One Veteran’s View of War

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

President Dwight Eisenhower, General of the Army (Ret), April, 1953

Nuclear Power and Climate Change

I’m a lifelong nuke. I joined the navy at 17, was trained in their naval nuclear power schools, served as a reactor operator on a ballistic missile submarine, and then had a career in the commercial nuclear power industry as an instrument technician and an electrical/I&C engineer. I count myself fairly well versed in most things nuclear (including nuclear weapons but considerably less so).

All through my career in the civilian world, I would often reply to someone asking what I did for a living by saying “I keep the world safe from the evils of nuclear power.” Which was not entirely facetious. My specialty as an engineer was preparing a type of safety analysis calculation which examined the efficacy of plant safety systems. In other words, I demonstrated that they would work (to a specific degree of certainty) when they were most needed. Or I demonstrated they wouldn’t (again, to a specific degree of certainty), in which case the plant would have to modify something in order to ‘pass’ my calculation. Earlier on as an instrument technician, I ensured that the safety systems were in proper working order. I wrote a blog post on that subject.

Many aspects of my career were unpleasant (particularly the navy part) but I really never had any doubts that nuclear power was a great technological achievement for the benefit of society. Now that scientists (virtually ALL scientists in relevant fields) have concluded quite authoritatively that we’re in the midst of human-caused rapid climate change, I see nuclear power not only as a great thing but vitally necessary. We need nuclear power electrical generation and we need a lot of it. I’m not alone in this opinion.

But wait, what about all those nasty bad things – radiation, nuclear waste, Chernobyl? Fukushima, for chrissakes!? How can nuclear power be not only good but necessary with all that?

The long answer follows but the short answer is: because all other forms of base-load power generation are worse and we need electricity or society will collapse. Conservation, wind, solar, geothermal, etc. are all good things – technologies we should embrace and expand – but none can come close to powering industry, which uses the bulk of electricity in industrialized countries. Until we develop fusion power, only nuclear, coal, oil, natural gas and hydro can supply sufficient electrical power to satisfy our industrial demands. Putting solar panels on our roofs and driving EVs isn’t going to get it done (note that your Tesla still needs to be charged and that electricity comes from power plants). Coal, oil and natural gas have brought us to the present dire situation with climate change and hydro is played out. We can build no more dams, or at least not many.

Great. So we’re all doomed to either a planet-wide climate crisis or radioactive poisoning. Well, no. I don’t know if climate change has progressed to the point of being unstoppable but it certainly will be if we continue on the same path. Some scientists say we’re there already but I’m not sure that stance has a strong consensus. But I can address the radioactive poisoning bit. The short answer to that is: none of those nasty bad things I mentioned earlier are really anything to get worked up about. They’re all solvable with today’s technology and some are not really problems anyway.

Lets take them one at a time.

Radiation. I’m sure you’ve all heard about how bananas are radioactive, so too are granite buildings, how a flight across the country exposes you to a higher dose than nuclear plant workers receive (on average), how living in Denver will too. Not sure why Denver is always the city that gets mentioned – it’s not all that high in elevation – but there you are. Maybe you’ve seen graphs and charts that show how little radiation gets emitted from nuclear power plants as compared to, say, cosmic rays. All that is true so why is it that these facts don’t seem to matter to people? Why doesn’t it sink in? Why do you keep eating bananas, traveling across country by air to visit the relatives during the holidays, keep working in granite buildings while dreaming of a nice retirement cabin on a lake in the Colorado Rockies? Yet you recoil in fear at the thought of living in the same state as a nuclear power plant. It’s irrational.

Radiation scares people more than it should. I hear that it’s because radiation is ‘invisible’ but so are other hazards. Can you tell if your food is contaminated by e-coli or salmonella? Can you smell or taste COVID-19? No, you can’t, at least not without equipment you’re unlikely to have at hand. Detecting radiation also requires specialized equipment but it is very, very easy to do so with simple, cheap instruments. You’ve seen the sci-fi movies where someone is holding a radiation detector which starts clicking like mad. OMG! We’re all going to die! That’s the message. It’s wrong. Detectors designed to measure low-level background radiation will happily click away no matter where you are on Earth. We can detect individual radioactive decay events. A single atom emitting radiation. You’ve heard it before – “The dose makes the poison.” Almost anything is deadly to humans if the dose is too high. Radiation is no exception. It’s around us all the time but you really only need to get concerned when the dose rate (the amount of radiation per time) exceeds a certain level, which varies depending on the type of radiation. Speaking of which, a gamma ray, an x-ray, a beta or alpha particle, are all the same no matter where it came from. The radiation associated with nuclear power plants is not somehow more deadly to humans. For the more technically astute, you may have raised an eyebrow at that statement. I’m not saying all gamma rays are the same. They aren’t. Higher energy gammas, for example, are more hazardous to biological processes. But a 1 Mev gamma from a ‘natural’ source is exactly the same as a 1 Mev gamma from a nuclear power plant.

Being easily detected, radiation is quite manageable. It’s a simple matter to monitor, segregate and isolate radioactive materials to lessen exposure risks. Far easier than other hazards, in fact. When a salmonella outbreak is discovered, do grocery stores check to see which bags of romaine lettuce are contaminated? No, because there’s no easy, cheap way to do that. So it all gets thrown away.

Nevertheless, most folks, even if they’ve just read what I wrote, will become alarmed if the local news reports a tritium leak from the neighborhood nuclear plant. They won’t bother to find out if it was a leak sufficient to cause a health hazard. And the news folks are in the business of scaring you so they won’t say anything to dispel your concerns. Nope. It’s radiation and all radiation is deadly.

Fact is, nuclear plants emit very little radiation outside their perimeters during normal operations. That which does escape is dwarfed by natural background radiation. We’ll discuss abnormal operations in a bit. When it comes to radiation from power plants, it’s not that from the plant that is of concern. Rather, it’s the nuclear waste the plant generates that needs to be discussed.

Nuclear waste. This topic engenders so many misconceptions, it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s break it down into three subtopics: radioactive half-life, amount of waste, long-term storage. Before discussing the first one, a nuclear physics refresher might be of benefit.

Radioactive half-life refers to the time (on average but when you have trillions of atoms, the average is essentially exact) it takes for one-half of a given amount of radioactive isotope to decay, to emit radiation of some form in a process that transforms the isotope into a different isotope.

An isotope is a subset of an element. Uranium, for example, has several known isotopes: U-234, U-235, U-236, etc. The number (e.g. 235) refers to the sum of the isotope’s neutrons and protons. All isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons but they vary by the number of neutrons. So U-235 has the same number of protons as U-234 (92) but has one more neutron. All elements, from hydrogen (one proton) to oganesson (118 protons) have isotopes. [I had to look up oganesson on the latest chart of the nuclides] All elements have more than one isotope; some have many. Lead, if I counted correctly, has over forty isotopes. Physicists are continually discovering new elements and extending the periodic table. If you’re interested in the subject, check out this link: https://www-nds.iaea.org/relnsd/vcharthtml/VChartHTML.html or just search on ‘chart of the nuclides.’

Isotopes can be further divided into two groups: those that are stable and those that are radioactive. A stable isotope is one that has essentially an infinite half-life. A radioactive isotope is one that will emit some form of radiation and in the process transform into a different isotope, on a schedule according to its half-life. It is the latter group that concerns us here. Some half lives are quite short. Oganesson 294 (Og-294) has a half-life of 5.8E-4 seconds. That’s 0.00058 seconds – it doesn’t hang around very long. U-235 is quite long-lived with a half-life of 2.22E16 seconds, or a little over 700 million years. So if you had a gram of U-235 in your hand, in 700 million years you’d now have half a gram. The other half would be something else, probably mostly lead. In other words, U-235 is not exactly stable but it’s pretty close. That chunk of uranium in your hand just isn’t very radioactive – you could hold onto it for a long time without any noticeable health effects.

The U-235 decay process – termed the ‘decay chain’ – doesn’t go directly from U-235 to Pb-207. Rather, the decay chain involves several steps, each with its own half life and therefore, each with an associated level of radioactivity. In the case of U-235:Pb-207, there is an additional 34,000 years worth of half-life along the chain.

So what’s the point? If you read a news article about nuclear waste and it stated that some of the radioactive material had a half-life of 700 million years, what would your reaction be? If you’re like many people, you’d think “No way! We can’t keep waste safe for that long!” and might jump on the anti-nuke bandwagon just over that. But consider, we just reasoned that U-235 is almost stable, effectively non-radioactive. So why would you worry about burying it in a nuclear waste repository anyway? You could just bury it in your backyard for all the harm it would do. Or maybe you had a chunk of that Og-294. Would you worry about properly disposing it? Of course not. With its half-life, before you could even load it on a truck bound for Yucca Mountain, it would be essentially gone, decayed away (Disclaimer: I don’t know the decay chain for Og-294, so I don’t know the half lives of the downstream isotopes. Maybe nobody does because it just got discovered. But my point stands).

Of course, U-235 and Og-294 are not the components of nuclear waste – and we’re mainly talking spent nuclear fuel here – that need to get buried in Yucca Mountain. There are other far more harmful elements with half-lives somewhere between 700 million years and 0.00058 seconds. I used those two to illustrate a concept, which is that we really only need to consider medium-long half-lives, those in the hundreds or thousands of years. All of the short-lived isotopes will have mostly decayed away to stable isotopes while the spent nuclear fuel is still stored at the nuclear plant, and the longer ones aren’t much of a health hazard anyway.

Our second sub-topic is the amount of waste. How much spent nuclear fuel are we dealing with? I mentioned the old adage about dose making the poison, so it stands to reason that if we bury tons of waste in every local landfill, we’ll have a problem, right? We don’t have that much. In fact, very little. The volume of spent nuclear fuel generated in the US since the beginning of nuclear power plants would fit in one football field at a depth of ten feet (Americans demand their measurements be related to football fields). All of the fuel from all of the power plants for all of the years – one football field. Of course, burying nuclear waste in a football field-sized repository isn’t good engineering so we’d require something a bit bigger, practically speaking. A repository the size of, say, Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Not the whole mountain – just part of it. Wrap your head around that. Or better yet, go to Google Maps, find Yucca Mountain (just north of Las Vegas), zoom in to see the mountain (more like a big hill) and then zoom out to the whole US. That’s the scale we’re talking about to store every bit of spent fuel ever generated in this country. It’s really not an issue. If you’re enthusiastic, now look up how much coal ash is generated in this country. Coal ash is radioactive, by the way.

The third sub-topic is long term storage. Recalling the half-life discussion, it’s clear a nuclear waste repository, such as Yucca Mountain, requires a stable geologic environment on the order of maybe a few tens of thousand years, well within the realm of current geologic knowledge. We might not need even that long – there’s quite a bit of geologic evidence and research relating to heavy isotope migration that strongly suggests that even if the spent fuel storage containers ‘leaked’, the dangerous isotopes aren’t going very far, maybe tens of meters. Finally, repositories such as Yucca Mountain are not ‘bury it and forget it’ installations. There’s no reason why we can’t periodically check up on things – the spent fuel would not actually be buried. More like securely stored with provisions for access. Spent nuclear fuel is a valuable commodity anyway – it can be used in breeder reactors after some reprocessing – so we’d probably be hauling it out again before too long anyway. So don’t pay attention to the folks who scream about million year half-lives.

If you’re up for another Google Maps exercise, find your local nuclear power plant – doesn’t matter which. If you zoom in, somewhere on the site you’ll find a parking lot-sized area that appears to be somewhat segregated from the rest of the plant that seems to contain a bunch of circular objects. You’re looking at the ISFSI – the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation. Because of the delay in opening Yucca Mountain, all US nuclear plants have had to devise methods to store spent fuel onsite. Those circular objects are actually cylinders of concrete and steel – casks – that hold several spent fuel assemblies each. Note that the fuel is not transferred into the casks right away after being removed from the reactor but rather sits in the plant’s spent fuel pool for a number of years while the short to medium-short isotopes decay and the assembly ‘cools.’ Once cooled, the spent fuel assemblies are easily encapsulated in the casks, which are then welded shut. The external radiation from the fuel isn’t all that high because it’s shielded by the cask. Engineers and technicians can safely approach the cask to do whatever is needed in terms of monitoring cask condition. It is these casks that will be ‘buried’ at Yucca Mountain when it finally becomes operational. You can also see that the idea of casks ‘leaking’ is not realistic – they’re composed of metal and concrete and the spent fuel itself is entirely metallic.

Anti-nuke advocates sometimes toss out figures on how much waste is generated by nuclear power plants but they usually lump in all the low level radioactive material to get a bigger, more scary number. They’re including waste such as rags, used anti-contamination clothing and other stuff that really could be buried in the local landfill if people weren’t so paranoid about radiation but has to be segregated because of NRC regulations. Note that I’m not dissing the regulations – they’re a good thing but to understand the issue of nuclear waste, it’s important to understand there’s a lot of regulatory overkill. Focus on the real issue: spent nuclear fuel. For further info: https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-wastes/radioactive-waste-management.aspx

OK, but that’s radiation from nuclear power plants that aren’t currently melting down or from spent fuel. What about Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island? Don’t those accidents prove that nuclear power is not safe? How can we be safe knowing the local plant might melt down and emit far greater amounts of radiation? While there have been other, less known nuclear incidents, let’s very briefly examine those three infamous nuclear accidents. With all, the causes and lessons are quite complex but an overview is easily at hand. For those who want the whole, detailed picture of each event, the information is available online.

Three Mile Island. I worked there as a technician, just after the Unit 2 meltdown had occurred in 1979. Talk about a weird workplace! TMI was an accident that had several causes. There were equipment failures (stuck relief valve), procedural failures (cooling valves erroneously locked shut), training failures (operators not believing their instruments), bad design (the control alarm systems inundated the operators and then fell hours behind in recording significant events), insufficient understanding of some aspects of pressurized water reactors (experts did not anticipate a hydrogen bubble) and industry and regulation failures (another plant with a similar relief valve had issues but that wasn’t communicated to the other utilities that operated the same type of plant and the NRC had no regulatory mechanism to compel them to do so). In a nutshell, a relief valve stuck open, much of the water in the core was expelled, a key automatic safety system had been disabled, a hydrogen bubble formed in the core which caused anomalous readings on some control room instruments, the operators did not believe their instruments so they shut down the emergency water supply to the core. The core became uncovered and with safety systems compromised, it partially melted.

Eventually, over days, reactor experts figured out what had happened and efforts to supply water to the core were successful. But not before a significant portion of the core had melted and not before some very anxious hours wondering if the hydrogen in the vessel would explode, as hydrogen has a propensity to do.

What were the immediate ramifications? Well, the reactor was destroyed of course and the effort to relieve the reactor building (the containment) of dangerous conditions mandated venting some radioactive gas to the atmosphere. Radioactive water was released into the auxiliary building but not beyond that. Two things didn’t happen. First and most importantly, the primary defense against an unacceptable release of radioactivity to the public did not fail. The containment building held. Inside the containment, it was radioactive hell. Outside, not so much. And by ‘outside’ I mean immediately adjacent to the exterior of the building. It was still safe for workers outside to do what they needed to do. Secondly, no significant radioactive material or radiation escaped the plant boundary. Yes, there was some venting and the radiation level at the plant boundary fence rose, but never to a level remotely dangerous to the public. I know there are scare stories of radioactive cow milk and increased cancer rates but they’re bullshit. Utter (udder?) bullshit.

Long-term, the ramifications of the TMI accident, other than the utility going bankrupt and nuclear construction across the country stalling, were enormously positive. The industry and the NRC responded in several significant ways: plant operating procedures were modified, existing equipment was upgraded, new equipment was installed, a whole industry watchdog came into being, the NRC became more assertive with regard to plant safety. I personally built half a career on installing extensive modifications to several nuclear plants in the country. It was a veritable boom time for workers like me. You know those safety analysis calculations I mentioned? That was part of it. World-wide, the nuclear power industry is much more safety conscious and much better equipped to handle accidents because of the lessons learned from TMI.

Chernobyl. No discussion of the accident at Chernobyl 4 can be valid if the political situation is ignored. Chernobyl is located not too far from Kiev in the Ukraine – at the time a republic of the USSR – and was tightly controlled by the Soviet Union. It has been thirty years since the collapse of that regime so maybe people have forgotten how dysfunctional it was. With regards to what we’re discussing here, the USSR designed, built and operated some very inferior nuclear power plants. Safety systems were minimal and unreliable; the plant operators were cowed into compliance even when they knew things were not right. The basic design of the four Chernobyl units – the RBMK reactor – is notoriously unstable. Chernobyl Unit 4 was as unlike a western nuclear power plant as you could imagine and still be an electric generating station.

I am not nearly as familiar with the events surrounding the Chernobyl disaster as I am with TMI, or as with Fukushima. That’s largely due to the secrecy imposed in the aftermath by the Soviets, which was not relaxed all that much by Yeltsin’s Russia after the USSR’s demise. And good luck getting anything out of Putin. I wouldn’t be surprised if officials of the now independent Ukraine aren’t privy to the details. I did find the HBO show Chernobyl to be illuminating, however. Worth a view.

Briefly, for whatever reason, the agencies responsible for nuclear plant operations in the USSR ordered a test to be performed at the Unit 4 reactor which would demonstrate whether the latent heat of the reactor after an emergency shutdown could supply the turbine with enough steam to power the reactor coolant pumps until backup generators could come online. It was ill-advised because it required disabling safety systems designed to shut the plant down when key plant parameters were exceeded. It also involved operating the plant in a manner outside its design limits. The reactor responded badly to the test, power increased at a rate far beyond limits and entered an operating region that was uncontrollable. A steam explosion occurred due to the excessive power level and the reactor essentially blew its top. A fire ensued. The fire is key because the RBMK used graphite as part of its core design and the graphite caught fire, resulting in an inferno that was extremely difficult to put out. The heat plume from the raging fire sent highly radioactive material into the atmosphere where it was carried by winds to neighboring regions.

But bad as it was, it wasn’t as bad as some nuclear doom-sayers said it would be. Many people died trying control the fire and plenty more died in the local region due to radiation poisoning, cancers. Certainly, this was the worst nuclear disaster we have experienced. However, predictions of enormous swaths of land uninhabitable for centuries have not borne out. The area surrounding Chernobyl is still abnormally radioactive but wildlife is flourishing. It isn’t the post-nuclear wasteland many predicted. The Ukraine, including Kiev, are fine and countries further away that were in the path of the plume have no significant residual contamination. I should mention that the other three units at Chernobyl eventually resumed operation. They probably shouldn’t have.

Fukushima. Fukushima teaches a lesson and that lesson is that TMI already taught the lesson. Ignore it at your peril. The Japanese nuclear regulatory agencies were lax in their oversight and failed to insist the plants adopt newly-developed safety measures, as is routinely done in the US.

The six-unit Fukushima Daiichi plant, located about 250 km from Tokyo on the Pacific coast, was inundated by a tsunami generated by a large earthquake centered offshore which caused massive damage to the country. The plant’s seawall was inadequate to hold back the rising water which subsequently flooded most of the plant, including vital safety equipment. Units 1 – 4 were most affected, with the newer units 5 and 6 being better protected. Of the four affected units, 1 – 3 were operating; Unit 4 was shutdown for refueling. Units 1 – 3 each suffered substantial core meltdown.

The details are not as involved as at TMI, which had in my opinion more numerous sub-failures, but briefly the floodwaters disabled the emergency diesel generators, located at low elevation (i.e., below the level of the seawall). Without the diesels, the plant safety systems were left with only the emergency batteries, which were not designed to last very long. The four reactors eventually lost electric power and injection of core cooling water terminated. Without continual cooling water, the cores in 1 – 3 overheated and melted. The core for unit 4 had been removed to the spent fuel pool. There was some concern with the spent fuel pool conditions post-accident but they turned out to be unfounded.

Fukushima has become a major economic disaster not only for the utility that operated the plant but for Japan as a whole. Regulators and government officials shut down the entire Japanese nuclear industry in the aftermath and it still hasn’t fully recovered. Prior to Fukushima, the country relied on nuclear power for some 30% of its electricity, all of which had to be replaced by non-renewable power during the shutdown. In the years since, many of the reactors have either restarted or are gaining approval to do so. Meanwhile, the cleanup effort at the Fukushima plant and the Fukushima prefecture is ongoing and very, very expensive.

It’s not my intent to minimize the extent of the Fukushima disaster. It surely was the worst accident to occur with Western built reactors (Fukushima’s reactors were designed by General Electric, one of the four reactor suppliers in the US). The only points I will offer are: one, such failures are very rare and should be evaluated in context of the industry’s record as a whole, particularly in comparison to that of competing industries. An examination of the coal, gas and oil industries will quickly expose far greater environmental and economic damage, damage that includes worsening climate change. Moreover, far more people have died and are dying from fossil fuel use than can be attributed to radiation exposures. My second point is that the recovery from the disaster has been a bit of a disaster itself, mainly due to unreasonable fears of radioactive contamination preventing engineers from doing what needs to be done: use the Pacific Ocean as a heat sink and a source of dilution. Rather than build hundreds of storage tanks to hold the radioactive water used to cool the disabled cores, a pipeline could be constructed to carry the water far out to sea where it would mix with ocean currents. The resultant increase in ocean radioactivity would be extremely minimal due to the enormous dilution factor, and would be localized at that. Such is the state nuclear power today – even reasonable recovery and mitigation efforts are thwarted by ignorance.

Current Regulatory Environment. The USNRC has long set a good standard for safety and has in my estimation has properly directed efforts to learn from Fukushima as we did with TMI (Chernobyl was irrelevant – the RBMK reactor design and Soviet regulatory practices were so far afield from western reactors and regulations that no real lessons could be learned, other than to do what you can to keep nuclear technology from countries like the USSR). Not long after regulators and industry experts determined what exactly had gone wrong to allow the Fukushima accident to happen, the NRC developed a two-phase plan. Phase I was guidelines (some were mandatory actions) for the industry to use to determine if similar vulnerabilities existed at US plants. Phase II comprised regulations implemented to address the vulnerabilities with utilities having a certain period of time to make physical and procedural changes that would assure Fukushima-like accidents would not occur. Unfortunately, the NRC now has three Trump-appointed commissioners and they voted to shelve Phase II of the Fukushima effort.  How far Trump’s commissioners have degraded the NRC’s history of safety consciousness in favor of a ‘good for business’ regulatory atmosphere remains to be seen (think of the cozy relationship Boeing has/had to FAA regulators, resulting in the 737 Max 8 mess).

With a few exceptions (Davis Besse, Grand Gulf, Diablo Canyon), nuclear utility operators have always been very safety-conscious. They want nothing to do with a potential accident – it’s bad for business. Even those plants that have skirted too close to the safety line (such as the three I just listed) still operated well above Fukushima levels of safety compliance and have had increased regulatory scrutiny. Moreover, as mentioned above, after TMI an industry watchdog group – the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) – was created to monitor individual plant safety performance and to provide a vehicle for sharing important technical information between utilities. Recall that knowledge of a the faulty relief valve design was never shared with other plants, including TMI. INPO now has in place a repository of data regarding equipment and procedural issues available to all utilities. Indeed, plants are committed to inform INPO of any such issues as they come up. In terms of monitoring operations, all plants are subjected to periodic inspections by INPO, inspections that comprise audits of past operations as well as monitoring current operations.

My Stance. I no longer work in the nuclear industry and I derive no source of income from when I did. As the saying goes, I have no horse in this race. If every nuclear plant in this country was shutdown tomorrow, I would lose nothing. But I do still have a considerable amount of knowledge from my decades of work in the industry. So here’s what I think should be done:

  • Shutdown vulnerable plants. I’m not in favor of shutting down good nuclear plants before their design life expires but as they come up on that milestone, strict scrutiny and application of the latest data and protocols need to be employed to determine whether a license extension should be granted. For sure, if any existing GE designed BWR’s are still operating with Fukushima vulnerabilities, maybe we should pull the plug on them.
  • Accelerate construction of new generation reactors. Several good, improved designs are out there. The new Westinghouse reactors coming online as Units 3 & 4 of the Vogtle plant in Georgia are an example of a large-scale design but there are also a few small-reactor designs that have passed various regulatory approval stages and are eligible for preliminary licensing. Smaller plants are cheaper and have greater inherent safety with respect to major disasters (they are much less likely to suffer core meltdown). Smaller plants are easier to site, both from a local regulatory and public resistance stance as well as not needing as large a heat sink for cooling. And being new designs, they benefit from the latest technology and innovations.
  • Strengthen NRC independence (not sure how but certainly we need scientific experts not lobbyists). The NRC is already an independent agency (like the EPA) so is not under the president’s authority. As we have see with Trump, that doesn’t mean the president can’t set their agenda. We need the NRC to do their job, as they have done for most of the agency’s existence.

I don’t expect the long-anticipated nuclear renaissance will come about in my lifetime, if ever. What with the alarming increase in not only ignorance but vilification of science and scientific expertise in the last decade or so, I can’t imagine the country will accept large scale nuclear power as a solution to climate change. Indeed, many progressive elements in the country who are working to stem the climate crisis still can’t seem to get past their long-held, irrational fears of radiation and radioactive waste. And if Trump gets elected again, all bets are off.

July 4, 2021

I’m not a big Independence Day, patriotic, flag-waving kind of guy and July 4th 2021 is really no different. But this year I put up an American flag on the front porch. I wouldn’t even have a suitable flag to display were it not for the three that my wife and I have from various relatives dying. Today’s flag was that which was presented to my mother on the death of my father, a career Army man.

Why this year? Not long ago, someone on the local Nextdoor internet site crowed that he walked around and could not find a single house displaying a US flag and a Biden campaign sign, clearly suggesting that liberals are unAmerican. That guy clearly is a nazi Trump supporter and fuck him. But also fuck the Republican Party as a whole for co-opting the flag as their own. Liberals need to reclaim their national symbol.

So the flag went up but at the same time, I moved our bleeding-heart liberal ‘welcome to all neighbors’ sign to a spot just beneath. Nearby on the other side of the house, our BLM sign continues to proclaim similar lefty sentiments. No Biden sign, although we still have it from last year’s campaign season.

Liberals – remember, I’m one – as a group tend to point out a lot of things wrong with this country, more so than do conservatives anyway. Racial injustice, income equality, warmongering, the 2nd Amendment, crappy health care system, and so on. Liberals tend not to extol the country’s virtues as many conservatives are quick to do, although their idea of ‘virtues’ often seem rooted in the 1950’s. You know, the good ol’ days of Eisenhower and McCarthy, colored people drinking fountains, Hollywood blacklisting. Conservatives also like to use any excuse to praise the military, all the time, something that aggravates this veteran to no end. As Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station – a combat veteran who you need to follow – recently expressed, July 4th is not ‘Military Day’ and there’s no need to thank the veterans; it’s a day to celebrate ALL of America. Couldn’t agree more.

So where does that leave folks who are mostly OK with the USA but don’t want to stick their heads in the sand when it comes to all our national societal failures? It’s a difficult question, particularly if you’re not terribly up on the state of the world as a whole as a way of comparison. This blog is normally almost entirely my opinions and words but here’s one guy’s take on America that strikes a balance on Independence Day, I think. Jeff is a Marine Iraq war veteran posting on his page Unprecedented Mediocrity:

Without exception, reservation, or qualification, I will always be proud of the United States of America. That’s not to say that [there have not been] some great moral evils in our past. How this great nation could simultaneously enshrine the notion that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator certain inalienable rights while simultaneously making other men property of those men is beyond me.

Yes, the ramifications of that injustice persist today as you cannot have two families walk down those very opposite paths and wind up at the same destination. With each generation, we are getting closer to merging those two timelines. I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime, but I can either commit myself to pulling them closer together or pushing them further apart. As [for me] and my household, I will commit my days to pulling them together.

Manifest Destiny led to some pretty terrible atrocities against the native people and friends, we’ve had airplanes longer than women have had the right to vote in this country. Despite acts of inexplicable gallantry, men of color could not command white men in what we call the greatest generation.

My mom went to segregated schools and as such, it was not that far back in history, one generation, where black and white kids couldn’t go to the same schools. America has gotten much wrong but that is only because our nation is infested with humans and we are [fallible] fallen creatures. Which brings me to my point.

I will always be proud of America because we have always shown that we are willing to self correct. Let’s face it, just 60 to 75 years ago, humans conquered other humans and did terrible things to one another on an unprecedented scale. That’s humanity’s story, not the singular story of the United States.

I’ve [traveled] the world in both war and peace and I’m here to tell you, the rest of those people outside our borders are not exactly acing the humanity test either. Not even you Canada, you’re close, but you still got that jacked up bacon thing that frequently pisses me off.

Friends, the world is not getting it right and neither are we. However, we are self correcting. Slowly and painfully, we are riding that long [arc] of the moral universe that bends toward justice. We fight and argue with each other and that’s largely because we liked each other a lot more before we knew what our countrymen felt about every single topic on the internet. January 6th was a travesty, but I’m here to tell you that if it were any other country, if our democratic institutions were just a bit weaker, our elected government would have fallen.

We have a lot of self correcting to go and I’m not foolish enough to think that I’ll see perfect in my lifetime, so I’ll guess I’ll have to settle for ‘Merica, better than the rest of the world. Because sooner or later, we self correct. Granted, not always as [quickly corrected as] that prohibition on alcohol thing, but sooner or later, we get there.

That’s why I am now and always will be proud of the United States of America. To all my friends judging from other nations, I leave you with a July 4th, screw you buddy your country can’t human any better than we can. Now, if you will excuse me I have to go watch my fellow Americans start an insane amount of wildfires today as a result of ignorant firework usage. We [are] trying to human better, we really are, but ‘Merica!

Agree with Jeff or not, he makes more sense than most. Perhaps he has more faith in our ‘self-correcting’ than warranted but it’s an optimistic sentiment. Perhaps you think certain other countries *are* doing human better. Maybe. Surely not many.

Here’s to leaving a better America – and world – to our (someone else’s) children. Here’s to self-correcting.

Some truths*

* As I see them.

  • There is no god. Not yours, not his, not hers. People would do better coming to grips with that fact and live their one life as best they can. Mostly, religious people need to stop screwing things up for the rest of us just because we don’t believe in your particular flavor of god. Be kind to one another. That’s the only rule that counts.
  • There are too many people on this planet. Overpopulation is the root cause of virtually all the really bad things that have happened and are happening to humans. Wars, famine, plagues, pollution, religion. I do not automatically think it a ‘blessing’ when people have children. We could use more child-less couples. Or adoptions.
  • Evidence-based decisions are the only way to decide policy. And by evidence-based, I mean supported by peer-reviewed, testable science. Sure, we don’t know how everything works, but we know a hell of a lot more than that moron you follow on Facebook or Twitter does. For example:
  • Vaccines are safe and they save people from horrible diseases and death. The body of evidence for this is so fucking huge that it’s mind-boggling that people believe otherwise.
  • GMOs are safe and provide enormous value towards supplying the world with nutritional food. Yes, there are issues with seed patents and corporate greed but the actual product is very beneficial.
  • Nuclear power is safe and is the only base-load generation technology we currently have that will make a dent in climate change. Yes, I know about Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. In fact, I know a hell of a lot more about those disasters than you probably do. They were bad but not as bad as what literally every other base-load power generation technology has wrought. If you don’t know what base-load means, find out. It’s important.
  • Speaking of human-caused climate change, yeah, it’s real. It’s happening and it’s not the same thing as what happened on Earth 12,000 years ago, or whenever. Human civilization has spread across the entire world and it really isn’t going to be a good thing when the various farm belts that feed the population go too dry, or too wet, or too cold. It’s already happening and future generations will be left with a far less sustainable planet if we don’t stop doing what we’re doing now. We have options.

That’s it. There are more truths out there of course but these are some of the important, pressing truths.

Oh, yeah, we landed men on the moon. It happened.

Some Federal Reforms for President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer to Consider

Recent BLM protests in various cities (including in my town of Bend, Oregon) have brought further into light the proliferation of federal law enforcement agencies. During the Portland protests, great concern was raised over the virtually anonymous agents tasked to respond by the federal government. We couldn’t tell who they were or which agency they worked for. After some probing by the media, several law enforcement agencies have been involved, including ICE, CBP, and, shockingly, the National Park Police. Can you imagine being a park police officer and being sent to some city to quell riots? That’s not what they signed up for, I imagine. And why is CBP operating so far away from the border?

I’d like the roles of federal law enforcement agencies clarified and limited. Park police should not operate outside the parks; CBP should stick to the borders. Some probably don’t need to exist as separate agencies. ATF and DEA, for example. How about we just empower the Federal Marshals and FBI to enforce all federal laws? In concert with state law enforcement agencies, of course.

In a similar vein, I’d like to see the role of military and quasi-military forces clarified. Specifically, I’d like to see the Posse Comitatus Act amended to exclude the exception involving the Insurrection Act (which should have been repealed a long time ago). The president should not have the power to interpret domestic unrest situations so liberally as to allow deployment of US armed forces where there is no need, as Trump has. I’d like to see an exception to provide for the governor of a state to request help from the US military but only to supplement that state’s national guard. In other words, the US troops would be under the command of the governor, not the president.

Finally, and in a different vein, I’d like to see restrictions put in place regarding deployment of National Guard and Coast Guard units overseas. The national guards of the various states should be tasked with helping out in their state only, or a neighboring state if that state’s governor requests it. There should be no sending guard units to fight in Iraq or anywhere else. Similarly, the US Coast Guard should be restricted to protecting the coastline of the US. I’m pretty sure a lot of young Americans have considered guard duty because of a desire to serve the citizens of their state but were deterred by the mass deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. If the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines need help fighting a war, implement the draft.

The Fall of the American Republic

Or the ‘American Experiment’ as it has been called. Lately I’ve become convinced the country is failing, perhaps irreversibly. Even if we throw Trump out of office in November, a continued slide into mediocrity – or worse – may be inevitable. Consider:

  • Americans are about equally divided along political lines. Progressives (the Left) continue to hold a slight majority but not enough to overcome challenges placed by the Right. This in of itself is not new. The US has been politically polarized before. I don’t know if the current situation is any worse than prior instances of polarization but it’s a huge factor right now.
  • Elections have been and continue to be compromised by the Right. Gerrymandering, voter purges, voter harassment, lies about mail-in voting fraud, and other measures to illegitimately swing the vote Republican even in Democratic majority districts are rampant, and effective. Even the US Postal Service is in play as Republicans attempt to do whatever they can to derail mail-in voting. Some of the these tactics have been employed to a lesser extent by Democrats in the past but the Republicans have made it a priority and they’re very good at it.
  • The justice system is significantly compromised. Having a US Supreme Court seat nomination unconstitutionally taken from a sitting president is the most obvious example but that’s certainly not the extent of it. US circuit courts and district courts are increasingly packed with right wing judges who rule along party lines rather than the law. We now have a majority right wing Supreme Court when it should be left leaning. Incredibly, Brett Kavanaugh has a lifetime seat on the court and Ruth Bader Ginsberg is gone.
  • Twice with the past three presidents, the majority vote winner did not win the White House. Trump lost the vote by a significant margin to Clinton and Gore narrowly edged Bush only to have the archaic Electoral College install both Republicans in office.
  • With the US Senate in the hands of Mitch McConnell – he who stole Obama’s court seat and he who publicly made it his primary purpose to “ensure Obama is a one-term president”- Americans can expect nothing good from Congress. We may well be able to right this particular situation in November with a Democratic majority but I’m not hopeful.
  • With the three branches of federal government each compromised, where do Americans turn for relief from governmental abuse of power?

The federal government is in ruins with respect to serving Americans, non-wealthy Americans and people of color in particular. Trump has made it his mission to not only dismantle federal agencies but also use them for his personal benefit.

Trump has ridiculed and alienated our allies, turning some of them into near enemies. His policies on trade, military alliances, the UN, the WHO and other things have made the rest of the world consider the US an unreliable partner. Even a favorable election result in November can’t fully repair this particular harm when other countries know that in four years, it could happen again. Consider recent history with George W Bush and how he alienated a lot of our allies. When Obama was elected, they breathed massive sighs of relief. Eight years later, Trump.

If you take the signing of the Declaration of Independence as the start (a dubious choice but not that important), the United States of America is 244 years old. In that time, we have pretty much continually marched forward in terms of making ‘a more perfect union’ as the US Constitution promises. Sure, there have been setbacks, there has been strife and injustices, but mostly, it’s been forward. Until now. Absent a major conflict that overwhelms the regular order of government (Civil War, WWII, for example), I don’t think there’s been a time in our history where the country’s democratic processes have retreated as they have during the Trump administration.

It is said prior to each presidential election that that election is the most important choice we face. Hyperbole, generally. That said, this November We The People will truly choose our fate, provided the Republican political machine allows it. A return to our march forward toward democratic ideals, or continued descent into fascism. Even if we decide the former, we will have a lot of work to do. Collapsing the divide among our citizens and restoring the courts will be challenging. Perhaps too much so.

I despair.

My Constitutional Amendments

Or at least my ideas for amendments. Crafting any change to the constitution requires careful thought to limit unintended consequences.

1. Equal Rights Amendment. Already written but needs to be revised to include sexual orientation: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex or sexual orientation.”  In fact, why don’t we just clearly include everything: gender, race, religious affiliation, national origin.

2. Term Limits. Until recently, I’ve not been a great fan of term limits because I thought people should elect anyone they want. But recently I’ve become convinced that the power of the incumbency is too great an obstacle to proper functioning of our republic. So, 18 years in the House and Senate; 12 in the White House (yes, that adds a third term).

3. Abolish the Electoral College. The president and vice-president will be elected by popular vote. Recently, I read about a way to effectively abolish the Electoral College that doesn’t require an amendment or Congressional action. States have the right and power to apportion electoral votes as they see fit as determined by state law. So, each state could enact a law to give the entirety of the electoral college votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote.

4. Corporations Are Not People. Override Citizen’s United and any decisions in inferior courts that led to Citizen’s United.

5. Repeal the Second Amendment. I’m not proposing we ban guns. I’m proposing that owning them not be a constitutional right and thus ownership can be regulated like any other hazard.

6. Independent Redistricting. I’m not sure what system will work best – they all have pitfalls. But I propose to ban legislators picking their voters. Let’s get back to voters picking legislators.

7. Replace the 1st, 5th and 14th Amendments. Replace them with something that more clearly defines free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, equal rights, due process. I don’t propose we restrict or expand these rights and freedoms, just make them less susceptible to bizarre Supreme Court interpretation. See Citizen’s United. All enumerated rights shall clearly state applicability. I.e., rights granted to citizens only, to legal residents, to anyone on US soil. In no case shall a US citizen be deprived of rights under the constitution including that of habeas corpus. I.e., no indefinite detentions without a prompt hearing before a judge.

8. Constitutionalize Marbury v Madison. The constitution doesn’t actually give the Supreme Court the final say on what is and what isn’t constitutional. Make it so.

9. Article III Judges. There shall be nine justices of the Supreme Court. No fewer, no greater. Justices of the Supreme Court and all inferior federal judges are limited to a single 18 year term on any particular level of court (including all justices and judges currently sitting when the amendment gets adopted). The president shall have the power to fill any Article III vacancy without Senate consent after a time period has passed and the Senate has not voted on a valid nomination. Confirmation of a Supreme Court justice shall require at least 60 votes in the Senate; all others require a majority vote. If a nominee gets a vote but fails to garner sufficient votes for confirmation, the time clock for nomination and confirmation resets. A nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court shall be limited to those judges currently sitting on one of the eleven Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals (with a new 18-year term limit). A nominee for a seat on one of the eleven circuit courts shall be limited to judges currently sitting on a federal district court or one of the state highest courts. All nominees for federal court shall be members in good standing of a state bar. The nine members of the Supreme Court shall choose one of their group to be Chief Justice for a term to be specified (i.e., someone gets to be Chief for say, two years, then goes back to being an associate justice).

10. Citizenship. Anyone born in any state of the union, or the District of Columbia, shall be a citizen at birth. Anyone born with at least one biological parent a US citizen shall be a citizen at birth. These will be defined as ‘natural-born citizens”. Anyone born in a US territory shall not be a citizen at birth unless a parent is a citizen of one of the states or DC. Note: At present, people born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands are ‘natural-born’ citizens. I propose that these territories and the other territories can decide for themselves if they want to become US states and until they do, anyone born there will not be a natural-born US citizen. Anyone who serves honorably on active duty in any of the armed forces – including the Coast Guard – for a set length of time (12 years?) shall gain citizenship, as will their spouse provided the spouse also meets the time requirement. Children born to an active-duty service-member will be granted citizenship when the parent gets it.

11. District of Columbia. DC shall gain full representation in the US House and the Senate. Citizens of the district shall have full voting rights in presidential elections.

12. Census/Representation. A census shall be conducted every ten years to count the number of citizens and permanent residents in each state. The census shall not ask nor determine any other demographic count. Someone else can determine the whole population of the US if we want that number. Representation in the US House shall be apportioned according to each state’s number of citizens at the time of census.

13. Presidential Pardons. The president shall have the power to pardon any person, with exceptions, for any criminal conviction, federal or state. The president shall not have self-pardon power, nor the power to pardon any person closely associated with the president. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia shall have original jurisdiction to determine whether a person is closely associated to the president but that group shall include all current and former members of the president’s administration.

14. Cabinet Positions. Upon resignation or removal of a Senate-confirmed member of the cabinet, the current Senate-confirmed deputy shall assume the duties and responsibilities of the office until a Senate-confirmed successor is appointed. If no Senate-confirmed deputy is currently in office, the Speaker of the House shall appoint an acting deputy who will assume the duties of the cabinet member until a Senate-confirmed successor is appointed.

15. Immigration. There shall be a statute of limitations for deportation of ten years. I.e., anyone who resides in the US illegally for ten continuous years shall be granted legal resident status regardless of their criminal status otherwise. This is not to grant immigration amnesty to ex-Nazis and other heinous criminals just because they eluded notice for ten years but to prevent people who have been here for a long time and who have done nothing wrong other than cross the border earlier in their lives from being ripped away from their families and deported to a country they don’t know. It will also encourage long-time illegals to fully become part of our society.

16. Federal Elections (President/Vice-president, US House, US Senate, US Constitutional Amendments). The US Federal Elections Commission shall conduct, regulate and monitor all federal elections. State and local elections may attach to the federal elections but in no instance will any election for federal office or amendment to the US constitution be governed by state law (note that I am also calling for getting rid of the Electoral College so state apportionment of electoral votes becomes a non-issue). A federal state-specific voter ID card will be created and administered by the US Federal Elections Commission. No one shall vote in a federal election except upon presenting a valid voter ID, except for marking a provisional ballot when there’s a dispute as to eligibility of the voter. Federal voter IDs shall be available to all citizens upon showing proof of state residency (criteria determined by the FEC) at specified federal and state offices. No undue travel or financial burden shall be imposed for obtaining an ID card or to vote. A federal voter ID card shall be valid proof of state residency and voting eligibility for state-wide offices and questions. States can still require something with proof of current address for local elections and questions. States can also set up federally approved mail-in elections, such as Oregon has.

17. Federal Elections Part II. All eligible voters are required to vote absent good excuse as determined by the FEC or Congress. Good excuses shall be very liberal. Federal election days will be state and federal holidays. All federal elections will provide for at least a two-week early voting period.

18. War Powers. The US Congress shall retain the sole power to declare war. The president shall have the power to initiate and conduct hostilities as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces pending an Act of Congress to declare war, terminate hostilities or authorize limited armed conflict. Declaration of war shall require, at a minimum, initiation of the draft. In no case shall the National Guard of any State be federalized into active duty in the US armed forces unless a declaration of war has been issued by Congress. All citizens shall register for the Selective Service upon their 18th birthday. Upon declaration of war by Congress, all permanent residents of the US between 18 and 35 years of age shall register with the Selective Service.

 

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

A line from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2, oft represented as antagonistic towards lawyers. In fact – or in opinion, if you will – William Shakespeare probably meant it as a compliment to the legal profession in that they held society together through the rule of law. A bulwark against anarchy. You’ll find that a common if not popular interpretation and it’s one that was presented to us neophyte law students pretty much on the first day of orientation. Law professors love Shakespeare.

But as I said, it’s not the popular interpretation. Most non-lawyers think it suggests that lawyers are a bane of society rather than a bulwark, and should be eliminated. Personal injury lawyers are ambulance chasers and the reason we have stupid labels on virtually every product made warning us against incredibly obvious dangers is because of lawyers. Why, wasn’t it lawyers who successfully sued McDonald’s because their coffee was hot? And the US Congress is chock full of lawyers and look how well that works. We should ban lawyers from Congress!

Well, no, we shouldn’t and that brings me to my point. Rather than ban lawyers, we should require law degrees of all our Congressional Representatives and Senators. Seriously.

Why? Because Shakespeare (if you subscribe to that interpretation) was right. We as a society are held together because of our respect for and adherence to the Rule of Law. Intentional caps. Without the rule of law, we’re just a bunch of savages trying to survive as best we can, taking what we need from whomever we can. A little harsh?  You wouldn’t be like that? No, me neither. But what you and I would do is band together with like-minded folks and establish a society where the rights and liberties of all are respected. In other words, establish the rule of law.

I think – I hope – that’s a concept that most of us can agree with. The rule of law is a good thing. But that leaves us with two questions: one, what laws should we have and two, why do we need lawyers? Can’t reasonable people just agree on common sense laws that everyone can understand?

I’ll leave the first question alone – not because it isn’t as important (it is in fact much more important) but because the second one is the least understood, I think.

Let me make this statement: Law is hard. While it certainly isn’t beyond the grasp of most intelligent people, it is not a subject amenable to casual scrutiny by the even most intelligent among us. The concepts are often arcane, deriving from centuries of formulation and refinement. I reckon most people can’t so much as describe what is meant by the term Common Law much less apply it to the specific legal issues where it’s relevant. I know I couldn’t before going to law school. Yet it underpins our legal system, stemming from our country’s English heritage. And that’s just common law. Statutory law, while often easier to grasp, presents its own set of difficulties. Laws are written in a language that often defies common interpretation.

One such misinterpretation is the term ‘assault’. Ever wonder why a criminal charge is often termed ‘assault and battery’? Isn’t that redundant? No, because assault in legal terms (in most but not all jurisdictions) doesn’t mean what it does in common English. It doesn’t mean to ‘attack’ someone physically. In legal terms, it means to create an apprehension and fear of bodily harm, coupled with the apparent ability to carry out the threat immediately. Assault is the (credible) threat; battery is carrying through with the threat. The two terms are necessary because each act constitutes a crime and one doesn’t depend on the other. You can commit a battery without assault, and vice versa. Laws are written just so and, as I said, often use uncommon language. Otherwise, ambiguities may arise making it difficult to determine what crime someone may have committed or whether they committed one at all. Legal terms are far more specific and defined than those we use in everyday language, and I argue they should be. Think about, say, banking law and imagine the complexities of terminology and concepts that go well beyond the average person’s understanding. Use of proper legal terminology and phraseology help define and constrain interpretations to what was intended. Laws shouldn’t be subject to challenge because – to use a popular internet meme – “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

Constitutional law presents a whole different array of difficulties to casual interpretation. Not only does one have to parse what the words mean, one has to determine what they meant two hundred years ago. One might have hoped the framers of our most important legal document would have written the thing in plainer language, maybe even provided some definition of terminology. It’s hard enough to apply an 18th or 19th century standard to 21st century reality when things the framers could not have imagined are part of our world today (say, the internet or well-funded political action committees) but it’s often difficult to determine what they meant when they wrote it. Equally important, does it matter what the framers were thinking? Maybe we should just go with what the words meant when they were written without regard to intent? Just this week, a controversy erupted over the 14th Amendment’s birthright citizenship clause with some interpreting it to only apply to the recently freed slaves. That interpretation has been repeatedly tossed into the historical dust bin but here we are again. And what exactly were the framers thinking with the phrase “A well regulated Militia …”  anyway? We don’t have the sort of militias today that were in existence when the Bill of Rights was adopted. Does the 1st Amendment’s right to free speech really apply to corporate campaign contributions? Are corporations people?

These are questions the justices of the US Supreme Court grapple with in deciding cases based on constitutional law. Some prefer what is called the doctrine of ‘original intent’ and say the document doesn’t apply to issues not part of the 18th/19th century world unless they can be enveloped within the words as written back then, while some prefer to apply the constitution in the light of modern reality. There are valid arguments on both sides. But either way, the justices must interpret two documents to decide constitutionality: the constitution itself and the particular law in question. The justices, therefore, must be well-versed in the law and its terminology, roots and concepts. That’s the reason I think candidates for the Supreme Court should be required to have considerable legal and appellate judicial experience. Most do and have, but not all.

OK, but that’s the Supreme Court. What about Congress? Let me frame my answer by asking this: do you really want the Supreme Court working hard to figure out what exactly Congress meant when it drafted a law? Or would it be better if the law was well-crafted, legally speaking, in the first place? Even if it was, that doesn’t mean the law is constitutional but it would be far easier to determine constitutionality if it was written by legislators with legal training. Moreover, we need laws written by people who have at least a decent understanding of the constitution, using whichever doctrine they choose to interpret it. We need laws written in such a way that they conform to the language of our legal system and stand a better chance of not being challenged and possibly struck down by the Supreme Court. Lawyers, or at least those who have law degrees, are who we need to write laws. The idea of ‘citizen legislators’ might sound appealing, but on the national level, it often just results in having people who don’t know what they’re doing running the country. The Rule of Law only works if the laws are coherent.

One might argue that my point is invalid because Congress is already, as I implied above, ‘chock full of lawyers.’ That’s true, but it would be worse if fewer had legal training. Then not only would they pass laws that ignore or distort political, social, scientific and international realities (and they do that so often these days) but the language of the bills would more often not even carry out their intent, making a complete hash of things that the Supreme Court has to untangle.

Before anyone gets their hackles up and starts firing off inflammatory screeds in the comment section, keep in mind two other things. First, in order to get an ABA-approved law degree in this country, you must first have a bachelors degree in something. Doesn’t matter what. So all law school graduates (OK, there may be some exceptions) are also educated in some other field. That in itself considerably broadens the experience pool to virtually every academic field. Each congressional committee could comprise legislators that not only have legal acumen but relevant training in the subject matter. The Science and Technology Committees would be composed of people with science degrees who can better understand the technical issues and who have the legal training to draft coherent bills to implement the desired policy changes without stomping on people’s civil rights. So too with Banking Committees, Education Committees, Arts Committees, and so on.

Second, I’m only advocating that Congress comprise those who have law degrees, not necessarily have practiced law. I have never practiced law, for example, but I have a law degree. So I’m reasonably fluent in law and can interpret laws, the constitution and court decisions, certainly much better than I could before getting the degree (said fluency is diminishing over time, of course). Before I got the law degree, I was like you. I thought Shakespeare hated lawyers.

Not that I’m running for Congress.

Nazis

Nazis. I hate ’em. My father fought against them in WWII. We won, so why are they still here? Why?

Trump not only tolerates white supremacists (Nazis), he actively courted them in his campaign. One of his chief advisors is a fucking Nazi. That makes Trump a Nazi sympathizer.

Republicans knew what he was but still elected Trump and the GOP Congress are nothing but petty, immoral facilitators of Trump’s agenda. McConnell and Ryan are scum.

Fuck them, fuck Trump, fuck anyone who voted for him.

Cops Who Are Fearful

Too often lately I read about someone getting killed by a police officer in circumstances where the cop claims to have feared for his/her own safety. The incidents are numerous and I don’t need to detail any of them here.

My point is this: police officers face dangerous situations where ordinary people might become fearful. But cops are not ordinary people. I’m not saying they are superhuman or inhuman. I’m saying they are in a job where their overarching duty is to go into dangerous situations and protect the public from harm. Protect them, not shoot them.

If a cop claims to have feared for his life because he thought the person in from of him was pulling a gun, then that cop should not be on the force. As a citizen, I require cops to have a much higher threshold of fear than that before using deadly force.

We need to change the law that allows the defense of a reasonable fear for safety to justify use of deadly force. Police should be required to encounter actual deadly circumstances – not just perceived ones – before firing a weapon at someone. Police training needs to change, too.

Better laws, better training, better cops. Better pay, too.