DOD Could Save $1 Trillion Without Changing US Security

The Daily Escape:

Sea Street Beach East Dennis MA – October 2021 photo by Ulla Wise

Rather than adding to the current vibe of general despair, a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) offers a number of interesting perspectives on how the US defense budget could sustain a $1 trillion cut over the course of 10 years.

The CBO report says that national defense programs could absorb a well-structured $1 trillion cut while still protecting the homeland and America’s allies from foreign adversaries.

From Responsible Statecraft:

“The new report outlines three different options for cutting the Pentagon budget by $1 trillion over the next decade — a 14 percent reduction. Doing so would still leave the department with $6.3 trillion in taxpayer dollars over the next ten years, in inflation-adjusted 2022 dollars.”

The report’s mandate was to look at how to adjust the size and focus of US military under smaller federal budgets. It created three broad options to illustrate the range of strategies that the United States could pursue under a budget that would be cut gradually by a total of $1 trillion, or 14%, between 2022 and 2031. They developed the options using their Interactive Force Structure Tool.

Here are the CBO’s three options for military force reduction:

  • Maintain the existing national security strategy but with fewer personnel.
  • Change the existing national security strategy to focus more on countering adversaries with international allies and coalitions.
  • Change the existing national security strategy to focus more on protecting America’s access to sea, land, and air and space.

In all three options, the CBO slashed full-time active forces, while leaving the less expensive reserves at their current levels. While acknowledging that “none of the plans are without risk,” they concluded that the Pentagon could reduce spending without sacrificing our security.

According to the report, in all three of CBO’s options, units would be staffed, trained, and equipped at the same levels as they are today, but there would be fewer units, or different combinations of units. The CBO chose to retain fully staffed units because, while personnel are expensive, partially staffed units would not be able to execute their missions. That would make the US more of a paper tiger than we are currently.

The CBO report also put the potential cut in historical perspective. While significant, a $1 trillion cut (14%) over a decade would be far smaller than the cuts America’s military spending in 1988 to 1997 (30%), and the 25% cut we had in 2010-2015. A 14% cut from fiscal years 2022 to 2031 would also still leave annual defense spending at more than it was at any point from 1948 through 2002.

Lindsay Koshgarian, program director at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) said:

“The US military budget is now higher than it was at the peak of the Vietnam War, the Korean War, or the Cold War….We are spending far too much on the Pentagon, and too little on everything else…”

A $1 trillion saving isn’t chump change. Those funds could be used to prevent future pandemics, address climate change, or reduce economic injustice. None of those are small matters. And they are all matters of political priorities.

No self-respecting Republican war hawk would have anything to do with cutting the military’s budget. And with the exception of a handful of left leaning Democrats, every other Democrat will shrink from the idea of reducing the military budget. It’s too risky politically.

We actually need Congress to solve three problems: Our revenue problem, our social spending/cost inflation problem, and our defense spending problem.

The CBO idea tackles the defense spending, but we need to consider taxes and revenue along with spending. We need to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals while cutting that defense spending.

Turning to social spending, if you ask Americans what spending they want to cut, they will never say that we ought to ravage people’s retirement security. And 90+% of entitlement spending goes to the elderly, the disabled, or people who worked at least 1,000 hours in the past year. The big savings should come from reducing the growth in the cost of medical services.

Taking $1 trillion from Pentagon spending would be a great start, but we have other work to do.

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 11, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Dusk, Mayflower Beach, Cape Cod, MA – October 9, 2021, photo by Andrei Anca

From Newsday: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“School boards have become the latest political battleground in America, with passions running so high that this week Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a memo to the FBI, US attorneys and state attorneys general asking them to discuss strategies to combat threats of violence against school workers and school board members.”

These school board battles are about Covid-related vaccination and masking policies, and about teaching anti-racism, racial equity, and cultural diversity. Both turn out to be culture-war battles that set groups of parents against each other. Margaret Talbot in the New Yorker:

“…it’s easy to find in YouTube videos, and local news reports by the score—protesters fairly vibrating with January 6th energy as they disrupt school-board meetings, raging against mask mandates and other COVID precautions, or that favorite spectral horror, critical race theory.”

This is not what people had in mind when they said more people would get involved with their local school boards. Adam Laats, professor of education at Binghamton University SUNY, wrote in the WaPo:

“Conservative pundits have talked up these confrontations as part of a larger political strategy….The Heritage Foundation declared July “National Attend Your School Board Meeting Month” and celebrated the “Great Parent Revolt of 2021,” which includes the founding of hundreds of new parent activist groups that might thwart ‘the radical tide of educators, nonprofits and federal education bureaucrats’.”

This is a specific Republican election strategy. CNN reported that Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell told Attorney General Merrick Garland that parents “absolutely should be telling” local schools what to teach during debates over mask and vaccine mandates, the role of racial equity education and transgender rights in schools. Here’s Mitch:

“Parents absolutely should be telling their local schools what to teach. This is the very basis of representative government….They do this both in elections and — as protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution — while petitioning their government for redress of grievance. Telling elected officials they’re wrong is democracy, not intimidation.”

It’s a big issue in 2021’s Virginia gubernatorial election. Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin quickly used comments by Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe into an attack ad aimed at invigorating base GOP voters and parents ahead of this November’s election.

McAuliffe’s comment was: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Count on a Clinton ally to give Republicans another “deplorable” quote for Republicans to rally around.

This trollification of local politics began in 2009 with the Tea Party taking over politician’s town meetings. In 1970, Tom Wolfe famously referred to the confrontations between militants and hapless bureaucrats as Mau-Mauing the flak catchers. Back then, the militants were Black people who hinted at a Mau Mau uprising in the US, and the hapless bureaucrats who were paid to take their flak.

Now it’s White militants who are “mau-mauing” their school bureaucrats and the elected school board volunteers who we charge with managing our kids’ education.

We think that social media is where this kind of venom is spewed. But since the Tea Party, people are too ready to boo and jeer others in public spaces who express opinions different from theirs. Some militants even accuse school board members of being part of child-trafficking conspiracies.

America has walked away from its social and political norms.

Trump was among the first national politicians who was willing to say the quiet parts aloud. Those who are resentful in the face of societal change, e.g., having their hate speech corrected, found a voice in Trump. And he’s happily encouraged them. He refused to control his racist, sexist speech and behavior, and they respect him because he never did anything he didn’t want to do.

Don’t want to pay your taxes? Trump’s flouted the tax system for decades.

Tired of dealing with women on the job? Just listen to what Trump does to women.

Don’t like the way the last election turned out? Well, here’s what to do while we’re working on the coup.

And there will always be enough grifters and demagogues to throw gas on this dumpster fire. These Trumpy Americans have such a big emotional investment in their false reality, they don’t really care what’s true.

Time to wake up America. There are reasons for societal norms. They stop us from only focusing on the “I” and allow us to remember the “We.” The We protects us from the worst in ourselves.

To help you wake up, listen to Eddie Vedder’s (Pearl Jam) new single “Long Way” from his upcoming solo album, “Earthling”:

You can hear Tom Petty’s influence in Vetter’s tune.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 10, 2021

The work of the House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attempted coup is starting to get interesting. By midnight on Thursday, four of Trump’s allies were required to turn over documents to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. The four are former chief of staff Mark Meadows, social media manager Dan Scavino, adviser Steve Bannon, and former Defense Department official Kash Patel.

Whether they comply fully is questionable since they’re claiming executive privilege by the Former Guy. From Josh Marshall:

“We appear to be moving toward a critical moment for rule of law in the US, where it will finally be vindicated or a mockery. Unsurprisingly, former President Trump instructed his aides to defy the Jan 6th committee’s subpoenas.”

Former Presidents have no executive privilege. Executive privilege belongs to the office of the presidency, not to individuals. Since Biden is the president, it’s up to him to make the legal argument for Trump, but unsurprisingly, he isn’t making it: NBC News reported that White House Counsel Dana Remus has sent a letter to the National Archives saying: (brackets by Wrongo)

“President Biden has determined that an assertion of executive privilege [for Trump] is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified as to any of the documents.”

So, it’s game on. But trying to investigate a former president puts the Congress in a sticky spot, because the Constitution provides a remedy for a lawless President: Impeachment and removal from office.

Congress tried that twice and failed both times.

Preventing Trump from hindering a lawful investigation requires the concerted action of three government entities. First, Congress must compel the witnesses to appear and provide documents. If they fail to do that, Congress must use fines and eventually, imprisonment to get what they need. The DOJ must avoid bending over backward to provide presidential privilege to a former president. It must also use its enforcement capacity to assist Congress with recalcitrant witnesses. Finally, the federal judiciary can’t enable the former president’s law-breaking when the eventual lawsuits happen, despite its Republican leanings.

Marshall concludes: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“The decision on whether to charge a former President with a crime is a weighty one. The decision to conduct a proper investigation of one is not. There are no excuses this time. Trump is just another lawbreaker and [the] target of an investigation. Vindicate the law.”

On to cartoons. Pence has short-term memory issues:

Mitch may, or may not, be willing to blow everything up:

Appeals Court judge allowed Texas to temporarily resume banning most abortions:

Zuckerberg’s fellow travelers look legit:

America’s school boards are under attack by supposedly smart parents:

California oil spill reminds us of a story we’ll never see:

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Saturday Soother – October 9, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Truro, MA – August 2021 photo by Tom Baratz

(Wrongo and Ms. Right have temporarily relocated the house of Wrong to Truro, MA for two weeks.)

With all of the talk about debt limits and infrastructure, America hasn’t focused on Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) delaying the nomination of 59 would-be US ambassadors. He’s said he’ll block dozens more. From the NYT:

“Democrats call Mr. Cruz’s actions an abuse of the nomination process and the latest example of Washington’s eroding political norms. They also say he is endangering national security at a time when only about a quarter of key national security positions have been filled.”

Cruz has put sand in the gears of the nominating process by objecting to the Senate’s traditional practice of confirming uncontroversial nominees by “unanimous consent.” His delaying tactic means that each nominee requires hours of Senate floor time while other major priorities, including Biden’s domestic spending agenda, compete for the Senate’s attention.

Cruz has had help from some of his Republican colleagues. Only 12 State Department nominees have been cleared for a full Senate vote by the committee, because Republicans on the committee have assisted in the foot-dragging.

Cruz says that he’s doing this to protest Biden’s stand in favor of Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany.  In May, Biden waived congressionally imposed sanctions on the project. Nord Stream 1 got started in 1997. Nord Stream 2 was finished last month. There has been criticism of both projects since the 1990s because they provide Russia with some leverage over European energy security, while also circumventing Ukraine, which operates a competing pipeline for Russian gas.

But the project helps Germany, and Biden decided to prioritize our relations with Germany.

Cruz isn’t alone. Noted Republican weenie Sen. Josh Hawley, (R- MO), is vowing to block all national security nominees over the Biden administration’s handling of Afghanistan. He wants Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Defense Austin, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan to resign.

Cruz also delayed the debt limit deal negotiated between the Dems and the Republicans this week. A deal emerged on Thursday in which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed to support a short-term debt extension, giving Democrats time to pass a full extension in December.

The Parties had planned to let the fix go through with a simple majority vote, but Cruz overturned that arrangement by insisting on a filibuster, meaning that the deal needed to find 60 votes for cloture in the Senate. That caused McConnell to find ten Senate Republicans to vote for it. In the end, 11 Republicans voted for cloture, and then the Dems passed it on a party-line vote.

But EVERYBODY knows that ending the filibuster would be wrong because the filibuster ensures bipartisanship.

There isn’t a clearer example of how the Senate filibuster has become a tool, not to protect the minority, but simply to sow chaos. Today, it is used to stop Biden’s appointments, or to slow down his legislative priorities. Historically, it was used to block civil rights legislation.

Never before has the filibuster been used so cavalierly.

Democrats have discussed filibuster carveouts for the debt ceiling and voting rights. McConnell’s agreement to allow Republican votes for cloture on the debt ceiling was largely a message to Democratic Sens. Manchin and Sinema, showing that the system still works. He’s saying to them that they can count on McConnell and the Republicans when the Democrats can’t muster the votes they need if the vote is in the national interest. So they shouldn’t vote for a filibuster carve-out.

The clever McConnell has made Schumer’s job over the next few months even more difficult.

The weekend is upon us, so it’s time for our Saturday Soother. Tomorrow, we will be enjoying the Wellfleet Art & Oyster Crawl, where you walk between art galleries that offer wine and oysters to the an increasingly tipsy crowd of potential buyers of local art.

For you, take a few minutes to leave the machinations of Cruz, McConnell, and Schumer behind. Grab a seat by a window and listen to Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott play “Over the Rainbow” from 2020’s “Songs of Comfort and Hope“.

The album was inspired by the series of recorded-at-home musical offerings that Ma began sharing in the first days of the COVID-19 lockdown in the US:

While this performance is instrumental, here’s a sample of the lyrics:

When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There’s a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your windowpane
To a place behind the sun
Just a step beyond the rain

Somewhere, over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby

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More Shortages Are Coming

The Daily Escape:

Fall, Longfalls Dam road, Carrabassett, ME – October photo by Laura Casey

The NYT reported on how the German economy is being slowed by product shortages:

“More than 40% of German companies said they had lost sales because of supply problems in an August survey….Europewide, exports would have been 7% higher in the first six months of the year if not for supply bottlenecks, according to the European Central Bank.”

And it isn’t just Germany. Since the onset of Covid, US consumers have been experiencing disruptions in the supply chain. Wrongo has once again noticed empty shelves are back in our local chain supermarkets.

The bad news is that many think it’s going to get worse.

It’s no longer a matter of fixing one problem. A cascade of sourcing failures in raw materials, production, shipping, staffing, labor, along with weather disasters, may mean these shortages are around for several years. From Shelley Fagan:

“The US has 20 container ports located along the East and West coasts as well the Gulf of Mexico. Ports are where 70% of all US-international trade enters, accounting for 26% of…GDP.”

Even if the goods get to America, we’re at the mercy of our system of rails, barges, and trucks that  transport goods to factories, distribution centers, stores, and consumers. Trucking moves 71% of all this freight in America, and there’s a shortage of drivers.

But our transportation infrastructure is also vulnerable, and our politicians have yet to lift a finger to help. Maybe next month.

Moving cargo by sea is historically cheap and efficient, so most of our imports from Asia arrive via cargo vessels. But now there’s a shortage of shipping containers. This has caused an immense spike in the cost of shipping. From Scott Galloway:

“Until 2020, the cost of shipping a 40-foot container along the world’s major trade routes never exceeded $2,000. Then Covid hit, and shipping firms reduced their fleets in expectation of low consumer demand. Instead, demand went up. This has upended the global supply chain. Shipping costs are now up 5 times to a record high: $10,000.”

The largest ships can carry more than 10,000 of these and when things run smoothly, about 25 million containers are in use on some 6,000 ships sailing around the globe.

The supply chain disruptions are causing backlogs in transporting all this cargo. About 40% of all US container traffic flows through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Currently, there are 65 ships waiting to unload thousands of containers. Again, that’s complicated by too few drivers in the trucking industry.

Flying into San Francisco last week, Wrongo saw about 30-35 ships also stacked up there. And China’s current forced reduction in energy consumption has hurt many high-tech producers. Wolfstreet reports that:

“…suspensions or reductions of industrial electricity supply that manufacturers in numerous industries are hit with, including key facilities that produce components for Apple, Tesla, Intel, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, NXP, Infineon, and ASE Tech….They’re now under orders to temporarily halt production…”

And supply chain issues go beyond tech products. Currently, 119 million Americans use prescription drugs, of which 25% are imported. These drugs start out as APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients) — chemicals like hydrochloric acid and caustic soda. And China accounts for 80% of total raw materials for making medicine.

India is the largest producer of generic pharmaceuticals. They fulfill 40% of the demand in the US generic market. And shortages linked to this vulnerability aren’t a new problem. From Pharmaceutical Outsourcing:

“The average drug shortage in the US lasts for 14 months and some last for years when based on a high-risk supply chain. Before COVID-19, the FDA had already placed 145 pharmaceutical products on its drug shortages list.”

Since disruptions of the supply chain cause big price increases for goods that are difficult to get, it’s a threat to America’s economic health. And for medical and pharmaceuticals, it’s also a threat to public health.

Government knows about the problem but can’t fix it. After the PPE shortages at the onset of the Covid pandemic, you’d think we would develop a detailed plan to address the areas of greatest disruption. But all that happened was a 100-day review, making recommendations to shore up vulnerabilities sometime in the future. The proposals are sound, but they won’t help end our current shortages. Consumers can expect the current supply chain issues to persist well into 2022, and possibly beyond.

The geniuses in the multinational corporations who sold us globalization and just-in-time supply chains as the way to our best future are now telling us we just have to get used to shortages.

Economies can’t always just fix themselves. That’s a fantasy of capitalist utopianism.

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Amend the Electoral Count Act

The Daily Escape:

Great North Woods, NH – October 2021 photo by Michael Blanchette

Regarding Facebook’s outage: How did anti-vaxxers do their research without Facebook?

On to what’s wrong today: The Jan. 6 coup attempt didn’t succeed, but it came close. And those involved in the plot have learned from their mistakes. This means the country faces a growing risk of electoral subversion by Republicans and by Trump and his supporters.

We’re still learning the details behind Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, including his pressure on state officials, the Eastman memo, and the Oval Office meetings with Mike Pence, attempting to convince him to throw out certified vote totals from certain states during the Jan. 6 Electoral College vote tally. This attack to subvert the will of the American voters didn’t involve the Capitol rioters. It was held in the White House and led by Trump.

But the attempted coup isn’t over. There’s an organized effort by Republicans in many states to fill key, lower profile election jobs with people who will only certify elections that Republicans win. They’re proponents of Trump’s Big Lie and they’re trying to upend our democratic election process.

On Saturday, the NYT had an editorial about a reform that may be both the most urgently needed, and the easiest (relatively) to pass into law, reforming the Electoral Count Act (ECA):

“The Electoral Count Act, which passed more than 130 years ago, was Congress’s response to another dramatic presidential dispute — the election of 1876, in which the Republican Rutherford Hayes won the White House despite losing the popular vote to his Democratic opponent, Samuel Tilden.”

The NYT says that the Electoral Count Act contains numerous ambiguities and poorly drafted provisions:

“For instance, it permits a state legislature to appoint electors on its own, regardless of how the state’s own citizens voted, if the state “failed to make a choice” on Election Day. What does that mean? The law doesn’t say. It also allows any objection to a state’s electoral votes to be filed as long as one senator and one member of the House put their names to it, triggering hours of debate — which is how senators like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley were able to gum up the works on Jan. 6.”

A few legal scholars have argued that parts of the ECA are unconstitutional, which was the basis of Eastman’s claim that Mike Pence could simply disregard the law and reject electors of certain key battleground states. But the NYT says:

“Nothing in the Constitution or federal law gives the vice president this authority. The job of the vice president is to open the envelopes and read out the results, nothing more. Any reform to the Electoral Count Act should start there, by making it explicit that the vice president’s role on Jan. 6 is purely ministerial and doesn’t include the power to rule on disputes over electors.”

Democrats could bring forward an amendment to the ECA. And it’s unlikely that Republicans would filibuster the vote on the amendment, so Democrats could pass it with a simple majority vote. Their amendment should clarify that the vice-president’s role is purely ceremonial. Further, the threshold for objections to state electoral vote counts could be made higher than just one Senator and one House member from the state in question.

Instead of focusing on the ECA, Senate Democrats hope to pass a version of the Freedom to Vote Act. The act would set nationwide voting standards to help counteract anti-democratic laws passed by legislatures in at least 17 states driven by partisan, conspiracy-minded election officials who could sabotage legitimate election results. The Freedom to Vote Act has four principal pillars:

  1. It sets national standards to protect and expand the right to vote.
  2. It would protect the integrity of elections and make it harder for partisan officials to subvert valid election results.
  3. It would prohibit partisan gerrymandering and empower courts to invalidate overly partisan maps, a needed change since many states have already begun their 10-year redistricting process.
  4. It would reduce the power of big money in elections by shining a bright light on so-called dark money campaign spending.

But there’s little chance of this bill’s passage through the Senate. From Sen. Angus King (I-ME):

“I don’t think the Republicans here are interested in short-circuiting what their brothers and sisters are doing in statehouses across the country,”

Maybe Republicans would also reject ECA reform if the Senate tried to change it. We’re in a world where what the majority wants is no longer what will happen politically.

And the window for fixing this is closing before our eyes.

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General Milley’s Testimony

The Daily Escape:

Clouds, Coachella Valley, CA – 2021 photo by Laura Green

(Like prairie dogs popping their heads out of their burrows after a storm, Wrongo and Ms. Right have decided to venture onto a plane and fly to visit kids and grandkids. This is our first flight since the fall of 2019, but muscle memory will probably guide us through the airport maze. Posting will be light and variable until mid-next week.)

A quick thought before Wrongo heads to the airport about Tuesday’s testimony by Gen. Milley before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Milley spoke to the arc of our failed war in Afghanistan. He said that in 20 years there, more than 800,000 US military personnel served; 2,461 were killed in action, 20,698 were wounded, and many others came home with PTSD and other scars.

Milley pointed out that despite the talk about our rushed exit in August, we needed context. In 2011, we began the drawdown of troops. We went from a peak of 97,000 US troops (and 41,000 NATO troops) to 12,600 US troops when Trump signed his deal with the Taliban in February 2020.

With Trump’s deal, the US agreed to withdraw the balance of our forces if the Taliban met seven conditions that would lead to a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Milley also observed that the Taliban had honored only one of its seven required conditions: It didn’t attack US personnel. But, despite that, in the 8 months after the agreement:

“…we reduced US military forces from 12,600 to 6,800, NATO forces from 8,000 to 5,400 and US contractors from 9,700 to 7,900….”

Milley also said that the Doha agreement:

“…did affect the morale of the Afghan security forces.”

Leading to their unwillingness to stand up against the Taliban when the time came.

On November 17, 2020, Trump ordered Milley to reduce troop levels to 2,500 no later than January 15, 2021. Thus, Biden had about 3,500 in-country when he took over. Despite the attempt by Republicans to blame Biden for “losing Afghanistan” by not adding more troops, Milley said that holding Bagram air base would have required 5,000–6,000 additional troops.

He said that staying on after the August 31 deadline would have required 15,000–20,000 more troops, who would have faced significant risks:

“While it was militarily feasible…we assessed the cost to be extraordinarily high….Therefore, we unanimously recommended that the military mission be transitioned on 31 August to a diplomatic mission in order to get out the remaining American citizens.”

Republicans on the committee didn’t focus on finding out about the failures (or successes) of our time in Afghanistan. But true to form, they hunted for sound bites to use on the 2022 campaign trail. Sen. Tom Cotton had a gotcha question for Milley, asking why Milley hadn’t resigned after his recommendations to Biden were rejected.

Milley explained to Cotton, a former Captain in the US Army, that isn’t the way military service works:

“Senator, as a senior military officer, resigning is a really serious thing…It’s a political act if I’m resigning in protest. My job is to provide…the best military advice to the president…..The president doesn’t have to agree with that advice. He doesn’t have to make those decisions just because we’re generals.”

Milley explained that: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“This country doesn’t want generals figuring out what orders we’re going to accept and do or not…that’s not our job. It’s critical. My dad didn’t get a choice to resign at Iwo Jima. They can’t resign, so I’m not going to resign.”

General Milley suggests that generals follow the rule of law, the Constitution, and military order. But some Republicans find his actions to be worth resignation.

The question is: Who is really undermining our democracy? It’s the GOP, not Milley. The GOP continues to promote the Big Lie to corrupt fair elections and they supported a coup to overthrow our government.

There will be more hearings. Here is how they will go: Democrats will ask the generals probing questions. Republicans will use their allotted time to state how outraged they are about our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Milley’s actions. Their statements will contain tested soundbites ready-made for right-wing media. Those media will play the soundbites for days or weeks or months.

Not a single Trump supporter’s mind will be changed, and we will have not advanced our understanding of civilian-military relations.

And we’ll have learned nothing that would help us prevent us from falling into another Afghanistan sinkhole.

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The Continuing, Slow-Rolling Coup

The Daily Escape:

Stormwatchers II by Jamie Perry

There is a storm brewing. You can see it’s coming. It’s the danger our democracy faces from the Americans who would overturn our elections. After the Arizona recount found statistically zero difference with the officially certified 2020 vote, you would think that we could move past the Big Lie, and settle into no drama, mid-term elections in 2022, but that won’t be happening.

Several Republican-led states are conducting or threatening to conduct recounts in Democrat-leaning counties. They are still pushing both to undermine the 2020 presidential election results and change the way our future elections are run.

That effort to undermine elections has been fully embraced by the GOP and is gathering momentum at the state and county levels. Robert Kagan wrote in the WaPo on the dangers we face heading into the next few election cycles:

“Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.”

Read his whole article.

So, the failed Arizona recount hasn’t even been a speed bump for Republicans. MSNBC reported that Virginia Republican congressional candidate Jarome Bell went even further, tweeting:

“Audit all 50 states. Arrest all involved. Try all involved. Convict all involved. Execute all involved. #MaricopaCountyFraud.”

Really? Sounds harsh, but hey, that’s today’s Republican Party. Their only move is to threaten everyone with violence until we all shut up. Wrongo reminds us:

“…Reuters interviewed nine of the 15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in five battleground states  ̶  Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nevada….Only two of the nine candidates said that Biden won the election.”

Trump-lovers love conspiracies. They don’t trust the government. They don’t trust our election process. They don’t trust vaccine science. They believe Democrats are teaming up with Antifa to destroy all that Republicans hold dear. Their conspiracies always involve people who intend to harm them. That’s one big reason why they are continually arming themselves.

Kagan started his article with this sobering viewpoint:

“The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves.”

The Big Lie is morphing into an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Kagan says the stage is set for chaos: Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to seize power.

Imagine if they’re armed.

The Eastman Memo, written by a conservative law professor, advised the Trump campaign in 2020 that Mike Pence could unilaterally overturn the election. Plan in hand, Trump urged Pence to reject the votes of the Electoral College, with the mob outside as the stick to compel Pence’s obedience. Pence tried to find a way to do Trump’s bidding, but in the end, he blinked.

Still, on Jan. 6, Trump had both a plan and a large violent crowd. That was a coup attempt, and he came very close to pulling it off. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials who showed courage and integrity, and the reluctance of a vice president to obey orders he believed were wrong.

It has always been theoretically possible to manipulate the voting rules to seize power. 2020 taught us that it’s now a real option, that with the right pieces in place, a coup can succeed. Trump is the first sitting president in American history to attempt to overturn a certified presidential election. Now, his Party has adopted his lies and are attempting to install on state and local levels, lackeys who support rigging election results.

The coup didn’t die, it rolls on, and the people who plotted it are still welcome inside “Beltway” society. Aside from the 600+ insurrectionists who broke into the Capitol, no one involved in planning and carrying out the coup has faced any legal consequences. They are still collecting their government pensions, their speaking fees, and their corporate consultancies. Some still appear on the Sunday pundit shows.

They launched what is tantamount to a civil war on our democracy, and that’s why Democrats should be focused on passing the Manchin-approved version of the voting rights bill as soon as possible. And by any means necessary.

After losing the White House and the Senate, Republicans are willing to rig voting in their favor. Protecting the integrity of America’s electoral system and the voting rights of its citizens should be priority #1, not because it helps Democrats, but because it will preserve our democracy.

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It’s a Big Week for Democrats

The Daily Escape:

Early fall foliage, Long Pond, Rutland, MA – September 2021 photo by Jurgen Roth Photography

Charlie Sykes, talking about what will be a jam-packed week in Washington DC:

“This is going to be a helluva week. Democrats in Congress may not be able to save the Biden presidency, but they can destroy it…”

There are clear differences among Democrats on social spending priorities and the correct size of the pending human infrastructure spending bill. Several Democratic House members have vowed not to support both of Biden’s bills, unless they get what they want included. Along with threats by Sens. Sinema and Manchin not to stand with Democrats in the Senate, both House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Schumer can’t be happy trying to lead their fractious caucuses.

And among these efforts to thread the needle, are the twin crises of a Thursday cut-off of federal spending and a subsequent (possible) default on the nation’s debt.

Funding for the federal government is set to run out on Thursday at midnight. Senate Democrats will move a stopgap spending measure forward to position for a vote on the House-passed short-term funding bill. That would keep federal agencies open until Dec. 3, while suspending the debt limit until Dec. 2022.

Suspending the debt limit for another year is a great idea, but Senate Republicans are certain to tank that proposal. The likely scenario is that Senate Dems will remove the debt-limit provision and pass the bill with bipartisan support. Then, the House passes the bill, Biden signs it, and a government shutdown is averted for another two months.

But that leaves the debt-limit problem unresolved. We will reach that in early-mid October.

Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans won’t support an increase in the debt limit. They say that Democrats should lift the cap on government borrowing on their own, as a part of their reconciliation package. But that creates a political advantage for the Republicans. And besides, it could take weeks, enough time to bring the country close to defaulting on its obligations. And it isn’t certain that Schumer has the votes to pass it without Republican help.

Only one thing’s certain: No one knows what’s really going to happen.

On infrastructure, Pelosi announced that debate on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill would start on Monday. A House vote on it is slated for Thursday. House Democrats are also trying to make progress on the big reconciliation package.

Pelosi’s challenge is to keep progressives from walking away from the big bill and tanking the infrastructure bill. Democratic leadership also must appease Senate centrists about the size of the big infrastructure bill, which they say is too large.

House Democrats will meet late on Monday, (shortly after Wrongo posts this). Pelosi wants the members who’ve drawn lines in the sand about the human infrastructure bill (and who haven’t shown up for caucus meetings lately) to be there. From Politico:

“I urge the fullest participation of Members and hope that as many of us can be there in person as possible…”

These are strange days for Democrats. As a Sunday WaPo article said, “Political Suicide is not a Strategy”. In addition to the obsessive focus on securing the necessary votes in the House and Senate, the focus on the human infrastructure’s price tag is the essence of bad political messaging. Few Democrats stand up to say that the $3.5 trillion will be spent over 10 years, amounting to only 1.2% of GDP over that period.

Worse, focusing on the dollar amount takes attention away from the value in the bill for children, families, education, health care, housing, and climate. From Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT):

“When Democrats allow a debate to be only about a number, it’s like talking about a Christmas party and only discussing the hangover.”

The WaPo quotes Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) as saying that the discussion is getting things exactly backward:

 “We should work from what policies we want to enact, rather than an arbitrary number.”

No one can forecast how this will all work out. It would be dandy if Republicans supported the debt ceiling increase.

It would also be dandy if they accepted the results of the 2020 election, got vaccinated and stopped passing voter suppression laws. A rational and patriotic Party would do those things. But those are a bridge too far for today’s Republican Party.

So, Democrats are on their own. We’ll soon see if they can stand together as a team to avoid disaster and deliver on Biden’s promises.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 26, 2021

Unexpectedly, Wrongo found the time to post a few cartoons. Yesterday, we saw the musical “Six” on Broadway, along with a very enthusiastic packed house. The audience had to show proof of vaccination, and wear masks for the performance.

The story is about the six wives of England’s King Henry VIII, if they had turned into pop stars, and were speaking today about their lives with fat Henry.

We saw it two years ago in London, arranged by Connecticut’s invaluable Goodspeed Musicals. It has made a fine relocation to New York. We thought the cast’s singing was better here, as was the all-woman backing band. The message, of a transition from female victimhood to female empowerment was very well received by the audience, which included many teen and pre-teen girls.

It appeared that most theater district restaurants were doing acceptable business, although some that we had frequented in the past had permanently closed. The parking lot we always use had fewer than half the cars we would normally see. This is probably explained by the fact that many of Broadway’s shows won’t reopen for a few more weeks. On to cartoons.

The Arizona recount didn’t go well for the GOP. And never call it an “audit”:

Republicans think blowing up America’s credit rating is hilarious:

This is who McConnell and GOP are. They’ve become terrorists, trying to kill us by blowing things up.

It’s the Republican playbook: Block everything no matter the consequences and then blame someone else:

Biden’s tough trick:

Biden said he knew how to forge consensus. We’ll soon see:

Border Patrol in Texas has additional duty:

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