Scammers Steal Huge Amounts of Unemployment Money

The Daily Escape:

American White Pelicans over the Rocky Mountain Front, MT – photo by Jack Bell Photography

(This is the last post by the Wrongologist until Wednesday, June 16th.)

Felix Salmon at Axios has a disturbing story which says that as much as half of the pandemic’s payments for unemployment claims may have been stolen. Axios quoted Blake Hall, the CEO of ID.me, a fraud prevention service, who said that the US has lost as much as $400 billion to fraudulent claims.

They also quoted Haywood Talcove, CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions’ Government business, who told Axios that at least 70% of stolen money ultimately left the country, with much of it ending up in places including China and Nigeria:

“These groups are definitely backed by the state…”

He means foreign powers, not one of our bumbling 50 states whose out-of-date processing systems and limited ability to check for fraud are at the root of the problem.

This isn’t the first reported instance of stimulus money ending up in the wrong hands. Last week, federal authorities announced that Venezuelans living in South Florida and Mexico had stolen over $800,000 in stimulus checks since the start of the pandemic.

Wait, there’s more. On May 28, the US Office of the Inspector General found that $39 billion in unemployment money from the 2020 CARES Act had been wasted, partly due to failures in detecting fraud and improper payments.

While some Democrats are still pushing for more stimulus payments and unemployment benefits beyond what has already been delivered, fraud at this level must be addressed before moving forward.

Biden has already said in a speech that “it makes sense” for unemployment benefits to expire in September, so there should be little reason to move forward with more payments before getting the payments processing in all 50 states audited and fixed.

When the pandemic hit, few states were prepared for the unprecedented wave of unemployment claims they were about to face. It was assumed by politicians and government watchdogs that criminals would make off with at least some of the emergency pandemic relief funds. They knew that some fraud was inevitable but decided that getting the money out to people who needed it was more important than making sure all of the claims were genuine. That gamble didn’t pay off.

Apparently, the scammers steal personal information and use it to file claims while impersonating the claimants. Other groups trick individuals into voluntarily handing over their personal information. Local low-level criminals or “mules”, are given debit cards and asked to withdraw money from stolen accounts via ATMs. That money then gets transferred abroad, often via bitcoin.

Before the pandemic, unemployment claims were far fewer, and generally were paid for much shorter periods of time, so international criminal syndicates didn’t view them as a lucrative target. But after unemployment insurance became an important vehicle  that the US government used to keep the economy afloat, all that changed.

It was a kind of perfect storm: Unemployment payments became big money, and the process was being run by bureaucrats who aren’t as knowledgeable about scams as is private industry. Much like ransom ware, unemployment fraud packages can now be purchased by criminals on the dark web, on a software-as-a-service basis.

And like companies with weak IT departments, states without fraud-detection services are targeted most frequently. Since the start of the pandemic, some states are finally getting more sophisticated about preventing this kind of fraud.

But the taxpayers have lost a huge amount of money, and it’s doubtful that the feds will find these bitcoins lying around to grab and return to the government.

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New Jan. 6 Report Doesn’t Go Far Enough

The Daily Escape:

Lupine super bloom, Folsom Lake, CA – May 2021 photo by Ed Kornegay

A joint report from the Senate Rules and Administration, and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees reveals that Capitol Police had specific intelligence indicating an armed invasion of the Capitol at least two weeks before the Jan. 6 riot, but a series of omissions and miscommunications kept that information from reaching front-line officers targeted by the violence.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), chair of the Homeland Security panel, told reporters:

“There were significant, widespread and unacceptable breakdowns in the intelligence gathering….The failure to adequately assess the threat of violence on that day contributed significantly to the breach of the Capitol….The attack was, quite frankly, planned in plain sight.”

More from the WaPo:

“The bipartisan report…comes just days after the Senate rejected legislation to create an independent investigative commission that passed the House with strong bipartisan support, and as lawmakers continue to wrestle with how to pay for security improvements to the Capitol campus…..its recommendations, which call for better planning, training and intelligence gathering, largely mirror those of other investigators who have examined the topic, and its contents steer clear of offering any assessment or conclusion about the former president’s responsibility for the riot.”

The report also suggests that even if they had better intelligence, the Capitol Police didn’t have the ability to respond to the riot. Fewer than ten uniformed officers had actually been trained in how to use the less-than-lethal munitions that they rely on for mob control, and much of the equipment in the force’s possession was either defective or inaccessible during the attack. Some other findings:

  • Capitol Police had no operational or staffing plan for the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress to count and certify the 2020 Electoral College votes.
  • DOJ was the lead federal agency for security and response on Jan. 6, but it never created a security plan and didn’t coordinate a response.

Since the report was “bipartisan”, it didn’t attempt to examine the origins and motivations of the people who participated in the attack. It also did not examine Trump’s role. Most of us are aware that the attack was planned in plain sight because we saw it coming. But the new report is far from the whole truth. From CNN:

“Sources tell CNN that in order for this report…to have support from both parties, the language had to be carefully crafted, and that included excluding the word “insurrection,” which notably does not appear outside of witness quotes and footnotes…“

While these committees had virtually unlimited access to emails, phone logs, and documents of the Capitol Police, they had only limited ability to gather similar information from other federal intelligence agencies. Therefore, they really don’t know all of what the government knows about Jan. 6, including any possible involvement by The Former Guy or his aides.

Here we see that the problem of the Capitol Police: Siloed information and a unnecessarily incomplete threat assessment leading to a poor crisis response, has now been exactly replicated by the Senate committees trying to get the facts about what happened. It seems that, every time America has a national security disaster, there’s always evidence that our agencies really don’t share important information with each other about the looming problem. That’s true again here:

“The Senate committees’ report found fault with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI for failing to provide specific warnings about the threats posed to the Capitol. According to the report’s findings, the FBI alerted the Capitol Police of potential “war” only the night before Trump’s rally…”

Last month, the House narrowly passed a $1.9 billion supplemental appropriations package to pay for security improvements to the Capitol. The debate on the bill was intensely partisan, and that’s likely to be true in the Senate where it will need to find 60 votes to avoid a procedural filibuster.

So, will we ever learn who was responsible for the January 6th attack? Who were the people who made the decisions not to train and not to inform the Capitol Police? Who was responsible for the delay in sending reinforcements to the Capitol Police?

Will we ever know if any Members of Congress were part of planning the attack?

When Trump said, “Stand back and standby”, it was clear that he was announcing an insurrection. Later, he made similar statements about not accepting the election results and then said or tweeted “Come to DC on Jan 6th.  It will be wild.” And Giuliani said on the day: “Trial by combat.”

Will we ever know the scale and intent of what was planned for that day?

Not if the Republicans have anything to say about it.

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Yellen Says Higher Interest Rates Are OK

The Daily Escape:

La Jolla, CA – photo by Russ Harris photography

Janet Yellen made news for a second time, announcing on Sunday, in an interview with Bloomberg, that higher interest rates would be a “plus” for America. She probably has a fairly good idea of how the Federal Reserve is thinking, since she was its Chair prior to becoming Treasury Secretary.

The issue in her interview was whether inflation would continue growing if Biden’s infrastructure bill is passed, and we spend an additional $4 trillion over the next 10 years. Yellen said that it wouldn’t create enough inflation to cause economic concern. She said that the current spurt in prices powered in part by the Covid stimulus, is just temporary, and would fade next year.

But Yellen also said that if current price increases turned out not to be temporary, and it triggered more persistent inflation, the concomitant higher interest rates wouldn’t be a bad thing:

“We’ve been fighting inflation that’s too low and interest rates that are too low now for a decade….We want them to go back to a normal interest rate environment, and if this helps a little bit to alleviate things then that’s not a bad thing – that’s a good thing.”

Current Fed Chair Jerome Powell must surely see this as political cover for any near-term rate hikes, but opinions differ today on whether we’re in for a new run of inflation. We have some data that’s worrisome. Economic theory explains why we probably should be worried. And yet, we have plausible-sounding explanations as to why things are actually okay.

The younger generations may have trouble believing how dark things seemed in 1979 when President Carter appointed Paul Volcker Fed chairman. Some of us remember inflation that hit 14% in 1980. Unemployment trended up to 9.7% in 1982. Oil prices had jumped off the charts.

Volcker took dramatic steps to rein in the runaway inflation by tightening the money supply, which drove the Prime Rate to 21%. His actions led to not one, but two recessions before prices finally stabilized.

Nobody wants to see that type of inflation recur now, but low interest rates have increased wealth inequality in the US. Soaring stock and housing prices are a direct consequence of interest rates that remain reliably low. When this happens, people can borrow money for less than they can make by investing, and newly printed dollars that continue to pour into the markets ensure that prices will continue to rise.

And this low-rate scenario benefits those who already have lots of stock and real estate.

How could Elon Musk make $142 billion in 2020 when total revenues (not profits) at Tesla and SpaceX were less than half that number? Share prices in both companies rose with demand from investors with too much cash in their pockets. The growth in Musk’s fortune is based on the inflated share prices of both firms.

Yellen’s underlying message is that if the Fed maintains its low interest rate policy, more cheap money will flow into the pockets of people who really don’t need it. She’s correct when she says rates have been too low for a decade. It’s created an asset bubble, particularly in stocks and real estate. Today’s prices are no longer grounded in reality.

As for how to unwind the bubble? Good luck: Very few people will be happy if the stock market drops, or if the value of their home drops, say, just before retirement.

And like all things, inflation is political. House Republicans are working to undermine Biden’s economic agenda by zeroing in on voters’ latent fear of inflation. They are circulating a memo with the subject line: “Tie Biden Agenda to Inflation.” It tells members to “explain to voters how inflation is Democrats’ hidden tax on the Middle Class.”

The GOP is attempting to stir up fear of an impending economic downturn just as businesses are beginning to reopen after a year of being impeded by Coronavirus restrictions. They’re also saying that taxpayer dollars being put toward Covid relief and unemployment benefits will tank the economy.

The GOP is also using a WaPo op-ed by Larry Summers. Summers was Clinton’s Treasury secretary, and he was a former director of the National Economic Council for Obama. The article warns of the risk of sharply rising inflation expectations.

Ultimately, we’ll see if the inflation scare-mongering by Larry Summers is real.

What should we believe about inflation and interest rates? It doesn’t matter what we believe. What matters is what the market thinks. And if the market suddenly stops believing the explanation as to why these inflationary pressures are temporary, we’ll see rates rise bigly.

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 7, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Paines Creek Beach, Cape Cod MA – May 2021 photo by Kristen Wilkinson Photography

People worldwide are finally waking up to the tax mischief of multinational corporations. When Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced earlier this year that it was time to end the “race to the bottom” and implement a global minimum tax for corporations, few took her seriously.

But now we could be on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation moment that would benefit funding of our public services immensely.

On Saturday at the G7 meeting, the members agreed to back a new global minimum tax rate of 15% for companies to pay on income, regardless of where they are based. The deal is focused on two main changes: reallocating taxes towards countries where economic activity takes place, rather than where these firms choose to book their profits, along with setting a minimum tax rate.

If enacted, the agreement would stop large multinational companies from locating in tax havens, which will force them to pay more taxes. This is clearly revolutionary. The winners would be large economies where multinationals sell a lot, but where they book little taxable profit, thanks to tax loopholes that allow them to siphon off income into low-tax jurisdictions.

This has become a larger problem since the rise of the digital giants like Apple and Google, companies with mostly intangible assets. The most obvious losers will be the tax haven countries that, more than half a century ago, started taking advantage of globalization by drastically lowering their tax rates.

The most sophisticated firms, those with battalions of tax lawyers and accountants, have for years employed tax loopholes in individual countries’ tax laws to minimize their total tax liability. While not all tax loopholes deal with international sales, they are a prime method that the biggest firms use to avoid income taxes.

The NYT cites a report from the EU Tax Observatory which estimated that a 15% minimum tax would yield an additional $58 billion in tax revenue per year.

Between 2011 and 2020, Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet (the owner of Google), Netflix, Apple, and Microsoft paid roughly $219 billion in income taxes, which amounted to just 3.6% of their more than $6 trillion in total revenue, according to the Fair Tax Foundation.

Had these six firms paid the prevailing tax rates in the countries in which they operate, they would have given global tax authorities over $149 billion more than they did over the past decade.

But tax reform isn’t a sure thing. Next month, the G7 must sell the concept to finance ministers from the broader G20 group of nations. If that is successful, officials hope that a final deal can be signed by the Group of 20 leaders when they meet next in October. Ireland, which has a tax rate of 12.5%, has come out against the global minimum tax. China has been quiet, but is considered unlikely to buy in.

G7 finance officials think that if enough advanced economies sign on, other countries will be compelled to follow suit. They plan to exert political pressure on Ireland to join the agreement.

The Biden administration has been eager to reach an agreement because a global minimum tax is an ingredient in its plans to raise the US corporate tax rate to 28% from the current 21%, to help shave the deficit. While Republicans and corporations think that increasing taxes would make American companies less competitive, getting other countries to go along with a minimum tax rate on overseas profits would minimize the home field disadvantage to American companies.

Time to wake up, America! We need our Congress, along with world leaders, to step up and enact this new tax policy. Changes to the tax code requires approval from both Houses of Congress, so this may never happen.

To help you wake up, listen to a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken” by RL Burnside, with an all-star supporting cast including Buddy Guy with the first guitar solo, Derek Trucks with the second guitar solo and James Cotton on solo harmonica.

You may not be aware that Rolling Stone has a list of their top 80 Dylan covers . Here’s Burnside’s blues take on Dylan:

Sample lyric:

Broken hands on broken ploughs,

Broken treaties, broken vows,

Broken pipes, broken tools,

People bending broken rules.

Hound dog howling, bull frog croaking,

Everything is broken.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 6, 2021

On Saturday, the NYT editorial board wrote about voting and vote counting. Read it if you have the time. The Times concludes that the House bill HR1 which will be taken up by the Senate later in June, is:

“…poorly matched to the moment…The legislation attempts to accomplish more than is currently feasible, while failing to address some of the clearest threats to democracy, especially the prospect that state officials will seek to overturn the will of voters.”

More: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Because there is little chance the bill will pass in its current form, Democrats face a clear choice. They can wage what might be a symbolic (and likely doomed) fight for all the changes they would like. Or they can confront the acute crisis at hand by crafting a more focused bill, perhaps more palatable for more senators, that aims squarely at ensuring that Americans can cast votes and that those votes are counted.”

The bill should also establish uniform rules for vote counting, vote certification, and challenges. It should also clarify Congress’s role in certifying the results of presidential elections to prevent the possibility that a future Congress would overturn a state’s popular vote. That would prevent another Jan. 6. HR-1 doesn’t address these issues.

The present situation has been years in the making with bad actions on both the part of states, and the US Supreme Court. Ultimately, SCOTUS will have the last word on voting rights laws. Democrats need to craft legislation that they believe passes the strictest Constitutional muster. On to cartoons:

The GOP is all about the air quotes:

Jan. 6 looms over America:

Bipartisan negotiation with Biden continues:

Biden ends drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge:

Why do Americans need incentives for vaccines?

They tossed Bibi overboard. He’s still confident:

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Saturday Soother – June 5, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Rhododendron in bloom, fields of Wrong, Litchfield County, CT – June 4, 2021 photo by Wrongo

There’s an asymmetric battle underway between America’s political parties: Democrats Joe Manchin & Kyrsten Sinema are saying that federal voting rights legislation needs a bipartisan supermajority in the Senate. But at the state level, Republicans are changing election rules without facing a filibuster. Their new rules are designed to prevent Dems from winning a fair election.

Texas and 14 other states are attempting to curtail voting rights. Some Republican-controlled states have purged officials who refused to obey Trump’s instructions not to certify the election results; a few are considering measures that would allow state legislatures to overturn election results outright.

This will be the state of play for the rest of Biden’s first term. In the Senate, both the Democrats and the Republicans are truly minorities, with the balance of power held by two Democrats, Sinema and Manchin. As long as the filibuster stands, Biden will only be able to have bills passed via the Reconciliation process, which allows bills that are part of the budget process to pass with 51 votes.

Senate GOP Minority Leader McConnell has again said, as he did in the Obama years, that he will block all of Biden’s legislation. And with Sinema and Manchin refusing to eliminate or reform the filibuster rules, it’s highly unlikely that any significant legislation will reach the 60-vote threshold.

The current Senate shouldn’t necessarily be bound by rules set in place by an earlier body, elected by different voters and facing a different set of challenges. And no legislative body should be able to control how a future legislative body enacts legislation.

While we’ve talked a lot about what Democrats can (or can’t) do about Joe Manchin, little has been said about Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Dan Pfeiffer asks if we shouldn’t simply call Sinema the new Joe Liberman. She has been more adamant than Manchin in defending the filibuster:

“Manchin and Sinema’s political situation could not be more different. Donald Trump won Manchin’s home state by 39 points. Manchin has not yet said whether he will run for reelection in 2024, but he would be a massive underdog if he did…. Arizona is not West Virginia. Sinema is the first Democrat to win a Senate seat from Arizona in thirty years. The state has been reliably Republican since the mid-nineties.”

Recent polls show that Sinema is losing support among Democrats without gaining any from Independents and Republicans. A March poll from Civiqs shows that Sinema’s net favorable rating among Democrats is down 30 points from December. She isn’t up for reelection until 2024, but if Sinema stays on this trajectory, she’s in trouble in either a primary or the general election.

What’s so frustrating about her approach to the filibuster is that her arguments are inaccurate, and her political strategy makes no sense. More from Pfeiffer:

“She is more Joe Lieberman than John McCain. Like Lieberman, the former Democratic VP nominee turned Iraq War and McCain supporter, Sinema seems to enjoy being a spoiler in the eyes of their own party. In 2006, Lieberman lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, but won the general election as an independent. The path will not be available to Sinema. Arizona is not Connecticut. 2024 is not 2006. And she does not have Lieberman’s long ties to her state.”

The Democrats are in an abusive relationship with their Republican “colleagues”. It’s further enabled by Sinema and Manchin. They, along with Biden and others, still seem to think the relationship can be turned around if the Dems just try harder. But the clock is ticking, and the Democrats’ problems go way beyond Manchin and Sinema:

We must blunt the hostile takeover of our democracy by Republican zealots in 15 states.

We need a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.

We need to unwind the Trump tax cuts. Infrastructure funding wouldn’t hurt either.

Maybe all this will change over the course of the year remaining before the 2022 mid-terms. But a year isn’t a long time.

Enough! Time to kick back and focus on a nice weekend in the northeast. Our yard work on the fields of Wrong has graduated to trimming and weeding, and there’s plenty of both to do.

Before we fire up the trimmer, it’s time for our Saturday Soother, where we try to leave the pressures of the real world behind for a few minutes. So, grab a chair by a window and listen to Chris Botti and Caroline Campbell performing live in the audience at the Chateau St. Michelle Winery, Woodinville, WA in July 2015.

During the pandemic year, we’ve missed live music. Live venues are starting to open. Hopefully, we’ll start to see more like this:

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Like Lambs to Slaughter

The Daily Escape:

Camden, ME – June 1, 2021 photo by Daniel F. Dishner

From Eric Boehlert:

“If you were part of an amoral political movement, wouldn’t you want to attack free and fair elections in order to give yourself a permanent advantage? If you had no concern for democracy, wouldn’t you set out to make sure future Democratic victories could be invalidated? That’s what Republicans are now doing, without pause, and out in the open.”

Two snippets of news from over Memorial Day weekend. First, in Texas, Republicans held an all-night legislative session to try to pass one of the most stunning voter suppression laws in the country. According to the Texas Tribune, the law will:

“…cut back early voting hours, ban drive-thru voting, further clamp down on voting-by-mail rules and enhance access for partisan poll watchers…”

It’s designed to curb voter fraud that doesn’t exist in Texas. The bill didn’t pass because Democrats walked out of the legislative session just before it expired, in a form of walking filibuster. It is merely a temporary setback for Texas Republicans.

Second, in Maricopa County Arizona, the GOP’s “audit” continues unabated, as Republicans continue to  try to conjure up a different election result than the one that gave Biden a victory. The ballot review being conducted by a private company called Cyber Ninjas, has drawn widespread contempt for its lack of professionalism and poot control over the ballots, while also raising conspiracy claims that bamboo fibers were found in ballots supposedly shipped in from Asia.

Across the country, many Republican legislatures are moving swiftly to make sure that fewer people vote in upcoming elections.

Vote suppression was the Republican’s game in the late-2010’s. Now they’ve concluded it didn’t work well enough. So, they’ve gone to the next level, which is to simply put state legislatures in the position to nullify their voters’ wishes. That’s going to be their game in the 2020’s. Taken with the Republican vote to filibuster the Jan. 6 commission, the eyes of Democrats should be open to this change in GOP strategy. Republicans correctly perceive that the doors will quickly close to mount legal challenges to their electoral suppression.

Our democratic future will only be secured by ending the filibuster, which will allow HR-1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to pass in the Senate. But that effort may not be successful despite Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s intention to bring them to a vote in June, since Democrat Joe Manchin (D-WVA) won’t vote for it, and Schumer can’t change his mind. As Charlie Pierce says,

“In the fight to save American democracy, Joe Manchin Is Neville Chamberlain”

Manchin wants peace in his remaining time in the Senate. He has defended the prerogatives of Republicans since the Democrats took control, by refusing to either reform, or nuke the filibuster. Instead, he insists that Democrats should be working across the aisle, despite McConnell vowing to block the entirety of Biden’s agenda. Now, Manchin’s excuses are finally becoming flimsy. He called the GOP filibuster vote on the establishment of the Jan 6 committee “unconscionable”. Yet, he’s still against eliminating the filibuster.

Shouldn’t the idea that partisan legislatures and handpicked Republican officials can actually reverse election results  be enough to move any Democrat on the filibuster question? Isn’t an unprecedented and dangerous assault on American democracy enough?

They even fail to see the continuing “coup” talk as a threat. As former national security adviser Michael Flynn said over the weekend, a Myanmar-like coup — in which the military overthrew a democratically elected government — “should happen” in the US: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Appearing in Dallas at a QAnon conference, Flynn was asked during a Q&A session that was shared in a Twitter video:  ‘I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can’t happen here?’

After cheers from the crowd died down, Flynn responded:  “No reason. I mean, it should happen here.”

One way or another, the Right thinks they deserve to be in power by whatever means necessary. Here’s Maggie Haberman of the NYT on Trump:

They want this so badly they can taste it, and so can tens of millions of Republicans. They’ve already tried once. They will absolutely try again.

The problem today is like that identified by Herbert Marcuse in his critique of liberal tolerance: How do you maintain a social compact with people who simply reject that compact whenever it becomes inconvenient, like when they lose an election?

The incredibly frustrating thing about the present situation is that Democrats could potentially defend against the “GOP game” if Manchin and Sinema just recognized (or cared) about the reality of the situation.

Historians certainly won’t be able to say the Democrats (and American democracy) were overwhelmed –  they just sort of sighed and put their heads on the chopping block.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Memorial Day, 2021

Unknown soldier, US Cemetery, Normandy, FR – 2016 photo by Wrongo

Today is the 20th Memorial Day since we invaded Afghanistan. For those 20 Memorial Days, Americans have been complicit in our government’s sending American soldiers into a series of wars that everyone now knows were both too costly and ultimately, self-defeating.

The American public’s job? Apparently, to say that we “support the troops.”

The “thank you for your service” mantra has become an ingrained reflex, like saying “bless you” when someone sneezes. Our default position is to thank, but not to think. For most of us, Afghanistan is like elevator music. It’s been ever present in the background, but we barely notice it.

What is American patriotism in the 21st Century? It isn’t about moral courage or deeply ingrained love of country. It’s about sad-button Facebook emoticons, 20%-off Memorial Day mattress sales, and flags and burgers on Monday.

Shifting from foot to foot during a yearly moment of silence, while thinking about dead soldiers, assuming that their deaths were part of an unfortunate but necessary action to preserve American “freedom” isn’t enough. Soldiers and veterans need a nation that can find the courage and conviction to stop misusing them.

Maybe 2021 is the year when we can finally look in the mirror and admit that we are really a nation of 330 million bumper-sticker patriots. The kind of people who are willing to sell out future generations to pay for endless war, no matter who gets killed, if our politicians and the Pentagon believe it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe this is the year we finally realize that the War on Terror took 20 years because Americans are afraid to question America’s grand strategy in the Middle East. Or question why military spending has to be so high. We have come to believe that kind of thinking should be taboo.

So, time to wake up America! Enjoy your burgers and beers, watch the Memorial Day celebrations in your town, or on TV. But tomorrow, don’t forget about the plight of our veterans and those currently still serving. And don’t get up tomorrow thinking that the politicians who vote for more war deserve any more support.

To help you wake up and to celebrate the 80th birthday of Bob Dylan, let’s listen to “Masters of War” from 1963’s “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. Sadly, it’s still relevant 58 years later. The song is a condemnation of the people responsible for the atrocities that accompany war, and it was written about the Vietnam War. In the song, Dylan says to the masters of war:

“You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do.”

More:

”And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.”

Watch:

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Saturday Soother – May 29, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Old Beach gate and oil house at Race Point Light, Provincetown MA – 2021 photo by Kristen Wilkinson Photography. The Oil Houses provided fuel to light houses before they were electrified.

On Friday, the Republicans had a successful filibuster of the bill to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. The final tally was 54-35. Eleven Senators weren’t present to vote, including nine Republicans and two Democrats, Patty Murray (D-WA), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

Party’s over, drink up. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. As Jonathan Last says:

“At some point, soon, Democrats are going to have to pick a pathway for 2022.”

They’re acting as though the GOP’s performance in the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection were aberrations, that we’re still in a normal political environment. They seem to be thinking there’s a way to slide past the voting havoc being raised by the Republican Party in the state legislatures that they control.

Don’t you think that if Democratic leadership really believed democracy was at risk, they’d be spending all of their energy working on passing structural reforms to lessen the power of state-level control by political minorities and make American government more democratic? We’re at an inflection point that requires eliminating the filibuster to:

  • Establish federal election standards as contained in HR-1.
  • Establish federal standards for redistricting. The Apportionment Clause of Article I, Section 2, of the US Constitution requires that all districts be as nearly equal in population as possible. That isn’t a significant barrier to partisan gerrymandering. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment requires that districts be substantially equal. Some states have provided a deviation standard. For instance, Colorado prohibits districts from having a population deviation above 5%. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits plans that intentionally or inadvertently discriminate based on race, which could dilute the minority vote. Again, this doesn’t prevent gerrymandering.
  • In addition to the standards set out by the US Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, states can adopt their own redistricting criteria, or principles, for drawing the plans. Principles, or criteria, are already found in state constitutions. A list of possible federal reforms can be found here.

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report looked at 2020 House races and what it means that Democratic candidates consistently ran behind Biden:

“…that a majority of House Republicans in the most competitive CDs [Congressional Districts] out-performed Trump suggests that the former president’s presence in 2022 is more of a liability than a benefit for vulnerable GOP House incumbents. The fact that House CDs with significant Latino populations provided the largest ticket-splitting gaps (voting overwhelming Biden and narrowly for House GOPers) means that we need to take a very different approach in how we assess races in these types of districts in upcoming elections.”

Walter adds:

“While Biden handily carried the once-GOP-controlled suburbs around Dallas (TX-32), Houston (TX-07) and Chicago (IL-06), House Democrats (who also won there) polled 2-3 points lower. We saw the same pattern in the suburban exurbs where Biden came up short, like MO-02, TX-21 and TX-22. These House Democrats would have lost even if they matched Biden’s showing in those CDs. But their 2–4-point underperformance suggests that the anti-Trump vote doesn’t completely convey to down-ballot Democrats.”

Without Trump on the ballot in 2022, will these dyed-in-the-wool Republican voters support Republican candidates at higher levels?

Jamie Harrison, current head of the DNC must come up with a better strategy than his predecessor Tom Perez used in 2020. Democrats need to win both Houses again and with expanded majorities, so Harrison and the Dems need to be as close to 100% confidence that they can make that happen.

If not, then Democrats should reorganize their priorities and possibly, their leadership.

On to our Saturday Soother. Our new split rail fence was installed this week, 30 days later than promised. The fields of Wrong are coming into full bloom. Here’s a picture of our starting to open Itoh Peonies:

We’re off to another of the four bachelor and grad school graduations by our grandchildren this spring, so no cartoons on Sunday. Still, there’s time to both kick back and simultaneously gear up for the weekend.

Take a seat by a window and listen to “Pick Up the Pieces” originally by the Average White Band (AWB). For the youngster readers, they were a Scottish funk and R&B band that had a series of soul and disco hits between 1974 and 1980. “Pick up the Pieces” was their top-selling track. Here the AWB are live with Daryl Hall at Daryl’s House in January 2010:

The AWB were pretty good, but they never sounded this funky on their own. Very nice!

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The Disconcerting Truth About the Big Lie, Part III

The Daily Escape:

Moon rise, Whitaker Point, Ozark National Forest, AR – 2021 photo by mattmacphersonphoto. This is the sixth time we’ve featured a Matt Macpherson photo.

Reader Ben van N. says:

“I fail to see why the election rules are different in every state. The country should have the same rules for voting (and make them all as simple and accessible as possible) no matter where you live. Having a variety of methods, rules and restrictions opens the door to what you have now.”

Ben doesn’t live in the US, but he has analyzed the problem correctly. Our federalist system makes it fiendishly difficult to have standard rules in America for policing, education, or elections. And we need to make all three of them better.

Regarding elections, Roosevelt University political scientist David Faris was interviewed by VOX:

“You have anti-democratic practices at the state level that produce minority Republican governments that pass anti-democratic laws that end up in front of courts that are appointed by a minoritarian president and approved by a minoritarian Senate that will then rule to uphold these anti-democratic practices at the state level.”

And there’s no clear path for Democrats to overturn these state-level voting laws through the courts. The Supreme Court has already said it’s not going to touch gerrymandering. And so, there’s nothing left except Congress using its constitutional authority under the elections clause to regulate elections. That will require ending the filibuster.

More from Faris: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“Take the scenario where Republicans don’t have to steal the 2024 election. They just use their built-in advantages [where]…Biden wins the popular vote by three points but still loses the Electoral College. Democrats [get more votes for]…the House…but lose the House. Democrats [get more votes for]…the Senate…but they lose the Senate.

That’s a situation where the citizens of the country fundamentally don’t have control of the agenda and they don’t have the ability to change the leadership. Those are two core features of democracy, and without them, you’re living in competitive authoritarianism.”

His scariest comment is that, after Republicans steal the 2024 election:

“People are going to wake up the next day and go to work, and take care of their kids, and live their lives, and democracy will be gone. There really won’t be very much that we can do about it. Or there’s the worst-case scenario where the election is stolen and then we’re sleepwalking into a potentially catastrophic breakup of the country.”

As Ben v N. says, there’s certainly an opportunity to do something about all this at the federal level, but time is slipping away. And Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema continue to vacillate somewhere between concern and hostility, to taking effective action. Action, such as ending the filibuster.

If both can’t be swayed from their current intransigence, the remaining options for our democracy look poor.

The media would have you believe that Biden and the Democrats in Washington are the ones overplaying their hand. Not true. Look at what’s happening at the state level:

In Ohio, Republican legislators are pushing to ban all vaccine requirements, not just for Covid. They would prevent Governor DeWine’s incentive program for Covid vaccinations, and ban even requesting that people get vaccinated.

In Texas, Republicans are about to legalize carrying handguns without a license. Without a permit, without training, or a background check of any kind. Under current state law, Texans must be licensed to carry handguns openly or concealed. Applicants must submit fingerprints, complete four to six hours of training, and pass a written exam and a shooting proficiency test. That’s too restrictive for the GOP.

In Florida, Republicans just enacted a law that makes it illegal for large technology companies (Facebook, Twitter, Amazon) to remove the posts by candidates for office during election campaigns. It also makes it easier for Florida’s Attorney General and individual citizens to sue those companies. The law is certainly unconstitutional. Curiously, this is an example of the new GOP declaring that it wants more government control over speech.

In Alabama, Republicans are regulating yoga, because it originated in the Hindu religion. Along the way, they plan to ban the use of Sanskrit words such as “Namaste.”

Saving the worst for last: Arizona. GOP legislators have not only launched a farcical “audit” of voting in Maricopa County, but then they stripped the State’s Secretary of state of her authority over elections after she criticized their audit fiasco. Arizona, of course, is only one of the many states where GOP legislatures are pushing new laws to make it harder to vote, while trying for increasingly partisan control of the election process.

Democrats have allowed themselves to be lulled to sleep because American democracy dodged a metaphorical bullet during the November to January Big Lie barrage.

We can’t relax, because next time, the bullets won’t be metaphorical.

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