Saturday Soother – September 25, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Turkey Pond – 1944 tempera painting on panel by Andrew Wyeth

(Sunday Cartoons will not appear this week, because Wrongo and Ms. Right are seeing a Broadway show on Saturday. It is our first visit to NYC in 18 months.)

From AZCentral:

“A months-long hand recount of Maricopa County’s 2020 vote confirmed that President Joe Biden won, and the election was not “stolen” from former President Donald Trump, according to early versions of a report prepared for the Arizona Senate.”

This is the end of the saga of a partisan audit of Maricopa County by the Cyber Ninjas, the Arizona Senate’s hand-picked outside auditor. Their ‘audit’ showed that Trump lost by a wider margin than the county’s official election results. According to their hand count, there were 99 additional votes for Biden, and 261 fewer votes for Trump.

The Republican majority in the State Senate had ordered the audit, which was financed by $5.7 million in donations from far-right groups. Even though the audit was run by Trump partisans who had unrestricted access to both ballots and election equipment, they failed to make even a basic case that the November vote was badly flawed, much less rigged.

You can read the three-volume report, but the headline is that Biden got more votes than originally reported.

Every challenge to the 2020 election results has shown that the election was reasonably well run and not stolen. It is a remarkable achievement that so many state and local entities managed to run a good election under such difficult and challenging circumstances as America faced in 2020. It’s doubtful that this result will stop the Big Lie from persisting in the fever dreams of Republicans.

You can make a case that the audit wasn’t about 2020 at all, but about 2024. And the intent wasn’t to prove election fraud. The goal was to further undermine the public’s faith in our electoral process. So, mission accomplished.

Finally, consider this: Reuters interviewed nine of the 15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in five battleground states  ̶  Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nevada. Ten of the 15 have either declared that the 2020 election was stolen or called for their state’s results to be invalidated or further investigated. Only two of the nine candidates Reuters interviewed said that Biden won the election.

Wrongo will write more about the continuing slow-rolling attempted coup by Republicans next week.

The weekend is upon us. Here on the fields of Wrong, a heavy rainstorm took down a few limbs and many leaves. A gopher is attempting to create a winter nest along the bluestone walkway that leads to the Mansion of Wrong. So Wrongo will be girding for battle with said interloper before heading off to Broadway. Wrongo guarantees this will not become another US forever war.

It’s the time of the week to unplug from the cacophony of global news and domestic politics, and to find a few moments of relaxation to help carry you through another hellish week to come. It’s time for our Saturday Soother.

Today, in honor of the official arrival of fall, grab a chair by a window, and take a few minutes to listen to George Winston play “Woods” from his 1980 album, “Autumn”. It’s an emotional backdrop to the change of season:

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How to Think About Australia’s Nuclear Subs

The Daily Escape:

Pumpkins, Bear River City, UT –  September 2021 photo by John Dodson

Should average Americans care that the French are pissed off at Biden? Should we care that within days after shutting down our Afghanistan adventure, we’re adding a new nuclear capability, girding for a possible war in Asia?

On the surface (pun intended) it’s all about nuclear submarines. Australia just reneged on a $66 billion deal negotiated in 2016 to buy French diesel-powered subs. Instead, on September 15, they signed a new deal with the US and the UK to purchase American nuclear-powered submarines.

Ironically, in order to win the Australia deal, France had to design a conventional power plant for its Barracuda-class submarine that was originally powered, as all French subs are, by a nuclear reactor.

France’s power conversion for the Australian order ran into difficulties and time delays. Vox reported that the French deal had already been unraveling, saying that it had fallen behind schedule while costs nearly doubled:

”In June, Australian Defense Secretary Greg Moriarty signaled…that the original deal was proving untenable…and that Australia was pursuing other options should the pact fall apart.”

There were other issues. Shortly after Australia and France reached their agreement, the French shipbuilder revealed it had been hacked, and documents related to a separate Indian submarine project were exposed. Meaning plans for another Barracuda-class sub were floating around the internet, not a big confidence builder.

On the strategic side, France’s conventional, diesel-powered attack vessels may have made sense before China began its quest for dominance in the South China Sea. But new geo-political realities along a major Australian trade route made the French submarines obsolete before they could be delivered.

FYI, a sub designated an “attack” submarine has only conventional weapons on board. The US-made attack subs are nuclear powered, so they have a far greater range, don’t require refueling, and can stay underwater for months at a time without being detected.

Australia has already sunk some $3 billion into the French contract, and France will likely demand additional compensation for the cancellation. The new contract with the US/UK not only costs more, but it only includes 8, instead of the 12 submarines France was delivering.

Generally, navies require three boats in order to have one at sea full-time, since the other two are often either in training, or in refit. This means that the actual patrolling capacity for Australia’s nuclear navy will only be 2-3 concurrent submarines at sea.

Losing the sub deal places French President Macron in a tough spot. GZero reminds us that France is just six months away from a general election that’s shaping up to be a close race between Macron and his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen:

“Macron, who has increasingly veered to the right on certain issues…knows that he can’t afford to look toothless, and that taking a hard line on the US could reap political benefits come election day (only 44% of French adults now view the US favorably).”

That helps explain some of the anger. Aside from the financial hit from losing the deal, and the slight by the US, France is also miffed because it shows the world something no country wants to admit – that France is not a superpower. And despite its pretensions, it really isn’t a global power.

Most would agree that a nuclear sub strategy is the right choice for Australia. It is a member of the British Commonwealth. Australia and New Zealand are out in the Pacific, much closer to China than to Europe. They seem to think that planning to work with the US and Britain is a better fit.

But the US shouldn’t have excluded the French or lied to them. France has 2 million inhabitants in the Indo-Pacific, and had by 2018 already defined its strategy for the region. Biden must work to mend these fences, and that seems to be underway.

Amid all the pearl clutching regarding France’s anger, isn’t the real question what’s best for Australia’s defense? This is Australia’s way of showing China that if they choose to block Australian trade routes, the Australian navy will have several untraceable attack subs that could deter the Chinese Navy.

China’s massive military buildup is the primary reason for this new arms race in the Indo-Pacific. Australia, along with Biden, are responding. We shouldn’t take seriously the accusation of “sparking” an arms race that is already underway.

For the US however, this amounts to a relatively cost free and significant de-facto expansion of America’s Asian nuclear attack submarine fleet, our most effective deterrent to Chinese territorial expansion.

With this, Biden has executed a masterstroke in Asia.

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Afghanistan Defeat May Energize Military

The Daily Escape:

Fall foliage begins with Swamp Maples, Westborough MA – September 2021 photo by Juergen Roth Photography

For Americans, our pull-out from Afghanistan was a roller coaster of emotion. Many felt anger at our failure to win against the Taliban. Some felt we should have stayed for an indefinite time until some indefinite goal was reached. Many were just sad we stayed as long as we did.

Jeff Groom, a former Marine officer, asked in Responsible Statecraft whether the failure in Afghanistan will touch off a “revolution from below” by more junior military members. He says that lower levels of the military blame their top leadership for problems with veteran’s health. And they also blame their leadership and the politicians for sending them to fight without clear goals or purpose.

The front-line military understands that the top brass was, at least in part, in the business of obfuscation and deception of America’s politicians and the public. Senior military leaders have often presented overly optimistic views, while insisting on ever-more resources for warfighting.

The front-line knew that US airstrikes and raids often killed women and children. From Groom:

“To expend human life for a cause you believed in but didn’t win is one thing, to break human beings and their families forever because of lies and deceit is another. Is it any wonder then, that our veterans are disgusted and angry? They were treated, as Kurt Vonnegut said in 2004, like “toys a rich kid got for Christmas.”

Pew found that 64% of Iraq veterans said that war was not worth fighting. For Afghanistan, the number was 58%. Some of these angry and disappointed veterans are now running for office on both sides of the political aisle. More from Groom:

“Lucas Kunce, a former Marine officer and now Democratic Senate candidate for Missouri, has taken a stand against the lies. And Joe Kent, a former Green Beret and Gold Star husband running for a Republican congressional seat in Washington state, has suggested establishing an “Afghan War Commission” with his sights set on “the blob.” “

The term “Blob” describes members of the mainstream foreign-policy establishment: Government officials, academics, Council on Foreign Relations panelists, and television talking heads — who share a collective belief that it’s the obligation of the US to pursue an aggressive, interventionist policy in the post-9/11 world.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen in this context as Blob-approved.

The anger at the military’s top brass and at Congress is leading more veterans to now run for political office. In 2020, 182 US military veterans ran for a seat in the House or Senate, and there are now 91 US veterans serving in Congress (17% of the Congressional total). Of these, 36 served in Afghanistan and Iraq; 27 are Republicans and 9 are Democrats.

At least 11 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are running for the US Senate in 2022, along with at least 33 seeking 2022 House seats. The majority are Republicans. These numbers will likely increase as both Parties are actively recruiting veterans who are willing to stand for election in the mid-terms.

Like our Congress, most American voters haven’t served. But voters have had a front row seat for decades of failed policies. It wouldn’t be unrealistic to assume the next decade will see a retrenchment of the US empire due to voters’ disillusionment with the Blob’s foreign policy consensus in Washington.

As for the future of the all-volunteer military, problems with the quality and quantity of service members loom on the horizon. The length of our recent wars has forced the armed services to cut corners to achieve service targets.

In 2003 94% of enlisted Army personnel had a high school diploma. In 2007 it had dropped to 71%. In World War II, the cut-off for the IQ test in the Marine Corps was a score of 120. In 1980, 85% of officers achieved that score but only 59% did in 2014.

In addition, concerns about the motivations for volunteering exist as well. America’s military relies upon citizens who willingly decide to sacrifice. Traditionally this was because the volunteers felt a strong connection to the nation and to its government. The failures of the war on terrorism coupled with our current cultural divide, indicate that this connection could be weakening.

Consider that the majority of the military is drawn from the South and Midwest. It may only be a matter of time before those volunteers stop raising their hands. If our all-volunteer system becomes a de-facto mercenary army, motivated only by a paycheck or college tuition, it will be devoid of real loyalty to country, a necessary condition for effectiveness.

We could be about to face both declining standards, and declining volunteerism.

Who will want to fight for us the next time? How hard will they fight?

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 20, 2021

The Daily (no) Escape:

More than 660,000 white flags have been put on display at the National Mall in Washington DC in memory of Covid victims. The display is called “In America: Remember”, organized by artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg.

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing it, doesn’t go away”  ̶  Philip K. Dick

And a corollary: Delusion requires passionate and unyielding belief to keep pesky facts from intruding. This is why for some people, cults are a viable form of social organization.

The Covid vaccines save lives. America has an abundant supply. The shot is free. But many Americans remain unvaccinated. Some don’t have access, but it appears the vast majority of the unvaccinated are making a decision that appears to be driven in part, by their politics.

The WaPo reports that:

“Since May of this year, more than half of the deaths from the coronavirus have been in states that voted for Donald Trump. There have been 239 deaths per million among red-state residents, compared with 150 per million in blue states.”

And for vaccinations, states that voted for Trump in 2020 have lower vaccination rates. Here’s a chart:

Are Republicans following a political strategy with vaccines? Brian Beutler thinks so:

“To grasp that Republicans encouraged COVID spread to harm Biden, you don’t have to believe, in a conspiracy-addled way, that they convened in secret and built a playbook for maximizing infections. You simply need to observe that a critical mass of conservative elites view undercutting Biden and Democrats as a political lodestar, and make immensely consequential governing and broadcast decisions on that basis alone.”

According to the NYT, that thinking has led to 16,200 preventable deaths since July 1 nationwide. And it’s important to realize that most deaths occurring now are preventable in a way that was absolutely not the case at the start of the pandemic.

Following on Phillip Dick’s quote above, a reality is that Covid is now a preventable disease.

Ignoring reality, Red State governors are actively discouraging vaccination and masking. They are actively encouraging a preventable but deadly illness to spread. They are putting the entire nation at risk of a vaccine resistant variant. They’re threats to our national security.

Polls show that Biden’s approval rate has slipped, in part due to the Covid surge. Covid may be hurting Biden politically, but it’s hurting Red State Republican constituents literally (and seriously). The Red State Covid fatality rate isn’t high enough to really hurt their vote totals except in marginal districts. The Republican bet is that the intensity/turnout advantage they get from anti-Vaxx deniers will pay off in the 2022 mid-terms.

They seem to have internalized that a pandemic combined with pandemic denialism helps them. In 2020, the Republican ground game benefited from the fact that Covid denialists were more willing to go out in public. They used the fact that their voters were more likely to vote in person to push Trump’s Big Lie election-fraud theories.

But here we are. They’re living in a world where the virus is fake, and thousands of people are dying from taking the vaccine. They’re taking Ivermectin and anti-malarial drugs because the fake virus is a little threatening, but not bad enough to take the vaccine. It can be deadly, but “it isn’t for me” because it’s a liberal conspiracy.

But the “reality” is that excess deaths from all causes since February, 2020 according to the CDC is 830,400. Last year, the age-adjusted all-cause mortality rate in the USA rose by 15.9%. This is by far the biggest one-year rise in that rate in the 120 years that official records have been kept for this basic measure of overall public health.

Time to wake up Red Staters! Many of the GOP higher ups (and their media lackeys) think that you’re not masking or taking the vaccine, will hurt Biden and the Democrats. Maybe you should be thinking about the greater harm that following their lead may bring to you and your family.

To help you wake up on this last Monday of summer, listen to the Foo Fighters, who are going through a “disco discovery” stage wherein they call themselves the Dee Gees, cover the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing”:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 19, 2021

Ruy Teixeira had thoughts on the California recall election: (brackets by Wrongo)

“In the recall election exit poll, the “yes” vote against Newsom [yes meant replace him] was 40% among Hispanics. That far outdistances the [Hispanic] vote for Trump in 2020…(just 23% in the exit poll; 29% in the AP/NORC Votecast survey)….Biden’s approval rating seems to be lagging nationwide among Hispanics. In the most recent Quinnipiac survey, Biden has only 38% percent approval vs. 47% disapproval among these voters.”

Yes, there was room for some optimism in the CA results: Running against Trump (or Trump clones) still looks like a winner. But Biden needs to do better with Hispanics, and he needs America to beat Covid. All of this says the Democrats have work to do before the 2022 mid-terms. On to cartoons.

Newsom won:

Are Republicans willing to die to beat Biden?

Are the Republicans willing to die to beat Biden?

Wrongo extends a greeting to General Milley: Welcome to Antifa. We’re glad to have you:

Abused Gymnasts stick it to the FBI who failed bigly:

Amy Coney Barrett says there aren’t any partisan hacks on the Supreme Court. She said that “judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties.” Her philosophy is “originalist,” which is interpreting the law after consultation with James Madison’s ghost:

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Saturday Soother – September 18, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Great Sand Dune NP – photo by Rick Randall

A disturbing story from Kaiser Health News (KHN):

“Republican legislators in more than half of US states, spurred on by voters angry about lockdowns and mask mandates, are taking away the powers state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases.”

KHN found that at least 26 states pushed through laws that permanently weaken government authority to protect public health. The actions varied but included these:

  • In 16 states, legislators have limited the power of public health officials to order mask mandates, quarantines, or isolation. In some cases, they gave themselves or local elected politicians the authority to prevent the spread of infectious disease.
  • At least 17 states passed laws banning Covid vaccine mandates or made it easier to get around vaccine requirements.
  • At least 9 states have new laws banning or limiting mask mandates. Executive orders or a court ruling limit mask requirements in five more.

Here’s a map showing where these assaults on public health are happening:

Draft legislation created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, restricting the emergency powers of governors and other officials, has inspired dozens of state-level bills, according to KHN. In some states, governors can no longer institute mask mandates or close businesses, and their executive orders can be overturned by legislators.

This toxic stew has led at least 303 public health leaders to retire, resign or be fired since the pandemic began. That means 1 in 5 Americans have lost a local health leader during the pandemic, when many hospitals are full, and people are still dying in large numbers.

This is America in 2021: It’s vitally important to the freedom of True Americans™ that the government be prevented from doing anything to help or protect them, except for cutting taxes.

We live in a dysfunctional democracy, and that seems to be the way we like it. No evil deity could have done better at setting us up to fail.

There are two big ideas that are colliding in the weakening of state-level public health and the subsequent loss of public health officials. One is the doctrine of federalism, our system of government in which the same territory is controlled by two levels of government. The US Constitution has established a system of “dual sovereignty,” under which the States have surrendered some of their powers to the federal government, but also retained sovereignty in others.

These 26 states are using federalism, asserting their power over federal regulations and processes that are designed to keep people safe. It’s unclear what the federal government can do to reverse these actions.

The second big idea is: what are the foundational goals of government? The safety, health and longevity of our people should be the primary metrics for good governance. The decline in the quality of our governance shows clearly in the American people’s decline in both health and longevity.

Public health as a function has been in decline for decades. This attack on public health is the latest step in the systematic effort to discredit the profession, to box it in. Few in public health have direct power; most are working on social/environmental research, information sharing, and creating best practices in regulation of product and worker safety.

Our dysfunctional democracy got that way by catering to corporations and wealthy donors. Politicians are disinvested in the American people; they have disinvested from creating what should be a fair sharing of social gains.

This makes them anti-public health. To the extent they have any interest, it’s in public health’s policing powers, like the bounty hunter policy that’s been enacted in Texas.

But, today’s Saturday, and it’s a legal requirement for this column to help readers find a few moments to leave the clash of cultures behind and relax for at least a few minutes. Leaves are starting to fall on the fields of Wrong, and next week marks the end of summer. We’ve placed a few mums around the yard, and Wrongo got around to calling the shop that’s fixing his snowblower for an update.

To help you relax, grab a seat near a window and listen to Karl Davydov’s Opus 20, No. 2 “At the Fountain”. Davydov was a Russian cellist described by Tchaikovsky as the “czar of cellists”. Here, “At the Fountain” is played by cellist Jérémy Garbarg, accompanied by Samuel Parent, on piano.  Recorded at the Vuitton Foundation in December 2018:

In 1870, Count Wilhorsky, a Russian patron of the arts, presented Davydov with a 1712 Stradivarius cello. This cello is now known as the Davydov Stradivarius. It was owned by the great cellist Jacqueline du Pré until her death and is currently on loan to cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

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Biden Invites Sinema and Manchin to Talks

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Cape Disappointment, WA – September 2021 photo by Rick Berk Photography. The lighthouse was built in 1856 and was the first in the Pacific Northwest.

In politics as in business, there’s theater, and then there’s the real work. Biden outlined his goal of raising taxes on the wealthy to strengthen the middle class and boost the economy in remarks on Thursday afternoon at the White House.

On Wednesday, Biden met with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WVA) and Kristen Sinema (D-AZ), looking to find a path forward on the infrastructure bill, along with the big social spending package and Machin’s voting rights bill.

Democrats will use budget reconciliation for the social spending bill, bypassing Republican opposition. It allows them to win Senate passage with 51 votes, with VP Harris casting the tie breaking vote, rather than the 60 votes that would otherwise be required.

But that means Manchin and Sinema need to vote for the big bill, something they have said they won’t do. No one who was in the room when the talks took place came out and said that a deal was pending. But there’s still time for that to emerge.

The House Ways and Means Committee unveiled a tax proposal this week to pay for the $3.5 trillion package, which includes Democrats’ plans for universal pre-K, expanding Medicare, child and elder care, and the environment. The committee approved its portions of the big bill in a near party-line vote Wednesday, which included the new tax provisions.

Predictably, the WSJ’s editorial board weighed in on the proposed tax plan, saying:

“…this bill looks like a House Democratic suicide note.”

More from the WSJ: (Emphasis by Wrongo)

“If Americans are successful, Democrats want to tax more of their income. The top individual tax rate will rise to 39.6% from 37%, as Mr. Biden promised. But wait: The higher tax rate will kick in at a mere $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for married couples. That’s down from $523,600 and $628,300 under current law.”

A mere $450,000. They trot out their “pity the poor rich” trope any time the possibility that tax rates might be raised shows up. Let’s unpack this:

This opens the possibility that there will be some families that are below the 99th percentile of household income and above the 98th threshold. Under the new law, they would be forced to pay about $700 more in taxes than they do now. That’s assuming the Democrats’ latest effort at socialism in America is enacted. This paltry tax increase might cut into the nanny’s Christmas bonus. Why are Democrats so cruel?

More from the WSJ:

“This is a steep rate increase on two-earner upper-middle-class families. They may reach these income levels after a long career, and only for a couple of years, but Democrats want more than 40% if you include the 1.45% Medicare payroll tax and the 3.8% Obamacare surcharge on investment income.

If you make more than $5 million, there will also be a three-percentage-point income-tax surcharge. That would take the top tax rate to something like 46.4%. Add California or New York taxes, and government will take about 60%. “

The put-upon high-income salaried professionals follow this mantra:

“Why do I consider myself successful? Because I am rich! Why am I rich? Well, I was successful! All the other Whites in our gated community are exactly like me, only they’re slightly less successful!”

Note that the WSJ’s editorial board treats these proposed marginal tax rates as if they were effective tax rates. Effective tax rates are notoriously lower. For the top 1% of US taxpayers, (average income of $1.16 million in 2018), all federal taxes: income, payroll, corporate, estate, and excise, averaged 29.6% last year.

More from the WSJ on the Democrats’ plans for the estate tax: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The death tax exemption would also be cut in half to $5.5 million—which would also hit small businesses and savers who have built up a small nest egg.”

The way the estate tax works is that you also get the full benefit of your spouse’s exemption, should you outlive him/her. So, the proposed $5.5 million exemption means that married couples would still get to pass on their “first” $11 million tax-free to their heirs.

In what world is $11 Million a “small” nest egg?

Republicans (and their media enablers) are always against tax increases. Derailing taxes, while appointing more conservative Supreme Court Justices are their political red lines.

It’s time for Democrats, including Manchin and Sinema, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and get tax reform done this year.

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Passing Manchin’s Freedom to Vote Act is Critical

The Daily Escape:

Cannon Beach, OR – September 2021 photo by Rick Berk Photography

From EJ Dionne in the WaPo:

“…the next month is make-or-break not only for President Biden and the future of American social policy but also for the right to vote and our democracy itself.”

True. He’s talking about Democrats attempting to pass both the big stimulus package without ANY support from the Republicans, and a voting rights bill that might get some support from Republicans.  Dionne goes on to say: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Failing to enact Democrats’ social policy plan would be a big problem. Failing to protect democratic rule would be catastrophic.”

The media has focused on Biden’s big social policy package, not on the voting bill. They talk almost exclusively about the bill’s cost. They ignore the bill’s initiatives: On childcare, paid leave, elder care, health care, education, and the pro-family child tax credit, all of which are popular across party lines.

Dionne’s best observation about the big spending package is this: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Yes, the much-discussed $3.5 trillion price tag is a lot of money. But that number is based on 10 years of spending. Sharon Parrott, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, points out that the $3.5 trillion should be placed in the context of an anticipated gross domestic product of $288 trillion over the same period — meaning that this debate is over roughly 1.2% of the economy.”

The politics of the big deal are clear. Democrats must come together and vote as a block in the Senate, or they will fail to deliver on the change they promised in the 2020 presidential election.

The politics for a voting rights bill are less clear. As with the big deal, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA) has opposed the voting bills put forward by Democrats in the House. So, Senate Majority Leader Schumer asked Manchin to come up with a proposal that he could vote for and to find 10 Republicans to support it as well.

Manchin accepted that challenge and working with a group of Democrats including Sens. Klobuchar (MN), Merkley (OR) and Warnock (GA), developed a bill he supports. Marc Elias of Democracy Docket yesterday analyzed Sen. Joe Manchin’s compromise voting rights bill and found it…surprisingly acceptable:

“The Freedom to Vote Act, introduced this morning, reveals a surprisingly good voting rights bill.  It reflects a sobriety and understanding of the challenges facing voters that is worthy of its lofty name. It is not just a reformulation of the prior For the People Act, but in many places, it is an improvement.”

You can read the bill here. With respect to voting by mail, the bill rolls back many of the Republicans’ disenfranchisement schemes. It forbids states from requiring notarization or witnesses to vote by mail. It provides for a free postage system for returned ballots, requires states to notify voters whose ballots are rejected due to a signature omission or mismatch and creates an easy way for voters to cure those ballots.

One of the big objections is that the new bill permits states to decide whether to require voter identification, but it broadens the list of acceptable IDs for states that require them. Under the new bill, states must allow utility bills and leases as well as student IDs and virtually any identification issued by a governmental entity to serve as an acceptable ID.

So, the challenge is whether Manchin will find 10 Republicans to support it. The big question is what will happen If he can’t: Will he and Sinema stick with their refusal to alter the filibuster and thus be complicit in the death of a bill as important to democracy today, as the original Voting Rights Act was in 1965?

Time is running out to save our democracy from a Republican Party that is rejecting it.

We learned in the past few days that our democracy was basically saved from a possible nuclear war and a coup d’état by Mark Milley, an American General with a conscience, and former VP Dan Quayle, who talked VP Mike Pence into not helping the insurrection succeed on Jan. 6.

That alone tells us what real peril we were in. It also should tell us what needs to be done to protect the country going forward.

It would be fantastic to pass both bills, but Manchin’s Freedom to Vote Act must pass, even if it means further weakening of the Filibuster. Wrongo doubts that Manchin and Sinema want to be associated in history with those who failed to stand up for democracy at the hour of maximum danger.

Within the next month, we’ll know where they stand.

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Americans Die Earlier Than Europeans

The Daily Escape:

The Barber Pole, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, AZ – May 2021 photo by Dave Coppedge

Derek Thompson in The Atlantic says that America has a death problem:

“According to a new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans now die earlier than their European counterparts, no matter what age you’re looking at.”

Covid deaths are excluded from the study.

Before the 1990s, average life expectancy in the US was not much different than it was in Germany, the United Kingdom, or France. But since the 1990s, American life spans leveled off, and then fell behind those in similarly wealthy European countries.

We started hearing about America’s declining longevity when Anne Case’s and Angus Deaton’s 2015 study showed that White mortality in the US was rising. They called the new trend “deaths of despair”, caused by increased deaths by suicide, drug overdose and liver disease associated with alcohol.

Now, the bad trend has spread to all Americans:

“Compared with Europeans, American babies are more likely to die before they turn 5, American teens are more likely to die before they turn 20, and American adults are more likely to die before they turn 65. At every age, living in the United States carries a higher risk of mortality.”

The study collected data on American life spans by ethnicity and by income at the county level, and compared the data to those of European countries, locality by locality, allowing for direct comparisons. It explodes the myth about America having the best medical outcomes.

More from Thompson:

“Americans are more likely to kill one another with guns, in large part because Americans have more guns than residents of other countries do. Americans die more from car accidents, not because our fatality rate per mile driven is unusually high but because we simply drive so much more than people in other countries.”

Americans also have higher rates of death from infectious disease and pregnancy complications. And all of this is over and above our terrible Covid death rate.

One reason for the differences in mortality is that unlike Europe, America doesn’t have a robust public health system. These systems are at their core, a multidisciplinary delivery of services in our towns and cities that work to solve health problems before they require hospitalizations.

The US public health system has significant gaps in capability and delivery. It is both fragmented, and weak politically. The politicization of public health in the Covid crisis has caused some local public health officials to quit or retire. Some have been physically threatened just for doing their jobs. Approximately 1 in 6 public health officials have left their jobs in the past 18 months.

By contrast, our European peers have robust public health service delivery in most locations.

The researchers found some significant findings. First, Europe’s mortality rates do not vary much between rich and poor communities. Residents of the poorest parts of France live about as long as people in the rich areas around Paris. From the study:

“Health improvements among infants, children, and youth have been disseminated within European countries in a way that includes even the poorest areas…”

Second, White Americans living in the richest 5% of counties still die earlier than Europeans in low-poverty areas:

“It says something negative about the overall health system of the US that even after we grouped counties by poverty and looked at the richest 10th percentile, and even the richest fifth percentile, we still saw this longevity gap between Americans and Europeans…”

The study also shows that Europeans in impoverished areas seem to live longer than Black or White Americans in the richest 10% of counties.

Third, America has a surprising US longevity success story: In the three decades before Covid, average life spans for Black Americans surged, in rich and poor areas, and across all ages. As a result, the Black-White life-expectancy gap decreased by almost half, from seven years to 3.6 years.

The study credits the Medicaid expansion in the 1990s, which covered pregnant women and children and likely improved Black Americans’ access to medical treatments. The expansion of the earned-income tax credit and other financial assistance have gradually reduced poverty. Air pollution reduction is also a factor. Black Americans have been more likely than White Americans to live in more-polluted areas, but air pollution has declined more than 70% percent since the 1970s, according to the EPA.

Let’s give the last word to Derek Thompson: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“For decades, US politicians on the right have resisted calls for income redistribution and universal insurance under the theory that inequality was a fair price to pay for freedom. But now we know that the price of inequality is paid in early death—for Americans of all races, ages, and income levels. With or without a pandemic, when it comes to keeping Americans alive, we really are all in this together.”

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 13, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde NP, CO – September 2021 photo by David Milley Johnson

Daniel Byman of Georgetown University has the cover article in the WSJ’s Weekend Review: “Why There Hasn’t Been Another 9/11”. He says that while jihadism remains strong globally, the US has been spared a repeat of 9/11:

“Twenty years ago, the 9/11 attacks killed almost 3,000 Americans. Since then, the US homeland hasn’t suffered any comparable terrorist assault, nor even one a tenth of the size. The total death toll from jihadist attacks inside the US over these last two decades stands at 107…”

Byman’s point is that despite losing in Afghanistan, the US has become skilled at limited interventions: a drone strike to kill a terrorist leader here, a raid by special operations forces there, including the killing of Osama bin Laden and ISIS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, among others. This has forced the terrorist leaders to hide constantly and has eliminated their ability to run large terrorist training facilities.

Our abilities to intercept terrorist phone and internet communications, monitor activity from the skies and coordinate in real time with our allies, allows us to be on top of most large-scale attacks that might be planned against us. From Byman:

“A jihadist arrested in Morocco may have made phone calls to an operative in France, who received money from a funder in Kuwait, who is tied to cells in Indonesia and Kenya and operates under the instructions of a leader in Pakistan…”

All of this is tracked. And the US then assembles this giant jigsaw puzzle, encouraging the arrests of suspects, while using drone strikes where arrests are difficult. Byman implies that we’re being kept safe because of our investment in anti-terrorist assets and technology.

He’s planting a stake in the ground for additional funding for America’s successor to the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

Adam Tooze reminds us that US military spending was driven to new heights by the GWOT. Overall spending peaked in 2010 at $840 billion. You might expect that America’s defense budget would have decreased when we got out of full-scale Iraq and Afghanistan operations, and it did. Tooze says that overall DOD spending fell to $629 billion in 2015.

With Trump in charge, the Pentagon’s budget was pushed back over $700 billion. So far, Biden is staying the course. Our withdrawal from Afghanistan in no way signals a retreat from global ambition, as the budgetary request for National Defense in 2022 is $752 billion, a 7.4% increase.

And the amazing part is that the military doesn’t seem to have an articulated strategy to combat future threats. That may explain why it took 20 years, four presidents and $ trillions for America to replace the Taliban with the Taliban in Afghanistan. As the think tank CSIS points out:

“It has been about 15 years since DoD explained, even roughly, how it calculated the force levels that it was proposing….”

Tooze says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In other words, America’s grand strategists formulate goals, the Pentagon draws up lists of things it wants…but it is unclear how each of these decisions relates to the other.”

The US military is a giant professional organization run by leaders with postgraduate degrees. Like most large organizations, it is hierarchical and thrives on amassing internal power. The battle for resources between the branches of the military is intense.

The National Defense Strategy of 2018 redefined America’s future security challenge as great-power competition with China, not counterterrorism. The main arena isn’t the Middle East, but the Indo-Pacific. And Biden is doubling down on this strategic blueprint.

This requires transformative technologies: AI, robotics, cyber weapons, and new space technology. The technology will come from Silicon Valley, even though they have somewhat conflicting technological partnerships with China.

We’re no longer training military in Afghan villages in California, we’re planning on building robot submarines. All of this shows that the withdrawal from Afghanistan in no way signals a retreat from our military’s global ambitions, despite our historically mediocre military leadership.

Time to wake up America! The war hawks in each Party along with the defense contractors have no intention of taking their collective feet off the gas pedal of military spending. What animates the alliance between them are buzzwords and money.

Despite what you think, social programs will always need to be paid for by new revenue, while defense spending is always “on the house”.

To help you wake up, listen to “New York Minute” by Don Henley. While it has some deep relevance to 9/11, it was recorded in 1989 for Henley’s solo album, “The End of the Innocence”. It was one of the songs radio stations in NYC played frequently in the weeks after 9/11. The track features Toto members David Paich on piano and Jeff Porcaro on drums:

Lyrics:
Harry got up
Dressed all in black
Went down to the station
And he never came back
They found his clothing
Scattered somewhere down the track
And he won’t be down on Wall Street in the morning

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