Kevin Shows His Little Spine

The Daily Escape:

Lone Cypress, 17 Mile Drive, Monterey, CA – September 2023 photo by Leila Shehab Photography

“Until we know we are wrong, being wrong feels exactly like being right.”David McRaney 

Wrongo’s Wake Up Call came on Saturday evening when Kevin McCarthy asked House Democrats to bail him out again:

“Congress passed a bill today to fund the federal agencies at FY2023 levels until Nov. 17. The legislation reauthorizes the FAA and the national flood insurance program through the end of this year. There’s $16 billion for disaster relief accounts, too.”

From Politico:

“McCarthy’s move marked an abrupt shift after spending most of the year trying to placate all corners of his party — including a dozen-plus hardliners who have made it next to impossible for him to maneuver anything onto the floor. After the vote, McCarthy all but taunted his critics to come after his gavel if they wanted to.”

Wrongo said here that:

“You’re unlikely to win if you decide to place a bet on McCarthy getting a dose of moral courage and standing up to his Party.“

Well, Wrongo was um, wrong. The 45-day bridge funding passed with more Democratic than GOP votes. That’s a repeat of the debt vote last spring that also angered McCarthy’s opponents.

More from the Punchbowl:

“Depending on where you sit, McCarthy is either the “adult in the room,”…or he’s a treasonous turncoat who continues to abandon his party in the pursuit of easy political victories, as his hardline GOP conservatives claim.”

House Republicans will now spend the next 45 days trying to pass FY2024 appropriations bills that have zero chance of becoming law. The best McCarthy can hope for is that the Senate will attempt to negotiate with the House.

On Sunday, Roll Call reported that Rep. Matt Gaetz, (R-LaLa land) said that he intends to push a motion to oust McCarthy from the Speakership:

“I do intend to file a motion to vacate against Speaker McCarthy this week. I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy….By week’s end he will either not be speaker or he will be Speaker serving at the pleasure of House Democrats.”

A simple majority of the House is all that’s required to vacate the Speakership. Being the House Speaker with a GOP majority makes you a punching bag. While the members of the Freedom Caucus may love the spotlight, none of them are stupid enough to want to assume the role of getting beaten around the ears every day. It’s much easier to sit back and bitch and moan than actually, you know, do the F’ing work you were elected to do. And McCarthy is the perfect tool: Weak, but too vain to step aside.

Pass the popcorn. We’ll soon see whether Gaetz or McCarthy have a majority behind them. An opposing view: People keep saying that: “Kevin doesn’t have the juice to do that, if he does, they’ll knife him“. But then he doesn’t get knifed. If we keep saying “he’s too weak to do X” and then he does X, doesn’t that suggest something? Like maybe McCarthy’s better at his job than we thought?

In some ways, it’s become misleading to talk about the “Republican Party“.  The Republican Party is no longer the Party of Eisenhower, and it’s not the Party of Reagan. Over the past 30 years, they’ve become a cult of grifters. Think about it: Alito on the Supreme Court predates Trump by over 10 years, Thomas by 25 years. The GOP Grifter Cult includes many political operatives who’ve had critical mass in our politics for a very long time.

The Grifter Cult was aching for a leader that would turn the volume on bigotry and coarseness up to 11. Trump easily passed the audition, although he brought zero in new policies, and he hasn’t broadened the Party. His major contribution has been the complete normalizing of coarse Republican messaging.

The GOP Grifter Cult was disappointed with McCain and later, with Romney, because both felt the need to show some minimal respect to others at a time when the base had already moved on to birtherism, misogyny, and pseudo-religiosity. Now, they’re rapidly moving to full anti-democratic authoritarianism.

Time to wake up America! The GOP Grifters must be neutralized. The surest way to do that is to vote them out of office. To help you wake up on this Monday, watch and listen to Larkin Poe and The Sheepdogs cover Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit “The Chain” from their landmark album “Rumors”, in this September 2023 video:

We’ve gotta break the chain.

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What’s “My Kevin” Gonna Do?

The Daily Escape:

In her series Marjory’s World, photographer Rebecca Reeve creates portals from the domestic into the wilderness. She uses household drapery that she purchases from local Goodwill and Salvation Army stores to evoke the feeling of looking out of a room.

This photo was taken in the Everglades in Florida in 2012.

Reeve’s series, Marjory’s World is named after Marjory Stoneman Douglas who was an American journalist, author and conservationist. She was an advocate of the Everglades and defended against the efforts to drain and reclaim it for development. Her most influential book was “The Everglades: River of Grass” written in 1947, the year that the Everglades was made a National Park.

In 1990, when she was 100 years old, her name was given to the high school in Parkland, FL where in 2018, a mass shooting took place leaving 17 dead and 17 more wounded in less than six minutes. Stoneman Douglas died at 108 on May 14, 1998.

(hat tip to Adam Tooze for introducing Reeve to Wrongo)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) died on Friday at 90, leaving a complicated legacy. Having lived in California for more than 10 years, Wrongo and Ms. Right had the opportunity to vote for her. In her early years in the Senate, Feinstein was known for trying to find common ground with Republicans. Feinstein in her later years overstayed her welcome in the Senate.

But her real legacy was Chairing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SSCI) Torture Report in 2014. Feinstein’s tenure as SSCI Chair ensured there was a documented account of the torture done during the GW Bush administration which was serious enough that the CIA actually “lost” its sole copy of the 6,000+ page report. And she defied Obama by releasing the unclassified summary of the torture perpetrated during the War on Terror. For that alone, her legacy deserves respect.

She also championed the assault weapons ban that became law under Clinton, which was later allowed to expire by Bush. For history buffs, she became mayor of San Francisco after the murder of mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk. She found Moscone shot in his office and tried to revive him. After Moscone’s death, Feinstein succeeded him as Acting Mayor of San Francisco. She was also a strong leader for SFO during the AIDS crisis when Reagan couldn’t care less.

But let’s also talk today about a politician whose legacy will be forever tarnished, House Speaker Kevin (My Kevin) McCarthy. On Friday, the Republican-controlled House voted down a last-ditch measure to temporarily avert a government shutdown, 198-232 with all Democrats against it, along with 21 Republicans.

The Continuing Resolution (CR) would have kept the government funded for 30 days while cutting funding by 30% for all agencies except the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, something no Democrat would ever accept.

Most GOP “no” votes were by right-wingers who objected to the very idea of a CR. While it failed, 198 House Republicans voted for this bill sourced from God Knows Where (GKW). The Thesaurus says one synonym for GKW is “alien”. And a few synonyms for alien are: Contrary, Estranged, Opposed and Inappropriate. These all seem right to Wrongo.

These Republicans do not belong in our government.

You may remember that back in June, House Republicans and McCarthy agreed at the eleventh hour to raise the federal debt limit to avoid the government defaulting on its loans for the first time in history. As part of that agreement, McCarthy and Biden agreed to spending caps on funding bills for the next two years that aimed to avoid this kind of impasse until after the next presidential election.

But McCarthy welshed on that deal, under pressure from a number of MAGA Republicans in his caucus who are refusing to fund the government and are calling for deeper spending cuts.

Meanwhile, McCarthy is “leading” one of the slimmest Congressional majorities in decades. He faces a choice of either showing moral courage by introducing a funding bill with the backing of House Dems, or letting the Shutdown run for several weeks or months.

Another day, another new McCarthy plan. Indeed, this whole dance makes for very bad politics for the GOP considering that 77% of US voters say that they don’t want the government to close.

You’re unlikely to win if you decide to place a bet on McCarthy getting a dose of moral courage and standing up to his Party.

Here in the Northeast, we’ve been dumped on by even more rain leading into the weekend, which isn’t expected to taper off until late this afternoon. Despite that, we’ve taken the Bluebird nesting boxes down, cleaned them out and stored them until next spring.

But we have to find time for our Saturday Soother, where we forget about the mess Republicans are making of their “impeachment inquiry”, you know the one with zero evidence. Instead we must focus on building up our mental resolve to wander through the government shutdown without injury.

To help you build resolve, let’s start by grabbing a comfy chair by a south facing window. Now watch and listen to U2’s take on Kevin McCarthy’s problem. Here is U2’s remastered video of “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” from their 2000 album “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”. The song was written by Bono for his friend, lead singer of INXS, Michael Hutchence, who committed suicide in 1997:

Let’s hope that McCarthy doesn’t engage in any self-harm, except for losing the Speakership.

Sample Lyric:

I never thought you were a fool
But darling, look at you (Ooh)
You gotta stand up straight,
Carry your own weight
These tears are going nowhere (baby)

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And now you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better
Now you’re stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it

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Trump Could Be President Even While Serving Time

The Daily Escape:

First fall foliage, Cox Brook, Northfield Falls, VT – September 2023 photo by John H. Knox

First, although we may know if Trump has been convicted prior to the 2024 election, it’s highly unlikely that he would be serving time by then, because his convictions (if any) will be appealed. The appeal process will take us well beyond when the Electoral College votes are counted in DC.

Second, The Constitution (before it was amended) contains just three requirements to become president: the person must be a natural-born citizen of the US, 35 years or older and a resident of the US for at least 14 years. That’s it.

In 1868, the 14th Amendment added Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the original text that:

“no person shall … hold any office, civil or military, under the United States … who, having previously taken an oath … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

UCLA law professor Richard L. Hasen, a leading expert on election law, told CNN that Trump has a path to serving as president if he wins the election in 2024: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Constitution has very few requirements to serve as President….It does not bar anyone indicted, or convicted, or even serving jail time, from running as president and winning the presidency,”

And while some states prohibit felons from running for state and local office, those laws do not apply to federal elections. More from Hasen, on whether a president may serve from prison.

“How someone would serve as president from prison is a happily untested question…”

If Trump were in jail and prevented by law from leaving jail while his sentence was carried out, that would make running the government impossible. It wouldn’t necessarily prohibit him from serving as president from a cell, at least until he could pardon himself, another untested loophole.

If he tried to pardon himself, or to commute his own sentence, we’d wind up at the Supreme Court. From the NYT:

“Either action would be an extraordinary assertion of presidential power, and the Supreme Court would be the final arbiter of whether a “self-pardon” was constitutional.”

Trump would certainly sue to be released from jail, saying (correctly) that imprisonment prevented him from fulfilling his Constitutional obligations as president. Trump’s lawyers would argue that keeping a duly elected president in prison would be an infringement by the judicial branch on the operations of the executive branch. Again off to the Supremes we’d go.

So time for a few brief reminders: Trump faces no significant opposition to winning the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Plan A among those who really don’t want Trump to win is to say:

“…he will lose in the general election.”

And there’s no Plan B. So, what will your options be if he wins? In general, your options are: Knuckling under, taking part in political violence, or leaving the country. And understand that, regardless of how submissive you are, the number of people who will die in police custody or while “resisting” will go way up. Let’s take your options one at a time:

  1. Leaving the country is something only rich people can do and it wouldn’t dislodge Trump. It will make him more secure.
  2. Political violence is personally risky. It requires moral compromise that makes our regular politics look almost pristine. And unless it’s large and well organized, it will fail.
  3. Knuckling under to tyranny will probably be the response of most Americans, even though most would say that’s incompatible with their conscience.

But all that said, Ukraine’s limited success against a superpower shows that using today’s technology makes it relatively easy to hold large swaths of a country despite the other side’s having a much stronger military.

Wrongo thinks that after a Trump win in 2024, US citizens will have to think seriously about how to handle life under an authoritarian regime. Trump will start out with a soft form of authoritarianism. But later? Who knows what it becomes. A lot of people around the world live under authoritarian regimes, so while it’s awful, it’s also survivable for most people.

And think twice about resistance. As a thought experiment, list out the historical examples of a citizenry that  successfully resisted a fascist takeover once the fascists had a firm grip on the judiciary and half of the legislatures.

America has one great shining example of what not to do when Bush v. Gore was decided in 2000. No Democrat (looking at you Bill Clinton!) told the Supremes to fuck off. Even Gore didn’t say “just keep on counting” in Florida. Instead, he crumbled. In a democracy, no court should ever tell the political branch to stop counting votes.

That election was stolen, but Democrats collectively just let it happen. Worse, two years later almost all of the Democrats in Congress voted for Bush’s nasty authoritarian terror bills and a war to avenge 9/11.

Wouldn’t it be much better this time around to make sure Trump doesn’t get the votes of any of your friends, family or neighbors? And better yet, that you get most of them out to vote?

Please don’t plan on sitting back and waiting for a conviction to deliver us from Trump. Why is it in the DNA of Democrats to keep looking for some external solution to our political problem?

Wrongo is an elderly white, married, upper-middle class male living in a Blue state. He’s going to be fine no matter what. He’ll worry about his kids and grandkids, but personally, Wrongo has nothing to worry about. His taxes may even go down again.

But he plans to resist, no matter what.

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The Auto Strike

The Daily Escape:

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain NP, CO – September 2023 photo by Rick Priebe

On Friday, The UAW union expanded its strike against GM and Stellantis, two of the Big Three automakers, ramping up pressure on the companies to reach deals on new contracts. The union walked off the job at parts distribution centers of both manufacturers but spared Ford, saying the company had done more to meet its demands. From the NYT:

“Our pressure on Ford is starting to pay off,”

But there was no indication a deal with Ford was imminent. More:

“Stellantis workers walked out at 20 of the company’s parts distribution centers Friday, while G.M. workers went on strike at 18 centers.”

Ford Canada reached a deal last week with the union that represents its Canadian workers. It may offer a clue to the US outcome: The deal provides for pay increases worth up to 25% over three years, as well as bonuses, improved retirement benefits and measures to protect employees as Ford retools factories for electric vehicles. The union, Unifor, is negotiating separately with GM and Stellantis in Canada.

The UAW is asking for a 37% wage increase over four years, improved retiree benefits and shorter work hours. They also want an end to a tiered wage system that starts new hires at much lower wages than the top UAW pay of $32 an hour. Importantly, more than 18,000 UAW members are now on strike.

Some context: UAW workers made significant sacrifices to help keep the big three afloat, amidst the financial crisis in 2009. They made those sacrifices based in part on the promise that the Big Three would eventually renew their compensation and benefits, which the Big Three never did. There were no cost of living adjustments, despite the Big Three going from losing money to record profitability (and tens of $ billions in stock buybacks).

And this week, Biden will join the strike in an extraordinary move of support. From CNN:

“Biden will travel to Michigan on Tuesday and walk the picket line with members of the United Auto Workers union, he announced Friday…”

Biden said in a post on Xitter:

“Tuesday, I’ll go to Michigan to join the picket line and stand in solidarity with the men and women of UAW as they fight for a fair share of the value they helped create. It’s time for a win-win agreement that keeps American auto manufacturing thriving with well-paid UAW jobs,”,

This presidential appearance on a picket line is a historic first. It is also an opportunity to score political points, since it comes one day before Trump is scheduled to deliver a speech to an audience of current and former union members in Detroit. In July, Trump asked the UAW to endorse him, so both politicians are working hard to gain traction with the union.

The UAW was angered by Biden’s pumping tax money into nonunion electric vehicle suppliers, and has withheld its endorsement, even as most other labor unions have rushed to back Mr. Biden’s re-election.

Back to some context for the UAW strike: The WSJ reports that:

“The Detroit companies’ labor costs, including wages and benefits, are estimated at an average of $66 an hour…”

That compares with $45 at Tesla, which isn’t unionized.

Hopefully, the UAW strike will yield fair results for the workers, given the enormous profits the companies are making, the generous salaries the industry’s execs are reaping, and the sacrifices labor made to keep the lights on when the industry was on life support in 2008.

This may well be the union’s last big strike when you consider that nearly half of all the cars built in the US are manufactured in 31 foreign-owned plants. None of these facilities are unionized, and their workers are generally paid less than those at union plants.

The move to EVs will be also be a sea-change reality for auto labor. There is likely to be a 40% reduction in the labor required to build the new engineless cars. Electric motors are much simpler than internal combustion engines. It is estimated that in less than 10 years, two-thirds of all new cars will be electric.

While the impact on labor throughout the supply chain will be dramatic, plenty of internal combustion engines will remain in use, even if not in production. That will provide stability for auto maintenance and repair workers for decades to come.

Nonetheless, the writing is on the wall. Workers with computer skills and AI capability will replace many traditional lunch-pail workers at plants assembling automobiles.

Time to wake up America! Not so long ago, the thought of a UAW strike was traumatizing because of the enormous workforce the union represented. A half-century ago, the UAW represented 1.5 million auto workers (1.5%) out of a total American workforce of just under 100 million workers. Today, UAW membership at GM, Ford, and Stellantis is about 150,000 employees (less than one percent) out of a total American workforce of 160 million workers.

Imagine if today’s number is reduced by 40%, or 60,000 workers! This means that the UAW loses its ability to represent its workers effectively by 2033!

To help you wake up, watch and listen to Green Day perform their hit “Wake Me Up When September Endsfrom their 2004 album “American Idiot” at England’s Reading Festival in 2013. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the song about the death of his father when he was 10 years old. But it has come to express loss of all kinds. Gotta love those English crowds:

You realize that the country is growing older, that Biden is growing older, the song is growing older, Green Day is growing older, and the union movement in the US is growing older too.

Regardless of how much time has passed, this song hits just as hard as it did when it was introduced 19 years ago.

Sample lyric:

Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends

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More Fresh Hell In Washington DC

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Linville Gorge Wilderness, NC – September 2023 photo by Thomas Mabry

Today is the Autumn Equinox, bringing its shortened days and cooler nights. It reminds us that we’re running out of time to avoid a government shutdown, because the GOP can’t stop fighting among themselves. Republicans no longer represent a serious national political Party.

From the Hill:

“House Republicans abandoned plans to take up a stopgap funding measure this week after members of the fractious GOP conference warned there would not be enough votes to pass a continuing resolution to avert a partial government shutdown next month.

Party leaders informed members that…the House would recess subject to the call of the chair. Lawmakers were advised to keep their plans flexible, and that “ample notice” would be provided for any votes they planned to schedule on Friday or over the weekend.

Members weren’t being officially sent home for the weekend because House leaders lacked the votes to adopt a motion to adjourn…”

Here’s a quote from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY): (brackets by Wrongo)

“…[in] 2018-2019, they shut the government down for 35 days. When the shutdown began, Trump was president, Republicans controlled the House and the Senate… They shut themselves down. That’s how much it’s in their DNA”

It’s actually worse than that. Since 1995, there have been 5 major government shutdowns. The GOP controlled the House for all 5 of them. Anyone other than Wrongo see a trend here?

Politico says that members of the Problem Solvers Caucus is working with Speaker McCarthy on a deal:

“Small groups of centrist Democrats are holding secret talks with several of McCarthy’s close GOP allies about a last-ditch deal to fund the government, according to more than a half-dozen people familiar with the discussions.”

More:

“Lawmakers involved in the talks — who mostly belong to the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, the Republican Governance Group or the centrist New Democrat Coalition — have labored to keep their work quiet. Many Republicans involved are incredibly worried about revealing their backup plan, wanting to wait until every other tool in McCarthy’s arsenal has failed.

That moment may not be until next week, just ahead of the Sept. 30 shutdown deadline.”

Any solution to the impasse has to be bipartisan, given the intransigence of a handful of wacko Conservatives. As Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) said about the conservative holdouts: (brackets by Wrongo)

“So why negotiate with these five or 10 people who [constantly] move the goalposts?”

Or as Andy Borowitz put it:

“Zelensky Offers to Broker Peace Deal Between Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans”

Moving on, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was indicted on federal bribery charges by the DOJ on Friday morning:

“…federal prosecutors alleging the New Jersey Democrat accepted cash, gold and other benefits in exchange for using his office to enrich three businessmen and aid the Egyptian government. The charges, brought by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, mark the second time New Jersey’s senior senator has faced public corruption allegations. An earlier criminal case eight years ago fell apart.”

Menendez wasn’t alone in the indictment; his wife Nadine Arslanian was also included on the bribery charges.

More from the WSJ:

“During a search of Menendez’s home in June 2022, investigators discovered over $480,000 in cash—much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in a safe, closets and clothing, including a jacket emblazoned with the Senate logo….Over $70,000 was found in his wife’s safe-deposit box….Federal agents also found gold bars, home furnishings and a Mercedes-Benz convertible worth more than $60,000 that the senator and his wife received as part of the scheme, prosecutors said.”

The WSJ also notes that some of the gold bars in Menendez’s possession had serial numbers that indicated his co-defendant New Jersey developer Fred Daibes had previously owned them.

Menendez’s trial in 2008 ended in a hung jury. We’re certain to hear from Republicans that the Menendez prosecution is a clever plan to give the illusion by the DOJ that Democrats are as likely to be prosecuted as are Republicans. But with this kind of blockbuster evidence, his political career is probably over. Or, it would be over, unless his name is actually Trump.

Finally, many of you probably saw David Brooks’ tweet:

“This meal just cost me $78 at Newark Airport. This is why Americans think the economy is terrible:”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welp, ol’ Dave exaggerates. It appears Brooks’ burger cost $17, and the rest of the bill was bourbon and taxes. Several bourbons apparently. The Newark Airport restaurant is the 1911 Smoke House Barbecue, and it notes in a Facebook post that Brooks’ bar tab was almost 80% of the total, and yet, he’s complaining about the cost of the meal.

As The New Republic said:

“Maybe Brooks could use this opportunity to pivot into speculative fiction, but in the meantime, if he ever wants to comment on economic news, he may want to lay off the whiskey first.”

And he probably expensed the bill to his employer, the NYT.

That’s enough for this week, it’s time for our Saturday Soother, where we try to let go of thoughts of Kevin McCarthy, Bob Menendez, David Brooks and the whole Washington menagerie for a few minutes. Let’s try to get as calm as possible to help us prepare for whatever fresh hell awaits next week. And you can be certain it will be hell.

Here in Connecticut, we’re getting a glancing blow from an early fall Nor’easter with more rain than wind. We’ll be hunkered down today. It arrives on the heels of our hummingbirds departing on Friday for more southerly places that still offer flowers with nectar.

So, start by grabbing a comfy chair inside by a south facing window. Now watch and listen to another of the “seasons” by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, who died in 1992, his “Otoño Porteño” (“Autumn”). Last Saturday, we featured his “Winter” and today, his “Autumn” is also played by Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, NL in 2014. The soloist is again the conductor Liviu Prunaru:

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Should Kamala Harris Stay As VP?

The Daily Escape:

Cosmic Ashtray, Harris Wash, Escalante, UT – September 2023 photo by Michelle Strong. The rock that looks like a bird in the center sits in sand, not water.

There’s the whispering campaign among Democrats saying that Biden is too old to run, and there’s the whispering  campaign that says Kamala Harris should be replaced on the ticket to help out ol’ Joe. Like the Biden whispers, when Wrongo speaks with Democrats about Harris, the vast majority are wishing that someone else would be the VP candidate on the Democratic 2024 presidential ticket.

Those two thoughts can be viewed as one, or independently of each other. Wrongo addressed the issue of Biden’s age here:

“Biden has slowed down, that’s objectively true. But he is worlds better than Trump. And if those are the choices for president in 2024, be thankful that the old guy is on the right side of history.”

Barring a Biden health catastrophe before the summer of 2024, no Democrat will challenge Biden’s running for a second term. But the same can’t be said for Harris. Some think Biden could inject new enthusiasm into his campaign by picking a new running mate for 2024.

These two whispering campaigns are linked because many Americans think that it’s crucial to have a vice president who is seen as a capable successor to a president, in this case, Biden. After all, he will be 86 when his second term ends in 2029. Even for a relatively healthy 80 year-old about to be 81, the odds of something going wrong increases steadily between 81 and 86.

Poll numbers indicate that the public doesn’t support Harris to that extent. She’s less popular than a relatively unpopular Biden. That’s not a good situation. OTOH, as the Niskanen Center says, VPs generally have little to no impact on a presidential race and almost no direct effect on voter decision-making.

Where they can make a slight difference is in targeted demographics. A candidate can pick up (or retain) support among certain groups of voters. This is where dropping Harris from the ticket would cause more problems than it would solve:

“…it is hard to imagine a core Democratic constituency that Biden can less afford to deliberately alienate than Black women, who gave the president an 81-point margin in 2020…especially at a time when pollsters keep warning that turnout among voters of color is one of the president’s worst potential problems.”

More:

“It is…impossible to deny that Harris has liabilities or deny that she has disappointed as both a presidential candidate and now as vice president. She’s been caught flat-footed too many times by what seemed like simple queries, and she has failed to stake out a clear policy space for herself inside the party. But Biden has done her no favors, either. He put her in charge of the southern border, an effectively impossible task given that Congress has shown zero interest in addressing the many problems there.”

Yet, according to Gallup, Harris had far better approval numbers at the time of her inauguration than Pence did when he became VP.

Booting Harris from the ticket would be a self-inflicted wound. Biden’s brand (and one of the keys to a 2024 victory) is that he’s a no-drama politician (in contrast to Trump). There’d be no better way to shatter that image than for Biden to dump his VP a year before the election.

Some Dems are worried that in a second Biden term, Harris will become the Party’s de facto 2028 nominee. It’s true that current or former VPs who seriously seek their Party’s nomination often get nominated. But Harris is at well under 50% in polls that asked who Democratic primary voters would support if Biden didn’t run again. One survey from Ipsos/Reuters had her at just 20%.

But, after eight years of seasoning as VP at the national level, it might be that Harris would be a much better candidate than she was in 2020. And there is no telling how governors like Gretchen Whitmer, Josh Shapiro or Gavin Newsome might handle the national spotlight. Think how Ron DeSantis withered once everyone got to know him.

So Harris isn’t going anywhere in 2024.

But there are other troubling issues for Dems who feel less than enthusiastic about the 2024 ticket. NBC says that political ad spending is projected to reach $10 billion by the end of this election cycle, making it the most expensive two years in political history. But Michelle Goldberg wrote that:

“…panic is setting in among some progressive groups because the donors who buoyed them throughout the Trump years are disengaging…..As both big and small donors pull back, there have been layoffs across the progressive ecosystem, from behemoths like the Sierra Club to insurgent outfits like Justice Democrats, the group that first recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez…”

Dem funding is falling just when they need money more than ever:

“It was probably inevitable that left-leaning fund-raising would fall once the immediate crisis of Donald Trump’s presidency ended. Activism, like electoral politics, is often thermostatic: There’s more energy on the right when Democrats are in power, and more on the left during Republican administrations.”

Goldberg also mentions the Dems’ never-ending funds raising via email, something that frosts Wrongo:

“If you’re on any progressive mailing lists, you surely know what I’m talking about: the endless appeals, sometimes in bold all caps, warning of imminent Democratic implosion.”

The relentless drumbeat in Wrongo’s inbox has caused him to cut off the Democratic Party completely in the past two years. If every email is “critical” then none are critical. If this month’s deadline is “crucial” then next month’s can’t be.

Small donors are punished every day for their giving to Democrats. Their information is sold and repackaged back to them from all across the political ecosystem. Wrongo won’t begin donating again until January 2024.

Finally, it seems to be in the DNA of Democrats to want a deus ex machina to deliver them from Trump and Republicans. It may be that some of the 91 counts put Trump in jail, but don’t count on the 14th Amendment malarkey to get him off the ballot, unless he’s convicted of “treasonous conspiracy” like some of the Jan. 6 defendants.

Consistent with that, Many Dems are hoping for a savior to ride up on a white horse and “save” the Party from Biden and Harris.

But Democrats came to the dance with Biden — and that’s who they’re leaving with.

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Can Biden’s Union Roots Help Him In 2024?

The Daily Escape:

Red Mountain, San Juan Mountains, CO – September 2023 photo by Daniel Forster Photography

The “the biggest auto strike in generations” got under way last week, with 150,000 US autoworkers, including employees at Ford, Stellantis and General Motors walking off the job after contract negotiations failed to reach a deal. This strike, coupled with the likely government shutdown at the end of the month, will precipitate a very dangerous moment for the Biden administration.

From The Guardian:

“The United Auto Workers (UAW) union says workers have never been fully compensated for the sacrifices they made after the 2008-09 financial crisis, when they agreed to a raft of cuts to save the industry. The carmakers received huge bailouts and soon returned to record profits.”

The WaPo had a good article asking workers why they are striking. Most cited inflation and fairness:

“We’re not making enough money” said Petrun Williams, a 58 year-old Ford repairman. “People should be able to buy their own houses, but right now it’s not possible.”

This is going to be a difficult problem to tackle, because GM, Ford, and Stellantis are wildly inefficient giant bureaucracies with cost structures optimized to make $75,000 trucks, and their move into Electric Vehicles will take a lot of money and time before it pays off.

But the Biden administration isn’t necessarily helping: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“…Biden…is in a tough spot with the United Auto Workers….Through its industrial policies,…[Biden]…is giving away billions to automakers through production tax credits and loans, while supporting the transition to electric vehicles through consumer rebates and funds for charging infrastructure. Biden has promised that those incentives will lead not only to carbon emissions reductions but also good-paying union jobs.”

But the UAW leadership isn’t buying it. As the UAW goes on strike, their members don’t necessarily support Biden, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they support Trump either. Politico asked striking members if Biden had done enough to prevent the strike. They talked to Garry Quirk, the president of the local UAW union in Kokomo, IA:

“I don’t know what he’s done…Ask him. I don’t think he knows what he’s done. Seriously. I’m not trying to be mean.”

Quirk wasn’t freelancing: Fain and the union haven’t yet endorsed Biden’s reelection, throwing into doubt Biden’s standing in autoworker-heavy communities. But Politico reported that Biden had spoken that day with UAW president Shawn Fain and auto company CEOs. The chair of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers said this week that Biden had been very much engaged.

But his efforts didn’t resonate with union member Denny Butler:

“Historically, man, if you didn’t vote Democrat years ago, and you were in the union, sometimes you got your ass kicked…I’m telling you what, the Democratic Party is not what it was 20, 30 years ago.”

So this is another Politico story about Obama voters becoming Trump voters and not looking back.

What Biden is fighting is the sense that the Democratic Party has not been truly on the side of union workers for a long time. It is true that today the Democrats are more on the side of unions. Neoliberalism is not nearly as powerful in the Democratic Party as it was during Obama’s time, or earlier.

But perceptions can be sticky. Clinton, Carter, and Obama (especially in the first term) all promoted corporate policies over the unions. Workers got screwed as factories closed, and no one offered much to workers beyond retraining programs that they didn’t want, and for the most part, didn’t lead to better jobs.

If you said that Republicans (including Mitt Romney) were no better, you’re correct. But today’s Republican Party offers a way to channel anger and resentment. Union members can opt for the GOP path even if the GOP doesn’t have the union’s interests in mind.

Despite Obama (and Biden) saving autoworker jobs through the 2009 auto bailout, they did little to hold the auto companies accountable. They allowed the expansion of two-tiered wage rates that the union is still fighting during the current strike.

The perception is that the UAW shrank and sacrificed, while the auto industry leadership got richer.  Biden absolutely cares about unions, but he’s fighting against decades of belief that the Democrats aren’t what they used to be.

And no matter what Biden does, it’s going to be hard to get by that perception. There’s a mixture of anger and nostalgia that sticks in the minds of people who don’t really pay attention to the details of politics. Let’s take a look at the price of cars over the last ten years:

The Big Three automakers reported $21 billion in profits in just the first six months of 2023. Despite these enormous gains, the companies have cried poverty in response to union demands for wage increases that would make up for decades of pay stagnation. Worse, during the last year, the Big Three automakers have authorized $5 billion in stock buybacks, effectively giving those dollars to shareholders instead of to autoworkers.

The Economist had an excellent observation (paywalled):

“Late last year I took a trip…in a shiny new vehicle, Ford’s electric F-150. The car is in some ways an avatar for today’s Democratic Party. Joe Biden’s administration likes things that are made in America by union labor. It also wants to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels. The F-150 car ticks both boxes. It is also a high-end item that markets itself as a vehicle for working Americans.”

More:

“That’s a bit like the Democratic Party too…with each passing election Democrats lose votes among actual working-class Americans and gain them with college-educated ones (some of whom can actually afford a $75,000 truck).”

More:

“When we talked to a…UAW…representative near Detroit, it became clear the unionized workers are lukewarm on the green transition. Electric vehicles are less labor-intensive than cars powered by internal combustion, which is bad for the UAW members. In fact that is one reason why the union went on strike today. College-educated liberals, on the other hand, like electric vehicles a lot.”

Apparently union members see the problem much more clearly than the Biden Administration.

There could be a settlement reached between the unions and the companies at any moment, but it feels like this will be a protracted situation: If the UAW workers get the 40% pay increase they are asking for, they probably would learn to accept electric vehicles. Don’t hold your breath.

Biden’s relationship with America’s unions is deep and personal, but the next few months are really about his political strategy. And they’re an example of how the Democrats are always trying to balance competing aims.

Time to wake up America! Will Biden continue pursuing his environmental policies and risk losing even more support among working-class Americans? Or will he pump the brakes on environmentalism and alienate upscale Democrats? Biden won only 33% of white, non-college voters in 2020, so maybe that’s where his opportunity to expand his base in 2024 lies. But does Biden really have a path to take back more non-college voters?

To help you wake up, watch and listen to a recent version of the union anthem “Solidarity Forever”, written by Ralph Chaplin in 1915. Although it was written for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the AFL–CIO have adopted the song as their own. Here it is sung in the Wisconsin capitol building in September 2011, by demonstrators who opposed then Governor Scott Walker’s “Wisconsin Budget Repair bill.”

The bill proposed to alleviate the state’s budget shortfall by taking away the ability of public sector unions to bargain collectively over pensions and health care, as well as ending automatic union dues collection by the state. Walker stated that without the cuts, thousands of state workers would have to be laid off.  After two days of arrests for “holding signs” on the first floor of the Wisconsin State Capitol, the Solidarity Sing Along took to the rotunda in joyful defiance:

The law passed and remains in effect today.

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Romney Exits

The Daily Escape:

Northern Lights, Malletts Bay, Lake Champlain, Colchester, VT – September 2023 photo by Adam Silverman Photography

By now, everyone’s heard that Mitt Romney (R-UT) isn’t going to run for a second term in the Senate. From the WaPo:

“Romney, 76, said his decision not to run again was heavily influenced by his belief that a second term, which would take him into his 80s, probably would be less productive and less satisfying than the current term has been.”

He used the opportunity to say that Biden and Trump were too old to be the presidential candidates of their Parties, and they, like him, should stand aside and let the next generation of politicians take center stage.

But the big news was generated from a few quotes Romney made to McKay Coppins, who’s book about Romney is coming out in October. Coppins has a teaser article in The Atlantic in which Romney lets loose his ire against Trump (who Romney carefully cultivated in 2016 and 2017, when he was angling to be Secretary of State):

“So many Republican Senators privately expressed their support for Romney’s public criticism of Trump that the Utahan began keeping count, telling staffers he’d had more than a dozen nearly identical exchanges. He recalled one senior lawmaker complaining to him: “[Trump] has none of the qualities you would want in a president, and all of the qualities you wouldn’t.”

Romney told Coppins:

“Almost without exception, they shared my view of the president.”

This has earned Romney accolades from the media and from a few Democrats. Karen Tumulty in the WaPo credits Romney with “paving the way for national health-care reform…” This ignores the fact that Romney ran for president in 2012 promising to repeal Obamacare.

Yet, after reading The Atlantic article, the media used terms like “noble,” “principled,” and “courageous.” But there is nothing courageous about saying the right thing only when you’re on your way out the door.

Wrongo has had issues with Romney since his run for the presidency in 2012. In May of 2012, Wrongo wrote:

“Over the past few days, Mitt Myth Romney has taken credit for GM being alive and Osama Bin Laden being dead.”

On the auto bailout Wrongo had previously reported what Romney actually said about the auto industry bailout: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“On February 12, 2012, Romney said:  “Three years ago, in the midst of an economic crisis, a newly elected President Barack Obama stepped in with a bailout for the auto industry. The indisputable good news is that Chrysler and General Motors are still in business. The equally indisputable bad news is that all the defects in President Obama’s management of the American economy are evident in what he did.”

/snip/

“The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better.”

Romney lied or changed his positions throughout his 2012 campaign against Obama. America is better off because he only received 206 votes in the Electoral College to Obama’s 332. He always was a plutocrat who’s political philosophy is basically trickle-down economics, low taxes and traditional religious cultural values.

There is room for those views in our politics, but Romney, who was the only Republican who twice voted to impeach Trump, could have done more to rally his fellow Senators to confront Mr. 91 counts. But, he’s gone from being the Republican nominee for president to being forced to leave politics just a decade later.

You may say “Thank God for Brave Men like Mitt Romney”, men with strong spines willing to stand up for what they believe and then march forward right out of the room!

Enough for this week, it’s time to let go of whatever is happening to Hunter Biden and his impeachable dad, and center ourselves for the government shutdown that’s coming at the end of the month. It’s time for our Saturday Soother!

Here in northwestern Connecticut, we’re seeing nights in the high 40° as summer draws to a close. Despite the threats from Hurricane Lee, let’s spend our Saturday Soother outside, sitting on the deck. To help you let go of the many insults of your week, listen to “Winter” (“Invierno”) from Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” (“Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas”). Piazzolla was an Argentine composer who is credited with developing the nuevo tango.

Wrongo and Ms. Right were fortunate to attend a concert last week which featured Vivaldi’s Four Seasons followed by Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Piazzolla’s classical work often features tango like rhythms. Here is his “Winter” played by Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, NL in 2014. The soloist is the conductor Liviu Prunaru:

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Is Biden Too Old?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Coquille River Lighthouse, Bandon, OR – September 2023 photo by Mitch Schrieber Photography

At lunch this week with three people all who are around 80 years old, one whispered that “Biden is too old”. The rest of us agreed. In a perfect world, Biden would be considering winding up his political life and shipping his boxes to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. Biden will run for president again, and the polls show it’s likely to be a tight race against Trump. Many in the press see Biden as too frail to carry out even basic duties, leaving his aides to secretly run the country in his stead.

But as Semafor points out, in the first book that now documents the early years of his presidency, the picture is the reverse:

The Last Politician,” the Biden-in-power book that Franklin Foer published last week….presents an aging president who’s nonetheless fully engaged in the job, stumbling more when he loses his temper…than when he loses his train of thought.”

Foer’s book portrays Biden as a leader who sounds shaky in public but is the dominant force in his White House. Foer tells Semafor that Biden: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“…buries himself in details…[and] takes technocratic charge of issues”.

More from Semafor:

The Last Politician acknowledges that Biden ‘would occasionally admit that he felt tired,’ and that his ‘advanced age was a hindrance’ when he blanked on a name…..It’s weird; people are always saying, ‘well, it’d be great if we saw more Biden,’ Foer said. ‘He gives public speeches almost every single day. He sticks to his message. He doesn’t say anything insane. He does have kind of a low-key style in these speeches, but I don’t think that’s abnormal for a president. It’s just abnormal in the aftermath of Trump.”

And Georgetown’s Don Monyahan wonders why Biden doesn’t even get credit in the press for his recent diplomatic success: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Biden’s age has become such a trope in coverage that even when he undertakes a whirlwind diplomatic tour and a 40 minute press conference, these are the headlines. Actual demonstration of his fitness is used to raise questions about his fitness. All of this is a choice.”

From Margret Sullivan:

“As the 2024 presidential election looms ever closer — with its hugely important stakes for democracy — the mainstream press, far too often, doesn’t seem to get the significance of the moment. Or what their responsibility is.

Journalists’ continual fixation on President Biden’s age plays right into the hands of the Fox News crowd and Donald Trump’s campaign.”

She quotes a recent headline in the NYT:

“In three days of diplomacy in Asia, President Biden rallied world leaders to help finance poor nations, fortified the coalition backing Ukraine and struck a deal with Vietnam to counter Chinese aggression.”

The “Biden’s too old” situation is now spiraling into a meta-narrative, in which some like the WaPo’s David Ignatius say it’s time for Biden to step aside. Others like Josh Barro are calling for Biden to stay but only if he dumps Harris.

Vox’s Ian Millhiser makes the correct linkage of Biden’s unfavorable news coverage in 2023 to 2016:

Biden’s age is something that appears to have some traction among actual swing voters. But the subtext is not so much that he’s going to die in office as “and then we get Harris”?. The underlying racism and misogyny gets ignored because the only other option is the doddering criminal with his 91 counts.

More from Millhiser:

“As a general rule, I think the political press is at its worst when it covers a story that 1) involves a matter that is of genuine concern to reasonable people; and 2) isn’t a big deal when compared to other issues of superseding importance.”

What the press is doing today is actually much worse than the 2016 “But her emails” nonsense. Back then, it was still possible for the press to pretend that Trump might not actually be what he became, that there was a semi-normal person lurking underneath his shtick.

That was an historically bad take by the media. All of this is wildly irrelevant in the here and now, where the choice is between the suboptimally old Biden and fascism.

Why the preoccupation with Biden’s age when Joe is getting things done and showing a degree of wisdom while doing it? Biden’s biggest problem is that despite being an effective president, nobody knows it. His biggest challenge is figuring out how to use his accomplishments to offset the age concern.

Finally, Bob Cesca puts it this way:

“MAGAs will nominate a criminal who incited an insurrection as part of a conspiracy to overthrow the 2020 election, and whose incompetence led to 400K American deaths in his final year. But Biden is disqualified because he’s old. We’re an unserious nation.”

For some context, we’re staring down a manufactured budget crisis, a sham impeachment circus, and Sen. Tuberville’s unprecedented obstruction of military promotions. These are facets of the same unified Republican strategy to destabilize America.

Hammering on Biden’s age plays into their plan to make 2024 a year of chaos.

Biden has slowed down, that’s objectively true. But he is worlds better than Trump. And if those are the choices for president in 2024, be thankful that the old guy is on the right side of history.

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