Saturday Soother – Super Bowl Edition, February 12, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Owens River, east of Big Pine, CA – 2022 photo by Brian Joliffe

Tomorrow brings the Super Bowl, an American cultural icon that transcends football. Even people who don’t watch football watch the Super Bowl. Advertising executives know that it is the one time each year when most Americans are tuned into one show at the same time, across most forms of media.

It’s watched by roughly 100 million viewers. Given the fragmentation of our media, it’s a huge number of eyeballs to find in one place. That’s why Super Bowl commercials cost so much. NBC, broadcaster of this year’s game, sold out all of its Super Bowl ad space for $7 million per 30 second spot.

And though it may only last for a short time, this is the first time in 22 years that the Super Bowl will be played when the country is not officially at war.

On Sunday, the Super Bowl halftime show will be a celebration of hip hop, featuring Los Angeles rap heroes Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar. That places hip hop firmly at the center of the Super Bowl for the first time. The show will also star Eminem and Mary J. Blige.

Depending on who you ask, that’s either one of the greatest classic hip-hop lineups ever assembled, or way too much lineup for a show that only lasts for about 13 minutes, less than 3 minutes per artist.

This isn’t the first time the Super Bowl has included rap music. But it’s had a rocky path to headliner status. Headlining this year’s event comes at a time when the NFL is again confronting issues regarding its tin ear about race.

Since 2016, when the quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police killings of Black people, the league has faced questions about its commitment to diversity and social justice. Brian Flores, a Black NFL head coach who was fired last month, sued the league, claiming he and others had been discriminated against during various teams’ hiring processes.

This year, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are taking the NFL in a different direction, and that may be the idea. The NYT quotes Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, who headlined the show in 2011:

“At one point, Dre was in a group that was banned by popular culture,”

Will.i.am is referring to Dr. Dre’s gangster rap group NWA, widely considered in the late 1980s to be one of the greatest and most influential groups in the history of hip hop music. Their music had explicit lyrics, and many viewed NWA as misogynistic. They also glorified drugs and crime.

Their work was banned from many mainstream American radio stations. In spite of this, the group has sold over 10 million albums in the US. Wrongo’s favorite NWA cut is “Fuck Tha Police” from their 1988 album “Straight Outta Compton”. You should take a listen, but don’t hate on Wrongo if you despise it.

That the NFL has now turned to these formerly controversial figures, makes it seem as if we’ve moved far from White America’s pearl-clutching days of Janet Jackson’s 2004 wardrobe malfunction. Or from M.I.A.’s middle finger in 2012, or Beyoncé’s nod to the Black Panthers in 2016.

Or maybe we haven’t moved on. But right now, the league needs to embrace Black music and culture to help shore up its badly damaged community bona fides.

And there’s the open secret: The NFL, a fabulously wealthy sports league whose least valuable team is worth more than $2 billion, doesn’t pay its Super Bowl performers. They consider their halftime show to be music’s ultimate for-exposure gig. But how much is that exposure worth when multiple performers are competing for just 13 minutes of attention?

On to our Saturday Soother. Weather is positively spring-like in Connecticut, so Wrongo will venture outside for some way-too-early spring cleanup. After that we have a family party followed by making turkey chili and queso con chorizo for Sunday’s extravaganza.

It’s time for you to forget about Trump’s missing call logs from Jan. 6, and grab a seat by a window. Now, plug in your Bluetooth headphones and listen to John Williams, who turned 90 this week. Here’s his “Cowboys Overture” from the 1972 film, “The Cowboys” starring John Wayne.

It’s played live in 2020 by the Film Symphony Orchestra, Spain’s first orchestra specializing in cinematic music:

While you listen, to this mythical view of the west, do you hear echoes of Aaron Copeland?

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Are Freedom and Democracy Still Compatible in America?

The Daily Escape:

Henniker Covered Bridge, Henniker, NH – February 2022 photo by Jurgen Roth Photography. It is a footbridge across the Contoocook River.

Trucker anger is coming to America. From Politico:

“Canada’s truckers have paralyzed Ottawa and unsettled the country’s politics over vaccine and mask mandates. Now Americans want in on the action. A nationwide convoy — starting in California before heading toward Washington, D.C. — is expected to get underway on March 4 amid a growing clamor from those who believe their freedoms are under threat from government Covid-19 restrictions.”

The trucker protests in Canada seem to have become a rallying point for those who are irate about what they view as Covid-inspired overreach by their governments. Momentum seems to be building for a similar convoy in the US. The NYT reports that:

“…several right-wing figures, including Dan Bongino, Michael Flynn and Ben Shapiro, have promoted the protest and shared links to fund-raising sites that have collected millions of dollars. American anti-vaccine groups have also begun forming local wings of the movement and have urged truckers in the United States to adopt the tactics in Canada.”

The US organizers are now calling it “the People’s Convoy“. They have formed Telegram encrypted channels to use for building support in multiple states. The group says it’s working with two other groups: Freedom Fighter Nation and Restore Liberty, whose founders are closely tied to right wing politics. They include Leigh Dundas, founder of the Freedom Fighter Nation. She gave a speech in DC on the eve of the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill insurrection, claiming it would be “within our rights” to murder “alleged American turncoats” who interfered with the 2020 election.

She seems nice.

Trucker protest convoys have become a rallying cry for far-right and anti-vaccine groups around the world. They seem to be gathering strength from growing Covid fatigue, something that is nearly universal in the developed world.

Their message is that “government has been overreaching for too long, and we’re not going to take it anymore”. They’re expressing an old, bad idea: That individual freedom cannot be limited by government.

Let’s spend a minute on whether freedom and democracy are compatible. “Freedom” normally means freedom of the individual while democracy is a communitarian concept. Democracy is a system of government while freedom is about either not being governed or being governed as lightly as possible.

But a society without democracy would be autocracy or worse. With no government, it would be anarchy. And a society without freedom couldn’t possibly be a democracy. So maybe the question isn’t whether they are compatible, but whether each is a co-requisite for the other to exist.

Elizabeth Anker in the NYT opined on the changing nature of the language of freedom, saying that many political actors are using the concept of freedom to justify anti-democratic politics. She calls them the “ugly freedoms”. In American politics they increasingly justify minority rule, prejudice, and anti-democratic governance. And their popularity is growing.

This is highly relevant to the impending trucker convoys and how we think about “free speech” and the rights of non-experts to try and force their opinions on the majority. Perhaps the alternative to the ugly freedoms should be our beautiful freedoms, like the Bill of Rights, or the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A third of Americans make up their own facts, so we’re bound to hear a few lies expresed as truth. These same people believe they don’t have to consider what’s happening in their communities. They think opinions are equal to facts. They get angry enough to threaten violence or to commit violence.

Many of them, despite outward tough guy appearances, are simply too soft mentally and emotionally. Life can often be harder than we want it to be. Sometimes, you’ve got to do what’s good for society, not just what’s good for you.

OTOH, these trucker rallies could conceivably draw support from others who are angry at governments at all levels. Think about restaurant workers, first responders and all of the “essential’ employees who have been unevenly impacted by Covid.

Think of it as the laptop workers vs. those who have to leave the house to earn a living. They each have experienced Covid and the jobs crash in far different ways. If the trucker protest casts a wide net, it will rope in small business owners and parents who are angry that their children have lost so much when schools were closed.

There’s plenty of anger fermenting out there.

Going back to Wrongo’s US Army days, you weren’t required to like everyone in your platoon, but duty demanded you bear the responsibility of fighting beside and for them. That was considered patriotic. Once we had the ability to pull together and sacrifice in the midst of national crisis. Now it’s everyone for themselves.

On Jan. 6, the right of free speech produced lies that led people to commit federal crimes. That’s the downside of the Bill of Rights: An individual has a protected right to lie to the public. We see many career politicians and social media entrepreneurs lie every day.

Assuming that there are protests in the US in coming weeks, Biden will face the same dilemma as Canada’s Prime Minster Trudeau faces now. Will Biden demonize the truckers? Will he listen to their grievances?

The shift of emphasis in America from an expanding democracy with protected individual rights/freedoms to an ad hoc (and sometimes illogical) version of freedom is what may create a failed American state.

It’s a movement that’s long on energy, and short on facts and judgment.

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Republicans Double Down on The Coup

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Camden Harbor, ME – February 2022 photo by Daniel F. Dishner

(For email subscribers: Below in this email is a link to Monday’s Wake Up Call. It wasn’t sent on Monday morning)

 “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking,” ̶  Gen. George S. Patton

Last Friday, the Republican National Committee (RNC) passed a resolution that claimed that the House Select Committee was seeking to punish ordinary people for engaging in “legitimate political discourse.” This came days after Trump suggested that, if re-elected in 2024, he would consider pardons for those convicted in the Jan. 6 attack. He also said that his goal on Jan. 6 was to “overturn” the election results.

From MSNBC:

“The Republican National Committee on Friday approved an astounding resolution that…condoned the attack on the US Capitol last year. In doing so, it’s given up any pretense that the party stands in opposition to the violence that then-President Donald Trump inspired.”

As Robert Hubbell says in his newsletter:

“The RNC resolution illustrates the death grip Trump has on the GOP….Trump’s repeated insistence that Mike Pence could have awarded the election to Trump finally provoked Pence to declare that “Trump is wrong”….Pence’s statement provoked a vigorous defense of Trump from Matt Gaetz, Steve Bannon, and Roger Stone—a rogues gallery of felons, targets of grand jury investigations, and recipients of presidential pardons.”

The RNC resolution included this:

“WHEREAS, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse, and they are both utilizing their past professed political affiliation to mask Democrat abuse of prosecutorial power for partisan purposes…”

So, Republicans think that what the insurrectionists did by bashing in cops’ brains with flag poles is legitimate political discourse? Smearing feces on the walls of Congress was legitimate political discourse?

CNN quoted a Republican who said the resolution was “watered down” because it didn’t demand that Kinzinger and Cheney be expelled from the GOP. That says what passed is the GOP version of a more moderate resolution supporting the coup.

That phrase “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse” goes beyond just defending Trump or faulting Cheney and Kinzinger for defying the Party. It sanctions the actions of insurrectionists who wanted to overturn a legitimate election.

The resolution shows that the RNC (and therefore most Republicans) have effectively joined the insurrectionists. The important thing is that it wouldn’t matter what their intent was. The Republican Party is whitewashing the riot:

  • We know that the Right-wing media continues to spread misinformation about Jan 6.
  • We know that those arrested for participating in the Jan. 6 violence are getting sympathetic responses from many Republicans.
  • We know that for the overwhelming majority of elected Republicans, the only thing they truly regret about 1/6 is that it failed.

This means that Republican candidates will have to campaign in the 2022 mid-terms by supporting violent insurrection and a failed coup. That will appeal to most Republicans, but on its face, it will repel the strong majority of Democrats and Independent voters.

Speaking of the mid-terms, let’s spend a few words on Liz Cheney. Had you said a few years ago that the straight daughter of Dick Cheney would become a pariah in the Republican Party in 2022, you would have been laughed off your bar stool.

What kind of a world do we live in when Liz Cheney isn’t evil enough for the Republican Party?

Cheney’s Congressional seat is important: If the next presidential election were to be decided by the House of Representatives, each state would get a single vote. If Cheney was Wyoming’s sole Representative, she would have the same clout as California or New York.

That’s a relatively unlikely future scenario, but Wyoming is an open primary state, meaning that Democrats could cross the aisle and vote for her, possibly making a difference in whether she wins the primary. She couldn’t win the mid-term because Dems would go back to their candidate, and the anti-Cheney Republicans would stay home. In that scenario, the seat might flip to the Democrats.

Cheney is what the GOP used to be, or pretended it was: stalwart, principled, with deeply-held convictions, and unwavering loyalty to the country and the rule of law.

She’s also a reminder of how far the GOP has fallen.

Know your enemy. Dems think they’re in a battle of tweets armed with binders of position papers and outrage. That won’t be enough in November.

The Republicans are doubling down on the coup. Democrats need to double down on registration, turnout, voter protection, and sure, some outrage at Republicans.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Ukraine Edition, February 7, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Winter in the Palouse, near the town of Oakesdale, WA – January 2022 photo by James Richmond Photography

We talk a lot about a nation’s credibility in foreign policy. The US strives to be credible regarding its positions with allies and foes alike. We have often failed. Russia has also proven many times over that it isn’t a credible partner.

Consider a report from Numbers Stations showing that Russia has invaded its neighbors and a couple of distant countries 58 times since 1917. One element of clear credibility for Russia is its willingness to invade others. How does knowing this history inform the current situation between Russia and Ukraine?

The world is well-aware of Russia’s ostentatious military buildup along Ukraine’s border. Putin added to the tensions by making demands requiring a new European security order. He wants Russia to be allowed its own sphere of influence that roughly corresponds to the old Soviet Union. That means NATO should certainly not expand, and possibly should contract.

Let’s look at history between the US and Ukraine:

  • In 1994, President Clinton asked Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons. In return, Ukraine got a financial settlement and the Budapest Memorandum which provided non-aggression assurances by both the US and Russia. Ukraine shipped 1700 or so nuclear warheads back to Russia and destroyed the missiles.
  • In 2014, President Obama looked at the big, muddy land called Ukraine and asked if its strategic importance was worth war. Meaning a real war, with an enemy that could fight back. He decided on economic sanctions.
  • In 2020, President Trump attempted to blackmail the Ukrainian president into interfering on his behalf in an American election.
  • In 2022, President Biden rules out military intervention should Russia invade Ukraine, talking mostly about more economic sanctions as the consequence.

Regardless of whether Russia invades Ukraine or not, the US is walking down a perilous path. It faces efforts to divide and neutralize its alliances in both Europe and Asia.

In Europe, Russia wants to bury the post-Cold War order. Putin wants Europe to recognize its sphere of influence in the former Soviet countries. Putin wants to separate Ukraine from NATO permanently. He would like to fracture the European alliance by making Germany a more neutral party as Russia attempts to create its western buffer zone.

Europeans think that Putin won’t invade but will follow a hybrid strategy — keeping a military presence on the border, continuing weaponization of Russia’s European energy supply and increased cyberattacks — which will serve to keep NATO from becoming fully anti-Russian the way an invasion of Ukraine would. From the NYT:

“Before the crisis, Germany was America’s closest ally in Europe, boasted a special relationship with Moscow and was the most important partner for Eastern and Central Europe. Today…Berlin’s relationship with Moscow is fast deteriorating….Germany’s difficulties are a hint of what could come if Mr. Putin continues his brinkmanship, without providing the certainty of an actual invasion.”

The US and Germany aren’t singing from the same choir book right now, so Putin may be on to something.

In Asia, China would like to drive a wedge between the US and some of its Eastern allies. It already has agreed with Russia on the demand for NATO to pull back in Europe.

India tilted toward Russia at the UN Security Council meetings last week. After China and Russia cast “no” votes in the Security Council on whether to hold an official session to discuss the Ukraine crisis, Responsible Statecraft says that India abstained. It was effectively a rejection of the US attempt to hold Russia accountable.

In the Philippines, the front-runner for president says he wouldn’t accept any offer of help from the US in negotiations with China over the South China Sea if elected president in May.

Any person can see what’s coming in cold war 2.0 and should be very wary and worried. We need to learn to navigate in what has become a multi-polar world, one with worthy competitors in Russia and China.

We should remember that during cold war 1.0 in 1962, the stationing of Russian missiles in Cuba let to a great power deal. Russia took its missiles out of Cuba and the US pulled its missiles from Turkey and Italy. Back then, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was willing to consider Kennedy’s fears about Moscow’s missile deployment in Cuba. That became the basis for ending the confrontation.

The enormity of how close the world came to thermonuclear war led to an easing of tensions.  The next 50 years were a period of relative calm in US/Russian relations.

Today’s warlike tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine have most of the same elements present, with the roles reversed. Now, Putin is telling the West that Ukraine should not be allowed to join NATO. He also demands that the US should not place offensive weapons in Ukraine.

Like Cuba in 1962, is Ukraine now the chessboard for these superpowers? Is there a lesson here from that history?

Time to wake up America! You aren’t uniquely qualified to run the world, and there are competitors who will work really hard to prevent you from trying to continue doing so. To help you wake up, listen to Pink Floyd perform “Dogs Of War” from their album “Delicate Sound Of Thunder” at the Nassau Coliseum, NY in 1988. While the singing is a bit muffled, the band sounds fine, and there’s a great saxophone solo by Scott Paige:

Sample Lyric:

Invisible transfers and long distance calls
Hollow laughter in marble halls
Steps have been taken, a silent uproar
Has unleashed the dogs of war
You can’t stop what has begun
Signed, sealed, they deliver oblivion

The dogs of war won’t negotiate
The dogs of war don’t capitulate

Still relevant, 34 years later!

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 6, 2022

According to Worldometer data, the US Covid death toll is now at 924,000. Last year, on June 1, 2021 the US death toll was 615,000. That’s the minimum number of deaths we could have suffered prior to the widespread availability of Covid vaccines in the US.

That 600,000± pre-vaccine death toll is comparable to the deaths that occurred in the Civil War. We’ve studied the Civil War for generations, although it’s doubtful that the Republican Right wants America to study all that much about Covid. On to cartoons.

As someone (?) once said, it takes a village, and we don’t have one:

The Olympics are on TV. Should we watch? Views differ:

Supreme Court nominations of women through time:

Biden’s alternate nominating strategy:

Trump doesn’t care who knows:

Putin and Biden ridin’ around the Ukraine speedway:

The NYT said on Saturday that portions of the Russian army near Ukraine have reached full combat strength. No one knows what will happen next, but there seem to be two likely outcomes. First, that any conflict is limited to Ukraine territory or second, that it moves beyond Ukraine to other parts of Europe.

If it goes beyond Ukraine’s borders, we could quickly find ourselves again on the threshold of nuclear war, since that’s a red line for NATO. But Russia also has other cards to play. They could launch massive cyber-attacks on the US, attacking and disabling our power grids, communications systems, and/or our financial system.

We would try to do the same inside Russia.

Wrongo isn’t trying to spread fear. He’s expressing the hope that we can get past all of the hollow political posturing and take a cold, hard look at what we’re truly trying to achieve if we decide on military intervention on behalf of Ukraine.

In a sense, the world changed on Friday when China’s Xi and Russia’s Putin met in Beijing. Their joint statement is unequivocal. China & Russia are now explicitly willing to at least challenge or possibly replace, Pax Americana, in Eurasia.

Borrowing from ancient history, in 560 BC, King Croesus was considering war on Persia. He consulted the Oracle at Delphi. Famously, the Oracle’s forecast was “If you make war on the Persians, you will destroy a great empire”. Let’s hope that Biden is receiving less ambiguous advice.

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Saturday Soother – February 5, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Paradise Springs, South Kettle Moraine, Eagle, WI – January 2022 photo by Nick Schroeter. The spring water is warm enough that it doesn’t freeze in winter

This week two years ago, Covid began to enter America’s consciousness. It was February 3, 2020 when Trump declared a public health emergency because of the virus. Now, Republicans are again saying “let ‘er rip”. Mother Jones reported that Iowa is taking “done with Covid” to a whole new level. On Thursday, Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a plan to end the state’s Covid disaster declaration and to shut down its case count and vaccination websites later this month.

From the Des Moines Register:

“We cannot continue to suspend duly enacted laws and treat COVID-19 as a public health emergency indefinitely,” Reynolds said in a statement. “After two years, it’s no longer feasible or necessary. The flu and other infectious illnesses are part of our everyday lives, and coronavirus can be managed similarly.”

In a state with less than two-thirds of the population over 5 years old fully vaccinated, Wrongo asks what kind of governor and legislature shuts down a website aimed at making it easier for people to get their shots? If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that it is in the people’s best interest to make it as easy as possible to vaccinate as many people as possible.

The Register adds:

“Her move comes as Iowa’s spike in cases and hospitalizations from the omicron variant has begun to ease. Still, 794 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Iowa as of Wednesday, while 109 patients required intensive care and 51 required ventilators.”

BTW, 70.6% of the patients in Iowa ICUs were not vaccinated. Having contemporaneous data allows us to see that Iowa recorded more than 150 additional COVID-19 deaths in its weekly update last Friday. In the same report, Iowa’s health department recorded just three additional flu deaths in its weekly flu report Jan. 28, bringing the total since last fall to just 13.

The data do not seem to make a case to treat Covid and the flu the same way.

The governor’s decision to end the emergency declaration may be more sensible. Many states have already discontinued theirs. And as Omicron case counts plummet, maybe there’s a chance to reallocate resources to other state priorities.

Today you can check Iowa’s status on its readable and useful Covid dashboard. That dashboard will now be going away.

Soon, the state health department’s website will not include regular reports on Covid hospitalizations or nursing home outbreaks. Kelly Garcia, interim director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said Iowa will no longer require hospitals and nursing homes to report the data to the state, since they already report it to the federal government. Iowans wanting updates on those numbers will be referred to federal websites.

Lina Tucker Reinders, executive director of the Iowa Public Health Association, said in an interview that the move was premature, and could give Iowans the false impression the pandemic is over.

Iowa’s own statistics show that isn’t the case.

It’s become an article of faith inside the Republican cult that Covid is No Big Deal, and that vaccinations are either unnecessary or some sort of plot. And that masks are also unnecessary, because Covid is just like the flu.

Across the country, these same Republicans are seeing the elderly in their families, neighborhoods and churches die of Covid while a free and effective vaccine is available. But they don’t care enough to make getting themselves vaccinated a priority.

If they don’t care about their elders, why would they care about nurses, or teachers? That would require disrupting their entire worldview.

No scientist says that the virus is finished mutating. So will treating it like the flu be good enough? If it isn’t, Gov. Reynolds certainly won’t give a shit.

Time to let go for a few minutes and relocate to a chair by a window for our Saturday Soother.

It will be another winter weekend of indoor sports in New England, with binge streaming of favorite shows on tap, along with chiseling ice on the walkways around the Mansion of Wrong.

Let’s start into the weekend by brewing up a large mug of Chutzpah Coffee ($13.99/ 12oz.) brought to us by Hebrew Coffee. Their tag line is “A strong coffee to get you off your tuches”. Now settle into your chair and watch “Pow Surf 101”, a long snowboard ride through deep powder, while listening to Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”, written in 1890 when Debussy was 28. The snowboarding takes place in Steamboat Springs, CO. Consider this Wrongo’s nod to the Winter Olympics:

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The Little Guy Always Gets Hurt

The Daily Escape:

San Juan Mountains, near Telluride CO – January 2022 photo by Ben Clark

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was an unprecedented move by Washington to save jobs and businesses as the country slid into a Covid lockdown in 2020.

The PPP  ̶  included in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act of 2020 – offered low-interest loans to a wide range of businesses to help keep them afloat in the pandemic. The concept was if participants used the cash to cover payroll and certain other expenses, the loans would be forgiven completely.

The Intercept is reporting that Bank of America (BOA), the second-biggest lender in the PPP loan program, is refusing to forgive some small business owners’ loans and is blocking them from getting relief directly from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which oversees the program:

“…in over a half-dozen interviews and emails with The Intercept, small business owners who got their PPP loans through Bank of America described the same experience: A year or more after they first received their loans, they were told that the bank determined they had originally received too much money and that it would only forgive a portion, leaving them to pay back the remainder with interest.”

When those business owners applied to BOA for forgiveness, the bank’s online portal was pre-populated with an unexplained and lower amount of loan forgiveness. The form on the website didn’t allow them to change it, or to upload any supporting documentation showing that they actually did qualify for forgiveness of the full amount of the original loan.

The Intercept reviewed a screenshot from one small business owner who, when she tried to change the figure in a box titled “Requested Loan Forgiveness Amount” from the bank’s figure to the full amount of her PPP loan, it showed an error message. She was unable to move to the next screen. The Intercept says that the borrower’s calls to the bank were fruitless.

More from The Intercept:

“Fearing a hit to their credit scores or defaulting on their unforgiven loans, some small business owners submitted Bank of America’s forgiveness application for the lower amount despite believing that they should be forgiven for the full loan. Others are refusing to apply for forgiveness for an amount they say is less than they deserve.”

BOA reported that many of the problems are related to SBA rules on whether the money could be used to pay contractors, or for suppliers, or for other situations.

After widespread complaints about the slow and confusing forgiveness process, the SBA set up its own portal in August 2021. That allowed small business owners to apply for forgiveness directly with the agency.

But in a typical Catch-22, the banks had to opt into using the SBA’s portal, and BOA is among those that refused to do so. So businesses that got their PPP loans through BOA had no option. They had to use the bank’s portal. In a statement, BOA said the SBA site is redundant:

“If we used the SBA’s site…we would still be required to review each application for forgiveness and provide the recommended forgiveness amount, as we do on our own site.”

The Catch-22 nightmare gets worse: The SBA has an appeal process for PPP loans, but that process doesn’t begin until a borrower submits an application for forgiveness to their bank. That requires accepting Bank of America’s loan forgiveness number.

These small business PPP borrowers say that they followed the rules as they were written at the time they signed the promissory notes and therefore shouldn’t be held accountable for the many rule changes the SBA made after the program launched.

The Intercept cites one case where a borrower, who lives in an economically depressed region, was able to apply for a grant through the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EDIL) program, also run by the SBA. The EDIL loan gave him a low interest rate and a longer term for repayment.

As soon as he received the EDIL money, he used it to pay off the unforgiven balance of his PPP loan.

It seems that BOA and the SBA have walked away, at least partially, from the original understanding with these borrowers. And some of them, fearing that they had no option to fight the system, and that their credit scores would be hurt, have submitted their BOA forgiveness application at the lower amount. Now they are setting up repayment schedules with BOA for their still-outstanding loan amounts.

Even a useful and well-intentioned program can leave victims in its wake. And it’s hard to climb out of the hole when your banker keeps shoveling dirt on you.

It may have been wrong for Congress to place banks in the middle of the PPP loan program to begin with. Although the SBA has always used local banks as their point of administration and distribution for its lending activities.

It seems that for BOA at least, it gave them an additional profit opportunity!

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Reform the Supreme Court

The Daily Escape:

Valley of Fire SP, NV – January 2022 photo by Robert E. Ford

Glad to see January go, with it being the anniversary of the Jan. 6 coup attempt and all that came after it. What isn’t going away is the slow and continuing fracture of America’s social cohesion. We also remember that it was FIVE years ago that Trump was inaugurated. That was a sorry time, since it made it clear that he would get to appoint several Supreme Court justices.

The partisan rancor brought to Supreme Court appointments has become another fault line in our social cohesion. That’s due in part to changes in Supreme Court.

One recent trend in these appointments is how much younger appointees are: The typical tenure for Supreme Court justices in the 19th and early 20th centuries was around 15 years. But as the lifespan of American adults has lengthened over the past century, so has tenure on the Court. Since 1975, the average justice has retired from the court after serving 27 years. Breyer, who was sworn in on Aug. 3, 1994, matches the average perfectly. Soon it will be longer than 30 years.

Another issue is the hubris of elderly Justices. Justices Brennan and Marshall, both about 70 years old at the time, decided not to retire when Jimmy Carter was president, thinking he wasn’t liberal enough to appoint their replacements. They decided to wait for a more left-leaning Democratic president that they presumed would come next.

Liberals got lucky when Brennan retired in 1990,and David Souter replaced him. They weren’t as lucky when Marshall was replaced by Clarence Thomas in 1992. Thomas, the first GOP Justice was selected explicitly for his race and youth (he was 43) and still sits on the Court today, 30 years later.

The same scenario played out less than two years ago with Justice Ginsburg. She refused to retire during Obama’s presidency (after a direct appeal from Obama in 2013) when he correctly feared losing the Senate in 2014. She died in 2020 and was immediately replaced by the 48-year-old Conservative Justice Barrett.

Another trend is Judicial Supremacy. Once Justices realized that their power was almost completely unchecked under the Constitution, it wasn’t a big leap to find them ruling according to personal preference.

The Framers never foresaw how formidable the judiciary would become. Once the Supreme Court successfully claimed the right of judicial review — the power to strike down laws it deemed unconstitutional — it went from being the weakest branch to the strongest. Today, virtually every important political controversy eventually comes before the Court.

The public’s opinion about the Court has never been lower. A Gallup poll last September (just before the Texas abortion cases) found that just 40% of Americans say they approved of the Court’s job. This represents a new low in Gallup’s polling, which dates back to 2000.

The chart below shows the results of a new ABC News / Ipsos Poll asking if the Supreme Court’s rulings are partisan:

(Hat tip: Jobsanger) The poll was conducted January 28-29, 2022 and has a ± 4.9% point margin of error.

It’s clear that a plurality of Americans no longer trust the Court with their lives, or with the direction of the country. That’s what makes selecting a Supreme Court nominee such a high-stakes game.

If Supreme Court vacancies were more frequent and regular, confirmation battles would be much less likely to turn into political Armageddon every time. We should be asking whether life tenure for Supreme Court justices still is legitimate, regardless of which Party controls Congress or the White House.

The Framers of the Constitution feared that the judiciary would be the weakest of the federal government’s branches and the most susceptible to political pressure. They therefore sought to bolster the Court’s independence by ensuring justices could stay on the bench for as long as they wished.

But the only alternative to a bad Court decision today is for 2/3rds of both Houses of Congress followed by 3/4ths of all States to change it by Constitutional Amendment. A nearly impossible and time-consuming process.

Instead, we should enact term limits for the Supremes. With nine Justices, one Justice’s position should expire every two years (essentially giving each an 18 year term). After serving on the Court they could fulfill their lifetime appointment by continuing to serve as “Justices Emeritus” on one of the regional Courts of Appeal.

This isn’t a partisan idea. Many Republicans endorse term limits. Among those who have endorsed it is Justice Stephen Breyer. Numerous polls in recent years show widespread support across Party lines for limiting Supreme Court justices’ terms. Everyone can tell that life tenure on the Supreme Court isn’t working. It’s time we replaced it with something better. America’s social cohesion depends on it.

Speaking of social cohesion, spend a few minutes watching this affecting commercial for Heineken. It celebrates communication, listening, and getting to know others who have different viewpoints:

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 31, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Mount Saint Nicholas, Glacier NP, MT – January 2022 photo by Jack Bell Photography

Anyone else thinking that our national party bus is about to stall out in the slow lane on America’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams?

Here’s an under-the-radar story: In 2020, the Trump administration hatched a plan to gradually transition traditional Medicare over to private firms. It’s called Direct Contracting (DC) and is operated by Direct Contracting Entities (DCEs). Currently, there are 53 of them in Phase One of an experimental program operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Under the program, the DCEs receive a fixed amount of money annually to cover care for each traditional Medicare enrollee whose primary care doctor (or group) has signed up with that DCE. The DCEs must pay for all of the care of those people assigned to them. To date, the CMS has auto-assigned hundreds of thousands of people to DCEs.

Since no one on Medicare has voluntarily signed up to work with a DCE, it’s unlikely they know of, nor understand what’s happening. And the CMS doesn’t require DCEs to tell people that they have the right to opt-out.

The idea behind DCEs is to shift a portion of the financial risk of the elderly’s medical care away from traditional Medicare by capping the payments to a third party that’s responsible to pay for it. This is the latest in many efforts by CMS and Congress to control the rising costs of healthcare.

Wrongo and Ms. Right have recently noticed a blizzard of direct mail offers to convert our traditional Medicare to an all-in insurance program. It’s probable that some of these are from DCEs.

The anticipated advantage of the DCE experiment is that Medicare’s out-of-pocket costs will be capped. The DCEs contract with CMS is for an agreed-upon annual payment. They have to pay for care and also make a profit based on that fixed revenue amount from the government. In addition to the normal profits from providing services, DCEs can keep as much as 40% of the money they don’t spend on care.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and it seems to Wrongo that this creates yet another financial incentive to deny otherwise necessary treatments. It’s possible that the DCEs could pay doctors to steer patients away from specialty care. This means that someone enrolled in a DCE has reason to worry that their primary care doctor might limit their access to more costly care.

Direct contracting is supposed to be a pilot program, yet Medicare has no plans to limit the number of people it enrolls in these new plans. Instead, Medicare has announced plans to enroll 100% of traditional Medicare members into DCE-like programs by 2030.

Congress did not authorize the wholesale overhaul of traditional Medicare, so why is this happening? And so far, the Biden administration appears to be willing to continue playing Trump’s cards.

Many of the DCEs are owned by Private Equity (PE) firms. It doesn’t take a chess master to see that the PE firms will ultimately sell out to the insurance industry. And it wouldn’t be a big leap from that to fully privatize Medicare.

Time to wake up America! Did we elect Biden to privatize Medicare? The word “privatize” should scare the hell out of Americans. But unfortunately they’ve been fooled into believing that by some magic miracle of economics, it’s to their benefit.

To help you wake up, today we spend a few minutes with Neil Young. Wrongo appreciates Neil Young saying he wanted his music removed from Spotify if Joe Rogan is allowed to continue spewing his anti-Vaxx trash there.

This was an easy business decision for Spotify. They picked the popular podcaster Rogan with the $100 million-plus exclusive deal, over the cranky 76-year-old rocker whose last gold album was nearly two decades ago. Someone who hasn’t been on the Billboard charts since 1982.

Joni Mitchell and Dave Grohl have now said they will follow Young in leaving Spotify.

Let’s watch and listen to Neil Young playing “Hey Hey, My My” at Farm Aid in Champaign, Illinois on September, 1985. Young is a co-founder and board member of Farm Aid, along with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp:

Neil won’t burn out or fade away.

Sample Lyric:
Out of the blue
and into the black
You pay for this,
but they give you that
And once you’re gone,
you can’t come back
When you’re out of the blue
and into the black.

You pay for this, and they give you that”. Listen up Medicare!

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 30, 2022

Well, this was predictable. NPR reported that China’s ambassador to the US warned that the US could face a possible “military conflict” with China over Taiwan:

“If the Taiwanese authorities, emboldened by the US, keep going down the road for independence, it most likely will involve China and the United States, the two big countries, in a military conflict.”

It isn’t a coincidence that China raises the specter of war while the US is focused on a possible threat by Russia in Ukraine. This week, 39 Chinese military aircraft flew near Taiwan, including two of China’s most advanced warplanes, their J-16D jets. Military analysts think that the J-16D has capacity to interfere with Taiwan’s defense radar systems and could make a huge difference in combat.

This is more evidence of how strategically fraught America’s legacy global policies are in a multi-polar world. Russia is threatening NATO and our Western allies, while simultaneously, China threatens our strategic position in Asia. We haven’t fought a two-theater war in 77 years, and haven’t won a war since.

It’s ironic that neither Taiwan nor Ukraine are formal mutual defense treaty partners with the US, yet US defense hawks think we should defend either or both. On to cartoons.

Surviving is difficult when you live in the wild:

Some voices on the Right support Russia:

Breyer retires, but opinions differ on who owns the right to replace him:

There seems very little Republicans can do to stop Biden from filling this seat, since there’s no filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. That was taken away by Mitch McConnell, during the nomination of Neil Gorsuch.

Mitch looks for a loophole:

The never-ending Republican hissy fit:

Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, “MAUS”, is a memoir about the Holocaust. It was banned last week by a school board in Tennessee. In the book, the cats are the Germans while the mice are the Jews:

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