Send The Tanks To Ukraine!

The Daily Escape:

Cardinals in snow, Warrensville, NC – January 2023 photo by Keith Calhoun

If Ukraine is to stave off the Russians, it needs tanks, but Germany and the US are still reluctant to send their tanks to Ukraine. While each express slightly different reasons for withholding their tanks, it boils down to the fact that both countries seem to believe that their tanks should be used in defense of NATO, and Ukraine isn’t a member.

The question remains “Which weapons are ok to use in Ukraine?” The answer has evolved since the start of the war a year ago. NATO is now giving more advanced weapons than they thought they would, partly because they now perceive the battle for Ukraine as a clear proxy war with Russia.

It appears that the meeting of defense ministers over the weekend in Germany saw the first crack in NATO’s solid support for Ukraine. Military aid from Europe and the US for Ukraine has been the key to Ukraine’s survival and to its ability to blunt Moscow’s superior numbers of troops on the battlefield.

What was agreed isn’t chump change. It includes 200 new artillery pieces. Multiple countries, including Denmark and Estonia, are sending Ukraine literally all of their howitzers. That implies that Ukraine needs artillery pieces as a stop gap until battle tanks can be provisioned. But as of now, no battle tanks.

Germany has been reluctant to provide Leopard tanks. Why that’s what’s Wrong today is summed up by someone who Wrongo never thought he would ever quote, Bill Kristol:

Kristol is on to something. From the WaPo:

“Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks, several thousand of which are in the arsenals of its NATO allies around Europe, are the best such options for Ukraine’s use.”

The Leopards are far more numerous in NATO countries than any other tank. They are more suitable for Ukrainian terrain and maintenance capabilities than the US’ top-of-the-line battle tank, the M1 Abrams.

And it’s rarely a good thing in warfare to have a fruit salad of weapons that in general, have the same capabilities. Ukraine absolutely does not need what Michael Kofman has referred to as a “petting zoo” of battle tanks.

Some armchair generals may think that it would be nice to have one British Challenger or two, several Leopards, and a bunch of Abrams available. But from a training and logistics point of view that’s a nightmare. Of all of these possible weapons, the Leopard is regarded as ideal for Ukraine because:

  • There are a lot of them
  • They are less logistically complex than the Abrams
  • Tank people seem to think that the learning curve for operations and maintenance isn’t as steep as it is with other tanks

Retired US General Mark Hertling is adamant that the Leopard 2 is a much better fit for the Ukrainians than the US’s M1 Abrams. His position is based on logistics. Since his whole career was spent as a tanker, he’s probably correct.

The clincher for the Leopard 2 is that 16 European/NATO countries operate them, and thus have the resources to help train Ukrainians in their use and maintenance on a wide scale. These countries would be able to provide Ukraine with at least a base level of spare parts from their existing stores.

Germany also has an issue if they supply Leopards from their inventory: They can’t make enough of them to replace those they give to Ukraine. That would leave Germany needing to replenish by purchasing, you guessed it, M1 Abrams tanks! So, a big win for General Dynamics, maker of the Abrams.

Since the start of the winter, there has been an ongoing degradation of Ukraine’s war making capabilities, allowing Russia to keep pounding while it organizes its newly mobilized forces for offensive action in the spring. The western media has stopped talking about the Ukrainian “win” they spoke about last summer.

Soon, winter will be over and the early spring promises a Russian counter-offensive in eastern Ukraine. At Turcopolier, TTG says:

“By spring the Russians will probably field a large infantry force. But I doubt that force will be anything but ill-trained and ill-equipped. They are not using near enough artillery and armor now to support the infantry they have. Maybe this is because they are holding it back for future offensive operations…..Having said that, I do think they will continue to try to take the Donbas and do their damnedest to hold in the south.”

This means that time is short, not simply to decide on battle tanks, but to get them into position in Ukraine with supply chains up and operating. The alternative is a slow grinding but eventual Russian victory with all that will mean for eastern Europe.

If there are doubts about what losing Ukraine will mean, consider that stopping Russia from winning in Ukraine will end the threat of major war in Europe. We shouldn’t forget that for nearly 50 years, a confrontation with the USSR (and later Russia), was the likely scenario for Europe. A Ukrainian victory would make this scenario implausible.

Some “experts” are saying that provisioning Leopard tanks for Ukraine is not likely to be a game changer on the battlefield. That may be, but it’s a certainty that without them, the war in Ukraine will be won by the Russians.

We need to face it: We’re in a very long, very expensive proxy war between NATO and Russia.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – January 23, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Near Government Camp, OR – January 2023 photo by Mitch Schreiber Photography

Everyone is talking about the national debt and/or about increasing the nation’s debt limit. Congress should increase the debt limit because it’s the right thing to do. But there are many in the “very serious” media who are concerned that the Fed can’t continue to hike interest rates to 5.0% or higher because the government can’t afford to pay such high interest rates on our gargantuan debt.

Some pundits are pushing the idea that the Fed must cut interest rates or else. Or else what? The US government won’t go broke, regardless of how high interest rates rise.

While it’s true that the government’s cost of borrowing rises when interest rates rise, what these pundits are missing is that US tax receipts (which are used to pay that interest expense) have also spiked. They’re also missing the fact that interest expense as a percent of tax receipts was at a historic low in Q1 2022. And while it has moved up, it remains quite close to historic lows. Interest expense as a percent of tax receipts is one primary measure of whether the government can afford the interest expense or not. Wolf Richter of Wolf Street provides us with a chart:

As you can see, while the percentage of interest/tax receipts has “spiked” in 2022, it was at a historic low in 2021. And compare that to when the ratio hovered around 50% in the 1980s and early 1990s. In Q3 2022, it was 22.9%, still very near a historical low.

One reason for this was that inflation helped to increase tax receipts thereby lowering the government’s burden for paying interest on our existing debt.

Between the Trump and Biden administrations, the government’s debt spiked by 34%, or by $8 trillion, in the past three years. That additional debt quickly added a lot of interest expense for the government, as we see with the spike above on the chart in 2022.

As older Treasury securities mature, and assuming the national debt doesn’t go down, they are replaced by new Treasury securities with today’s higher interest rates, and the higher interest costs of those new securities are starting to show up in the government’s interest expense. Richter says that total interest expense in Q3 2022 spiked by 24% from a year ago and by 43% from two years ago. This spike in interest expense looks like this:

And this scary chart is what the GOP will be presenting as their reason to cut the debt. When you omit the spike in tax receipts and the historically low level of interest expense as a percent of tax receipts, as we saw in the first chart, you’re not presenting the whole picture.

Another way to look at the situation is Government interest payments as percent of nominal GDP. This is a classic measure of the cost of government debt compared to the overall economy. Richter offers us another chart:

As you can see, by this measure, interest on our national debt remains lower than it was at any time between 1977 and 2003. And it has remained in a narrow band from 2004 to today.

Without question, we should reduce our national debt. But unless and until interest expense on our debt returns to the level of 50% of tax receipts as it was in the 1980s, we shouldn’t expect much to change in Washington. If it starts to get near those highs, maybe we’ll see action by Congress to increase revenues and reduce spending. And despite all the GOP’s screaming, the Federal Reserve is doing the right thing: Hiking interest rates to stem inflation.

Time to wake up, Congress! The Fed is trying to gently nudge you into thinking that the country needs to raise revenues while also cutting expense. You need to consider the revenue side of the equation more seriously, if for no other reason than what will happen to our currently high tax receipts whenever the coming recession strikes.

To help you wake up, listen to the late David Crosby’s song “Laughing” from his first solo album, 1971’s “If Only I Could Remember My Name. Crosby wrote it for the former Beatle George Harrison, who never used it, so Crosby used it instead:

Several legendary musicians appeared on this recording, including Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell on background vocals; Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar, and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. Garcia is magical.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 22, 2023

There’s a difference between America’s national debt and our debt limit. Without question, our national debt must be reduced. That can happen only two ways, or by a combination of the two. We can increase taxes, or reduce future spending, or do both.

The debt limit is how much in total the US government can borrow. It uses borrowing (issuing treasury notes and bonds) to meet obligations for previously contracted goods and services. This is what must be increased as soon as possible by both Houses of Congress.

But Republicans say they won’t agree to increase the debt limit without action to reduce the national debt. The national debt is the accumulation of all the annual deficits (and any surplus – thanks, Bill Clinton!) that various administrations have racked up. It currently sits at $31.4 trillion.

The four Republican presidents from Reagan to Trump are responsible for more than half of that debt; they added $17.46 trillion to it by running whopping deficits each year. Trump was responsible for nearly half of that, $8.2 trillion, in just four years. About $3.9 trillion was pandemic relief and $2 trillion was the big tax cut he gave to the wealthy.

Republicans can’t explain why they voted to increase the debt ceiling every year of Trump’s administration. Even as he was racking up trillions of dollars of debt by increasing the annual budget deficit from the $665 billion he inherited from Obama, to a whopping $2.1 trillion deficit in just four years  ̶   the highest in US history.

But in the past two years, Biden has cut that $2.1 trillion deficit by 33%, to $1.4 trillion. That isn’t stopping the GOP from screaming that spending has to be curbed because there’s a Democrat in the White House. On to cartoons.

A high-stakes game of chicken:

Their plan is to never have a plan:

Alec Baldwin’s on line one Mr. Speaker:

Truth is always in the eye of the beholder:

Floods in California have people looking for new places to stay:

David Crosby would be spinning in his grave:

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – January 21, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Round Bald summit, TN, looking towards NC – January 2023 photo by Tim Lewis. Those are some very blue Blue Ridge Mountains.

From the NYT:

“Western defense officials on Friday failed to reach an agreement on exporting German – or American -made battle tanks to Ukraine, setting back Ukraine’s hopes of quickly getting weapons it sees as crucial to its defense against an expected new Russian offensive.”

This is the fractured state of play in NATO’s support for Ukraine. Despite a statement signed by nine other NATO allies saying they were willing to participate in a coalition of German-made Leopard 2 tank donors.

Germany has not yet decided whether to allow Leopard 2 tanks to be sent to Ukraine. The NYT also reports that German Chancellor Mr. Scholz has insisted Berlin would not send any of its own Leopard tanks unless the US also sends its M1 Abrams tanks. However, the Biden administration thinks that the M1 Abrams tanks – which run on jet fuel and require frequent maintenance and spare parts — would be difficult to position in eastern Ukraine, where supply lines could be cut off easily.

Germany’s reluctance may be due to polling that shows a sharp division among Germans over sending battle tanks to Ukraine. This is despite widespread support by Germans for providing other weapons. Some think this is also a byproduct of its legacy of blitzkrieg tank warfare in World War II.

This is big since Ukraine’s senior military commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, has said his forces need about 300 Western tanks to make a difference in the battles for fiercely contested cities and towns in the eastern provinces of Ukraine that border Russia.

It’s clear that more and newer tanks are crucial in pushing back Russian forces. The Leopard 2 would help offset Russia’s superiority in artillery firepower. They would be of even greater value as the war begins its second year next month, and Ukraine needs to fight against a Russian spring counteroffensive.

OTOH, Britain has agreed to send to Ukraine 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks, and 30 artillery guns in a move it made at least in part to encourage other NATO countries to donate their own tanks.

There are clear advantages for deploying the Leopard 2: There are many in Europe (about 2,000). They are easy to move to Ukraine. The logistics and maintenance would be easier, as would providing  supplies, spare parts, and training.

But the US and Germany are dithering because they remain concerned about the possible escalation of the Ukraine War into a larger conflict. Any conflict between Russia and NATO powers has the potential to devolve into a nuclear war. And no one wants to see tactical nuclear weapons used on any battlefield.

While it’s useful to exercise caution, we crossed the escalation bridge when we sent the HIMARS precision-guided missiles to Ukraine. Give the tanks to Ukraine!

On to our Saturday Soother, where we will try to forget that Rep. George Santos (R-NY) is denying that he ever appeared in drag, even though there is a YouTube video of him in a dress and makeup at Carnival in Rio.

Sorry to put that image in your mind but try to relax for a few minutes and think about the great David Crosby who died on Thursday. Crosby was a notorious dickhead who got kicked out of every band he ever played with. After The Byrds, he teamed up with Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills and The Hollies’ Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & Nash. And later, Neil Young was added, making the group, CSNY.

By the end of his life, no member of CSNY would speak to him, despite Crosby’s efforts late in life to apologize to each of them. There’s a lesson to take from this. Evaluate your relationships. If something’s wrong or missing with the people who are important to you, do something about it before it’s too late.

Crosby wasn’t the primary singer or the main songwriter of the Byrds or of the CSN or CSNY songs that became mega-folk rock classics. But he was a superhumanly gifted harmony singer whose voice was the Super Glue of these groups.

It’s clear that the 2020s decade will see many of the remaining icons of the 1960s music scene leave us. Crosby, who received a liver transplant nearly 30 years ago (paid for by Phil Collins) is not someone Wrongo would have predicted to even make it this far.

Two ways to remember Crosby. Wrongo and Ms. Right strongly recommend “David Crosby: Remember My Name” a 2017 documentary in which Cameron Crowe interviews him.

One great song that Crosby wrote was on CSN’s 1970 album, “Déjà vu”. Listen to “Almost Cut My Hair”:

There are lots of dickheads in the music industry. Despite that it’s surprising how much good music gets made.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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?

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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?

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

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:

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss