Saturday Soother – March 4, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Superstition Mountain area, AZ – March 2, 2023 photo by Teresa Arbisi

What does freedom mean to you? Lexington, a columnist who writes about America in the Economist, says that American politicians on the right and left are groping for a new definition of what it means:

“Democrats and Republicans are competing over which party is the true defender of freedom in American life, but the claims of both have become muddy. What the debate really illuminates is how far the parties have drifted from decades of consensus about liberty in American economic and social life, without yet articulating where they are headed, if they know.”

Lexington says that as evidence of the Republicans’ commitment to freedom, they are for gun rights. The Democrats usually point to abortion rights or voting rights. But the crux of today’s battles are about how history should be taught, what pronouns people should use, and whether governments should coax investment managers to include corporate behaviors in their analysis of investments.

We see that there’s a new willingness on the part of Republicans to inject the state into what freedom means.

Lexington says that Harvard’s Michael Sandel, in his 1996 book “Democracy’s Discontent”, traced in the wake of the New Deal how Americans made peace with centralized governmental power by embracing a concept of liberty that maximized the individual citizens’ freedom to pursue their own ends, with an economy that encouraged consumption. The implicit agreement was that:

“The government would deliver economic growth and Americans would debate how to distribute it, but politicians would stay out of questions about individuals’ values or notions of the good life. In one sign of this shift the Supreme Court in 1943 blocked local governments from compelling schoolchildren to salute the flag.”

This idea of government staying out of the way of individual freedom used to be a core assumption of American politics, but not so much today. Two examples: Florida’s governor DeSantis has trouble squaring his agenda that includes enhancing the state’s control over local schools and substituting its judgment for that of corporations over how to serve their customers.

DeSantis signed a law tightening restrictions on what materials teachers can use, prevented cruise-ship companies from requiring passengers to be vaccinated and sought new government control over Disney because he disapproved of its exercise of speech.

This week, a Florida state senator introduced a bill that would make bloggers who write about DeSantis, and other members of the Florida executive cabinet or legislature register with the state or face fines.

Whatever you make of these policies, what’s happening in Florida is miles away from any definition of freedom.

Second, Lexington points to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the governor of Arkansas. In her rebuttal to Biden’s State of the Union speech, she said she was a defender of free speech, while boasting she had banned the “derogatory term LatinX in our government”. Wrongo never uses the term either, but did Huckabee Sanders understand the contradiction between her actions and what freedom of speech means?

The Republicans are saying words about freedom that no longer square with the concept, while groping for definitions that they can’t articulate without losing much of America. Take for example, this quote from DeSantis’s new book, “The Courage to Be Free”:

“At the end of the day, the re-mooring of the constitutional ship of state will provide the needed foundation for the reinvigoration of a society rooted in freedom, justice, and the rule of law.”

What exactly does THAT mean?

This is a great time to introduce you to Anat Shenker-Osorio. She’s the founder of ASO Communications, and an expert on political messaging. Shenker-Osorio says we need to be thinking about freedom as freedoms, plural. And to see it as a concept that the Left needs to reclaim from the Right, who use it as a tribal signifier.

She says the Left focuses too much on what they are against. Thus, what the Left stands for gets lost in the noise. She thinks that freedom must be a contested value between the Parties.

If you think about it, the Right have fought against every major effort to extend freedom to more people. Isn’t it funny how deeply anti-communist Florida along with the deeply anti-communist Republican Party keep doing things to constrain freedom? Aren’t these the hallmarks of state socialist regimes?

On to the weekend and our Saturday Soother. It’s our time to forget about ideas that make our heads hurt; like what freedom means. Let’s try to center ourselves after another week of terrible news. Here on the Fields of Wrong, the first robins have arrived. They’re searching among the patches of snow for those early bugs that will soon be everywhere. We’re also getting our latest late winter snowfall, so good luck finding bugs for the next day or so.

Let’s start off by grabbing a chair by a south-facing window. Now watch and listen to Yo Yo Ma perform “Song of the Birds“. It’s a traditional Catalan tune and was a favorite of Pablo Casals, but the composer is unknown. Ma plays this piece often.

Casals often played it to protest war and oppression, particularly after he fled Franco’s Spain. He played it in 1961 at the White House for John F. Kennedy. Here Ma performs it live at KCRW in Los Angeles:

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What To Do About Social Security and Medicare

The Daily Escape:

Lupine and poppies, near Glendale, AZ – March 2023 photo by Marion Cart

From Joe Perticone:

“Social Security and Medicare are headed for insolvency—that’s just a mathematical, demographic fact. But when it comes to addressing the problem, there’s virtually nothing the two parties actually agree on. For years, Republicans have waffled between proposing cuts and kicking the can down the road.”

Republicans are correct that Social Security (SS) and Medicare (M) are marching toward insolvency. But they trip over their own feet with their proposals to save them. Republicans are wrong to think they can solve the solvency questions without raising taxes. Once the Republicans take taxes off the table, they’re left without any real solutions to propose.

The Biden administration has done a good job in pre-emptively going after Republican’s ideas about cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits. The result is that the GOP is squabbling between themselves and scrambling to come up with a plan they could take to the public.

It’s not just the federal debt that should be discussed. Dr. Donald Berwick head of Medicare and Medicaid during the Obama administration wrote in JAMA: (emphasis by Wrongo):

“A total of 41% of US adults, 100 million people, bear medical debts. One of every 8 individuals owes more than $10,000. In Massachusetts, 46% of adults say they skip needed care because of costs. As of 2021, 58% of all debt collections in the US are for medical bills.”

The WaPo explains why people who live in the American South have bad credit scores. It turns out that neither race nor poverty were the deciding factors. It was medical debt:

“Of the 100 counties with the highest share of adults struggling to pay their medical debt, 92 are in the South, and the other eight are in neighboring Oklahoma and Missouri…”

But why the South? Yes, as a region, it’s unhealthy. But there are several Northeastern states where residents struggle with chronic health conditions but have good credit. One thing that stands out is the lack of Medicaid:

“…a recent analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association…found that medical debt became more concentrated in lower-income communities in states that did not expand Medicaid after key provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014.”

So bad health and bad credit are because of Republican governors’ refusal to expand Medicaid to cover more poor people. Leave it to the south to show a MAGA future for all of us: undereducated, unhealthy, and neck-deep in debt.

More from WaPo:

“In states that immediately expanded Medicaid, medical debt was slashed nearly in half between 2013 and 2020. In states that didn’t expand Medicaid, medical debt fell just 10%, the JAMA team found. And in low-income communities in those states, debt levels actually rose.”

It’s probably not a surprise that deep medical indebtedness isn’t a threat in any other developed nation on earth. It isn’t a surprise that health care in the US costs nearly twice as much as care in any other developed nation, while US health status and longevity lag far behind.

Legislating in the US is always a process. That means Congress labors to find incremental gains they dress up as reforms. The 1983 deal struck by Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill is considered to be one of the great bipartisan compromises. It combined benefit cuts with revenue increases to put Social Security back on a sound financial footing that has lasted for decades.

This time, getting rid of the income cap on the SS tax would help to keep it funded for an additional 35 years. At that point the Baby Boom demographic bulge will be over, and a different set of reforms can be proposed.

Medicare is the second largest program in the federal budget, equaling 10% of the total. Medicare spending is also a major driver of long-term federal spending and is projected to rise from 4% of GDP in FY 2021 to about 6% in FY 2052 due to the retirement of the Baby Boom generation and the continuing rapid growth of per capita healthcare costs:

Medicaid accounts for another 9%. But it’s also the largest source of federal revenues for state budgets. As a result of the federal dollar matching structure, Medicaid has a unique role in state budgets as both an expenditure item and a source of revenue.

Over the next few years, we’re going to need to come up with solutions to the problem of what to do about growing health care costs that are (along with lower tax revenues from recent Republican tax cuts) driving our ever larger US budget deficits.

Both sides are going to have to compromise. There’s no way we’re going to balance the budget in 10 years (or ever) unless we talk about increasing revenues while slowing the growth in the costs of health care that our entitlement programs cover.

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Nuclear Power vs. Solar And Wind

The Daily Escape:

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon NP – February 26, 2023 photo by Adam Schallau Photography. The Grand Canyon NP was created on 2/26/1919.

There’s lots of talk about America’s need to move away from traditional sources of energy to renewable energy. Wolf Richter gives us some perspective: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Electricity generation, as measured in gigawatt-hours, [faced] near-stagnation in demand since 2007, as efforts to make everything more efficient…produced results…[but]…These upfront costs by electricity users…reduced electricity consumption. For electric utilities, it meant that they were stuck in a demand quagmire….But…in 2022…electricity generation rose by 3.5% from 2021, to a new record of 4,297,000 gigawatt-hours…”

Wolf helpfully provides a chart of electricity generated by type:

The decline in coal and the remarkable increases in natural gas and renewables are easy to see. The renewables category includes wind, hydro, solar, geothermal, and biomass.

The green line above is for nuclear power, which very few people think of as a “green” source of power generation. Wrongo believes we need to reconsider nuclear power if we are to hit our ambitious targets for lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades.

Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic has a long and well-reasoned article about how, after a decade of regulatory and financial uncertainty, small modular light-water nuclear reactors are getting closer than ever to commercialization. Rauch describes the vision is for small nuclear reactors:

“Forget about those airport-scale compounds…and 40-story cooling towers belching steam. This reactor will sit in an ordinary building the size of…a suburban self-storage facility. It will be mass-produced in factories for easy shipping and rapid assembly. Customers will be able to buy just one, to power a chemical or steel plant, or a few, linked like batteries, to power a city.”

Given new technologies currently in advanced testing, even if a local disaster cuts the power to the reactor cooling system, this new type of reactor will not melt down, spew radioactive material, or become too hot and dangerous to approach. It will remain stable until normal conditions are restored.

But for decades, nuclear has flopped as a commercial proposition. It has broken its promises to deliver new plants on budget and on time. And despite an enviable safety record, the public still fears catastrophic accidents. The Three Mile Island plant’s partial meltdown in 1979 was the US nuclear industry’s worst accident. Although no one died or was injured, it hardened the public and environmentalists against increasing the use of nuclear power in the US. In fact, the plant’s second reactor operated without problems until 2019 when it was decommissioned. Today legacy nuclear power supplies about 18% of American electricity, and the US has fired up only one new nuclear power reactor since 1996.

It seems perverse to avoid nuclear, since it’s carbon-free, and as few realize, very safe. Only the 1986 accident at Chernobyl has caused mass fatalities from radioactivity. Remember, that plant was subpar and mismanaged by Western standards.

Excluding Chernobyl, the total number of deaths attributed to a radiation accident at a commercial nuclear power plant is zero or one, depending on your interpretation of Japan’s 2011 Fukushima accident. Yes, more than 2,000 people may have died in Fukushima, but most of that happened during the evacuation.

Solar and wind have huge problems because of how much land they require. According to Armond Cohen of the Clean Air Task Force, meeting all of the eastern US’s energy needs requires 100,000 square miles of solar panels, an area larger than New England. Wind is worse: It requires more than 800,000 square miles of onshore windmills to meet the eastern US power needs, an area the size of Alaska plus California. NIMBY opposition will prevent the building of sufficient power generation from wind and solar.

Contrast this with the space required by small nuclear reactors: They would take up about 500 square miles of nuclear plants, equal to the size of Phoenix, Arizona to power the eastern US.

Dozens of companies and labs in the US and abroad are pursuing small nuclear plants. GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has a signed agreement to build the first grid-connected small modular reactor (SMR) for Ontario Power Generation. It will be a 300-megawatt light-water SMR in Ontario, Canada.

NuScale Power, a pioneer in small reactors, cleared the ultimate US regulatory hurdle when the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified the design of NuScale’s 50-megawatt power module. It’s the first design ever approved for use in the US. The US Department of Energy is helping to fund NuScale’s project at the Idaho National Laboratory, including $1.35 billion in funding. The first of six clustered SMRs at the site is expected to go online in 2029, with the rest expected to follow in 2030.

Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act also provides a tax credit for advanced nuclear reactors and microreactors.

Ultimately, choice of energy generation will come down to cost. Solar is widely deployed today because it’s the lowest-cost generation source. But how can it scale?

If SMRs can demonstrate a cost advantage in real-life operation, orders will follow. And the long-promised nuclear renaissance might actually arrive.

Along with a better shot at a low carbon future.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 27, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Blue Ridge Mountains, near Asheville, NC – February 2023 photo by Andre Daugherty

Yesterday, Wrongo posted the Gallup Poll’s recent survey showing that 65% of Americans support continuing with the war in Ukraine, even if it’s a prolonged conflict. Staying the course in Ukraine requires us to think carefully about both the means of continuing to arm Ukraine, and also about the ends we hope to achieve once the fight is over.

The New Yorker’s David Remnick interviewed Russian historian Stephen Kotkin about how the war in Ukraine ends. Kotkin points out that the war is far from over, but we can look at how it might end:

“The Biden Administration has effectively defined victory from the American point of view as: Ukraine can’t lose this war. Russia can’t take all of Ukraine and occupy Ukraine, and disappear Ukraine as a state, as a nation.”

Kotkin thinks that from the Ukrainian viewpoint, victory has mostly to do with getting into the European Union:

“…that has to be the definition of victory: Ukraine gets into the European Union. If Ukraine regains all of its territory and doesn’t get into the EU, is that a victory? As opposed to: If Ukraine regains as much of its territory as it physically can on the battlefield, not all of it…but does get EU accession—would that be a definition of victory? Of course, it would be.”

Currently, we’re experiencing a war of attrition between Ukraine and Russia. In order to win this type of war, you have to out-produce your enemy’s weapons production.

But is that realistic? The US is the major supplier of arms to Ukraine, but we haven’t ramped up our production of the weapons we’re sending to Ukraine. Instead, we’re drawing down our supplies of armaments. More from Kotkin: (brackets by Wrongo)

“We haven’t ramped up industrial production at all. At peak, the Ukrainians were firing…upward of ninety thousand artillery shells a month. US monthly production of artillery shells is fifteen thousand. With all our allies thrown in, everybody in the mix who supports Ukraine, you get another fifteen thousand….So you can [produce] thirty thousand…artillery shells while expending ninety thousand a month. We haven’t ramped up…..We’re running out.”

So, can we actually provide the means to get to the ends Biden wants, or the ends that Ukraine wants? Not without doing something radically different than we’re doing now.

Politically, from here to the 2024 election we’ll see a debate about whether we should be in Ukraine at all. This debate will form a key element in who the Republicans select as their presidential nominee.

Mike Pence isn’t a first-level presidential candidate, but on Friday he rebuked fellow Republicans who have given less-than-robust support for America’s defense of Ukraine. On NBC, he lays out the classic Republican position clearly:

“…I would say anyone that thinks that Vladimir Putin will stop at Ukraine is wrong…”

NBC also quoted DeSantis: (brackets by Wrongo)

“An open-ended blank check [in Ukraine]…is…not acceptable…..Russia has been really, really wounded here and I don’t think that they are the same threat to our country, even though they’re hostile. I don’t think they’re on the same level as a China.”

The WSJ’s Kimberley Strassel writes that Trump intends to make limiting or ending the war in Ukraine a central element in his campaign. She quotes Trump:

“This thing has to stop, and it’s got to stop now…the US should negotiate peace between these two countries, and I don’t think they should be sending very much.”

Strassel thinks that Trump sees an opening to rally the part of his base that’s skeptical of military commitments abroad. So he, like Congressional Republicans are floating a false choice: A strong America globally or a strong America domestically:

“The GOP for more than 70 years has been the party of strong defense….Trump and a small group (at least for now) of congressional Republicans risk throwing all that hard-earned credibility away, neutralizing one of the party’s greatest strengths…”

Clearly there’s a developing split in the GOP over whether America should be backing the war or seeking immediate peace in Ukraine.

Regardless of Republican Party politics, don’t Ukrainians deserve the chance to try to win on the battlefield? Whether America is willing to ramp up its weapons production will partially answer that question. And whether we’re able to keep our eyes on the prize of a reunited NATO, a reunited EU, and a free Ukraine.

Time to wake up America! It seems possible that the Republican Party might shift to preferring a strong America domestically rather than a strong America globally.

That would be a political earthquake in our politics.

And how would the Democrats adjust? Their political brand is already pretty damaged among the White non-college educated in heartland America. Would the Dems become America’s military spending Party?

To help you wake up, listen to 1973’s “Live and Let Die” written by Paul and Linda McCartney, and performed live by McCartney:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 26, 2023

From Gallup: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Nearly one year into the war between Russia and Ukraine, Americans’ support for Ukraine holds steady. A stable 65% of US adults prefer that the United States support Ukraine in reclaiming its territory, even if that results in a prolonged conflict. Meanwhile, 31% continue to say they would rather see the US work to end the war quickly, even if this allows Russia to keep its [Ukraine’s] territory.”

Here’s Gallup’s chart:

Shortly after the poll was conducted, Biden announced that the US would send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

There are significant partisan differences in how the war is viewed. Democrats are far more supportive than Republicans and independents, even though majorities of all three Party groups favor Ukraine’s continuing to fight to reclaim its former territory:

The Bulwark’s Will Saletan writes about the current disarray in the GOP over Ukraine. He’s saying that war fatigue and unease in the Republican base are being channeled and fueled by FOX, whose primetime anchors are working to undermine America’s support for Ukraine. He also mentions a few GOP officials who are fighting back by supporting Ukraine when they go on the FOX network.

This isn’t shocking, since back in the 1990s the warmonger right were literally saying “give peace a chance” over NATOs involvement in the Balkans. Mostly because the commander in chief at the time was a Democrat. This is what they do.

Wrongo thinks that, just like in the 90s, there are enough Republicans tied to the military and national security to ensure that the US won’t abandon Ukraine.

But from here to the 2024 election we’ll see a large contingent of Republican hypocrites who will turn themselves inside out trying to be peaceniks, complaining that the money spent in Ukraine should be going to Real Americans. It’s just a game to them. And It has been for a very long time. On to cartoons.

The Tucker effect:

The DeSantis labels won’t stick:

The GOP’s Information Ministry at work:

Same ‘ol from Trump:

McCarthy’s strategy:

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Saturday Soother – February 25, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Death Valley sunset, Death Valley NP, CA and NV – February 2023 photo by Leila Shehab Photography

From the NYT:

“To Democrats, the train derailment and chemical leak in the hamlet of East Palestine, Ohio, is a story of logic, action, and consequences: Rail safety regulations put in place by the Obama administration were intended to prevent just such accidents. The Trump administration gutted them.

To Republicans, East Palestine is a symbol of something…more emotional: a forgotten town in a conservative state, like so many others in Middle America, struggling for survival against an uncaring mega-corporation and an unseeing government…”

If you follow FOX news you can be forgiven for thinking that the federal disaster relief teams just got around to dealing with the hazardous materials spill in East Palestine, Ohio.

Actually, those federal teams have been on the scene since it happened.

Republicans are trying to make a political meatloaf out of Biden’s visiting Ukraine rather than visiting Ohio. Or why it took Pete Buttigieg three weeks to visit the site. Even the East Palestine mayor Trent Conaway said Biden’s trip to Eastern Europe was “a slap in the face.” But if Biden had visited, you know the mayor would say he had better things to do than shepherd around a bigwig.

Their message is that Democrats are indifferent to working-class voters.

But maybe there’s something under the surface of these politics-as-usual arguments. The derailment presents issues that Republicans rarely like to grapple with: Corporate power and a clear need for government regulation.

What may be brewing is a new and different message by the GOP’s populist wing, one that breaks with Party orthodoxy and targets corporate America. And Norfolk Southern, owner of the derailed train and also behind a clear lobbying effort to keep the government from improving rail safety, is a big and very easy target.

Vox quotes Saurabh Sharma, the president of American Moment, a public policy organization that aims to influence young conservatives to become more populist:

“I think that this tragedy that happened in East Palestine is an opportunity for Republicans that have been looking for opportunities to distinguish themselves from the neoliberal set in the party to do so.”

The execrable JD Vance was in East Palestine with Trump, and told Axios afterwards that figures like Trump, Tucker Carlson and himself recognize that East Palestine residents and those like them were the GOP’s voters:

“The three of us, in our own ways, recognized instantly: This is fundamentally our voters, right? These are sort of our people. It’s a reasonably rural community. It’s been affected by industrialization,” Vance said. “These are the people who really lost when we lost our manufacturing base to China, And these are the people who are going to be forgotten by the media unless certain voices make sure that their interests are at the forefront.”

Wow, Yale grad Vance, trying to speak mid-western English says: “This is fundamentally our voters, right?

The question is: Can Republicans build an economic populist base within their Party? It’s clear that Trump deserves criticism from the Democrats over the accident, since it’s easy to connect the derailment to Trump’s deregulation of ineffective train braking systems, the cause of the accident. That means Trump wouldn’t be exempt from political attacks by economic populist Republicans.

Conservatives like Jon Schweppe, the director at the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, tried to link a few ideas together:

“There is a growing sense that all of these corporations are against us — not only are they trying to screw us over on the woke stuff, but generally, they just don’t care about ordinary people.”

The American Principles Project is virulently anti-woke, anti-trans and anti-voting rights. Can they also be anti-corporations? And how close are they to mainstream Republicans?

Can the East Palestine accident cause Republicans to embrace truly populist issues? Would the GOP tie corporate graft and greed to bureaucratic incompetence and Democratic indifference? They seem to fit easily within existing Tucker Carlson messaging.

BTW: All of it also fits very easily into Democratic messaging.

But let’s forget about who’s woke or, how will the second year of the Ukraine war go? It’s time for our Saturday Soother, when we disengage from the world as completely as possible and focus on finding a calm state to prepare us for the week to come.

Here in the Mansion of Wrong, we spent time upgrading our internet service to fiber optic. That wasn’t the promised slick changeover touted by the provider, but it’s finally working.

To get soothed, settle in a big chair by a south-facing window and watch Lang Lang play Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque, or Clair de lune”. This performance was part of an album launched in Paris on Valentine’s Day, 2019. Listen as Lang Lang performs on a boat cruising along the Seine while you enjoy Paris at night:

 

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A Few Wealthy A—holes Want To Secede From America

The Daily Escape:

Poppy bloom, Picacho Peak SP, Picacho, AZ – February 2023 photo by Leila Shehab

Wrongologist blog commenter Terry McK had this to say responding to Wrongo’s post about Speaker McCarthy and his lieutenant Marjorie Taylor Green’s antics surrounding gifting Tucker Carlson with the J6 videos:

“We lie to ourselves about the nature of our government…..Nor have we a marketplace of ideas. We could have – but the marketplace is dominated by the intellectual equivalent of soda and snacks….Now most speeches are performance art delivered to an empty chamber. ”

He’s correct. Here are a few recent developments that track with Terry’s thinking. First, Joe Perticone in the Bulwark: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“A strange proposal is working its way through the Idaho state legislature that would have that state envelop more than a dozen of Oregon’s most conservative eastern counties—in effect, shifting the border between the states 200-plus miles to the west. While last Wednesday’s vote in the Idaho House approving this “Greater Idaho” idea is nonbinding, it does legitimize the movement that has long been promoting the plan.”

A Bluer Oregon and a Redder Idaho. This movement is by the far-Right members of Idaho’s government. And among the 15 Oregon counties targeted to become part of Idaho, 11 have so far formally expressed their support for the plan. So unlike Taylor Greene’s rantings about a national divorce, this idea has a lot of elected officials on board.

Second, Ars Technica reports that:

“Two Republican lawmakers in Idaho have introduced a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for anyone in the state to administer mRNA-based vaccines—namely…COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.”

This probably won’t go anywhere. And state-level politicians everywhere also have tons of bad ideas.

Finally, a sober look how some of the wealthy in the fancy towns across the western US are angling for succession or civil war comes from Vanity Fair’s James Pogue. Writing about Jackson Hole, Wyoming:

“…there was a constant traffic of small jets and private aircraft, humming into and out of a town that has become a modern refuge for people with remote jobs…many of them driven to the Northern Rockies by a worry…that the rest of America is on its way toward environmental, political, or economic breakdown.”

Pogue speaks with Catharine O’Neill, great-great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller. She’s a Conservative who worked in Trump’s State Department and after the 2020 election moved to Wyoming:

“She…views the corporate elite as enemies of America and believes that we’re on the cusp of a populist uprising against the brand of transnational capitalism championed by Republicans for most of the last half-century.”

She lives on a 580-acre “vertically integrated cattle operation” she started. Today she’s anti both Parties but would happily vote for Tucker Carlson if he’d step forward. These are the thoughts of the “dissident right”. A few of the wealthy have created secretive groups to help people “exit’ from society and from what they see as a failing American system.

From Pogue:

“Who even needs a civil war,” one…texted me recently, “when the institutions are doing such a good job of delegitimizing themselves?”

This cohort sees the Northern Rockies as one of a few places in America that will be livable once life in much of America is fighting heat waves, floods, storms, and fires. They’re focused on how to live through “managed decline,” the wind-down period after the age of cheap fossil-fuels and rapid economic and technological progress wane.

They’re certain that will also bring about the erosion of America’s “state capacity”, the government’s ability to do things. Then our “real economy” will hollow out, and our political divisions will worsen, even more than currently.

But this movement isn’t only supported by the wealthy. Average American workers are increasingly priced out of housing and better educational opportunities for their kids. Many of these workers have service jobs that support the wealthy from Los Angeles to Jackson Hole, and from Cape Cod to Miami Beach. A Moody’s Analytics report says that for the first time in 20 years, the average American is “rent-burdened”, meaning they put at least 30% of their income towards housing.

This makes many middle class Americans very susceptible to arguments by the dissident right about how corporate elites and modern capitalism are hurting their chances to realize the American Dream. This was the basic thrust of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in 2011. Now, the right wing is trying to take up their cause.

Will there be a second civil war? It doesn’t need to be a war. People don’t understand how easy it would be to launch an insurgency in America. We should take a lesson from the way the Taliban defeated the American military using small arms, and there are plenty of small arms in America. Insurgencies are less a war than an extended political conflict, in which the insurgents try to get governments to overreact. And when they inevitably do, the insurgents build support. It doesn’t take all that much to create a plausible scenario for conflict.

This is Wrongo’s second wakeup call this week. We can’t do much about the wealthy who tell themselves that they’re better off without America.

But we can and must do a lot to persuade average Americans not to fall victim to their rhetoric.

Jimmy Carter’s 1976 stump speech included this:

“I’ll never lie to you”…and…”we need a government as good as its people…”

Would living his message today help us hold the country together?

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Speaker McCarthy Gives FOX’s Carlson The Jan 6 Videos

The Daily Escape:

Poppies beginning annual super bloom, Chino Hills, CA – February 2023 photo by Road to Something New

Mike Allen of Axios reported on Monday that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had made all the Capitol security footage from January 6 available to FOX’s Tucker Carlson:

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has given Fox News’ Tucker Carlson exclusive access to 41,000 hours of Capitol surveillance footage from the Jan. 6 riot, McCarthy sources tell me. Carlson TV producers were on Capitol Hill last week to begin digging through the trove, which includes multiple camera angles from all over Capitol grounds. Excerpts will begin airing in the coming weeks.”

Yes, it’s the same Tucker Carlson who repeatedly questioned official accounts of Jan 6, downplaying the insurrection as “vandalism.” It’s also the same guy who, in Dominion Voter Systems’ lawsuit against FOX News, was shown to be lying to his viewers about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.

Carlson’s producers are already going through the videos. They will be looking for footage of insurrectionists that will support the MAGA contention that the insurrectionists actually were tourists who simply had lost their way. It seems likely that Carlson’s team will selectively edit the footage to paint a picture that Jan 6 couldn’t have possibly been an insurrection. If you doubt this is his intent, Mike Allen also reports that:

 “Carlson last year called the attack an ‘outbreak of mob violence, a forgettably minor outbreak by recent standards.’”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) a member of the Jan. 6 committee, said this:

McCarthy granted access to non-public materials about the insurrection to an amoral propagandist who constantly misrepresented the facts about both the 2020 election and the Jan. 6th insurrection.

Giving Carlson this access to the materials may be within McCarthy’s purview, but the videos actually belong to the American people. So why can McCarthy grant “exclusive access” to Carlson? If the idea is to achieve more transparency, then all news organizations (and the American public) should be able to view them, not merely a political hack like Carlson.

In one sense, McCarthy’s doing this shouldn’t be a surprise. The extremists who extracted concessions during McCarthy’s campaign for the Speakership have been calling for this almost from the start of the J6 Committee’s work.

And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who spent time yesterday calling for the red states to secede:

She then spent the rest of her day taking credit for the video release to Fox:

Let’s repeat that: The person taking credit for pushing McCarthy to make this release, was calling for “a national divorce” (civil war to the rest of us) two hours earlier. It all sure sounds legit.

Here’s some background on how the Committee handled these videos when they were conducting investigations. Compare that to handing them over to FOX. From the WaPo:

“People familiar with the video footage say that the committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection had access to a special dedicated terminal installed in the committee office that had password- protected access to the volume of footage. The committee asked for permission from U.S. Capitol police before they used any of the footage in public hearings, these people said, as they did not want to publicly disclose the location of security cameras in the building.”

More:

“The committee cut and minimized use of the footage accordingly, these people added. ‘We used the material that we thought was most important in demonstrating findings, and we were extremely cautious in what we chose to use,’ said a former committee staffer who expressed concerns about the security risks posed by Carlson’s access to the entire trove of surveillance footage.”

So don’t say McCarthy didn’t have a choice. He undoubtedly felt pressure to release the raw footage to FOX, but he could have done that on a government server allowing all news services to comb through it, as well as the public.

He went to Carlson because he needs to satisfy his extremist Republican Congressional members.

We need to learn whether the DoJ already has copies of these tapes. We know that McCarthy’s release of Capitol Police surveillance video will have limited effect on the current J6 criminal cases because defense lawyers have already had access to the footage for months and have been using it in existing cases at trial.

Tucker is gonna tuck around.

Democrats and any other defenders of democracy had better get ahead of the FOX narrative. Like Biden just got ahead of Putin’s spring Ukraine offensive.

Because we know what’s coming.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 20, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Oatman, AZ on Route 66 – February 2023 photo by Laurel Anne Lindsay

Some of you may have heard about a study called “The Hidden Tribes of America” by the group More in Common. It’s trying to understand the forces driving political polarization in America today. They classify the American electorate into seven distinct groups, they call “Tribes”.

But their key conclusion is that most people don’t belong on the far left or far right: (brackets by Wrongo)

“…the largest group that we uncovered in our research has so far been largely overlooked. It is a group of Americans we call the Exhausted Majority…representing a two-thirds majority of Americans, who aren’t part of the Wings….most members of the Exhausted Majority aren’t [simply] political centrists or moderates. On specific issues, their views range across the spectrum.”

More:

“But while they hold a variety of views, the members of the Exhausted Majority are also united in important ways: They are fed up with the polarization plaguing American government and society….. [they] are so frustrated with the bitter polarization of our politics that many have checked out completely….. they aren’t ideologues who dismiss as evil or ignorant the people who don’t share their exact political views. They want to talk and to find a path forward.

This chart from the study graphically illustrates the seven tribal groups of the American populace. As you can see, there is a left-wing group that is about 8% of the US population. And there are two right-wing groups that equal about 25% of Americans. That leaves four groups in what the authors call the “Exhausted Majority”. They are 67% of the American populace.

Here are some demographic characteristics of the seven groups:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic,
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Wrongo identifies as one of the Traditional Liberals, their description rings true.

The authors say that in their research, this tribal membership predicted differences in Americans’ views on various political issues better than demographic, ideological, and partisan groupings. You can read or download the whole study here.

An “Exhausted Majority” may be a positive political development. Wrongo spends nearly every day thinking that there are just two opposing camps. And that they each view each other with fear and loathing, refusing to listen to anything that doesn’t fit their existing narrative. As we’re entering the next presidential campaign, it’s good to know that Wrongo’s view of our polarization might be well, wrong.

Is the “Exhausted Majority” merely a new response to our dysfunctional politics? Wrongo isn’t alone in thinking that what’s wrong with our country will take decades to overcome. Faced with that, people start to look for quick fixes, or a way to stop listening to the wrangling. And you don’t have to be unaligned with either Party to share this sense of exasperation.

The people described in the “Exhausted Majority” are similar. It’s also true that for most people, politics isn’t the be-all-end-all of their lives. They’d prefer that the business of government didn’t require their involvement. They’re trying to get their kids educated, and to keep them safe. They prefer to see political compromise happen without needing to be involved.

But if you can walk away from politics when it frustrates you, then you’re in the lucky minority:

  • There are large numbers of parents who have discovered that their child is addicted to opioids.
  • There are many people who had lost their health insurance when they were laid off.
  • Many sent their daughter to college in the South only to learn that she no longer has any reproductive rights.
  • Many are worried that books are being taken from public school libraries.
  • Some fear that they may lose the right to vote.

These people can’t simply throw up their hands and walk away. Only political action will help them. We all know that the political radicals are irredeemable. We also know they make the most noise, but they’re a minority.

The fed-up people on both sides and in the middle have to find a way to take the country back from the radicals, instead of allowing ourselves to be herded into existing opposing camps.

Time to wake up America! We can’t simply drop out. There’s too much at stake. Democrats need to find candidates and a message that can motivate an additional 5%-15% of the “Exhausted Majority” to vote with them. To help you wake up, watch, and listen to the RedMolly band play a very nice cover of Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952”. It’s a surprise how beautifully it adapts to a bluegrass idiom, and the dobro work makes it:

Vincent Black Lightning” is one of the most perfect songs ever written. We saw Thompson perform it live at Tanglewood last summer.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 19, 2023

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are sending healing thoughts to friend and blog reader Gloria R.)

There was a small article in the NYT saying that European gas prices had dropped to pre-Ukraine war levels:

“On Friday, the European benchmark price of gas fell below 50 euros ($53) per megawatt-hour for the first time since late 2021. Prices spiked above €300 per megawatt-hour in mid-2022, as Russia curtailed gas exports to Europe after its invasion of Ukraine.”

This isn’t what economists forecasted as the mid-winter energy situation in Europe, which all of a sudden has too much natural gas. It seems Russian gas isn’t indispensable to Europe. Natural gas is, but not necessarily Russian gas. Of course, the mild European winter was a big factor. And regional natural-gas inventories, which are at about 65% capacity, on average, are at their highest levels in years, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

Russia and its gas company Gazprom spent decades building the European (and specifically) the German market. The cost was the building of massive infrastructure to move their gas to Europe. Then Russia pissed it all away last February.

At great cost, they’ll eventually build new infrastructure to move all that gas to Asia and elsewhere. On to cartoons.

America has been reduced to this:

Or is it this?

Nikki says we need younger politicians:

Why the balloon story doesn’t go away:

More about America’s sickness:

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