China’s Population Declines

The Daily Escape:

Dune Evening Primrose, Anza-Borrego Desert SP, CA – January 2023 photo by Paulette Donnellon

From the NYT:

“The world’s most populous country has reached a pivotal moment: China’s population has begun to shrink, after a steady, years long decline in its birthrate that experts say is irreversible.”

Irreversible. It was the first time that deaths had outnumbered births in China since Mao’s Great Leap Forward.

Feng Wang, Professor of Sociology, UC Irvine agrees: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“As a scholar of Chinese demographics, I know that the figures released by Chinese government on Jan. 17, 2023…. is the onset of what is likely to be a long-term decline. By the end of the century, the Chinese population is expected to shrink by 45%, according to the United Nations. And that is under the assumption that China maintains its current fertility rate of around 1.3 children per couple, which it may not.”

China has tried different policies for years in an effort to delay this moment, first, by loosening a one-child policy and then, by offering financial incentives to encourage families to have more children. Neither policy worked. Now, facing a population decline, coupled with a continuing rise in life expectancy, China’s demographics will have consequences not just for China but possibly for the rest of us.

China’s rise as an economic powerhouse is the result of its becoming the world’s factory floor. That created the world’s largest middle class. It moved hundreds of millions of rural Chinese to urban areas and fueled the spectacular growth of its largest cities. It made China the world’s second-largest economy, and also led to the increase in life expectancy.

Both Feng Wang and the NYT worry that China’s declining population will lead to a time when China will not have enough people of working age to fuel its growth. In the short run, there will be fewer workers to generate future growth in their economy. In the longer run, the costs to maintain an aging, post-work population will become very high (like in the US).

But economies don’t stand still for long. That China has a manufacturing-oriented economy isn’t a negative but a positive in this scenario. China has been moving up the manufacturing value chain for more than 20 years. So they are in a good position to use automation to address increasing labor scarcity and (presumed) rising labor costs.

They could also encourage work after normal retirement age, even if part time, with better wages and job environments. And like other countries facing similar issues, they could encourage immigration.

The US may be closer to China’s fate than we think. The US Census says that: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The U.S. population grew at a slower rate in 2021 than in any other year since the founding of the nation….[growing by]  only 0.1%…”

It looks like we’re on a similar trajectory to China as are many other developed nations. Japan is currently dealing with it. South Korea and Taiwan are currently at a crossroads as both are facing a massive demographic crash. But, both are smaller and more economically developed than China, so they also have options. Much of Europe is looking at the same problem.

The solution would seem to be to allow immigration from the less developed world. But that comes with the likelihood that the newcomers will change our social and cultural norms.  With immigration, our norms will change, and control of the politics in each country is likely to evolve as well.

The alternative to permanent economic growth is to allow the population shrinkage to happen. It’s kind of infuriating that big business and their captured politicians fail to recognize that a shrinking population (within reason) is both essential for our future and a good thing in the long run.

It can be scary: But transitioning from an economic model based on a constant input of young, working people to one where, we create fewer jobs, can work. If we make sure that those jobs are extremely productive.

What is the end game of an ever expanding population and perpetual economic growth for the human race? The world population when Wrongo was born was about 2.3 billion. It’s 3.5 times that today. Since resources are finite, it’s an inescapable conclusion that someday we must shrink the number of people. So why not today?

Sure, we can extend the economic life of certain resources by using new technologies. But if we continue to expand the number of humans on earth, we’ll see a global war for those resources, which will be a catastrophe.

Is a commitment to low population/low economic growth even possible at this late stage of capitalism?

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Citizen Genêt

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, after 10 inches of snow, Haywood County, NC – 2023 photo by Todd Roy

Over the holidays, Wrongo read “Dr. Benjamin Rush: The Founding Father Who Healed a Wounded Nation” by Harlow Giles Unger. Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. And he was a social reformer almost before America had a unified society.

Rush treated both the poor and Blacks, even while struggling to attract paying patients. He was the first American physician to treat mental illness as a disease rather than as criminal behavior. And he served as surgeon-general of the Continental Army’s so-called Middle Department that included Pennsylvania. So he got to see Washington’s army at Valley Forge in the worst of times.

Today, let’s focus on an important moment in American history that occupies only a few pages of Unger’s book. You may have heard of Edmond-Charles (Citizen) Genêt. He became France’s ambassador to the US during George Washington’s second term.

On February 1, 1793, the French Revolutionary government ordered the execution of King Louis XVI and then declared war on Britain. Britain responded by blockading French ports and seizing American and other country’s ships heading for those ports. Britain also impressed hundreds of American seamen, forcing them to work on British ships.

France responded by blockading British ports and seizing American ships trying to deliver goods to those ports.

Americans were immediately divided into two camps, those who were outraged by the British impressing our seamen, and those who were angry at the French for killing a King who had helped us overthrow the British a dozen years earlier. Half sided with their ancestral motherland, while the other half demanded that the US support France.

Washington was among the few who espoused neutrality.

Americans increasingly defined their domestic politics either by their solidarity with the French Revolution or their aversion to it. The French Revolution served to both consolidate the two parties in American politics and deepen the ideological gulf between them.

On April 8, 1793, France’s new ambassador, Edmond-Charles Genêt arrived in Charleston with two sets of instructions: Publicly, he was offering a new treaty that would amalgamate the commercial and political interests of both nations into a “mutual nationalization of French and American citizens” (pg. 133 of Unger’s book), a kind of national alliance that would separate the US from England.

Unger says that Genêt’s secret instructions were to foment revolution and bring the US under the political control of France.

Genêt, aided by newspapers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and other cities, whipped up Francophilia among average people. Genêt said Washington was pro-British. He organized a fleet of privateers to prey on Anglo-American commerce.

Anti-federalist governors in the south saw Genêt as a means to weaken presidential power and restore the supremacy of the individual states over the national government, so they aided him. Genet soon had a fleet of 80 vessels patrolling American waters.

In the summer of 1793, Genêt wrote to the French foreign minister:

“I have prepared the revolution of New Orleans and Canada…I have destroyed the maritime commerce of the English in these waters” (pg. 134)

He then made his way towards Philadelphia to present his credentials  to Washington, gathering support from Americans along the way. Unger writes:

“…when he arrived at the outskirts of Philadelphia…500 coaches filled with ardent Francophiles waited to escort him into the city…”

Vice President John Adams described:

“…the terrorism excited by Genêt…when 10,000 people in the streets…threatened to drag Washington out of his house and effect a revolution in the government…”

Washington made plans to send his wife Martha and grandchildren to Mount Vernon and demanded that France recall Genêt. But Genêt left Philadelphia on the French flagship for New York, where more than 5,000 French sailors and marines joined welcoming NY crowds. This immediately led to violence, with Tory families fleeing the city. Genêt then went ashore to mobilize the cheering Americans, who chanted (pg. 137):

“Down with Washington…”

On August 15, 1793, Genêt was preparing to raise the French flag over New York  and proclaim that the US and Canada were French. But, no one marched in the streets supporting him, because yellow fever had struck Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Most people became afraid to leave home for fear of dying from the disease.

In a way, the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 “saved” America from a second revolution. The army had been largely mustered out, so there was little that stood in the way of Genêt’s ambitions. In the summer through the fall of 1793, 5,000 people (10% of the population) died of yellow fever in Philadelphia, and 730 died in New York. As a result, support for Genêt  crumbled.

The yellow fever epidemic continued through November, when cold weather killed off the mosquitoes. Genêt’s crew then mutinied, sailing back to France without him.

The French sent a new ambassador who arrived in December with a warrant for Genêt’s arrest and execution. But Washington wouldn’t comply. Although the French were upset, Washington allowed Genêt to stay in America, where he became an American citizen. He married Cornelia Clinton, the daughter of NY Governor George Clinton and settled on his own farm in Jamaica, Long Island.

A significant proportion of Americans have always been receptive to a charismatic leader with bad intentions, like Genêt. In early American history, just as now, people responded to crisis not by uniting, but by doubling down on factionalism.

These things are still true today. Think about the factionalism surrounding Covid that killed many that shouldn’t have died. While, back then, perhaps the Republic was saved by an epidemic.

Think about the mob who tried to overthrow our elected government on Jan. 6. Their Genêt still lives with us.

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Monday Wake Up Call, MLK Jr Day – January 16, 2023

The Daily Escape:

It’s MLK day, so let’s talk about a topic that was near to his heart: economic inequality. Since 1980, economic inequality has been increasing between the top 1% and the bottom 90% of Americans. It’s become so great that today, America now faces the same level of economic inequality that existed before the Great Depression.

Here’s a chart from Elise Gould and Jori Sandra of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) showing the percentage change in annual wages by income group for the last 40 years:

From the EPI article: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The level of earnings inequality that existed in 1979 could have simply continued…to today. Instead, we have seen a growing concentration of earnings at the…very top of the earnings distribution, while the bottom 90% has experienced meager gains. Wages for the top 1% grew more than seven times fast as wages for the bottom 90% between 1979 and 2021. The top 1% now amasses a record share of total earnings, while the bottom 90% share of earnings has hit a historic low.”

Slow growth in real (inflation-adjusted) hourly wages for the vast majority of workers has been a defining feature of the US labor market for most of the last 40 years. Only for about 10 years after 1979 did workers see consistent positive wage growth: in the tight labor market of the late 1990s and in the five years prior to the pre-pandemic labor market peak in 2019.

While some low-wage workers have experienced high wage gains after America reopened from Covid, the truth is that most haven’t even kept pace with where they were in 1979.

Today is Martin Luther King Day in America. We mostly celebrate Dr. King’s birth rather than acknowledging what he was arguing for when he was killed. His focus at the end was on both economic justice, and voting rights. Perhaps more than any other leader in American history, King could see the different strands of political and social injustice. He was able to tie them together to form a coherent narrative, one that was capable of leveraging dissent for concrete policy change.

Those were the enduring lessons of Dr. King’s life.

There’s less than three months between the observance of King’s birthday and his death. The way each is recognized by politicians reveals the contradictions in his legacy. Most politicians extol the virtues of racial equality, while most ignore King’s criticisms of economic injustice.

From his April 30th speech in Atlanta: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

“A true revolution of values will…look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, ‘This is not just’…this business of…injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane….cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense
than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death
.”

As the EPI report above shows, over the last four decades, policies promoted by the GOP have reduced the opportunities for most workers to achieve wage growth at rate similar to the top 10%.

Time to wake up America! Develop your narrative, one that fights against economic injustice and for voting rights. Add any other issues that are pertinent to you. Take your narrative to your neighbors. Then work to get out the vote.

To help you wake up, watch “People Get Ready”, a Curtis Mayfield tune that foretold the turning tide in the battle for racial equality. It topped the R&B charts after its 1965 release by The Impressions. It’s been covered by scores of artists, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and by Rod Stewart and the late Jeff Beck, who died last week. Early in their careers, in 1969, Beck and Stewart performed together in the Jeff Beck Group. Here’s Beck’s official music video for “People Get Ready” featuring Rod Stewart:

Jeff Beck was one of one as a guitarist. There was no one better. He had the mindset of a jazz musician playing blues rock. His guitar sound wasn’t anything like traditional jazz guitar. He didn’t cut his teeth playing the old jazz standards, but he could improvise something fresh every time. OTOH, Wrongo didn’t love Beck the recording artist.

Rod Stewart has a secret hobby; he builds model trains. He would take his trains on tour with him, requesting an extra room so he could work on them while staying in hotels. Stewart recently unveiled his 1,500 square-foot replica of post-war Chicago and New York railway systems that took him 23 years to build.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 15, 2023

With all of the false equivalency about secret documents that mysteriously travel outside their protected locations, you can be forgiven for not hearing about the antics in Missouri’s state legislature. From the WaPo:

“The Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives used its session’s opening day Wednesday to tighten the dress code for female legislators, while leaving the men’s dress code alone.”

The state’s House-approved bill requires women’s arms to be concealed. Missouri wouldn’t force its citizens to wear masks during Covid – even with lives at risk. But Missouri is forcing women to wear long sleeves instead of going sleeveless, something that endangers no one.

Imagine if Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) was instead a member of the Missouri House. He would finally have to roll his sleeves down and put on a jacket.

Republican legislators need to become enraged to go to work — not perturbed, not irritated, not annoyed, but furious — and it’s always a made-up crisis and always someone else’s fault, most likely a Democrat’s. Take your pick: Drag queen story hour. Pedophiles in pizza parlors. Genderless potato head toys. Migrant caravans. M&M’s in a lesbian relationship. Trans takeover of sports and bathrooms. Critical Race Theory. Antifa mobs dressing up like MAGAs and attacking the Capitol. Jewish space lasers starting forest fires. Dems are coming for your gas stoves. And so, so many more. On to cartoons.

Joe’s garage finds a problem:

MAGAs want more:

Didn’t we seen this before?

And Trump’s crowds were bigger:

Santos, if that’s really your name, we have a job for you:

Spare:

It takes courage to speak about things that we’re traumatized into not speaking about. What surprises Wrongo most about this is the lack of empathy or understanding he sees by Americans toward Harry as a young boy who, as a 12 year-old had to perform as an adult at his mother’s funeral.

Now he is an adult, a husband and father. So many people in the US have scorn for him. Why does he have to dump all of this on us? Why doesn’t he simply get on with his life rather than telling this story over and over on Oprah, 60 Minutes, and in his book?

Wrongo has watched the Netflix documentary. He will not read the book. But it’s evident that Harry’s rage, and his grief, remain. He’s still trying to make sense of what happened to him after his mother died. While his Royal family may have moved on, he hasn’t.

Worse yet, he’s a male. Western society isn’t tolerant of males who show vulnerability or confusion as an adult. Worse, his own family’s expectations are to simply soldier on.

America likes big stories of family dysfunction, and we sure have a good one in the long-lived soap opera called the British Royals.

Harry deserves closure and happiness. He stood up for his wife and kids. His birth “family” treated him horribly. He’s written his book, and he may make a ton of money off it. Why should any of that make Americans angry?

 

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Saturday Soother – January 14, 2023

The Daily Escape:

A view from Shenandoah NP near Keezletown, VA – January 1, 2023 photo by One Man’s Outdoor Journey

Wrongo and Ms. Right live far enough out in the country that we have no city water, sewer, or gas lines. But the cooktop in our recently remodeled kitchen runs on propane while our ovens are electric. We have a well and septic. Our hot water is made by propane as well.

So what are we supposed to make of this week’s controversy over the Biden administration’s Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) possibly banning future sales of natural gas stoves and cooktops? The reason for this is that burning gas stoves put their partially burned fuel, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air, which causes asthma. And older stoves with pilot lights instead of electric igniters also push NO2 into the air.

On Monday, Bloomberg reported that the CPSC was considering new regulations around gas stoves, given growing concerns over indoor pollutants. Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. said:

“Any option is on the table….Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

The proposal by the CPSC followed a December study by scientists finding that gas ranges that burn natural gas account for almost 13% of childhood-asthma cases in the US. Advocates have long argued against gas stoves, saying the pollution they emit makes them inferior to other options, such as electric or induction ranges. But the asthma statistic breathed new life into the debate.

OK, Wrongo knows the difference between propane and natural gas, but when he first heard about the debate, it was unclear whether his gas of choice was also a health problem and had to die.

Bloomberg neglected to say that any CPSC regulations, like other proposed state and local-level bans of gas stoves, only applies to new construction. But that didn’t keep Republicans from evoking visions of a 2023 filled with government agents busting down doors and ripping out stoves. That tentative regulation conversation about how to best mitigate the health hazards of gas stoves morphed into a Right Wing campaign to convince Real Americans that the Government is coming for their gas stoves:

Rep. Ronny Jackson, (R-TX) tweeted:

“If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands,”

From Sen. Tom Cotton,(R-AK):

“Democrats are coming for your kitchen appliances,”

From Rep. Byron Donalds, (R-FL):

“Get your hands off our gas stoves!!!!”

From Rep. Jim Jordan,(R-OH):

“God. Guns. Gas stoves.”

God, Guns, and Gas stoves! All because one appointee in the administration discussed it. But this controversy isn’t about facts; like always, it’s about feelings. Over 30 years ago, the Clean Energy Act was easily renewed on a bipartisan basis. Since then, the environment has become part of the culture wars.

The reflex to position gas stoves as the last redoubt of traditional American life threatened by big government, is just stereotypical of the American Right wing. It’s difficult to see the fight about gas stoves as something that will move the needle since gas is far more common in cities and blue states. So, let the Republicans keep on cooking up the outrage du jour. It’s doubtful that the voters will be eating it up.

Remember their past freak-outs, like when former Rep. Michele Bachmann tried to build a political career around preserving incandescent light bulbs? Another useless freak-out.

In retrospect, it’s honestly shocking we were able in 1975 to ban leaded gasoline in America, although there were lots of dissenters at the time. And now, since we’ve gotten all their guns, it only makes sense that Democrats go after their gas stoves.

Let’s leave these partisan debates in the kitchen where they belong and embrace our Saturday Soother, that special time when we stop thinking about Biden’s secret document stash, or why Jim Jordan dresses like a gym teacher, and spend a few minutes contemplating nearly nothing.

Start by brewing up a big mug of Wilton Benitez Orange Bourbon ($19.00/8 oz.) from Wisconsin’s JBC Coffee Roasters. Apparently the coffee cherries for this variant turn orange when they ripen rather than the typical red and tend to be even more fruity than their red counterparts. The roaster says it is super creamy with flavors of candied ginger, pineapple, and cream soda.

Now grab a seat by a south-facing window to watch and listen to “Fandango” from the Guitar Quintet in D-major, G.448 by Boccherini, performed live in 2015 at the Schubertiade in Hohenems, Austria. Boccherini was an Italian composer and cellist who died in 1805. A fandango is a Spanish dance:

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Could A Discharge Petition Force The House To Vote On A Debt Ceiling?

The Daily Escape:

Cold morning on the Snake River, Grand Teton NP, WY – January 2023 photo by Laura Phelps Sundria

We haven’t written about discharge petitions in a few years. But with the likely control of much of the House’s agenda by the Freedom Caucus, they may become important. From the WSJ:

“Democrats and some centrist Republicans are in early, informal conversations about dusting off a rarely used parliamentary procedure that could force a vote to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, ahead of a showdown in coming months over government spending. The process, known as a discharge petition, requires 218 signatures, regardless of party—a majority of the House—to dislodge a bill from committee and move it to the floor.”

The tactic is seen as a way to potentially circumvent efforts by House GOP leadership and the Freedom Caucus to block a debt-ceiling increase. Congress must raise the debt ceiling to allow the Treasury Department to issue more debt to pay for existing US government financial obligations. At stake is the government’s creditworthiness, which also undergirds much of both the American and global financial system.

A default or even the expectation of a default on the US debt, could trigger a lowering of the US credit rating, raising our government’s borrowing costs for years. It could also bring financial panic or tip the economy into a recession. More from the WSJ:

“…McCarthy reiterated Tuesday he wants to use the debt ceiling as leverage to cut spending. ‘This is our moment to change the behavior to make sure, that hardworking taxpayer, that we’re not wasting their money,’ he said on Fox News.”

Playing politics with the debt limit is stupid. Hold that thought and read this from Ryan Grim at the Intercept: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“When the House Republicans enacted new rules for the 118th Congress on Monday [they included a rule] that preserves the traditional right of rank-and-file members of Congress to bypass House leadership and put legislation on the floor directly if they obtain the signatures of a majority of the chamber. This opens a handful of legislative opportunities for Democrats, despite Republican ideological cohesion.”

He means a discharge petition. Normally, the House Majority Leader sets the floor schedule, in collaboration with the House Rules Committee, but a discharge petition can automatically pull a bill from committee and move it to the floor. Since Democrats currently hold 212 seats in the 118th Congress (one is vacant), if they can find six Republican votes, they could bring a bill to the floor. For most of the Democrats’ agenda, six opposition votes might be a high hill to climb.

But a discharge petition to raise the debt ceiling is one tool that could work. It would give any like-minded Republicans a route around their own leadership and could be the way the House votes to avert a financial crisis (assuming Democrats could find six Republicans who are unwilling to risk a US government debt default).

That may be possible since there are 18 House Republicans who were elected last fall in districts Biden won in 2020.

If a discharge petition is to be used as a workaround for the looming debt crisis, Democrats would have to move fairly quickly. The rules to bring a bill to the floor of the House require that first, the bill would have to be introduced and referred to committee, according to House rules and precedents. Then 30 legislative days have to pass. A legislative day is one in which the House is in session and then adjourns.

If 218 signatures are collected, an additional seven legislative days need to pass, at which point a motion to discharge the bill would come to the floor on either the second or fourth Monday of the month.

Any motion to discharge filed in February or March ought to be ready for a floor vote by summer. Although the Treasury Department hasn’t given an exact date when default will occur, the expectation is that it will occur in the summer.

Discharge petitions have been successful in the past. It has played a role in shaking loose some historic pieces of legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Equal Rights Amendment in 1970. More recently, a successful petition in 2015 reauthorized the Export-Import Bank, which the Republican House majority adamantly opposed.

We’ll see if McCarthy will stand up to his cobbled together majority and bring a clean debt limit bill to the floor. If not, we’ll see if there are at least six Republicans in the House who have backbones and love their country.

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Biden’s Secret Documents Problem

The Daily Escape:

Spokane in fog, Spokane, WA – January 2023 photo by James Richman Photography

Seems like Biden has handed a present to Trump and the MAGAs by taking some classified documents with him when he left the vice presidency. Republicans pounced on Biden’s gift. Others on the left are working hard to underscore how this situation is different from the investigation into Trump’s handling of classified information after he left office. CNN breaks down the differences for us:

It’s true that there are differences. When the documents were discovered in November by Biden’s attorneys in files at his former offices at Penn Biden, they were turned over the next day to the National Archives (NARA), the responsible party. NARA then made a referral to the FBI, and Merrick Garland asked a Trump-appointed prosecutor, John R. Lausch, one of the two remaining Trump US Attorney appointees to investigate the breach.

Biden’s was the textbook method that’s followed when misplaced classified documents are found. Are you surprised that Biden kept two Trump-appointed US Attorneys? Wrongo was.

In Biden’s case, there wasn’t an earlier request from NARA that was ignored, and no search warrant was required. No lawyers erroneously or dishonestly vouched that Biden was not in possession of classified documents, and there was no effort to obstruct justice.

But the question of how these documents found their way to Biden’s private office once he became a private citizen needs to be investigated. Among the purposes for getting to the bottom of this is that our laws require that classified documents must be under continuous control.

Back in the day when Wrongo had a TS clearance, someone who took a secret document from its filing place signed for it. And if/when a document changed hands, you got a receipt from the next person to prove they had it and not you. And heaven help you if you lost the receipt.

It should be a simple task to follow the chain of custody on the ten documents that were found in Biden’s old office, back to who signed them out. We may learn that it was one of his staffers who took them during the transition period before Biden was inaugurated.

This could become a serious issue if someone was found to have intentionally taken documents with them when they left the White House. Whoever took the documents should be accountable for this mistake, just as Trump should be accountable for mishandling the classified information he brought to Mar-a-Lago.

There’s no reason to excuse Biden for this. Apparently, we need a much better system for controlling classified documents when one administration transitions to another. What’s similar in both cases is that classified information was packed up along with personal items. In Biden’s case, that included documents related to his son Beau Biden’s funeral.

To Democrats, Biden’s slip up may be understandable. And if Trump had apologized for his sloppiness, and most important, cooperated in solving the problem, maybe he wouldn’t be in the trouble he’s in today.

However things shake out legally for Biden or Trump, neither Party should want our nation’s secrets to be insecure. That means we need a new process for inventorying and returning classified materials when they are signed out. But no process will work correctly when the outgoing president refuses to concede the election and instead attempts to launch a coup.

Politically, this looks like it could become a political nightmare, both for Biden and for AG Merrick Garland. Will it damage the document theft case that the DOJ has against Trump? That’s the easiest case for the DOJ to prosecute and win vs. Trump.

We can count on the Republican-controlled House to try to make the Biden document slip up the equivalent to Trump’s legal bind. OTOH, a Republican committee going after Biden on classified documents requires them to acknowledge that what Trump did was wrong, which they have refused to do.

This sets us up for 24 months of political theater. It will look similar to the 2015 Hillary Clinton Benghazi hearings held by many Republican-led House committees. Back then, there were eight Congressional investigations into the Benghazi attacks. The House Select Committee alone spent over 17 months investigating. That was longer than the Watergate hearings.

Listening to these bad faith trolls for the next two years will be exhausting. We know that the various committees that will investigate this are really designed to generate GOP propaganda. They will put the DOJ in a position where they will have to resist giving the committee answers. And on Fox this’ll become screams of “cover up”.

If there is criminal wrong-doing on Biden’s part, you can bet that the Trump-appointed DOJ attorney Lausch will find it. If Lausch doesn’t find any criminal wrong-doing, then we can be fairly sure none took place.

Buckle up.

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A MAGA Idea Wrongo Supports

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Tucson, AZ – January 2023 photo by Leila Shehab

Sometimes your worst political enemies are on the same page with you. Axios reports that a:

“…threat of cuts to US defense spending has emerged as a flashpoint in House Republicans’ first week in the majority, widening the GOP’s isolationist fault line and exposing the fragility of Kevin McCarthy’s young speakership.”

The backstory here is that according to Bloomberg, among the concessions new House Speaker McCarthy made to secure the job was to agree to vote on a budget framework that caps 2024 discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels. Unless the Pentagon is exempted, that could result in a $75 billion drop in defense spending:

“National defense spending, which primarily funds the Pentagon, was about $782 billion in fiscal 2022 and rose $75 billion to $857 billion in fiscal 2023.”

The deal that McCarthy has apparently agreed to would have the House commit to passing bills that would cap all discretionary spending at fiscal year 2022 levels, or roughly $1.47 trillion.

But one of the big wins for Senate Republicans in last year’s budget talks was a bigger defense budget. Sen. McConnell might want to check in with the House MAGA Republicans, since they’re going in the opposite direction.

Wrongo agrees that the idea of cutting $75-$100 billion (or more) from the Pentagon should be up for discussion. Consider that in 2021, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a study that outlined three options for saving over $1 trillion in Pentagon spending over the next ten years without damaging our defense capabilities.

All three options involved cutting the size of the armed forces, avoiding large boots-on-the-ground wars like Iraq and Afghanistan, and relying on allies to do more in their own defense.

Wrongo wrote about the 2021 CBO study here. The CBO report put the potential cut in historical perspective: A $1 trillion cut (14%) over a decade would be far smaller than the cuts to America’s military spending in 1988-1997 (30%), and the 25% cut we had in 2010-2015.

A $1 trillion saving isn’t chump change. Those funds could be used to prevent future pandemics, address climate change, or reduce economic injustice. These are all pressing American problems.

The MAGA’s ideas on defense spending cuts might find support from a few progressives in Congress, including Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Mark Pocan (D-WI), who pitched a $100 billion haircut for the DoD earlier this year. But this year’s Pentagon budget boost easily passed both the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis.

Both Republican and Democratic House war hawks will resist the idea of cutting defense spending. Some will cite the defense of Ukraine, which will only account for $45 billion of military spending in the coming year. Some will mention Taiwan, citing China’s aggressive military stance toward the island nation.

But how about developing a clear global military strategy along with the willingness to carry it out? Instead of simply talking about how many dollars we should spend.

And the CBO’s proposed strategic shifts don’t account for what could be saved by streamlining the Pentagon by reducing its cadre of over half a million private contractors, many of whom perform tasks at prices higher than it would cost to do the same work with government employees.

The likely outcome is that House Republicans will fail to cut defense spending while sticking to their plan of holding the 2024 discretionary spending flat. So Republicans will focus on social spending to reduce the fiscal 2024 budget to 2022 levels. But if you ask Americans what spending they want to see cut, they will never say that we ought to cut people’s retirement security.

Wrongo has little hope that this 118th Congress will work to solve the three great problems that face America: Our revenue problem, our social spending/cost inflation problem, and our defense spending problem. As Jennifer Rubin says in the WaPo:

“The danger for the GOP has always been that a short stint in irresponsible governance will wake up the electorate to their manifest unfitness, thereby dooming the party’s chances in 2024. The danger for the country is that, in the meantime, the MAGA extremists will do permanent damage to the U.S. economy and national security.”

The hard Right MAGAs and the anti-democracy Republican Party must be made into a permanent minority, as it was during the Roosevelt years, and for decades thereafter.

The battle for 2024 starts now.

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 9, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Kennebunk, ME – January 2023 photo by Eric Storm Photography

Buried in the McCarthy debacle last week was some good news on the abortion front. From the NYT:

“For the first time, retail pharmacies, from corner drugstores to major chains like CVS and Walgreens, will be allowed to offer abortion pills in the United States under a regulatory change made Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration.”

The online magazine STAT asked an interesting question: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“When the Food and Drug Administration lifted some — but not all — of its restrictions on an abortion pill this week, it raised questions about why these rules were there in the first place. Mifepristone, the drug in question, has been used by over 3.7 million Americans to end early pregnancies since its approval in 2000, is more than 97% effective, tends to have only mild side effects such as cramping, with severe ones occurring in fewer than 0.5% of patients. So why was it on a list of prescription drugs requiring extra precautions and red tape, alongside opioid painkillers?”

More from STAT:

“Many reproductive rights advocates celebrated the change. But to others, the agency hadn’t gone far enough. Having the drug on a list of medicines that require a risk mitigation strategy gives the false impression that it’s dangerous, they argue. To them, it should be treated like any other pharmaceutical that’s been proven safe and effective.”

That might help to ensure greater access at a time when some states have banned it.

Mifepristone pills are already used for more than half of pregnancy terminations in the US. There has been growing demand for them since the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, the 50-year old federal right to abortion.

With Conservative states moving quickly to ban or sharply restrict abortion, these pills have become the focus of political and legal battles, all of which can influence whether an individual pharmacy will dispense the medication.

The availability of mifepristone through pharmacies will probably vary depending upon location. Deep Red areas will probably have fewer pharmacies willing to dispense it – a combination of more pharmacists exercising their right to substitute their morality for a woman’s, and a fear by the pharmacy of negative consequences ranging from boycotts to fire bombings.

Abortion pills are only a small percentage of any pharmacy’s sales, but they could have a big impact on its public profile. Such calculations will influence a pharmacy’s decision, as will the fact that in about half of the US states, abortion bans or restrictions would make it illegal or very difficult for pharmacies to provide abortion pills.

So, yes, this is a positive development, but it won’t be a panacea: Some Republican-allied group will soon start a court battle to try to reverse the FDA’s policy. Eventually, it will come before the six Christian justices on the Supreme Court. This is a battle for civil rights. It needs to be fought on every level from local to federal, and every incremental victory matters.

We can’t let what may happen down the road prevent us from celebrating a win. The Republicans and the Conservative movement aren’t omnipotent gods. We still live in a world where working, fighting, and voting can make a difference.

Consider this: The Republican’s House majority is due to just 6,670 votes out of 107 million cast, says Inside Elections, a nonpartisan publication. That means every vote cast in 2022 mattered. And if a few more in the right places had been cast, it could have made a generational difference.

Time to wake up America! Every year that American women can continue to access abortion, (chemical or otherwise) matters. Every effort to stem the tide of the many actions that are threatening our civil liberties matter. All of this says we still have the power to change America for the better.

To help you wake up, listen to John Mayer perform his 2006 Grammy-winning hit, “Waiting on the World to Change” from his third studio album, Continuum. The song is kind of an apologia for Gen Y’s well-documented apathy, but even that has changed quite a bit in the 17 years since it was written:

Sample of lyrics:

Me and all my friends
We’re all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There’s no way we ever could
Now we see everything that’s going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means
To rise above and beat it

[Chorus] And we’re still waiting (Waiting)
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting (Waiting)
Waiting on the world to change
One day our generation Is gonna rule the population
So we keep on waiting (Waiting)
Waiting on the world to change

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 8, 2023

On the fifteenth ballot of the new year, the House finally selected Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), as its new Speaker. What ended the impasse? In addition to the list of “concessions” that we know about, what other promises did McCarthy make to Freedom Caucus?

When selecting a new Speaker, the House operates more like a parliamentary system than America is used to or expects. When the Party in power has a slim majority, and if there is contention within that Party, coalitions must be built, promises are made, and concessions are extracted.

It seems that McCarthy relinquished all the power and authority of the office in order to win the title of Speaker. But a weak Speaker leading a fractured caucus is actually dangerous. The Republican House can frustrate Biden’s legislative agenda. It can conduct endless oversight hearings and investigations. It can restrict government spending.

When you look at the demands of the 20 anti-McCarthy holdouts and consider what he conceded to them, the next two years will be fractious. Over the past four days, they made demands in four areas. First, they object to funding Ukraine. They also object to the size of the omnibus spending bill that passed at the end of the last Congress. Third, they don’t want the US debt ceiling extended. Lastly, they want to hold investigations. Many investigations.

Since the bill funding Ukraine and the omnibus spending bill passed with bi-partisan support in both Houses, any action they try to take on those two are likely to fail. But they have the right to investigate anything and everything, so we need to be prepared for that.

The debt ceiling is a problem. There will be bi-partisan support in both Houses for increasing it, but McCarthy will control whether a clean debt ceiling increase ever gets to the House floor for a vote. There will be a bi-partisan group of House members to support that bill, but if McCarthy goes to Democrats for the needed votes to pass a debt ceiling increase, the anti-McCarthy faction will attempt to remove him from the Speaker position.

It’s very possible that McCarthy will be successfully deposed if Democrats aren’t inclined to save him. It was this kind of behavior that convinced John Boehner to retire.

McCarthy almost certainly made concessions about Ukraine and the debt ceiling and government spending in order to win the job. He will either break these promises, or he’ll lead the country to financial ruin. Or the moderates in the House GOP will try to kick him out. The Republicans have a majority but it’s not a functional one. On to cartoons.

McCarthy’s headaches are just beginning:

He’s a weak GOP Speaker, not a Pope:

It’s way past time for the GOP to hit the target:

Last week was deja vu of Jan 6 two years ago:

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