Trump’s Legal Jeopardy

Alan Zendell, October 15, 2021

Give the former president credit for one thing – he can still make people wring their hands worrying about the future. It’s his principal stock in trade, and he uses it indiscriminately. Upsetting and frightening Americans is his knee jerk response to his own anger and anxiety. Isn’t it incredible, after five-and-a-half years during which he raised the stress level of the nation to unprecedented levels on a daily basis, that seven months into the Biden administration, the most serious concern of most Americans is the possibility that Trump may find a path back to power?  

Stop worrying, he won’t. America is a massive, complex organism with enormous startup inertia. When it comes to Trump’s potential legal problems, honest people who recognize the threat he poses are working deliberately, every day, to bring him to justice. Be patient. These things take time. Every “i” must be dotted and “t” crossed to be certain the courts have the evidence they need. If this were Russia, Vladimir Putin would have his goons arrest Trump and throw away the key, but that’s not how we do things in America. Neutralizing Trump’s influence on our politics is the surest way to guarantee it will stay that way.

Most of us saw what happened on January 6th, which was merely the conclusion of the sixty-four-day nightmare Trump put the country through after Joe Biden defeated Trump on November 3rd. If you believe the evidence of your own eyes and ears, you know Trump was both the driver and the catalyst for all of it. Countless millions of dollars were wasted in legal battles that resulted in Trump’s lies and alternate facts being thrown out of every court he appealed to at both state and federal levels. The barrage of lies and venom spewing from the former president since then make the physical threat represented by the attack on the Capitol a metaphor for the nonstop state of siege Trump has kept us under.

Trump continues to make noise because he knows it’s effective when people are too lazy to think for themselves. On the other hand, the January Sixth Select House Committee is populated by serious lawmakers, prosecutors, and investigators, who do not share Trump’s desperate need for attention. Don’t be fooled by their silence. It means they’re working hard and effectively. Despite the whining of Trump and his sycophants that the Committee is biased, its members have all demonstrated their commitment to principle and defending the Constitution. The presence on the Committee of former Assistant Attorney General Adam Schiff (D-CA), constitutional scholar Jamie Raskin (D-MD), and principled conservatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) give me great confidence that they will succeed.

The Committee is in high gear as the deadline for responding to subpoenas has passed. Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) set the proper tone responding to Steve Bannon’s refusal to appear before the committee. Bannon claimed he couldn’t testify because Trump exercised Executive Privilege despite a few obstacles to his argument: Trump did not exercise Executive Privilege; Trump cannot exercise it, since only a sitting president can; President Biden has waived it for all subpoenaed witnesses; Bannon did not work for Trump when the events being investigated occurred. Chairman Thompson referred Bannon for criminal contempt, signaling that the Committee intends to play hardball with anyone who obstructs it.

So far, most of Trump’s aides are playing a delaying game, which is probably a good thing, because they’re forcing the Committee’s hand. Thompson means business, and his determination to see it through means the issue will be resolved (relatively) quickly by the courts. That will pop Trump’s fantasy balloon that he still controls things and expose his vulnerability. Representative Schiff told the New York Times that Trump will definitely try to run for president again, because “it’s a pathology” with him, and he thinks it will keep him from being prosecuted.

I’m sure it won’t, because of people like Jeffrey Rosen, who Trump appointed Acting AG following William Barr’s resignation. It’s well documented, thanks to Bob Woodward, that Trump tried to strongarm Rosen to use the Justice Department to overturn the 2020 election and undermine the Constitution. We know from Trump’s own words that Rosen refused and would have been replaced by a more accommodating DOJ attorney, Jeffrey Clark, if not for the rebellion of the Department’s senior staff. Rosen had the courage and integrity to stand up to Trump in January. I wasn’t in the room when he testified before the Committee behind closed doors, but I expect he gave them everything they for a criminal indictment of Trump.

There are also criminal investigations of Trump’s actions underway in Georgia, New York City, and in Albany by the New York Attorney General. Long before he can influence the next elections, Trump will be facing felony charges in multiple jurisdictions. When that happens, most of his supporters in Congress will see that supporting him is toxic.

You can stop worrying.

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America’s Second Civil War

Alan Zendell, October 14, 2021

Make no mistake, our country is at war with itself. No one has deployed armed forces or launched missiles, but there have already been far too many casualties. The first was Heather Heyer, who was killed on August 12, 2017, a half year into the Trump administration, in Charlottesville, VA. Twenty years from now, historians will publish scholarly works analyzing the attacks on our democracy that were inspired by Trump and his acolytes. Would the Alt-right, neo-Nazi terrorization of the University of Virginia campus have occurred if Trump had disavowed racist terrorists like David Duke? Would right-wing hate groups have been energized to come out of their caves if Trump hadn’t spent the two years prior to Charlottesville teasing every racist and xenophobic trope?

The political divisiveness and disregard of science that determined our COVID policy and the unsubtle support of the antivax movement are responsible for the lion’s share of the 715,000 COVID deaths recorded in the United States. Adding the casualties from the steadily increasing incidents of hate-driven protests and counter-protests, culminating in the January 6th attack on the Capitol and Homeland Security’s warnings about the likelihood of future domestic terror attacks makes it clear that a second American Civil War has been underway since Donald Trump hijacked the Republican Party.

It’s not just Trump fueling the war. The would-be autocrat, whose primary skill as a politician and leader is pandering to anyone who’ll support him, created a multi-headed monster that is now beyond his control. Trump feeds on the threats of armed violence by many of his supporters so much, the right-wing mob now controls him. If you doubted that Trump would rather burn down the country than concede defeat, recall his rally in Iowa a few days ago. He shamelessly justified stoking the flames of rebellion, claiming that the alternative was letting Progressives destroy the country. Is that how America works now?

History proves that when a nation’s citizens bury their heads in the sand in the face of encroaching tyranny the outcome is always disastrous. The new Civil War did not sneak up on us overnight. People have been warning about it since Trump rode his escalator into the heart of our politics. It’s here now, and if we don’t wake up to it as a nation and fight back, we won’t recognize the United States ten years from now.

I have long advocated the formation of a strong, centrist party composed of people willing to commit themselves to the defense of democracy as the only way to break the partisan gridlock and defang Trump’s attacks on the Constitution. One of the most dangerous outcomes of the Trump revolution was the departure of most of the true Centrists in Congress. Those who didn’t abdicate their responsibility, desperate to restore their party’s integrity have acted to strengthen Centrists in limited ways. Michael Bloomberg invested heavily, supporting centrist candidates, and last week, Andrew Yang announced the formation of the Forward Party and changed his affiliation from Democrat to Independent.

Those are positive steps, but they’re not enough. Another group of prominent Republicans led by former New Jersey Governor Christy Todd Whitman, concluded that creating a third party is not the solution. Instead, they kicked off a campaign to restore the centrist wings of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Whitman’s op-ed in last Sunday’s New York Times argued that the best way to restore the integrity of the Congress and badly divided state legislatures is to convince voters to cross party lines. Whitman urges Republicans who want to take their party back to vote for centrist Democrats who oppose Trump Republicans. Likewise, she wants moderate Democrats to vote for centrist Republicans running against Progressive extremists. The alternative is to continue down a road that could destroy the constitutional republic we grew up in.

The latest ominous warning is the law Texas passed yesterday, which outlaws attempts to enforce a vaccine mandate by “any entity” in Texas. That’s far more than a fight against vaccines. It’s an outright attack on the federal government’s authority, specifically the federal supremacy clause of the Constitution, which is as significant as the Confederacy firing on Fort Sumter. We apparently haven’t progressed since the days of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Texas Governor Greg Abbott believes that the Supreme Court will now be driven by Trump’s three appointees, who will support his attempt to redefine states’ rights.

I think he’s wrong. If the right-wing justices who claim to be originalists and constitutionalists are true to their word, they will see Texas’ recent actions for what they are: a blatant attempt to re-fight the Civil War in the courts if they can’t succeed by winning over a majority of voters. I don’t know if Governor Whitman’s approach is the best one, but every American who believes extremism will destroy their country should support it.

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Taking Proper Care of Your Books

Ed Carter, October 10, 2021

In this antiintellectual age when science is ignored and curiosity seems limited to 140-word tweets, it’s easy to forget that badly worded, misspelled rants by angry people were not why we learned to read. Assuming that you haven’t converted all your books to digital audio, or ebooks, for many of us the need for physical books remains, especially if you’re even locked down again during a pandemic. Knowing how to care for your favorite folios is important, whether they’re first editions or cheap paperbacks. If properly cared for, they’ll last forever. Author Ed Carter shares some tips on how to maintain your collection.

Shelve with care

There’s an art to shelving books so they’ll remain in good condition, which includes not crowding them onto the shelf, placing them upright rather than stacking them horizontally, and keeping tall books with books of similar sizes rather than mixing heights. It’s simple enough, but lack of care can contribute to the deterioration of the book’s spine. This may mean getting new bookshelves from time to time, or selling back the books you can do without. Whether you shelve alphabetically or color-coordinate is up to you.

Think like an archivist

Books are mostly paper, which will react to changes in temperature and humidity. You don’t need a humidor for your books, but if you live in a wet climate you’d probably need air conditioning or a dehumidifier anyway. Keep bookshelves in cool, dark places, away from moisture, which can damage the covers and the pages.

Sunlight will bleach the books, so if you’ve got bookshelves near windows, pay attention to where the sunlight is brightest throughout the day. You won’t retire on the value of your book collection, but they can devalue quickly without proper care, and you’d probably like to leave them to a grandchild one day. If you simply don’t have a space for storage out of direct light, you can always install some UV blocking film on your windows. This can be tricky to do well, so consider hiring a pro to ensure there are no bubbles and the end result looks nice. Sites like Angi make it easy to connect with reputable professionals who can do the job correctly and efficiently.

Remember also, dust loves books, so you’ll have to dust your books every few weeks, because eventually dust can cause damage.

Box them up

If you don’t have enough shelf space for all your books, consider storing them. However, you’ll need to make sure you store them properly. Never place them in plastic bags, which can trap moisture and ruin the books. Wrap them in acid-free paper, or plain, undyed cloth and keep them sealed and away from the floor, where dirt or insects can get to them.

Treat books with respect

It may be tempting to dog-ear a page to hold your place, or lay the book face down and open when you’re interrupted in the middle of reading, but it’s best to always use a flat bookmark or plain piece of paper to mark your place. Folding down the corners of the pages can really damage a book, and leaving it lying open can hurt the spine.

When you finish the book, check the pages for any bookmarks that might have been left inside, as these can damage the pages if left too long.

Keep away from food

It’s tempting to read while eating at a table. But bread crumbs, soup stains, and greasy fingers should never go near a book. Food stains will likely attract mold, which will ruin the book.

It’s also a good idea to wash your hands before handling the book so the oils from your fingers don’t do any harm.

Keep out of reach of children

Of course you want to encourage your kids to read, so buy them their own books. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library will send them free ones. In the meantime, they should keep clear of yours, at least until they’re old enough to understand them. That way they’re also old enough to handle them with care. 

If you tend to read the same book over and over–and many book lovers do that–think about buying two copies and putting one up while you read the other. Many collectors utilize this trick to keep their favorite books from becoming worn or ruined.

Books will last for centuries. Years ago, books were an expensive luxury, and anyone who owned them wouldn’t dream of reading while eating a sandwich, and they even wore gloves to handle them. Your books aren’t worth as much, relatively speaking, but they can last as long.

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Integrity, Elections, and Trump’s Eroding Base

Alan Zendell, October 8, 2021

When lawmakers and statesmen still valued integrity, opposition politicians would often resign in protest when they believed their government was acting illegally or about to do something that would damage their country. It was a European tradition that valued principle, honor, and patriotism over personal gain, especially in the U. K. We had one such event in the United States nearly fifty years ago, on October 20, 1973. It was such a rare occurrence that the resignations of Richard Nixon’s Attorney General (Eliot Richardson) and Deputy AG (William Ruckleshaus) in protest of the illegal firing of Special Counsel Archibald Cox, who was investigating Watergate, has since been known as The Saturday Night Massacre.

Thirty years later, George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had an opportunity to show the same kind of selfless integrity. He had been the only voice in Bush’s Cabinet to openly oppose the invasion of Iraq. Instead, he addressed the United Nations, presenting sketchy Intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to exist. Would Powell’s resignation have prevented the invasion and possibly avoided twenty years of pointless war? We’ll never know, because that didn’t happen, either.

A second Saturday Night Massacre opportunity arose on January 3, 2021. Then President Trump, raging over his defeat by Joe Biden, called Acting AG Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue to a senior staff meeting in the Oval Office. According to a Senate Judiciary Committee report released today, Trump was intent on replacing Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, another DOJ attorney whose only qualification was his willingness to use the full weight of the Department to overturn the results of the election.

But integrity reared its ugly head again when Rosen, Donoghue, White House attorney Pat Cippolone, and all the Assistant AGs in the Department threatened to resign if Trump persisted, likely saving the nation from the worst constitutional crisis in our history. Cippolone reportedly told Trump his attempts to force states to ignore the will of the voters was a murder-suicide pact, especially in light of former AG, William Barr’s statement that there was no evidence of widespread fraud during the election. The Committee report, which was based on an eight-month investigation, also implicated Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows as a key player in the attempt to illegally coerce the Justice Department to overturn Biden’s victory.

Trump’s hold on Republicans who believe they can’t afford to offend his voting base is old news. Trump ranted through his revenge tour, trying to unseat every Republican in Congress who voted to impeach him or who still denies the Big Lie that the election was stolen. Pundits (the same ones who got almost everything wrong in the last two elections) opine about Trump’s political clout, almost as though they’re hyping a pay-per-view audience to shell out big dollars for a heavyweight boxing match.

I remain skeptical. With the furor over social media manipulating users, feeding them lies and misinformation, and skillfully triggering anger and rage to boost interactions on their platforms, let’s not forget that the broadcast and cable media aren’t innocent in all this. They all have biases and they’re all beholden to the sponsors who pay their salaries. They also have a great incentive to engage their viewers and keep them watching, because ratings are everything in that world. They differ from social media only in degree. With Mitch McConnell stalling any sort of progress in Congress, and polls showing President Biden’s approval suffering, the media characterize this very serious situation as a death match among gladiators.

We must take care not to be sucked into the vortex of their hyperbole. Our country is not teetering on the edge of an abyss. Objective eyes see several prominent Trump supporters who understand the risk of being in bed with a dicttorial narcissist backing away to a safe distance. In recent weeks, Trump savaged SC Senator Lindsey Graham, GA Governor Brian Kemp, (suggesting Georgians would be better off with Stacy Abrams,) FL Governor Ron DeSantis, former NJ Governor Chris Christy, and the Republican Arizona legislature. Does that sound like someone who has a secure hold on his base?

Democrats will come together and pass the legislation they need to, because they know not agreeing among themselves will cede control of the Government to Republicans for the next decade. This is their best and probably last chance to keep the promises that made Americans vote for Biden. They’ll get it right eventually because they have no choice.

Much of the country is recovering from COVID, and as more information about Trump’s post-election antics and the January 6th insurrection are made public, his base will erode. Whether because of integrity or fear, no one running for re-election wants to be involved in a suicide pact with Donald Trump.

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Artificial Intelligence

Alan Zendell, October 6, 2021

The phrase artificial intelligence (AI) literally means intelligence displayed by inorganic entities (i.e., machines, computers) as opposed to humans and other animals. Beyond that simple definition lies much confusion and misunderstanding.

In practical terms, AI refers to any computer program with self-learning capability, but that phrase, too, is rife with ambiguity and misinterpretation. Self-learning systems operate on probabilities. They gather huge amounts of data from which statistically likely correlations are built. The more data we feed into an AI system, the better it becomes at predicting outcomes and guessing at optimal solutions.

Your physician uses a medical AI system that processes the information collected during your examination, combines it with your entire medical history, and evaluates the result against a massive database that contains everything doctors and epidemiologists know about similar conditions. In the past, your doctor relied on training and memory, supplemented by looking up esoteric details in one of the massive medical texts on his or her bookshelf. Today, the laptop your doctor carries around instantly informs him about every condition consistent with your symptoms and its likelihood.

Your doctor is now armed with a tool that brings the entire body of medical knowledge and experience to bear to help diagnose what’s wrong. But, and this is the essential point, the final diagnosis is made by the physician, not the medical AI system. Your doctor applies years of knowledge and acquired wisdom, professional human judgment, and some undefinable quality – instinct? intuition? gut feeling? That’s very different from, say, an automated assembly line, in which all actions and decisions are pre-programmed. Everything about the manufacturing process is known in advance; it simply has to be accurately coded in the system’s decision-making algorithm.

The mid-twentieth century was the heyday of speculation and fantasy concerning AI, what people imagined it might be capable of one day. In the 1950s and ’60s, the most popular visualizations of AIs were in the form of robots that mimicked human behavior. The classic science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, invented laws of robotics that are still used today whenever people envision robots performing activities traditionally thought to require human judgment. Asimov’s robots were so sophisticated, they were almost indistinguishable from humans. It was argued by some that AI-driven systems actually made better decisions than humans because they were entirely logic based, unaffected by emotions. An entire new genre of speculation thus evolved based on machines with human-like intelligence, sometimes beneficent, but more often, like the Terminators, cold-bloodedly malignant in their attitude toward humanity.

The problem with all that speculation is that science and technology never successfully bridged the gap between collecting and correlating massive amounts of information and basic human judgment. It remains theoretically possible, as computer speeds and statistical algorithms evolve, that we might one day build a machine that closely simulates human thought and decision-making, but that time is not now, and may never be.

That’s the fundamental error Facebook and other social media platforms made when they decided to rely on AI-driven algorithms instead of humans. When Google directs an ad to you based on keywords in your emails or Amazon recommends a book based on your observed interests, whether you find them annoying or helpful, they’re relatively benign. But social media algorithms can’t distinguish between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, altruism and harmful intent. They can’t anticipate what may be harmful to the psyches of adolescent girls or gullible individuals too lazy or too busy to fact-check what they read.

The term Artificial Intelligence is a misnomer. AIs are not intelligent. They’re actually incredibly stupid, dumber than the dullest person you’ve ever met, nothing but logic and instructions based on whatever knowledge was programmed into them. And that’s the problem. They can’t comprehend the intangibles humans use to make decisions, and they know nothing about the dark side of human nature. Because AIs are deterministic and predictable to anyone who understands the algorithms they use, they are dangerous unless humans constantly review and modify their decisions.

Did Mark Zuckerberg set out to create a malevolent monster? No, but neither did Doctor Frankenstein or the scientists who developed the atom bomb. Zuckerberg’s crime was hubris, the sin that the Old Testament suggests got humans thrown out of paradise. Zuckerberg and his people are way over their heads like cowboys trying to control herds of stampeding buffalo. They built a monstrosity that requires constant surveillance and checking by human intelligence, but that costs money, and if we’ve learned anything about Facebook, it’s that profit drives all its major decisions.

Clearly, they’re not about to voluntarily replace their algorithms with expensive, labor-intensive human tasks. Can we count on our government, which can’t even agree on how to pay its debts to force them to? I’m not holding my breath.

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The Abomination That is Facebook

Alan Zendell, October 5, 2021

My first career job was as an aerospace engineer at Grumman Aircraft (now Northrop-Grumman) working on America’s moon missions. Fresh with degrees in physics and engineering, very full of myself, certain that my prestigious education had prepared me for the real world, my first lesson in humility came quickly. My new boss told me to leave everything I’d learned in theoretical science and engineering at the front door. Practical engineering wasn’t about theories and computing precise solutions; it was about approximations. It wasn’t about error-free solutions; it was about constant vigilance keeping errors that inevitably creep into any project manageable.

That’s a pretty good description of how America grew to be a world power. In the late nineteenth century, science and technology were given free rein to grow and explore new possibilities. Engineers and business managers learned how to apply each new discovery to real life, but that process never was and never will be clean or free of problems. We mass produced cigarettes only to discover that they were killing us. We invented aerosol sprays without realizing they would destroy the ozone layer that protects us from deadly radiation. We built ever more powerful and reliable machines and were told that each new innovation heralded a new age of growth and prosperity, but each came with its own problems.

In most cases, engineering innovation and regulation were able to keep up with technological advances before they produced catastrophes. Science split the atom, releasing unfathomable amounts of energy, first in the form of weapons capable of destroying our planet, then as fuel for power plants. Two decades of living with nuclear weapons convinced our leaders that without strict controls in place, the next major war would likely destroy civilization. And failed nuclear power plants like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl combined with the need to safely dispose of nuclear waste put a quick end to the promise of unlimited, free power. Three different airliners (the DC-8, DC-10, and 737-Max) had to be pulled from production and re-engineered when they started crashing and killing people.

This is how technological progress is supposed to work: invent a concept, develop it into something people need or want enough to pay for it, test it, verify that it’s safe, and bring it to market. When glitches occur, (they always do,) use our highly vaunted American ingenuity to fix them before they kill too many people. Cars, planes, and trains get safer, food gets more nutritious, and with luck and perseverance, we may eventually figure out how to live without poisoning our planet. But information technology is different.

The development of computers and the Internet have enormously impacted our lives, mostly for the better. But IT has a built-in fatal flaw that’s more serious and far more dangerous than, say, faulty brakes on your new car. With IT, the most important of the steps to technological progress, verifying that a new development is safe, is often impossible. Every computer-based system is hackable, and with the proper skills, any determined group bent on mayhem or criminal activity will eventually find a way to work around security measures.

Futurists and science fiction writers have warned for decades about the impossibility of verifying information available to the public, the danger of unregulated access to deliberately misleading or false information, and the risk to young people and others from predatory entities trying to manipulate them. From its inception, many people who understood these risks viewed Facebook as a dangerous abomination with the potential to destroy us as surely as adversaries with nuclear weapons.

We saw how easily people were seduced by lies and misinformation during the 2016 election, but until now, such allegations have been largely anecdotal and easy for a public that is emotionally engaged with the product to ignore. The revelations of former Facebook manager Frances Haugen published by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times suggest Facebook is far more dangerous than we thought.

We always knew Facebook’s database of personal information on its two billion plus users was a prime target for scams, criminal activities, and marketers with no respect for individual privacy. We now appear to have clear evidence that data security and vetting of individual users are only the tip of the iceberg. Facebook’s policy of incentives and its need to grow exponentially have repeatedly prioritized increasing its profitability over the safety of its individual users and the stability of their societies. The unfortunate reality is that hate, fear, bigotry, greed, ignorance, and intellectual laziness make people vulnerable to being manipulated by anyone with the talent and intent to do so.

We don’t need Facebook in its massive worldwide form any more than we need monopolistic cartels that operate independent of government regulation. It’s too late to shut Facebook down completely, even if its senior executives are found criminally negligent, but it’s not too late to force it to operate in a safe, regulated environment.

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Overcoming the Blank Page: Reducing the Stress of Writing

Ed Carter, September 30, 2021

We met Ed Carter here on August 19, with his article on disabled parents starting small businesses. His first post was well received, earning forty-five Likes. He’s back now, helping writers get past their blocks.

Former columnist Charles Krauthammer once wrote: “I have a horror of the blank page. I simply cannot write on a blank page or screen. Because once I do I start to fix it, and I never get past the first sentence.” The tyranny of the blank page, the anxiety of writing, is a common fear among writers—where to start, how to begin, what voice to use, the enormity of the task at hand can be absolutely overwhelming. Writers claim that it causes a litany of physical responses, from fatigue to joint pain and irritability. Fortunately, as with any stress response, there are tactics that often help writers get the ball rolling and approach the work with vigor and optimism.

Get real about workload

Sometimes, a massive workload with deadlines lined up seemingly every hour becomes so imposing that a writer may simply toss up her hands and decide it’s just not worth the mental stress and strain. One of the best ways around that is to get real with your workload. Assess your ability to complete projects based on a realistic and objective estimate of your personal productivity and the rate at which you normally write.

If possible, get in the habit of asking for more time before accepting an assignment. It’ll make life easier for your client or editor, and you’ll build trust by being honest with them. If you’re just having trouble getting through assignments on time, it’s probably time to cut back on the workload. It goes against the grain for most writers, especially freelancers who are paid on an assignment-by-assignment basis. Think of it as being fair with your client and with yourself. If you can do that, it’ll be a lot easier to face that first blank page each day.

Good personal habits

It’s hard to think clearly and write well if you’re feeling sluggish and lack energy. Rethink your eating habits, including when and what you’re eating. Follow a healthy diet featuring plenty of fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains and protein. A balanced diet provides the energy you need to keep going when you hit a creative brick wall and need to keep pushing. You’re a lot less likely to become apathetic if you have energy and are feeling good. And don’t skimp on breakfast so you have energy to get off to a good start in the morning. Try meditating or do yoga before you sit down to work. Set aside a quiet room at home for meditation, a refuge for focusing your thoughts. Also, make sure that this room is decluttered and tidy; a chaotic space can cause you to experience an increase in anxiety and stress, which will derail your efforts to relax.

Alter your daily agenda

Reassess how you organize your day. Many of the most successful writers prefer to rise early and get their work done during the morning hours when their brains are sharper and their creativity is at a peak. Some prefer to write late at night when everything’s quiet. Whichever you prefer, try organizing your work day based on when you’re most productive. If you’re a morning writer, make a point of not oversleeping, of getting up by 8 am and sticking with it until lunchtime, or until it’s time for a break.

Make a point of getting up and moving around for a few minutes to get the blood flowing and to prevent getting too stiff and uncomfortable. If you normally eat lunch at noon, don’t give in and wolf down leftover pizza at 10:30 because you’re struggling.

Hit the sack

Writers are sometimes tempted to burn the midnight oil, especially when the work gets really busy. It might work for a while, but if it means you’re not getting the sleep you need, it will catch up with you. Make a point of getting to bed at the same time every night and getting out of bed at the same time each morning so your body gets used to a regular sleeping/waking rhythm.  

Do yourself a favor and arrange your workday based on when you’re most productive. Remember that it’s important to keep working, to keep trying, because if you do, your creativity and experience will see you through in the end. The blank page may seem like an insurmountable hurdle; in reality, it’s little more than a temporary inconvenience. 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

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Republican Senators Malign Our Military Commanders

Alan Zendell, September 29, 2021

I’ve never been a fan of Monday morning quarterbacking. Looking back at what happened in the past can be an important learning tool, but laying blame recklessly through twisted 20-20 hindsight is at best a cheap shot and at worst a disaster. In this era of hyper-partisan division, that seems to happen whenever an official involved in a significant incident is invited to testify before Congress. The divide in the Senate was never more apparent than during yesterday’s testimony by Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley.

General Milley’s prepared statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee laid out an orderly, chronological history of events associated with ending our mission in Afghanistan. It was fact-based, drawing on White House and Defense Department emails and memoranda. Had Republicans not been sniping at Milley for weeks prior to his testimony, his statement could have been read as simply an objective reporting of events. If it seemed defensive it was only because it addressed controversial subjects.

Milley, backed up by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and head of the U.S. Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, reported on the significant events leading up to our withdrawal and the circumstances of his calls to his Chinese counterpart to assure him that then President Trump had no intention of attacking China. With respect to the latter, Milley asserted that he was carrying out his responsibility under the law to assure that possible diplomatic misunderstandings would not result in unintended armed conflict, and that high level Trump officials were notified of his actions. The first of his two calls to China was actually placed by then Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Discussing the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Milley reviewed the orders he’d received from Trump, the last of which was to remove all American military personnel and contractors from the country by January 15, 2021, five days before Biden’s inauguration. In the post-election chaos surrounding Trump’s attempts to overthrow the result of the November election, that didn’t happen, leaving the Biden administration holding a very unsavory bag. As to the final withdrawal itself, the Joint Chiefs were in unanimous agreement that a contingent of American and NATO forces should remain in country during the transition to a negotiated power-sharing agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

When Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 16th, abandoning it to the Taliban two weeks before an orderly withdrawal of U. S. and NATO forces was to be completed, the Joint Chiefs re-evaluated their options. They concluded that leaving forces behind would result in massive casualties, and additional terrorist attacks were almost certain. They changed their recommendation to President Biden advising him to withdraw all troops by August 31st. The withdrawal from Afghanistan was always going to be somewhat of a cluster-f**k; the collapse of the Afghan government made it worse and more chaotic, making the performance of our military in executing the evacuation of 124,000 people all the more remarkable.

Yet, in the face of all this testimony and information, Republican Senators chose to attack Milley for allowing himself to be interviewed by authors of what Josh Hawley (R-MO) called Trump tell-all books. Hawley was referring to Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, and two other recently published books, all of which painted Donald Trump in very unfavorable lights. Hawley will long be remembered for helping to incite the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol from a podium outside the White House, angrily pumping his fist in the air, demanding that the right-wing crowd prevent Biden from being certified as president by the Congress. Yesterday, he suggested that General Milley was so focused on being portrayed as a hero in those books that he failed to pay attention to events in Afghanistan, and demanded that he resign.

Here’s what really happened. Hawley, Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and a few others who have tied their political futures to Trump were all enraged (more likely terrified) that the truth about Trump’s lies and instability would turn the public against him, and by extension, them. So they promulgated the notion that Milley was treasonously undercutting Trump’s authority and acting beyond his authority. Those are very serious accusations which evoke memories of the Nuremburg trials after World War II. One after another, high-ranking Nazis on trial for war crimes claimed they “were only following orders.” In the post-election chaos, with rumors flying in the journalistic and social media, Milley had the courage to make clear that he would not follow any illegal order, assuring adversaries with nuclear weapons that they had nothing to fear.

Unfortunately, Senator Hawley, who has distinguished himself as the most despicable, self-serving person in the Senate, was only interested in grandstanding.

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A Pox on Both Houses

Alan Zendell, September 27, 2021

This week will probably be the most difficult one this or any recent Congress has faced in years. The need for bipartisan agreement is more desperate now than at any time I can remember, but the likelihood of achieving it, even partially, is becoming vanishingly small. Republicans are marching in lockstep to obstruct everything the Biden administration wants to do, and Democrats seem intent on proving that they are incapable of compromising among themselves.

With budget reconciliation, having to keep the government functioning and raising the debt ceiling, infrastructure legislation on the table, and climate change and voting rights bills barely in their larval stages, even an eternal optimist like me can’t see much light at the end of this tunnel. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the Senate is languishing in the House because Democrats there can’t take “Yes” for an answer.

Democrats are like little children squabbling on a playground with no adult around to mediate. In a Congress run by septua- and octagenarians, it’s hard to find more than a handful willing to act like the adults in the room. No matter that majorities of sizes rarely seen in national opinion polls support the administration’s policy agenda, those who were elected to represent us seem hell-bent on ignoring public opinion in favor of what their deep-pocket donors want.

Republicans are willing to bring the country to the brink of financial disaster to preserve the Trump tax cuts and sit idly by while state legislatures turn their states into right-wing horror shows. And Democrats who seem to have never been taught to share, are split in factions, each of which demands the whole pie for itself. With all the talk about domestic and foreign threats to our democracy, Congress seems quite willing to simply let it die of neglect rather that put aside differences in the national interest.

With mid-term election season just a few months away, (in effect, it started the day this Congress was sworn in,) it’s difficult to imagine why voters on the fence would entrust Democrats with more power when they can’t even work together among themselves. It’s even more difficult to imagine giving power back to Republicans when the party appears to be totally intimidated by Trump’s base. If this were a sports or corporate misadventure, we could simply boycott them all until they felt the pain in their wallets, but boycotting the mid-term election isn’t an option.

What’s the average citizen to do? Frankly, I can’t thing of anything. Congress has chosen to be tone deaf to majority opinion, and with several critical things about to come to a head, we’re powerless to do anything but sit and watch, surviving on some combination of prayer, alcohol, tranquilizers, meditation and cannabis. The best thing to do is pay careful attention, take notes, and remember which members are guilty of the worst betrayals come election time.

Up first are the battles over keeping the government fiscally solvent so it can avoid a shutdown and raising the debt ceiling to avoid America going into default, which could have serious consequences for our credit rating. To any reasonable observer, both issues appear to be no-brainers. But Mitch McConnell has made two things clear: Republicans will only vote to keep the Government open if the enabling legislation does not mention the debt ceiling, and they intend to force Democrats to use their slim majority to raise it on their own.

Apparently, Republicans believe that will enable them to accuse Democrats of trying to bankrupt the country when it’s time to re-elect Congress. But it’s not clear that Democrats in states where Trump’s base could defeat them will allow themselves to be put in that position, despite the fact that failing to raise the debt limit could seriously damage both the economy and the financial markets. I see no reason to be optimistic about the chances of our dysfunctional Congress getting its act together.

Yet, after yesterday, I can’t give up hope. I live in Maryland, the home of the Baltimore Ravens, who trailing by one point late in the fourth period, had about a 0.01% chance of defeating the Detroit Lions with fourth down and nineteen yards to go and under ten seconds on the clock. Remarkably, their quarterback, Lamar Jackson, completed a first down pass leaving three seconds to play, which raised the Ravens’ win probability to about 0.1% Their field goal kicker, Justin Tucker, despite being the best in the league, had never kicked a field goal longer than 61 yards, and he was facing a 66 yard kick. By now, everyone now knows the kick landed on the crossbar of the goal posts and went over to win the game.

Maybe there’s still hope. We’ll see.

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It’s About Time

Alan Zendell, September 24, 2021

This isn’t about time travel, though the subject fascinates me. It’s about time as the enemy of progress, the antithesis of positive inertia for needed change. It’s about the basic truth that delay and procrastination are not neutral, but negative decisions that preclude action. Desperate times require the people we elected to represent us to either rise above their personal biases and do the right thing or step aside in favor of people of character and integrity.

It’s about time governors, county health officials, and mayors who have not fully engaged with the effort to vaccinate their populations against COVID step up to the plate. The cynical game of balancing public health concerns against perceived political gain simply must stop. It’s un-American, immoral, and inhumane, and an argument can be made that it’s criminally negligent. Moreover, failing to support vaccinations is beginning to resemble political suicide. Trump lost the 2020 election largely because pandering to ignorance, prejudice, and stupidity resulted in more than a half million preventable deaths. Politicians who put citizens at risk of severe illness and death always pay a heavy price, and that price will be even greater if they put children at risk.

It’s about time Republicans in Congress started showing the same courage their colleagues Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) exhibit on a daily basis. Agree or disagree with their ideology, but you cannot disagree with their commitment to principle and refusing to submit to political bullying and blackmail. It’s long past time to speak out against The Big Lie and acknowledge publicly that Joe Biden is the duly elected President. The latest in Trump’s sideshow acts, the Maricopa County “audit” in Arizona, should be the last nail the election fraud coffin. Even Trump’s pet auditors couldn’t find evidence of fraud, and they reported yesterday that Biden’s victory in Arizona was actually undercounted by 100 votes.

It’s about time Congress ignored lobbyists with cash-filled pockets who represent corporate interests that profit from the status quo, to wake up to the realities of Climate Change. Pandering to ignorance and greed will eventually backfire when it’s too late to remediate the damage resulting from inaction. How much more evidence do they need? Do sea levels have to rise enough to flood Miami, Tampa, New York and New Orleans? Does every acre of forest land have to go up in smoke? Will we allow the ever more unstable Gulf Stream, which is the only reason the major cities from Washington to down East Maine are not covered by glaciers, to stop flowing because of melting ice caps?

It’s about time the Democrats stopped squabbling and got their act together to pass needed legislation. Our infrastructure is desperately in need of repair and updating, and right-wing extremists are threatening every American’s right to vote. Progressives, especially younger ones like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) with limited experience in Congress, need to grow up and learn the arts of compromise and when to stop arguing. At the same time, so-called Moderates like Joe Manchin (D-WV) need to stop grandstanding about bipartisan legislation and bite the same bullets Cheney and Kinzinger choke on every day. You made your point, Joe. So did Mitch McConnell, whose blanket obstructionism makes it clear that all you will accomplish by denying Senate Democrats their slim majority is allowing Republicans to scuttle the Biden administration’s agenda.

It’s about time Congress began representing the views of clear majorities of Americans on female reproductive issues. Reactionary religious views and prejudice have no place in laws and legal decisions that have global impact, and lawmakers who continue to ignore the views of their constituents will pay a price at the polls, as the COVID public health deniers did. Just glance at the latest nationwide Gallup poll on abortion – eighty percent of Americans oppose making abortion illegal. Our Constitution is clear; Congress is neither the moral advisor nor the religious conscience of the nation.

And finally, it’s about time the Bush family dynasty invested themselves in defending the principles of the party they profess to believe in. Remaining silent in the face of brutal, vicious personal attacks by Donald Trump may once have seemed like a classy thing to do, but refusing to behave like Donald Trump and engaging in public fits of rage is not the same thing as passivity in the face of danger. Trumpism is the most clear and present danger America’s future faces, and it will dominate Republican agendas and possibly our national agenda if principled Republicans don’t fight for their party.

Former president George W. Bush, finally appears willing to take up the mantle of anti-Trump Republicans. He is publicly supporting Liz Cheney in her primary battle against a Trump no-name candidate, headlining fundraising events for her. Bush understands better than anyone how difficult it is to govern. Even when you have a supportive Congress and your head is in the right place, it’s easy to lead the country down the wrong path. When the forces of divisiveness are in control, we’re doomed to fail. Given the lack of courage shown by most Republicans these days, Bush, who is probably the most popular figure among traditional Republicans, is best positioned to play the role of savior.   

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