Saturday Soother – May 8, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Old North Bridge, Concord, MA  – 2019 Photo by Kristen Wilkinson photography. Old North Bridge is where in April 1775, 400 American colonists engaged 90 British Army troops, routing them. The current bridge is a replica of the bridge that stood at the time of the 1775 battle.

Sorry for the long break.

Anyone else have the feeling that we’re in the beginning stages of a third revolution in America? Take a look at what’s happening in Republican-controlled state legislatures.

Arizona has outsourced an audit of its 2020 presidential vote in Maricopa county to a firm called Cyber Ninjas, a Florida company with no history in voting audits. One of the people helping coordinate the audit is John Brakey, who explained one of the tests that was being conducted as part of the review process:

“There’s accusations that 40,000 ballots were flown into Arizona and…stuffed into the box…And it came from the southeast part of the world….And what they’re doing is to find out if there’s bamboo in the paper…[because] they use bamboo in their paper processing…in southeast Asia.”

Thus, democracy hangs by a thread, possibly made of bamboo. But their audit isn’t about bamboo, it’s about bamboozling their base. It’s about keeping the contributions flowing and the outrage boiling. This speaks to a larger and growing problem. From The Bulwark: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Political sorting has created a country in which even local elections are highly polarized. In practice this means that divided government…[isn’t common]…even at the state legislative level. Forty-seven states have both branches of the legislature controlled by the same party….Of these, Republicans overwhelmingly dominate—meaning either complete control of both branches or veto-proof legislative majorities with a Democratic governor—in 25 states, giving party leaders carte blanche to set the agenda and pass bills.”

It’s been six months since the 2020 presidential election, and Trump’s lies about the election continue to corrode our democracy. Unfortunately, his lie is now a litmus test for Republicans. Republicans who spoke out against Trump’s lies are facing consequences as the Party coalesces around the former guy.

In Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said:

“One-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration”

In the House, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is expected to be forced out of her leadership post because she called Trump a liar. The House GOP members will stand against her and behind Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Why the unanimity? Because the House is different from the Senate.

McCarthy has 212 members who say to him, “your number one job is to get me re-elected,” while in the Senate, every senator is an island and has six years to reassure their voters that they’re ok with Trump, despite not all acting like his buddy. House members don’t run statewide. They only run for two-year terms, so they’re much more vulnerable to primary challenges.

The belief that the 2020 election was stolen isn’t amenable to fact-checking. The assertion of fraud has become an ideological statement that political opposition to the Republican Party and to Donald Trump is illegitimate. To oppose Trump is to be The Enemy, and The Enemy has surrendered any claim to fundamental political rights.

To paraphrase Norm from Cheers: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world and Democrats are wearing Milkbone underpants.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that most Republicans believe that the election was stolen. A majority of them believed the Obama birther lies. They believed Hillary killed Vince Foster. They believed giving tax breaks to the rich would “trickle down” to the rest of us. Most of them believe that universal health care, public day care, and free college will make America a communist state.

Biden has tumbled to the fact that he won’t be able to cut deals with the GOP. On Wednesday, he offered his least confident assessment:

“I don’t understand the Republicans.”

He now faces a basic question: What if Republicans have changed so fundamentally that they’ve become a rogue Party? The answer is, they have. So, what does that mean for Biden’s presidency? And for our democracy?

Enough, it’s time for our Saturday Soother. Time to get near a window and breathe in the pollen-soaked air in the Northeast. Our delicate fruit trees have made their annual journey outside for the summer, and the vegetable garden is planted. Now, like America, we await good results.

To help take your mind off how precipitously things have changed, spend a few minutes listening to “Kashmir”, by Led Zeppelin, in a symphonic cover version recorded live at the Epic Symphonic Rock show in Lima Peru in February 2018. The cello soloist is Ghislaine Valdivia. This is a real treat and a must watch:


Monday Wake Up Call – May 3, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset and wild Iris, over a flooded Tomici Creek, Gunnison CO – Spring 2019 photo by Matt Burt

The GOP is preparing an army of “poll watchers” to discredit elections, and GOP state legislatures are delivering in nearly 20 states.

“Bills in several states would grant new authority to poll watchers…to observe voters and election workers. Critics say it could lead to conflict and chaos at polling places and an improper targeting of voters of color.”

A new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as of April 15, lawmakers in 20 states had introduced at least 40 bills to expand poll watchers’ powers.

The Texas GOP is bringing back having trained partisans intimidate minority voters whom they consider possibly illegitimate:

“The red dot of a laser pointer circled downtown Houston on a map during a virtual training of poll watchers by the Harris County Republican Party. It highlighted densely populated, largely Black, Latino and Asian neighborhoods.

‘This is where the fraud is occurring’, a county Republican official said in a leaked video of the training, which was held in March. A precinct chair in the northeastern, largely white suburbs of Houston, he said he was trying to recruit people from his area “to have the confidence and courage” to act as poll watchers in the circled areas in upcoming elections.

A question at the bottom corner of the slide indicated just how many poll watchers the party wanted to mobilize: “Can we build a 10K Election Integrity Brigade?”

Republicans in battleground states are trying to make voting harder and more confusing. They’re making a concerted legislative push to grant more autonomy and access to partisan poll watchers, that is, citizens trained by a campaign or a party and authorized by local election officials to observe the electoral process.

Many questions: Who will train the poll watchers? Who will certify them? And importantly, who watches the poll watchers? Before this effort to make poll watching partisan, poll workers were trained by the county and certified by the county to perform the job. Without a standardized and transparent process, poll watchers are simply harassers violating voters’ privacy.

In Florida, an election bill passed last Thursday by Republicans in the state legislature specifies that partisan observers must be able see the ballots as canvassing boards work to authenticate voters’ signatures on absentee ballots. There are no limits on how many ballots poll watchers can challenge. Florida Gov. DeSantis has indicated he will sign the law.

There’s a long history of poll watchers being used to intimidate voters and harass election workers, often targeting communities of color. During the 2020 election, Trump’s campaign repeatedly exhorted  its “army” of poll watchers to venture into Black and Latino cities and hunt for voter fraud.

There’s no evidence that justifies giving poll watchers expanded access and/or autonomy in their jobs. We should fight a system where a random citizen can watch you vote, and then complain. That should be expressly prohibited.

The Republicans have grounded their reasoning in the argument that their voters want more secure elections. That desire is driven by Trump’s repeated lies about last year’s presidential election, which included GOP complaints about insufficient poll watcher access.

Should we be worried that these a-holes will actually scare people away from the polls? Yes, some will be frightened away. A bunch of MAGA Hat yahoos will flood voting places and try to harass and terrorize racial minorities, students, and the elderly, anyone who they believe might be voting the wrong way.

And if the GOP has their way, it will be legal to do so.

Time to wake up America! The GOP plans to turn every state that they control into little banana republics. The solution is to keep them from controlling any battleground states.

To help you wake up, listen to Larkin Poe, a Nashville-based sister group, do a cover of “Layla”, from their album of cover songs, “Kindred Spirits“. You’ll love the slide guitar:


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 2, 2021

Republicans are angry. Again. This time, they’ve just learned that the US Post Office was monitoring right-wing online threats to federal post office buildings and postal workers after January 6th.

Last week, Yahoo News revealed that the USPS’s Inspection Service have been tracking Americans’ social media posts as part of its Internet Covert Operations Program, known as iCOP. That prompted more than two dozen Republican lawmakers to demand hearings about the program. But in the hearing, the Chief Postal Inspector testified that the USPS had been given authority to monitor Americans in 2017 by Trump.

Apparently, the Trump administration used this power to monitor Black Lives Matter protesters after George Floyd’s death last summer. Naturally, they weren’t satisfied. From Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ):

“Their theory of the case is, they’ve got to protect their workers and properties….If you already have engagement with other agencies like FBI, Homeland Security, NSA, whatever, then why aren’t you asking them for help….Why not just call the agencies whose job it is, who are probably already surveilling American citizens?”

Imagine their silence when the chief postal inspector told lawmakers that those agencies:

“…would not cooperate…so the USPS [decided] to have iCOP patrol social media, searching for potential threats from upcoming protests.”

But they still love all the Trump they can get. On to cartoons.

What Biden’s first 100 days really is about:

We’re in a second Gilded Age. One where 50% of Americans with just 2% of the wealth pay 41% of the income taxes, while corporations only pay 6% of the federal government’s income.

Sen. Tim Scott gave the Republican speech response. Things didn’t go well:

Rudy’s efforts to shop Hunter Biden’s laptop computer at the DOJ comes back to bite him:

Arizona GOP starts yet another recount of Biden’s votes:

America hates it when we’re not first:

Some prefer Zooming:


Saturday Soother – May 1, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Flowering Crab Apple, Fields of Wrong, CT – April 30, 2021 iPhone photo by Wrongo

In his message to the joint session of Congress, Wrongo thought that Joe Biden connected with the American people. The very small crowd in the House made for a surprisingly intimate speech, free from the bombast of recent presidents, who often must shout over a crowded room to be heard. Biden was able to vary his tone from soft to strong, thereby making his points effectively.

He doesn’t have the oratorical skills of an FDR or Obama, but he has something that’s very important – the ability to empathize and understand what other people are going through. He doesn’t talk down to people or talk over their heads, and that’s how he spoke on Wednesday night.

He showed that he was sensitive to the problems many Americans are currently facing, and then told them how he planned to solve them. That made it exactly what Americans need to hear right now.

Wrongo was a two-year old when FDR died, so he has no personal memory of the messaging about the New Deal. But Wrongo worked for and voted for LBJ. He remembers the Great Society legislation about Medicare, and the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts.

Biden brought echoes of these two predecessors to his speech. He proposed huge spending on programs designed to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure while also helping Americans and their kids, plans that are markedly different than those of recent Democratic presidents.

Counter to the ideas of both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, for Biden, the era of big government is back. And government can also be a part of the solution. Biden, late in life, has rendezvoused with a political moment in which his personality and style are uniquely suited. Josh Marshall at TPM: (brackets by Wrongo)

“I didn’t have great expectations for tonight’s speech because political events seldom turn on speeches. Nor is speechifying Biden’s forte. He’s workmanlike, solid. But he’s no great orator….But I saw an extraordinarily effective speech. Like so much with Biden, he managed to find in the historical moment things that play to his strengths….[Biden’s]…delivery…was deeply conversational. It frequently read like he was having a conversation with the people in the chamber and then, metaphorically at least, with the country at large….it had an informality and conversational tone that I haven’t seen any other President even attempt. It worked.”

There were two key takeaways from the speech. First, if Biden gets his way, job seekers won’t have to “learn to code” to find a good paying job. From Eric Levitz: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Biden [dispelled] the notion that America can educate its way back to shared prosperity….While expanding access to higher education remains a top policy goal of the Democratic Party, this is no longer seen as an adequate response to inequality or middle-class decline. And for good reason: The skills gap is a myth, and most of the fastest-growing occupations in the not require a college degree.”

Biden’s talking working-class jobs for those Americans who have been left behind by the economy. This is helpful, since the Democrats’ eroding support among non-college-educated Americans has become the party’s defining political challenge. It’s important to remember that Democrats won the White House against a world-class buffoon, while losing Congressional seats and failing to pick up any state legislatures.

The second takeaway remains how much of this program will get through the Congress.

As the NYT says, it’s up to Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to make it a reality. Ideally, the program could be modified to bring some Republican support. But it’s clear that‘s going to be difficult. The Republicans are offering their own mini-infrastructure package, so the gulf between the two parties is very large.

Biden knows how popular his initiatives are. But he also knows he has a very narrow window through which to wedge these monumental changes into law. This will all play out in the next few months.

Meanwhile, on to our Saturday Soother. Friend of the blog Tim G. asked, “How are the Fields of Wrong?”, to which Wrongo replied, “green!”. Our flowering crab apples bloomed this week, but a weather front came through with 30+ mph winds on Friday, taking many blossoms down.

This makes the second year in a row when the blossoms have been lost to strong winds. That means fewer birds, and less nectar for the bumblebees who make each of the crabs their homes in May. Ultimately, it means fewer crab apples on the ground in the fall for the deer to eat. We also lost a major limb from our Bradford Pear.

For the next few weeks we’re featuring the songs of birds that arrive in the spring on the fields of Wrong. Here’s a video of Tree Swallows and an Eastern Bluebird. We have two nesting pairs of bluebirds every year:


Political Implications of the New Census Data

The Daily Escape:

Nathan’s Batteries, a converted Esso station, Wilkesboro NC. –  February 2021 photo by Greg Kiser Photography

The Census announced the Congressional reapportionments from the 2020 census: Texas picked up two seats, while Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon each picked up one seat.

California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia all lost one seat.

Here are a few quick observations regarding how the Electoral College has shifted since 1959, when Hawaii became the 50th state: (h/t Paul Campos)

  • California, Florida, and Texas have collectively picked up 58 electoral votes (This census is the first time California has lost a congressional seat since it became a state).
  • New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have together lost 38 electoral votes.
  • West Virginia has suffered the biggest proportional decline, losing half its electoral votes.
  • Florida and Arizona have enjoyed the largest proportional gains, tripling (FL), and nearly tripling (AZ) their representation in the Electoral College respectively.

And counting mattered. A couple of the shifts were by razor-thin margins, with New York losing a seat by just 89 people and Minnesota holding on to one by just 26 people. The news is generally good for Republicans. They control the redistricting process for five of the seven new seats.

The Cook Political Report estimates the shifts are worth about 3.5 seats to Republicans, which if no other seat shifted in the coming midterms, would put the House near-even (either 218-217 or 219-216 in Democrats’ favor, versus the current 222-213).

But the most perilous statistic is that Republicans control 61 of the 99 state legislative chambers and almost 55% of the state legislative seats, giving them control of redistricting and ultimately, a good shot at preserving the possibility of controlling one or both Houses of Congress.

In August, the Census Bureau is expected to release detailed information showing down to the block, where nearly every person lives. New legislative maps will be redrawn in each state to ensure equal representation. Right now, the GOP controls more statehouses overall and has an edge in growing states. Republicans will only need to net a handful of seats to control the House.

This is made worse if we remember that in June, 2019, in Rucho v. Common Cause, the Supreme Court essentially gave partisan gerrymandering its constitutional blessing by ruling that local political decisions are non-justiciable.

From Charlie Pierce: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“You have to have some appreciation for what a perfectly complete whole the conservative project is. By pressing every advantage…they have gained sufficient control of the process to defuse most progressive initiatives, to defang most governors if the state happens to…elect a Democrat, and to arrange for the various judicial branches to be their ultimate backup.”

Overall, the US population grew to 331 million, a 7.4% growth rate since 2010. This is the second slowest rate of population growth the census has ever recorded, just behind the 7.3% growth in the 1930s. That decade’s slowed growth was rooted in the Great Depression. From the WaPo:

“Unlike the slowdown of the Great Depression, which was a blip followed by a boom, the slowdown this time is part of a longer-term trend, tied to the aging of the country’s White population, decreased fertility rates and lagging immigration.”

This decade’s sluggish growth started in the Great Recession. Its weak recovery saw many young adults struggling to find jobs, while delaying marriage and starting a family. That blow to the nation’s birthrate was exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.

West Virginia and Maine saw deaths exceed births over the decade.

Most demographers forecast even slower population growth in the coming decades. For the first time, we have more people over the age of 80 than under age 2. The median age in the US is 38, up one year since 2010. Going forward, the number of people over age 65, will grow faster than younger cohorts.

What about counting Latinos? Texas, Florida, and Arizona had been predicted to gain more seats but didn’t. It’s possible that Latinos weren’t properly counted. They make up a large segment of the population in the three states that didn’t gain expected seats. Some point to Trump who tried to intimidate immigrants or people in the country illegally from participating in the Census. Additionally, the pandemic made it difficult to reach certain populations.

Now it will be a bare-knuckle fight between the Parties in most states to win the gerrymander war.

That will be watched closely by candidates across the country who need to decide how redistricting affects their chances of winning an election.


Nomadland Is Best Picture

The Daily Escape:

Desert Lilies, Desert Lily Preserve, Desert Center, CA – photo by Bob Wick for BLM

The film “Nomadland” won best film, best director, and best actress at this year’s Oscars. Wrongo and Ms. Right kept our tradition, and didn’t watch the Oscars, but we have seen the film twice.

If you haven’t seen it , the film is worth your time. It offers a sympathetic view of what’s happening to the American working class in what’s becoming a de-industrialized America. It shows the hollowing out of middle America, and the growing regional inequality that stems from the US economy being concentrated in fewer and fewer corporate hands, and often, in fewer places.

Our changing economy has left wide swaths of rural America in decay. The movie’s story centers on Fern, an older widow. She worked in the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada until the Great Recession reduced demand for drywall, and thus the mine and the plant were closed.

Once the factory went, so did the town. It became so de-populated that it even lost its zip code. Now, Fern, (played by Frances McDormand), sleeps in an old, converted van and works a seasonal job with one of the few employers left in the area: An Amazon shipping center.

But the film isn’t about Amazon. It’s about coping with downward mobility. Fern travels the southwest mountains, working a variety of gig jobs: In addition to Amazon, she’s kitchen help in a Wall Drug. She works at a beet processing plant throwing cases of beets into a hopper. She helps run a small RV park.

The film avoids clichés about the formerly middle-class, mostly White Americans it depicts. None of them blame Black people or immigrants or the left-wing media for their problems. They simply no longer play by the norms of an economy that ruined their lives.

Ironically, these characters don’t follow the usual White working-class stereotypes. Unlike Trump voters interviewed by the media in diners across America, they don’t turn to racism or blind acceptance of patriotism because of their economic uncertainty. Fern and the rest of the characters in “Nomadland” demonstrate dignity, decency, and stoicism in the face of the structural forces grinding them down. They teach each other how to survive while living off grid. They help each other when the chips are down.

Eric Cortellessa at Washington Monthly offers great insight:

“Unlike JD Vance’s flawed Hillbilly Elegy…this film does not blame the victims for their own downward mobility. It doesn’t point to bad habits (drugs and laziness), bad morals (racism and Trumpism), or bad attitudes (toxic masculinity and perverted Christianity). Instead, it shows humble men and women who don’t scapegoat others and who manage to preserve their dignity and, to a large extent, their own personal freedom in the face of systemic forces that are exploiting them.”

Let’s point out that since 1985, the average Wall Street bonus has increased 1,217%, from $13,970 to $184,000 in 2020. If the minimum wage had increased at that rate, it would be $44.12, instead of $7.25. And $7.25 equates to $15,080/year, nowhere near enough to make a payment on the US median home that’s priced at $301,000. It’s not even enough for a tiny dump of a house, like the one Fern left in Empire NV, which probably cost one-third of the median price.

Jessica Bruder, the author of “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” that the movie is based on, wrote over the weekend about her exploration of this growing subculture. Bruder says a scene depicting Fern spending a night in her van when she hears “the knock” is chillingly accurate:

“No overnight parking! You can’t sleep here.”

The knock, Bruder explains, “is a visceral, even existential, threat,” one that nomads try to evade by hiding in plain sight: “Make yourself invisible. Internalize the idea that you’re unwelcome.”

Some places forbid overnight parking. Others outlaw living in a vehicle. Penalties can pile up fast. Unpaid, they can lead to the cruelest punishment of all: Your home gets towed. Failing to pay the impoundment fee means losing your home. Bruder says that people ask her what they can do for the nomads:

“Letting vehicle dwellers exist in peace would be a fine start. Individuals have the power to help. When you see someone living in a car, van, or RV, don’t call the police.”

Wrongo was struck by how the nomads helped each other. In our little New England town, people do the same, they try to help. The bystanders at George Floyd’s murder tried to help prevent Floyd’s death.

The only people who don’t seem to care about helping one another are corporate executives and Republican politicians. How did they get like that?

See the film.


Monday Wake Up Call – April 26, 2021

The Daily Escape:

The Wonder Gardens, Bonita Springs, FL – April 2021 photo by Merrill Dodd

Alex Pareene in the New Republic writes about how Republicans have endorsed a terrorist tactic against protesters. He means new legislation in several states that shield drivers from civil liability if they injure or kill protesters. Florida is an example:

“Earlier this week, Florida Republicans enacted a law they claimed would prevent riots in the state. Its real purpose, of course, was to discourage protesting and punish demonstrators. One of the bill’s provisions has received a fair amount of national attention, as it seems to give Floridians permission to attack protesters with their cars.”

The law increases penalties for protesters who block roadways or deface public monuments. It creates a new crime, “mob intimidation.” That clause makes it illegal for a group of two or more people to use force or to threaten force. But what constitutes a threat of force? And the law requires that anyone arrested at a protest be denied bail until their first court appearance, making for overnight jail stays.

It also makes local city and town officials in Florida liable for lawsuits from injured parties if they are found to have not done enough to respond to control violent protests. And it reacts to the mythical “defund the police” movement by allowing an appeal to the governor of any decision by local officials to reduce law enforcement funding.

Pareene asks: (brackets by Wrongo)

“What problem does it [the new law] solve? As the Florida American Civil Liberties Union pointed out, very few recent protests in the state involved violence or even vandalism, and police and prosecutors were already well equipped…to handle whatever rioting might occur. If demonstrators blocking roads and snarling up traffic were a serious problem in Florida in need of a legislative remedy, surely thoughtful legislators could come up with a more effective or ethical response….”

Five states besides Florida have introduced similar bills this year, granting some form of immunity to people running into demonstrators. Iowa’s measure was passed by the state’s House and awaits Senate approval. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt just signed another version into law in his state. Oklahoma’s shields attacking drivers from criminal but not civil liability.

More from Pareene:

“A few years ago, most people would have seen “politically motivated vehicle attacks” as a terrorist tactic pioneered by ISIS. Now American police regularly carry out these kinds of attacks, and Republican policymakers have officially endorsed the practice.”

Ari Weil, a researcher at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, counted six states that considered laws shielding drivers who attack protesters in 2017, but most of those bills went nowhere. But the car attacks kept coming: In 2020, Weil tracked 72 incidents of cars driving into protesters across 52 different cities in a period of just over a month.

And police are more likely than individuals to use vehicles as weapons. Cops in New York and Detroit have hit demonstrators with cars. In Boston last year, Police Sergeant Clifton McHale was recorded on a police body camera bragging about hitting demonstrators with a police cruiser. If you think this is an exaggeration, consider this image that Wrongo saw on Facebook by a Santa Fe, AZ Police Sgt. (via Digby):

Civil rights and social justice groups say these laws are an unconstitutional attack on free speech. Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said:

“To be clear, the goal of this law is to silence dissent and create fear among Floridians who want to take to the streets to march for justice.”

One question is: Who gets to define and/or decide what a riot is, or what’s a violent protest? It’s most likely the local police; so as always, they now get to wield violence against protesters, up to and including driving into a crowd.

Even if a person accidentally stepped on the gas during a protest, if they kill or hurt someone in their car, there is no reason to create a legal shield for them. The incident must be adjudicated in court. That’s how we do this.

Carving out a legal exception to allow the potential killing of someone because they happen to be protesters is mind-boggling. Our democracy is under attack by a large portion of a major political party which seeks to transform the relationship between the government and the governed.

Time to wake up America! These laws will endanger the lives of people who are exercising their right of free speech by demonstrating. To help you wake up, listen to Tom Jones covering a Todd Snider song, “Talking Reality Television Blues”. The song shows the snowballing damage that television has inflicted on our psyche:

An 80+ year-old star covers a song by a dope smoking old hippy, making it sound like something NPR would feature.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 25, 2021

Last Thursday, the House passed a bill for DC statehood. The cause has been around for at least 30 years. It’s got more energy right now because of the Democrat’s desire to break up Republican obstruction in the Senate.

The current 50-50 party split in the Senate means that 41 million more Americans are represented by Democrats than by Republicans, even though their number of seats is equal.

Republicans have argued that the bill is a Democratic “power grab”. Some GOP lawmakers agree with Democrats that DC residents should have representation in Congress but say they should become part of Maryland or Virginia, rather than having their own state. They also claim that DC has too small a population, even though it has more residents than both Wyoming and Vermont.

One of their grasping-at-straws arguments is that there’s not a car dealership in DC (actually, they sell Tesla’s).  They also complain there isn’t an airport. But neither of those are prerequisites for statehood. On to cartoons.

Just another form of vote suppression:

Speaking of vote suppression, the GOP is on the march:

Just after Biden said he’s removing all troops from Afghanistan, we learn that we’re deploying additional troops to Afghanistan to aid in Biden’s plan for withdrawing all combat troops. Confused? So are these guys:

One team racks up its first score:

The GOP made a tiny counter proposal to Biden’s infrastructure plan:

Ready for the Oscars tonight? Not really:


Saturday Soother, Mondale Edition – April 24, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Flying Saucer plants at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson AZ – April 19, 2021 photo via Visit Tucson

This is a long post by Joe Trippi about Walter “Fritz” Mondale. Mondale died last Monday. You should read to the end.

Trippi is a Democratic political operative who managed the 2004 Howard Dean presidential campaign. Recently, he was a senior advisor to Doug Jones’s successful Senate run in 2017.

Trippi cut his political teeth in Ted Kennedy’s unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1979. By 1983, he was 27, and working for Walter Mondale’s unsuccessful 1984 presidential run. After Mondale’s death this week, Trippi published this twitter thread with a picture of a boxing glove, and a personal story about the kind of man Mondale was. First, the boxing glove:

“1/ The story of these gloves will tell you the kind of man Fritz Mondale was and why he meant so much to me. Please take the time to read this thread – and wait for it. It’s worth it.

2/ In December 1983, I was in my 20’s and running Iowa for Fritz.
At the end of every campaign swing through Iowa – Fritz would almost always end the trip the same way….

3/ After loading the campaign plane…with traveling staff and a huge press corps that were assigned to a front-running campaign back then….

4/ Fritz would come down the steps of the plane and take me on a stroll around the tarmac 2 or 3 times before rebounding the plane to…some other state. The conversation always ended the same way…

5/ Fritz explaining that he could not lose Iowa and that he was counting on “The Hogs” (the name Mondale Iowa campaign staff proudly called ourselves) to do everything we could to make sure he won a must win state. “Don’t let up. Keep fighting” and back on the plane he went…

6/ But we also talked about all kinds of things before we got to the “no pressure, just don’t blow it” part. One day as we walked around the plane – we got to talking about my family. Fritz asked a dreaded question about my father….

7/ I explained to Fritz that my father had stopped talking to me 5 years earlier, when I left college to join the Kennedy campaign in 1979. My dad was old school Italian — I was supposed to take over his flower shop — not go to college, or run off to become a political hack…

8/ Fritz asked a few more questions and then joked with me that my dad was wrong about a lot of things but maybe I should have listened to him about going to work for Kennedy. I was one of only a handful of Kennedy operatives hired in the Mondale campaign…

9/ I was lucky to have worked for them both. But at the time there was still a lot of bad blood – luckily, Fritz was joking. And I was relieved when he got to the – “win Iowa” part…

10/ About a month Later, we won Iowa with 49% of the vote and with Gary Hart taking a distant 2nd, But that was enough to get Hart the media spotlight and the momentum he needed to win New Hampshire and the Hart rocket was roaring….

11/ After a string of loses to Hart, “fighting Fritz” emerged as the narrative of the campaign. Mondale would walk on to the stage at rally after rally and thrust these gloves in the air and speak from the heart about who he was fighting for…

12/ I remember traveling with him to a meat packing plant & Fritz bellowing ‘Show me your hands!” My jaw dropped as plant worker after worker thrust a hand in the air with fingers missing lost on the job. I had no idea, but Fritz did. And that’s who he was fighting for…

13/And so the campaign put out the word to the press that Fritz would carry those gloves and carry on the fight til he broke the string of losses to Hart. Time and delegates were running out on us and the delegate rich Pennsylvania primary was looming as critical to our cause…

14/ If I had nightmares about losing Iowa (and I did) they were nowhere near those I had in Pennsylvania. I was sent in as state director of Pennsylvania in March when we were down by 14 points. The Pennsylvania Primary would be held in April – months after winning Iowa…

15/ And so for a month – Fritz and I did the tarmac walk thing again. No Pressure but fighting Fritz needs you and all the staff to “not let up, remember who we are fighting for”…

16/ It was a comeback win of all comeback wins I have ever been part of — only Doug Jones win in 2017 compares to it. But Fritz won Pennsylvania – and with it regained the momentum to move towards being the Democratic nominee….

17/ After the polls closed and the networks called Pennsylvania for Fritz. I got a call in the boiler room. David Lillehaug, then the aide that traveled with Fritz (and would later serve as an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court) was on the line…

18/ “Joe, Fritz wants to see you before he goes down to the ballroom to make his victory speech, get up here quick”. I rushed to the elevator and up to Fritz’s hotel suite…

19/ when I walked through the door there was Fritz Mondale, sitting down and explaining to an old Italian guy that his son was “in an honorable profession. Fighting for people who were down and hurting — he’s making a difference – I count on him and you need to know that ”….

20/ Fritz Mondale had remembered a story I had told him months and months ago — eons in the life of a Presidential campaign. He had somehow gotten someone to locate my dad and get him to Philadelphia to be there on Primary night and bring us together to reconcile…

21/ I still tear up thinking about this moment of my life that shows the kind of man Walter “Fritz” Mondale was. David Lillehaug broke the spell as my father hugged me… “Sir we have to get downstairs for your speech” and handed Fritz his “fighting Fritz” gloves….

22/ Fritz turned & said “I don’t need these anymore” took out a felt tip and wrote “To Rocky Trippi, with thanks” Fritz Mondale. Handed me the gloves , grabbed my dad, brought him with to the ballroom and dragged him on stage to stand with him as Fritz declared victory…

23/ Years later when my father passed away, I gently tucked one of the gloves with him to rest with him.

This one remains with me as homage to a man that touched my life like few others. RIP Fritz”

Mondale didn’t have a chance against Ronald Reagan in 1984, but he had a long, successful career in the US Senate, as vice president, and as ambassador to Japan.

Most of all, he was a decent man who never took himself too seriously. May we all have such a legacy.

Let’s close with soothing Saturday music. Listen to “Take Five” written by Paul Desmond, and famously recorded by Dave Brubeck in 1959. Here it’s played by the Camaleon Bassoon Quartet, who are  members of the bassoon section of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. Who ever heard of Jazz bassoon?



Another Problem for Biden: Who Controls the Arctic Ocean?

The Daily Escape:

Cape Porpoise, ME – April 20, 2021 photo by Eric Storm

American has only two icebreakers that can operate at the North Pole. One is more than 40 years old, and the other is in drydock. This is a problem because the Arctic ice cap is melting, and many countries plan to use the Arctic Ocean as a much quicker transit route from Europe to Asia.

Why is this a big deal? Rockford Weitz, professor at the Fletcher Maritime Studies Program of Tufts University, has an article in The Conversation about the looming competition for control of the warming Arctic Ocean. He points to a recent voyage:

“A tanker carrying liquefied natural gas from northern Russia to China tested that shorter route this past winter, traversing the normally frozen Northern Sea Route in February for the first time with the help of an icebreaker. The route cut the shipping time by nearly half.”

It’s clear that even including the cost of having an icebreaker along for the trip, traversing the Arctic Ocean was cost-effective. The polar ice is melting quickly, so countries will need more icebreakers to help LNG tankers cross the Arctic.

Russia has 46 icebreakers and has 11 under construction. The US has three and has three under construction. Wikipedia says that the US icebreaker situation is currently so dire that the US Coast Guard is loath to send the working icebreakers too far north, because if one breaks down, it would almost certainly have to call for help from a nearby Russian icebreaker.

That demonstrates how bad US/Russian relations have become. At one time, both powers could cooperate on this kind of prosaic thing.

There’s more at stake. The US Geological Survey estimates that about 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of undiscovered oil may be in the Arctic. As waters become passable, that will attract both more shipping and more mineral exploration. Weitz also says that the competition for control of the Arctic has reached new levels:

“Russia is now attempting to claim more of the Arctic seabed for its territory. It has been rebuilding Cold War-era Arctic military bases and recently announced plans to test its Poseidon nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed torpedo in the Arctic.”

It’s remarkable to learn that the US military has been caught flat-footed with the retreat of Arctic sea ice. The retreat of the polar ice cap and the opening of a Northern passage have both been well covered in the media for years. Yet, both the arms merchants and hawks in Congress somehow missed this profit opportunity?

More from Weitz:

“Congress put off investing in new icebreakers for decades….Now, the lack of polar-class icebreakers undermines America’s ability to operate in the Arctic region, including responding to disasters as shipping and mineral exploration increase.”

Congress has authorized construction of three more heavy icebreakers at a total cost of around US $2.6 billion but has so far funded just two of them. They take years to build. A shipyard in Mississippi expects to deliver the first by 2024.

The US has one heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, that can break through ice up to 21 feet thick. It was commissioned in 1976. While it is usually in Antarctica each winter, it was sent to the Arctic this year to provide a US presence, presumably to counter the Russians.

But the Polar Star’s crew had to fight fires and deal with power outages and equipment breaks. Our second icebreaker, the much smaller Healy, commissioned in 2000, also suffered a fire on board in August 2020 and had to cancel its Arctic operations.

How is it possible that we spend roughly 10 times more on defense than Russia, but once again, we’re behind in a strategic situation? This proves that our defense procurement is corrupt. It has been for a very long time.

We have two problems. First, today’s Earth Day, and on its 51st anniversary, the Arctic Ocean is melting because of global warming. Despite that, the world’s saying: let’s all go up to the Arctic and produce more global warming. Second, our Defense Department has known for years that Russia had a big advantage in icebreakers, and that climate change would certainly open the area to competition.

What did the military and our Congress Critters do about these totally knowable things? As usual, nothing. American politics has become self-destructive.

Once again, the only skills the US Congress displays are obstruction and corruption. The beat goes on.

What did you expect?