The Electric Motor

The electric motor was invented in 1832 well before the gasoline engine in 1872, but the latter has gained predominance in the transportation sector. Why? Besides being simpler, smaller and lighter, the electric motor requires no supporting systems to operate such as ignition, exhaust, cooling, camshaft and transmission. It also requires no maintenance like regular oil change and engine tune-ups. Why has the gasoline engine become so popular despite being so inefficient and dirty? There exist two big obstacles for the electric motor to overcome:

To propel the vehicle, the electric motor is fueled by electricity stored in a battery. Due to the slow advancement of its technology, the battery is large and heavy, and cannot supply enough electricity for both acceleration and range of travel. Furthermore, it takes a long time to recharge. On the other hand, the explosive development of the fossil fuel industry has produced different grades of refined gasoline that burns to propel vehicles ranging from autos to supersonic aircraft. The big advantage of gasoline lies in its being a liquid fuel lighter than water that can be stored in the vehicle’s fuel tank and conveniently refilled from a network of gasoline stations wherever one travels.

The second reason is the cost factor. Theoretically, the market guarantees winner for the product of least cost. However, the most important cost that is always ignored is the subtle costs of a polluted environment and a lower quality of health as a result. The gasoline engine wins because it provides great short-term benefits for transportation without regard for long-term environmental costs. After more than a century of dominance, the environmental costs of the gasoline engine due to its greenhouse gas emissions have finally caught up with reality known as global warming or climate change. This is a form of Mother Nature’s delayed revenge on a global scale for which there is no solution except switching to the electric motor if we don’t want to go back to horse carriages.

Can the electric motor replace the gasoline engine? Of course, the bullet train is an excellent example, backed up in recent years by the brisk acceleration of a Tesla automobile. Hybrid aircraft is in the works at Boeing and Airbus where a big passenger plane takes off and lands using jet engines while cruises on electric-powered ducted fans. The only limit is supersonic speed where the electric fans cannot physically achieve.

Given its simple design, the electric motor still offers room for delivering more power with both hardware rearrangement and software fine-tuning. Extra power can be generated by using a permanent magnet in the rotor and putting the electric windings on the stator instead. The traditional electric motor with unreliable mechanical switching featuring “brushes” is on its way out because the current in the windings can now be controlled electronically via a programmable microchip.

Most importantly, battery technology is now taking off with the invention of the rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Since a battery involves electrochemical reaction between two electrodes immersed in an electrolyte, advancement must occur in material science that will create better compounds to enhance the battery in the following aspects: lighter weight, stronger current, bigger storage, faster recharge and better safety. A breakthrough in battery technology will quicken the replacement of the gasoline engine. We are now in the middle of this process. Like all other scientific development, a breakthrough will come, hopefully sooner.

The other important factor is the infrastructure for recharging car batteries. It is difficult for the infrastructure to precede the electric car. Both must proceed simultaneously. Since most electric cars are now recharged in the home, many of which are solar-powered, a better infrastructure will develop as the car market expands, and vice versa. When the number of electric cars reaches a critical mass, which we may have already achieved, a self-reinforcing virtuous circle will develop in the refueling infrastructure, just like what has happened before with the gasoline car. Finally, electricity carries a magical wonder. If a breakthrough occurs in wireless recharging of automobiles while they are running on the road, we may not even need a network of recharging stations in the future. When that happens, electrics will truly surpass the gasoline cars because they don’t even have to stop for refueling.

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What Causes Job Loss?

Job loss is a problem for developed countries, especially lower-tech and lower-wage jobs. The following factors are in play for many decades now:

Developed countries derive their strength and progress from technology and automation, which unfortunately make many jobs obsolete at the same time. We have seen the disappearance of the office typists. We’ve also seen much fewer bank tellers, textile workers and auto workers. We don’t know how many cashiers and inventory clerks lost their jobs due to the invention of the barcode printed on virtually every product now. Recently, the technology that enables self-driving cars threatens to make the taxi drivers extinct.

Outsourcing to foreign lands is another factor that causes huge job losses for developed countries. This is enabled by communications technology for managing manufacturing operations overseas at lower expenses. Many companies in the developed world take advantage of outsourcing, which goes to less developed countries with a large labor force, a lower wage structure, and less stringent environmental regulations. Outsourcing brings foreign labor directly into competition with local labor. The winners are the foreigners who can perform equally or even better at lower wages, especially in the manufacturing sector. The local workers who got displaced tend to complain that foreigners are “stealing” their jobs. However, the outsourcing continues for the simple reason that it brings higher profits for the companies. Furthermore, the outsourcing will gradually raise the living standards of the foreign workers, which in turn will become a bigger consumer market. That means the outsourcing cannot stop because the finished products can be sold there besides being shipped back to the home market.

A third factor of job loss is mergers or acquisitions undertaken by big companies in developed countries. The objectives of such activities are much more complicated than the companies’ public announcements. This usually results in large numbers of workers being laid off as operations are consolidated. The laid-off workers are not only low-tech or low-wage, but also high-tech and managerial levels. The former will find it hard to find another job because of their lower skills.

In America, many people don’t want to see the real reasons for their country’s job loss. Their attitude is scapegoating foreigners and immigrants for “stealing” their jobs. Failing to see the truth means little can be done to reverse this tough situation. They don’t recognize that America’s strength depends on its technology and resourceful immigrants. Do they want to put a break on technological advancement that invariably makes part of the labor force obsolete? Do they want to reduce the number of immigrants who have historically contributed to their progress? Do they really want to bring back the obsolete jobs that are low-tech and low-wage?

The solution is clear — We must move on and stop dwelling on past glory. Since technology continues to advance worldwide, it is always a race between countries to achieve a higher level to stay competitive. Higher technology creates more jobs that can balance the obsolete jobs lost. At the same time, invest more in technical retraining for those workers that have been replaced so that they can move on to higher technology. Japan and Germany are well known for their technical expertise, fine exports and large trade surpluses. Their citizens know how to compete worldwide without having to scapegoat foreigners.

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White House Drama

Every president brings some drama to the White House due to his unique personality. This represents juicy information for the press and entertainment news (or agony) for the public. Donald Trump probably creates the most drama during his first few months in office. Too much drama will certainly distract focus from his campaign promises, none of which has been fulfilled so far, notably the repeal/replace of Obamacare, and the money to build the border wall with Mexico which Trump insisted should pay for it.

One thing that will sure continue is Trump’s daily rants on Tweeter that cannot be controlled by his Chief of Staff and other advisors. His tweets paint an accurate personality characterized by instability, thin skin, uncurious mind, and egomania thirsty for personal victory. On the other hand, his tweets show his marketing skill in whipping up support from his base of angry crowds eager to find scapegoats for their woes. Trump’s fervent supporters represent only a small minority of Americans. His election in 2016 was mainly due to Hillary Clinton’s failure to produce an inspiring message (other than branding Trump as unqualified), and to campaign hard enough in the traditionally “blue” states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Trump is not a true Republican but has managed to beat all the Republican candidates in the nomination process. As a result, the Republican Party allows itself to be hijacked and must embrace him even reluctantly. The fissure between Trump and the Party is evident as shown by Ted Cruz, the leading candidate defeated in the nomination, urging his followers to “vote their conscience” in the election. Trump’s rhetoric to “drain the swamp” in Washington also puts him at odds with the Congressional legislators. Trump and the Republicans in the US Congress are strange bedfellows sustained only by a common desire to dismantle Barrack Obama’s legacy, and to deliver more goodies to big corporations and the top 1% by employing the perennial gambit of cutting taxes to create jobs. When the government gives the rich a tax windfall, do you think they will go out to invest or buy some more expensive pleasures?

The failure of the Obamacare repeal undermines the relationships between Trump and the the Senate leaders. Trump cannot help attacking John McCain and two other Senators for voting no that torpedoed the repeal. Without the repeal of Obamacare, the chances of success for the other agendas are much reduced. Why? They count on cutting $500 billion from Obamacare’s subsidy for the poor so as to finance the tax cuts for the rich, the border wall, and national infrastructure repairs. Now that the money is nowhere to be found, they must raise the federal debt ceiling to pay for Trump’s campaign promises. This sets up a fight within the Republican Party where the vocal Conservatives are adamant against more borrowing by the federal government. Trump also directs his anger at Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, for failing to deliver the healthcare repeal vote. Their relations will be further strained come September when the Congress starts to work on the debt ceiling and the tax cuts.

The other big shoe waiting to drop is the result of the investigation undertaken by Robert Mueller, Independent Special Counsel, regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump’s anxiety about the result is shown by his tweets and his firing of FBI Director James Comey, which further deepen public suspicion about his involvement, financial or otherwise. His threat to fire Mueller if he crosses the red line (start to investigate his finances) will create more trouble than the real result of the investigation which may not even be damaging. Why is he afraid if he has nothing to hide? The threat to fire Mueller has caused Senator Dianne Feinstein to say that this might spell the end of his presidency.

White House drama has led to the resignation of Richard Nixon (Watergate), and the impeachment of Bill Clinton (the Monica Affair). With regard to Donald Trump, it will be interesting to sit back and watch the drama unfold. The story will be intriguing and complicated. It will also suck up most of the energy required to pass Trump’s legislative agenda promised to voters. In the end, the American people will suffer because nothing beneficial will be done on their behalf.

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Our Brave New World

The modern world we live in is changing with accelerating speed. Our lives are going through a deep transformation propelled by technology on many fronts. Today, the computing power packed into a smart phone is said to exceed that used in the first moon landing of 1969. The next half century will see even more dramatic changes especially in the areas of artificial intelligence, robotics, genetics, energy, and composite materials. On the social level, the biggest disruption is the lightning speed of information disseminated through the Internet and social media despite the fact that the contents may not be real or desirable.

Different societies view and react to this brave new world in many ways. Some just follow the new trend without much thinking. Some react negatively if it hurts their bottom-lines. Some steadfastly maintain their long-held beliefs and think that this world is going crazy. In short, we must deal with the constant barrage of technological disruptions whether we like it or not. Regarding our social fabrics and institutions, our adjustments lag behind the pace of technology which has a dynamics of its own and cannot be stopped. This reinforces our sense of the “good old days” where life seemed normal, tranquil and more manageable.

Although challenging, this brave new world is not necessarily good or bad. How we want to deal with it depends on our attitudes. The goal should be to understand it better and make the best use of it. The following are some examples of the major challenges facing our generation:

With the development of nuclear weapons mostly held between the US and Russia, the two superpowers have the ability to incinerate the entire world several times over. Their combined stockpile peaked at the insane level of over 60,000 nuclear warheads in 1985 during the height of the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the two superpowers have worked to reduce the nuclear stockpile to the present level of 15,000. Although much reduced, this level is still too high and unnecessary. Hopefully, the future will see much fewer weapons and more efforts being directed to peaceful purposes.

New technologies have created more jobs in low-cost countries such as China and India which represent 36% of humanity. Their comparative advantage has attracted Western investments and the outsourcing of labor-intensive operations there, resulting in the loss of millions of jobs in Western countries. This is the unintended consequence of rational business decisions on the part of Western companies because they know that jobs flow to places of lower costs and products flow to places of bigger markets. How do people view this development? The US blames their woes on unfair trade that enables foreigners to “steal” their jobs. On the other hand, a huge middle class has emerged in China (500 million) and India (300 million) where people are hopeful about this brave new world. Among the developed countries notably Japan and Germany, they do not scapegoat foreigners but take advantage of their growing markets where they can invest and sell more of their own products. While the US complains, China is now experiencing the loss of lower-wage jobs too, especially to Southeast Asian countries. The Chinese are making adjustments to lessen the impact by means of more exporting and better job-training for their workers being impacted.

Electrification is another area of big change due to the development of wind and solar energy that have already beaten fossil fuels in unit cost. The long-established fossil-fuel industries are resisting because it hurts their bottom lines. However, they cannot even prevent Texas, an oil state, from becoming the biggest wind powerhouse in the US. With the maturing of electricity generation via solar and wind, and a smart-grid infrastructure for electricity distribution, electric cars are waiting to replace gasoline cars in huge numbers, especially via a breakthrough in battery technology. This will be aided by driverless technology, an early commercial product of artificial intelligence. Although we may be reluctant to surrender the car key to a piece of software, the day of the driverless electric car is not far away.

Although many things seem to pull us apart, Mother Nature seems to bring us together via the global problem of climate change. Most people don’t deny climate change obviated by increasing violent weather. The fossil-fuel and associated industries do insist that humans are not at fault because they fear damage to their bottom-lines. Pretty soon, the world will come to realize that climate change is not an argument, but something real and supported by scientific evidence. The world will also come to understand that climate change is not about this generation. It’s about protecting the planet for future generations to come.

In conclusion, I am hopeful about this brave new world by adopting a positive attitude. I will do my part to manage the challenges rather than engaging in the blame game because the latter won’t do me any good.

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The Health Insurance Business

Insurance is not a product but a financial service. Unlike others, the selling point of insurance is risk. People buy insurance because they want to get compensation in case something bad happens such as an accident, a natural calamity, or a serious illness. Companies like to sell insurance because they receive monthly payments beforehand in the form of premiums. They take the risk that bad things don’t happen frequently. Even if they do, only a small portion of the insurance pool requires compensation, which will give them enough profit margin to survive. In fact, the profit margins are big. The health insurance industry in America made a combined profit of over $13 billion in 2016, up 46% from the previous year.

What makes health insurance a viable business? Most importantly, the market must be big to cover millions of people with diverse health conditions spread out across the land. It won’t work if only senior or sick people buy health insurance. All buyers must recognize the fact that those in good health subsidize those in bad health, usually the young subsidizing the old. In return, when the young get sick or older, they will be taken care of if they are contributing to the insurance pool. Thus health insurance is basically a long-term social service providing a safety net for everybody. This raises the question if the government should take over health insurance as a single payer for all health services. In most developed countries, their governments have already monopolized health care where private insurers are permitted to operate at the periphery covering enhanced services or special conditions.

In America, health insurance still rests in private hands. The reason is that most American companies have long been providing health insurance to their employees through private insurers. When a citizen reaches the age 65 or above, he/she is automatically insured under Medicare provided by the federal government. Since 2014, Obamacare has been enacted to subsidize those aged under 65 who are self-employed or unemployed for the purchase of private health insurance if their incomes fall below the poverty level. By early 2017, Obamacare has expanded to cover more than 11 million people out of 56 million uninsured due to rising premiums. In addition, local governments at the state, county or city levels provide some forms of subsidy to low-income families through public hospitals or special services. Thus in America, private health insurance applies to the majority of the people under 65 years and above the poverty level, that is, the majority of the middle class. When premiums rise rapidly, the middle class will be increasingly squeezed.

What is the biggest danger to private health insurance? Premium inflation is the one. When premiums rise too fast, the young and healthy tend to drop out because they will take the chance of not getting seriously ill. This leaves the insurance pool with older and sicker people, which forces the insurers to raise premiums further to reduce their risks, which in turns causes more dropouts. The result is a continuous death spiral until the premiums become too high for any middle-income person to afford. Then the time will be ripe for the government to take over, or some radical disruption such as a revolution. This is what has been happening in America since the 1990’s. What is the cause? The insurance companies are too greedy without the common sense that they are digging their own graves. When premiums keep rising, the other parts of the health care industry such as the pharmaceutical companies and the hospitals will begin raising their prices, too. All of them are able to raise prices by bribing legislators to relax the regulations.

Before the passage of Obamacare, there was a big discussion about whether the federal government should tax, subsidize, and force everybody to buy health insurance to prevent the insurance pool from shrinking. The issue was settled in June 2015 by the US Supreme Court which ruled that it was legal to do so. However, it left the loophole that private insurers could still continue to raise premiums while receiving government subsidies. So it set into motion a runaway health care inflation that cannot be sustained by government subsidies except price controls on the private health care industry.

The American scene is complicated by the power of the health care industry with huge resources to bribe politicians and legislators to act in their favor. The health insurers can get away with continuously raising premiums, offering less coverage, restricting access for people with “pre-existing conditions”, increasing “deductibles”, and employing other kinds of dirty tricks. It is almost impossible to clamp down on prices. Politicians like to advocate increasing competition by freeing the marketplace via deregulation. This will only worsen the situation because there is no free market for health care in America where only a few big companies collude and dominate. Right now, the people being squeezed most are the middle-income self-employed under 65. Those employed by companies are not immune. Although their companies are bulk buyers of health insurance with the ability to get a better deal from the insurers, they find that their employer-provided health plans are getting smaller in coverage and higher in “deductibles”. It has taken more than 30 years to come to this sorry state. The worst is yet to come for the end is not in sight unless the government imposes price control rather than subsidizing for the short-term benefit of those in need.

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Believing in Evolution

Being a Catholic, I have no problem believing in evolution because this scientific theory offers plenty of insights. Unlike many religious people, I don’t take the Bible literally, especially the Old Testament. As a general rule, words invented by humans cannot describe in full all the truths, particularly subtle and complex ones like evolution. There is an ancient Chinese saying that if you believe without questioning what you read from books, you may as well go without any books at all. We must think critically about what we read and see. That’s how people find enlightenment. The negative attitude toward evolution is not new. It has something to do with the following three factors — psychology, religion, and complicated scientific knowledge.

First, how can we accept that humans descended from an ancestral branch of apes? Harder still, how can we accept that all living things originate from a single cell at the beginning? This thinking definitely conflicts with our egos since we think humans are the highest form of life. Well, all we need is an open mind. Why not take a look at something important about life that is based on scientific evidence? Never mind our egos that tend to get us into trouble. The fact that humans have come this far demonstrates our great success in evolution history. However, we must also pay attention to the countless success stories of other species around us. Despite being illiterate, are apes smart enough to survive the hostile environment in their own styles? Despite possessing no tools, are vegetables smart enough to photosynthesize for survival besides providing for human consumption? Despite being single cells, are microbes smart enough to populate everywhere even within our bodies? The fact that all life forms (not just us) continue to thrive in this diverse and complex ecosystem is a great reason to celebrate, not denigrate.

Second, the curious human mind never stops looking for answers. When an answer is found, it provides closure and peace of mind. How can we find answers to the greatest mysteries such as the origins of life and of the universe? Here, religions rightfully come into play. The Bible snd other scriptures provide the ultimate elegant answer — the omnipotent Creator. As for the atheists, they will also find the ultimate answer even more elegant that everything in the universe is a result of pure chance. We don’t need scientific evidence that is hard to understand. We just want closure and peace of mind, which are perfectly fine. Then what about the Creator’s plan for humankind? It varies depending on which religion you belong to. The religious answers to the Creator’s plan are simple like fairy tales but fail to provide closure. We are still asking God why so many humans in the world are suffering, and why does evil triumph over good in so many cases.

Third, science is a very complex discipline, but you need not fully understand it to appreciate its usefulness. If you possess a smart phone, access the Internet while flying or employ GPS while driving, to deny scientific evidence is a sinful betrayal of truth and reality. Every scientist will tell you that they only know a very small fraction of truth because science is always work in progress. Scientists learn and correct their mistakes along the way everyday. The science of evolution has now grown to encompass not only biology but also many other disciplines such as Physics, Chemistry, Cosmology, Geology, Ecology, Paleontology and Anthropology. There has not been a single piece of evidence suggesting that evolution is false or contradictory to logic. Instead, more and more evidence point to the wonder and complexity of evolution.

In spite of all the advanced tools, science cannot answer the question about the existence of the Creator. That is not the job of the scientists, but of the clergy in order to fulfill the human desire for closure. The scientists can never provide closure regarding the origins of life and the universe, because one question inevitably leads to another as to what was the first being or condition to give rise to all the physical laws and other things. They find that the answer involves more and more complexity — an infinite wonder worthy of continued research. This wonder is the Creator’s plan if we really want closure.

The science of evolution describes how the Creator’s plan evolves as revealed by continuous scientific discoveries without usurping the religious doctrine about the existence of the Creator. In so doing, evolution provides a fuller yet complex answer to the simple religious doctrine about the Creator’s plan. Therefore we see that religion proclaims the omnipotent Creator while evolution confirms the omnipotence of His complex plan. The two are complementary. Why do we have to treat them as conflicting? The science of evolution gradually reveals the Creator’s plan like peeling an onion. It gives us great insights into the process of life instead of simple closure. In addition, it points the direction to how we are able to save the world.

Evolution, nature and ecology are almost synonymous. There seems to be a goal for all living things — to adapt, survive and reproduce. These essential capabilities are all built-in and passed down from one generation to the next. Evolution does not discriminate between species, resulting in a huge diversity of both animals and plants to form a well-balanced ecosystem. This balance is dynamic rather than static. Many species including humans evolve faster than others. Many species become extinct because they fail to adapt fast enough. This natural balance may be disrupted by some major external disturbances like an asteroid impacting the earth like the one ending the dinosaurs and many other species. However, a different balance will be restored eventually reflecting the high adaptability of the surviving species.

We should recognize that all living things are passively responding to the changes in their environments, with the exception of humans. In this technological age, an external disturbance may comprise not only an asteroid, but also disastrous human acts such as nuclear holocaust, overfishing, environmental pollution, and climate change due to excessive man-made carbon dioxide. It is difficult to predict how living things will adapt and evolve in these conditions. Nevertheless there is scientific consensus that after an extinction event for humans, the creatures ruling the earth will likely be the most adaptable cockroaches and other insects. If you find this really hurts your ego, better engage yourself in promoting peace and protecting the environment from man-made disasters.

In conclusion, I believe in evolution because it helps me understand all those things important for human survival and wellbeing. It does not conflict with my religious belief. It only helps me find a way to contribute positively to the Creator’s plan, which despite omnipotent and benevolent, allows human freedom to destroy the earth.

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Some Political Jokes

Based on journalists’ reports and other published materials, I have assembled the following jokes for your enjoyment. The contents are half real and half fiction. I wrote the fiction part by creating an imaginary context whose purpose is to give you a good laugh rather than providing extra information.

Bill Clinton’s Astute Observations
Why he won in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
Why Hillary lost in 2016: “It’s the angry crowds, stupid!”
Why Al Gore lost in 2000: “It’s Monica, stupid!”

“Corporations Are People!”
Shorty after his re-election in 2012, President Obama invited his opponent Mitt Romney for lunch featuring hamburgers especially prepared by the White House chefs. The butler in the next room heard Romney saying out loud, “Hamburgers are people, too!” There they started debating again.

Move Over Darling
According to his biographers, President Lyndon Johnson liked to make his secretaries work through the night in the office. When they got tired, the sofas were there for them to lay down for a nap. One night Johnson came in and squeezed himself into the sofa where a secretary was resting.
“Move over! It’s your President,“ he commanded.

World’s Most Honest Politician
Winston Churchill had the strange habit of coming out of his bathroom totally naked (indecent exposure if you will). One evening a maid went into his bedroom to tidy things up for the night. She was shocked when Churchill suddenly appeared in a state of nature.
“Now you know that your Prime Minister has nothing to hide,” Churchill calmly reassured her.

World’s Smartest Tax Accountant
President Trump was advised to claim $59 million tax deduction for the total loss of 59 cruise missiles he ordered to be fired into Syria.

Pre-Existing Conditions
Members of the US Congress know that they will be denied coverage if they vote to privatize their own health insurance provided by the government. The reason is that they all share the same pre-existing condition — Their crooked eyes are permanently fixated on the ugly money donors, a condition that is impossible to cure.

What Makes Us Special
Many Americans don’t understand why we are not embraced as liberators when we fight a war on foreign soil. In WWII England which was our staunchest ally, an American soldier recalled what an Englishman said to him, “You are over-paid, over-sexed and over here.”

A Truth Not So Subtle
Senator Hayakawa from California often dozed off while the US Senate was in session. A reporter asked Senator Edward Kennedy to confirm the rumor because their seats were next to each other.
“I never saw Senator Hayakawa, I only saw his pillow,” replied Kennedy.

Voting Fraud
Somewhere in America, voting fraud is said to be rampant. To prevent it, the following regulations are written down for strict enforcement:
No persons may enjoy the pleasure of voting more than once on election day.
No children may vote.
Homeless or illiterate persons must write down their addresses.
Poor persons may pay a discount price of $1 for the voting forms.
Dead persons are not allowed to vote.

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