Saturday Soother – April 30, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Cactus bloom, Tanque Verde, AZ – April 2022 photo by Bel Meader

Since last fall we’ve seen headlines about the need for parental control of public school curricula. It’s been a huge political weapon for Republican governors like DeSantis in Florida and Youngkin in Virginia. The argument is that the way race, gender and history are taught in public school classrooms is outside of the cultural mainstream in America.

A new national poll by NPR and Ipsos shows that those concerns are held only by a minority of America’s parents, while the majority express satisfaction with their children’s schools and what is being taught in them. The poll’s findings show that fewer than 20% of parents seem to be concerned about the culture wars, but they seem to be driving 100% of the conversation about K-12 education in America.

The poll surveyed 1,007 parents of school-aged children. Parents answered questions about the impact of the pandemic on their children, academically and socially, and about their schools’ performance:

“This year’s responses showed positive trends as the nation continues to recover from the worst of the pandemic. Compared to 2021, a growing margin of parents say their child is “ahead” when it comes to math, reading, social skills, and mental health and well-being. Fewer parents say their child is “behind” in those areas. In fact, in 2022, almost half of parents, 47%, agree with the statement: “the pandemic has not disrupted my child’s education.” That’s up from 38% in 2021…”

However, that view is at odds with that of most education researchers, who see big disruptions in indicators like test scores, college attendance, and preschool enrollment. The Ipsos poll shows that parental satisfaction also included culture war topics. In the poll:

  • 76% of respondents agree that “my child’s school does a good job keeping me informed about the curriculum, including potentially controversial topics.”
  • 88% of respondents agree with the statement “my child’s teacher(s) have done the best they could, given the circumstances around the pandemic.”
  • 82% agree “my child’s school has handled the pandemic well.”

Mallory Newall of Ipsos points out that:

“It really is a pretty vocal minority that is hyper-focused on parental rights and decisions around curriculum…. Just 18% of parents say their child’s school taught about gender and sexuality in a way that clashed with their family’s values; just 19% say the same about race and racism; and just 14% feel that way about US history.”

Newall also said that there was a lack of partisanship in the responses:

“The most partisan issue in our poll was gender and sexuality, but still only a minority expressed any concerns. Republicans are closely divided: 26% say schools are not teaching about gender and sexuality in a way that matches their family’s values, while 22% say schools are (the remainder don’t know or say schools aren’t addressing those topics).

The problem of course is that the vocal, 20+% of American parents are seeking total victory in the culture war. Republican-aligned groups like No Left Turn In Education and Parents Defending Education have continuously pushed these issues into the spotlight. And it’s working.

Ralph Wilson, a researcher who studies how partisan donors back the culture war, says these groups imply that they represent a silent majority of conservative-leaning parents. But that’s not necessarily the case:

“It’s definitely an incredibly small minority that’s being amplified with this large, well-funded infrastructure to appear larger and to appear to have more well-founded concerns than they do.”

The Ipsos poll found that about a third of parents say they “don’t know” how their child’s school addresses sexuality, gender identity, racism, or patriotism. Only 24% of parents believe they have too little say over what is taught or what books are in the library at their kid’s school.

That’s enough! Let’s leave the culture wars behind for the weekend. It’s time for our Saturday Soother, where we gather ourselves for the week ahead. In northwest Connecticut, we can’t escape cold weather, so our remaining yard work must wait for warmer nights before planting can start.

Instead, pour a mug of your favorite spice tea, grab a seat by a big window, and listen to “The Banks of Green Willow” by the little-known George Butterworth, who was part of the English pastoral idiom. Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan Williams were close friends, and you may hear similarities in their music. Butterworth was killed in 1916 in WWI during the Battle of the Somme; he was just 31.

Here it is played by the  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Grant Llewellyn:

And the pastoral images are nice!

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China’s Torpedoing the Supply Chain

The Daily Escape:

Spring snow, Mt. Princeton, CO – April 2022 photo by Haji Mahmood

For the past two years, Covid has thrown the global supply chain into a tailspin. Even though the cargo industry’s ships, trains, trucks, and planes worked full-time, we still have shortages. Now, China’s zero Covid policy is increasing both the uncertainty and costs of efficiently operating the still-choked global supply chain.

From Bloomberg:

“We expect a bigger mess than last year,” said Jacques Vandermeiren, the chief executive officer of the Port of Antwerp, Europe’s second-busiest for container volume, in an interview. “It will have a negative impact, and a big negative impact, for the whole of 2022.”

Bloomberg says that China accounts for about 12% of global trade. It’s recent Covid lockdowns have idled factories and warehouses, slowed truck deliveries and exacerbated container logjams. And since US and European ports are already swamped, this new outage will leave them vulnerable to additional shocks.

China is home to six of the world’s 10 largest container ports. It’s the global economy’s most important manufacturing hub. While most countries have decided to learn to live with the Covid, Beijing has maintained its Zero Covid policy, where even small outbreaks can shut down large population centers and slow economic activity.

It’s taking an average of 111 days for goods to reach a warehouse in the US from the moment they’re ready to leave an Asian factory. That’s similar to the record of 113 set in January 2022 and more than double the time that the same trip took in 2019, according to Flexport Inc., a freight forwarder.

Julie Gerdeman, CEO of supply-chain risk analytics firm Everstream Analytics says:

“Once product export activities resume and a large volume of vessels make their way to the US West Coast ports, we expect waiting times to increase significantly…”

You’d think that after more than two years into this pandemic, America would have realized that single-sourcing much of our industrial production to a dictatorship is a bad idea. One with enormous consequences when something goes wrong.

But we haven’t. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has advocated for what she calls “friend-shoring” meaning reducing our dependence on China and Russia. Brian Ehrig, a partner at the consulting firm Kearney is co-author of a report that found 78% of CEOs are either considering reshoring or have done it already. He says that relocating supply chains:

“…might cost more, but if you can make smaller quantities that you can then sell at closer to full price, you can actually completely change the game…”

Le Monde reminds us that capitalism has created hidden dependencies in Ukraine. It is the main producer of the wiring harnesses that hold together the many electrical cables in a car. They quote Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank (ECB) in a speech in Washington, DC: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Ukraine produces one fifth of Europe’s [harness] output,”

These parts are low value added, but essential in the construction of cars, a perfect outsourcing target for capitalism. Globalization isn’t going to die; but maybe it can evolve. Much of that possible shift hinges on convincing consumers to accept higher prices for the certainty of supply.

For example, once the CDC finally gave us unambiguous advice about wearing masks, there was a huge rush to open mask production facilities in the US. But now they’ve all closed, because it’s cheaper to make masks in China.

Dictatorships can ensure that labor remains cheap. That’s great for capitalists, not so good for people who needed masks in 2020 when China decided to keep most of them for their population. Or, now, when China is still willing to shut down its economy to stop a Covid outbreak.

And, despite all the good will in the world, nobody will make masks in the US if it means their five-dollar boxes of masks go unsold because everyone is buying the one-dollar boxes. Instead, they will complain about how the company asking five dollars is a bloodsucker.

We’re told that capitalism works. That it just does. That just-in-time supply cuts costs for consumers. But does it?

Art installation by Steve Lambert – 2013, Times Square, NYC

It’s proven not to work during an emergency. But what are the chances of re-shoring ever happening? Business school really only teaches one thing: Short-term profits rule and everything else is irrelevant.

After all, America is a business, not a country.

What should be readily apparent is that despite the CEO poll above, our corporate masters are certainly not thinking about systemic change to supply chains. Nor will they, as long as the focus is reducing costs as low as possible for maximum shareholder gain.

The point is that unless business is incentivized otherwise, don’t expect the supply chain to get any better. That incentive must come from the government in the form of tax policy or subsidy.

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Ukraine War Escalates

The Daily Escape:

Lupine, Rocky Mountain Front, MT – April 2022 photo by Jack Bell Photography

After just a few months, the Ukraine war is escalating dangerously. Russia decided to shut off gas exports to two EU nations, Poland and Bulgaria because they won’t pay Russia in Rubles. This escalation came one day after the US and other Western allies met to coordinate speeding up deliveries of more and better weapons to Ukraine.

Cutting off gas was called blackmail by the EU. But it isn’t blackmail, it’s war by other means. And it was totally foreseeable years ago when Europe happily set up its bulk gas buying relationships with Russia’s Gazprom.

There also were explosions in both Russia and in Transnistria (a separatist part of Moldova) that knocked out two powerful radio antennas and hit the state security ministry. Transnistria houses Europe’s largest ammo dump, filled with old Soviet armaments. It’s just 1km from the Ukraine border. Russia has blamed Ukraine. Ukraine blamed Russia.

Inside Russia’s Belgorod province, near the border with Ukraine, Newsweek reported that an ammunition depot was on fire. It’s unclear whether this was caused by poor local management, Ukraine, or sabotage.

And Germany decided to send anti-aircraft self-propelled guns to Ukraine. The Gepard, a tank with two 35-millimeter anti-air cannons, was phased out from the German army more than 10 years ago. But Germany still has many available. One problem is Switzerland, a key supplier of ammunition for the Gepard, has banned the export of that ammo to Ukraine.

It’s clear that the US and NATO are dipping their toes deeper into this conflict, and that Russia is expanding its efforts as well. The question is: whose toes get nipped first?

The Express is reporting that on Wednesday, Putin told Russian lawmakers in St. Petersburg:

“If anyone decides to meddle in ongoing events and create unacceptable strategic threats for Russia, they must know our response will be lightning-quick….We have all the instruments for this, ones nobody else can boast of. And we will use them, if we have to….We have already taken all the decisions on this.”

The big question today is whether the EU and NATO will say cutting off gas to one of us is cutting off gas to all of us. That would be a substantial escalation from where both stood on Russian gas in February.

By cutting off gas supplies, Russia may be making the same strategic mistake that the Confederacy made with its Cotton Embargo at the beginning of the US Civil War. That initially caused considerable economic pain, but both the French and British started importing Egyptian and Indian cotton. The South lost a long term market by its action. By the time the Confederacy realized it, they’d lost their key cotton export ports because of the US Naval blockade.

This is really Russia’s attempt to bully its biggest Western customer, Germany. As the Confederacy discovered, cutting off your big customers creates an aspect of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). It will be interesting to see how the rest of the EU deals with Russia’s demand for Ruble payments.

A few weeks ago it seemed Germany would blink first, but after its announcement to send armored vehicles, that seems less certain. The Russians are simply driving Europe to reduce their reliance on Russian gas and oil, with imports from other sources and renewables.

This is certainly an existential war for Ukraine and, given the current round of escalations and the bellicose talk out of Moscow, it’s becoming an existential war for all of Europe as well.

There’s an emerging feeling in the EU that Ukraine must win for Europe to feel secure. Winning is everything for both Ukraine and Russia. While Russia seems to be winning on the ground in Ukraine, they’ve been mostly stagnant for nearly a month while steadily getting chewed up by Ukraine’s defensive tactics. Ukraine on the other hand, is being bombed and shelled back to the 19th Century.

In the short term, things look bleak for Ukraine. In the longer term, if the West’s weapons resupply works, things look bleaker for Russia. And in the sanctions war, it also looks bleak for Russia in the longer term.

Europe probably can replace most of its Russian oil and gas imports within 12-18 months. OTOH, the Russian war machine is dependent on the West’s chips, optics, and other high tech, all of which are embargoed. It will take Russia years to replace them.

A final thought. Corruption in Russia’s military has been a serious problem since at least the 1970s. That time frame is important, because it means that no current Russian military officer has ever lived in an un-corrupt military culture. That doesn’t mean their military isn’t dangerous, but maybe we’ve exaggerated their prowess.

Wrongo asked Ms. Right if she could name a city in Moldova. She came up with bupkis. Wrongo understands that Bupkis has lovely churches and museums.

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Musk Buys Twitter

The Daily Escape:

High tide, Bandon, OR – April 2022 photo by Bobbie Shots Photography

The Boston Globe is reporting that Musk is purchasing Twitter.

Musk is one of the great entrepreneurs of the 21st Century. He’s redefining space travel with SpaceX. He’s revolutionized internet communication with his Starlink low-earth orbit satellites, having more than 2,000 satellites in orbit. And he’s made Tesla the global leader in Electric Vehicles. And that has made him very rich.

Now he’s using some of his Tesla money along with a lot of Other People’s Money (Morgan Stanley, Barclays, and Bank of America) to buy Twitter and take it private. Bloomberg says Musk’s pledging $21 billion of his own money. The Banks are going to lend him $12.5 billion, secured by an additional $62.5 billion of his Tesla shares.

The rest of the purchase price will be funded by $13 billion in debt that Twitter will take on. After the deal closes, Twitter will have about $1 billion in interest payments due on the new debt annually. Twitter’s cash flow is projected to be about $1.43 billion this year and $1.85 billion in 2023. So debt payments will now be a huge chunk of Twitter’s future cash.

Since this is America, it’s unlikely that any government agency will stand in the way of the sale, but there are two things wrong with it.

First is how Musk became so fabulously wealthy. As Ranjan Roy points out at Margins, his rapid ascent to wealth is due to his unusual compensation package at Tesla. The package set what appeared to be unrealistic goals for sales and profits.

In early 2018, when the comp package was agreed, there was plenty of doubt whether Tesla could scale its manufacturing capacity. Musk had repeatedly said Tesla was on the verge of bankruptcy, yet over the next few years, Tesla both stabilized and grew. It went from producing around 90k cars/quarter in 2018, to nearly 300k in the last quarter of 2021. Revenue grew from $12 billion to $54 billion. Tesla produced nearly 1 million cars in 2021.

At the same time, Tesla’s stock price went to the moon, making Musk the world’s richest human. Not incidentally, much of that was helped by Musk’s tweeting. Ranjan Roy says:

“…since the Spring of 2013, it was clear Tesla’s business results and Musk’s tweeting could have a self-reinforcing impact, and that…cycle…became more clear in recent years. Shortly after Musk signed his giant package, the really high-volume tweeting began, and the rest is wealth accumulation history.”

Musk realizes that he’s dependent on his Twitter marketing strategy. He has 80+ million Twitter followers, and unfettered access to his account is vital to his current and future business interests. Why? His current Tesla 10-year pay package has nearly hit its maximum targets in just four years.

Musk needs to think about where he gets his next giant gain in wealth.

This is the challenge of today’s capitalism: Boards with little real vision give stupendous compensation packages that turn out to be easily achievable. And the SEC allows entrepreneurs with media savvy to pump up their own stock at little personal risk.

Yes, Musk and Tesla have both paid fines to the SEC for stock manipulation. In a September 2018 settlement, Musk and the SEC agreed that he would step down as Tesla Chair and pay a $20 million penalty. Tesla also had to pay a $20 million fine.

But these were just minor costs of doing business compared to the personal wealth he’s created.

The second problem is that Musk, (and maybe a few on Twitter’s board) think that individual users should decide who and what gets seen and heard online. Musk says he wants Twitter to be an open playing field for competitive speech.

That may be peachy in the abstract. But we all know that every unmoderated platform goes to shit because it only takes a few bad-faith users to make it miserable for everyone.

For now, Twitter has decided that Trump can’t post on its platform. It decides whether to delete a post about vaccines if it deems the post to be misinformation. Most people don’t have the time to learn what’s real and reliable, and history shows how susceptible most are to harmful misinformation campaigns. Expect this to change after Musk buys Twitter.

Scott Galloway says:

“In an unmoderated online forum, all speakers do not play by the same rules or have the same tools. University of Maryland professor David Kirsch has found that automated pro-Tesla Twitter accounts are responsible for 20% of the tweets about Tesla, and that the launching of these bots correlates with increases in the company’s stock price.”

Rupert Murdoch transformed media in order to exercise greater influence over society. Does America need Musk to become another Murdoch? There’s a good chance one of his first acts as the Tweeter-in-Chief will be to re-instate Trump’s account, something that will have very serious political consequences.

Wrongo is a capitalist, but we’ve always needed rules to reign in the worst of the market’s players. And rules require umpires. Without umpires, anticompetitive and illegal acts go unpunished. Worse, today people insist, in the name of freedom, on their right to shout down all dissenting voices.

In America, underregulated economic winners have funded think tanks. Some have bought politicians. Some, newspapers and cable news stations. Musk is buying Twitter. They’re trying to convince us that the umpire is the enemy.

Musk wants you to live in a Wild West of speech and power. Are you ready for that?

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 25, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Dory, Jodrey State Fish Pier, Gloucester Harbor, Gloucester, MA – April 2022 photo by Juergen Roth Photography

Utah is in the news, first for the death of Orrin Hatch. He was the longest-serving Republican and the sixth longest-serving Senator in the history of the Senate. Hatch decided not to run for reelection in 2018, clearing the way for Mitt Romney to be elected in 2018.

Hatch blocked labor law reforms and fair housing bills. He voted against the Equal Rights Amendment, he proposed a Constitutional amendment to make abortion illegal. He helped draft the USA Patriot Act and supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hatch also opposed the Affordable Care Act and backed Trump’s anti-immigrant initiatives and Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords on climate change.

For his superb work in making the nation worse, Trump presented Hatch with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018.

In other Utah news, Democrats want to defeat Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) badly enough in November to nominate non-Democrat Evan McMullin instead of one of their own. From KSL.com:

“The Utah Democratic Party made an extraordinary decision on Saturday. A majority of delegates decided to not put forth a Democratic candidate to face off with Republican Sen. Mike Lee and instead back independent candidate Evan McMullin.”

At Utah’s state Democratic Convention, McMullin received 57% of the votes to 43% for his Democratic Party opponent Kael Weston.

McMullin ran an unsuccessful independent presidential campaign against Trump in 2016. He was a CIA operations officer from 2001 to 2010. He holds an MBA from Wharton and worked as an investment banker. He’s a (former?) Republican who was a senior adviser on national security issues for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He also served as a chief policy director for the House Republican Conference in the US House of Representatives from January 2015 through July 2016.

Backing McMullin has big implications for Utah’s Democrats. Having finally accepted that Utah Dems have been at least comatose if not dead for years, they’re not bothering to field their own Senate candidate. More from KSL.com:

“It’s an unprecedented measure for Utah’s Democrats, who grappled between party loyalty or backing an outsider to increase the likelihood of defeating a Republican in November. The Democrats were motivated by the prospect of unseating Sen. Mike Lee, who is running for his third term this year…”

After the vote, the losing Democrat Weston said:

“Of course, you want to be the candidate that walks out with a unanimous degree of support, but I knew this was always going to be an important conversation to have and I think with a great team, and a lot of supporters who drove from all across the state, it was a real conversation….Today was a crossroads and a certain path was taken. It’s a path that has not been taken before.”

Weston also said he’s more concerned about ensuring Utah has a:

“healthy political marketplace, and that’s not going to be possible if we don’t have Democrats on the ballot…”

Seems like the wound-licking will last for a while. McMullin said after the vote:

“Democrats are putting country over party….This is our democracy and, yes, it can be messy at times as we saw today, but it’s sure a heck of a lot better than the alternative.”

That sounds pretty mealy-mouth to Wrongo.

In 2022 we are facing some hard truths. Democrats at least in this Red state have decided that it’s time to do whatever it takes to stop sitting Republican seditionists like Mike Lee. It’s also a tacit admission that the Democratic Party brand is toxic in many Red states. So some Democrats are acting on the idea that coalition-building may not be such a bad strategy. They’re thinking that combining Democrats with Independents and a few never-Trumpers adds up to a huge chunk of real estate.

Maybe enough to win.

Time to wake up Democrats! Your Party is fractured and isn’t going to be healed by November. Since the states are often called the “laboratories of democracy”, maybe a few experiments in coalition-building with the center-right will tell us something more than simply being waxed in another Republican wave election like in 2010.

To help Democrats wake up, listen to Carlos Santana & Eric Clapton play “Jin Go Lo Ba” at the 2004 Crossroad Guitar Festival held at Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX:

Trust Wrongo, you won’t spend a better eight minutes today.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 24, 2022

A follow-up to the DeSantis vs. Disney column. Nick Papantonis of Orlando’s WFTV describes the economic consequences of Florida’s decision to take away Disney’s protected tax status.  In a Twitter thread, he says that DeSantis’ actions have given Disney a $163 million/year tax break while passing on to the two counties that hold Disney’s Reedy Creek tax jurisdiction more than $1 billion of municipal debt.

Also, once Reedy Creek goes away as a jurisdiction, Orange and Osceola counties will be responsible for providing all of the services (fire, police, roadwork) that Disney currently provides. And those counties won’t be able to pay for the additional services by raising sales taxes or impact fees.

So, they will have to raise property taxes. By law, they must tax all properties equally (not just Disney) and it’s expected that the county mil rate for property tax computation in Orange County will rise as much as 25% next June.

Florida has just 12 counties where Biden won in 2020. DeSantis has cleverly managed to screw the residents in two of them. Orange was 61-38 for Biden, Osceola was 56-43. The residents, by the way, had no say in DeSantis’ Murder Mickey vote. They will likely have no say in their property taxes going through the roof. But they are likely to see their communities come close to financial ruin.

In a way, the outcome is a perfect encapsulation of the 2022 Republican Party: Take more from Joe Sixpack while the corporations that are ostensibly the target of their moral outrage, walk away with the money. Oh, and screw a few Blue counties. On to cartoons.

Who won? You be the judge:

GOP’s rules seem wrong:

Happy passengers are missing the big picture:

MAGAs should choose their poison carefully:

Our learning disability:

 

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Saturday Soother – April 23, 2022

The Daily Escape:

North Landing River, near Virginia Beach, VA – April 2022 photo by Erik Moore

Our media ecosystem is overwhelming us. Some of the information is accurate, some is bogus, and much is intentionally misleading. And that’s a deliberate strategy. While it didn’t originate with Steve Bannon, he perfected it with his thought that:

“…the Democrats don’t matter….The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

This is why the ongoing cultural war works so well for Republicans. There’s always some petty war going on between the Parties that’s stoked by the media. And it’s almost always about cultural issues since Republicans really don’t have a policy platform, and don’t want to go against large corporate America. When you go against corporations, you lose the money needed to get elected.

But we should see the big corporations as our common enemy. Time Magazine has an article about how overtime pay has disappeared:

“If it feels like you’re working longer hours for less money than your parents or grandparents did, it’s because you probably are. Adjusted for inflation, average hourly wages have actually fallen since the early 1970s, while average hours worked have steadily climbed. American workers are increasingly underpaid, overworked, and overwhelmed.”

One reason is the loss of overtime pay:

“If you’re under the age of 45, you may have no idea that overtime pay is even a thing. But…middle-class workers used to get a lot of it….That means that [for] every hour you work over 40 hours a week you work for free, contributing…a giant pool of free labor that modern employers have come to expect and exploit. Profits are up, real wages are down, and income inequality has soared to its highest level since the Gilded Age.”

Overtime pay was one of the great New Deal reforms. It was a core provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA set the minimum wage at one-half the median wage and the overtime threshold at three times the minimum—an amount equal to 1.5 times the median wage.

But both the minimum wage and the overtime rules began to change in 1975, and rising income inequality since 1975 is responsible for a $50 trillion upward redistribution of wealth and income from the bottom 90% households to those in the top 1%. Here’s a chart showing the impact of losing overtime. Productivity goes up, but is completely decoupled from income:

Source: chartr

The Economic Policy Institute has a tool called “Company Wage Tracker” that allows you to select any big corporation and see what percentage of their employees make below a certain wage. For example, it shows that 51% of Walmart employees earn below $15/hr.

The NYT wrote about Mary Gundel, a manager at a Dollar General store in Tampa, FL who was fired for speaking out about the chain’s policies regarding overtime and short-staffing:

“The store used to have about 198 hours a week to allocate to a staff of about seven people….But by the end of last month, she had only about 130 hours to allocate….With not as many hours to give to her staff, Ms. Gundel often had to operate the store on her own for long stretches, typically working six days and up to 60 hours a week with no overtime pay.”

Ms. Gundel was working 60 hours a week and making $51,000 a year. That means she’s making only a little more than the minimum wage. Dollar General is one of the most profitable retail chains in the country.

Prices are going up everywhere across America, and corporations are making proportionately more income. This is what the Democrats should be focusing on, standing up for workers, doing what is right as opposed to groping for answers to the Republican’s culture war issues.

There’s plenty that’s wrong in America. But what’s wrong doesn’t see the light of day alongside all of the pissing contests about Critical Race Theory, or predator grooming or LGBTQ issues. These are ginned-up to make sure you won’t pay attention to what’s really going on.

Something seems to be brewing. We’re seeing halting attempts at unionization at Starbucks and Amazon. Those employees want a better life; they want to have a seat at the table about the future of the company.

We need to remember that without the “essential workers” the country grinds to a halt. We need to support those who try to organize. We need to wrest some economic power away from politicians and big businesses. And finally, some faceless people who are sick of being wronged are trying to do just that.

Enough for another week. It’s time to let go of the news. It’s time for our Saturday Soother. On the Fields of Wrong we’re preparing our vegetable garden, although it will be a few weeks before it’s warm enough for the plants to survive. We had an overnight temperature of 32° earlier this week.

Now, grab a seat by a large window and listen to violin soloist Soojin Han play Chopin’s “Nocturne No.20 in C# minor” in August 2019. She’s playing on a 1666 Stradivarius:

It sounds beautiful.

Chopin composed the piece in 1830, but it was published in 1875, 26 years after his death. It was featured in the movie “The Pianist” in 2002.

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DeSantis vs. Disney

The Daily Escape:

Sea glass, Provincetown, MA – April 2022 photo by Nancy Kaplan

Today we continue discussing the growing Republican culture wars, this time in Florida against Disney. NBC News reported:

“The Florida Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would dissolve the special taxing district that allows the Walt Disney Co. to self-govern in its theme park area.”

Walt Disney World has effectively operated as its own municipal government in central Florida since a 1967 state law established what’s called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, an area encompassing 25,000 acres near Orlando. The law grants Disney a wide range of authority, including the power to issue bonds and provide its own utilities and emergency services, such as fire protection.

That law is in large part what convinced Disney originally to come to Florida. It has since become the state’s largest private employer with 80,000 jobs.

On Wednesday, the Florida senate passed a bill that would dissolve all independent special districts established before 1968, including Reedy Creek. Lawmakers voted 23 to 16 in favor of the bill during a special session of the state Legislature.

This is part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) and the Republican-controlled  legislature‘s escalating culture war with Disney over the company’s opposition to recently passed legislation in Florida that Disney considers to be anti-gay. Disney’s leadership has criticized the legislation that prevents classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through the third grade.

Disney later said it would pause making campaign donations in Florida and also said it hoped that the law would either be repealed or struck down by the courts.

Wrongo is old enough to remember when the GOP believed that corporations had free speech and should be pretty much immune from regulation. But it now seems that corporations can be harassed or investigated unless they fall in line with the goals of the Republican culture war.

Targeting Disney only became a thing after the company spoke out about the “don’t say gay” law. Charles Cooke in the National Review notes that:

“Until about a month ago, Walt Disney World’s legal status was not even a blip on the GOP’s radar. No Republicans were calling for it to be revisited….”

Cooke says that Florida’s legislature has had five opportunities over the past 50 years to remove Disney’s sweetheart deal and didn’t. But context is everything. After the DeSantis effort to punish Disney, the legislature piled on, pretending that it’s doing so out of a concern for “good government”.

The fun part is that Disney’s status is not unique. Florida has 1,844 special districts, of which 1,288, like Walt Disney World, are “independent.” Charlie Sykes at the Bulwark offers up examples of a few more of these districts:

  • The Villages (where Governor DeSantis announced his review of Disney’s status)
  • Orlando International Airport
  • The Daytona International Speedway

Wrongo isn’t defending Disney’s right to special treatment, despite he and Ms. Right having a granddaughter who works for Disney in CA.

Wrongo would be fine if Florida took away all special breaks from these large corporations.

The Disney special district is really a form of corporate welfare. And no Republican with serious national ambitions wants to be against corporate welfare. So instead, DeSantis tries punishing Disney as part of his red-hot culture war. If this move was really about good public policy, then Republicans would have done it through their regular legislative process. But that clearly wasn’t their intent.

Overlooked in the anti-Disney hype, was that this bill was attached to other legislation approved by the Florida senate, a Congressional redistricting map that eliminates two predominantly Black Congressional districts and tilts the balance of the Florida delegation even more to the Republicans. Democrats were especially critical of an amendment added Tuesday that requires all lawsuits challenging the redistricting map to be filed in Leon Circuit Court. This is an attempt to sidestep the federal court in Tallahassee where in the past, most election law cases have been challenged and found to be unconstitutional.

The new map is expected to boost Republicans’ current 16-11 Congressional advantage to 20–8. Republicans would likely own roughly 71% of the state’s Congressional seats in a state where Trump won with 51.2% of the vote in 2020. Florida also gained a seat during the most recent census.

The Party claiming to be against “Big Government” is using the government to punish a private company for permissible business decisions. As Heather Cox Richardson says:

“The Walt Disney Company delivers to the state more than $409 million in sales taxes for tickets alone, employs more than 80,000 Florida residents, and supports more than 400,000 more jobs. Today, the Miami Herald reported that repealing the company’s governing authority would raise taxes on families in the area by $2,200 each.”

Anyone else getting really tired of Republicans telling us we can’t say certain words, we can’t read certain books, we can’t teach certain things, or that we can’t talk about certain history? And why are they taking away our freedom to vote?

What’s Conservative about any of that?

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What to Do When You’re Called “Pedophile”

The Daily Escape:

Western Rosebud, Red Rock National conservation area, NV – April 2022 photo by David Frederick

We’ve reached a point in our political discourse where Republicans are tossing around lies about their Democratic opponents, including saying the Democrats are pedophiles. And they’re doing it without fear of reprisal from the establishment Democrats.

One Democrat, Michigan state senator Mallory McMorrow was accused by Lana Theis, a Republican state senate colleague, of being a “groomer” of young children in a recent fundraising appeal. Theis also said McMorrow wanted to teach 8-year-olds that they are responsible for slavery. McMorrow didn’t stay silent after the accusations against her. She gave her Republican accuser a rhetorical bloody nose:

Her speech is inspiring. You should definitely watch it. Here’s a quote:

“I am a straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom who knows that the very notion that learning about slavery or redlining or systemic racism somehow means that children are being taught to feel bad or hate themselves because they are white is absolute nonsense…No child alive today is responsible for slavery. No one in this room is responsible for slavery. But each and every single one of us bears responsibility for writing the next chapter of history….we are not responsible for the past. We also cannot change the past. We can’t pretend that it didn’t happen or deny people their very right to exist.”

The Dem’s typical “that doesn’t deserve a response” is out of date. It doesn’t work on hateful Republican rhetoric. McMorrow shows us how it’s done.

We need to get used to this, because it’s going to be a main talking point for Republicans through the 2022 mid-terms and beyond. In response, it isn’t enough for Democrats to “just go high”. They need to start attacking Republicans for how weird and abnormal they are.

You probably saw the many humorous takes on Tucker Carlson’s weirdo testicle-tanning video. Really, these guys get to accuse others of sexual problems?

And there’s Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) who may actually soon be a convicted pedophile. You remember Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) was implicated in allegations of sexual misconduct against the Ohio State wrestling team’s former team doctor. Or Rep. Lauren Boebert’s (R-CO) then-future husband who was arrested for exposing himself to two young women at a Colorado bowling alley (she was present), and he was later arrested for domestic violence against her while they were dating.

These are the people who are screaming “pedophiles” at Dems.

Wrongo doesn’t often suggest paying attention to James Carville, but on MSNBC over the weekend he said: (brackets by Wrongo)

“[Republicans] have learned over a period of time it doesn’t matter” what they say or do, Carville complained. “[Democrats] are weak and all they’re gonna do is talk bad about each other.”

Carville pointed out how little pushback Democrats made against the pedophilia-obsessed GOP Senators during the Supreme Court Justice confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown-Jackson.

Charlie Pierce reminds us of how there is a straight line from the McMartin case in 1990 to where we are today. McMartin showed how hysteria over purported sexual abuse of children in schools can grip our society. Despite a complete lack of reputable evidence against the teachers and workers at McMartin Preschool, the McMartin trials took over six years and cost more than $13.5 million without a single guilty verdict resulting from the 208 charges.

Today these accusations are again rampant across the country, only with much more paranoia and way more firearms. America is on the cusp of a revolution, but it’s too early to see exactly what it is coming, or what it will become.

We now live in a world where it’s perfectly acceptable for a politician to demonize those who don’t share their belief system. Someone can take to Twitter or send out a fundraising email and savage a person either to score cheap political points or add a few bucks to their political war chest.

The Republicans are essentially a new Party since its hostile takeover by Trump. Democrats have to look all the way back to FDR for a takeover model. He overthrew the old political order with the New Deal.

We’re seeing a well-organized, well-funded, (and effective in its way), Republican assault on democracy itself: They have willed into existence a Supreme Court supermajority that cares about its social agenda as much as it cares about the “law”. The GOP’s Senate and House ranks are filled with adherents to that same agenda.

Nearly half of America agrees with them because they promise revenge against people they despise. We face a risk in 2024 of Trump winning a filibuster-proof trifecta [House, Senate, White House] with a minority of the national vote.

We can no longer afford to “go high”. Everyone knows the stakes.

What will Democrats do to win?

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Texas Wingnuttery

The Daily Escape:

Easter morning at Lake Tapps, with Mt. Rainer in background, Pierce County, WA – April 2022 photo by Motojw Photography. This picture was cropped by Wrongo to fit the blog’s page. View the original photo here.

Two examples of Texas wingnuttery, and it’s only Tuesday. First, the WaPo has an article showing how Conservative groups are teaming up with politicians to remove books and to change membership of local library boards:

“In early November, an email dropped into the inbox of Judge Ron Cunningham, the silver-haired head chair of the governing body of Llano County in Texas’s picturesque Hill Country. The subject line read ‘Pornographic Filth at the Llano Public Libraries.’”

The author was Bonnie Wallace, a local church volunteer who had attached an Excel spreadsheet with 60 books she found objectionable, including those about transgender teens, sex education and race, including “Between the World and Me,” by author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Not long after, the county’s chief librarian sent the list to Suzette Baker, head of one of the library’s three branches:

“She told me to look at pulling the books off the shelf and possibly putting them behind the counter. I told them that was censorship,”

In January, commissioners voted to dissolve the existing library board and created a reconstituted board of mostly political appointees, including many of the citizens who had complained about books. They named Ms. Wallace the vice chair of a new library board stacked with conservative appointees some of whom didn’t even have library cards.

Later, Baker was fired, and Llano joined a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content they deem to be inappropriate.

A movement that started by influencing school boards has now expanded to public libraries. They accounted for 37% of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. Conservative activists in several states, including Texas, Montana and Louisiana have joined forces with like-minded officials to dissolve libraries’ governing bodies, rewrite or delete censorship protections, and remove books outside of official challenge procedures.

No one is forced to go to a public library. If someone goes to a public library, nobody is forcing that person to read a book while there, or to take a book out of the public library. It’s called a “public” library for a reason. The library serves all of the public, not just a small interest group (or individual) who feels they have the right to decide what all citizens should or shouldn’t read.

The issue is denial of public access.

Second, the NYT reports that a Texas state legislator warned Citigroup that he would introduce a bill to prevent the bank from underwriting municipal bonds in the state unless it rescinded its policy covering travel expenses for employees who go outside their state to seek an abortion. This Texas politician is attempting to dictate a national anti-abortion policy:

Citigroup stated in a filing on Tuesday that it would provide travel benefits to employees seeking abortions outside their state, “in response to changes in reproductive health care laws in certain states.” Last year, Texas enacted a law that bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. The law took effect in September.”

It’s important to remember Enron, a now-defunct Texas corporation known for its massive accounting fraud, used to threaten banks with withdrawing all of their business if the bank’s analysts gave accurate opinions about Enron’s stock. It appears that remains a model for Republican governance.

Lots of high tech companies have diversity programs and progressive employee policies. Many have extensive operations in Texas. It’s going to take some time but Texas will suffer disinvestment as companies move elsewhere.

Because Texas is becoming Taliban country.

Here’s a long quote from Oliver Cromwell, speaking to the Rump Parliament on April 20, 1653, the day he dissolved it. He could easily be speaking to today’s Republican Party:

“It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there and lock up the doors.

In the name of God, go!”

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