Monday Wake Up Call – October 25, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Anza-Borrego Desert SP, Borrego Springs CA – October 2021 photo by Anthony Pilny.

According to Politico, Joe Biden hosted Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA) in Delaware on Sunday, where Biden was spending the weekend. They’re trying to find common ground on the Biden social spending plan. Senate Majority Leader Schumer also attended.

As of now, nothing has been released about the substance of the meeting, or whether they’ve made any progress towards bringing a revised bill forward in the Senate.

The meeting comes at a critical time for Biden, who is seeking to clinch a deal with both Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) on his social spending plan this week. And it has to happen soon. Democrats have to pass something, or they risk being as dysfunctional as the press says they are.

The Progressive Caucus had a plan: the social spending bill passes the Senate via Reconciliation, and then the infrastructure bill passes in the House. Both pass in lock step. Now, if both stay linked, both could easily fail. Is the House Progressive Caucus prepared to sink the infrastructure bill? We’ll soon find out.

The Democratic House and Senate caucuses have been largely behind the president’s agenda, but that’s been obscured by Manchin’s and Sinema’s foot dragging. The cruel fact is that without substantive movement by both Senators, they could be on the verge of killing Biden’s signature programs.

Why Manchin is doing this is easy to see. He is the only Democrat holding statewide office in West Virginia, as well as the only Democrat in West Virginia’s congressional delegation. He won reelection in 2018 by just 19,400 votes. According to FiveThirtyEight, Manchin has voted with Biden 100% of the time up to May 2021, but now his constituents are pressuring him to leave the Democrats, and he’s feeling the heat.

Sinema also has a strong Democratic voting record. However, there isn’t a reliable view of what would bring Krysten Sinema to vote for the social spending bill, although she did vote to bring the Freedom to Vote Act forward for debate. Arizona is in the midst of demographic change that may insure a durable Democratic majority, but Sinema doesn’t appear to be near the center of where the Arizona Democrats are heading.

The Democrats’ problem with these two Senators also highlights that zero Republicans are willing to defect from Mitch McConnell’s anti-Biden position. It has been at least a decade since there was a credible possibility of Republicans crossing the aisle in these circumstances.

Fifty seats +1 in the Senate was never going to be a position of political strength for Democrats, and they’re lucky to have avoided being in the minority in both Houses after the 2020 elections. Biden needs both Senators to stop obstructing, and to stand with the Party, although Sinema may be a one-term Senator, she will hold the seat until January 2025.

In the past, Manchin and Sinema would have gotten some extra money or projects for their states, the bill would have passed, and we would have moved on to talking about something else. But it’s been clear from the start that isn’t Manchin’s and Sinema’s game.

Manchin is wealthy. He’ll be 77 at the end of his current term. Fear of an investigation into his coal holdings might motivate him to think differently about his vote. Sinema is new to politics, and seems not to be looking towards her re-election, but to a future on the corporate gravy train.

Given Manchin’s and Sinema’s intransigence, there may be no political endgame available for Biden. Without a compromise, they could cost Biden a second term.

It is now completely clear that the entire US political system is corrupt and sclerotic, broken from top to bottom, and it has been for decades. Political reform needs to happen, but the crux of the current problem is that the Democratic Party’s leadership must change also. If that were to happen, a Trumpist wave could end democracy as we know it long before a new Democratic Party leadership could secure a working majority.

It’s time to wake up Democrats! Take a small win now, and then work to reform the Party. Losing seats in the 2022 Mid-terms can’t be an option.

To help you wake up, listen to Maria Muldaur sing a brand new tune, “Vaccinated and I’m Ready for Love”, released this month:

Muldaur is an American folk-blues singer probably best known for her 1974 hit song “Midnight at the Oasis“. This is bluesy and fun!


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 24, 2021

Last Friday, Wrongo and Ms. Right got their Covid booster shots. It’s a sample of one, but at our local drugstore here in a very conservative part of Connecticut, there was a line to get shots. Some were there for their first vaccinations, but most were waiting for a booster. There’s never a line around here for anything, except when the lobster food truck rolls into town.

But sadly, this isn’t the story for the rest of the country, particularly for cops and heath care workers. Some are saying that the vaccine mandates do little. But health workers who don’t really believe in science are leaving the job. And cops who don’t really care about public safety are leaving policing. Sounds like mandates are working just fine. On to cartoons.

Mandates are nothing new:

Most Republicans want boosters:

Texas got two new districts. Then the GOP redrew urban districts so that incumbent minority congresspeople are now running against each other:

One of our two political parties thinks that elections shouldn’t be the basis for choosing our representatives. That means democracy doesn’t matter to them anymore. They say it’s because there’s too much voter fraud, and no one can trust the result of any election now, anywhere.

So, the Dems think the next step is to change the Senate rules, modifying the filibuster. That would pave the way to pass the Protect the Vote Act. But there’s real danger that when the Republicans inevitably regain the majority, they will change that law to whatever the next Trump-like Republican leader wants voting rights to be. Could it be that Republicans are blocking the bill, not just to deny voting rights to minorities, but to lure the Democrats into changing the filibuster?

The economic ship sails on, and 40 years later, there’s zero thought to changing the message:

Biden compromises on the social spending bill. Still, it’s not certain to pass:

If only there was a solution to our supply chain problems:


Saturday Soother – October 23, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Ryder Beach, Truro, Cape Cod, MA – October 2021 iPhone photo by Wrongo.

A few words about the failure of the Protect the Vote Act to get to the Senate floor: Wrongo doesn’t understand why people are so worried about this. We all understood that Manchin and Sinema needed time to go through their attempt at bipartisanship, to find 10 Republicans who believed in voting. These Senators tried, but it didn’t work out. That’s not surprising, and it’s not like we lost a lot of time – once summer comes and we get to August, we’ll…wait – what? Nobody told me it’s October! OMG, Dems fail again.

On to an underreported story. From

“More than 9,000 Afghan refugees who had been living in temporary housing on military bases in the US since the fall of Kabul…have been resettled in local communities, many with the aid of a makeshift army of veterans groups, military family organizations and immigration agencies.”

A US official told that 5,800 of the 9,000 Afghans were resettled nationwide with the support of these non-governmental groups. Another 3,200 Afghans resettled are mostly US citizens, lawful permanent residents and Special Immigrant Visa holders who aided the American military in Afghanistan, or who already had close ties in the US and did not need outside support.

All of the 9,000 Afghans who left the bases went through security vetting by the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and other intelligence government agencies, and were required to receive COVID-19 and other vaccinations before being resettled.

That’s a decent start, but the total population of Afghan refugees on military bases inside the US is still around 55,000. The US Transportation Command has resumed flying refugees that were being held at transit points in the Middle East and Europe to America after measles infections ran through the population.

That means around 64,000 Afghan refugees of the estimated 124,000 that were originally evacuated from Afghanistan are on our shores. CNN reported that in a letter by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Sen. James Inhofe, (R-OK) about 44% of the Afghan refugees housed at US military bases are children. He also reported that 7% were US citizens, 5% were lawful permanent residents, and 3% “held some sort of US visa.” Apparently, 85% were “Afghans eligible for a SIV or P1 or P2 refugee status and their family members,” the letter states, referring to Special Immigrant visas and refugee programs.

The military, and particularly veterans who served in Afghanistan, have largely been supportive of the resettling of refugees. A survey, called Pulse Check: Supporting Afghanistan Allies, conducted by Blue Star Families from Sept. 3 to Sept. 7 showed that about 78% of veterans who served in Afghanistan agreed that the US has a duty to help those fleeing the Taliban. In addition, 46% of the veterans who shared that belief had already participated in some form of assistance effort.

A nonprofit called Welcome.US was formed to coordinate with the government and fund the efforts of veterans groups and private immigration agencies, state and local governments, and business organizations to provide resettlement support. Former Presidents Obama, GW Bush, and Clinton – along with their former first ladies, are serving as honorary co-chairs for Welcome.US. Some 25 other veterans service organizations have joined with Welcome.US, including Blue Star Families, Team Rubicon, the Independence Fund, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Despite the anti-immigrant strain in our country, it seems that this is a rare moment of unity. A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds 72% of Americans say they favor the US granting refugee status to people who worked with the US or Afghan governments during the war in Afghanistan if they pass security checks.

Even with all of our political divisions, only about 9% of Americans say they are opposed.

Let’s hope that if the government can find homes for these 125,000 Afghans, they will also find homes for homeless vets and other Americans.

Time for our Saturday Soother, where we forget about Krysten Sinema playing eleventy-deminsion political chess and think about a fall season without pumpkin spice. In other words, it’s time to grab a seat by a window and watch the leaves fall while we listen to a reborn jazz version of “Autumn Leaves” played by Breeze, a Korean group with violin, cello, piano and drums. The original song is by Yves Montand:

Very nice performance.


China’s New Missile Threat

The Daily Escape:

Moonlight on Nantucket Sound, Dennis Port, MA – October 2021 Samsung Note 20 ultra photo by Kelly O. & Bob W.

(We leave Truro, MA today, returning to our workaday lives in CT. It has been a wonderful time on Cape Cod, eating very well, and visiting with both local family, plus a few who traveled to spend time with us.)

From Vice:

“ the Financial Times, citing anonymous US intelligence sources, has reported that China tested a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead in August that left the Pentagon stunned.”

They’re saying that China may have launched a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) with a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV). Opinions differ, but they fired something that orbited the globe and dropped a hypersonic glide vehicle against a target.

Wrongo lost the fob for his car once, they’re expensive to replace. What are we talking about, and why should we care? In August or possibly in July, China tested a missile that might be a FOBS. While Wrongo ran a missile unit in the military, that was 50+ years ago, and the technology has vastly improved – so he’s not an expert.

Let’s define what we’re talking about: “Hypersonic” means that it flies faster than the speed of sound. Hypersonic means speeds from Mach 5 to Mach 25, which is orbital velocity. All ICBMs are hypersonic when they re-enter the atmosphere.

An ICBM can be tracked from launch, and since it can’t be redirected during flight, we will have 10+ minutes warning of the targeted location. But a FOBS can stay in orbit for an indeterminate time. You won’t know where it’s going until it begins its descent, which means that by the time it’s possible to determine the target area, there might only be 2-3 minutes of warning.

This has implications for our missile defense umbrella. A traditional ICBM flies a parabolic trajectory so a missile tracking radar can make projections of where and when it will hit a range of targets, providing “early warning” to our threatened locations.

But as the Drive says:

“The maneuvering hypersonic glide vehicle, descending from high-altitude at extreme speed, could travel thousands of miles to its target, which can be…offset from a normal ballistic track. Complicating things…these systems can attack from the south pole, not just the north where most of America’s ballistic missile early warning, tracking, and defensive apparatus is focused.”

Our missile defense system is designed for launches from the north. Seems like a bad time for us to figure out they can also come from the south.

Regardless, America’s military has little ability to intercept China’s weapons. Our mid-course intercept capabilities are focused on traditional ballistic missile flight profiles. In practice, America’s missile defenses have never been able to stop China’s missiles, so this additional Chinese capability doesn’t change our vulnerability to their nuclear weapons.

From Jeffery Lewis of Arms Control Wonk: (brackets by Wrongo)

“They [the US] have a very poor [anti-ballistic missile] test record…It’s around 50% percent and only in very scripted scenarios. They don’t test in adverse weather. They’ll cancel missile defense tests on account of rain.”

Doesn’t work in the rain? Shouldn’t we have a more legit missile defense system? What if I told you it  cost more than $30 billion?

US spy satellites have revealed that China is constructing hundreds of new missile silos in northwestern China. Their military buildup is, at least in part, a reaction to the perceived threat of America’s pivot to China from the Middle East.

If this report ends up being accurate, one thing is likely: There will be a new profit center for America’s defense contractors! The Pentagon is pushing to deploy a whole new space-based early warning and tracking system for hypersonic and ballistic missiles.

Expect new calls for hugely expensive missile defense capabilities in Congress, as well as demands to do whatever possible to bring China to the bargaining table in hopes of obtaining some type of strategic arms limitation treaty.

Speaking of now wanting a new treaty, China and Russia have both expressed concern, multiple times, about the US abandonment of the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty. The ABM Treaty was a 1972 deal with the Soviet Union that limited the number of such systems both countries could develop and deploy.

Colin Powell and George W. Bush dismantled that treaty in the wake of 9/11. Perhaps if GW Bush hadn’t unilaterally abandoned it in 2001, we might not be talking about this today.

Our presidents can say whatever they want, but our adversaries have to look at the worst case for their own defense, just as we must. They believe that abandoning the treaty opened the way for a US first nuclear strike.

But don’t be too worried about this.

Rest assured we will have an effective defense/response system just as soon as we can get the parts from China.


We’d Better Build Back

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Herring Cove, Provincetown MA – October 18, 2021, photo by Karen Riddett

“Men must either govern or be governed.”   ̶  Elihu Root, 1912 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Wrongo has never cared for Biden’s “Build Back Better” slogan. He prefers “We’d Better Build Back.” The focus should be on what could happen if we remain on the track favored by Sens. Manchin and McConnell, along with McConnell’s Republican colleagues.

We’d better build back from the wreckage of the Trump presidency. We’d better build back from the wreckage caused by Congressional inaction for the past 20+ years.

Wrongo is currently reading “Wildland, The Making of America’s Fury” by Evan Osnos, journalist at the New Yorker. Osnos says in the Prologue, (pg. 13) that September 11, 2001, and January 6, 2021, were two cataclysmic events in American history, and that the intervening 20 years was: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…a period in which Americans lost their vision for the common good, the capacity to see the union as larger than the sum of its parts. A century and a half after the Civil War, America was again a cloven nation. It’s stability was foundering on fundamental tensions over the balance between individual freedom and the protection of others, over the reckoning with injustice, and over a basic test of any political society: Whose life matters?”

Umair Haque makes the importance of building back clear in a way that only someone living abroad can:

“America has the rich world’s lowest quality of life, by a long way — after all, Americans will die 5–10 years younger than Spaniards or Germans, but even that understates the issue. It is uniquely a dismal life: nowhere else do we see opioid epidemics, kids massacring one another at schools, having “active shooter drills…”

Haque points out that the fundamentals of a decent life: A living wage, universal access to healthcare, affordable education and housing, and a secure retirement are no longer within reach for the average American.

That’s why we’d better build back.

Step one is to deal with the threats to democracy. We will soon know if the Democrats can actually rouse themselves from their Republican-lite slumbers to pass the Freedom to Vote Act to help get this done.

Step two is to pass the Build Back Better Act, Biden’s social spending bill. It’s now clear that the bill will need to shrink in order to pass. And like the House and Senate, America doesn’t agree on which of its big-ticket items are most important, but shrinkage is on the agenda.

The bill has remained popular in the polls. One thing that’s clear from public surveys: People want to pay for the bill by taxing the rich.

Vox and Data for Progress poll, conducted between October 8-12, found that 71% of voters support raising taxes on the wealthiest 2% of Americans to pay for the bill. Eighty-six percent of Democrats and 50% of Republicans back that idea. Other tax provisions that could be included in the bill, like tax increases on corporations and capital gains, were supported by more than 65%. Increasing corporate taxes is Wrongo’s preferred policy approach to raising revenues.

Vitally important to the job of building a better country is the proposed new spending on health care, long-term care, childcare, and clean-energy jobs. These ideas are supported by 63% of voters in the poll.

The wisdom of the framers has given us an unrepresentative Senate. That unrepresentative Senate has given us the filibuster, which can be changed, but apparently not by our current Democratic Senators.

And despite its popularity, Biden’s social spending bill won’t be passed in its present form until Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema get what they want removed from it. A real question is whether we have moderate Democrats or just mediocre Democrats who are willing to kill democracy as we know it for some phony principle.

But you can bet it’s not just Manchin and Sinema. There are at least 8-10 other Democratic Senators with substantial bases of wealthy contributors who feel the same pressures and are perfectly happy to have the whole package scaled down, delayed, and possibly killed.

This brings us to step three. Elect better Senators, but how? We were taught in school that in a democratic republic, you get the politicians that the voters (or at least those people who are allowed to vote) want.

This means we need better voters.

How do we get them? It’s hard to know how to do that, except you know, PASS THE FREEDOM TO VOTE ACT!


Freedom to Vote Act is Worth a Filibuster Exemption

The Daily Escape:

Indian Neck Beach, Wellfleet MA – October 2021 photo by Marilyn Cook

It’s been a little over a month since Wrongo wrote that the next 30 days would be make-or-break for the right to vote and for democracy itself. Well, times up. There haven’t been any votes on Sen. Manchin’s Freedom to Vote Act, or on Biden’s social policy and infrastructure bills that the Democrats continue to try to build consensus on.

Charles M. Blow in the NYT alerts us that the voting rights bill is supposed to be taken up today:

“Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, has indicated that he plans to schedule a vote for Wednesday to open debate on a new voting rights bill, the Freedom to Vote Act.”

Blow went on to say:

“This is a once in a generation moment, one pivotal to the very survival of the country as we know it.”

Indeed, without it, it’s unclear what the way forward will be for our democracy.

The bill is a compromise worked out by Sens. Manchin (D-WVA) and Klobachar (D-MN). It would set national standards for early voting, allow the use of more forms of voter identification, make Election Day a federal holiday and institute measures to counter voter suppression tactics.

In addition, it would force states to give voters the option to register on Election Day and offer safeguards against voter purges. It overhauls portions of the campaign finance system, prohibits partisan gerrymandering, and prevents the politicized removal of election officials.

The bill is unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to pass. Even assuming all 50 Democrats agree, it will need support from 10 Republicans to overcome a certain Republican filibuster. That seems unlikely to happen. BTW, the last time the voting rights act was up for renewal, it passed 98-0.

We’re probably looking a two failures: Sen. Manchin will probably fail to find the necessary 10 Republican votes, and then, the bill will fail to go to an up or down vote.

The real questions are whether Manchin and Schumer will then try to carve out an exception to the filibuster rules allowing for a simple majority to pass legislation that effects voting rights, and whether Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will agree to support the exception. That’s what pro-democracy advocates are hoping to see.

Since it’s no secret that Democrats need Manchin’s and Sinema’s votes to get anything done, their frustration with both Senators is understandable. Wrongo gave money to Sinema’s Senatorial campaign, and he hopes that it wasn’t in vain.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called the Dems voting reform effort “a solution in search of a problem,” driven by “coordinated lies about commonsense election laws that various states have passed.” But the Brennan Center notes that since January, “19 states have enacted 33 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote.”

Does McConnell think these are examples of “commonsense election laws”?

When Trump runs again in 2024, unchecked voter suppression will give him a better chance of winning than he had last time. And Blow rightly points out that if the Republicans happened to be in the position the Democrats are in now, they wouldn’t bat an eye at eliminating the filibuster if it helped them further suppress voting on the federal level.

A final message from Blow:

“For Democrats, this voting rights bill is a top priority, but from now until something is passed, it should be the only priority…. But even if you have glistening infrastructure in a fascist state, you are still in a fascist state. If you get two years of community college free in a fascist state, you are still in a fascist state. If more people get broadband access, more people will be able to search for what it means to live in a fascist state.”

Without this bill, our democracy is in real peril. A few months ago, Schumer said he would pass voting rights by any means necessary, echoing Malcolm X.

Let’s see if he has what it takes to win in a divided Senate.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 17, 2021

What Wrongo saw on a short hike on Friday in Provincetown, MA:

Clapp’s Pond, Provincetown, MA – October 2021 iPhone photo by Wrongo

It’s surprising how much fresh water there is on Cape Cod. After all, it’s a thin sandy peninsula surrounded by salt water. It probably was a key factor for the indigenous people who made the Cape home for centuries before the invasion by Europeans. They could find oysters, fish and small game, and there was always plenty of water available.

That also was important to the Pilgrims when they sailed into Cape Cod Bay in 1620 after many months at sea. In Truro, they found fresh water at what we now call Pilgrim Spring. They found a cache of maize at Corn Hill and a place to camp onshore at Pond Village, now an area with $1+ million homes. After a tussle with the Pamet Indians, they hoisted anchor and sailed across the bay to what we now call Plymouth.

About two-thirds of Truro was added to the National Seashore in 1960, so a small portion of what the Pamets experienced and what the Pilgrims saw remains for us to see on our yearly visits.

On to cartoons. Covid is still a thing, and now there’s a fall variant:

The gift-buying season comes earlier and earlier:

The supply chain may impact Christmas:

Steve Bannon blew off the Congressional Committee. Now comes criminal contempt:

If Bezos’s next flight is one way, can he send these guys?


Saturday Soother – October 16, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset paints a Truro barn and marsh – October 2021 iPhone photo by Wrongo

Following on Wrongo’s article about the missing people who economists say should be looking for jobs in what is otherwise a vibrant economy, comes the news that there is a huge and sustained explosion of new businesses being launched in America.

This means that many individuals are striking out on their own. From Wolf Street:

“New business formations, based on applications for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS, exploded in June and July last year…then this year exploded again and remained far above the historical range.”

In September 2021, 431,381 EIN applications were filed with the IRS, 49% above September 2019, according to data released by the Census Bureau. For the first nine months of the year, EIN applications were up by 58% from the same period in 2019. Here’s a chart:

These are monthly totals! We seem to be forming a ton of start-up companies since 2020, way above the historical trend. These new businesses surely must reduce the total number of people looking for work as reported by the Department of Labor.

More from Wolf Street: (parenthesis and brackets by Wrongo)

“…the historic high level of new business formations every month is part of the bizarre puzzle that this economy has become: The strange phenomenon of labor shortages, the enormous stimulus payments that went out, the federal unemployment payments that are now ending, the $800 billion in forgivable PPP loans (Paycheck Protection Program loans) that went [out] earlier this year, the 3.2 million people who still haven’t returned to the labor force…”

Some commentators felt that last year, EIN applications were spiking because fraudsters were creating businesses to try to get their hands on those forgivable PPP loans. But a quick check would have shown that an EIN wasn’t required for PPP loans. Further, businesses had to have been “in business” for some time to qualify. And while the PPP ended in May, business applications have continued to be strong every month since then.

Most new businesses create at least one job for the owner and maybe a few for other people, but most never become large employers. Even though many new businesses eventually fail, the number of new business formations seems to be large enough to explain the puzzling numbers on job participation rates, unemployment and job quits that we’ve been seeing since the pandemic started.

That’s something to think about.

It’s Saturday, and time to kick back and forget about whether Steve Bannon will ever see justice. It’s time to spend a few moments contemplating Wrongo’s Saturday Soother.

Here at our temporary (and rented) global headquarters for the Mansion of Wrong in Truro on Cape Cod, we’ve had a busy week. Several family members live on the Cape, and we’ve had family from off-Cape come and stay for a few nights, so it’s been a busy and rewarding time with family.

But even Wrongo needs some downtime, so let’s all settle back and grab a comfy chair by a big window. Now, listen to Fauré’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” performed with a large choir that is conducted by Sofi Jeannin, and recorded in October 2016, at the Auditorium of Radio France.

This composition based on Jean Racine’s poem, won Fauré a prize before he was twenty. If you watch the video, the choir is a perfect mix of adult and young voices.


Do Religious Exemptions From Vaccination Protect Anyone?

The Daily Escape:

Coast Guard Beach,  Cape Cod MA – October 2021 photo by Anna Olivera Alabarg


“US service members should have the right to refuse the military’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement on conscientious grounds, the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese for the Military Services said Tuesday.”

The statement by Archbishop Timothy Broglio focuses on potential objections over the use of fetal cell lines in vaccine development: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were tested using an abortion-derived cell line. That type of a link has been for centuries considered remote material cooperation with evil and is never sinful. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed, tested, and is produced, with abortion-derived cell lines. That vaccine is, therefore, more problematic.”

That’s the Catholic Church’s overriding position on Covid vaccines. Since the military has the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available, no military member needs to take the J&J shot. Where Archbishop Broglio goes off the rails is with this:

“….no one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience.

Individuals possess the “civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their consciences.”

Even if an individual’s decision seems erroneous or inconsistent to others, conscience does not lose its dignity. This belief permeates Catholic moral theology as well as First Amendment jurisprudence. As stated by the United States Supreme Court, “[R]eligious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”

So, every Catholic in the military has a vaccination hall pass from the Archbishop from taking a vaccine that is “never sinful”? The curious thing is that Catholics are the most vaccinated group in the US, according to a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center.

Should religious exemptions from vaccine mandates really be a thing? Exceptions were designed to protect religious faith. But where vaccines are concerned, they often seem to be used in bad faith, as a way to get around complying with a public health requirement.

Some Constitutional history from Wired: The First Amendment restricts the government from prohibiting the “free exercise” of religion. For much of our history, there were no religious exemptions from secular laws that applied to everyone. As the Supreme Court observed in 1879, “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

Congress couldn’t tell you what to believe, the Court ruled, but it can tell you what to do.

By the early 1970s, the justices carved out space for religious exemptions. They ruled that if a superficially neutral law conflicted with a religious command, the government would have to meet the “strict scrutiny” test by showing that it had a “compelling interest” in enforcing the law.

In 1990, the Court narrowed its thinking. In a case involving members of a Native American Church who took peyote as part of religious ceremonies, the Court held that religion doesn’t give someone the right to challenge a “generally applicable” law. Ruling otherwise, wrote the conservative Catholic Justice Antonin Scalia, “would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.” An example of a civic obligation that Scalia cited for his slippery-slope argument: compulsory vaccination laws.

In fact, religious opposition to vaccines is rare. In 2013, John D. Grabenstein, a vaccinologist and practicing Catholic, surveyed a wide range of world religions and couldn’t find any that had anti-vaccine teachings, except for the Christian Scientists, who teach that the material world, including disease, is an illusion. And the way to overcome disease is through prayer, not medicine or vaccination.

In the 1960s and ’70s, as vaccine mandates for diseases like measles and polio proliferated, a wave of state laws enabled religious opt-outs. Today, 48 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of exemption.

As Aaron Blake asks in the WaPo: How long before Republicans’ coronavirus vaccine skepticism and anti-mandate fervor makes the next logical jump – to the other vaccines that have been mandated for many years?

It’s already happened. Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan tweeted:

“Ohio should ban all vaccine mandates”

Jordan supposedly is vaccinated. But apparently, he wants not only Covid, but whooping cough and measles to be spread as far and wide as possible.

It seems likely that the US will end up with fewer vaccine requirements in some places than we had before this pandemic that has killed over 700,000 people. You know, the one that we have vaccines for.

We live in a country where there’s no agreement on what constitutes the common good.


Our Curious Job Market

The Daily Escape:

Cranberry harvest, Carver, MA – October 2021 photo by Sarah Stiles Cabe

Robert Reich commented to Newsweek about the unexpectedly low US employment figures, that American workers are engaged in, “the equivalent of a general strike.”

He was referencing Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers that showed US employment increased 194,000 in September, nearly 300,000 jobs shy of estimates. Despite a record level of job openings and 7.7 million out of work, many employers report difficulty filling positions. From Reich:

“In reality, there’s a living wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a health care shortage – and American workers are demanding an end to all these shortages. Or they won’t return to work.”

So, the question is: are Americans saying “take your shit job and shove it” to corporate America?

Reich may have a point, but the current employment situation is both good and bad, and it’s a lot less political than he thinks it is. The numbers make clear that ending unemployment benefits wasn’t as effective in generating new employment as conservative politicians said it would be.

The inability to find childcare, or concerns about the safety of the available jobs, and the possibility that people saved some amount of their former emergency benefits and it’s providing them with a cushion, are all possibly contributing to the current jobs situation.

There are other factors at work. The data also show a record number of people voluntarily quitting their jobs (meaning they are not eligible for unemployment benefits). The number of quits (to work for another company offering higher wages and benefits, change careers, or stay home and take care of the kids) spiked by 242,000 people to a record of 4.27 million in August, up 19% from August 2019.

A historically high number of quits suggests a tight and competitive labor market that’s encouraging workers to switch jobs. The highest quit rate was in leisure and hospitality (6.4%), a sector that includes accommodation and food services (6.8%), retail (4.7%), and professional and business services (3.4%):

In total, 892,000 workers in accommodation and food services quit in August, equal to 6.8% of all workers in that sector. Quits are usually high in this sector. In August 2019, during that pre-Covid tight labor market, 5.1% quit.

The Labor Department also reported that there were 10.4 million job openings in August, up by 46% from August 2019. A high number of job openings pushes employers to offer higher wages, better benefits, signing bonuses, and similar enticements to help bring qualified people on board.

Despite what Robert Reich says, workers now seem to have some pricing power. When they leave a job for better wages and working conditions at another company, they create a headache for their old employer who now has to find a new employee by also offering a better deal.

But it all doesn’t quite add up. On the one hand, there are tons of jobs going begging. On the other hand, the labor force participation rate is well below pre-pandemic levels. In September, the civilian non-institutional population in the US was 261.8 million. That includes all people 16 and older who did not live in an institution, such as a prison, nursing home or long-term care facility.

Of that civilian non-institutional population, 161.3 million were participating in the labor force, meaning they either had a job or were actively seeking one during the last month. This resulted in a labor force participation rate of 61.6% in September, down slightly from the 61.7% in the prior two months, but 0.2 points higher than the 61.4% when Biden took office.

The number of Americans counted as not in the labor force, meaning they didn’t have a job and were not looking for one, rose in September to 100.4 million, up 338,000 from August.

If the job market is so good, why are so many people staying on the sidelines? That’s not consistent with a tight labor market, so there has to be something missing from the data. We do know that a big chunk of employees have taken early retirement. The number of retirees shot up by around 3.6 million during the pandemic, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. At the usual pace, that figure would have been around 1.5 million.

Are people just working off the books more now? Is it people who can’t get/afford childcare?  Or is it simply a mismatch of skills and jobs? We don’t need as many people staffing tourist jobs, but we need more people working at the docks and driving trucks?

Whatever is going on, there are millions of people doing it.