Democracy Fatigue

The Daily Escape:

Fall arrives in Ouray, CO – October 2022 photo by Gary Ratcliff

Why is authoritarianism growing at home and abroad? There is a relatively new notion called democracy fatigue: Political passivity and disgruntlement that stems from the exhaustion of seeing endless politicking, but never seeing change that makes lives better.

We’ve had a constant barrage of existential crises: Covid, climate change, Russian imperialism, immigration, inflation, and growing economic insecurity. With needing to act on all of these (and a few more), the ideals of political compromise and letting everyone have their say, seem sadly dated.

On the American Right, many joke that what would make things better is a ‘benign dictatorship.’ Because democracy doesn’t get things done. Politicians everywhere are taking the opportunity to go with “the big lie”. It’s become about lying until your ideas are accepted as fact. From Heather Cox Richardson:

“After World War II, political philosopher Hannah Arendt explained that lies are central to the rise of authoritarianism. In place of reality, authoritarians lie to create a “fictitious world through consistent lying.” Ordinary people embraced such lies because they believed everyone lied anyhow.”

And distrust of democracy is growing. From Hal Gershowitz:

“…in the US, Germany, and Japan, somewhere between 20% and 40%…would embrace “a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliaments and elections.”

Hal reminds us that last April In France, Emmanuel Macron managed to once again defeat right-winger Marine Le Pen, but by a much narrower margin than in their last face off in 2017. Elsewhere:

  • In traditionally liberal Sweden, a coalition of right-wing parties, anchored by the far-right Sweden Democrats, took control of Parliament.
  • Hungary’s uber authoritarian, Viktor Orbán secured his fourth consecutive term as Prime Minister.
  • And most recently, in Italy, a coalition led by far-right leader Giorgia Meloni won and will put together Italy’s first far-right government since World War II.

Beyond these are the far-right British National Party, and the Norwegian Progress Party. While these are fringe parties, they can exert influence on whatever party leads in parliamentary democracies.

Freedom House, founded in 1941 and primarily funded by the US, also paints a bleak picture. It publishes an annual assessment of “Freedom in the World” which notes that authoritarianism is having a great run. Freedom House says in 2020, the number of countries  they listed as “no longer free” grew to the highest level in 15 years. Countries registering declines in political rights were also the highest in 15 years.

They note that a total of 60 countries suffered declines over the past year, while only 25 improved. As of today, some 38% of the global population live in Not Free countries, the highest proportion since 1997. Only about 20% of the world’s population now live in Free countries. The balance (41%) live in Partially Free countries.

The rise in authoritarianism may be due to the fact that in a sea of uncertainty, people are looking for a life raft. So they are willing to listen to and vote for those who articulate the importance of “traditional” values, and to assure them that the purported attack/assault on those values is a threat to them and their families.

The longing for benign dictatorship continues among America’s technology elites, whose denigration of politics flows from a Silicon Valley ideology that mixes libertarianism with authoritarian rule. They seem to want politics to work the way their products do: With elegant solutions implemented by smart, creative makers.

Their message is that surely, there’s a right way to get the job done: Fill the potholes, build the roads, keep our streets safe, get our kids to learn reading and math.

But whose potholes should get filled first? Should we keep our streets safe through community policing or long prison sentences? Should teachers be given merit pay, are small classrooms better, or should we lengthen the school day?

All of these issues can engender deep political fights. That’s because politics is disputes about values, not technical solutions. One person’s “right” is not another’s because people prioritize different values: Equity versus excellence, efficiency versus participation, security versus justice, short-term versus long-term goals.

Trump’s continuing control of the Republican Party is due to his ability to exploit grievance. His “America First” message continues to resonate with millions of voters who view the Democratic Party’s policies as an assault on America’s traditional values.

For the upcoming midterm elections we need to remember that constitutional democracy is not a gift from the gods.

It can be wrested away if we fail to uphold our democracy by voting this fall.

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 3, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Baxter Lake, Baxter State Park, ME – September 2022 photo by Laura Zamfirescu Photography

We moved to a better neighborhood”. That’s the story of millions of Americans whose lives tracked toward success. In a way, that IS the American Dream, to escape from where you are to someplace better, safer, more upscale.

That version of the American Dream dovetails with our 21st century desire to be isolated from other people. We order dinner from Doordash. We buy housewares from Amazon. We buy automobiles online to avoid talking to the manager at the dealer.

Many of Wrongo’s grandkids say that they hate people, meaning that they only wish to speak with their friends, and not to anyone who might be their customer.

So is alone in a better neighborhood now the American Dream? What about billionaires? They already live in the best neighborhoods. They have battalions of staff insulating them from the rest of us. Have you ever had a meeting with a multi-billionaire? It isn’t an easy thing to do. Over the years, Wrongo has worked for two of them, and they were perfectly fine individuals. But they were completely insulated.

And they made their money the old-fashioned way, inheriting it from their Robber Barron parents.

Today’s mega-rich have mostly found ways to extract value from consumers and businesses via software. Take a look at Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. It’s a list dominated by people who have made money from the digital technology revolution.

And what are they doing with all this wealth? Many are quietly plotting their own survival against the world’s demise. Wrongo heard an interview with Douglas Rushkoff, author of “Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires”. Rushkoff is Professor at City University of NY, also a founder of the Laboratory for Digital Humanism, and a fellow at the Institute for the Future.

Rushkoff explained that billionaires worried about the end of the world know their money will likely be of little value. They’re thinking about political instability, social breakdown, and environmental catastrophe. A number of the world’s richest people are preparing for these events by building bunkers in New Zealand and in other remote locations. From Rushkoff:

“Most of these guys that we think are going to save us are actually wishing for the apocalypse. This is not just something that they fear. It’s something that at this point they’re ready to bring on.”

The book came from a meeting between Rushkoff and five billionaires at a desert resort. The topic? How to survive the catastrophe they know is coming. More from Rushkoff:

“And they spent the rest of the hour asking me really to…test their survival strategies…Do we go underground? Do I get an island?….What about space? And we ended up spending the majority of the hour on the single question, How do I maintain control of my security force after my money is worthless?…..because they’ve all got this money, they’ve…contracted Navy SEALs to come out to their compounds. But then they’re thinking, well, what do we do if our money’s worthless, then why are the Navy SEALs not just going to kill us and take all the stuff?”

Remember the back-yard bomb shelters of the 1950s: With that threat, how big would you want your bomb shelter to be? How luxurious and well-guarded? If the world were destroyed, you would try to live in that shelter full-time. Same thing with these billionaires.

Think about it: They want to use 21st century technology to revive a 13th century social order and impose it on the land and people who live around their protected fortresses. Missing from the plans of tech billionaires? Ideas to stop authoritarianism, decrease inequality, heal social divides, or slow climate change. Rushkoff explains:

“Even if we call them genius technologists, most of them were plucked from college when they were freshmen….They came up with some idea in their dorm room before they’d taken history, or economics, or ethics, or philosophy classes, and so they lack the wisdom needed to oversee their own perverse amounts of wealth.”

So maybe we shouldn’t rely on these guys to protect our future. In fact, Rushkoff says that these people who have the most power to change our current trajectory have no interest in doing so.

At this point in human history, making money is all that matters. In capitalist societies your worth is directly correlated to how much money you have. Everybody understands this. Billionaires are the most prominent symptom, but they aren’t the disease. Capitalism is the disease.

Time to wake up America! There is absolutely zero downside to relieving these people of a big slice of their wealth and putting it toward rehabbing our society. To help you wake up, watch, and listen to Carlos and Cindy Blackman Santana lead a Playing for Change global group of musicians in “Oye Como Va”:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 2, 2022

Hurricane Ian should remind us of one thing: We’re all in this life together. It’s easy to let your partisan flag fly with “gotchas” since we’re talking about Florida.

We could be smug watching Republicans like Governor DeSantis, who happily stoked outrage about “government tyranny” over vaccines and masks, getting frustrated when his constituents fail to follow evacuation orders.

We could go for the schadenfreude when watching the up-by-your-bootstraps types in Florida line up for government assistance from FEMA. Or what was the best part? Watching DeSantis, whose entire MO is trolling Biden and the Democrats, happily accepting help from Dark Brandon and the federales.

JVL says it best:

“But here’s the thing: We’re not talking about debating points. We’re talking about human beings…. Who’ve had tragedy visited on them. And the only responses should be empathy, charity, and love.”

On to cartoons.

Uncle Sam does his job, regardless of politics:

Some say that stronger hurricanes aren’t an indication that the climate is changing:

Has DeSantis seen the light?

How to win elections:

The Former Guy gets inspiration for next time:

Putin now has fewer options:

Did hitting the asteroid give us any ideas?

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Saturday Soother, Nordstream Clues Edition – October 1, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Kalalau Valley Lookout, Waimea Canyon, Kauai, HI – September 2022 photo by Alex Skoz

Who sabotaged the Nordstream pipelines? We’re forced to speculate, but it’s a near certainty that the US Navy knows who did it. In perusing Stratfor’s publication this week of where in the world US Navy fleets are located, Wrongo saw this map:

The map breaks the Navy’s fleets into Carrier groups (four in orange) and LHA and LHD Amphibious Assault groups (two in blue). The map shows the location of these groups over the last four weeks. The one of interest is LHD3. It spent most of the past four weeks in the Baltic Sea, including a great deal of time very near the Nordstream pipelines.

LHD3 is the designation of the USS Kearsarge, what the Navy calls a Multiple Purpose Amphibious Assault Ship, shorthand for a small aircraft carrier. The Kearsarge left the Baltic Sea a few days ago. Part of the reason the Kearsarge was in the Baltic was to participate in Baltops 22:

“This year, more than 45 ships, over 75 aircraft, and 7,000 personnel are tasked to execute a series of complex events throughout the two-week exercise.”

Seapower Magazine reported that one element of the Kearsarge operations in the Baltic was to test special sub-sea mine destruction technologies: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“A significant focus of BALTOPS every year is the demonstration of NATO mine hunting capabilities, and this year the US Navy continues to use the exercise as an opportunity to test emerging technology….Experimentation was conducted off the coast of Bornholm, Denmark….”

Bornholm is where the first breaches of Nordstream Two were discovered. Stratfor reports that:

“On Sept. 26, the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Administration warned of potential ”deliberate attacks” after energy companies reported multiple cases of unidentified drones flying near offshore oil and gas installations. Just a few hours later, officials in Denmark warned they had found a gas leak along a section of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm.”

The following day, the Swedish Maritime Administration announced it also detected two gas leaks on the Nordstream One pipeline in a nearby area. A fourth leak was discovered subsequently. While the Baltops 22 operation finished in July, the US Sixth Fleet didn’t begin leaving the Baltic Sea until September 22.

So it’s highly likely the Navy knows what happened and maybe who did it.

A head-scratching question is why would anyone do this? Damaging Nordstream is a direct terror attack on both Russia, and the EU, Germany, and the western European nations indirectly connected to the pipelines.

It is impossible to believe that it was done undetected. This type of clandestine operation requires deep water explosives, submersibles, divers and digging through the sea mud to attach explosives to the concrete shell that surrounds the steel pipeline.

Let’s take a brief look at the leading characters. Western governments say Russia did it, but why would it? One benefit to the Russians is that it forced the price of natural gas even higher (it went up 7%). It might have propaganda value; Russia can blame the US and thereby further turn Russian civilians against the West.

One old myth may apply: According to legend, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés ordered his men to “Burn the boats as they began their conquest of the Aztec empire in 1519. The idea was that there would be no opportunity to retreat, and winning the battle was all that mattered. For Putin, could it be he purposefully destroyed billions of dollars of Russian energy infrastructure and their “cash cow”, believing that Europe will never again want Russian gas? If so, that means Putin intends to win WWIII.

Could it be China? Closing Nordstream means China would get all the gas it needs, and possibly at even cheaper prices. Rendering Nordstream useless forces the Russians to tie their currency more tightly to the Chinese Yuan. And the newest Chinese submarines might be able to do the deed.

Could it be the US? We have the technology and were in the area. But what goal of our foreign policy would be served by drastically hurting our NATO allies? If we did it, we’ve gone from a passive participant arming Ukraine to an active participant, possibly engaging in an Act of War.

Could it be a smaller state in the rabid anti-Russian west such as Poland?  The US Navy knows. Will they tell anyone?

On to the weekend, where we ignore what Gini Thomas told the Jan. 6 Committee or, whatever Judge Aileen Cannon is thinking about Trump’s documents. It’s time for our Saturday Soother! Start by brewing up a hot steaming mug of Kahiko ($47.95 for 8oz: expensive, no? Thanks Biden) from Hawaii’s Hula Daddy Kona Coffee. It is said to be richly chocolaty, harmoniously juicy, and bright.

Now, grab a seat by a south-facing window and listen to George Gershwin’s “Lullaby for Strings”, written in 1919, although it was first performed as an orchestral piece in 1967. It’s played here by the New York Philharmonic String Quartet in 2016:

BTW: Stop watching cable news.

 

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Preventing Stolen Elections

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Heceta Beach, OR – September 2020 photo by Jack Arnold Photography

From the NYT:

“Activists driven by false theories about election fraud are working to toss out tens of thousands of voter registrations and ballots in battleground states, part of a loosely coordinated campaign that is sowing distrust and threatening further turmoil as election officials prepare for the November midterms.”

Government databases being what they are, voter rolls do contain errors, usually because voters have died or moved without updating their registrations. States typically rely on systematic processes as required by their laws to update or purge voter rolls.

Now, outside partisan Republican groups are attempting to use privately generated lists to “help” clean up the information. The Conservative Partnership Institute, (CPI) which has Mark Meadows as a senior partner, has distributed a playbook that instructs local groups on how to vet voter rolls.

CPI and other groups have challenged at least 65,000 voter registrations across eight counties in Georgia. In Michigan, another group challenged 22,000 ballots from people who had requested absentee ballots for the state’s August primary. And in Texas, residents sent affidavits challenging the eligibility of more than 6,000 voters in Harris County, the state’s largest county, which is home to Houston.

These are challenges by Republicans who are targeting Democratic cities and counties in battleground states. It takes time for local election officials to review each challenge, and in some cases, the challengers are angry and impatient.

What would bring most of this to a halt, is for cities and counties to impose a hefty filing fee that would be refundable in proportion to the number of valid challenges. Checking to see if a challenge is valid or not takes time and effort. States shouldn’t allow partisans to gum up the work of local election officials for free. If there’s no penalty for throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks, everybody will toss some.

In a more positive note about protecting our democratic process, it appears a reform of the Electoral Count Act of 1887 will pass Congress later this year. Abuse of the vague language in that Act led Trump and his co-conspirators to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021.

Since Jan. 6, we’ve seen an organized effort by Republicans in many states to fill key, lower profile election jobs with people who will only certify elections that Republicans win. To prevent that from happening again, both Houses have come up with legislation to reform the Act.

In a move that most likely guarantees passage of an electoral reform bill this year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced support for the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022.

Eleven Senate Republicans have already announced they are co-sponsoring it, more than enough for it to avoid filibuster and pass. The Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday voted 14-1 to advance the bill, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Asshole) being the only committee member to object.

Last week, the House passed its version of Election Reform, with the support of nine Republicans. It’s similar, and both bills make it clear that the vice president’s role in counting Electoral votes at the joint session of Congress is purely ministerial.

That by itself would have saved a lot of bloodshed at the US Capitol on Jan. 6.

The Senate bill ensures that Electoral votes counted by Congress accurately reflect the results of each state’s popular vote for president, something the House bill also does. It also provides clearer guidelines for when eligible candidates for president and vice president can receive federal resources to support their transition to power, something that Trump vindictively stalled after the 2020 election.

It would also substantially increase the threshold for Congress to consider an objection to the Electoral votes of individual states, requiring that at least one-fifth (20%) of each Chamber sign on to such challenges. Currently, that requires just one Senator and one House member. From Sen. Amy Klobuchar, (D-MN):

“Right now, just two people out of 535 members can object and slow down and gum up the counting.”

So it sets a much higher bar.

This is good news for America. One, it helps ensure we continue to have peaceful transfers of power between presidential administrations. And two, we’re seeing bipartisanship around a key Constitutional issue.

It’s clear that these bills must be negotiated into a single bill that is approved before January when there’s a decent chance that Republicans will get control of the House.

Most pundits think it will come to a vote after the November mid-terms. Now we have to hope McConnell doesn’t change his mind.

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Why Democrats Haven’t Closed the Midterm Gap

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Duxbury, MA – September 2022 photo by Juergen Roth Photography

Fall is here and the midterms are 41 days away. And CBS reports that the Republicans have a lead, but it’s still shrinking. CBS’s analysts still have the GOP picking up the House, but it is still within reach:

“While they’re still in a very good position to capture a House majority, that majority looks narrower today than it ever has, having ticked down for the second straight month to 223 seats in our model estimate. Republicans were at 226 in August and 230 in July.”

CBS says that voters think the stakes are high, and for many it’s more than the pocketbook issues of gas prices and inflation. BTW, Wrongo paid $2.95/gal on Monday. Here’s a chart from CBS:

Voters believe by two to one that a Republican Congress would lead to women getting fewer rights and freedoms than they have now.

Other polls talk about whether people view the Parties’ candidates favorably or unfavorably, the WaPo reviewed more than 20 polls across the swing states including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And in most cases, the Trump-aligned candidates have huge unfavorability deficits, but these popularity gaps are mostly larger than the expected voting margins in the actual head-to-head contests.

Let’s go back to the CBS poll for the reason why the Democrats are still trailing:

Despite having their voters’ enthusiasm grow, Democrats are still less likely than Republicans to say they’ll definitely vote. They haven’t closed that gap.

That makes the campaign right now about the Dems defining what the contest is about for their own voters and for independents. Once Dems get beyond the voters most concerned with abortion, they still have work to do making this midterm election look like other midterms where they’ve won.

The WaPo’s Aaron Blake tells us that the difference is that Republican and right-leaning swing voters see an obnoxious Republican and think: He may be a jerk, but he’s our jerk.

Democrats don’t do that. They fight among themselves about the virtue of their candidates.

Republicans have much more party loyalty than Democrats. Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog says it’s not hard to see why:

“Their favorite media sources have engaged in pure cheerleading for their party (and relentless demonization of the other party) for decades. The rest of the media is described as “liberal,” but it’s always ready to shiv a Democrat.”

He asks:

“Was there a single positive news story published about Joe Biden between the fall of Afghanistan and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act?”

So it’s not surprising that these Republican jerks can be competitive.

Republicans are pretty much all on the same page now. They are a minority Party at the national level and that requires them to rely on Party unity to regain power.

Wrongo doesn’t know what to tell you. Everyone needs to communicate that if the Republican Party takes control of both Houses of Congress they will:

  • Work to make voting more difficult or meaningless. They just voted against disclosing dark money in our elections, thereby reinforcing the damage done by Citizens United.
  • Try to have their Republican legislatures decide who won an election by nullifying the power of state supreme courts to check rogue legislatures.
  • Work to weaken Social Security and Medicaid.
  • Try to pass a national abortion ban. And if that’s not enough, they are leaning towards a ban on contraception.
  • Try to end the right to same sex marriage.
  • Work to make America a one-religion state.

None of the above is an exaggeration. Republicans are pushing all of these terrible things right now.

Beyond that, here’s something to remind your friends who still aren’t sure how they’ll vote: Republicans historically don’t care about the issues they keep going on about on cable news, or in their incessant negative election ads. And they won’t do anything to address them if they win.

They have no real governing agenda.  And there’s only one way to stop them.

Get out the vote.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 26, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Arches NP, UT – September 2022 photo by Nathan Smith

It can now take longer than 10 years for a typical first-time US home buyer to afford the down payment on a modest house, so says S&P Global in a July report (registration required). From the report:

“By fourth-quarter 2022, it will take 11.3 years for a first-time homebuyer with median income to save for a 10% down payment. It will take this homeowner 22.6 years to save for a 20% down payment. Both are over twice their pre-pandemic rates of five and 10.6 years, respectively.”

S&P estimates that with house prices rising so quickly, down payments are now twice the amount that they were before the pandemic. They also estimate that 60% of households could be priced out of the housing market by Q4 2025.

The NYT also is looking at the US housing market. They say that the US has a deepening housing crisis, including an acute shortage of:

“small, no-frills homes that would give a family new to the country or a young couple with student debt a foothold to build equity…”

Factors include land costs, costs of construction materials and government fees. The typical new home has grown in median size over the past 60 years, while the average number of people living in each home has declined:

These long-term trends were accelerated by the pandemic, which drove up demand for homes and house prices as people scattered, worked from home, and snapped up second residences.

Local policies are also driving this new reality. The Times reports that communities nationwide:

“…are far more prescriptive today than decades ago….Some ban vinyl siding. Others require two-car garages. Nearly all make it difficult to build the kind of home that could sell for $200,000 today,”

So, high prices due to high demand. High mortgage rates due to the FED clamping down on inflation. And cities and towns making it more difficult to build low-end homes. On top of that, investors bought about a quarter of all single family houses sold last year.

Wrongo grew up when homes were affordable for a one-salary family. His 1,400 sq.ft. “starter home” in a tidy NJ suburb (walk to take the NYC train to Wall Street) cost $28,000 in 1970. We sold it for $38,000 in 1976. Zillow estimates that it would sell today for $647,000, 23 times what it did in 1969! It’s unbelievable how high home values in that neighborhood have risen.

Also, home buyer expectations are higher today. If a home doesn’t have an open floor plan, three bathrooms and granite countertops, most young buyers think they are settling for much less than they want.

Owning a home has been a part of the American Dream, but it’s one of the three legs of that dream that are currently being killed: (1) High housing costs (2) Stagnant wages and (3) High health-care costs. When you add college debt to the mix, you have the makings of a revolution against the 21st century’s form of capitalism.

Part of the American dream is for your kids to succeed. That starts with a good education in a school district that aligns with that goal. That can rule out most public schools in our larger cities. If young families can afford the costs of private schools in cities, they must be very well off.

The only way that most people can choose that kind of school is to look in the suburbs. Suburban school districts pay for their good schools with taxes on expensive homes. That means parents, and the local government all have a stake in keeping local property values as high as possible, thus the difficult zoning regulations that make houses larger.

But smaller homes are also desired by many retirees. People who are living out their golden years often want to “downsize” into an affordable small home, condo, or townhouse. Many of these developments are being built throughout America. They can be beautiful inside, but they are often attached or semi-attached boxes crammed together on land that was never supposed to be developed.

Time to wake up America! Today in most parts of the country there is hardly anything on the market for under $300,000. Not much that resembles the tidy starter home Wrongo purchased 52 years ago.

Affordable housing prices aren’t coming back without government intervention. America needs to look carefully at its housing policies along with how we have let financialization take over the housing market.

Financialization of housing refers to the increasing presence of corporations and organizations that are creating or using real estate management, mortgage processes, and financial instruments to profit-seek against individual homeowners.

To help you wake up listen to Buddy Guy perform “Gunsmoke Blues” along with Jason Isbell. The tune is highly relevant, and very powerful. It’s from Guy’s album ,“The Blues Don’t Lie” due out on September 30th:

Lyrics:

Trouble down at the high school
Somebody got the gunsmoke blues
Trouble down at the high school
Somebody got the gunsmoke blues
Read it in the morning paper
Watch it on the evening news

Some folks blame the shooter
Other folks blame the gun
But that don’t stop the bullets
And more bloodshed to come
A million thoughts and prayers
Won’t bring back anyone

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 25, 2022

Liz Truss’s big bet since taking over as UK prime minister is to lower taxes just like St. Ronnie and Trump did in the US. Said Truss:

“Lower taxes lead to economic growth, there is no doubt in my mind about that,”

Trickle down will work this time, we promise, say UK Conservatives.

The tax reductions will require the UK government to borrow bigly to balance their budget. They hope that there will be so much growth that the UK will make it all back in future tax payments. Just like in the US, the lie is that these tax cuts will pay for themselves! Something that has never happened.

The UK Treasury said that the top personal rate will be cut from 45% to 40%. That will be more beneficial for the wealthy than the majority of British society. Shortly after the cuts were announced on Friday, the pound sank almost 2.6% to its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985. Wrongo hates to quote Larry Summers, but he said this:

“The UK is behaving a bit like an emerging market turning itself into a submerging market…it is pursuing the worst macroeconomic policies of any major country in a long time.”

Bloomberg’s Mark Gongloff tweeted:

“Liz Truss just announced the UK’s biggest giveaway to the rich since 1972, which resulted in an IMF bailout. Now the pound is crashing in the middle of the worst inflation since the 70s. Bold strategy….Let’s see if it pays off.”

It’s hard to believe this will go well with the UK already in a recession. On to cartoons.

Russian men are facing tough choices:

Ukrainian ballot:

Reserves get their orders:

Trump’s building something new in NY:

He says witch hunt a LOT:

The coming election may surprise some people:

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Saturday Soother – September 24, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Joshua Tree NP, CA – September 2022 photo by Bart Aldrich

This week, Wrongo and Ms. Right watched the Ken Burns program on the Holocaust on PBS. The three-part series is about how America responded to the Holocaust. An overriding theme in the film is that America’s aversion to immigrants framed much of our response to what Germany was inflicting on Jews throughout Europe.

You will not find a better or clearer narrative about the unfolding of the ideas and events that led ultimately to the Holocaust. Learning about America’s response in the run up to WWII is something we all should confront. It’s part of the ongoing conversation of what sort of country we believe the US to be, versus the kind of country it actually is.

From Tom Teicholz in Forbes:

“There are many revelations in the film. Burns, Novick and Botstein explore at length the connections between the American Eugenics movement, American genocidal policies towards Native Americans, and Jim Crow laws and Hitler’s policies and Nazi laws.”

Granted, the Germans didn’t need to learn racism or xenophobia from Americans. They did quite well on their own. They had already figured out how to export that to their African colonies. But, it’s true that here in America, we had the genocide of the Native Americans: Round them up, confine them, eliminate a major food source, and kill as many as you can. Genocide against Black people: Forced servitude, rape, and murder.

One thing that was beyond the scope of the film is why there was so much ambivalence by Americans to Hitler, and why we didn’t take in more European refugees. They show that until the late 19th century, America was a nation that welcomed immigrants. Then as the country grew and rates of immigration increased, by the turn of the 20th century, nativist sentiment was at an all-time high. Even Progressives, who prided themselves on helping the less fortunate, generally favored anti-immigration policies.

Ultimately, the US government’s anti-immigrant legislation normalized xenophobia in America. Nationalism and fear of immigrants has apparently been with us ever since. The film says that Hitler copied our tactics (!) and took them to a new extreme while the world watched.

On the last night (of 3), the film reminds us of the irony that Russia benefited from Roosevelt’s “Lend-Lease” arms program to help defeat the German invasion in WWII. A supreme irony now is that Russia’s complaining about our 2022 version of “Lend Lease” where the US is sending weapons to Ukraine to use against Russia.

We’re often inconsistent in our policies, but here we are in 2022 with a similar interest: The continued existence of an attacked sovereign nation. Only this time Russia is the aggressor, not Germany.

The last five minutes of the film provides a montage of the rising white supremacism and antisemitism in the US (including a clip of the marchers at Charlottesville in 2017) that, regrettably makes “The US and The Holocaust” all too relevant to today. It’s a very difficult history, but it’s also important that it is not forgotten.

Despite what’s going on in Ukraine and Russia, or with Trump’s many legal quagmires, let’s shut down the politics and posturing for this week. It’s time for our Saturday Soother.

Here on the fields of Wrong, the lawn has greened up from several decent rainstorms over the past few weeks. The bluebird houses are coming down for the winter. As we bid farewell to summer, leaves are beginning to turn color and fall. The summer classical music venues that we love have ended their seasonal programs. Wrongo wore a down vest this morning.

Time to grab a mug of Ethiopia Nano Genji Bergamot coffee ($25.50/12 oz.) from Sacramento, CA’s Temple Coffee. The roaster says it has flavors of tangerine and ginger with a long finish.

Now grab a seat by a south-facing window, put on your wireless headphones and listen to Van Morrison perform “When the Leaves come Falling Down” from his 1999 album “Back on Top”. We usually feature classical music on Saturdays, but this effort by Van the Man is very mellow and features wonderful fall photos:

The string section in the tune is by the Irish Film Orchestra.

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Is Putin Bluffing?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, foothills of the Superstition Mountains, Phoenix, AZ – September 2022 photo by Gary Robinson

Wrongo is a life-long peacenik. That started with his opposition to the Vietnam War, which didn’t prevent him from being drafted and spending his service time in Germany running a nuclear missile site for the US Army. His anti-war stance went forward through Grenada, Iraq (twice), Libya, Syria and of course, Afghanistan.

Curiously, he’s in favor of the US assisting Ukraine, largely because if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unchecked, it will create a continuing threat to Europe and to world peace. The fallout from NATO assisting Ukraine to date has been immense. Now, Russia appears to be trying to add holding Europe hostage to a nuclear threat to his already holding it hostage for energy.

In a speech Wednesday morning, Putin announced a partial mobilization of his military, saying the goals of his invasion of Ukraine had not changed and that the step was “necessary and urgent,” and effective immediately. They’re going to mobilize 300,000 troops who have prior military experience.

Contrast this to the 200,000 troops he used to invade Ukraine.

This is Russia’s reaction first, to getting bogged down in what was supposed to be a quick operation in Ukraine; and second, by Ukraine’s successful counter-offensive that has caused a significant Russian military retreat.

Russia’s plan is now to absorb the Donbas region into Russia after a sham referendum in the next few days. Once Russia annexes the Donbas, Putin says that part of Ukraine will henceforth be a part of Russia. He made his strategy explicit:

“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people….This is not a bluff.”

From a Russian perspective, any further Ukrainian attacks in the Donbas could be construed as attacks on Russia. That means Russia might consider themselves free to interdict NATO resupply operations to Ukraine even within NATO countries.

We’re now in a situation that’s fast-moving, and potentially dangerous. Putin is reminding the West that he has his finger on the nuclear button. He also said:

“I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and some components are more modern than those of the NATO countries…”

Even though Putin said he isn’t bluffing, we have to ask: Is this a bluff?

The answer may turn on whether we’re talking about Russia attacking the West outside of Ukraine, and whether they use nukes or conventional weapons in that attack. If they use nukes, the question is whether they use tactical nukes (usually 2-200 kilotons) or heavy ballistic missiles. The Hiroshima bomb was 15 kt. The US has deployed about 100 tactical nuclear bombs, called the B61, in Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Russia going nuclear would confront NATO with two unpalatable choices: One, back down and accede to Russian demands with the near certainty of having to face additional attempts at nuclear blackmail farther down the road. The other option would be for NATO to hit back with its own nuclear arsenal with the obvious risk of having the Ukrainian War escalate into a general nuclear war.

A third possibility is for NATO to retaliate with a large conventional weapon strike. If NATO wants maximum shock value for their nonnuclear counterstroke, striking Crimea would be a serious response.

But whether there is a conventional or nuclear response, the possibility of escalation seems high. OTOH, if Putin used a tactical nuke in Ukraine, it could signal the start of the end game for him. Even the most opportunistic of Russia’s allies would cut them off, both diplomatically and economically.

But the problem with playing chicken is that sometimes the other guy just holds the wheel straight, presses the accelerator, and closes his eyes.

What counters this is that the people surrounding Putin have as much to lose as anyone in the West in the event of an escalation that brings NATO into the fray. Will Putin actually resort to using nukes in Ukraine or Europe? Nobody knows.

Putin knows that everyone knows he knows that he can’t actually win using nukes. The threat is that he will tip the geopolitical board over in a tantrum. Putin’s actual use of nukes will result in a tremendous blowback of either retaliatory nuclear strikes or large-scale conventional weapons strikes, depending on how he actually used his nukes.

Something to consider is speed of response. Putin can nuke Ukraine with a transit time of around 8 minutes from launch to detonation for a ballistic missile, and slightly longer for a cruise missile. Rest assured that the US/NATO have some nuclear-armed submarines in the Arctic that could hit Moscow in 8-10 minutes if it came to that.

Sitting in the comfort of the US, Wrongo can’t support adopting a Chamberlain-esque policy of appeasement with Russia.

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