Can We Become A Representative Democracy Again?

The Daily Escape:

Toroweap Point, North Rim, Grand Canyon NP, AZ – August 2022 photo by Andrei Stoica

Our democracy is teetering. Minority states representing a fraction of the whole population of the country, have an outsized representation in the Electoral College and in the Senate. This has helped ignite an acute threat to American democracy that’s based in Red State America. The NYT’s David Leonhardt quotes Harvard’s Steven Levitsky:

“We are far and away the most countermajoritarian democracy in the world,”

One reason is that the more populous states over the past century have grown much larger than the small states. That means the bigger state residents now hold (relatively) less political power in the Senate and the Electoral College than they did in the 1900s.

This was something that the founders understood and agreed on. At the time, there was an alternative discussion about maintaining proportional representation in the House. In the first US Congress, (1789-1791), James Madison had proposed 12 potential Constitutional amendments. We all know that ten amendments were quickly ratified as the Bill of Rights. Another amendment was ratified in 1992 as the 27th Amendment which prohibits salary increases for House and Senate members to take effect before the next election.

The only one of the 12 amendments passed by Congress that wasn’t ratified is the Congressional Apportionment Amendment (CAA). The CAA was designed to let the number of seats in the House grow to meet future population growth.

A majority of the (then) states ratified the CAA. But by the end of 1791, it was one state short of adoption. No other state has ratified this potential amendment since 1792. Here’s the text of the proposed CAA:

“After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.”

The CAA lays out a mathematical formula for determining the number of seats in the House of Representatives. Initially, it would have required one representative for every 30,000 constituents, with that number eventually climbing to one representative for every 50,000 constituents.

But the amendment wasn’t added to the Constitution. Today, Congress controls the size of the House of Representatives. They had regularly increased the size of the House to account for population growth until 1911, when it fixed the number of voting House members at 435. Today, that’s about 761,000 Americans per House seat. Miles away from 50,000.

Delaware leads in the malapportionment with 990,000 people per representative, about 250,000 more than the average state. Rhode Island has the most democratic apportionment with 548,000 people per representative. Both are small, Blue states.

The small Red state Wyoming has 578k/representative. All of the big states are higher than the average: NY has 777k, and CA has 761k, while Florida has 770k and Texas has 768k.

This also impacts the distribution of Electoral College votes, which equal the apportionment of House seats. As a result, the Electoral College is also becoming less representative. David Leonhardt points out:

“Before 2000, only three candidates won the presidency while losing the popular vote (John Quincy Adams, Rutherford Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison), and each served only a single term.”

But two of the past four presidents (Trump and GW Bush in his first term) have become president despite losing the popular vote. Small states represent a fraction of the whole population of the country yet, absent something like the CAA, have an outsized representation in both the Senate and the Electoral College.

This was on purpose. But when the filibuster was added in the Senate’s rules, it changed everything. The filibuster has been part of the Senate in many forms, but in 1975, the Senate revised its cloture rule so that three-fifths of Senators (60 votes out of 100) could limit debate.

With the Senate roughly equally divided, each Party has about 50 votes it can count on, but it needs 60 to pass most legislation. This means that the small states have more power in the Senate than they had before.

Using the 2010 US Census as an example, the US population was 308.7 million. If the CAA was in effect, the number of representatives in the House would be more than 6,000. That’s surely unwieldy, but is there a number of House seats between 435 and 6000 that would be more representative?

Our form of proportional representation needs an overhaul. Some changes to consider:

  • Better proportional representation in the House (via the CAA?) to help make the Electoral College more representative than currently
  • A version of ranked choice voting for all state-wide races
  • Overturning Citizens United
  • Ending gerrymandering by using independent commissions to establish district lines

Since only a few hundred people currently control the democratic direction of our country, can these ever be addressed?

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 19, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Willard Beach, South Portland, ME – September 2022 photo by Eric Storm Photo

Last week, Wrongo wrote about how if you know a little about politics, your issues are guns, abortion, and taxes. We need to think about adding immigration to that list. Blog reader Craig G. asked, “when is enough, enough?” in response to Wrongo’s column on DeSantis sending immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard.

It’s a great question. We tend to think of immigration as an American/Mexican border problem, but it is much, much worse than that. The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees reported in May 2022, that the world, for the first time in history, had 100 million forcibly displaced people either in camps or on the move.

Of those who were on the move, “conflict and violence” accounted for 14.4 million, and “weather-related events” accounted for 23.7 million. The distinction between these numbers is often hard to understand. The civil war in Syria for example, produced large numbers of refugees. In 2021, more than 6.8 million refugees were from Syria, more than any other country in the world. At the same time, another 6.9 million people were displaced within Syria. The Syrian civil war followed the most profound drought ever recorded in what used to be the Fertile Crescent.

About 100 million migrants is huge, more than the population of Germany, Turkey or, Vietnam. But it could get worse as the impacts of climate change broaden throughout the 3rd world. The International Organization for Migration has predicted that we could see 1.5 billion people forced from their homes by 2050.

These numbers are staggering. Now couple them with America’s declining birth rate. Econofact reports that the US birth rate has fallen by 20% since 2007. They say the decline cannot be explained by demographic, economic, or policy changes. So, what if it continues while the number of people knocking on America’s doors continues to grow?

As Craig G. implies, there could come a time when all Americans will agree to limit immigration. Otherwise, a smaller, aging America will be asking what some on the Right are asking today: Who are the “real” Americans? What do we owe recent immigrants?

The Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1 says:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

How will we adjust when the majority of our population are from different cultures, different races and speak different languages? The children of first-generation immigrants generally are well-adapted to the broad American culture; for the most part, they sound and act like Americans. If they were born here they ARE Americans. But the first generation migrant has an understandably difficult time.

This has caused the Right and specifically, the Christian nationalists on the right to be stingy about who they say is a true American, despite when many kids of immigrants are born here in America.The 14th Amendment doesn’t require any ideological, racial or language prerequisite.

Our low birth rates mean we can’t replace our population, so our economic growth will slow. If we replace our population with immigrants, we’ll have economic growth, but our culture will inexorably change.

Our history gives us some pointers. Immigration to the US peaked in the 19th century in the decade 1880-89 when it reached 5,248,568. The first decade of the 20th century saw another record with 8,202,388 people entering the country. In 1910, 75% of the population of New York, Chicago, Detroit and Boston consisted of first and second generation immigrants.

Remember that the US population was 62,979,766 in 1890, an increase of 25.5% percent since the prior census in 1880.  Contrast that with today. Stastia says that 710,000 legal immigrants arrived here in 2021, and that we had 11.39 million illegal immigrants living in the US at year end 2018. We’re five times larger today.

Think about it: In 1890, our foreign-born population was 9.2 million. The total US population was 62.9 million. 5.2/62.9 = 14.6% of our population were immigrants. In 2018, out foreign-born population is 44.8 million. 44.8/320 million in US = 14.0%. Is our problem worse today?

Time to wake up America! A tsunami of immigrants will try to move from the 3rd world to the developed world. The numbers will be staggering, beyond anything experienced so far by Europe or the US. Our ability to cope with so many people in motion in some even modestly humane fashion will determine the character of our country over the next century.

To help you wake up, listen to John Moreland perform “Ugly Faces” from his 2022 album “Birds in the Ceiling”.

Sample Lyric:

You’re seeing ugly faces in your dreams
Let me know what it means
We told ourselves we’d tell it true
But I learned how to lie, watching you
This dirty place don’t want you here
Looks like you’re stuck another year
You close your eyes, a scene rolls by
A strip mall under sunburst sky
My back was to a corner, lonely in a crowd
I couldn’t hear you calling, the bullshit was so loud

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 18, 2022

On Friday, the DOJ filed a motion in the 11th Federal Circuit Court for a partial stay of judge Cannon’s order appointing a special master to review the stolen documents that the FBI recovered at Mar-a-Lago (MAL). They are asking the federal appeals court to temporarily block Cannon’s ruling that prevents the DOJ from using thousands of pages of government documents seized from Trump at MAL.

It came after judge Cannon, for the second time in two weeks, issued a ruling in Trump’s favor that flabbergasted legal experts. From the WaPo:

“US District Judge Aileen M. Cannon on Thursday night rejected the Justice Department’s request to allow it to review the documents seized from Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago that were marked classified. Cannon previously ruled that a special master review all the seized documents, at least temporarily delaying the government’s criminal probe.”

The brief is here: Motion for Partial Stay Pending Appeal. The essence of the DOJ’s argument is summarized at page 6:

“Plaintiff has no claim for the return of those records, which belong to the Government and were seized in a court-authorized search. The records are not subject to any possible claim of personal attorney-client privilege. And neither the Plaintiff nor the court has cited any authority suggesting that a former President could successfully invoke executive privilege to prevent the Executive Branch from reviewing its own records.”

Let’s leave it to Robert Hubbell to point out the double standard at work in a recent Supreme Court decision: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“Here is a fun fact: “Executive privilege” is not mentioned in the Constitution. Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that executive privilege is “implied” in the Constitution because it is “inextricably rooted in the separation of powers under the Constitution.”

Another fun fact: The Constitution does not mention “separation of powers.” So, executive privilege is an implied right based on an implied principle [in the Constitution].

Compare the Court’s recognition of the implied right of a president to invoke executive privilege to the Court’s recent pronouncement in Dobbs regarding reproductive liberty: “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”

With its decision in Dobbs, the Supreme Court eliminated an implied right that offends its religious agenda.

But Cannon and most likely, the Supremes will likely protect Trump by implying a right based on the general structure of the Constitution. On to cartoons.

Judge Cannon bars the DOJ from Trump. We thought we’d hit bottom and then we heard knocking from below:

Trump envies Charles. There’s always Burger King:

Republican immigration plan:

Ukraine advances supported by Russian troops:

Putin maintains same strategy:

Right to choose has many meanings:

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Saturday Soother – September 17, 2022

The Daily Escape:

View from Schnebly Hill Road, Sedona, AZ – August 2022 photo by Cathy Franklin

As we discussed yesterday, DeSantis is one of many Republican politicians who are working overtime to convince MAGA-land that they are yuuge Christians. Here’s DeSantis in February, talking to students at the very Christian Hillsdale College:

“Put on the full armor of God. Stand firm against the left’s schemes. You will face flaming arrows, but if you have the shield of faith, you will overcome them, and in Florida we walk the line here. And I can tell you this, I have only begun to fight.”

The Tampa Bay Times takes issue with their governor: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The biblical reference DeSantis is using is from Ephesians 6, and calls on Christians to spiritually arm themselves against the “devil’s schemes.” In DeSantis’ speeches, he has replaced the ”devil” with “the left” as he tries to mobilize supporters ahead of his reelection in November and possibly a run for the White House in 2024.”

It’s dangerous that Republicans on the ballot in November are openly saying that the only true Americans are Christians. They’re portraying the battle against their political opponents as between good and evil.

The Tampa Bay Times (TBT) says that it has some religious leaders worrying that such rhetoric could mobilize fringe groups who may be prone to violence. From the TBT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Christian nationalism for many Conservatives has become a political identity, and unlike Conservative politicians in the past who used their faith to inform their arguments, DeSantis is more aggressive, using war imagery to describe the political debates as a battle over who will be the better American.”

The TBT quotes Philip Gorski, a comparative-history sociologist at Yale University who co-wrote the book “The Flag and the Cross: White Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy”:

“The full armor of God passage is a favorite amongst certain types of Pentecostals who really do see the world in terms of spiritual warfare,”

They also quote Allyson Shortle, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma who has co-written the book “The Everyday Crusade: Christian Nationalism in American Politics”:

“I think DeSantis has really stood out as someone who has effectively used this type of God talk and used these types of Christian nationalist talking points to curry favor…”

For Republicans, talking about the importance of faith is nothing new, and debates about how visible Christianity should be in our society — whether it be prayer in schools or religious symbols outside American courthouses — have been ongoing for decades.

But there is something different emerging: A strain of Conservative thought that sees the country’s politics as an open battle between good and evil. TBT quotes Marilyn Mayo, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism:

“There’s always been candidates who espouse Christian values, but what I think is very different is you have many people on the right and the far right seeing the current situation in the US as a battle, an absolute battle, between good and evil….And the good are the mostly white, Christian conservatives. And on the other side are the liberals, progressives, left-wingers, and certainly the LGBTQ community…. They really see this as a battle and paint the other side as…an evil force that needs to be defeated.”

Shortle says that Christian nationalism is the belief that a “true” American should be Christian. Some Christian national extremists say that the US is no longer a Christian nation, that it’s been taken over by secular forces.

Over the summer, Florida social studies teachers were alarmed that a civics training session led by DeSantis’ administration had a “Christian nationalism philosophy that was baked into everything” that was taught.

The initiative emphasized that the Founding Fathers did not desire a strict separation of state and church. State trainers also told teachers that the 1962 US Supreme Court case that found school-sponsored prayer violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment was unjustly decided.

In July, DeSantis was endorsed by Moms for Liberty, a group that focuses on adding Christian nationals to school boards across America. It has more than 200 chapters and 95,000 members in 38 states. At the group’s first national summit, DeSantis said that he intended to “leave Florida to God and to our children better than I found it.”

And what is “better” is in the eye of the beholder.

On to our Saturday Soother. We had our first sub 50° night on Thursday. Soon the indoor plants will return to the sunroom.

Take a few moments of your Saturday and listen and watch “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” by Heitor Villa-Lobos. He wrote a series of nine suites between 1930 and 1945. Here the 5th is played by Hauser on cello and Petrit Çeku on guitar in 2017 at the Lisinski Concert Hall in Zagreb:

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DeSantis Dickitude

The Daily Escape:

Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef NP – September 2022 photo by Mary Warner

Pretty sure everyone saw the news about planes landing on Martha’s Vineyard full of Venezuelan immigrants. From the NYT:

“The migrant group, which included children, arrived on two planes around 3 p.m. without any warning, said State Senator Julian Cyr, a Massachusetts Democrat representing Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. Officials and volunteers from the island’s six towns “really moved heaven and earth to essentially set up the response that we would do in the event of a hurricane,”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) took credit for sending the planes with migrants. This is frat-boy behavior from a dick Republican governor. Not to be outdone in showing his big dickitude, Texas governor Greg Abbott (R) sent two busloads of migrants to the home of VP Kamala Harris in Washington DC.

DeSantis isn’t the first to do this. The JFK Library twitter account reminds us that in 1962:

“To embarrass Northern liberals and humiliate Black people, southern White Citizens Councils started their so-called “Reverse Freedom Rides,” giving Black people one-way tickets to northern cities with false promises of jobs, housing, and better lives.”

Maybe DeSantis and Abbott should have read a few history books before deciding to ban books.

DeSantis knows that Florida is home to 60% of the Cubans living in the US. These immigrants fled to the US to escape poverty, violence, and a Communist dictatorship. Many didn’t follow immigration laws at the time. More still try to reach Florida every week. Is DeSantis saying that he doesn’t want Venezuelan migrants but sure, more Cuban migrants are ok?

MA State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, whose district includes Martha’s Vineyard, tweeted: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The Governor of one of the biggest states in the nation has been spending time hatching a secret plot to round up & ship people—children, families-lying to them about where [they’re] going just to gain cheap political points on Tucker [Carlson] and MAGA twitter….These immigrants were not met with chaos, they were met with compassion. We are a community & nation that is stronger because of immigrants.”

Another thing: Have these plane/bus operators committed crimes? Airlines usually file manifests about who is onboard and where they’re going. Why would they, most likely private/charter operators, agree to be part of a political stunt?

The companies that transported the migrants should be told that while Abbot or DeSantis can hire them, the transport companies also have legal obligations to their passengers. If the charter companies are MAGA and won’t comply, they could have their permission to operate revoked.

And one more thing: Why are people who may not qualify for asylum being sent to other parts of the US rather than being sent back to their country of origin? And by self-professed law-and-order type governors?

DeSantis says he’s a Christian, but he’s not clothing the naked or feeding the hungry. He’s doing the opposite: Driving them from his state, not because it’s required legally, but because he can use them to advance his political ambitions. He’s using vulnerable human beings for his personal advancement. That’s evil personified.

Are we now a country of political gotcha? Should Chicago and NYC send their gang bangers to Florida and Texas? What do any of these stunts solve? From Digby about DeSantis:

“…his despicably cruel, racist worldview has been embraced by conservative Christians [for] as long as I can remember. Certainly in the years after 9/11 it was on display everywhere you looked. Their view of Christianity is that Jesus loves white people like them, period. Everyone else can literally go to hell.”

There is nothing Christian or Conservative about what DeSantis did. The folks in Martha’s Vineyard, who welcomed the immigrants, were the ones who acted as Christians. DeSantis is surely aware of the passage in Matthew:

“Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.”

The requirement of that passage is what a Christian church on Martha’s Vineyard did to help these migrants. All that DeSantis and his friends do is complain that they can’t have their preferred prayers said in public schools.

Christian nationalism as it is practiced today in the US is becoming the worst and most destructive heresies to afflict American Christians. More about this tomorrow.

This incident on Martha’s Vineyard is another reminder that a central conceit of Republican politics is that everyone is secretly as cruel as they are. And because of that, no one would be genuinely willing to help the people Republicans pack into planes and buses and ship off to liberal land.

They’re wrong.

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Corporate Money Is Flowing To Senate Republicans

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Housatonic River, New Milford CT – 2022 photo by Tony Vengrove

There are just 55 days left until the 2022 midterm elections, and Wrongo’s crystal ball remains cloudy. For example, take the US Senate race in Pennsylvania. Democrat John Fetterman leads Republican Mehmet Oz by 48.5% to 40.4% in the 535 average of polls as of September 8. Sounds like a big lead, no?

But the US Chamber of Commerce told Axios on Sept. 11 that it was donating $3 million to support Oz’s campaign. Who is the US Chamber? They are an industry group that represents virtually every major American corporation. From Judd Legum:

“Corporations — whether individually or through a trade organization like the Chamber — are prohibited from donating $3 million directly to Oz’s campaign. (Corporate PAC donations are capped at $5,000 per election.) So instead, the Chamber is routing the money through the Senate Leadership Fund, a Super PAC set up by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell….The Senate Leadership Fund can raise unlimited funds from any source and spend them to boost Oz and other Republican candidates.”

In a statement, Chamber EVP Neil Bradley described Oz as “a pro-business champion” and said Fetterman “subscribes to a far-left, government-knows-best approach.”

So, America’s big corporations are against Fetterman. Sounds like a reason to be for him.

Legum takes a deep dive into where the US Chamber gets the millions it is donating to promote Oz’s candidacy: It comes from dues paid by member corporations. And which corporations are members? The Chamber keeps its membership list secret. More from Legum:

“We know, however, that virtually every major American corporation is a member of the Chamber. The Chamber’s board of directors includes representatives from FedEx, Bristol Myers Squibb, Facebook, AT&T, United Airlines, Abbott, 3M, Microsoft, Deloitte, Fidelity, Chevron, Intuit, Xerox, Pfizer, Dow, AllState, Delta, and many others.”

And most member companies don’t have a board seat. Their donations are secret as well, but CVS disclosed that it paid $500,000 to the Chamber in 2021 and $325,000 to a related organization, the US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. And CVS isn’t a board member! Imagine how much the really big guns paid.

A few major corporations aren’t members. Apple, for example, resigned its membership in 2009 in protest of the Chamber’s policy on climate change.

Sadly, corporations are not accountable (or even visible) in their support of the extreme policies of the GOP when they donate through vehicles like the US Chamber. We have to hope that as the Republican message gets ever more extreme, corporations will have a harder time continuing their support for this type of Citizens United chicanery.

This shows just how scummy our politics have become with the help of the Roberts Court and the Federalist Society. If it’s illegal to donate a certain amount directly to this person or organization, we simply create a PAC or a Super-PAC, and then donate huge sums directly to them.

If creating a PAC achieves this result, how is the individual limitation protecting democracy?

There’s an old joke about how if you know a little about politics, your issues are guns, abortion and taxes. If you know a lot about politics, your issue is campaign finance reform.

Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that could determine which Party holds the majority in the Senate. While Fetterman has a lead, Pennsylvania is still a competitive state, with money pouring into its governor’s race as well. This $3 million from the Chamber could have a real impact on the outcome.

It’s important to understand that more than 40% of the Pennsylvania electorate seems to want what Oz is offering. That’s scary, and it speaks to something that many in the media don’t want to address. They’re actually scared to address what the Republican Party has become. It isn’t surprising because the media are both a large part of the problem and not a part of the solution.

And when Biden accurately calls out what the Republican Party has become, when he says that Republican behavior and beliefs are inimical to what America is supposed to be, the media says he’s being divisive.

Oz is an example of what happens when one Party creates an existential situation out of whole cloth. When it’s backed by their 30 years of increasing extremism, the existential threat to democracy is now real.

No, America’s corporations aren’t going to save you. Giving money and time to Democratic Senate candidates like Fetterman, or Georgia’s Warnock (up by 2%), or Arizona’s Kelly (up by 2%), or New Hampshire’s Hassan (up by 4%), or Ohio’s Ryan (up by 1%), or North Carolina’s Beasley (up by 1%) MIGHT save you.

Do what you can.

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Europe’s Vulnerability To Russian Gas

The Daily Escape:

Morning light – Norbeck Pass, Badlands NP, SD – July 2022 photo by Rick Berk Photography

After imposing sanctions on Russia for their invasion of Ukraine, Germany and all of Europe are now facing an energy crisis unlike ever in their history. Gas deliveries from Russia have been halted altogether, exposing the dependence of European energy consumers on pipelined gas from Russia.

Strategically, Germany’s dependence on Russia is a muddle. Germany has depended on Russian natural gas since the Cold War. And it steadily increased its reliance on Russian gas while reducing alternative sources of energy such as nuclear power, even after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014.

On September 5th, Russia said it would close its Nord Stream I pipeline for as long as Western sanctions are in place. This initially sent gas prices higher by 30%. They currently stand at around $400 expressed as the equivalent of a barrel of oil.

The energy shock has morphed into a political and economic shock. In Germany, steelmaker ArcelorMittal is shutting down a plant in Bremen. Germany is spending €65 billion (1.8% of GDP) on measures including a price cap on electricity for households and firms.

France has enacted a retail price freeze for energy. French gas prices are frozen until at least the end of 2022, and the rise in electricity prices is capped at 4%.

Now, 14% of families in England are behind on their utility bills. The UK’s prime minister Liz Truss unveiled a plan to freeze prices for two years, which could cost more than £100 billion (4.3% of its GDP) and will be financed through government borrowing.

But the threatened loss of Russian gas also caused European governments to make big changes by lowering demand and lining up new gas supplies. That has lowered gas futures prices. From Wolf Richter:

“The front-month October TTF contract in the Netherlands – a benchmark for northwest Europe – plunged by 8% on Monday from Friday, and by 44% from the peak on August 26, to €191.02 per megawatt-hour (MWh) at the close today…”

On the supply side, the Netherlands has started operations of two floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) import and storage terminals in the port of Eemshaven. These floating storage and regasification units (FSRU) receive the LNG, store it, re-gasify it, and then send the natural gas via pipeline into the land-based distribution network in the Netherlands, from where it can be further distributed throughout Europe. Three more FSRUs are planned.

Germany had failed to build a single LNG import terminal as an alternative to Russian piped gas, but it has now chartered five FSRUs, three of which will start operating this winter. Germany has also been filling its gas storage facilities at record pace. They are currently 87.9% full, according to Gas Infrastructure Europe. For the EU overall, storage facilities are 83.6% full, well above the EU’s 80% target.

Strategically, Germany (and the EU) can’t simply return to the old normal once (IF) Ukraine hostilities end. Germany’s vulnerability to its natural gas dependence on Russia has irrevocably shaken up the economies and politics of Germany and most of Europe.

Germany seems to have finally figured this out. In the short run, (2-3 years) the consequence will be that Germany’s and EU’s consumers and industrial users will face natural gas prices that are much higher than they were two years ago. Higher-cost LNG will be a larger part of the energy mix, with low-cost pipeline natural gas from Russia a smaller part.

As Wrongo said recently, Russia cannot easily sell all of the natural gas that it’s not selling to Europe, because the pipelines can’t be moved overnight. And Russia has no LNG export facilities linked to its production sites. So Russia will have to cut some production at these sites and will lose the revenues associated with that lost production.

Also in the short run, Europe’s governments will struggle to balance relief for its citizens against letting energy prices rise high enough to discourage use. These governments are scrambling to find alternative sources while cutting consumption as deeply as they can. But winter is coming, and if they aren’t able to find successful workarounds, economic growth will slow, and European voters may demand that their governments drop sanctions on Russia.

That is a political problem that Russia hopes to exploit this winter.

Europe’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has exposed both its vulnerability to Russian gas, and also the poor strategic decisions that it and Germany have made over several decades: to take the cheapest, simplest solution to Europe’s growing energy needs.

Russia is hoping that it will gain some leverage in the diplomacy regarding an endgame in Ukraine and the anti-Russia sanctions regime this winter.

And like always, regardless of the outcome, no politician will be harmed while playing this game.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 12, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Harvest Moon, Cape Cod National Seashore, MA – September photo by Tom Baratz

With all of the media’s coverage of the comings and goings of the British monarchy, Wrongo’s certain that you missed the reviews of a new book, Slouching Towards Utopia by Brad DeLong, an economist from UC Berkeley. Dylan Matthews in Vox quotes DeLong from the book:

“The 140 years from 1870 to 2010 of the long twentieth century were, I strongly believe, the most consequential years of all humanity’s centuries.”

Matthews thinks it’s a bold claim. After all, homo sapiens has been around for at least 300,000 years; DeLong’s “long twentieth century” represents 0.05% of that history.

But DeLong says an incredible thing happened during that sliver of time that had eluded our species for the other 99.95% of our history: Before 1870, technological progress was glacial, but after 1870 it accelerated dramatically. More from Vox:

“DeLong reports that in 1870, an average unskilled male worker living in London could afford 5,000 calories for himself and his family on his daily wages. That was more than the 3,000 calories he could’ve afforded in 1600, a 66% increase….But by 2010, the same worker could afford 2.4 million calories a day, a nearly five hundred fold increase.”

DeLong is speaking of the nations of the rich north, not about all nations. He’s saying that food surplus was the key driver of progress. What’s implied is that the greatest difference between the wealthy and everyone else was that the poor were living on the verge of starvation. Those basic economic facts shifted once having enough to eat ceased being society’s most critical status distinction.

Another interesting statistic from the book:

“…the average number of years of a woman’s life spent either pregnant or breastfeeding…has gone down dramatically, from 20 years of a typical woman’s life in 1870 to four years today.”

Most historians present modern history as a long 19th century (from the French revolution in 1789) to the crisis of 1914. Which is then followed by a shorter 20th century ending with the fall of communism. DeLong, by contrast, argues that the period from 1870 to 2010 is best seen as a coherent whole: the first era, he argues, in which historical developments were overwhelmingly driven by economics.

From the Economist:

“…despite the Industrial Revolution…for millennia, technological improvements never yielded enough new production to outrun population growth. Incomes had stuck close to subsistence levels. Yet from around 1870, growth found a new gear, and incomes in leading economies rose to unprecedented levels, then kept climbing.”

DeLong says that economic policy in this period was a duel between the ideas of Friedrich von Hayek, who extolled the power of the free market, and Karl Polanyi, who warned that the market should serve man, not man serving the market.

Before WWI, markets generated rapid growth along with soaring inequality. People pushed back, demanding greater political rights, which they used to pursue regulation of the economy and improved social insurance.

After WWII, a mix of a market economy and a generous safety-net made for a happy marriage of Hayek and Polanyi, improved by Keynes, who said that governments should act to prevent economic recessions. This led to a three-decade post-war period of growth unmatched before or since. DeLong calls them the Thirty Glorious Years; from 1945 to 1975, as the US and Europe recovered from World War II.

But when growth sagged and inflation rose in the 1970s, voters supported politicians promising market-friendly, or “neoliberal”, economic growth reforms, like lower taxes and reduced regulation. But those reforms didn’t keep economic growth high. And they also led to even worse inequality. Still, the US and other rich countries pressed on with them, right up to the 2008 global financial crisis, which marks the end of DeLong’s 20th century.

According to a paper by Carter C. Price and Kathryn Edwards of the RAND Corporation, had the more equitable income distribution that America experienced in those thirty glorious years stayed constant, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in just the year 2018. That’s an amount equal to nearly 12% of GDP.

Price and Edwards say that the cumulative inequality cost for our 40-year experiment in government-supported income inequality added up to $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. And probably equaled $50 trillion by 2020.

That’s $50 trillion that would have made the vast majority of Americans far more healthy, resilient, and financially secure.

So, the big unanswered question is: Can we again return to a period where we see both economic growth and equitable growth? It’s highly doubtful. As DeLong says in Time:

“Our current situation: in the rich countries there is enough by any reasonable standard, and yet we are all unhappy, all earnestly seeking to discover who the enemies are who have somehow stolen our rich birthright and fed us unappetizing lentil stew instead.”

The problem here is that our entire culture, economy and even our civilization is predicated around growth and people haven’t known anything else. Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.

Time to wake up America! We need to reimagine capitalism, our taxation policies and our welfare scheme if we are to survive. Expect a rough adjustment.  To help you wake up, listen, and watch Bruce Springsteen perform “Darlington County” live in London in 2013:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 11, 2022

It’s 21 years since the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As Michael de Adder says:

Twenty one years on, America is more at war with itself than with any foreign terrorists, despite having troops deployed in 80 countries. Our society and our democracy are threatened from within in a way that Osama bin Laden could never have managed. And where are we today? Cartoonist Mike Luckovich has a thought:

If ever so briefly after that fateful day. Today we face threats that might end our democracy:

  • We’ve nearly lost our social cohesion
  • We aren’t dealing with income inequality
  • We’re seeing racism grow
  • We see clear threats to the right to vote, or whether our votes will even count if we cast them

In these 21 years, Republicans have moved from being the Party of national security to the Party of grievance and anger. As Elliot Ackerman wrote last year in Foreign Affairs:

“From Caesar’s Rome to Napoleon’s France, history shows that when a republic couples a large standing military with dysfunctional domestic politics, democracy doesn’t last long. The US today meets both conditions.”

MAGA asks the wrong question:

When you have no policies, this is what you get:

Let’s close today with a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter that she wrote back on the first anniversary of 9/11. Carpenter was inspired by an interview with Jim Horch, an ironworker who was among the early responders at the WTC site. Here’s part of what Horch said:

“My responsibility at the site was to try to remove big pieces of steel. The building fell so hard there wasn’t even concrete. It was dust….I started to feel the presence of spirits…not very long after I was there. The energy that was there was absolutely incredible and…it was more than just the people that I was working with…it was energy left behind….One day when I was working, I felt this energy and it felt lost and it wanted to go home but it didn’t know how to go home and it came to me to go to Grand Central Station. When I got off the subway, I walked into the Great Room. Into where the constellation is in the ceiling. And I walked around the perimeter and…out of the building. I didn’t feel the energy anymore. I could feel it leave.”

And here’s Carpenter’s “Grand Central Station”:

 

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Saturday Soother, QE II Edition ̶- September 10, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Wrongo isn’t a monarchist. Despite having lived in the UK in the 1970s, most of what he knows about the British royal family comes from watching “The Crown”. Wrongo remembers watching Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation in his parents’ living room on a 10” black & white Dumont TV, one of the first in our neighborhood. We were all impressed with the pomp and circumstance but truly had little frame of reference for the event.

Royalty hasn’t ever been an American tradition. But here in the most exceptional USA, we maintain a love of nepotism and low taxes, so our American betters are easily able to perpetuate their wealth and power, just like the royals.

As we should have expected, in the hours following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, a tsunami of little known royal factoids emerged. Some of them rank as too much information. Wrongo’s favorite so far is that the Queen hired an Orthodox Jewish mohel to circumcise baby Prince Charles. Apparently, the mohel was Rabbi Jacob Snowman (1871-1959).  [hat tip to blog reader Monty B.]

Looking forward, Wrongo isn’t a fan of the new UK prime minister Liz Truss. But she’s getting more than she bargained for, since the first two months of her prime ministership will be dominated by the Queen’s funeral and the media’s interest in parsing the new King’s every word and deed.

Truss now has the added challenge of being the prime minister who ushers out the second Elizabethan era and begins a new Caroline era (so named after Charles I). She will be doing it in the midst of an economic recession, a major energy crisis, and galloping inflation.

According to a poll taken by YouGov, only 12% of UK respondents think she will make a “good” or a “great” prime minister. And 34% of respondents think she will be worse than Theresa May.

Fortunately for Truss, the nation will be focusing instead on Charles III, the man who has been preparing to be King for all of his life. According to YouGov, Charles has a 42% popularity rating with his subjects, while his son William is more popular at 66%.

For years, many believed that Charles would actually predecease his mother. That led some wag on twitter to come up with the gag headline: “Queen Elizabeth Beats Prince Charles To Death.”

Charles’ wife Camilla is now what’s called the Queen Consort. The title Queen Consort means she’s a non-sovereign queen. It’s the title then-prince Charles agreed Camilla would not receive when Elizabeth II gave them permission to marry. But he eventually received her agreement to it a few years ago.

All along, Wrongo thought that a Queen Consort is where you go to hear: Bohemian Rhapsody, We will rock you, Another one bites the dust, We are the champions, Fat bottomed girls, etc.

But if they have Moet & Chandon in a pretty cabinet? Count me in!

That’s enough royal gazing. It’s time for our Saturday Soother, where we try to escape from the news and gather ourselves for the week to come. Here on the Fields of Wrong, we had a much-needed heavy rainstorm to help our plants and grass survive the current drought. Unfortunately with the weather, we lost a very large limb from a Bradford Pear tree. Nothing would do but to chainsaw it into manageable pieces and take them into the deep woods to rest.

This morning, let’s remember that Queen Elizabeth II created the UK’s modern national myth of a beloved monarch, helped by her longevity and dedication to service. She died in a remote corner of Scotland, a place she loved.

So, grab a mug of hot Bengal Spice tea and your wireless ear buds. Now take a seat in the sun and listen to “The Banks of Green Willow” by the little-known George Butterworth. It is a fine example of the English pastoral idiom, appropriate for a Queen who loved the English countryside.

Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan Williams were close friends, and you may hear similarities in their music. Butterworth was killed in 1916 in WWI during the Battle of the Somme; he was just 31.

Here it is played by the  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Grant Llewellyn. It’s the second time we’ve featured this piece. This is music that leads to private thoughts, something we all need right now:

And the pastoral images are nice!

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