Biden and Putin Talk Ukraine

The Daily Escape:

Dawn sky, North Shore of Lake Superior – November 2021 photo by Ken Harmon

Biden and Putin had their heads-of-state version of a Zoom call yesterday. It lasted more than two hours. From the WaPo:

“In an email readout of the call, the White House said that…Biden voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European Allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the US and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation.”

It seems that the two leaders simply assigned their respective teams to follow up. The White House said Biden and Putin also discussed ransomware attacks and the Iran nuclear negotiations.

Wrongo doubts that Russia intends to invade Ukraine. There are too many downsides to a full-scale invasion for both sides. It would be costly militarily. Ukraine’s military would not be a match for Russia. But it’s in much better shape than it was in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, and entered Ukraine’s Donbas region. With help from the West over the past seven years, Ukraine’s regular units and reserves have come a long way.

It’s difficult to imagine why NATO would respond militarily to support Ukraine. Germany certainly doesn’t want a war with Russia. Rather, they want Russia’s Nordstream 2 gas pipeline to begin supplying energy to them. It’s even unclear whether a war in Ukraine would be supported strongly by the Russian people.

Understandably, Putin doesn’t want Ukraine to join NATO. And so far, it doesn’t look like NATO wants Ukraine in NATO, either. It’s doubtful that Biden would insist that NATO ask Ukraine to join it. OTOH, Ukraine has leaned toward the EU and NATO since its independence in 1991.

Putin has observed that if Ukraine joined NATO, then NATO would be closer to Moscow than the USSR was to the US when they placed missiles in Cuba. Putin’s thinking that a nuclear warhead launched from Ukraine would have about a 5 minute flight time to Moscow.

That should be a threat Americans understand. If NATO had cruise or ballistic missiles in Ukraine or the Balkans it would be a reverse Cuban Missile Crisis. And we should understand that Putin would react as JFK did in 1962.

It’s ancient history, but when Wrongo ran a nuclear missile unit in Germany, our role was a total defense strategy against a potential invasion from the Soviet Union. It seems logical to Wrongo that national defense in Ukraine and the Balkans is similar, a poison pill to deter Russian aggression.

A way out for Biden is to promise Putin that he won’t supply Ukraine with offensive weapons. The definition of what constitutes an offensive weapon has been clear for some time. It’s unlikely that Putin would be happy if Ukraine received state-of-the-art air defense weapons from NATO, but that crumb from Biden may have to be sufficient.

We in America should understand that NATO Chief Stoltenberg has been pushing to admit Ukraine into NATO. He’s also parroted what Biden has said about Russia paying a high price if it made a move against Ukraine. What about the US strategy for Ukraine? Reuters reported last week that Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried said that:

“As you can appreciate, all options are on the table and there’s a toolkit that includes a whole range of options…”

Donfried knows that there’s no “all options on the table” plan for the US. If Russia decided to invade, the US has neither forces nor resources in Europe to do much to stop it, unless NATO was to unleash a European-wide war.

Neither side wants that, because it wouldn’t necessarily be limited to Europe. There is something in the military called “Escalation Dominance”. That implies that when escalation begins, it can remain limited only if your side has a dominant nuclear capability. No one who looks at the US and Russia believes there’s any way to guarantee that an escalation will remain limited between these two powers.

There are no easy answers on how to avoid that. As long as we view this as primarily a military problem, we will see only military solutions. But if Ukraine falls to Russia, it would be a catastrophic reputational loss for the US, one that demonstrates our weakness in power and influence across our post-WWII empire.

Nobody knows what will happen, but we should expect Biden will do whatever he can to prevent direct confrontation. Russia has been deploying troops along its border with Ukraine, particularly around the Donbas region, where they have been carrying on a small war with Ukraine since late 2014.

In the middle of a pandemic in which millions have died, with no end in sight,  it would be a hell of a time to start a war.

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Rehabilitating Our Democracy

The Daily Escape:

Christmas lights, New Milford Green, New Milford CT – December 2021 photo by Tom Allen. New Milford was founded in 1709.

James Fallows writes a column called “Breaking the News”. His most recent article looks at the growing mismatch between the formal structure of the US government (two Senators per state and the House ceiling of 435 members), and the astonishing population growth in the US since the Constitution was ratified in 1788.

Fallows says the main problem is that modern America is running on antique rules that are too hard to change and too easy to abuse. He sees a Constitutional shift from protecting minority rights, to enabling minority rule, which ultimately means a denial of democracy. A system that is not steered by its majority will not survive as a democracy.

Fallows outlines the changing nature of big vs. small in America. When the Constitution was being negotiated, two issues were big states vs. small states, and slaveholding states vs. non-slave states. At the time, the three most populous original states had around 10 times as many people as the three smallest. That was behind the agreement to the two-Senators-per-state deal. But today, the three most populous states—California, Texas, and Florida—have about 45 times the population of the three least populous, Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska.

Second, the ceiling on the size of the House of Representatives must change. Fallows observes that when the country was founded, there were 65 members of the House. For the next century-plus, the size of the House increased after the Census, following changes in the US population. Just before World War I, the number was capped at its current level of 435. Today, the US population is about 90 times larger than it was in 1788, but the House is just 7 times as large.

Today there’s a bias against the needs of urban and suburban populations. There’s also a distinct small-state bias in the Electoral College. Each state’s representation in the Electoral College votes equals it’s number of Senate and House representatives. As House membership expanded through the 1800s from 65 to 435, House seats became relatively more important in Electoral College totals, and Senate seats relatively less so. From Fallows:

“To spell it out, in the first presidential election, Electoral Votes based on Senate seats made up nearly 30% of the Electoral College total. By 1912, the first election after House size was frozen, they made up only 18%.”

If the House were expanded, then the Electoral College outcome would more closely track the national popular vote.

Jill Lepore writing in the New Yorker, says that the US Constitution was the first national constitution that provided for its own revision. Article V is the amendment clause. The founders knew that the Constitution was imperfect; Article V left a Constitutional means for making it “more perfect.” Without an amendment provision, the only way to change the rules is to overthrow the government.

But it’s extremely difficult to amend our Constitution. Lepore says:

“The US Constitution has been rewritten three times: in 1791, with the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments; after the Civil War, with the ratification of the Reconstruction Amendments; and during the Progressive Era, with the ratification of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments.”

She points out that by contrast:

“…American state constitutions have been amended over 7,500 times, amounting on average to 150 amendments per state.”

While state governments freely change, the US Constitution doesn’t. America’s older, but not necessarily wiser.

We could approve the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. It would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes. The Electoral College has 535 votes, with 270 needed to win the presidency. In 2020, had 21,461 Biden voters actually switched to Trump, Trump would have won the Electoral College with 270 votes, despite Biden winning nationally by 7 million votes. Each of those 21,461 Biden votes (5,229 in Arizona, 5,890 in Georgia, and 10,342 in Wisconsin) were 329 times more important than the other 7 million votes.

The Compact would end the “winner-take-all” laws in the 48 of 50 states. If passed, the Compact would award their electoral votes in proportion to the votes the candidate receives. Article II gives the states exclusive control over the choice of method of awarding their electoral votes, so they can reform the system if they choose. The Compact would go into effect when enacted by states comprising at least 270 electoral votes.

Time to wake up America! Our current ineffective federal government must change. Otherwise, democracy is doomed.

To help you wake up, watch “Peace Train”, the 1971 anthem of hope and unity written by Yusuf/Cat Stevens, performed here by Playing for Change. This version features Keb’ Mo’ playing in CA, along with Yusuf playing in Istanbul, Rhiannon Giddens in Ireland, along with musicians from 12 countries:

This song is more relevant than ever.

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 6, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Arron Burr’s bedroom at the Arron Burr B&B – December 2021 photo by Wrongo

This week’s actual Wake Up Call will occur on Tuesday, because Wrongo and Ms. Right spent the last two nights in New Hope, PA. We stayed at the Aaron Burr House Bed and Breakfast. It’s where Aaron Burr fled after his 1804 duel with Alexander Hamilton. He seems to have stayed for about a week. Although dueling was illegal, Burr was never tried. And all charges against him were eventually dropped.

We didn’t know that our reservation was for Burr’s bedroom. It was fun because we had seen the Disney film version of the play “Hamilton” during Thanksgiving.

There’s a rumor that the place is haunted, but if so, it’s doubtful that it would be Burr’s ghost. He died in 1836 in a NYC boarding house, 32 years after he was in New Hope. Also, the current house was built in 1873 upon the foundation of the home Burr stayed in, so the ghost stories are probably just for marketing purposes.

New Hope is largely a tourist destination, although it has plenty of Revolutionary War history. Apparently, prior to George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River, he is said to have spent the night in New Hope, although the proof for that is thin.

There’s a tourist train attraction in New Hope, the New Hope Railroad. It’s a one-hour ride that begins and ends in the center of town. On the two days we were there, the trains (which run hourly on weekends) were filled with parents and kids. The US economy must be doing really well, since the Sunday 5pm trip prices ranged from $113-$62 for adults and $103-$52 for children.

That’s today’s travel report from Pennsylvania.

Despite Wrong pushing a real column to tomorrow, here’s a wake-up tune from the sensational play, “Hamilton”. At this point in the play, America has attempted to free itself from England.

After Great Britain defeated France in the Seven Years’ War in 1763, (known as the French and Indian War in the colonies), Britain had run up a huge national debt for the time, amounting to £140 million. This was at a time when their national budget was only about £8 million.

Their solution was to tax the colonies to amortize that portion of the debt that had been used to fight in North America. First came King George III’s Proclamation of 1763 which created an invisible border from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. That was followed by the Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, and the Townshend Acts of 1767.

The British efforts to solve the financial problems generated by the Seven Years’ War soon brought a bigger problem, trying to stave off the American Revolution. Watch Jonathan Groff as King George III singing the very funny “You’ll Be Back” to the American colonists:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 5, 2021

Wrongo and Ms. Right watched all eight hours of the new Disney opus on the Beatles, “Let It Be”.

Truthfully, a lot of it is boring. The lads are composing new tunes for a show that may or not also be a film. All of their noodling, the endless repetition and tweaking, can be hard to watch when you already know how good the final cuts are. And they’re still very good, even now, 50 years later.

But you can’t really appreciate how great they were until you watch the last hour which documents their final live performance on the roof of the Apple building in London. After a month of fumbling in the studio, including while rehearsing the day before, they go live on the roof where they show what a fantastic band they were.

Some of those live performances ultimately appear on the “Let It Be” album. They were cut live, outside on a cold day. John at one point says he’s too cold to play the chords on his guitar. It’s hard to believe how good what you’re hearing is. There were some moments of perfection in the studio, mostly with the vocals, sometimes with the instruments, but they rarely sounded as good as on the roof.

Later, they go back to the studio to record the seven tunes that were not performed live. In one case, Phil Spector is enlisted to add strings to “The Long and Winding Road“, but it also sounded great in the studio version in the documentary.

A few hot  takes:

  • By 1969, Paul is the driving force of the project. Despite what we’ve been told, they aren’t always at each other’s throats. There are disagreements. George briefly leaves the band during that month. There are power struggles over what they actually want the final product of the month’s work to be.
  • When they are playing, they clearly enjoy each other and feed off of each other’s talent. They are all capable of playing each other’s instruments at an accomplished amateur level.
  • We’ve heard how Yoko broke up the band, but that doesn’t seem to be true. Paul’s wife Linda is there, along with their young daughter Heather. Ringo’s wife Maureen and George’s then wife, Patti, all are around at various times during the recordings.
  • The band clearly had paid their dues. They seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of most musical genres. They know all the chords to the classics of the fifties, as you see when they spontaneously play them. They were a real band, the kind of band that was ubiquitous in the 1960s, but that rarely exists today.

They’re comfortable with each other even though they haven’t played live for years. There’s no rust once they’re back on stage. You see how a band that cut a great album every year for a decade, one that knew how to do it on the road, gear up for their swan song performance.

Watch it if you are a true fan, or if you’re into nostalgia. Watch it for the learning experience about the Beatles. On to cartoons.

The Beatles were an original, but the issues are the same as before:

GOP makes spreading Covid their top priority, blames Biden for spreading Covid:

Who buys their kid a gun, hears from the school that he’s a problem, and then lets him bring the gun to class?

The Supremes are going in a bad direction:

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Saturday Soother – December 4, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Mexican Hat Rock, Mexican Hat UT – 2021 photo by Jacky and Rick

The media keeps talking about inflation, saying that it’s bound to hurt the economy any time now. They mean that inflation will make workers ask for higher wages. That will force companies to pay workers more, and thus, lower corporate profits.

Sounds like a problem, but as Bloomberg reports, the fattest corporate profits since 1950 are debunking inflation stories spun by CEOs. US corporations enjoyed the widest profit margins in more than 70 years during the second and third quarters of 2021. US corporate profits before adjustments rose to a record high of $3.14 trillion in the third quarter of 2021. From Bloomberg:

“On earnings calls, plenty of executives complained about the squeeze from rising costs of labor as well as materials. But overall, profits were up 37% from a year earlier, according to data out last week from the Commerce Department.”

Nearly two thirds of publicly traded US corporations have reported higher profit margins this year compared to 2020. One hundred of the largest have booked profit margins at least 50% higher than last year’s levels.

Bloomberg reports that businesses have been paying more to their employees too, with total compensation up 12% in the last quarter vs. a year earlier. It’s not that every worker got a raise. A significant part of the increase was due to millions of Americans simply returning to work. But many got raises too. To date, hourly earnings broadly kept up with the fast-rising cost of living. And in some low-pay industries like leisure and hospitality they’ve outpaced it, although not by enough for those firms to get fully staffed.

The new data on corporate earnings suggest businesses are comfortably passing on their higher costs. In recent months, a number of US companies including Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Chipotle, and Dollar Tree have announced price hikes, claiming that the increases were necessary because of higher wages and material costs.

But the Bloomberg data say that these corporate kings are using price hikes to pass their sky-high CEO pay and marginal increases in material and labor costs to consumers, in order to keep padding their already historically strong profit margins.

Still, politicians are calling for Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s head. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) wrote in the WSJ that Powell doesn’t deserve another term because he caused inflation. Powell’s policies have contributed to US inflation, but there’s zero evidence that US inflation is a problem today.

For months, corporate executives and right-wing politicians have been parroting the claim that inflation in the US is due to Biden’s social spending policies. But the new data show that inflation is going up largely because corporations are driving it.

Remember, corporate profits are up by 37% while inflation amounted to about 6.2% in the same period. In other words, as the economy reopened and prices for goods went up, and corporations used the situation to raise prices a lot.

In fact, the FTC just announced it voted 4-0 to investigate the relationship between competition and supply chain problems. The FTC sent letters to nine dominant firms in supply, retail, and wholesale, mandating they respond within 45 days to a host of questions, as well as give internal documents on various topics.

This matters. Inflation and shortages aren’t neutral forces. The twin problems seem to be *helping* big business improve their profit margins. It’s important to ask why they are happening and who has an incentive to keep them going.

Even Morgan Stanley is now asking corporations to hit the brakes on accumulating profits. Their research division released a report highlighting the gap between corporate profits and worker wages. From the report:

“Real wages…still have to grow by 7.3% in excess of productivity growth to make up the gap….If this catch-up takes place over the next 5 years, unit profits will fall 33% from current levels…This would move the corporate profit share back to its 1990s average on a pre-tax basis and leave it just marginally above on a post-tax basis.”

Imagine. An investment bank telling corporations that they really should be making less profit. Things must be really going to get much worse than we think.

Let’s launch into our weekend, starting with a Saturday Soother. Try to forget about whether a government shutdown will hurt you or Biden, or whether the Supreme Court is now filled with ideological hacks.

Instead, grab a seat by a window and listen to “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” by Claude Debussy. The Art Nouveau period was obsessed with women’s hair. Debussy was immersed in that world. It’s played here by the LA-based, Sakura cello quintet. Wrongo is a sucker for cello, and there are five of them! This was originally written for piano, and is transposed here for cello:

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Young Americans Are Suffering

The Daily Escape:

View from Franconia Notch, NH – November 29, 2021 photo by Mel Elam. Looks cold.

There’s plenty of Covid news. We’re concerned about the new Omicron variant while we’re also seeing another surge of the Delta variant around the country. It’s important to remember that half of what you’re reading about Omicron now, and for the next several weeks, is going to be wrong or mistaken.

The problem is that we can’t be sure which half is wrong.

It’s troubling how prevalent Long Covid has become. The NIH reported on an Italian study that found 87% of people recovered and discharged from hospitals showed at least one symptom even 60 days after release. The commonly reported problems were fatigue (53.1%), worsened quality of life (44.1%), shortness of breath (43.4%), joint pain, (27.3%) and chest pain (21.7%).

One symptom of Long Covid that wasn’t reported is emotional distress. This is particularly evident in younger Americans. The just-released Fall 2021 Harvard Youth Poll, surveyed 2,109 Americans aged 18-29, between October 26 and November 8. In addition to their usual questions about politics, they also asked these young Americans about their mental health and Covid. They found that half of them say they’re a different person because of Covid. Here are the results:

Overall, 51% of 18-29-year-olds say that Covid has changed them. What’s particularly striking is that 61% of young women say they’re different now than they were before Covid. Contrast that with men in the survey, just 40% of whom said that they have changed.

While the survey can’t tell us exactly how they’ve changed, there’s some insight because 51% also say that Covid had a negative impact on their life. And there wasn’t a partisan divide: 51% of Democrats, 51% of Republicans, and 52% of independents said that Covid impacted them negatively.

There’s something worse going on though. These kids are a mess mentally. More than half (51%) report  that several times in the last two weeks they felt down, depressed, and hopeless, while 25% have had thoughts of self-harm.

In addition to the majority of youth who express depressive symptoms, and the 25% who express thoughts of self-harm, the study also found that a significant number show traits associated with generalized anxiety disorder:

  • 38% of young Americans report feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge in the last two weeks
  • 36% have been worrying too much about different things
  • 32% have been easily annoyed or irritable
  • 30% have had trouble relaxing
  • 22% report feeling afraid, as if something awful might happen
  • 20% have not been able to stop or control worrying
  • 16% have been so restless that it is hard to sit still

The causes of these emotional problems are diverse. The respondents listed the following as their top five reasons for worry: School or work (34%), personal relationships (29%), self-image (27%), economic concerns (25%), and Covid (24%).

But Covid can easily be seen as the primary driver behind all of these issues. The pandemic brought fear of losing one’s own life or that of an older loved one. The lockdowns impacted school and work, with people having to use technology as a work around for face to face interaction. People were cut off from friends and family. Dating died. Retail businesses that primarily hire the young closed, or sharply reduced their staffing, causing historic job losses and reduced paychecks.

The CDC reported in 2020, that from 2007 to 2018, the suicide rate among persons aged 10–24 had increased 57.4%. Let’s hope that isn’t what will happen to this cohort going forward.

Wrongo and Ms. Right have 12 grandchildren. Ten are between 18-29. A few graduated from high school, college, and grad school during the pandemic. And some of those graduates seem stuck in bad grooves, unable to land the jobs they wanted, or in some cases, a job at all.

They seem to swing between two poles, either feeling unqualified for the job they want, or being unwilling to settle for the jobs they are offered. A few grandchildren with college degrees say they are unqualified for even entry-level positions in their field of study.

These kids broadly represent what the kids in the Harvard study say about changes in their lives during Covid. Young Americans must really hate what we’ve done to them.

Their sense of despair is a common theme in other polling of American adults. But the deep unhappiness and pessimism displayed in the Harvard poll was a startling turn in an age group that might be expected to have more optimism, given that they are at such an early stage of their adult lives.

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The Great Resignation

The Daily Escape

Sunrise, Alpine AZ – November 2021 photo by Ed Kendall. Alpine is at 8,200’ elevation.

From Krugman:

“You’re probably aware that the US is experiencing what many call the Great Resignation — a significant fall in the number of people willing to accept jobs, at least at pre-Covid wages. Four million fewer Americans are employed than were on the eve of the pandemic, yet the rate at which workers are quitting their jobs — usually a good indicator of labor market tightness — has hit a record, and the scramble of employers to find workers has led to rapid wage increases.”

People see the “now hiring” signs everywhere. They assumed that generous unemployment benefits were discouraging workers from accepting jobs. But the enhanced benefits went away with no visible change in the US labor force participation. So, what’s going on?

Back to Krugman: (brackets by Wrongo)

“…[the] Great Resignation, it turns out, is largely an American phenomenon. European nations have been much more successful than we have at getting people back to work. In France, in particular, employment and labor force participation are now well above prepandemic levels.”

Barry Ritholtz says that there’s a massive transformation underway in America’s labor markets. When we look at the total Quits Rate for all Nonfarm payroll workers since the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) ended in 2009, the trend in the “quits rate” has steadily moved higher for all workers and really accelerated this year:

The red trend line shows that the rate that people are quitting has now returned to its level in 2016, and except during the pandemic, it has continued to rise.

If you look at only the Quits Rate for Professional & Business Services, those white-collar workers who did okay during the pandemic, their trend isn’t the same as the overall quits:

There’s been virtually no difference in the rate of professional quits since 2008. That’s telling us that the Great Resignation is taking place in the lower half of the employment wage scale, entry-level jobs, and the tiers just above them.

This has deep ramifications for the American economy.

Companies who rely on cheap labor are having hiring problems. Those companies that pay the minimum wage (or slightly higher) are having a hard time finding workers. Part of this is the failure of the Federal government to raise the minimum wage, which has been the same since 2009. That hasn’t kept up with inflation, or the growth in corporate profits.

Instead of gradually raising the minimum wage over time nationally, putting it on a path towards $15 or higher, we’ve allowed wage pressure to build for years. Then, during the pandemic, we experienced an 18 month period when low-wage workers reconsidered their careers. The dam broke, and we’re seeing both a sudden spike in wages and a shortage of workers.

Along the way, some labor has upskilled, gotten certified, degreed, and found new fields to work in. Now we have millions of people launching small businesses, striving to make it to the middle class, and towards self-determination. From the WSJ:

“The pandemic has unleashed a historic burst in entrepreneurship and self-employment. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are striking out on their own as consultants, retailers and small-business owners.”

The number of unincorporated self-employed workers has risen by 500,000 since the start of the pandemic, to 9.44 million. Except for a few months this summer, that’s the highest total since 2008. It amounts to an increase of 6% in the self-employed, while overall US employment total remains nearly 3% lower than before the pandemic.

So far this year, these entrepreneurs applied for federal tax-identification numbers to register 4.54 million new businesses, up 56% from the same period of 2019. That is the largest number on record since 2004. And two-thirds are for businesses that aren’t expected to hire employees.

More from the WSJ:

“This year, the share of US workers who work for a company with at least 1,000 employees has fallen for the first time since 2004….Meanwhile, the percentage of US workers who are self-employed has risen to the highest in 11 years. In October, they represented 5.9% of U.S. workers, versus 5.4% in February 2020.”

So, there’s a challenging future ahead for the small fraction of American workers who willingly struck out on their own. Couple that with the problem for those firms who pay near-minimum wages and who still treat employees like commodities.

Americans like to believe in “survival of the fittest” when it comes to business and the market. Well, if your company won’t look after its employees properly, its workers may desert it. The company may not survive.

There’s a huge difference between a spectator sport economy with a few winners and lots of losers, and an economy where everyone feels as if they belong and see a way to do better. In the US economy, where the same side always wins, it shouldn’t be a surprise when people decide to stop playing.

At least until they no longer have to work for a dick.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 29, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Dusk, San Miguel Peaks, Uncompahgre National Forest, CO – November 2021 photo by Tad Bowman

And we’re back from our gratitude-giving, dessert-eating weekend at the Mansion of Wrong. Did I miss anything? Oh yeah, Omicron. It’s the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, but it has a darker meaning for people who fear Covid. Omicron is also known as B.1.1.529 Coronavirus variant. It was first detected in Botswana and South Africa earlier this month.

It’s moving fast. Cases have been found in Australia, Hong Kong, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Israel, and the Netherlands, in addition to several African countries. But we know very little about it so far.

Three questions have to be answered: How rapidly does the variant spread? Is it capable of causing more serious disease than the known variants? Can it circumvent the immune protection of the Covid vaccines?

Once again, we’re facing an unknown. Dr. Fauci said Omicron looks more transmissible than others, and thinks that it’s inevitable that the US will see cases of the new variant. No need to panic, but the US has shut down flights from several African countries. There are questions facing us:

  • Will we be better prepared for this variant than we were for the past several variants that have killed nearly 800,000 Americans?
  • If a new variant becomes widespread, will it help make a nation that is already skeptical about its institutions and leaders better able to take direction from the federal government?
  • Will a substantial minority again toss aside experts and incumbents in a pursuit of self-management of their disease in the name of toxic freedom?

What will the political and economic ramifications of a new surge of disease be as we enter an election year? The battle lines are drawn. We know that the country is very evenly divided, and trying to govern causes one side to demand nearly the opposite of whatever is proposed. People on both sides of the political divide ask: Who can we really trust? Who do we really believe can solve the problem? Who’s really for us?

We used to take it on faith that our country works, that the dollar is a valuable currency, that there will always be a peaceful transition of power. But those things are slipping away. Many think that we are teetering on the edge of something very dark, that we must be pulled back, if we are to preserve America.

What are we actually trying to preserve? Our lack of shared values? The sham of our voting laws? McDonald’s, apple pie and baseball? Think long and hard about these questions. Regardless of what conclusion you reach, you’ll find that it simply won’t resonate with a significant minority of Americans.

Time to wake up America! Our social cohesion is dying. The Fund for Peace ranked the political cohesion of countries between 2008 and 2018. They found that the US had the largest drop in cohesion of any country studied, including Libya, Mali, and Bahrain. Martin Longman likens an asteroid headed straight for Earth to where we are as a society. We complain about the asteroid rather than the destruction it will cause.

To help you wake up, listen to U2 play their global hit “One” live at Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, Canada in 1997. The song is about finding unity:

Sample Lyric:

Well, it’s too late tonight to drag the past out into the light.
We’re one, but we’re not the same.
We get to carry each other, carry each other… one
Have you come here for forgiveness,
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head
Did I ask too much, more than a lot
You gave me nothing, now it’s all I got.

One” is a song about disunity written against a backdrop of reunification. U2 decided to work at Hansa Studios in Berlin. The studio used to be called “Hansa by the Wall” but when U2 got there, the Berlin wall was gone. Bono told the BBC:

“The irony of One’s title is the band wasn’t very close at the time….We were building our own wall right down the middle of Hansa studios.”

More from Bono about One:

“The concept of oneness is of course an impossible ask….Maybe the song works because it doesn’t call for unity. It presents us as being bound to others whether we like it or not. ‘We get to carry each other’ – not ‘We’ve got to carry each other’.“

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Happy Thanksgiving

The Daily Escape:

Turkeys on the fields of Wrong – November 2018 photo by Wrongo

(Wrongo is taking a break for the Thanksgiving holiday. Posting will resume on Monday, November 29th. We should expect that by then, most of what we already know will still be on everyone’s plates, and it won’t be leftover turkey.)

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual”Thoreau

Thanksgiving is Wrongo’s favorite holiday because as a secular holiday, no one commands you to do anything. Celebration is subdued, and at least around here, it focuses on gratitude.

Here’s Wrongo’s thanks to the readers of the Wrongologist. Special thanks go to everyone who reads this crummy blog, particularly those who have stuck around since the beginning: Monty, Fred, David, Marguerite, Kelly, and Terry. Thanks to those who comment and send me private emails saying the equivalent of “What’s wrong with Wrongo?”.

I am grateful that you all stick with it, and with me.

We started this adventure in 2011. Since then, this is the 2,286th post. This year’s list of readers includes people in 166 countries. The company that hosts the Wrongologist says that in the past 12 months, we’ve had 1.2 million page views. Most readers (43.7%) use a desktop machine, and Chrome (48.2%) is the preferred browser.

Wrongo is grateful every day for this journey he’s on with you. Sometimes, it seems like cynicism and despair is all we have left. But then there are days like today, a crystal clear morning, and at sunup, the temperature outside was 26°F. Hopefully, optimism will stick with us for a few days.

On the big day, we’ll have a fire in the fireplace, “Alice’s Restaurant” playing in a semi-continuous loop, along with good thoughts about the great country that we’re privileged to live in.

We’re thankful to those who came before us, and to our family members and friends who can’t be with us today. We’re thankful to those who are on the front lines in military service, or here at home in our hospitals, schools, firehouses, and police stations.

Let’s listen again to two of Wrongo’s favorite Thanksgiving songs. First, the late Tom Petty and his band Mudcrutch. Petty started his career with Mudcrutch, but everyone knows The Heartbreakers, who he had most of his hits with. Petty returned to Mudcrutch for the last time in 2016, when they released the album “Mudcrutch 2”. Here is Mudcrutch with Petty singing “I Forgive it All”, an incredible reflection on life and forgiveness. The video stars Anthony Hopkins:

Sample lyric:

I ain’t broke and I ain’t hungry
but I’m close enough to care

Wrongo’s other favorite Thanksgiving song is “Be Thankful For What You’ve Got” by William DeVaughn. It sold nearly two million copies after its release in 1974. It reminds us of a time when there was more optimism in America. If you lived or worked in NYC in the1970s, the video will take you back to a difficult period in that city’s history:

Sample lyric:

Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac
Gangster whitewalls TV antenna in the back
You may not have a car at all
But just remember brothers and sisters
You can still stand tall
Just be thankful for what you’ve got

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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