Letter From London

The Daily Escape:

Suite, Bloomsbury Hotel, London England – October 2022 iPhone photo by Wrongo

This isn’t how Wrongo and Ms. Right usually travel. We landed in London after a two-hour delay taking off from Newark Airport in NJ. So we were pretty tired when we got to the Bloomsbury, our favorite hotel over here. That led to another two-hour delay because they didn’t have the room we had specified. So after a few curt words from Wrongo, and support from our friends at Goodspeed, we got this spectacular upgrade above. It’s about three times the size of the room we thought we were getting. We plan to enjoy it to the fullest.

The Bloomsbury Hotel began life in 1928 as a YWCA. It is located in the Bloomsbury district of London, on the same block as the British Museum and a short walk from the theaters in London’s West End. The Irish poet Seamus Heaney was a long-term resident of the hotel. He donated many first edition books to what is now named the hotel’s Seamus Heaney library. Our suite has a portrait of Heaney painted by Ann Witheridge in its entrance.

By the time you are reading this, Rishi Sunak is the UK’s newest Prime Minister. He’s the youngest UK PM since Napoleonic times. He is also the first PM of color in UK history. Nobody misses the departed Liz Truss, and most feel a sense of relief with Sunak, although it can be difficult to see much ideological difference between them. He’s a Brexiteer, and a pro-growth fiscal conservative at a time when inflation is rampant, and economic growth is low. Most citizens are shaking their heads about how they came to have a series of incompetent governments.

Sunak is also a laissez-faire true believer. He’s wealthy, and a solid Tory Party company man. We’ll see if a company man can turn his country around in the face of the ideological splits within the Tory Party, and the need to help the faltering UK economy.

Soaring inflation and increased government borrowing usually means a government must tax more. But the Torys are like the US Republican Party, believing that tax cuts resolve all economic problems. As expected, Sunak’s economic improvement plan relies on cutting the country’s debt while not lowering taxes. Their austerity plan won’t add jobs or cut inflation, so hang on for another wild neoliberal ride.

Our purpose in visiting London is to see plays. Sometimes they illustrate interesting social differences between Broadway and the West End. First, we saw “Get up, Stand up, the Bob Marley Musical”. The music was great as expected, but one difference was that the audience in the expensive seats in the front rows of the orchestra (called the stalls in England) was about 20% Black, something that you would rarely see on Broadway. Make of that what you will.

The second show we saw was “Marvellous”, a play about a person with disabilities who has an improbable and successful life. Neil Baldwin is a person who transcended learning difficulties to be awarded a British Empire Medal by HRH Queen Elizabeth II in 2019 and an honorary degree from a prestigious university.

With all the laughter and slapstick, you almost don’t notice the questions Marvellous raises about the terrible treatment of people with learning disabilities. We have the same problem in the US.

If you think we’re farther ahead, please consider the media’s reaction to stroke victim Democrat John Fetterman after his debate with Republican Dr. Oz. Axios delivered the conventional wisdom about someone who’s different:

”Capitol Hill’s reaction to the Pennsylvania Senate debate was brutal for Democratic nominee John Fetterman, from Democrats and Republicans alike.”

Axios went on to say that Fetterman struggled at times to respond to the moderators’ questions. So the narrative became someone with a career as a glib television star vs. a big bear of a guy who is recovering from a stroke.

A snake-oil salesman vs. a guy who actually has experience in governing and politics. And who does our worse than shit media say looked bad? The guy with aphasia.

Obviously, because he isn’t like the rest of us.

Our media, which normally covers debates solely to promote the zingers, managed to overlook the one good zinger in the Fetterman/Oz debate. From Fetterman:

“Why don’t you pretend that you live in Vermont, instead of Pennsylvania, and run again against Bernie Sanders? Because all you can do is talk about Bernie Sanders.”

Because of Fetterman’s aphasia, there were times when he didn’t answer questions very well. Because of Oz’s dishonesty, there were times when he didn’t answer questions at all.

Fetterman can overcome his aphasia and serve PA well in the US Senate. Oz will never be anything but a con man.

From 3,500 miles away, it increasingly looks like the fate of American democracy rests on a few contingent events coming out the right way on November 8.

Sure would be helpful if the media played it straight.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 23, 2022

(Today we’re leaving for London. Regular columns will resume on 11/1. In the meantime, if turbulence occurs, keep your tray tables in their upright and locked position and your hands inside the blog.)

John Dick, CEO of Civic Science, has a weekly newsletter that is worth your time. This week he asks:

“What if we’re just talking ourselves into all of this? Admittedly, I partied too much in college to get good enough grades to go to a respectable grad school to become an economist. I’m out of my league here.”

Dick wonders why economists are so sure that we can’t escape inflation unless we head into a deep recession. He also wonders (as does Wrongo) if currently, there’s a doomsday loop at work. It’s true that there are times when regardless of the news, the stock market goes down. More from Dick:

“Oh no! The job market is too good. Wages are growing too fast! Employees have too much leverage in the workplace! The dollar’s too strong! People’s homes are worth too much! We’re all screwed!!!”

The news media dutifully reinforces the doomsday loop. And who proffers answers? Very few. So, around we go, blaming the politicians in one Party for something they cannot solve, and neither can the other Party. And thus, the prophecy fulfills itself. On to cartoons.

This passes for an answer from the elephant:

How to solve a problem like Hershel:

When you weren’t worried about democracy:

The GOP’s scariest story:

There are waay too many political ads:

Turkeys are where you find them:


Saturday Soother – October 22, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Cranberry bog, Yarmouth, MA – October 2022 photo by Jean Burns

Wrongo and Ms. Right are leaving on Sunday for a week in London. We’re arriving there just as the horse race for whoever will become the UK’s next prime minister will be clear to all. We’re expecting it to dominate the British news while we’re there.

On September 10, Wrongo said he wasn’t a fan of the now departed Liz Truss. He also said it was hard to believe her effort to revive the zombie concept that is trickle-down economics would go well with the UK already in a recession. She lasted just 44 days in office. Here’s a hot take from England:

Seems like a lot of turmoil for a small, low growth, densely populated country.

Truss’s sin was simple. Her economic plan was designed to satisfy libertarian think tanks and fans of Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher rather than to be something workable. Republicans in America do this kind of thing because we can, since the dollar is the world’s reserve currency. That means we can go almost as far into debt as we want without the markets panicking.

But the UK doesn’t have that luxury. So there’s a limit to how many favors they can do to their own fabulously rich citizens.

The policy that got Truss thrown out of No. 10 Downing Street was a copy of the foundational Republican US domestic agenda, as practiced from Reagan to Trump. That is, cut taxes for the rich and corporations, then hope it eventually creates tax revenue before it forces spending cuts.

And the British financial markets seem to actually care about the well-being of their country’s economy. However, American markets seem to care only about maximizing share prices and the after-tax compensation of top-level executives.

US Conservatives were delighted when Truss became PM. On September 23, Larry Kudlow said on FOX:

“The new British prime minister, Liz Truss, has laid out a terrific supply-side economic growth plan which looks a lot like the basic thrust of Kevin McCarthy’s Commitment to America plan.”

Needless to say, like Truss, Republicans are also willing to do unfunded tax cuts and call it a growth agenda. They’re also willing to fail to extend America’s borrowing limit, in order to make their agenda happen. The GOP would try to hold the Democratic president hostage in order to share some political responsibility for that action, never mind that an American debt default would also hold a gun to the global economy.

That isn’t possible in the country that brought you Maggie Thatcher. They toss out their incompetent supply-siders. The elephant in the room of the UK’s chaos and crisis is 2016’s Brexit. Even though Brexit has brought about low GDP growth, it remains a hard right political project rooted in a mythical British past.

Brexit’s Tory supporters didn’t care about the hard economic evidence that Brexit would be an act of economic self-harm. And the political divisions Brexit caused in the Tory party remain a problem as they now seek to unite behind another sacrificial PM. From David Frum:

“The problem is that you’re not eligible for the captaincy unless you agree it was a brilliant idea to scupper the ship in 2016 – and can convincingly act baffled why it has been sinking ever since,”

If America still has the ability to learn, it would be great if they studied this Tory disaster.

It would be nice if American voters would really punish Republicans when they fuck up and tank the economy again. And not just by electing a Democratic president, as they did in 1992 and 2008 when the economy went south.

OTOH, if anything can get Joe Biden reelected, it’s a Republican-led Congress in 2023 and 2024. They will screw things up just as thoroughly as Liz Truss has screwed the pooch in Britain. Then, we’ll have to see if they’ll ever be blamed for it.

Enough foreign politics for today. It’s time for our Saturday Soother, where we consider raking the leaves that are suddenly carpeting the Fields of Wrong but decide to put it off until we return.

Let’s start by brewing up a big mug of Costa Rica Cerro Dragon Geisha Honey ($12.00/4oz.) from RamsHead Coffee Roasters of Bozeman, Montana. It is said to be an invitingly complex Costa Rica honey-processed cup with notes of tropical fruit, sweet herbs, and crisp cocoa.

Now grab a seat by a south-facing window and listen to Khatia Buniatishvili play Schubert’s “Impromptu No. 3 in G-Flat Major, Op. 90, D. 899”. It isn’t played in front of a live audience, so no coughing, etc.

Schubert wrote eight solo piano pieces called impromptus. An impromptu is a musical work, usually for a solo instrument, in this case, piano. Schubert composed this work the year before he died:


An Economic Closing Argument for Democrats

The Daily Escape:

Snake River, Grand Teton NP, WY – October 2022 photo by Hilary Bralove

Yesterday, Wrongo said that the Dems should add a focus on inflation and the economy to their closing argument when asking voters to keep them in power. Here’s a suggestion of what that argument might look like from David Doney (@David_Charts on Twitter). Doney draws his stats from the Federal Reserve Economic Data (known as FRED) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Below is an extract from his Twitter feed:

Jobs: More Americans are working than at any time in history: 153 million. The economy now has 500k more jobs than it did before the pandemic. The unemployment rate is 3.5%, the lowest since 1969. With more people working there’s more spending.

Wealth: The bottom half of US households have an average real net worth of $67,200, the highest ever. Under Trump, it was just $34,648. (While Trump gave tax cuts to the wealthy. Biden gave them to the middle and lower class.) Even those in the 50th to 90th percentile are doing better under Biden: average real net worth is now $747,010 vs. $699,530 under Trump. It’s important to remember that these are averages not median net worth numbers, which are lower. Median net worth in the US is $121,700, up 17.6 % from 2016.

Income: Real wages are higher than before the pandemic. Despite what some pundits say, they have outpaced inflation. From February 2020 to last month, wages for production and non-supervisory workers have risen 15.6%, while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has risen 14.6%. So Americans’ purchasing power is greater today than it was in 2019.

The deficit: Our annual federal budget deficit is 50% lower than it was last year. It was $2.8 trillion in fiscal year 2021 and is $1.4 trillion this year, according to CBO estimates. Government income is up and government spending is down: Revenues are $850 billion (or 21%) higher and spending is $548 billion (or 8%) lower.

This continues the historical pattern of Democratic administrations being more fiscally responsible than Republicans. Yet the GOP’s closing argument includes screaming about Democratic spending which they say caused inflation. They are trying to convince Americans who either don’t read or bother to check facts that it’s the Democrats who spend like crazy. The opposite is true.

The economy: The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) hit an all-time high of $20 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2021, and currently is $19.9 trillion (for the second quarter of this year). The Atlanta Fed thinks GDP will grow 2.8% in the third quarter. So no recession just yet. In fact, Doney reports that the six key indicators that the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) uses to decide if we’re in a recession  were all up from June to September.

Health insurance: Biden revived the Obamacare signup campaigns and advertising that Trump had eliminated. And now 92% of Americans (and more than 98% of kids) have health insurance, an all-time high. Before Obamacare, close to 18% of Americans had no health insurance.

There’s no doubt that many Americans are worried about the high prices at the grocery store and at the gas pump. But one reason inflation has increased is because people have more money in their pockets. Americans have $4 trillion more in their bank accounts than they did before the pandemic. So they’re working, earning money, and spending it.

The other factor driving inflation is the consolidation of companies into just a handful of major corporations, and the ability of those corporations to jack up prices. Corporate profits are at a 70-year high, yet American corporations are still raising prices. They’re doing so because there’s so little competition.

Republicans in Congress won’t stop corporate price gouging. And we know the GOP will blame Dems for high federal spending (which, as said above, is down 8% so far vs. last year). But the GOP won’t let the facts get in the way of their bad policies. They’ll use this manufactured crisis, along with refusing to raise the debt ceiling, to try to force Democrats to support cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and other social safety net programs.

As blog reader T. Grosso commented yesterday: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“It is such a good question to ask what the Republicans will do if they gain control. We obviously know the answer. They will block anything and everything that might help people so they can blame Biden for [it in] 2024.”

The Democrats’ closing argument needs to include a strong, populist message. They should be saying that Democrats believe people must come before profits. Dan Pfeiffer reports:

“The folks at Data for Progress tested a series of messages on inflation and found that emphasizing corporate greed was an effective pushback on concerns about inflation.”

OTOH, the inflation and economic message must be carefully crafted. It could backfire with some who have missed the current jobs market and are struggling to pay their bills.

Democrats should acknowledge the pain caused by high prices while pointing out that a strong economy and the Party’s fiscal responsibility are helping many people cope with higher prices today and will help to reduce inflation in the near future.


Dems Have To Talk About Inflation

The Daily Escape:

Blueberry barrens, Sedgewick, ME – Via. The blueberry plants turn red like trees because they’re also preparing for winter dormancy.

We’ve been writing about how the threat of losing both the House and Senate weighs on Democrats. Inflation and the economy are said to be voters’ top concerns in recent polls. This week’s NYT/Siena College survey showed that 26% of respondents cited the economy, while another 18% chose inflation as their No. 1 issue.

The Dem’s lack of messaging about inflation needs to be adjusted because inflation is hitting hardest in a few swing states like Georgia, Arizona, and Florida. From the Right-leaning Washington Times:

“The Phoenix metropolitan area has the highest inflation rate in the nation at 13%, the worst of any US city in more than 20 years and twice as high as the rate in San Francisco. It’s a high hurdle for Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona as he tries to fend off a challenge from Republican Blake Masters.”

Kelly currently holds a one-point lead in the latest survey.

Wallet Hub says that the US metropolitan area with the second-highest inflation rate is Atlanta, where consumer prices are 11.7% higher than a year ago.  Senate Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock holds a four point lead. One message that’s lost in the inflation debate is, as Georgia’s Sen. Warnock says:

“While we are seeing record prices, a lot of our corporate actors are seeing record profits in the gas industry and the pharmaceutical industry.”

Two metros in Florida: Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm beach (10.7%), along with Tampa-St. Petersburg (10.5%), are in the top four highest inflation cities, and Marco Rubio (R) holds a 4.7-point lead, with Democrat Val Demings having an uphill fight.

Philadelphia ranks 14th in metropolitan area inflation, at 8.1%. Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman leads by 2%.

Nationally, the inflation rate is 8.2%.

Nearly two-thirds of consumer spending goes to services rather than products. Services are now the key driver of US inflation. The CPI for services increased in September for the 13th month in a row, and by the most since 1982. Housing costs spiked, but so did other services, such as health insurance (up 28% year-over-year). Airline fares rose by 42.9%, while motor vehicle maintenance and repair rose by 11.1%.

One of the worst categories is the CPI for “food at home”, or food bought in stores and at markets. It spiked by 0.7% in September from August. Year-over-year, the CPI for food at home jumped by 13.0%, led by eggs which are up by 30.5%. Food inflation is particularly insidious because it hits lower-income consumers the most, since they spend a larger share of their budget on food.

The key question for Democratic candidates in swing states during the last weeks before the midterms is how to talk about the economy when inflation remains above 8% and maybe is even higher in their state.

Democratic strategist Mike Lux has warned that Democrats can’t duck talking about inflation at a time when it’s the Republicans’ primary campaign issue. Lux says how Democrats should explicitly address inflation:

  1. Wealthy corporations with monopoly power are jacking up their prices, and their profits are going through the roof.
  2. Drug prices and health insurance premiums are going to go down because of the Inflation Reduction Act…while Republicans have no plan of their own.
  3. Seniors will be getting the biggest increase in their Social Security payments (8.7%, more than current inflation) in 40 years…while Republicans are talking about ending Social Security.

But Dems should also ask why voters think that if Republicans return to power that they will actually fight against inflation and improve the economy? If they get back in power all they’ll offer is tax cuts and financial austerity. They’re saying they will jeopardize the future of Social Security and Medicare.

Their House Speaker-in-waiting, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has said in an interview with Punchbowl that he will hold the national debt ceiling hostage next year, a move that the WaPo’s Catherine Rampell warns could easily precipitate a global financial catastrophe.”

The economy is a difficult issue for Dems this year, and many are afraid to talk about inflation. But they have an excellent legislative record to run on and the best job market in 40 years. Democrats have plenty to say about inflation if they connect it to broader economic themes where they have a strong message.

For sure, Dems can talk about Republicans’ appalling destruction of reproductive rights, but we can’t expect to win the election on that alone.


More Midterm Madness

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Thumpertown Beach, Cape Cod, MA – October 2022 iPhone photo by Wrongo

We’re back from a truly delightful time with family and friends on Cape Cod. The next few days will be hectic because we’re leaving again on Sunday, this time for a week in London.

About the November midterms. It seems clear that the polls are tightening in many races. Some of that is natural and to be expected as the political horse races head down the stretch. Some pundits like Amy Walter, think that this demonstrates that the Dems have reached the ceiling for their support in 2022:

“So, basically, what…I’m hearing from…sources in the campaigns is that Democrats may have maxed out that enthusiasm gap they got over the issue of abortion and that growing beyond that is going to be the challenge.”

Robert Hubbell agrees that recent polls have swung towards the GOP, but questions whether these polls reflect the facts on the ground:

“Never before in American history have we faced the elimination of an existing Constitutional right for 51% of the population. Never before have we faced a party whose platform seeks to end the very democracy they seek to rule…”

More from Hubbell:

“Do polling models account for those unprecedented conditions? I don’t know. Do polling models account for the fact that increases in registration among women are driven by outrage over the ruling Dobbs? I don’t know….Polls are not destiny.”

Polling isn’t an exact science. Much depends on how you frame the questions, and who gets asked the questions. One distinction is whether the poll asks the questions of “registered voters” or “likely voters.” Not all registered voters are likely to vote, but all likely voters are registered voters. In some polls Republicans are doing better among likely voters than they are among registered voters, meaning that in those polls, Republicans may be assumed to be more “enthusiastic” than Dems about getting to the polls.

Pundits think that voters’ view of the economy will decide how they vote. Since the 1990s, both Parties have been locked in a battle over which Party voters trust to handle the economy. Democrats have tended to win elections when they had a clear lead on this question, such as during the 2008 financial crisis or in the 1992 election. Otherwise, they’ve either lost, or the elections were very close.

From The Economist: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“According to a new Gallup poll released on October 3rd, 51% of adults now trust Republicans more with the economy, compared with 41% for the Democrats. Though Republicans held the advantage on Gallup’s question for much of the past decade, the gap between the parties’ ratings is now the widest since 1991.”

Sounds terrible for Dems, no? More from The Economist:

“…such a gap should doom the Democrats in this November’s midterm elections. If the average voter trusts Republicans to make them more prosperous, surely they would not deliver Congress back to the hands of the Democrats? After all, what voter casts a ballot against their own personal prosperity?”

But according to a survey carried out for The Economist by YouGov, there are plenty of voters who prioritize other issues. Each week, YouGov asks 1,500 Americans to pick their most important issue from a list of problems. Over a third currently say that either the state of the economy or inflation are their top concerns, followed by roughly 10% each who say it’s health care, climate change or abortion.

Fewer mention civil rights (7%), national security (6%), or crime, immigration, and government spending (5% each). Less than five out of every 100 Americans say it’s either education, or gun control.

The poll shows that while just 4% of adults said that abortion was their primary issue last October, nearly 9% say so today. Among likely voters having abortion as their primary issue, 75% of them say they will vote for Democrats versus just 21% of Republicans.

That’s a much wider gap than the advantage Republicans enjoy on the economy. The Economist notes that if just 20% of likely voters prioritized the economy above all other issues (rather than the 31% who currently say they do), Democrats would be ahead by 7 percentage points and likely keep the majority in both Houses.

Therefore, the outcome of November’s midterms may depend on whether the Democrats can make gains among those voters who mostly care about the economy. We see that the media and many politicians conflate inflation or the Dow Jones stock average with the economy, but maybe they should be covering that Industrial Production in the US is at an all-time high.

Manufacturing is higher than at any previous level with the exception of the end of 2006 through early 2008. And those elusive manufacturing jobs that went to Asia? We’ve added 1.5 million manufacturing jobs since April 2020, reaching a level not seen since December 2008.

But go ahead and vote Republican because of gas prices:

Voting has already begun in a few states, but we really don’t know what’s going to happen in the midterms. It will boil down to turnout. Our destiny is in the hands of those who bother to show up and many people don’t believe that their vote even matters.

Stop worrying. Instead, do something to help get out the vote. If you don’t have the money, donate your time. If you don’t have the time, donate your money.


Saturday Soother – October 15, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Lobster boats at dusk, Lubec Harbor, Lubec, ME – October 2022 photo by Rick Berk Photography

Wrong and Ms. Right are chilling on Cape Cod. We took time out from doing nothing to watch the Jan. 6 Committee’s most likely final hearing on Thursday. You know by now that the Committee voted unanimously to subpoena Trump. You also know that he will never appear.

The Committee has to wrap up its work and publish it before the next Congress is sworn in, January 2023. And the most important thing that they can do is to make a criminal referral to the DOJ for Trump and a few of his fellow travelers like Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, John Eastman, and Jeffrey Clark. The Committee also must share the entirety of their investigative record with the DOJ as soon as possible.

If they delay until the new Congress is sworn, and if it’s controlled by Republicans, the new Speaker will dissolve the Committee and refuse to cooperate with the DOJ.

But let’s move on and talk a little about the price of chicken. It’s going up bigly, but rotisserie chickens at Costco are still $4.99, as they have been for more than 20 years.

Chicken is our most popular meat: Americans consume 99 pounds per capita, way more than beef (56 lbs.), pork (52 lbs. ) or fish (19 lbs.). That’s 20 whole chickens per person, per year. The Hustle reports that about 10% of the chicken we eat are rotisserie cooked, and that Costco sells around 12% of all rotisserie chickens in the US. They began selling a 3 lb. cooked chicken for $4.99 in 2000. And 22 years later, the bird still costs $4.99. Adjusted for inflation, the Costco rotisserie chicken should be selling for $8.31, but they’re keeping the price low because nobody walks into Costco and comes out with just one chicken.

Costco says that they are losing a ton of profit on cheap chicken. In 2015, the CEO estimated that the lost profit was around $40 million. They have worked to control costs by opening their own chicken processing facility in Nebraska in 2019. That one facility produces 43% of Costco’s rotisserie chicken requirements. Costco reports that it saves them 35¢/chicken. And their rotisserie chickens have their own Facebook page with 19k followers.

Want to save on your food bills? Eat more Costco chicken.

It’s time for us to spend a few minutes decompressing from another week of crummy news. That means it’s time for our Saturday Soother. As Wrongo writes this, he’s looking at an Atlantic Ocean tidal inlet. The weather for the past week has been fantastic, but we’ve had very high winds and lots of rain to start this weekend.

Still, the shore birds are congregating on a small sand bar that’s visible at low tide in front of our rental house. They are often joined by a solitary man who motors over in a small skiff and spends an hour bent over at the waist with a clamming rake, hunting for shellfish treasures. He seems reasonably successful, returning every day at low tide to toss a bunch of clams into a plastic bucket, hop back in the skiff and motor away.

Wrongo couldn’t bend over at the waist and rake for an hour without needing spine surgery.

As you cruise into the weekend, start by brewing up a mug of Kenya Nyeri Hill coffee ($12.50/12 oz.) from Road Map Coffee works, in Lexington in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The roaster says that it has a chocolaty finish with notes of red currant and tangerine zest.

Now grab a seat on the deck and listen and watch “Kol Nidrei” by Max Bruch. Bruch wrote it in 1880. It is an Adagio based on two Hebrew Melodies for Cello and Orchestra, consisting of a series of variations on two themes of Jewish origin. Many mistakenly believed that Bruch was Jewish because he wrote this piece, but he was not. From Bruch:

“Even though I am a Protestant, as an artist I deeply felt the outstanding beauty of these melodies and therefore I gladly spread them through my arrangement…”

Here it is played in 2018 by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony under the direction of Paavo Järvi. The cello soloist is Mischa Maisky, who was born in Ukraine:


The Midterms Need Your Support

The Daily Escape:

Fort Hill, Eastham, Cape Cod, MA – October 2022 photo by Wrongo

Anyone else getting nervous about the midterms? As Wrongo has said, the avalanche of frantic email solicitations from Democrats can worry you even if you are by nature, an optimistic person.

Wrongo has recommended three Senate candidates as worthy of donations: Fetterman in PA, Kelly in AZ, and Warnock in GA. But there are other paths to retaining the Senate for Democrats.

Wrongo wants to add Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) to that list. He’s currently in a virtual tie with the execrable JD Vance to succeed the retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). But Trump won Ohio by 8 points in 2020. One issue for Ryan is that the Democratic campaign funding arms have not been very supportive of Ryan in his bid to help them retain the Senate. NBC has reported that the decision by Democrats to put money elsewhere reflected a judgment about which races they believed they were most likely to win.

But Ryan’s surprising showing thus far in Ohio indicates that those judgments may not have been correct. While Vance has raised about $46 million, principally from Mitch McConnell ($30 million and from authoritarian entrepreneur Peter Theil ($15 million), Ryan has relied on small donors to fund his campaign. Still, with four weeks to go, Ryan has a decent chance of pulling off an upset (assuming the polling is accurate). If Ryan wins, it almost certainly ensures that Democrats maintain their majority in the Senate.

ICYMI, on Monday, Ryan debated Vance. The consensus is that Ryan easily beat him. From Jennifer Rubin in the WaPo:

“Ryan’s performance should be mandatory viewing for Democratic contenders. They should pay attention to Ryan’s tone and demeanor. He repeatedly took down his opponent without appearing nasty. His tone was more incredulous (Can you believe this guy?) than angry. Ryan looks like a regular guy. He appeared totally at ease, often standing with one hand in his pocket.”

From Ryan in the debate: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

“We need leaders who have courage to take on their own party, and I’ve proven that, and he (Vance) was called an ass-kisser by the former president. Ohio needs an ass-kicker, not an ass-kisser.”

Ryan also challenged Vance’s support for police by reminding voters that Vance had contributed money to a defense fund for a Jan. 6th rioter.

Ryan’s being one point ahead with a month to go, and his shellacking of Vance in the debate should give Democrats some hope that he has a decent chance to pick up a Senate seat for Democrats in Ohio. So send him some dough at his direct site: https://timforoh.com/. Going direct means he won’t have to share a portion of your money with other candidates, which is what happens when you give to Vote Blue.

Wrongo stumbled across another idea (hat tip, Robert Hubbell) that you might consider using in an effort to get out the vote for the midterms. It’s called relational organizing, by which you reach out to your friends directly. Studies show texts from friends are 29 times more effective at bringing positive results than texts from strangers. And SwipeBlue is an app that helps you find all of the Democrats in your contact list by matching your phone contacts to the public voter files. It is secure, and since it doesn’t save the data, it also protects your privacy.

The app helps you divide your contacts into Blue and Red. The contacts that aren’t in either bucket can be coded Green. You can then text your Democratic friends with a call to vote by swiping the blue ­­- like Tinder for voting. The app then helps you to send them a customizable get out the vote text.

It can also help with registering them to vote, or to vote absentee.

This is critical since at least one current poll from the Morning Consult, shows that Democrats are flagging in voter enthusiasm. The chart below compares voter enthusiasm in 2018 with 2022. Democrats are lagging by 6 points over 2018:

Republicans are only one point lower than they were in 2022. While Independents are 6 points higher, there’s no reason to think that all of that increase will break toward the Dems. So texting your friends an encouraging message may be important.

This message while relaxing on Cape Cod is that we can’t relax. So open your wallets in races that are close and try texting a few friends.

Both could make a big difference.


Saturday Soother – October 8, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Fall at Lake Gloriette, Dixville Notch, VT – October 2022 photo by Adam Silverman Photography

(There will not be a Sunday Cartoon column this week. Wrongo and Ms. Right are off on their annual visit to Cape Cod, MA to see family and friends. It’s Oysterfest, people! Columns will be light and variable for the next 10 days.)

The midterms are just around the corner and if you’re planning to open your wallets to support Senate candidates, Wrongo suggests that you include Ralph Warnock (D-GA), John Fetterman (D-PA) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ) in your budgeting. If you are particularly flush, you can add to this list.

But today, Wrongo is venting his frustration with the tsunami of emails and texts he receives from Democratic candidates and organizations. Small dollar fundraising, that is the art of getting money from ordinary folks, has apparently been perfected by Democrats. Sadly that seems to entail creating a constant state of panic via email and text. From Wrongo’s inbox:

…”we have bad news. NO ONE is donating to help us re‑elect Raphael Warnock. Our MAJOR fundraising deadline is at 11:59 PM, and you IGNORED our first email!”

From Mark Kelly:

“This is your last chance to donate before the debate ends and we need your help, we can’t fall short. We’re closing in on this crucial goal. So, before time runs out, we need you to add one more donation to help push us over the top.”

From Val Demings:

“WE TOLD YOU: If we can’t hit our fundraising goal, we can kiss Florida GOODBYE. We can’t launch an outreach campaign with no funds in our bank!”

Democrats are correct. These days, there’s plenty to panic about, but isn’t that part of the problem? We’d be frazzled enough just by the news. Do we have to be reminded on a daily basis by Democratic candidates that we should be frazzled?

After Citizens United created a crisis in how to fund our politics, Democrats were able to deal with the problem by growing online small dollar fundraising for candidates. It started out as a decentralized effort by individual candidates, and it brought in tons of money. It also helped individuals feel that they were invested in the political process.

Now it’s institutionalized. All Democrats have the same lists. That’s efficient in some ways, but in other ways, it’s a problem. It leads to terrible uses of the money, such as dumping endless dollars into hopeless campaigns like the 2020 Senate races in Kentucky (Amy McGrath) and in Maine (Sara Gideon).

McGrath was a terrible candidate and of course, Mitch McConnell won. Sara Gideon was so overloaded with money that she couldn’t spend it all. These retail donations made no meaningful difference in her race against Susan Collins, which she lost by a wide margin.

Tim Miller in the NYT:

“…hundreds of millions of dollars are being pumped into hopeless…candidates. At a minimum, that money could be used more efficiently by the Democratic Party….Aren’t there myriad better uses for all that altruism than pumping out…attack ads?”

Imagine if all of that money was poured into state house races where it could be used more effectively.

Our best funds raising tool has now been turned against us. What we thought would lead to great things could now threaten the Democratic Party. This season, as in the past, Wrongo has donated to Democrats, but it leads to receiving 6-8 ever more desperate emails/texts daily. Fortunately Wrongo believes in their cause. Otherwise, reading them might soon lead to death due to David P.’s “politics fatigue”.

Enough! It’s time for our Saturday Soother, a time to let go of another week of bad news while we reflect on where to place our limited political funding over the next 30 days.

Here on the fields of Wrong, our indoor plants that spend spring and summer outdoors are back inside. And our short sleeve shirts have been put away.

To help you contemplate your seasonal wardrobe, start by brewing up a mug of Colombia Cerro Azul Enano, ($26/12 oz.) by Marin, CA’s Equator Coffee.

Now grab a seat by a south facing window and listen to the Finale of Saint-Saens “Symphony No. 3 with Organ” performed in 2012 by the Auckland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Thomas, with Timothy Noon on the Organ. Saint-Saens who wrote this in 1886, was an accomplished pianist and organist, but this is his only symphony for organ. Also note the spectacular organ at the Auckland Town Hall. Play this LOUD to hear the deep register of the organ:

Wrongo and Ms. Right heard this piece played by the Waterbury Symphony on October 1st at Waterbury, CT’s St. John’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1732. It’s a beautiful old church with a very impressive organ that dates from 1956. Today the church reflects the changing demographics of Connecticut, having added a Hispanic ministry In 2003. Now the main Sunday service is in Spanish.


Are Americans Fatigued By Politics?

The Daily Escape:

Early fall, Andover, ME – October 2022 photo by Eric Storm Photo

A lethal combination for democracy in America may be that not only do we field very weak candidates who hardly know how government works, but Americans are also woefully ignorant about our government.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center released its annual Civics Knowledge Survey in September. It focuses on the public’s understanding of the US Constitution. Here are some of its 2022 findings:

  • Less than half (47%) of US adults could name all three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial), down from 56% in 2021. Here’s a chart of their findings on the branches of government:

A quarter couldn’t name any branch!

When asked to name the protections specified in the First Amendment, the number of respondents who could identify them had declined:

  • Freedom of speech was cited by 63%, down from 74% in 2021.
  • Freedom of religion was named by 24%, down from 56% in 2021.
  • Freedom of the press was named by 20%, down from 50% in 2021.
  • Right of assembly was named by 16%, down from 30% in 2021.
  • Right to petition the government was named by 6%, down from 20% in 2021.

Note how dramatically these results have shifted in just one year.

Over half (51%) said (incorrectly) that Facebook is required to let all Americans express themselves freely on its platform under the First Amendment. The First Amendment applies to the government not to private companies.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center said:

“When it comes to civics, knowledge is power….It’s troubling that so few know what rights we’re guaranteed by the First Amendment. We are unlikely to cherish, protect, and exercise rights if we don’t know that we have them.”

The precipitous decline in the First Amendment responses has Wrongo questioning whether the survey was performed accurately.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Annenberg found that having taken a high school civics class continues to be associated with correct answers to civics knowledge questions. In 2022, nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents with at least some high school education said they had taken a civics course in high school that focused on the Constitution or judicial system, about the same as in previous years. More than a third of those with at least some college education (36%) said they had taken a college course that focused on the US system of government and the Constitution, significantly fewer than in 2021.

Yet, according to the Center for American Progress, only nine states and the District of Columbia require one year of US government or civics, while 30 states require a half year and the other 11 states have no civics requirement. This may explain why Americans are so weak on how their government operates.

Can we link Annenberg’s results about poor civic knowledge with this Gallup poll showing that Americans’ views of the two major US political parties remain more negative than positive? It also shows that the Republican Party’s favorability is now better than the Democratic Party’s:

The GOP’s favorable rating has edged up by four percentage points to 44%, while the Democratic Party’s rating slipped by the same amount, to 39%. With our political gridlock, along with high inflation and economic uncertainty, it’s understandable that neither Party gets high marks. But why did the Republicans’ position improve over last year? Is it that Biden’s poor ratings are dragging the Democratic Party down?

In October, 2021, Biden’s approval numbers stood at 45%. Today, he’s at 42.1%. That means he’s dropped 3 percentage points while the Party has dropped 4%. It definitely looks like he’s a drag on the whole Party. Since Annenberg tells us that only 47% of us can name all three branches of government, maybe we can conclude that Americans are getting their negative opinions about the two Parties from cable news.

Does anything explain the results of these two polls? Blog reader David P. offered a different view of Wrongo’s column on “Democracy Fatigue” in a comment. He says:

“Democracy Fatigue may be a misnomer. “Politics Fatigue” is closer to what I see around me and struggle to fight off in myself. The amount of money, airtime, phone messages, snail mail, etc. seems disproportional to discernible progress. News about scandal, verbal embarrassments and tactical mishaps outweighs discussion of policy alternatives or actual policy achievements.”

Has America just become too numbed by the news media “flooding the zone” with scare headlines about crisis after crisis to care much about something real – like the threat Republicans pose to our democracy?

Maybe our democracy is in peril not just because of poor civics knowledge. It’s always been a joke how badly people do when asked about the workings of government.

Maybe it’s that we’ve just tuned out. If so, goodbye democracy.