Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 12, 2021

When Wrongo was a kid living in CT, he got a 3-speed English bike, a Humber. One day while riding on the road in front of our house, a truck forced me onto the road’s sandy shoulder. The sand immediately grabbed the bike’s front wheel, stopping it dead in its tracks. Wrongo went headfirst over the handlebars and got up with a displaced fracture of his left wrist.

While Wrongo saw the accident coming, he couldn’t do anything to avoid the sand.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, is America being pushed onto the sandy shoulder of our road? We can still avoid a crash, but we’re facing quite a few threats that might push us off the road and into the gutter:

  • Losing our social cohesion
  • Continuing income inequality
  • Continuing racism
  • Increasing threats to the right to vote

Twenty years on, America is more at war with itself than with foreign terrorists. Our society and our democracy are threatened from within in a way that Osama bin Laden could never have managed.

Think about the Delta variant. One Party thinks that people should be free to acquire and transmit to others a deadly and extremely communicable virus. They also think it’s morally wrong for the government to engage in even the mildest coercion to push people to get vaccinated, because that coercion interferes with an individual’s liberty.

They think personal liberty is the highest social value in all circumstances except abortion. On to cartoons.

Our continuing learning disability:

9/11 aftermath:

Texas has only one star in its flag. That’s also its Yelp review:

New rodeo event in Texas:

America’s right wing is constantly sore about everything:

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A Not-So-Soothing Saturday – September 11, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Remembrance of an Idealized WTC. (This is a 2015 screen grab from The Economist)

On this 20th anniversary of the 9/11 disaster, let’s take a short look back, and a longer look forward.

Wrongo and Ms. Right lived 2 blocks from the WTC in the early 1980s. We were urban pioneers, living and working in the Wall Street area. That part of town didn’t have supermarkets, and few stores were open after 5pm.

Occasionally, we would have dinner at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower. In fact, one of our children had her sweet-sixteen dinner there, with all of New York at her feet. Back then, I visited the Towers often, seeing friends and colleagues who worked there.

On 9/11/2001, Wrongo was in Maine, visiting a company he had just acquired. Like in Manhattan, we watched a beautiful blue sky as the terrible breaking news turned into harsh reality. We spent the next week vainly trying to work, while mostly sitting in a nearby restaurant with a huge TV wall that was tuned in to all terrorism, all the time.

We had a grandson born in New Jersey on 9/14. I drove to the hospital from Augusta, Maine, while Ms. Right drove east from State College, PA. He’s turning 20.

Today, it gets progressively harder to remember what the US used to be like before 9/11. We forget what it was like to be able to arrive at the airport 20 minutes before a flight. What it was like to walk into a building without going through a metal detector.

Most important, it’s hard to remember what it was like to believe that the US’s version of democracy would remain ascendant for all time. Some context for our 20-year War on Terror comes from Spencer Ackerman’s 2021 book, “Reign of Terror”:

“In response to 9/11, America had invaded and occupied two countries, bombed four others for years, killed at least 801,000 people — a full total may never be known — terrified millions more, tortured hundreds, detained thousands, reserved unto itself the right to create a global surveillance dragnet, disposed of its veterans with cruel indifference, called an entire global religion criminal or treated it that way, made migration into a crime and declared most of its actions to be either legal or constitutional. It created at least 21 million refugees and spent as much as $6 trillion on its operations.”

Quite the achievement, no? We responded in a primitive, unthinking way and unearthed a weakness in our national character that continues to haunt us today. Among 9/11’s legacies are not just mass surveillance and drone strikes, but also the rise of right-wing extremism. More from Ackerman:

“When terrorism was white….America sympathized with principled objections against unleashing the coercive, punitive, and violent powers of the state….When terrorism was white, the prospect of criminalizing a large swath of Americans was unthinkable…”

He’s thinking about the Oklahoma City bombing. Then things changed:

“The result…was a vague definition of an enemy that consisted of thousands of Muslims, perhaps millions, but not all Muslims — though definitely, exclusively, Muslims.”

It’s important to remember that GW Bush insisted that Muslims weren’t the enemy at one moment and then described the War on Terror as a “crusade” the next.

Many authors say there’s a direct line between 9/11 and the rise of right-wing extremism in the US. For example, the Ground Zero Mosque enraged Republicans. The buildings, a few blocks from the WTC, were damaged on 9/11. In 2009, the NYT reported on plans to replace some of the buildings with a mosque and Islamic cultural center. Republicans were still angry enough to complain that the new building was a “victory mosque”.

It is one thing to oppose radical Islamist terrorism. But when Republican politicians redefined the enemy not as violent jihadists but Muslims in general, they also redefined their Party as one welcoming xenophobic rhetoric and candidates.

From Cynthia Miller-Idress:

“…al Qaeda terrorists and their ilk seemed to have stepped out of a far-right fever dream. Almost overnight, the US…abounded with precisely the fears that the far right had been trying to stoke for decades…far-right groups saw an opportunity and grabbed it, quickly and easily adapting their messages to the new landscape. A well-resourced Islamophobia industry sprang into action, using a variety of scare tactics to generate hysteria about the looming threat.”

Will Saletan of Slate connects this to our botched Covid response:

“When al-Qaida struck America on 9/11, Republicans completely reoriented our government to confront terrorism….Republicans instituted new measures to track and halt the spread of terrorism at home. They upgraded domestic surveillance and tightened screening at airports and other public places.

Today, in the face of a far more deadly enemy, Republicans have done the opposite. They’ve belittled the coronavirus pandemic, scorned vigilance, defended reckless individualism, and obstructed efforts to protect the public.”

Their campaign of obstruction and propaganda has contributed to millions of unnecessary infections.

In this respect, Covid was a test of that Party’s character. It challenged Republicans to decide whether they’ve moved from being a party of national security, to a party of grievance and animosity. We now know the answer to that question.

Elliot Ackerman (no relation) in Foreign Affairs observes:

“From Caesar’s Rome to Napoleon’s France, history shows that when a republic couples a large standing military with dysfunctional domestic politics, democracy doesn’t last long. The US today meets both conditions.”

Let’s close with a 9/11 tune. The October 20, 2001 “Concert for New York” can’t be beat. It was a highly visible and early part of NYC’s healing process.

One of the many highlights of that 4+hour show was Billy Joel’s medley of “Miami 2017 (seen the lights go out on Broadway)” and his “New York State of Mind”. Joel wrote “Miami 2017” in 1975, at the height of the NYC fiscal crisis. It describes an apocalyptic fantasy of a ruined NY that got a new, emotional second life after he performed it during the Concert for New York: 

The concert brought a sense of human bonding in a time of duress. It isn’t hyperbole to say that the city began its psychological recovery that night in Madison Square Garden. It’s worth your time.

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Lobbyists Are Hiring Democrats to Kill Tax Reform

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Acadia NP, ME – 2021 photo by Rick Berk Fine Art Photography

From the NYT:

“The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans are the nation’s most egregious tax evaders, failing to pay as much as $163 billion in owed taxes per year, according to a Treasury Department report released on Wednesday. The analysis comes as the Biden administration pushes lawmakers to embrace its ambitious proposal to beef up the Internal Revenue Service to narrow the “tax gap,” which it estimates amounts to $7 trillion in unpaid taxes over a decade.”

The Treasury Department estimates that its tax gap proposals could raise $700 billion over a decade.

This is crucial, since Democrats are counting on collecting unpaid taxes to help pay for the $3.5 trillion spending package they are drafting. The House is set this month to begin advancing the spending package, but liberal and moderate factions of DC Democrats are divided over how much to spend and how to offset the cost.

Republicans are unified in opposition to the legislation, and the US Chamber of Commerce has vowed to defeat it. Among the other players are the Business Roundtable and Americans for Tax Reform. And fronting for them is a former Democratic Senator, Heidi Heitkamp. They have unleashed a lobbying operation targeting a small number of moderate Democrats in Congress who hold the balance of power.

Democrats hold a fragile majority in both Houses of Congress. Any hope to enact an ambitious domestic reform program requires that all Dems be on board. Moreover, increasing taxes on corporations and the very rich will be heavy lifts, given the opposition.

From NY Magazine’s Jonathan Chait: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Last week, Democratic senator turned anti-tax lobbyist Heidi Heitkamp, who represented North Dakota for one term before losing in 2018, appeared on CNBC to make a surprisingly emotional appeal against President Biden’s plan to close a notorious loophole for the wealthy. The loophole, called “stepped-up basis”…[that] allows capital gains to escape any tax at all as long as the owners pass the asset on to their heirs before they sell it.”

It turns out that Heitkamp is one of several Democrats lobbying against the Biden tax plan. Chait cites former Democratic Congressman Nick Rahall, who published an op-ed in his hometown West Virginia newspaper advising Democrats that they:

“…can avoid alienating rural states by keeping family-owned businesses and farms in mind.”

Former Democratic Senator Max Baucus (MT) has also stepped forward to write an op-ed advising Democrats that their political fortunes hinge on maintaining low tax rates for wealthy heirs.

The NYT reported that Heitkamp was recruited to the anti-Biden side by superlobbyist John Breaux, a former Louisiana Democratic Senator and Congressman, who once confessed:

“My vote can’t be bought, but it can be rented.”

Washed up politicians all move on to their second act: Monetizing their influence.

Heitkamp told the NYT that she’s finding a receptive audience among potential swing voters in rural areas, especially owners of family farms, even though Democrats say those voters would never be affected by the proposed tax changes:

“This is very consistent with my concern about revitalizing the Democratic Party in rural America….You may want to do this…but understand there will be risk….”

Is her point that if Democrats don’t preserve the loophole that allows fabulous amounts of wealth to escape taxation when passed down to wealthy heirs, they might alienate hardscrabble rural voters?

Will Dems risk losing more of those voters if they put a crimp in the elites’ efforts to maintain entrenched and inherited privileges across generations? Whatever happened to the narrative that rural Real Americans™ voted for Trump to protest America’s rigged economy?

Rural people, like everybody else, want elected officials who will have their backs and fight for them.

We’ve had this kind of manipulation for the last 50 years. It’s how we got a society where some can buy $3 million weekend “cottages”, while so many other Americans line up at food banks or can’t get basic health care.

It’s true that enacting a big tax hike comes with risks: Corporations and the wealthy will fund a lot of Republican TV ads attacking Dems over it.

The risk is worth it. Otherwise, for every dollar in tax hikes Democrats concede to Republicans and the US Chamber of Commerce, they will have to give up a dollar in spending on programs like Medicare, Medicaid, or the child tax credit.

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Don’t Forget the Debt Limit

The Daily Escape:

After Hurricane Ida, Grays Beach, Cape Cod MA – photo by Casey Chmieleki

With all the screaming headlines about Afghanistan, Texas anti-abortion laws and the march of the Delta variant, you probably missed that the US government is running out of money. Reuters explains it:

“Leaders of the Democratic-led Senate and House of Representatives are expected to force votes to lift the $28.4 trillion debt limit in late September. The limit was technically breached on July 31 but is being circumvented by Treasury Department “extraordinary” steps.”

This is an unavoidable political issue for both Parties, because while people dislike the idea of more government debt, they really like the goodies that come along with that debt.

This is happening while the Democrats are jousting with each other, trying to find 50 Dem votes for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, a budget resolution, and a budget reconciliation bill. But they also need to work on increasing the debt limit. From Ed Kilgore:

“The debt limit was suspended in 2019 as part of a two-year budget deal between Congress and the Trump administration intended to postpone major fiscal fights until after the 2020 elections. The deal expired on August 1, 2021, with the effect that the debt ceiling was adjusted upwards to the level of debt as it exists right now.”

Accruing debt above $28.43 trillion requires an increase in, or suspension of, the debt limit. At current levels of expenditure, the government’s checking account, called the Treasury General Account (TGA) at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, will hit zero in mid-October. It can be extended by “extraordinary measures” into November, which is when the US government would begin defaulting on its bills.

The politics of government funding and increasing the debt limit are always a farce, and it’s no different this time. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already announced that Democrats cannot expect a single Republican vote for a debt limit measure right now.

That’s a political problem for Democrats, because a debt limit increase or suspension is subject to the Senate filibuster, requiring 60 Senate votes unless there’s some way around — like including it in a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation measure.

McConnell helpfully suggested that Democrats should just include a debt limit increase in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget-reconciliation bill. But that would guarantee Republicans could “blame” Democrats in the 2022 mid-term election for an increase in government debt.

The foul Republican tradition of trying to hold Democrats hostage when an increase in the debt limit is required, only goes back to the odious Newt Gingrich in 1996. We all know how the farce ends: Congress will avoid default at the last possible minute, just as it has done 78 times without fail since 1960, after concessions are extorted from the other side.

It’s a farce because Congress has already appropriated the funds to be spent and to be borrowed. It has told the Administration in detail how to spend those funds. Now Republicans in Congress want to say (again): “Nope, you can’t borrow the money to cover what we told you to spend”.

Republican Congress critters know we must pay our bills, but for myriad cynical reasons  ̶  or just plain political incompetence, they keep the issue alive budget year after budget year, and vote after vote.

The debt limit shouldn’t be increased; it should be repealed. The passage of a budget or any other legislation has an implicit expectation that the government will need to raise x and/or spend y. It’s really that simple. Congress should bite the bullet, and never again need to fight about it.

When they debate the debt ceiling, remember the only reason it’s happening is because one half of our government is good at politics but has no ethics, morals, or sense of patriotism, while the other half of our government is breathtakingly bad at politics.

Eventually, it will be obvious that the Republicans are really fighting about increasing taxes on corporations and the ultra-rich.

We all would be better off if this bullshit ended, and Congress got on with real work.

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Back-to-School Brings Increased Covid Threat to Kids

The Daily Escape:

Sunset and sunflowers, central UT – August 2021 photo by Jon Hafen

Schools are back in session and once again, it’s in person, after a confusing on-or-off, virtual or physical experience last year. Almost 5 million children have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that about 204,000 kids tested positive for Covid last week. And for the week ending August 26, children accounted for 22.4% of reported weekly cases. Covid cases are rising nearly everywhere in America, and our schools aren’t exempt. From USA Today:

“At least 1,000 schools across 35 states have closed for in-person learning because of COVID-19 since the beginning of the school year, according to Burbio, a New York-based data service that is tracking K-12 school reopening trends.”

This increasing number of school closures comes amid a battle over mask mandates in schools and the surge in pediatric Covid cases. Did it occur to you that the people bitching about mask mandates and refusing to get the vaccine are THE SAME ONES who are up to a million about exiting Afghanistan?

Republicans are saying that Biden has botched the Covid response. But we know that many Republican governors are actively pursuing policies that are increasing infections. Some of them are preventing schools from adopting mask policies. Dr. Eric Feigl Ding, an epidemiologist, tweeted this:

Moreover, the CDC says that hospitalization rates were 10 times higher among unvaccinated than among fully vaccinated adolescents, and increased 4 times as fast in August in states with low vs. high vaccination rates:

Would Republican politicians willingly sabotage their state’s Covid vaccine program for political gain? Before you say, “that’s ridiculous”, look at this note sent to people in Manatee County FL:

This was put out by a local MAGA group, whose leaders have been trained by national organizers on how to disrupt school board meetings.

Wrongo thinks that masks are a convenient target of opportunity for America’s angry and outraged. Being an angry, outraged White person pays big political dividends. Chances are that if you’re an angry American, you’re White and middle class. You are backed by an enormous right-wing media ecosystem that’s egging you on. You are part of a political party ready to overturn our current system of government on your behalf.

Many in law enforcement will police you selectively. You can disrupt school board meetings, scream at children in masks, and probably not even get your ass thrown out of the meeting. The maskholes are ascendant.

And so, America’s war with ourselves continues.

The CDC’s masking recommendation for vaccinated adults changes with local transmission rates. If high, all people should mask indoors. If low, there’s no need. But the CDC hasn’t set similar metrics for children and masks in schools.

So, should kids under 12 stay masked until they have an approved vaccine? What if that takes years? What if it’s approved soon, but only 35% of them get vaccinated, just like among the 12–15-year-olds who have had access to vaccines for months?

It’s possible that even by the end of the school year, most children will still be unvaccinated. Should the masks come off then, or remain in place indefinitely? Any school board that sets a mask mandate should also be setting in place a mask off plan. Otherwise, their angry and distrustful citizens will gain even more power.

Consider that in the UK, the government doesn’t require masks for children in schools. It isn’t clear whether they will advise that kids should get vaccinated. Britain has experts just like we do, and they’re looking at the same scientific data. They care about children’s health the same way we do, and yet, they have come to different policy decisions.

Should we, as the UK does, accept that there will be more cases in children, recognizing that disease severity for the vast majority of kids is low? Should we accept that there will be a not-insignificant number of Covid-related deaths among our kids, along with some who have long-term health compromises, and move our focus to vaccinating, not masking our kids?

At this point, the people who are anti-vaccine, anti-mask and/or who deny the deadly seriousness of Covid have demonstrated that they cannot be reasoned with. They love that they can be ignorant assholes, while still having plenty of political muscle.

Time and energy are as limited as ICU beds. Time and energy should be reserved for people who have at least some common sense and common decency, not wasted on the angry and outraged.

OK, but what about the kids?

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The Supreme Court is Becoming Illegitimate

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Death Valley, CA – photo by Hasanur Khan

From Paul Campos:

“For a long time, the standard right wing judicial nominee dodge regarding Roe v. Wade was that the nominee considered it “settled law.”

What’s that supposed to mean? It’s a reference to what lawyers call stare decisis, which is Latin for “to stand by things decided”. It’s the doctrine of following legal precedent. The idea is that the Court should follow the existing rulings that it has announced, unless there’s a really good reason not to.

Then the question becomes: How really good does the reason have to be? There’s no formulaic answer to that. The criminal guilt standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is similar.

We’re here today because on Wednesday, in an unsigned, 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court effectively overturned Roe v. Wade. The five most conservative Republican-appointed justices refused to block Texas’s abortion ban, which allows anyone to sue any individual who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks. Remember, that law contains no penalty for making a false claim or filing a suit in bad faith. The purpose of that part of the law is simply harassment, and it’s up to the accused to prove that she wasn’t six weeks pregnant at the time the vigilante made the claim.

This decision renders almost all abortions in Texas illegal for the first time since 1973.

Although the majority didn’t exactly say these words, the upshot of Wednesday’s decision is that the Supreme Court has abandoned the Constitutional right to abortion. Roe is no longer settled law, even though the five justices who voted not to take the case had all testified in Congress that it was settled law.

Others will write detailed, technical analysis about the Court’s non-decision, and the impact on the Roe v. Wade test case coming to the Supreme Court in September. Wrongo prefers to point out that the subversion of American institutions is happening at a rapid pace, and that includes the Supreme Court.

There was an interesting article in The Prospect about how the US is becoming ungovernable in the basic sense of ‘nothing works‘ and ‘nothing can be done simply‘. It is difficult to argue with that, and although it’s coming at us from many different angles, one of the effects is that every decision today is powerfully affected not only by ‘how will it work’, but by ‘what will the opposition be like?’.

The battlefield is increasingly one where results are determined by unconstrained courts, and the country is becoming unmanageable. This is magnified in the Senate, where two Democrats have reacted to the partisan divide by refusing to act so long as the partisan divide exists.

From Justice Kagan’s dissent: (Emphasis by Wrongo)

“Without full briefing or argument, and after less than 72 hours’ thought, this Court greenlights the operation of Texas’s patently unconstitutional law banning most abortions. The Court thus rewards Texas’s scheme to insulate its law from judicial review by deputizing private parties to carry out unconstitutional restrictions on the State’s behalf. As of last night, and because of this Court’s ruling, Texas law prohibits abortions for the vast majority of women who seek them—in clear, and indeed undisputed, conflict with Roe and Casey.

Today’s ruling illustrates just how far the Court’s “shadow-docket” decisions may depart from the usual principles of appellate process. That ruling, as everyone must agree, is of great consequence. Yet the majority has acted without any guidance from the Court of Appeals—which is right now considering the same issues. It has reviewed only the most cursory party submissions, and then only hastily. And it barely bothers to explain its conclusion—that a challenge to an obviously unconstitutional abortion regulation backed by a wholly unprecedented enforcement scheme is unlikely to prevail.

In all these ways, the majority’s decision is emblematic of too much of this Court’s shadow-
docket decision making—which every day becomes more unreasoned, inconsistent, and impossible to defend.”

Roe and Casey were at least in theory, settled law. Now, they are no longer.

The Court’s majority decided this madness, not just for Texas, but for the entire country. These earth-shattering decisions used to come only after full briefing and argument. No longer. Now, the shadow docket greases the skids for decisions upholding the Conservative Right’s views on personal rights.

One question that needs to be answered: How will the Texas Taliban-empowered Menstruation Vigilantes know when a pregnancy is older than six weeks?

Conservatives say they are all about personal choice and freedom, except when they’re not.

These are very perilous times, and they call for very big corrections. We’re pretty much at the point in game theory which dictates that the only remaining options are to either stop playing the game, or in this case, for the Democrats to destroy the political influence of Republicans.

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Our Troops Exit Afghanistan

The Daily Escape:

Controlled burn, Yosemite NP, CA – Early Summer 2021 photo by mrcnzajac

(Note: The Wrongologist is taking an end of summer break. Our next column will appear on September 7)

Yesterday brought the final evacuation of Kabul airport by US forces. The actual deadline for all US troops to be out of Afghanistan was 3:29 pm EST Tuesday, which is Tuesday 11:59 pm local time in Kabul. But we exited a day early. This was the time of greatest risk to our troops, since fewer and fewer of them were available to maintain security at the airport for those getting on planes.

A report by Southpaw quotes General McKenzie:

Several other news outlets are confirming Southpaw’s report. Here’s Natasha Bertrand of CNN:

3:29 pm  EST is 11:59pm on Aug 30 Kabul time. A day early.

The Biden administration’s end game relied on the Taliban acting in good faith as the last of our troops departed, including protecting the final American evacuees. Reuters had reported that the Taliban were waiting for “the final nod” from US forces before securing full control of the Kabul airport.

It seems like Biden’s faith was well-placed.

What follows is Wrongo’s thinking written before hearing that the US had successfully left Afghanistan and turned over the airport to the Taliban.

Let’s pull back and get some historical perspective on our decision to go to Afghanistan. Michael Krepon of the Arms Control Wonk blog makes a great observation about what was called the “unipolar moment” in 1990, after the Soviet Union had collapsed.

The concept held that the US, as the world’s sole superpower, didn’t need to respect weakness, limit NATO expansion, or pay allegiance to international norms. Washington could and should throw its weight around. The sole superpower could play by its own rules.

That idea may have caused the downfall of the US in the Middle East. GW Bush subscribed to the unipolar moment. Before 9/11, he wanted to exit the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ATBM) Treaty with Russia, even though Putin was willing to accommodate some changes. Putin indicated that if he and Bush couldn’t make a deal, Russia would exit the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (SALT II), which prohibited land-based missiles carrying multiple warheads.

Bush didn’t care about the prohibition and walked from both. That meant that Bush dispensed with limitations on national missile defenses and the abolition of land-based missiles carrying multiple warheads, two central tenets of our hard-won nuclear arms control strategy.

Bush then reacted to the 9/11 strikes with a “never again” impulse that was also fueled by unipolar moment hubris. Krepon reminds us that Bush’s 2006 National Security Strategy declared:

 “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

From Michael Krepon:

“These sentiments fueled the ill-fated war and institution building project in Afghanistan….The end of the unipolar moment was hastened by these wars… For those harboring any doubt, the unipolar moment definitively crashed and burned with the fall of Kabul.”

More: (emphasis by Wrongo)

”The finest hours of US expeditionary forces in Afghanistan came at the front and back ends of this two-decade-long saga. The routing of al-Qaeda was essential….The final act of leaving Afghanistan was suffused with grace even in the midst of chaos and terror. Evacuation efforts at Kabul airport were truly heroic, reflecting a nobility of purpose that had previously been buried by US counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies.”

As the sun sets on our physical military presence in Afghanistan, we can be happy that we’ve gotten all of our remaining troops out safely. Krepon reminds us that John Kerry began his career in public life as a young veteran, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry asked them:

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Where will we go from here? Air strikes by the US won’t end with Afghanistan. Krepon also reminds us that going forward, we really need “More Think, Less Tank.”

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 30, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Abandoned house, eastern plains of Colorado photo by Daniel Forster

On Sunday, Wrongo talked in passing about how religion may bring some people together, but that it divides many more. And that the lessons about being a good person are too often pushed aside in the service of doctrine.

A fine example of this comes from the Religion News Service, who reported that Daniel Darling, SVP of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters, was fired after making pro-vaccine statements on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”.

Darling told Joe Scarborough:

“I believe in this vaccine because I don’t want to see anyone else die of COVID. Our family has lost too many close friends and relatives to COVID, including an uncle, a beloved church member and our piano teacher…”

Sounds innocuous, but them’s firing words to the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). According to its website, the NRB “works to protect the free speech rights of our members by advocating those rights in governmental, corporate, and media sectors.” Of course they do.

Darling shared his personal experience at a time when White evangelical Christians and Hispanic Protestants are among the faith groups most likely to be hesitant or refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccines, according to a recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Although the study found vaccine hesitancy has dropped recently, 1 in 4 White evangelicals said they refuse to get a vaccine, while an additional 1 in 5 was hesitant.

So, here’s an Evangelical Christian trying to do the right thing. Urging others to get vaccinated is something that will help them and our society. But his religious organization, one apparently dedicated to “free speech”, fires him for expressing an opinion, something that’s an obvious good for humanity,  that is contrary to their policy.

Darling’s statement is clearly free speech. And his viewpoint doesn’t infringe on the rights of either those who are promoting the vaccine, or those who have decided not to get the vaccine. Wrongo has no stake in whether this is wrongful termination. That is a legalistic construction which has nothing to do with what our individual duty is to each other and to society.

Sadly, this is another example that some Christians haven’t developed a code of ethics to guide their lives. Instead, they rely on learned doctrine to justify their behavior, even when their actions fly in the face of good humanity.

Let’s also spend a minute thinking about the impact of Hurricane Ida on Louisiana. As Wrongo writes this, the eye is 10 miles in diameter, the storm is over land, and severe damage reports are starting to come in.

Remember that this is also the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in 2005 as a Category 3. Of course, back then, Pastor John Hagee said that Katrina was God’s vengeance on the gays. We’ll probably be hearing others offering similar revealed truths soon.

Remember too that Louisiana hospitals are just starting to reduce their census of Delta patients after a record surge of Covid infections. Now New Orleans is evacuating because of the Hurricane Ida storm surge, but hospitals have nowhere to send patients.

We should also remember that Ida went from a tropical storm to a Category 4 Hurricane in 48 hours. There are no rental cars, the highways are clogged. The airport in New Orleans is shut down.

Wake up America! Our 21st century horrors rare rarely subtle. And 2021’s horrors range from what we’re seeing in Afghanistan to Louisiana. Maybe that makes firing an Evangelical for speaking his mind about Covid a lesser problem, except for doctrine taking precedence over a good act.

To help you wake up today, let’s listen to “This is All I Want” by Corey Ledet, from his 2021 album, “Zydeco”. Ledet has incorporated Kouri-Vini, a regional Cajun dialect spoken by family members, into songs on his album. It’s a lot of fun and you should listen to it:

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 29, 2021

We start the week by noting that Harvard has picked a new chief chaplain. He’s Greg Epstein, an atheist. The NYT quotes Mr. Epstein:

“There is a rising group of people who no longer identify with any religious tradition but still experience a real need for conversation and support around what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life,”

Epstein was raised in a Jewish household and has been Harvard’s humanist chaplain since 2005, teaching students about the movement that centers people’s relationships with one another instead of with a God.

This month, when religious fundamentalism has taken over the government of Afghanistan, it’s nice to see that a secular humanist has a role in steering discussions about faith. Religion may serve to bring some people together, but it divides many more. The lessons about doing good and being a good person are too often pushed aside in the service of doctrine.

Any step in the direction of people taking personal responsibility for their humanity is welcome. For many, religion doesn’t assist with that. On to cartoons.

Politicians should compare the meaningful deaths of thirteen US servicemen this week with the meaningless deaths of 600,000 Americans for no good reason at all:

Difficult to escape the hell hole:

Our military brain trust:

A few GOP politicians want to protect us from the “real” threat:

RIP Charlie Watts:

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Saturday Soother – August 28, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Acadia NP – 2021 photo by Rick Berk Fine Art Photography

America will dissect its failed adventure in Afghanistan for decades. From Heather Cox Richardson:

“In the past, when American troops were targeted by terrorists, Americans came together to condemn those attackers. Apparently, no longer. While world leaders—including even those of the Taliban—condemned the attacks on US troops, Republican leaders instead attacked President Biden.”

What’s ahead of us now is seeing how the Biden administration manages defeat. There will be serious political fallout after Biden’s end game in Afghanistan is finished.

The Republicans are going to try to mix fact with fiction, scoring points to take advantage of what they perceive as a Biden weakness.

Democrats may be ambivalent enough about what they think Biden should have done with the Kabul end game that they won’t respond forcefully enough.

The media will play their “I Told You So” and “Biden is Damaged” narratives. They will continue giving airtime to the same retired military hacks who brought us Afghanistan in the first place.

The WaPo’s Eugene Robinson asks the relevant question:

“How, exactly, did the Biden administration’s critics think US military involvement in Afghanistan was ever going to end? “Certainly not like this” is not a valid answer…

Please be specific. Did you envision a formal ceremony at the US Embassy with the American flag being lowered and the Taliban flag raised? Did you see the Taliban waiting patiently while the US-trained Afghan army escorted US citizens, other NATO nationals and our Afghan collaborators to the airport for evacuation? Did you imagine that the country’s branch of the Islamic State would watch peacefully from the sidelines, or that regional warlords would renounce any hope of regaining their power, or that a nation with a centuries-old tradition of rejecting central authority would suddenly embrace it?

If there is a graceful, orderly way to abandon involvement in a brutal, unresolved civil war on the other side of the world, please cite historical precedents.”

That’s the problem, zero precedents.

There’s press and political criticism about Biden working with the Taliban. It’s at least ironic that we’re cooperating with them after 20 years of fighting them, but this is just both players being practical in an end game. In Biden’s press conference on Thursday, he rejected critics who said we shouldn’t be cooperating with the Taliban to defend the airport perimeter:

“No one trusts them…It’s a matter of mutual self-interest. They’re not good guys, the Taliban. But they have keen interests,”

That’s realpolitik pragmatism at work, something we rarely see. But Republicans are neither pragmatic nor calm. Some Republicans said Biden should resign, while most focused on demanding that the withdrawal timeline, set for Tuesday, be lifted to allow a forceful counterattack against the Islamic State. Saner Republicans in Congress cited the attack as another indication of the president’s poorly executed withdrawal strategy.

The most vocal Democratic criticism came from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who questioned whether Taliban guards had failed by letting the ISIS bombers get so close to the Kabul airport.

“We can’t trust the Taliban with Americans’ security,”

Thank you Captain Obvious. The silliest response came from Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN):

“It’s time for accountability, starting with those whose failed planning allowed these attacks to occur. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin, and Mark Milley should all resign or face impeachment and removal from office,”

Under Blackburn’s scenario, Nancy Pelosi would become president! It’s doubtful that she thought that through.

Democrats didn’t demand GW Bush II’s resignation after 9/11. Nobody clamored for St. Ronnie’s head the day after 241 Marines were killed in Lebanon. There was fierce criticism of Reagan, but no one tried to invoke the 25th Amendment. The Bay of Pigs was an epic disaster, but Republicans did not immediately demand JFK’s resignation.

It’s time to move on. We need to end the evacuation on time. There is no question that we will leave some worthy immigrants behind. They will be a bargaining chip when the Talibs want US foreign aid or recognition.

Take a moment and try if you can, to settle into our Saturday Soother. Hard to believe it’s already the final weekend in August. It’s also hard to believe that Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan was granted parole on Friday after two of RFK’s sons spoke in favor of his release.

In the Northeast, we’ve ended a hot spell, but since we had plenty of rain from hurricane Henri, everything on the fields of Wrong is green and growing.

If you can, shed the noise of the world and take a few moments to clear your head. Then, grab a seat outside and listen to Michael Franti & Spearhead’s new tune, “Good Day For A Good Day.

The band says the inspiration for the new song – waking up every day and wondering what terrible thing is coming: hate, pandemic, pollution, or disaster, and how we could replace that with a little bit of love, good vibes, and joy:

Like most Franti tunes, this is upbeat and fun.

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