that they would be of interest to no one, so I don’t expect they’ll ever be searched. Anyone reading them would be baffled by all the low level conversations and acronyms anyhow. Perhaps NARA will allow the USGS to officially purge them at some point. More likely, these records will outlive me. As long as the U.S. government is an institution, they’ll likely be around in an electronic government archive somewhere.

Unlike the Secret Service, I didn’t warrant a government phone, so I didn’t have one so there were no text messages to backup. But I can’t see a Secret Service agent not having one of these devices. How often agents actually use the texting feature I don’t know. Most of the time I imagine they are busy watching people, but I’m sure they used them from time to time. On January 6, 2021 no doubt if an agent in the White House or Capitol had any free time, he was texting or calling someone. We already know some agents guarding Mike Pence were calling home sending potential last goodbyes – that’s how scared they were that day.

Also, these devices worked on commercial cellular networks. The texts are almost certainly stored electronically by these networks, or at least thrown into an archive, and likely encrypted. Minimally, there should be a record of the phone numbers texted. I’m sure this would be part of any government contract for official cell phones. Before a contract would be let, I am sure this would be in the contract. In other words, it would be crazy if these text records were not available in one of these cellular provider’s archives. Likely the only way they wouldn’t be is if they were deliberately purged.

The USSS says its agents were required to back these up locally before they turned in their devices in January and February and before being issued their new devices. No one was checking they did this successfully, however. This would be a nice thing to do, but in no way would it be the only way to recover these texts. This would be some ultimate form of digital insurance, to ensure the text messages were preserved if all other backups were unavailable.

I’m sure DHS has a whole team that ensures records compliance. There is no way this team or any team at the USSS could be so incompetent and ignorant of the law as to not have these records somewhere.

It’s not just text. The acting secretary and acting deputy secretary for DHS also lost their phone records in the days leading up to the insurrection.

So, yes, I’m convinced there is a conspiracy at work. The game’s afoot, so call Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. And likely if these records can be retrieved, they’ll be damning. I can’t see someone not being held responsible for this. If accidental, it would be a mind-blowing display of gross incompetence that should go all the way up to the government’s chief information officer, whose duty it is to make sure these things are done.

But that’s completely implausible. There’s some crime going on, it’s not just the cover up. I hope forensic data scientists can retrieve these records. If they can’t, that’s pretty much all the evidence we need that there’s crucial information about the insurrection that experts managed to digitally erase somehow, from likely multiple archives.

It has the potential to be a scandal as big as the insurrection itself, if not worse.

Grand juror

If you are depressed about the state of our government, it actually helps to be called to a jury.

I’m on a grand jury this time. A few years back I was on a regular jury. Not only did we get to try a suspect (guilty on one charge, not guilty on another), it was all over in a day.

Grand jurors aren’t so lucky. We don’t convict anyone. Instead, we indict. Unlike trial jurors, we don’t get excused after one case. We’re in the system for a while.

Fortunately, my particular county doesn’t make it too burdensome. I’m summoned on Thursdays unless there is no one to consider indicting. So far it’s been every other Thursday, though that should change in August. Our term is for three months. While cases could roll over into the next day, it’s very unusual. So far we’ve been out by lunch time, which is 1 PM at this courthouse.

It’s too bad I can’t be a professional juror. Being largely retired, I don’t find it much of a burden. So far the cases have been interesting. Also, the grand jury process is a lot different. There are twenty three of us on this grand jury, but only 12 of us are needed to indict. The standard is a lot looser too. On a grand jury you only have to find probable cause. On a trial jury, you have to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Here in Massachusetts, most juries have six people on them, but a few require twelve. Certain specialized juries can convict on five out of 6.

Also, there is no defense attorney on a grand jury. Instead you interact with a prosecutor, who may have an assistant, and whatever witnesses he or she calls. The charges are fully explained along with any nuances you must be aware of. And you can ask questions of the prosecutor or the witnesses, something that’s not allowed in trial juries.

You may have heard it said that grand juries will indict a ham sandwich. This is true. In most cases a grand jury is just a rubber stamp but a tedious process a prosecutor must follow. With twenty three jurors, a low probable cause standard, and only 12 jurors needed to indict it would take an egregiously bad charge and a poor prosecutor to not get all the indictments wanted.

So from my perspective, being a grand juror is more educational than empowering. Both cases we’ve looked at so far involve drug trafficking. The evidence presented is overwhelming and in most cases the drugs have actually been tested in a lab. Basically you ask yourself: does this charge look likely? If so, you can indict because it’s probable. We’ll leave it to a judge or a trial jury to decide actual guilt or innocence.

It’s probably coincidence, but both sets of indictments occurred at largely the same time and at the same place. I-91 is a major drug corridor and funnels drugs (principally heroin and cocaine) packaged in New York City, usually the Bronx. I-91 runs right through our county and Holyoke, Massachusetts, where a lot of drug trafficking seems to occur. Police either in marked or unmarked cars seem to know when the best time is to find couriers. It seems to be around 3 AM. I’m guessing most of them are pulled over before they get into our county, but if they pull them over in our county, it becomes a case for our county court.

It’s clear that a lot of these suspects aren’t playing with a full deck. It may be that they are high on the drugs they are selling, as a lot of low level dealers are also addicts. Today we heard a case where after a pat down a twice-convicted drug trafficker admitted to a cop that he had more drugs in the car. He had spent years in state prison. These courier vehicles aren’t too hard to find either. They are being driven weird. A tale light is out. Or the windows are too tinted, which is against state law. So here’s a tip: if you are going to carry drugs by car, don’t do it at 3 AM. I’m betting 9 AM is a much better time and it’s likely you’ll be more awake.

I had no idea that branding was a thing. I thought addicts would take anything they can get, but many are picky. Escobar, for example, is a popular brand name for heroin and can be seen on the plastic wrapping. Often other additives are added to these drugs, such as gabapentin, to make the high predictable and with certain proprietary after effects. Also, a brand may have a reputation for being of a certain quality.

I also thought that illegal drugs were likely very expensive. It depends on where you live. As these drugs move further north they get pricier because fewer addicts want to make the commute to a metropolitan area to get them cheaply. But it’s quite possible to get a dose of heroin for $1 or $2 a packet. Carrying around a ten pack, usually branded and wrapped in a rubber band, is not considered a major offense. But trafficking in it is. If you have been convicted more than twice with a penalty of three plus years, you can also be charged as a habitual trafficker, and face even steeper penalties. That happened today with a suspect we indicted.

I can’t help but wonder though why we are bothering. Fifty years into our drug war, we’ve obviously not stopped it or put much of a dent in it. Massachusetts now allows the sale, possession and use of marijuana. It’s been critical in my wife’s pain management. In fact, it’s hard to drive a few miles in any direction without hitting a pot shop.

Our drug war though seems pretty pointless. If consenting adults want to get high, I think they should have the right to do so. There are places in our state where addicts can shoot up using clean needles provided at taxpayer expense. Why not legalize it, put this stuff in the many pot stores and charge addicts to buy it? I would think all the money raised would more than pay for rehabilitation centers for those who want to beat their addiction.

We grand jurors though aren’t asked to opine on the law, just to help enforce it. So while I want to hold my nose sometimes, it’s not hard to raise my hand to indict when the evidence is so overwhelming and the probable cause standard is so easily met. I feel better at least acting as a check on our law enforcement system. While I sometimes feel like citizens aren’t in control of those who go to prison, in fact we are. We’re still in control. I’m hoping as we slide toward authoritarianism we’ll continue to do so. It’s clear our Supreme Court has been corrupted. But thankfully I’m not seeing it in our jury system.

Republicans seem to be saying: bring it on

Bringing it on is good if you like chaos and autocracy, with maybe some theocracy thrown into boot. Recent Supreme Court decisions have made Republicans giddy with delight. States are already innovating new and more oppressive measures to screw it to people they don’t like, which are principally people of color and women, of course, but ideally both.

None of this is particularly surprising, but it’s incredibly depressing that the party is overrun with sadists, because only sadists find enjoyment from inflicting pain on others. They are so high on putting people in pain that they are oblivious about what’s really happening: they are gung ho for creating a world-wide planetary disaster and war. Which, not to put too fine a point on it, will be killing a lot of Republicans too.

Drunk on power and lusting after acquiring more though, that they’re killing themselves too is clearly out of thought and out of mind. After all they know what’s best for the rest of us little people. Donald Trump knew that only he could solve all those problems he didn’t solve. And despite marginally agreeing that he instigated January 6, all but a tiny percent of them will happily vote him into office again.

How can this not be a pro-death policy for the country and the world?

Republican officials across the country, tearing a page from the ongoing culture wars, are launching a broad assault on the movement by big financial firms to use their economic power to curb climate change and address other politically sensitive national issues.

That’s right: to be a good Republican you must be against even the use of private corporate money to address climate change. Of course, they are already dead set against the government doing anything about it. One of the recent Supreme Court decisions that made them giddy was one that greatly reduced the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon, deferring much of this to the states.

What made them giddiest though was the overturning of Roe v. Wade. In one decision, they’ve managed to relegate women to second class citizens again. According to the court’s majority, this is perfectly okay because abortion laws are deeply rooted in our history. Except they aren’t. Abortion laws were largely nonexistent until near the mid 19th century and curiously arrived shortly after the American Medical Association was formed and pressed the states for them. Birthing was good business for them. The AMA was an organization which at the time consisted of virtually all men, as did virtually all state legislatures because, well, except in Wyoming women couldn’t vote. Well, at least that part is deeply rooted. You can learn more about the real history of U.S. abortion laws here.

So of course it’s time to dial it up to 11. Unquestionably, if Republicans control the White House and Congress again, they’ll make prohibiting abortions a law, invalidating all state laws.

The good thing about being convinced that you are right means you can’t possibly let actual facts control your thinking. So, at least in Ohio, you are perfectly okay with a ten year old girl, a victim of rape, being forced to carry the pregnancy to term. After all, you are pro-life, just not pro the life of a ten year old girl or her parents to have bodily autonomy. One crazy Republican Montana state legislator made the outrageous claim that women don’t own their uteruses; it’s apparently property of the state to control as it wishes. His logic: it serves no purpose to her life and wellbeing.

News flash: by this logic, men shouldn’t control their own penises either. It serves no purpose to his life and wellbeing either, except for the enjoyment of masturbation and fornication. And we all know that that is sinful, at least in the eyes of the Catholic and Mormon Churches. By this logic, the state has every right to control men’s genitals too.

If abortion is an egregious crime, let’s cage all male genitals so abortion can’t happen. By law then every boy that reaches puberty should have chastity cages around their genitals. By law they should be removed only by wives and only during conjugal relations. Of course intercourse would have to be in the missionary position!

Ha ha! As if! Of course men will continue to rape women, masturbate, indulge in prostitution et al, no matter how draconian our abortion laws become. Not one of these anti-abortion legislators would consider for a moment solutions like this. That’s because, duh, they’re men. They get to set the rules.

Abortion laws are not about protecting life. Abortion laws are about controlling women. That’s their whole point! Even the idea of medical castration being required for unmarried men would be dismissed by any of these right to lifers. As any man will tell you, a penis is like a firearm. It likes to be locked, loaded, oiled, stroked and fired from time to time. It’s obviously protected by the Second Amendment. Just as they have complete freedom to use their firearms whenever or in however way they want (after all, a good guy with a gun will make sure they don’t hurt anyone – see Uvalde, Texas shooting) they demand the right to use their genital gun to impregnate any female they want at any time, including ten year old girls.

How could we think otherwise? They’re white males so obviously they know what’s best. In fact, Jesus created the United States to give them just these special privileges. It’s in the U.S. Constitution, or something.

So what’s the point of this post? Simply to state the obvious: Republicans are power drunk and plan on getting much more so. Logic is illogical. They are after control, control, control. It’s that simple and they don’t care who they have to hurt to get there, as long as it’s not them. After all, they are on a holy mission: Jesus, the Bible and their gut tells them so. Fascism is obviously the means toward this end, and democracy is wholly expendable in the process.

Canceling summer

Last month the Union of Concerned Scientists, looking at the large number of unusual weather events in our hottest months, gave a new name to the months of May through October: the Danger Season.

They were stating the obvious: with all that extra energy in the northern hemisphere, and with our general refusal to reduce the gasses that caused it, these months are becoming full of dangerous moments: record and sustained heat waves, more frequent and more powerful hurricanes and tornados, and wildfires that just in Russia consumed over 17 million hectares just in 2021, a dubious world record.

That’s certainly not all of it. In the American West, the area is undergoing a record drought and the Colorado River is drying up. Also, Yellowstone National Park experienced record floods when flooding wasn’t even in the forecast. Much of the park is effectively shut down for the summer. It was a once in five hundred years flood, but you’d be wise expect a similar flood to occur there much sooner.

Summer vacation, it seems, is getting canceled. Summer is becoming not just hot, but oppressive and dangerous. If you are seeking the great outdoors during the summer, when you are not dodging wildfires and extreme heat, you are likely driving as far north as you can. That probably explains why New England roads feel like they are bumper to bumper this time of year. Taking I-95 to Maine this time of year often means dealing with gridlock. You are unlikely to escape it by trying U.S. 1 instead, which is the same but slower, particularly around sea resorts like Kennebunkport.

We might as well face facts. Summer is now a time when we should be largely indoors, which means that children should be in school in the summer. They might as well be learning because really, who wants to be outdoors when the heat index is in the hundreds or higher and in many places the humidity makes being outdoors for more than fifteen minutes painful and dangerous? Perhaps summer vacation should be moved to the spring. Perhaps winter break should be extended to a whole month. Then we could enjoy the great outdoors when it is likely to be enjoyable and safe.

My siblings, mostly retired, have canceled reunions in the summer. We tried one in 2015 in the area we grew up in: New York’s southern tier. When we lived there as children we didn’t have an air conditioner. We had an attic fan. On really hot days our mom put a box fan on the floor of the living room. Now, every house has one. We rented some cabins at Chenango State Park (no air conditioning) to find the heat and humidity crushing. People couldn’t wait to leave. So subsequent reunions in the summer are out. Last fall we had one in Virginia’s Tidewater area. We’ve scheduled another this year around the same time near Asheville, North Carolina.

The last summer vacation we took was in 2017 when we went to visit my last remaining aunt in Michigan. It wasn’t too bad but we were largely indoors. But we remembered other vacations in Michigan when the heat topped over 100 degrees. Taking a Jetski out in Saginaw Bay did little to cool us off. I haven’t given up summer vacation altogether, but I know when we take one it will be in the northern latitudes, where we already live.

For much of the world, escaping the danger season isn’t an option. People are already recognizing that the climate won’t be changing for the better and are migrating toward the poles. It’s going to get much, much worse. In the American West, most of its residents are choosing to live in denial as the Colorado River basin dries up. The aquifers are being tapped out. Water for agricultural use is already being cut back severely, but quotas from the Colorado River are being dropped for all the states that draw from it. Like it or not, much of those living in the West will be fleeing eastward or northward in the next decade or two. The smarter ones should already be planning to move while they can still get full value for their properties.

The same should be true for many people living along the coasts. Successive waves of floods, hurricanes and nor’easters will have them rebuilding their houses over and over again. Our planet is changing fundamentally, and almost all of it is our own fault.

We can do much to mitigate a lot of what’s coming, but if the present is any guide to the future, we largely won’t. Americans specialize in denialism. It won’t keep it from happening. In fact, we will make it worse. Those into denialism also tend to be right wing and conservative. It will feed their anger because these are events they can’t control, and elevate their feelings of self-righteousness and that they have to “get theirs” while they can so others can’t.

My daughter is moving to Portland, Maine and is planning to live downtown, at least to start. It’s at prime risk of sea level rise. Hopefully she won’t live there long enough to be affected by it. But she knows the climate will be more tolerable in Maine than it is near Washington, D.C. where she is now living. She’s is the worst of it at the moment. Julys are miserable in the area, fed by an unrelenting toxic mixture of heat, humidity and ozone. It’s like living in Florida this time of year, but without the palm trees. But she also wants to living in Maine because it’s closer to Canada. She’s hoping for a quick escape there if the country turns into a Handmaid’s Tale situation. I keep warning her that Canadians aren’t likely to let in millions of Americans like her.

It’s clear to me that climate change will define the rest of my life. Those lovely summers that I remember are gone for good, rendered moot by a world awash in capitalism and climate denialism. It’s easy to predict a lot of misery ahead.

What should be done with my corpse?

I’m remembering an old B.C. comic strip:

B.C.: What was I before I was what I was, and what will I be when I’m not?

Peter: You were what you were before you are what you are, and you will be what you ain’t.

That makes sense, sort of. It doesn’t explain anything, but it’s comforting somehow. As a friend of mine who has already met his maker put it: it doesn’t make much sense to worry about what happens after death if you are completely unconcerned about what you were (or weren’t) before you were conceived. It’s all completely logical, but most of us don’t want to die; the idea of death terrifies most of us.

I may be the odd exception in that the older I get the less I think and care about death. It can’t be avoided. It’s going to happen. And the way the world has been going lately, when the time comes it may be that I will be glad. In any event, when its pressing problems aren’t on my mind, I realize that I am blessed being retired and in reasonably good health. This is the time to enjoy life if I can. Like most of you, most of my life was pretty harried and stressful. I found pockets of enjoyment but a lot of it was just hard and a grind.

Of course I’ve done all my homework. There’s a will, there’s a power of attorney and a medical directive should I not be able to make my own decisions. There are estates set up to keep whoever gets our money from having the state take most of it. But there is one decision about death I haven’t quite decided on: what do I want done with my corpse?

It’s trendy to be cremated. In the United States, it’s now preferred to being put in a coffin and buried in a cemetery, perhaps because it’s much cheaper. Both my parents went this way. Their cremains can be found at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, Maryland. My Dad was born in Washington, D.C., which is probably fifteen miles away, so it’s sort of logical that his cremains are there. My Mom was born in Michigan but there was no room in the family cemetery, so hers are next to Dad’s.

My wife has been clear: she wants her body to be cremated. She doesn’t want her cremains to be in a cemetery. Of all the places she’s lived, when likes where she is living now (western Massachusetts) best. She would be happy if her cremains were scattered in a local forest somewhere. So if she predeceases me, if I am faithful to her wishes, my corpse or what’s left of it won’t reside next to hers.

My mother-in-law was also cremated, but her ashes were divided into thirds. She had two kids. One third went to her new husband who didn’t really love her that much and died six months after she did. One third went to her son. One third of her is on our mantlepiece next to a picture of her. There are other cremains there too, including two cats.

Since I’ll be dead and my daughter will likely be alive, perhaps mine could rest above her fireplace, should she have one. There they will likely get as much attention as we give my mother-in-law’s cremains: we wholly ignore them. In truth, my wife didn’t like her mother much if at all, and had all sorts of resentment on how she was raised. In some ways, I think she was relieved by her death: no more nagging from her about her weight. If only she had trimmed down, took up smoking and died from it, as her mom did, maybe she would have risen in her esteem.

Logically I understand that once dead I won’t get resurrected. Emotionally though like many I don’t particularly like the idea that there won’t be some pile of composing DNA that someone could say was me if they examined the DNA. Once cremated, your DNA is gone. So if some ancestor needed to get a sample of my DNA, they would be out of luck.

I could have a DNA test done before I die. Hopefully the results could be put in an electronic repository somewhere. Given how we are overpopulating the planet, I think it’s unlikely such a repository would still be available in a hundred years. Also, since my daughter is not planning to have any children, she’s likely be the only one who’d ever want to look at the record. She loves me very much but frankly I don’t see much likelihood that she will want to do this; she doesn’t care about genetics or genealogy in general.

My siblings are too scattered around the country to organize something like a private cemetery. One of my sisters suggested it, but no one expressed interest in taking her up on it. She hopes to buy some land in upstate New York and use some of it as a cemetery. If she builds one, should I want my corpse to be retained somewhere, it’s as good a place as any to have it planted.

Unlike my wife, I have no place that I feel I’m “from”. The closest probably is Endwell, New York where I spent my formative years. But I can think of only a handful of people I knew from the time I lived there that still reside there, and only one I can call a friend. No one I know would bother to visit my remains there. Also, Endwell has only one cemetery I know of, Riverhurst Cemetery. It may be full by the time I pass on.

Both my parents were cremated either the day they died, or they day afterward. To me, that seems too soon. I’m betting that although technically dead some part of me will still be alive. Perhaps it takes hours or days for the brain to run out of oxygen and some thought remains. Perhaps the nerves still work and some part of my brain will feel the cremation. I suggested to my daughter that if she has me cremated to have my body sit in a morgue for a week first. I want to be dead-dead, not just dead.

My daughter is puzzling through her own preferences. The most ecological way to go is to have your body interred naturally: placed in a sheet perhaps and buried in a forest. Cremation is quick, but it’s polluting. Her other choice is to donate it for medical research. Let some premed student get some use out of it.

I’m still up in the air on it. If they still have cruise ships after I’m gone, perhaps she can dump my cremains into the sea from the promenade deck, then sip a Mai-Tai in my memory from a lounge chair on the pool deck. It may be that being at sea was where I really felt most at home. It’s an awesome place to visit. Its vastness is a lot like the universe in general, which we will always be part of.

A lesson in caregiving

Three years ago, my wife had her right knee replaced. A couple of weeks ago, she had the other knee replaced. She was in a lot of chronic pain before the surgery. Now that she’s recovering, she’s in a more chronic pain, but it’s the kind that results from having a joint of metal and plastic melded to her femur and tibia.

This also means for a couple of weeks now I’ve been largely her sole caregiver; hence I’ve had a hard time finding the time to post. There’s lots of physical therapy she is supposed to do three times a day but often can’t manage. At least initially this meant that I did a lot of her joint movement for her. It also means sticking pillows under her knees and elevating her legs on an incline. Also there’s lots of icepacks to wrap around the new joint, blankets to drape over her and pillows to adjust.

There’s lots of other stuff to do for her too: shoes to put on her and tediously getting her pants on. I make all the meals and clean up afterward too. I have a myriad of other chores that she would normally do, including laundry and feeding our cats twice a day. I help her shower, dry off, put her underwear on and push in chairs so that she can get seated properly to eat. There’s a water bottle she persistently wants full of ice. And if I find some spare minutes, there will likely lots of ad-hoc calls for more aid.

I can usually work in a walk if she is stable, elevated and has an ice pack on the joint. I also use this time to dash to various stores so we don’t starve. Being her sole caregiver, I can’t be too careful. I use an N95 mask whenever I am in public indoor spaces.

If I were 25 it probably would be less of a deal. But I am 65. Three years ago I went through the same thing. While it was a lot of hassle then I don’t recall it affecting me as much. Her first day home was particularly exhausting. My back hurt badly and I felt run ragged since I’d been hopping for almost fourteen hours. Part of it is that there seemed more to do and there was more pain this time. But it’s also that on some level I must be declining a bit.

The pandemic didn’t help. Through it all I’ve managed to get plenty of aerobic exercise (walking four miles or so a day) but no weight training as I don’t own any weights. I let my YMCA membership lapse and it’s still lapsed as I’m still leery of catching covid-19 there, which I’ve somehow still avoided.

So this post is probably a bit whiny as we are thankfully retired. It’s good to have the time to take care of her, but it’s really a job for younger people. Thank goodness she’s partnered. Otherwise she’d be weeks in a nursing home.

In spite of the hassle of taking care of her, it’s done with love. But it’s also a reeducation in real life and the reality of hard work. I’m astonished by how much work is involved and there’s lots of things she can do by herself. I’m trying to imagine taking care of her if she had Alzheimer’s, for example. There are lots of caregivers doing work like this, and I’m guessing that this work multiplied by at least three.

And yet caregivers, when they are employed, make astonishingly poor wages. They are in chronic high demand but that’s not enough to provide them with a true living wage. The work is tiring, tiresome, demanding, often ad-hoc and frequently frustrating. It can be so persistent and exhausting that it’s unclear if you could get a caregiver regardless of the wages paid.

My wife is improving but there are good days and bad. She can do more things for herself. She manages her medication, and she has quite a list that needs coordinating. I’m not sure I could keep track of them all or administer them properly. Yesterday she had a major complication. Her knee improved but her calf was swollen and hot to the touch. The physical therapist had her get an ultrasound at our local hospital. They found a blood clot behind her knee and she’s now on a blood thinner. Hopefully it will improve. She’s close to moving from her walker to a cane, which would be a big improvement.

So many of us sneer at people who are caregivers. It’s like they’re only good enough to be a caregiver. My reality is that it’s one of the hardest jobs you will ever have. Caregivers deserve a living wage, not to mention our admiration and courage. If you don’t believe me, there’s a good chance you will find out one of these days. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Republicans will probably be ruing today’s Supreme Court abortion decision

It’s not surprising that Roe v. Wade was formally overturned by our super conservative court today. That’s because the opinion was leaked back in May. It would have been surprising had it changed. Still, it’s shocking nonetheless.

I’m hardly the first pundit to point out that this is like a dog chasing a car and managing to catch the car. Giving the Republican base what they want has been a recurring theme for this court, constructed carefully over nearly fifty years of effort.

Just yesterday we got another 6-3 ruling from the court that invalidated lots of state laws that prohibited the public carry of firearms. We have such a law right here in Massachusetts. I am pissed. I moved to Massachusetts in part because the legislators here are sensible. Our state is one of the safest places in the country because of its gun laws.

But it’s going to be more Wild West in my state, thanks to the court. I live in the western part of the state, the part of the state that elected Scott Brown as our senator after Ted Kennedy died. This area is not exactly liberal but not exactly conservative either. Owning a firearm is more of a hassle here, but I’m certain there are enough Swamp Yankees (as we call them) around here to start openly carrying them. The rest of us will be up in arms, so to speak, the first time we saddle up next to one of these strangers at the bar at the local Applebees.

Today’s decision still allows abortions in states that choose to allow them. If you think this will satisfy the antiabortion crowd, you are incredibly naïve. This is part one of a larger plan to disallow abortions nationwide. It’s not that difficult. Republicans need a majority in both chambers and a control of the presidency. When the inevitable case is brought to the court to invalidate the law, don’t expect a 6-3 conservative court to overturn it.

But this is really part of a much larger agenda to impose minority values on the majority of the people. Justice Thomas was pretty open about his agenda. In his opinion, he states the court should look at reversing all sorts of precedents, like its gay marriage ruling. Expect states to also take aim at the court’s decision in the 1960s invalidating state birth control laws. In short, if nothing changes, we’re moving pretty quickly toward A Handmaid’s Tale world.

All this plus gerrymandering, voter suppression and outright corruption of the electoral process to allow states to send electors at variance with the popular vote of the state and you have all the trappings of permanent minority rule and, essentially, authoritarianism. That’s really what this is all about.

Lack of control drives Republicans batty. They can only feel comfortable if everyone follows rules they set. This gives privileges to those they like (like the gun ruling) while taking it away from those they don’t like (poor pregnant women and minorities.) If you are skeptical, try to find one state with antiabortion laws that also attempts to feed the babies born that would otherwise be aborted. (Hint: none exist. In fact, generally these states keep reducing what measly subsidies exist for poor people.)

The problem is that Republicans think people will be sheep. People aren’t sheep. When abortion was last outlawed, those with the means got them anyhow. Lots of women who couldn’t still managed to get them through unofficial networks while lots of them died attempting their own abortions too.

Moreover, women will remember when abortion was safe, legal and local. They will resent that their reproductive choices were taken away from them. Add in hoped for additional persecution against the LGBTQIA+ community, much of it well underway, and they are feeding rebellion against them and driving demand for the liberal values they so obviously abhor. Also, they drive civil insurrection, which rather than controls society simply adds to its instability.

The whole point of a democratic government is to ensure that government represents the will of the people. Because our system of government gave extraordinary power to southern and rural states, it was lopsided from the beginning. Additional tactics like filibuster rules in the Senate make the problem far worse. Authoritarian governments rarely last long but they are great at causing civil unrest, insurrection and death. Democratic governments are supposed to engender listening and compromise, which engenders trust in government. Only 36% of Americans trust our Supreme Court to act impartially. Approval of Congress is at a low 20%.

Democrats would be wise to run on a new Contract with America in the coming midterms. This badly timed ruling on abortion gives them plenty of fodder to convince the public. There will be plenty of news stories about the ill effects of today’s rulings by then. The contract should include a promise to end filibuster rules at least for any proposal to guarantee abortion rights. What’s more important than that though is to reform the Supreme Court.

I’ve long argued for packing the Supreme Court. Restoring its balance so that it is more representative of the people, rather than disproportionately representative of our most extreme conservatives, is the only real solution to the hellscape Republicans and our super conservative Supreme Court seem anxious to unleash on us.

It turns out that I was a pretty good father

My daughter is 32 now but at least she now remembers Father’s Day. She remembers Mother’s Day now too, perhaps because it’s on her Google Calendar by default. For years she ignored these Hallmark holidays (as my wife calls them). I didn’t give her a hard time about it. It’s nice though that after all these years she’s picked up the habit.

She usually sends me a note on Discord on Father’s Day because that’s what her generation does. They don’t enrich Hallmark. They just send a chat message asynchronously. Discord is convenient. For me, its main purpose is to let me know she’s alive. I look for the little green dot next to her name in the app. Discord goes with her everywhere so it’s the easiest way to get a hold of her. Use the telephone? So 20th century!

And that’s fine by me. When she first went to college, there was no Discord and she didn’t even have a phone so there was no way to really know if she was alive. It drove me crazy, even though she was 20 at the time. (She went to two years of community college.) After a week of not hearing from her I called her roommate. That’s how I found out she hadn’t been mugged in some back alley in Richmond, Virginia, where she went to school. She seemed a little miffed, like I didn’t trust her. Okay, I confess to having some boundary issues. It’s always hard to let go. I had been steering her life for two decades.

Now she’s hardly ever offline. I’d have to look up her cellphone number because we never call it. And I’ve stopped worrying if she’s dead or alive. We chat formally once a month on Discord in a video call, and informally during the month. She may be 32, but she still relies on me for ad hoc advice. She’s thinking of a big career move, basically taking a job similar to what she does now in Portland, Maine. (She’s lives in the DC suburbs.) She got dueling job offers from two counties. I helpfully examined the proposals and placed my analysis in a spreadsheet. It made sense to me. A spreadsheet made it easy to compare offers. She appreciated my help but found my using a spreadsheet humorous. Apparently, it’s a very Dad thing to do.

We won’t have to worry about babysitting any grandchild. She eventually figured out that she is asexual. This means she is not drawn to either sex. The idea of having a baby appalls her. She does have a cat, which is not surprising as she grew up with cats. That’s as close as she is likely to be to having a child. We call her cat Mimi our grand kitty. The two kitties we have are sort of like aunts to our grand kitty. It’s unlikely they will ever meet.

While she is unlikely to call us out for special kudos on these holidays, at least she remembers them. It’s also nice to know that we didn’t suck as parents. She does see a therapist and maybe that’s due to being an only child. Or perhaps it’s related to being a 911 operator. It can be a very stressful job at times and the counseling is a free perk.

But occasionally ad-hoc complements arrive. A couple of years back I got one when she remembered I got her vaccinated for the Human Papilloma virus. The vaccine was new at the time and she couldn’t have been more than fifteen, but when I took her for her physical I asked her pediatrician to give her the shot. Actually it was two shots. The virus is generally transmitted sexually, so that’s unlikely to happen to her, but you never know. She could be raped, which happens to many women. While it would definitely be a traumatic episode, she probably wouldn’t have to worry about getting the virus from her rapist. Anyhow, when she remembered talking with her physician, it triggered the thought, “Gosh, Dad was certainly thinking ahead. He really loves me!”

It wasn’t a hard decision for me. She was likely to be sexually active during her life. The shot was a way of preventing her from ever getting the virus, which is a small but hardly minute risk for women, as it can cause cervical cancer among other things. I also remember getting her a Hepatitis B vaccine, also delivered in a couple of doses, something not required but it seemed like a good thing to do. She’d likely have to do some foreign travel to get it, but it can be acquired within the United States.

One of the most important things I did as her parent was to get her a real sex education. No, not the stuff you might get in school, which is superficial and required parental consent even for that. That wasn’t good enough. I remember the laughable one-day sex education “course” I got from a priest at our parochial school. My parents tried to talk about it once and utterly failed. What I learned about sex academically came mainly from reading books at the public library. The information was definitely useful, but not enough. Equally important is the emotional aspects of having sex. There I got zero help and like most Americans had to stumble through it.

Her mother didn’t believe in church, but I wanted her to experience it, so we started attending a local Unitarian Universalist church. There she went to Sunday school while I attended services. After a couple of years, I learned about their Our Whole Lives course. I enrolled her in it. (You can too. You don’t have to be a UU to enroll your kid in the class. Just call your local UU church’s director of religious education. It’s likely free too. Also, it’s not just for kids. How we are as sexual creatures changes with age. So at any age, it’s useful.) It’s the kind of sex education I never got. I didn’t want her to be ignorant and I wanted it to be realistic and grounded. The UU church’s OWL course is likely one of just a handful of courses you can get in the United States that teaches actually useful and comprehensive sex education, including contraception, and sex’s invariable emotional aspects. She is grateful that I enrolled her. She met a friend there that remains perhaps her best friend to this day.

In truth, I didn’t mind being her father. I quite enjoyed it, overall. Certainly there were great highs and great lows too, but not many of them. My childhood was rife with physical and emotional violence meted out by my mom. I made sure none of that happened in her life.

Maybe it would have been helpful for her to have a sibling. One child though was plenty for my wife and me. But overall she was an interesting child from the start. Both of us parents were grounded and pretty intellectual. We did our best to expose her to the complexity of the real world and to fill her life with an appreciation for reading, culture and the arts. We took her to many a Broadway show. We tried not to sugar coat life, while also not making it look too bleak. I think we succeeded.

Parenting is an awesome responsibility, but it needn’t be taken too seriously. You can try to enjoy it. We were plentiful with the hugs and complements. We were protective but not smothering. A few times where she veered too off course we intervened and moved her toward the center. At 32, she remains interesting, grounded and a fun person to know not just our daughter.

So thanks dear for your Father’s Day best wishes. But really, I enjoyed being your father. It was perhaps the greatest privilege in my life. I’m glad to know I didn’t suck and it sounds like I did a pretty good job.