We Kill More People With Cars

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, with Mt. Hood in background, Vancouver, WA – November 2022 photo by Sanman Photography

The NYT has an article showing how the US tolerates a high number of auto-related deaths:

“The US has diverged over the past decade from other comparably developed countries, where traffic fatalities have been falling….In 2020, as car travel plummeted around the world, traffic fatalities broadly fell as well. But in the US, the opposite happened. Travel declined, and deaths still went up. Preliminary federal data suggests road fatalities rose again in 2021.”

They helpfully include a chart that shows America’s relative ranking vs. other developed countries since the start of the pandemic in 2020:

(chart is truncated for viewing purposes)

More from the NYT:

“Safety advocates and government officials lament that so many deaths are…tolerated in America as an unavoidable cost of mass mobility. But…Americans die….in rising numbers even as roads around the world grow safer.”

In 2021, nearly 43,000 people died on American roads. The recent rise in fatalities has been highest among those the government classifies as most vulnerable — cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, even though miles traveled have fallen:

The NYT says that the explanation for America’s road safety record lies with a transportation system designed to move cars quickly, not to move people safely. They quote Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board:

“Motor vehicles are first, highways are first, and everything else is an afterthought…”

To fix this means we must solve both infrastructural and cultural problems at the same time.

This year in our northwestern Connecticut town, we’re seeing an average of 3 accidents per day compared with 2.2 per day last year. Our population is growing, but certainly not as fast as our accident rate.

The explanation for the increases both locally and nationally isn’t simple to explain.

  • Vehicles have grown significantly bigger and thus deadlier when they hit people.
  • Some states curb the ability of local governments to set lower speed limits.
  • The five-star federal safety rating that consumers can look for when buying a car today doesn’t take into consideration what that car might do to pedestrians.
  • As cars grew safer for the people inside of them, we didn’t prioritize the safety of people outside of them.

The average car sold in the US is larger, taller, and heavier than in other developed countries. Many of these SUVs and trucks can weigh up to 9,000 pounds, like the latest Rivian and the electric Hummer. Their batteries alone weigh 3,000 pounds, the weight of the average car in the 1990s!

The larger size offsets the advancements in safety technology. Add in growing distracted driving: texting, work calls, difficult to navigate infotainment systems that lack physical buttons. And deaths are up in America.

In the 1990s, per capita roadway fatalities across developed countries were significantly higher than they are today. Back then, the US had fewer than South Korea, New Zealand, and Belgium. But other countries started to take pedestrian and cyclist injuries seriously in the 2000s. They made them a priority in both vehicle design and street design in a way that the US has never committed to.

In America, we prioritize straighter, smoother roads. We prioritize traveling long distances by car as fast as possible. Our culture and our infrastructure are designed to allow us to go faster on better roads. That has made us number one in road vehicle-caused deaths since the pandemic.

More American Exceptionalism! And given our exceptionalism in firearm fatalities, it’s hard to see how or why Americans would be willing to stop being exceptional in vehicle deaths either.

Biden’s infrastructure bill, passed last year, takes baby steps toward changing this. There’s more federal money for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. And states are now required to analyze fatalities and serious injuries among “vulnerable road users” (people outside of cars) to identify the most dangerous traffic corridors and the potential ways to fix them.

States where vulnerable road users make up at least 15% of fatalities must spend at least 15% of their federal safety funds on improvements prioritizing those vulnerable users. Today, 32 states, plus Puerto Rico and DC, will have to meet this mandate.

Here in our CT town, Wrongo serves on the Municipal Roads Committee. We talk endlessly about how, once a road is repaired, speeds immediately go up. It took several years and much public disagreement to build a roundabout as a traffic calming measure on one accident-prone road.

In Europe, you see plenty of “traffic calming” measures. Chicanes, roundabouts, and narrower lanes bring vehicle-pedestrian fatalities down, in part by making drivers pay more attention. Therefore, driving becomes a bit more nerve-wracking, and people go slower.

Making that happen here would require Americans and politicians to buy into the idea that streets aren’t exclusively for cars.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 28, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Thanksgiving Day, Brewster, MA – November 2022 photo by Anne Marie

There was plenty of news over Thanksgiving that Wrongo was itching to talk about, but instead, he decided to take a complete break. Here’s something that’s been on his mind.

Despite all of the self-congratulating by Democrats, the Cook Political Report shows that Republicans received some 3.5 million more votes than Democrats in the midterms. Republicans received 54.13 million votes compared to the Democrats’ 50.79 million votes. Republicans did better in 2022 than they did in the 2018 midterms by 3 million votes, while Democrats got 10.3 million fewer votes than 2018, when they won control of the House by 235–199. Much of this is turnout.

Despite this context, the narrative is that America rejected the far Right by defeating election denier candidates. And most Trumpist candidates were defeated by significant margins. Democrats shouldn’t rest on their laurels or assume “the Trump fever has broken”. It hasn’t. America comes out of the midterms with voters evenly divided between the Parties.

Now, there are only four swing states left: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin. These four only account for 43 Electoral Votes. Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster points to the striking “continuity among the elections” since Trump emerged as a national political figure:

“We’ve now gone through 2016, ’18, ‘20 and ‘22 – and all looked pretty much alike….And it has locked in the coalitions.”

So we’re not only evenly divided, but we’re also deeply divided politically.

Looking at the Electoral College, the midterms offered some optimism to Democrats when 2024 comes around. The five states that decided the last presidential race did so by flipping from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020. Those five (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) moved more toward the Democrats in 2022.

The Dems won six of the eight Senate and governor races across these states, and Dems could notch a seventh victory if Sen. Raphael Warnock defeats Herschel Walker in a Georgia run-off next month.

But Republicans made Ohio, Iowa, and Florida Redder. Each now appears securely in the GOP’s column for 2024 (and most likely beyond). And the Dem’s perennial hope of turning Texas Blue still looks like it’s another 10 years away after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s double-digit victory against Beto O’Rourke. Republicans again won all of Texas’ statewide offices, continuing a Dem shutout that stretches back to the 1990s.

It appears that the offsetting and hardening partisan strengths of each Party could again give the power to decide the presidency to a few hundred thousand voters, in a very few close counties in a few very balanced states.

CNN’s Ron Brownstein says that a 2024 presidential race with just Wisconsin, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona as true battlegrounds would probably begin with Democrats favored in states holding 260 Electoral College votes (including Washington, DC) and Republicans in states with 235. That means Democrats would need to win just one of Arizona (11 votes), Georgia (16), or Wisconsin (10) to reach an Electoral College majority. But that’s far from a certainty.

This division will make for tons of political stress over the next two years. Each Party understands that our nation’s future is now controlled by the choices of a tiny minority of people living in a few contested political districts: White-collar suburbs of Atlanta and Phoenix, working-class Latino neighborhoods in and around Las Vegas, and the mid-sized communities in Wisconsin’s so-called BOW counties (Brown County, Outagamie County and Winnebago County).

No GOP presidential candidate will concede Michigan or Pennsylvania just because of the midterm results. But the magnitude of those 2022 Democratic wins show how difficult it will be for a Republican nominee to take them in 2024 – particularly if the GOP candidate supports further restrictions on abortion.

It’s likely that Democrats will target North Carolina to expand their roster, while Republicans will target Minnesota and New Hampshire. But flipping any state will be difficult, depending upon candidate quality.

This shrinking list of competitive presidential states could increase political tensions for the next two years. Time to wake up America! Think about how your indifference to politics and to voting in our elections has put the country on a knife edge. The threat posed to America by the MAGA extremists remains very real.

It’s going to take tremendous effort in every single election until this dynamic shifts. And that could take a full generation. To help you wake up, watch “People Get Ready”, a Curtis Mayfield tune that foretold the turning tide in the battle for racial equality. It hit the top of the R&B charts after its original 1965 release by The Impressions.

It’s been covered by scores of artists, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and here in 2009 by Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles. Beck’s reaction when Stewart comes on stage is priceless. Stewart served as vocalist for the Jeff Beck Group back in 1969:

Sample Lyrics:

People get ready
There’s a train a-coming
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord

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Thanksgiving Week

The Daily Escape:

Turkeys on the fields of Wrong – November 2018 photo by Wrongo

(This is the last column before Thanksgiving. Words from Wrongo will resume on 11/28.)

Thanksgiving is Wrongo’s favorite holiday. As a secular holiday, you’re not required to do anything. The celebration is subdued, and around here, we focus on gratitude. Wrongo always thinks about how grateful we should be to live in this wonderful country of ours, and how grateful we are for all of America’s gifts.

We’re lucky to live in a land of plenty: Most of us have employment, most have access to quality healthcare. Most of us have a warm place to sleep at night, most have hope for their kids’ future.

There are many of us who do not have those things, and it is our collective responsibility to help them get to a place where they are physically and mentally secure. They need our help. And we know what to do, and we know how  to do it.

This is our 2498th column. Wrongo wants to thank all who have stuck around since the beginning in 2010. He thanks all of you who read it now, and that includes readers in more than 60 countries. Special thanks to long haulers Monty B, Fred VK, David P, Pat M, and Terry McK, among others. Wrongo is very grateful to all of you!

Wrongo’s wish is that you allow yourself to feel gratitude today and share it with those around you. The secret of life is to affect others in a positive way.

We’re truly grateful for those who came before us, and to our family members and friends who we can’t be with today. We’re thankful to those who are on the front lines in military service, or at home in our hospitals, schools, firehouses, and police stations. Happy Thanksgiving!

The NYT has an article about how online gambling companies have gotten their noses under the tents at colleges and universities:

“In order to reap millions of dollars in fees, universities are partnering with betting companies to introduce their students and sports fans to online gambling.”

The Times says that Michigan State University’s athletic department inked a deal with Caesars Sportsbook in 2021. Caesars proposed a deal worth $8.4 million over five years. Michigan signed on the line. Other schools have also struck deals to bring betting to campus. More from the NYT:

“After Louisiana State University signed a similar deal in 2021 with Caesars, the university sent an email encouraging recipients — including some students who were under 21 and couldn’t legally gamble — to “place your first bet (and earn your first bonus).”

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in 2018 to let states legalize online betting, gambling companies have been working to convert traditional casino customers, fantasy sports aficionados and players of online games into a new generation of digital gamblers.

And universities, with their captive audience of easy-to-reach students, have emerged as an especially enticing target. So far, at least eight universities have become partners with online sports-betting companies.

And a dozen other universities’ athletic departments and booster clubs have also signed agreements with brick-and-mortar casinos. For example, Turning Stone Resort and Casino is the official resort of Syracuse University’s ‘Cuse Athletics Fund. These gambling partnerships bring in funds that schools can use to sign marquee coaches and build their sports teams.

Wrongo rarely gambles, but he has a mostly lassiez faire attitude about it. He’s skeptical about prohibiting it. But the idea by universities of “let’s introduce our students to online gambling for our profit” sounds, well, wrong. The hypocrisy here is that the sports betting companies are offering “a piece of the action” to schools that not long ago swore that gambling would ruin college sports.

It isn’t exactly the same, but do you recall that back in the 80s, banks introduced credit cards and credit card debt to students? And how did that work out? You can almost imagine hearing: “Want to go double or nothing on those student loans, kid?” The most relevant quote from the NYT is:

“College athletics have become profit maximizing opportunities for athletic directors and coaches.”

Wrongo thinks this has nothing to do with the educational mission of colleges and universities. OTOH, the ol’ ball coach is saying: “Wanna bet”?

Let’s cruise into the holiday by listening  to a tune that is new to Wrongo, Josh Groban’s “Thankful” performed live from his “Noel” album. It’s on point with Wrongo’s thinking about Thanksgiving:

Lyrics:

Somedays we forget
To look around us
Somedays we can’t see
The joy that surrounds us
So caught up inside ourselves
We take when we should give.

So for tonight we pray for
What we know can be.
And on this day we hope for
What we still can’t see.

It’s up to us to be the change
And even though we all can still do more
There’s so much to be thankful for.

Look beyond ourselves
There’s so much sorrow
It’s way too late to say
I’ll cry tomorrow
Each of us must find our truth
It’s so long overdue

So for tonight we pray for
What we know can be
And every day we hope for
What we still can’t see

It’s up to us to be the change
And even though this world needs so much more
There’s so much to be thankful for

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 21, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Early snow, Rockford, MI – November 2022 photo by Jeane Blazic

We’re going to cover two topics on this Monday. First, Bernard L. Fraga, associate professor of Political Science at Emory University, tweeted the demographics of the Georgia midterm election:

Black turnout was down by 4.5% vs 2018. Hispanic turnout was down 2.5%. Had the Black turnout percentage been at 2018 levels, Warnock probably would have won outright. The difference may have been caused in part by the new voting restrictions in Georgia. Wrongo talked last week about helping Georgians get photo IDs. People better wake up and help get more Black Georgians to the polls on December 6.

But today’s main wake up call is about the Rightwing group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Wrongo has written about ALEC before, here, here, here and here. ALEC prepares model legislation that conforms to hard Right ideology. They then meet with state legislators all across America to push for adoption of ALEC-written laws at the state level. These are laws that would probably never become law at the federal level.

In the past, some Republican-led states have passed hundreds of pieces of ALEC’s model legislation almost word for word, including on immigration, voter suppression, the environment, guns, and energy policy.

Now, ALEC is pushing states to adopt a new law shielding US businesses from “political boycotts”. If enacted, the proposed legislation, would prevent boycotts by investors, banks, and companies of any other US business. The guts of the Act is that a governmental entity may not enter into a contract with a company for goods or services unless the contract contains a written verification from the company that it:

  • Does not engage in economic boycotts; and
  • Will not engage in economic boycotts during the term of the contract.

This comes about amid rising consumer pressure on firms over who they support politically, or who they choose to do business with. Think about the decision by major retail stores to stop selling My Pillow products, or the decision by Adidas to cut Kanye West’s shoe line loose after he made anti-Semitic statements.

From The Guardian:

“The new model legislation requires every “governmental entity”, which covers a wide array of bodies from state government to local police departments and public universities, to include a clause in contracts requiring businesses to pledge they “will not engage in economic boycotts”

For most of us, “free markets” means that businesses are free to make buying and selling decisions based on the information that’s relevant to their economic interests. But to enforce this Act, a state Attorney General can decide that the decision to, for example, divest the stock of an oil and gas company, is an ideological act.

What if it’s just not that good of a stock?

ALEC’s doublethink maintains that for free markets to remain free, it is sometimes necessary to restrict the freedom to make certain decisions based on criteria that an Attorney General can define as “ideological.”

Even if they are based on a sound economic rationale.

We knew all along that for the Right Wing, free doesn’t really mean free. These people are authoritarians who want to harness the powers of government for their own ends. And they’ll do whatever’s convenient to achieve those ends.

The Republican establishment is very much alive. ALEC is the right wing’s corporate gangsters in suits. In this case, it’s billionaires aligned with corrupt Republican politicians. They have purchased state and federal legislators to do their bidding. And it’s been going on for a very long time.

Let’s see what the Supreme Court does when one of these cases gets in front of them.

Time to wake up America! The hard right in America is unbelievably well-funded. ALEC is just one of the many ways that they are undermining what true “freedom” means.

To help you wake up, listen to Little Feat, that is, the Lowell George-led version of Little Feat, (not the several incarnations of newer bands using that name that have been working since Lowell died in 1979).

Here Lowell George does “Dixie Chicken”, recorded at London’s Rainbow Theater on August 3 & 4, 1977. It’s from the live album, “Waiting for Columbus”. If you don’t know this album, you should buy the 2002 Deluxe Edition CD. You will never be sorry. Don’t buy the version on Amazon, it only has 20 songs; the actual deluxe CD has 27.

WFC was recorded in London and in Washington DC. There were 4 dates in London and 3 in DC. Here it is:

That’s Bill Payne on the piano solo. Little Feat combines jazz, honkytonk, swing, ragtime and Dixie into one great song. Enjoy!

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 20, 2022

According to the LA Times, come January, more than 80% of Americans will live in states with governments entirely controlled by one of the two major Parties. That means when all the new legislators and governors are sworn in, 39 states will be controlled by the same Party, a seven-decade high.

That means Americans will have to live with greater differences in their schools, workplaces, and doctors’ offices as they move cross state lines. A citizen’s right to carry a gun, to get an abortion, to join a union and the rate a minimum-wage job pays, will now depend almost entirely on whether their state is Blue or Red.

Can’t let Sunday go by without talking about Jack Smith, appointed special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland to carry forward the Trump Jan. 6 and Mar-a-Lago investigations.

It does have advantages: It makes it simple for the DOJ to refuse Rep. Jim Jordan’s demands for information about the various Trump investigations. You can’t subpoena a special counsel during an investigation.

Second, It ensures the continuity of any prosecution after 2025, no matter who is elected. That’s important since it’s possible that neither the stolen documents nor the coup attempt investigations may be completed by then. And it isn’t the first time a special counsel was appointed when Congress changed hands. Remember that John Durham became a special counsel in December 2020 as Bill Barr was deciding to leave as Attorney General, and the Congress was about to change hands in January 2021. That shielded Durham from political interference in case Trump lost the election. Durham investigated potential criminal misconduct that might have occurred during the Trump-Russia probe without success. His investigation continues today. On to cartoons.

But what’s political?

Investigations are what the people want:

Will the GOP move on?

Elephant tries to let him down easy:

Who’s next?

McCarthy fills the Speaker’s shoes:

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Saturday Soother – House of Representatives Edition, November 19, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Verbena and sunset, Anza Borrego SP, CA – November 2022 photo by Paulette Donnellon

We start Saturday with a reflection on the outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Many think that she ranks as the best House Speaker in modern times.

Wrongo remembers her for standing up to Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel during the debate over the shape of the ACA. There was much concern about how far the Democrats could go with the bill. Emmanuel wanted to tone it down to meet objections from the GOP and from moderate Dems.

Pelosi met with Obama and his aides and said that she wouldn’t support anything but the full monte. That caused the White House’s effort to find a more moderate way forward to crumble. And America made its biggest single step toward providing health insurance to all Americans.

At the end, It was Pelosi not Obama, who made it happen. It was her ability to deliver her caucus that gave Obama et.al a spine.

Wrongo recently learned that when Nancy Pelosi was a teen and her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was mayor of Baltimore, she maintained his “favors book”. That explains much about her effectiveness when she finally got to Congress at age 47. At the point when she took office, she had five kids. Wrangling them, plus learning to keep a “favors book” was probably ideal preparation for being the first woman House Speaker.

This week, control of the US House has passed to the Republican Party. That means two things: First, that Republicans will now say that compliance with House subpoenas is mandatory, even though they purposefully ignored them for the last two years.

Second, Americans should prepare for investigations of the Biden administration by grandstanding GOP Congresscritters. James Comer (R-KY) held a press conference saying that he will be looking into Hunter Biden, his laptop, and his father. Comer, the incoming Oversight Committee chair, has said an investigation into Hunter Biden and other Biden family members and associates will be a priority. His idea is to try and position the president as having compromised national security.

If that seems to echo the FBI/DOJ investigations into Trump, well, that’s purely a coincidence. Be prepared to see absolutely nothing get done over the next two+ years that might improve the lives of the American people.

Let’s spend a minute on Hunter Biden’s laptop. Last March, the WaPo did a story on a security review it had authorized of the disk drive on the “Hunter Biden laptop”. The WaPo asked security experts Matt Green and Jake Williams to review the drive to see what they could authenticate. From the WaPo:

“In their examinations, Green and Williams found evidence that people other than Hunter Biden had accessed the drive and written files to it, both before and after the initial stories in the New York Post and long after the laptop itself had been turned over to the FBI.”

So people had kept adding content to the “laptop,” making it impossible to say what was on the “laptop” when it was originally provided to the Delaware computer repair shop.

More from the WaPo:

“Analysis was made significantly more difficult, both experts said, because the data had been handled repeatedly in a manner that deleted logs and other files that forensic experts use to establish a file’s authenticity.”

But according to the House Republicans:

You should read the entire story of the laptop in the WaPo. It details the laptop’s convoluted journey from Hunter to the FBI, while several other copies of its hard drive were made. They went to Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon. The WaPo reviewed one of the Republican copies, but not the one in the hands of the FBI.

What would a jury decide if this laptop was Exhibit A? Would they consider it to be tainted evidence? Seems like there are too many unknowns and too many people who had access to it.

But what will the House GOP grandstanders make out of it? Will laptop-gate be legitimatized by the media? And will many citizens fall for it just like they did with Clinton’s email server? The Right has lots of practice at turning complicated stories into political gold.

Time to move on to our Saturday Soother. Here on the fields of Wrong, nearly all of our yard work was completed before the first snowfall this week. Along with everyone in the northeast, our weather turned cold, and winter jackets are now hanging on the hook by the back door.

To ease into Saturday, start by brewing up a hot steaming mug of Villa Betulia Maragesha ($30/8oz.) from Colorado’s Corvus Coffee. The roaster says it has flavors of peach liqueur and strawberry syrup. Maybe that’s why it’s so expensive.

Now grab a seat near a south-facing window and watch and listen to the Adagio movement of the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. Written in 1939, it is Rodrigo’s best-known work. Here it is played by Hauser on cello and Petrit Çeku on guitar at the “HAUSER & Friends” Concert in Croatia in 2018, along with Ivo Lipanovic conducting the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra:

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Why A Warnock Victory is Crucial

The Daily Escape:

Snow Geese, Skagit Valley, WA – November 2022 photo by Erwin Buske

Buckle up, America. Apparently, we’re gonna do it all over again. Trump is running, but who cares? The Democrats will beat him once again. The more he speaks, the more attention will be paid to his criminality, and the greater will be the demand on the Department of Justice to – you know, bring justice.

But the issue du jour (and du month) is the Georgia Senate runoff. Like Mark Kelly in Arizona, Georgia’s Sen. Raphael Warnock is running for his first full six-year term in the Senate. The Senate stands at D50 : R49 until Georgia votes. There are two reasons to vote for Warnock, one is tactical, the other, strategic.

First, the tactical: In a 50-50 Senate, the Parties will likely have equal representation on committees, based on a power-sharing agreement that Sens. Schumer and McConnell reached early in the current Congress. Winning Georgia means that the Dems won’t need a new power-sharing agreement, which McConnell will make more difficult this time. It would make it easier for Dems to control committees, and to confirm judicial nominees. And don’t expect a 51-seat Democratic Senate majority to eliminate the filibuster, because with Republicans controlling the House it won’t make much sense.

Second, the Strategic: The Georgia Senate seat could be an important buffer for Democrats in the 2024 election, where their map is very challenging. In 2024, Democrats have 23 seats up (including Maine and Vermont, held by independents who caucus with Democrats), while Republicans have just 11 at stake.

The 2024 election is a presidential election year. In the last two presidential cycles, only one Senator, Susan Collins (R-ME) prevailed when her state went for the presidential candidate of the other Party. In every other race, the same Party that won the state for the presidential election also won the Senate race.

From Larry Sabato: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Unless Democrats win the [2024] presidential race in a blowout — something that seems unlikely in our closely-divided nation — the Republican presidential nominee seems very likely to carry at least 3 [GOP] states that have Democratic senators up for reelection in 2024: Montana, Ohio, and West Virginia. That puts Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and [Joe] Manchin (D-WVA) at a disadvantage. We’re not sure if we would start any of them as clear underdogs…but at best they would all start in Toss-up races.”

The Republican nominee, (whether Trump or someone else), should carry all of the states that Republican senators are defending next cycle, including the two most competitive states, Florida and Texas.

Even with the Republicans’ propensity to nominate bad candidates in winnable races, a problem they have had in 2010, 2012, and 2022, Republicans should be able to flip at least one Dem Senate seat in 2024. That’s what makes Georgia so important. If the GOP wins Warnock’s seat, winning one Dem seat in 2024 is all it would take to control the Senate.

But if Warnock holds, the Republicans will need two flips to win the Senate. Based on the three seats described above, that’s possible. But it’s harder to simply pencil in, since Democrats did so much better than expected last week. However, if Hershel Walker wins Georgia, Republicans have a much better chance to get a clear Senate majority in 2024.

So, Warnock winning is super important. Wrongo has engaged in conversations with a few readers about what the most effective way is to help Warnock out in Georgia. Remember that Georgia is a “strict voter ID” state. That means that being registered to vote in Georgia isn’t enough. A voter needs a proper ID as defined by Georgia law to cast a lawful ballot.

Wrongo recommends helping the good people at VoteRiders (www.voteriders.org), an organization that has helped millions of American voters get the ID they needed to vote. In Georgia, VoteRiders has identified 157,000 registered voters who do not have sufficient ID to vote. They have contact information for them as well.

VoteRiders is deploying its volunteers to assist in this effort. The more eligible voters in Georgia who are actually able to cast their ballot, the more representative of our democracy the Georgia vote becomes. And given the demographics of these registered voters without proper ID, the better Warnock’s chances will be. Warnock beat Walker by only 33,000 votes before the runoff.

You can donate here, and unlike campaign donations, this is tax-deductible.

Please also feel free to donate to Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign but do it directly at Warnock for Georgia, so he gets 100% of your precious dough.

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Is “Yellowstone” A Political Show?

The Daily Escape:

Early snow, Zion NP, UT, November 2022 photo by Bob Busund

After friends and many family members said that they really liked the TV show “Yellowstone”, Wrongo and Ms. Right watched the 2-hour season premiere on Paramount on Sunday night to see if we should commit to watching all five seasons.

Wrongo’s hot take is that the show is “The Sopranos” with horses. There’s some family intrigue like on “Succession” but the Logan Roy family isn’t directly responsible for killing people or animals at the volume of Montana’s John Dutton family.

Since its launch in 2018, Yellowstone has become one of TV’s most-watched dramas. January’s fourth-season finale had over 9 million viewers the night it aired. By comparison, HBO’s Succession drew 1.7 million for its third-season finale a few weeks earlier.

From the NYT:

“John Dutton, a Marlboro Man Tony Soprano, runs the Yellowstone Ranch like a quasi-mob. His wranglers, many of them ex-cons, are branded with a “Y” to mark them as his. When they’re not breaking horses, they’re breaking his enemies’ faces (and often one another’s).”

We watched the season-five opener where patriarch John Dutton becomes governor of Montana, basically running on a platform of “Why do I have to do everything myself”? He owns the largest ranch in Montana but feels that the whole world is conspiring against him. Specifically, it’s a cabal of greedy tycoons who want to buy Dutton’s property and build casinos, condos, and ski chalets on it.

So the main fight is between rich, white-collar city folk who have degrees and suits. The Dutton’s hate those people who fly in from California and then get their (relatively) small farms qualified for tax breaks. The Dutton’s enemies are the bankers and lawyers who are part of the scheming to take Dutton land.

It seems that John Dutton is defending his land and way of life from educated, monied outsiders who rarely actually go outside. Since his enemies mostly live on the coasts, the show is a kind of Red vs. Blue allegory.

Yellowstone’s message is that if you live in rural America, other Americans envy you. You have something they want. Even if you are land poor, you’re richer than they are. And they’ll try and take it from you if you let them.

There’s a market reality to that thinking. Nationwide, available farmland is scarce. Last year, values increased by 12.4% to an average price of $3,800 an acre. Elsewhere, the NYT reports that: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“… the supply of land is limited. About 40% of farmland in the United States is rented, most of it owned by landlords who are not actively involved in farming. And the amount of land available for purchase is extremely scant, with less than 1% of farmland sold on the open market annually.”

Both small and beginning farmers are being priced out of farmland. And Bill Gates is the largest owner of farmland in America. Like wealth, land ownership has become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. And thus, land costs more, resulting in a greater push for more intensive industrial farming techniques to generate higher returns.

One report found that just 1% of the world’s largest farms control 70% of the world’s farmland. And the biggest shift in recent years from small to big farms was in the US. No wonder then, that Yellowstone has a big and loyal audience in America’s heartland. Land is power, land is wealth, and importantly, land remains a way to sort both race and class in America.

Yellowstone is described as a “red-state show”. Based on watching just two hours, Wrongo can see that, but as the NYT says:

“On one level, the appeal of “Yellowstone” is apolitical and as old as TV. It’s a big, trashy, addictive soap about a family business, like “Dallas

It speaks the language of today’s culture wars with a country accent. We found the family members in Yellowstone both hard to like, or root for, but the show gives them enemies who seem worse. So you can maybe accept the amorality of it.

Wrongo doesn’t see it as a Conservative show in a political sense. The issues Yellowstone raises about land stewardship and big business are relevant, and not just in rural America. But from Wrongo’s limited experience with the show, the plot is more about romance, violence and feuds, along with beautiful horses and Montana scenery.

Dutton’s trying to conserve his family’s land. If you think about it, that’s not something today’s conservatives are at all interested in doing. Developers on the coasts are happy to pave over everything, and very, very few of them are liberals and/or Democrats.

And you don’t have to be politically conservative to want to preserve our natural world.

Will we watch more? Depends on what else is on.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 14, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Bison at Grand Teton NP, WY – October 2022 photo by Kerry Key

As we peel the onion of the midterms we learned something from Massachusetts that’s worth thinking about:

“Massachusetts voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that will increase taxes on those earning more than $1 million a year…. The state’s constitution currently requires all income be taxed at uniform rates. The $1 million threshold will be adjusted each year to reflect cost-of-living increases.”

Fifty-two percent of voters approved the amendment which will add a 4% tax on annual incomes above $1 million, on top of the state’s current 5% flat income tax. It takes effect in 2023, and will fund public education, roads, bridges, and public transportation.

It’s expected the new tax will affect roughly 0.6% of Massachusetts households, according to an analysis from Tufts University. The new tax also applies to “one-time millionaires,” including people who make more than $1 million in taxable income from selling their homes or businesses. It’s estimated to bring in roughly $1.3 billion in revenue during fiscal 2023, according to Tufts.

Supporters applauded the new tax as a necessary step to address MA’s income inequality gap. The Economic Policy Institute ranks Massachusetts as the sixth-worst state in the country when it comes to income inequality.

It is true that the US is one of the most economically unequal nations in the developed world. Most of the income and wealth gains of the last decade have gone to the richest 0.1%—households with annual incomes of $2.4 million and wealth of at least $32 million.

So it isn’t surprising that a similar idea has floated around DC for some time. In October 2021, Biden introduced a “millionaire’s surtax,” bill that would raise taxes on all forms of income, including wages, capital gains, and dividends. It would have imposed a 5% tax on incomes above $10 million and an 8% tax on incomes above $25 million, raising $230 billion over 10 years from the wealthiest 0.02% of Americans.

Naturally, it didn’t pass.

So the effort moved to the states, with success in 2022 Massachusetts and failure in California, where its millionaire’s surtax was defeated, 59%-41%.

In some ways, the millionaire tax debate is emblematic of the nation’s deep political divide. Republicans everywhere only want to see taxes go down, and Democrats are seeking to raise them to fund long term problems like battling climate change and adding better infrastructure.

The GOP asks: If climate change is an existential issue affecting us all, does it make sense to address the issue by taxing only a handful of households? Your answer may be different from Wrongo’s who sees the question as a way to deflect the discussion into an endless loop of “whataboutism” regarding who pays taxes.

Republicans have refused to support carbon use taxes. They’ve refused to support cap-and-trade carbon taxes. Most of them deny that climate change is happening and refuse to pro-actively plan to moderate greenhouse gas emissions, here or anywhere else. So they aren’t engaging in a serious discussion when they ask the question.

Although efforts to raise taxes on millionaires have stalled in Washington, they haven’t gone away. That will happen if Republicans control the House in January 2023.

Time to wake up America! Deficits can grow to the sky at the national level but states have to balance their budgets yearly. That’s why some states are making the choice to raise taxes on millionaires, the very people who have gained the most in the past 50 years. Raising taxes is a must in most states for the remainder of this decade.

To help you wake up, watch, and listen to Molly Tuttle channel Grace Slick while covering the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit“. Tuttle was just named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year, so you’re seeing “White Rabbit” done as bluegrass, performed in October 2022 in Portland, ME:

Tuttle is an amazing performer. You can learn more about her here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 13, 2022

While we were focusing on the midterms, Biden flew to Egypt to appear at the COP27 climate conference where he took a brief victory lap before heading to Cambodia and then to Bali for the G20 summit (which Putin is skipping).

This particular climate conference is largely focused on what, if anything, the industrialized countries owe to poor nations that are suffering climate disasters which they did little to cause. The catch phrase for this is “Climate Reparations”.

It’s hard for America to be a global leader on climate given our internal political issues. We’re always going to be just a few Electoral College votes away from electing a climate denier. So the world can’t count on us. But America will never pay climate reparations. We must at least TRY to get clean water in US cities first.

Even after 157 years, we won’t really consider paying reparations to the descendants of our fellow citizens for the sin of slavery. The political will to pay reparations to brown skinned folks on the other side of the world will never be a majority view in America.

There was both good news and bad news about the 2022 midterms. The good news is that the outcomes were not as catastrophic as predicted. The bad news is that they were bad enough. While all the races aren’t finished and all the votes aren’t counted, we know the Senate will be controlled by the Democrats. It’s likely that the GOP will control the House. Still, it’s very clear there’s a very large segment of American voters who fail to read the writing on the wall about the threat of an authoritarian takeover of American democracy. Even though that writing is in large, blinking neon letters. On to cartoons.

The authoritarians are pensive:

The incredibly shrinking authoritarians:

The Georgia runoff doesn’t mean what you think it means:

The MAGA celebration ended early:

MAGA is still with us:

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