Bits ‘n’ Pieces

From east, west and beyond

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

John Deere reincarnation: Older farm machinery is fetching between $18,000 and $61,000, a bargain compared to a new model at $150,000. The bonus, farmers say, is no “irksome software,” meaning no waiting in a far-off field for a service truck to fix your tractor’s computer problem, The Week Magazine reported.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe announced plans to build the largest solar farm in North Dakota, not far from where the fossil fuel-fed Dakota Access Pipeline is located. Upon completion, the 1,000-panel solar farm is expected to provide power for 12 reservation communities in both North and South Dakota. The $470,000 project has backing from several nonprofits.

Grappling with concrete: Estimates are that by 2050 the planet will have 75% more infrastructure, a good portion of it concrete. But, according to the World Wildlife Foundation, concrete processing accounts for up to 10% of global greenhouse emissions. WWF is helping the industry find more climate-friendly actions, such as using new aggregates like shredded post-disaster debris; banning illegal sand mining, as sand is a major concrete component, and mining it from river beds causes waterway instability; and addressing over-building and over-design.

A portion of right-wing advocates, who once regarded Russia as a dire threat, now admire the nation, praising Russian President Vladimir Putin for promoting Orthodox Christianity and “traditional values.” However, writes Anne Applebaum for The Atlantic, just 15% of Russians say they are involved with religion, Russia has one of the world’s highest abortion rates, one province is officially ruled by sharia law and right-wing fans may not like that the nation has six times more Muslims than does the U.S.

Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics, recently outlined how to assess a nation’s economic health. He advises first looking at health and happiness, and noted that U.S. life expectancy has fallen since 2017, with midlife mortality reaching the highest rates since World War II. That is likely due to increased drug use (illicit and otherwise) to address despair and the number of uninsured Americans rising from 10.9% to 13.7% in just two years, reports As well, Stiglitz said that median full-time male wages are 3% lower than they were 40 years ago. The federal government’s economic health has declined during the same time, due to the 2017 Trump tax cuts that favored the rich while the government borrowed close to $500 billion a year to compensate for its depleted tax base.

Some 75% of poll respondents (and 69% of Republicans) wanted the Senate to allow witnesses in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, but Senate Republicans voted against doing so. Those senators voting to impeach President Trump represented 18 million more Americans than were represented by the Republicans who voted to acquit, Mother Jones pointed out. 

In an assumed effort to avoid further exposure of political misadventures, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who has also been implicated in the Ukraine controversy, ordered Feb. 6 that the FBI cannot investigate political candidates before the 2020 campaign unless first given his approval.

Because we could use a chuckle: At a political event, presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was asked who would be her Mike Pence — meaning who’s going to look at her with adoring eyes. “I already have a dog,” she responded.

Blast from the past: During the 1988 presidential election, Lee Atwater boosted Republicans’ chances with the so-called “Willie Horton ad.” It portrayed African Americans as a safety threat and implied that Republicans would keep people safe via the death penalty. Two years later, Atwater was diagnosed with brain cancer. In a Life magazine interview, Atwater expressed regret for being an “ardent” practitioner of negative politics, saying, “My illness helped me to see what was missing in society was what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood … I have learned a lesson: politics and human relationships are separate. It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth.” Atwater died two months later.

Another blast: Thomas Jefferson, describing George Washington: “Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed.” Washington served as president from 1789 to 1797. After the Revolutionary War, many proposed Washington become the new nation’s king, but he said he abhorred the ruler-for-life idea.

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