Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 26, 2022

(New columns will be light and variable for the next week, since Wrongo and Ms. Right are attending grandson Conor’s wedding in NC. Regular programming will resume on July 6.)

We’re not talking about the Supreme Court or the J6 news this morning. We’ll leave that for the cartoons below. Instead, let’s focus on an enlightening article from Curbed: “Hoboken Hasn’t Had a Traffic Death in Four Years. What’s It Doing Right?”:

“Hoboken feels downright roomy. Wander down the wide, busy sidewalks of Washington Street, the city’s main strip…and one thing becomes clear….A pedestrian doesn’t have to play the…perilous game of New York City crosswalk chicken, where you squint through the windows of a massive metal box to catch a glimpse of another speeding metal box whose driver doesn’t see you.”


“Few drivers park next to crosswalks in Hoboken because they can’t. Those spots are blocked off with bike racks or planters or storm drains or extra sidewalk space for pedestrians or vertical plastic pylons that deter all but the boldest delivery-truck drivers. Stand at a corner, and you can see what is coming toward you, and drivers can see you too, and you don’t have to step out into the road and risk your life to do it.”

This concept is called Vision Zero, a strategy that municipalities across the US and abroad have adopted that seeks to alter traffic and engage pedestrians to lessen the severity of accidents. In total, Hoboken has had three traffic fatalities since 2015.

As Hoboken’s streets get safer, the rest of America is getting less safe. Traffic fatalities in NYC were up 44% percent in the first quarter of 2022. Hoboken has empowered it’s pedestrians and every corner makes it clear they have the right of way. Hoboken’s streak of zero fatalities could end at any time, and eventually will, but that’s no reason for other cities and towns not to enable similar change. On to cartoons.

Somebody should remind the Conservative ideologue Justices that America is a multi-belief country:

It’s on the ballot in November:

Clarence rewrites the 2nd Amendment:

Now concealed carry has multiple meanings:

The scales of justice get a Conservative makeover:

The J6 hearings have inspired criticism from Texas. The late Molly Ivins referred to Texas as the “national laboratory for bad government”:

Uvalde ,TX failures give new meaning to an old idea:


Saturday (Un) Soother, Supreme Court Edition – June 25, 2022

The Daily Escape:

North River, Marshfield, MA – June 2022 photo by Laurie France

Roe overturned. Gun laws on the books since the Taft administration overturned. Miranda weakened. The separation of church and state required by the First Amendment, no longer Constitutional.

Remember when Republicans railed against “unelected, activist judges”? They always meant judges appointed by Democrats. Here’s a quote from the National Review:

“The Left views the judicial branch as no different from the executive or legislative branches. To them, judges are supposed to ‘take sides,’ making sure that some political interests win and others lose.”

Or, this from a Baptist minister in 2014:

“Unelected liberal activist judge delivers Michigan to Big Faggotry.”

As always, Conservatives were projecting their actual views as the views of their opposition.

Today, we do have unelected activist judges running America, and they are Conservatives. We’re living in an ahistorical time: There are six justices who are practicing Catholics. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Brett Kavanaugh.

Five routinely vote as a bloc. There have only been 15 Catholic justices (out of 115 justices total) in the history of the Supreme Court. Forty percent of all Catholic justices are now sitting on the Court.

The Conservative majority on the Court has walked away from Stare Decisis, the doctrine that courts will adhere to precedent when making their decisions. Stare decisis means “to stand by things decided” in Latin.

Here’s how stare decisis has evaporated: On Thursday, the Court said that the individual right to bear arms is an inviolable fundamental right, meaning states cannot infringe the right to carry a gun. Clarence Thomas held that a NY statute enacted during the Taft administration was not part of the American tradition of regulating firearms.

The right to an abortion, in place for 50 years, was overturned and sent back to the states because it’s just not as fundamental as the God-given right to have a gun which you can use to shoot up elementary schools.

The NY gun law dates from 1913. The right to abortion was decided in 1973. But the radical judges tout the notion that the former violated a fundamental right, while the latter isn’t even a thing.

Also on Thursday, the Conservative justices voted 6-3 to block lawsuits against police who neglect to read the Miranda warning, (“You have the right to remain silent”). It also includes language about Constitutional protections against self-incrimination. From Alito’s opinion:

“A violation of Miranda does not necessarily constitute a violation of the Constitution, and therefore such a violation does not constitute ‘the deprivation of [a] right…secured by the Constitution,'”

Miranda was decided in 1966, but Alito now says it’s a “prophylactic rule”, meaning that Miranda warnings aren’t required by the Constitution, but are instead judicially-crafted rules designed to protect people’s core Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. His signal to prosecutors is clear: Miranda is suspect, and we’re willing to entertain arguments that we should do away with it for good.

So the Conservative wing has knocked off three “settled law” items in one week, despite each – John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh – all saying under oath some version of what Roberts said during his confirmation hearing:

“…[Roe] is settled as a precedent of the Court, entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis. It is settled.”

You should know that Alito and Barrett didn’t lie quite so egregiously about Roe during their hearings, although with hindsight, both were disingenuous. Obviously, a judge who lies under oath should be removed from office, but that won’t happen since “everyone” knew they were lying.

These Conservative unelected activist judges are placing ideology above precedent.

That elections have consequences was the key takeaway from the 2016 presidential election won by Trump. Democrats didn’t turn out for Hillary Clinton as much as they had turned out for Obama or that would turn out for Biden. Trump won because he got 78,000 more votes than Clinton in just three counties in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and thus got to appoint three reactionary justices.

Reactionary justices will issue reactionary rulings. And there are many more to come.

But it’s time to forget (if you can) about the Supreme Court gutting legal precedent for ideology. It’s time for your Saturday Soother.

Our long-term lawn guy has decided to close his business. It’s a combination of higher costs that couldn’t be passed along to customers and getting too old for outdoor physical labor. So we’re scrambling at the height of the season.

It will be a warm weekend in the Northeast, so grab a seat outdoors in a shady spot, put on your wireless headphones and listen to “As steals the morn” composed by Handel in 1740. “As Steals the Morn” is adapted from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. Amanda Forsythe and Thomas Cooley are the soloists, and their voices are beautiful:


As steals the morn upon the night,
And melts the shades away:
So Truth does Fancy’s charm dissolve,
And rising Reason puts to flight
The fumes that did the mind involve,
Restoring intellectual day.


Intellectual day is gone, my friends.


Lowering Gas Prices Isn’t Easy

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, tide pools, La Jolla, CA – June 2022 photo by Paul Folk

Fed Reserve Chair Powell appeared before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday and the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday to talk about inflation and the Fed’s role in bringing it under control. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed with Powell’s desire to bring inflation down as quickly as possible. But they had vastly different views on how the Fed and Congress should do the job.

When pressed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Powell said higher interest rates could not boost the production of oil or end other supply shocks that are driving prices higher:

Basically, Powell agreed that the forces causing inflation were largely beyond the Fed’s control.

The Fed is raising interest rates to dampen demand, but consumers are in relatively decent shape and still have money in their bank accounts to spend. If spending declines, companies are often forced to keep prices stable or cut them, which throws some cold water on inflation. But that also can cause job losses and wages to stagnate.

Committee Republicans blamed the Fed for not listening to their calls to raise rates as inflation began to rise last year. Several GOP Senators questioned whether the Fed has the will to induce a recession if that becomes necessary.

Politically, it’s clear that a sharp recession that cost jobs would be ruinous for millions of Americans. But, it has the advantage of giving Republicans a clear path to winning back control of Congress in 2022 and possibly the White House in 2024.

That’s how politics works: The Party out of power blames the Party in power for whatever isn’t working.

However, inflation has multiple causes, most of which Powell admitted were outside the control of the Fed or the White House. Let’s focus on gas prices, an area where neither Biden nor Powell can do much to bring prices down.

The key to gas prices right now is the global lack of refinery capacity. Seeking Alpha reports that excess refining capacity doesn’t exist outside of India, China, and Russia. As a result, US and European refineries are making huge profit margins. From the Economist:

“In normal times, the refining business is a low-margin, low-drama adjunct to the…business of oil production….Refiners typically make profit margins of $5-10 a barrel….This time….Margins for many refiners have rocketed, and bottlenecks in the sector are propelling global petrol prices upwards.”

Here’s a chart:

A government report shows that US refining capacity has fallen in the last two years. In fact, it’s where it was in 2014, meaning that gas supplies would still be tight if refineries were running at 100%, and they’re running at close to that. Industry capacity utilization is at roughly 94%, the highest since 2018.

US oil refining capacity has decreased by more than one million barrels/day (5% of the total) since the start of the pandemic. Some old facilities were closed permanently after Covid stopped people from driving, which crushed fuel demand. Other refineries are being modified to produce renewable diesel instead of gas. Those conversions may be too far along to reverse course.

Since there’s little chance of bringing new US sources of gasoline refining online anytime soon, Biden’s best chance to lower prices will likely come from jawboning the refiners to accept smaller profit margins.

We shouldn’t count on America’s corporations to do the right thing.

Over the longer term, Mr. Market might help save the day. The price spikes will cool demand for gas, which should lower prices. A shift in trade flows could also help. The Economist says that India’s refiners see an opportunity to become, as RBC Capital Markets says, “the de facto refining hub for Europe”.

New refineries are scheduled to come online in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which should help ease the shortages too.

The hard reality is that there’s no easy solution for gas prices, or for food prices. If they existed, Biden would’ve flipped that switch months ago. Earlier this week, Wrongo said:

“Will people vote this Fall based on the price of gas? Or the threat of a recession? Or, will they understand that there’s a real possibility that democracy as we know it in the US could vanish?….Inflation comes and goes. Recessions come and go. If we lose our democracy, it won’t be returning any time soon.”

The GOP keeps slamming Biden over inflation, but it has zero solutions to offer, because this shit is complicated. Rep. Elise Stefanik, (R-NY), the third-ranking member of the House GOP, isn’t even pretending the GOP has a plan. She recently said of inflation:

“House Republicans will address these crises when we earn back control of the House this November.”

Sure. You can trust the Party of tax cuts for the wealthy to prevent a recession that will harm the rest of us.


The US Jobs Market and The EU vs. Russia

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Lake Sammamish, Issaquah, WA – June 2022 photo by Gary Hamburgh

Two pieces of news to think about today.

First, you can always tell when an economic boom is nearing its end, because the jobs market begins to get shaky. That seems to be starting. The WSJ reports that:

“Businesses in several different industries are rescinding job offers they made just a few months ago, in a sign the tightest labor market in decades may be showing cracks.”

No need to panic just yet, the labor market remains strong, with an unemployment rate at 3.6%, near a half-century low. But signs of retrenchment in hiring shows that executives are having trouble predicting the economy over the next 12 months.

And when companies revoke job offers, it indicates their view of the future business outlook has changed so quickly that it’s undoing hiring plans made only a few weeks before.

Many hiring managers say signing up new recruits remains highly competitive. The WSJ reports on a Gartner survey of more than 350 HR executives conducted in May that found around 50% thought the competition for talent would increase over the next six months. Nearly two-thirds said they hadn’t made any changes to their hiring practices or HR budgets in response to economic volatility.

But it seems there are changes afoot. Country wisdom says that a storm rarely hits us without warning. The skies turn dark, the wind picks up, the birds go quiet. It’s possible to see the signs before the storm hits if you know what to look for. We’re seeing signs now of what’s to come.

Second, there’s an adage, attributed to Trotsky, but difficult to verify, that says: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Those words are apt in today’s situation between Europe and Russia. CNN is reporting about an emerging flashpoint between Russia and the EU:

“Tensions are mounting around…the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, an isolated but strategically significant territory on the Baltic coast…Russia has reacted furiously after Lithuania banned the passage of sanctioned goods…into Kaliningrad. But Lithuania says it is merely upholding European Union sanctions, and the European bloc has backed it.”

Kaliningrad is Russia’s westernmost territory and it has no land connection to Russia. It’s the only part of Russia that is completely surrounded by EU states. Here’s a map:

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland are all members of NATO, surrounding Kaliningrad militarily. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, experts have feared that Kaliningrad might become the next flashpoint in tensions between Moscow and Europe.

Russia says that Lithuania’s sanctions on goods transit is a blockade in violation of a 2002 agreement to allow goods to flow between Kaliningrad and Russia. Sanctions apply to about 50% of Russian shipments. The sanctioned products include construction machinery, machine tools and other industrial equipment. But food and personal travel are not sanctioned.

Since the Baltic freezes during the winter, resupplying Kaliningrad will become particularly difficult in about six months. Lithuania has also closed its airspace to Russia. A Berlin-style airlift could prove problematic as well.

Lithuania has spent years building a liquid natural gas (LNG) port and the infrastructure necessary to connect to Nordic and EU grids. She was therefore able to shut off Russian oil, gas, and coal quickly and is in a better position to do without Russia’s gas than the rest of the EU.

Lithuania imports 70% of its electricity from Sweden through a dedicated underwater cable. Sweden’s power is nuclear and hydroelectric, thus independent of Russia as well. Lithuania is also in a position to supply gas to Latvia, Estonia, and Poland through their LNG terminal.

So is Europe at a flashpoint? There’s little Moscow can do to Lithuania beyond threaten.

Is it just a matter of time before NATO and Russia are in a shooting war? Doubtful. Russia could try cutting off all oil, gas, and coal exports to the other NATO countries. Russia could then say they would sell to any countries that left NATO. That might not pop NATO’s balloon, but it might take some of the air out of it.

If Russia decided to do that, it would have to find a way to transport it’s oil, gas, and coal to alternate customers. That can’t happen quickly. Given that the adversarial relationship between Europe and Russia may last a decade or more, Russia will probably have to find alternative customers regardless.

Neither side wants to undertake drastic changes in energy supply too precipitously.

Wrongo doubts the Kaliningrad situation will lead to war, but each provocation and escalation increases the odds. We’re playing in a very high stakes game, given the nuclear weapons on all sides. But Europe and NATO can’t automatically bow to Russia’s threats.

NATO can’t be unwilling to fight, but there’s a difference between that and provoking a war. Right now, it’s difficult to see a peaceful end game between the US, NATO, and Russia


Normalizing Violence Will End Democracy

The Daily Escape:

Bodie Island Lighthouse, Nags Head, NC – June 2022 photo by Jordan Hill Photography

America’s in a dark period, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how we can come out of it.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way say:

“The Republican Party…has radicalized into an extremist, antidemocratic force that imperils the US constitutional order. The United States isn’t headed toward Russian – or Hungarian-style autocracy…but something else: a period of protracted regime instability, marked by repeated constitutional crises, heightened political violence, and possibly, periods of authoritarian rule.”

They say we’re heading into a period of protracted instability. They aren’t saying we face a civil war. It’s more subtle: a future of intermittent armed conflict, something like “The Troubles” in Ireland.

You’ve probably seen the campaign ad by Missouri Republican Senate candidate Eric Greitens, where he struts into a home after some camo-clad associates have broken in, saying their purpose is “RINO hunting”. After the team busts into the house, Greitens walks in through a cloud of smoke and says:

“Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”

Hunting down one’s political enemies with guns hasn’t been the American way, but it sure is becoming so now. It’s only a matter of time before racial, sexuality and politically-based violence occurs at scale in America. The Brennan Center found that 17% of America’s local election officials have been threatened during the 2020 election cycle. There’s a growing domestic terror threat to civil servants.

But it was only two weeks ago that Republicans found it easy to have moral clarity when authorities arrested a man and charged him with the attempted murder of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The suspect turned himself in before anything happened. However, Republicans were outraged and questioned why Biden and other Democrats did not condemn what happened.

Candidates say outrageous things all the time in the heat of the moment and lately, hitting below the belt is often rewarded. But that is a far cry from a call to hunt down your political enemies in order to “save the country.”

The GOP is normalizing violence, and it became clear after the Republican response to J6. From Robert Hubbell:

“The Republican National Committee described the events of January 6th as ‘legitimate political discourse.’ Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde said that video of the attack on the Capitol looked like ‘a normal tourist visit.’ Mike Pence, whom rioters wanted to hang, said on Monday that Democrats were using the January 6th hearings ‘to distract attention.’”

Republicans try pretending that they have no idea what’s happening (“I haven’t seen the ad, so I cannot comment”). But the right thing is to take the risk that someone will yell at them on Facebook and Twitter and condemn it by saying loud and clear, “This isn’t the way for a candidate to conduct himself.”

Unless Republicans change their act, the normalization of violence will move toward its logical conclusion — election officials and politicians will be wounded or killed by someone who believes that violence is a legitimate political tool.

GOP candidates are posting ads about killing us in our homes. The Texas state GOP party wrote a campaign platform calling for the repeal the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and seceding from the US, while saying that gay people should get back in the closet. They passed a resolution declaring that Biden’s election was illegitimate.

This is the platform of the governing party of the nation’s second largest state, and no non-Texas Republican has complained.

Pundits keep saying that Democrats have no chance in the 2022 mid-terms because of Biden’s low approval ratings. Wrongo has repeatedly said that there are “persuadable” voters who can be reached before the Fall. Proof of that is in the 6-point increase in public support for indicting Trump since the start of the J6 hearings.

If pundits argue that Biden’s unpopularity will affect the 2022 races despite Biden’s absence from the ballot, they must also agree that other issues not on the ballot— the J6 conspiracy, the Supreme Court abortion decision, Texas secession, and yes inflation, will also affect the 2022 races.

The 2022 election (not the 2024) will determine our future. Will people vote this Fall based on the price of gas? Or the threat of a recession? Or, will they understand that there’s a real possibility that democracy as we know it in the US could vanish?

Democracy is what’s on the ballot in 2022. Inflation comes and goes. Recessions come and go. If we lose our democracy, it won’t be returning any time soon.

Americans understand democracy. They’ve fought and died for it. Dems can make voters see that democracy is on the ballot this year, while inflation and other issues sadly need to take a back seat.

Let’s not make the mistake of selling Americans short. Democracy is more important than our pocketbooks. People will vote for democracy.

The slogan should be “Vote Democratic And Save Democracy”.


Monday Wake Up Call – June 20, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Field of Valerian at Indian Henry’s Crossing with Mt. Rainier in background, WA – June 2022 photo by Edwin Buske Photography. Oh, and a deer.

For more than 100 years, there have been attempts to improve telephone, cable, and internet services in the rural areas of America. Most of them have failed because it isn’t profitable for private firms to string wire to a small group of users who live at great distance from the nearest phone, or cable company.

This is a problem that requires government help, in particular, from the federal government. And there’s an abundance of government grant and loan money available to help rural America build broadband connections in unserved areas.

Recently the bipartisan infrastructure bill created the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) and the State Digital Equity Act to provide money to underserved areas through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The $42.5 billion BEAD Program automatically gives each state $100 million to start, but to receive additional broadband funding, local governments must apply for grants that are due by July 18. The State Digital Equity Act has $1.5 billion to allocate, and state’s letters of intent are due July 12. Not much time left.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) also has a pool of $10 billion to expand broadband through the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, supervised by the Treasury Department. States had until Dec. 2021 to apply for the fund program, and until Sept. 24, 2022, to submit a grant plan to the Treasury.

But as always, distributing government money efficiently is an issue. Early in June the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report “National Strategy Needed to Guide Federal Efforts to Reduce Digital Divide,” that found many flaws with these programs:

“Federal broadband efforts are fragmented and overlapping, with more than 100 programs administered by 15 agencies. Many programs have broadband as their main purpose, and several overlap…”


“Despite numerous programs and federal investment of $44 billion from 2015 through 2020, millions of Americans still lack broadband, and communities with limited resources may be most affected…”

Here’s the GAO’s chart of the overlapping jurisdictions:

Looks impossible to navigate. The WSJ weighed in focusing on the FCC’s role. They concluded:

“…many residents are still stuck with service that isn’t fast enough to do video calls or stream movies—speeds that most take for granted. Many communities have been targeted for broadband upgrades at least twice already, but flaws in the programs’ design have left residents wanting.

The WSJ found that areas with a combined population of 5.3 million people had previously been fully or partially covered by at least one federal broadband funding program. But the FCC’s rules didn’t require ISPs or Telecoms to serve all customers equally, as long as they served a minimum number of locations statewide.

That allowed internet providers to pick only the profitable customers to upgrade. This meant they could take public money while leaving pockets of homes and businesses without access.

Wrongo detests that public monies are lining the pockets of private firms who won’t solve their own problems. He detests that our government can’t get out of its own way, even after Congress rouses from its slumber and allocates funds that can help out rural Americans.

Republicans blame big government inefficiency, and they have a point. They also laud Elon Musk’s Starlink low-earth orbit satellite internet service. They say it proves that private industry can solve this problem. Except that there’s a 2+ year wait for Starlink services in much of rural America. And it’s estimated that the Starlink ground antenna costs $2500 to build, but is sold for $600. Who’s paying the difference?

And Starlink satellites have to connect to ground stations (NOCs) that connect to the web. Starlink’s speeds have slowed recently because they haven’t built NOCs fast enough.

It will never be profitable for private firms to connect the last mile to very rural homes. So there’s a role for government, properly managed. We subsidize the farms, roads, postal service, telephones and now, the broadband needs of rural people. Apart from factory farms, these are among the least economically productive areas in our economy.

And the best part? They hate the people who foot the bill!

Time to wake up America! Our public-private “partnerships” that are trying to get internet services to the toughest to reach parts of the country aren’t working. They need more red-tape cutting and more corporate CEO feet held to the fire if they are to work.

This can be done. America went to the moon before we put wheels on luggage.

To help you wake up, let’s spend a few minutes with Paul McCartney, who turned 80 recently. Take this opportunity to cherish his presence. Here’s McCartney doing “Jet” live at Glastonbury in 2004 when he was 62:

Don’t worry, nobody knows what the song is about.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 19, 2022

Today is Juneteenth. It’s now a federal holiday. Here in the most Conservative corner of Connecticut, the town hall will be closed on Monday, even though Juneteenth doesn’t become an official state holiday in Connecticut until next year.

Data from Google Trends about Connecticut’s interest in searching for the word “Juneteenth” shows the holiday barely registered as a search term before 2020. In 2019, Google Trends rated “Juneteenth” only a 9 out of 100 on the interest scale in Connecticut. During the same period in 2020, the value grew to 72. In 2021, it reached 100, meaning “peak popularity” for the term. On to cartoons.

It will be years before most people observe Juneteenth:

What do we care about?

Gas prices are cutting into Trump’s profits:

The J6 hearings provided insight into Trump’s amorality:

So, why do Republicans stay with him?

While Ginni’s giving Clarence some of her Kool-Aid every day:


Saturday Soother – June 18, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Rainy morning, with Vista House at Crown Point in right foreground, Columbia River Gorge, WA – June 2022 photo by David Leahy Photography

Wrongo has written before about the crushing burden of consumer debt in the US. Medical debt is an American disgrace, and Noam Levey, Kaiser Health News (KHN) Senior Correspondent has written an excellent piece about it. He says that 100 million people in America, some 41% of adults, owe some level of debt to healthcare providers.

But most studies don’t reveal the actual extent of the debt because much of it appears as credit card balances, loans from family, or payment plans arranged with hospitals and other medical providers. To calculate the true extent and burden of this debt, KHN partnered with NPR, and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) to conduct a nationwide poll designed to capture not just bills patients couldn’t afford, but other forms of borrowing used to pay for health care.

The results are contained in the KFF Health Care Debt Survey. The KFF poll found that half of US adults don’t have the cash to cover an unexpected $500 health care bill. As a result, many simply don’t pay their medical bills. The flood of unpaid bills has made medical debt the most common form of consumer debt in America.

Over the past five years, more than half of US adults report they’ve gone into debt because of medical or dental bills. Moreover, a quarter of adults with health care debt owe more than $5,000, and about 20% with any amount of debt said they don’t expect to ever pay it off.

Debt incurred for health care is forcing many families to cut spending on food and other essentials. The poll also found that millions are being driven from their homes or into bankruptcy:

So, if 100 million people were in debt and 17% declared bankruptcy or lost their home, that’s 17 million people! The KFF poll found that the debt is also preventing Americans from saving for retirement, investing in their children’s educations, or buying a home. And debt from health care is nearly twice as common for adults under 30 as for those 65 and older. And that age cohort is supposed to be much healthier than the elderly.

Perversely, about 1 in 7 people with medical debt said they’ve been denied access to a hospital, doctor, or other provider because of unpaid bills. An even greater share (two-thirds) have put off care that they, or a family member need because of the cost.

Hospitals are among the culprits. They are capitalizing on their patients’ inability to pay. Hospitals and other medical providers are pushing millions of patients who can’t afford to pay into credit cards and other loans. These are high interest rate loans, carrying rates that top 29%, according to research firm IBISWorld.

This collections business is fed by hospitals, including public university systems and nonprofits granted tax breaks to serve their communities, who sell the outstanding debt to collections companies.

Welcome to the best country on earth, (maybe) one that doesn’t have the best health care system (and certainly one without  health insurance for all). We have a system which shackles 100 million people to medical debt while at the click of a computer mouse, we send $billions in armaments overseas before those same dollars are recycled into the coffers of our Military-Industrial complex.

That’s all for this week. It’s time for our Saturday Soother, when we take a break from the J6 public hearings and whether Ginni Thomas was another Trumpist plotter. Let’s focus on calming ourselves for whatever insults are coming next week.

Here at the Mansion of Wrong, we’re engaged in an air conditioning project, adding more central air to our home. Hey, we’re aware of the crummy stock market, and the rampant inflation, but consume we must.

To help you clear your head on this warm weekend, grab a seat outdoors and brew up a cup of Supernatural coffee ($18.45/12 oz.) by Lee, MA’s own Barrington Coffee Roasting Company. This espresso is said to have flavors of Concord grape, dark chocolate, plum and tangle berry pie!

Wrongo has no idea what tangle berries look like, much less what they taste like.

Now, put on your wireless headphones and listen to the “Adagio for Oboe, Cello, Organ and Strings”, also known as “Elevazione” or “All’Elevazione” by Domenico Zipoli.

Zipoli was an Italian Jesuit priest who lived much of his life in what is now Argentina. He studied with Scarlatti, became a Jesuit, worked as a missionary, and died in 1726 in Argentina at age 38. If fate had granted Zipoli another 20 to 25 years, he might be regarded today as a major composer. Here it’s performed in 2015 by the Collegia Musica Chiemgau conducted by Elke Burkert :


America’s Homicide Policing Paradox

The Daily Escape:

Lupine, Steptoe Butte SP, WA – June 2022 photo by Francisco B. Aguilar Photography

German Lopez in the NYT writes about how urban gun crime is very concentrated, saying that a small number of city blocks often account for most of the gun violence in US cities. He says that just 4% of city blocks account for the majority of shootings in Chicago:

“The violence is so intensive that a few neighborhoods, blocks or people often drive most of the shootings and murders in a city or county. And this is true in both urban and rural areas, said Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at Princeton.”

Let’s pick up on the comment that this is true in both urban and rural areas. The WSJ has an article that says there’s been a big spike in murders in rural America:

“Homicide rates in rural America rose 25% in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was the largest rural increase since the agency began tracking such data in 1999. The CDC considers counties rural if they are located outside metropolitan areas defined by the federal government.”

That’s pretty close to the 30% increase in urban areas. But the WSJ points not to a lack of tough-on-crime policies causing the spike in rural homicides, or a lack of social services, safety net, or investment in anti-poverty measures. Instead, it says that the primary culprits are Covid lockdowns and a lack of “pastoral care” from churches.

As Adam Johnson, who writes on media and politics, points out, in January, the same WSJ said the culprits of increasing urban crime were:

“Progressive prosecutors take the approach of not prosecuting some low-level offenses like drug possession. In Philadelphia, for example, cases brought by the district attorney’s office from 2018 through 2021 dropped by nearly 30% compared with the prior four years. This week, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner defended progressive prosecutors while promising to tackle gun violence at the swearing-in ceremony for his second term.”

The Conservative formula is simple: When crime increases in liberal cities, the cause is: reformist prosecutors, bail reform, and defunding the police movements.

But when murder spikes in counties coded as white or rural, and controlled largely by Republicans, the causes are societal and therefore blameless —namely the fraying of the social fabric brought about by the pandemic. They fail to mention the persistence of drugs in rural America, or how corporations have hollowed out the economies of rural America by moving abroad.

Johnson says that we’re caught in a “Narrative” by leaders in both Parties, that the Covid-era surge in crime was the result of lax DAs, bail reform, and other far-left measures. And the only way to combat it, was to remove the reforms, fund more police, and to effectively sunset the Black Lives Matter movement.

And Johnson says:

“…data very clearly indicates that crime—namely, murder rate—increases appear to be entirely divorced from the policies of the prosecutors and police budgets of the affected areas. Despite the widespread, casual lie that radical, far-left reform prosecutors or defunded police budgets have caused a spike in crime…”

Despite everyone knowing that socio-economic problems are also at the heart of the homicide rates in urban areas.

Still, the “Narrative” is having an effect on Democratic politics. We saw the recall of the progressive DA in San Francisco last week, and the NYT had an article about how Maryland’s Democratic primary for governor is now focused on better solutions to urban crime:

“In Democratic strongholds like Maryland, a rise in violent crime has pushed the party’s candidates to address the issue of public safety in newly urgent terms….Long seen as a political wedge for Republicans to use against Democrats, crime is increasingly a subject of concern within the Democratic Party and the big cities that make up much of its political base.”

The homicide spike is transforming the Democrat’s playbook on law and order. It’s forcing the Party to seek ways of balancing its determination to overhaul the criminal justice system with the imperative to protect some of its most loyal voters from a rising tide of violence.

The challenge is to walk a fine line: How can urban Democrats make the police more responsive but not militarized or heavy-handed; how to move police departments away from the often discriminatory tactics favored by the law-and-order mayors.

Still, when crime goes up in urban areas, it’s the reform efforts that are to blame. When crime goes up (by roughly the same percentage) in rural places where no such reforms exist, the “Tough on Crime” approach and the lack of robust social services can’t be blamed.

Both Democrats and Republicans want police budgets to grow. But neither have any answers as to how incremental dollars will reduce homicide rates, or make the police more effective at their jobs.


Thoughts On The Select Committee Hearings

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA – June 2022 photo by Paul Folk

Wrongo and Ms. Right watched all of the J6 Committee’s Public Hearing on Monday, and the final few minutes of the first hearing last Thursday.

These aren’t hearings so much as they are public presentations of the Committee’s investigation to date.

And for that we should be thankful, since there are no long opening statements designed to fluff up a Congress critter’s Twitter account. These “hearings” are designed to reach Americans who no longer watch network news, read newspapers, or otherwise spend more than a few moments to learn about what is going on politically.

We’re seeing a fast-paced and compelling prosecutorial case being made, almost exclusively by Republicans, many of whom were close to Trump’s White House. But, as Tom Sullivan points out: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“As refreshing as it is to see Democrats assembling a public accounting of the events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection, an accounting is not the same as holding people accountable.”

We’ve seen sworn statements by senior Trump associates who back in 2020, were in a position to have blown the whistle on the coup plot. Now, they’re attempting to wash their hands of responsibility for the Big Lie. They’re finally willing to speak under oath, in order to launder their reputations. For example, Bill Barr’s hand-washing is rich. Don’t forget that for months he carried Trump’s water by peddling the lie that mail-in balloting was rife with corruption.

Two thoughts:

First, the Select Committee may be the public face, but the DOJ has the final word on whether what we’re seeing is high-level criminality by Trump or his White House enablers. What the House Select Committee CAN do is to create a political environment where it’s possible for the DOJ to indict, prosecute, and win convictions against Trump and his key allies.

And even if the DOJ accomplishes all of that, it won’t wipe away the fact that a significant minority of US voters are just fine with an authoritarian dictatorship, as long as it’s the dictator who they believe will act against their political and cultural enemies. An analysis by WaPo reveals just how pervasive Trump’s Big Lie has become within the GOP: More than 100 GOP primary winners back Trump’s stolen election claim.

Second, Democrats seem to think that they will turn back the tide of Trumpian fascism simply by exposing the truth. The NYT’s Jamelle Bouie calls out the Dem’s leadership gerontocracy that seemingly are no longer able to meet this moment. Bouie argues that they don’t even see the moment:

“What’s missing from party leaders, an absence that is endlessly frustrating to younger liberals, is any sense of urgency and crisis — any sense that our system is on the brink. Despite mounting threats to the right to vote, the right to an abortion and the ability of the federal government to act proactively in the public interest, senior Democrats continue to act as if American politics is back to business as usual.”

Most of the senior Democratic leadership are, like Wrongo, members of the Silent Generation. Most of them are financially secure. They all have the same corporate relationships as do the Republicans. Most will die before they have to face the consequences of their feeble opposition to Republican extremism.

It’s been clear at least since Obama’s second term that the Dem’s leadership has lost the will to stand up and/or fight. And after years of Americans facing one crisis after another with little progress, they need to be replaced by younger leaders with stiffer spines, with a passion for social justice and democracy.

From Martin Longman:

“One reason this is important is because there’s no guarantee that the Establishment will prove more popular at the ballot box than fascism.”

These Democratic Party elders came into national politics in a time of bipartisan consensus and centrist policymaking, a time when the Parties were less ideological and more geographically varied.

American politics since then has returned to what was an earlier state of division, partisanship, and fierce electoral competition. The authoritarianism on display in the Republican Party has antecedents in the behavior of Southern political elites in the 19th century. It has been a part of the GOP since the New Deal.

Millions of Democrats see that American politics has changed in profound ways since the 1990s. They want their leaders to act, (and react) decisively to the gridlock and growing lack of social cohesion, and how both threaten our country.

In a democracy, the voters get what they ask for. If they want candidates who will take away their freedom to choose their leaders, then it will be up to courts to try to save democracy. But we shouldn’t let it get to that.

We must prosecute people who have attempted insurrection and/or sedition. That includes the Trump administration’s crimes against the US government and the Constitution.

This is our only available remedy, and even if it it’s pursued, it may not be enough.