Eric Boehlert, RIP

The Daily Escape:

Woodenshoe Tulip Festival, near Salem, OR, with Mt. Hood in background – April 2022 photo by Mitch Schreiber Photography

Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, who wrote commentary and media criticism in his “PRESS RUN” newsletter, was killed on Monday while riding his bike in Morristown, NJ.

Boehlert skewered today’s journalism and its practitioners. He hated journalistic laziness and took great pains to call out the mainstream media’s daily obsession with Both Siderism. We have often quoted him at the Wrongologist. He did a great job of researching his material and his arguments were ferocious.

Whenever Wrongo saw something with Boehlert’s byline, it was sure to be interesting, important, and reliable. He usually posted on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Wrongo was surprised when he didn’t post this past Wednesday. But as someone who doesn’t always post on a reliable schedule, I thought that something just came up.

This is a particularly terrible time to lose such an important voice, but it’s always a terrible time to lose a good person. James Fallows paid tribute to Boehlert in his “Breaking the News” newsletter, Framing: In Honor of Eric Boehlert:

“We have lost a crucially incisive voice, and a kind and generous person….Here is an attempt to continue in his spirit.”

Fallows continued about the unspoken assumptions that the media bring to its political coverage:

“This means, for example: the press’s assumption that the most interesting aspect of any development is the politics of it—“What does this mean for the midterms?” “Are the Democrats in disarray?” “Who can out-Trump Trump?”

Or that you should get to the truth of an issue by quoting both a Republican and then a Democrat, or better yet having them argue on screen.

Wrongo didn’t know Boehlert but read his newsletters each week. That somehow, makes the news of his death more painful. It’s interesting how when someone that you have never met dies, it can still feel like a huge loss. In some ways, the loss is very much like losing someone you knew in real life.

And yet, Dick Cheney and Mitch McConnell still walk the earth. Why not Cruz? Hawley? Clarence Thomas? Or any of the other assholes who pollute and poison our politics?

America has far too few voices speaking truth about the corrosive behavior of the US political media. Now, it’s lost one of our most important critics of that industry. Hopefully, others who do this important work will redouble their efforts in homage to Eric’s efforts. Wrongo will try harder.

As Boehlert would say in his sign-offs, “Stay healthy. Be kind.” He was a good man that fought the good fight.

Boehlert concluded each of his columns with music. Let’s try to honor him by watching and listening to the Celtic Woman perform “The Parting Glass” live in 2018 in Ireland’s Johnstown Castle. The parting glass was the final hospitality offered to a departing guest in Scotland and Ireland. It has become a tune used to celebrate the lives of the dearly departed:

Lyrics:

Oh all the money that e’er I spent
I spent it in good company
And all the harm that e’er I’ve done
Alas, it was to none but me

And all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Oh all the comrades that e’er I’ve had
Are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I’ve had
Would wish me one more day to stay

But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise, and you should not,
I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all
Good night and joy be with you all

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MLK’s Assassination

The Daily Escape:

Vermontville, NY with Whiteface Mountain in the background – April 2022 photo by William Adamczak Photography

Just a short note today to say that we shouldn’t forget that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis 54 years ago yesterday. On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was fatally shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, a site that’s now a museum dedicated to the civil rights champion’s life.

We should also remember that at the time, he was pursuing economic justice, building the Poor People’s Campaign and supporting the striking sanitation workers of Memphis, TN.

When you look at 1968 versus 2022, in a lot of ways we’ve become more like the country we were back in the 1960s. We’ve seen the near-gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court. We also see efforts to end any teaching in schools of the truth about race in America, and about King’s legacy.

We’re being told by Republicans that a highly qualified Black woman isn’t Supreme Court material.

We spend more time celebrating Dr. King’s birth than acknowledging where he was politically when he was killed. Beyond economic justice, perhaps more than any other social-movement leader in American history, King proved capable of looking at different strands of political and social injustice, then tying them together to form a coherent narrative capable of leveraging dissent into concrete policy change.

That’s what we should remember: There’s less than three months between the observance of King’s birthday and his martyrdom. The way each is recognized by politicians reveals the contradictions in his legacy. Politicians of all ideological stripes extol the virtues of racial equality, while most ignore his criticisms of war and poverty.

King’s last book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” posed a question that resonates more today than it did at the time of its release in 1967: Where do we go from here?

Here’s an idea: Develop a narrative that unites people to win back the country from the MAGAs and their fellow travelers. Take that narrative to your neighbors. Work to get out the vote.

Our democracy is in an existential crisis, and only you (and your narrative) can save it.

That was the lesson of Dr. King’s life.

Let’s close with a musical statement that echoes MLK’s message. Watch and listen to “Keep Your Eyes On The Prize“, a folk song from the American civil rights movement. Although the song was composed as a hymn well before World War I, the lyrics in this version were written by civil rights activist Alice Wine in 1956. It is based on the traditional song, “Gospel Plow”, which is also known as “Hold On”, and “Keep Your Hand On The Plow”.

In this version from 2006, Bruce Springsteen starts on vocals, but when Marc Anthony Thompson (with hat) joins him, it becomes a great soul-stirring anthem:

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 3, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Makapu’u Lookout, Oahu, HI – January 2022 photo by TwoBongs on Tour

Let’s talk about the “Wealth Effect”. It’s the notion that when households become richer as a result of a rise in asset values, such as stock prices or home values, they spend more and stimulate the broader economy. The idea is that consumers feel more financially secure and confident about their wealth, even if their income and costs are the same as before.

This concept has been endorsed by two recent former Fed Chairs, Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke. It’s simply another term for trickle-down economics.

In 2019, after nearly 11 years of the Fed’s policy of adding money to the economy, by “Quantitative Easing” (QE), the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) did a study on the Wealth Effect, to quantify how much richer the rich would have had to become to have x% impact on the overall economy, and how long this boost lasts before it fades.

They found that QE makes 10% of the population a lot richer, producing immense concentration of wealth at the top 1%, and mind-boggling concentrations of wealth at the billionaire level. After which, there were some very muted trickle-down effects on the economy.

Wolf Richter used the Fed’s wealth distribution data to create a chart he calls the Wealth Effect Monitor. The Fed divides the US population into four groups by wealth: The “Top 1%,” the “2% to 9%,” the “next 40%,” and the “bottom 50%” to report on wealth.

Richter divides this data by the number of households in each category, to obtain the average wealth per household in each category. Here’s his chart for the past 21 years:

Note the immense increase in the wealth for the 1% households after the Fed’s latest QE effort that began in March 2020. They have been the primary beneficiaries of the Fed’s policies since 2020.

True to the Wealth Effect’s concepts, the Fed’s policies helped to inflate asset prices, and thus only asset owners benefited: The more assets held, the stronger the benefit. Here’s Richter’s analysis of average wealth (assets minus debts) per household, by category in the 4th quarter, 2021:

  • “Top “1%” household (red): $36.2 million
  • The “2% to 9%” household (yellow): $4.68 million
  • The “next 40%” household (purple): $775,000
  • The “bottom 50%” household (green): $59,000

The Fed doesn’t provide separate data on the 0.01% and the Billionaire class, but they were the biggest beneficiaries of the Fed’s monetary policies. The top 30 US billionaires have a total wealth of $2.12 trillion, sliced into 30 slices for a wealth of $70.8 billion per billionaire, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Compare that to the bottom half of the US population (the “bottom 50%”) who have a combined wealth of just $3.7 trillion, divided into 165 million slices for each individual. The way percentages work, you would think that households in the bottom 50% would have the largest percentage gains since they start from a lower base. But because they own fewer assets, when adjusted by population, they stay mired in last place. From Richter:

“When the wealth of the bottom 50% increases by 5%, they gain about $3,000. And when the average wealth of the top 30 billionaires increases by 5%, they on average gain $3,500,000,000.”

More from Richter:

“In 1990, the wealth disparity between the average top 1% household and the average “bottom 50%” household was $5 million.”

Since March 2020, the wealth disparity between the average top 1% household and the average bottom 50% household has grown by $11.2 million per household.

The bottom 50% of Americans spend all or nearly all their income on housing, transportation, food, healthcare, etc. They hold few stocks and very little real estate. Add that to our current round of inflation, and in order to get by, the bottom 50% are spending nearly all of their income.

They’re the ones paying for the Fed’s policy of enriching asset holders.

We know that average wages and salaries have gone up a lot. Ben Casselman of the NYT says that the wages of low-wage workers have gone up by nearly 12% in the last year; but remember, that’s on a low base. So the worker bees in our economy have a long way to go, while the richest asset holders got vastly wealthier, thanks to the Fed’s policies.

Time to wake up America! The phony trickle-down theory has amazing persistence among US policy makers, despite being amazingly damaging to most of us.

To help you wake up watch an American icon, Taj Mahal perform “Good Morning Ms. Brown” in 2014 while riding in a mule-drawn carriage in the French Quarter in New Orleans:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 3, 2022

The latest monthly jobs report shows 431,000 jobs were added. The report marked the 11th straight month of job gains above 400,000, the longest such stretch of growth in records dating back to 1939. So far in 2022, the economy has created 1.69 million jobs. That’s in just three months. By any fair measure, it’s an extraordinary total.

We are still about 1.6 million jobs below the number of employees in the workforce in February 2020 just before the pandemic hit. At the current average rate for the past six months, it will take three more months to get back to that level.

Leisure and hospitality jobs, which were the hardest-hit during the pandemic, rose by 112,000, but are still 1.5 million below their pre-pandemic peak. They comprise most of the jobs that are still missing in the economy.

Wage growth, which averaged 5.9% in the 2nd half of 2021, was up again, now showing a 6.7% year over year gain. Aside from April 2020, this is the highest wage growth in 40 years. And aside from three months in 2019 and 2020, the unemployment rate was the lowest (or equal to the lowest) in over 50 years.

The blemish is inflation. Most likely, inflation-adjusted wages have risen by 1% or less in the last year. On to cartoons.

A brief history of recent misspeaks:

Biden tries a different way to get Putin:

Florida’s Governor DeSantis says the mouse is the real enemy of kids:

This Thomas’s dinner conversation is straight-up ok:

Fox hires Caitlyn Jenner, but there were unforeseen issues:

Free Brittney:

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Saturday Soother – April 2, 2022

The Daily Escape:

The Devil’s Churn, Yachats, OR – 2022 photo by Bobbie Shots Photography

The war in Ukraine has brought with it a difficult information environment. We’ve had a hard time sorting the facts from the misinformation. When Biden said in his State of the Union that Russia is “isolated from the world,” that wasn’t exactly misinformation. But it wasn’t exactly true since much of the rest of the world doesn’t see it our way.

The sanctions on Russia are limited largely to the EU and NATO members plus a few other close allies like Australia, Japan, and South Korea. Other countries are much more open to continuing to trade with Russia. That was demonstrated this week by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visits to India and China.

China and India have refused to condemn Russia’s invasion outright. Both abstained from voting on UN resolutions demanding Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine. At that vote in March, 144 countries condemned the invasion, but few world leaders other than those in the West have openly criticized Vladimir Putin since then.

After visiting China, where Beijing reiterated that its relationship (which is now even more vital for Russia due to the sanctions) “has no limits”, Lavrov traveled to India. US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo criticized India for discussing a rupee-ruble trade arrangement with Russia, which could undermine Western sanctions:

“Now is the time to stand on the right side of history, and to stand with the United States and dozens of other countries, standing up for freedom, democracy and sovereignty with the Ukrainian people, and not funding and fueling and aiding President Putin’s war,”

Visiting India is quite fashionable just now. Earlier this month, leaders from Japan and Australia held summits with their Indian counterparts. And this week, diplomats from Germany and the European Union are visiting Delhi. Lavrov’s visit coincides with a visit by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

Russia has been critical to India’s increased weapons procurement. In 2018, it signed a $5 billion weapons deal with Russia for air defense missile systems. Some Western estimates say that 50% of India’s military equipment now comes from Russia.

Meanwhile, despite US pressure to increase oil production, the OPEC countries are standing by their deal with Russia. Reuters reported that when asked about Russia’s war with Ukraine at the OPEC meetings, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said that when they hold meetings:

“….everybody leaves his politics at the door”.

Japan also announced that it isn’t pulling out of the Sakhalin-1 offshore oil joint venture it has with Russia. Japanese officials have stressed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that the Sakhalin-1 project is crucial for Japan’s energy security.

Everyone knows that Russia is a top global exporter of energy, weapons, and wheat, so many countries are trying to say that Putin’s War isn’t their fight. These nations are all concerned about possible boomerang effects of Russian sanctions on their own economies.

Other nations including Brazil, Pakistan, and South Africa, are also staying on the sidelines.

The US spin is that these countries are actively undermining the effort to bring Russia to heel in Ukraine, but each of them has economic reasons for trying to steer a middle course on the conflict. Americans may see that as morally reprehensible, but they see it as enlightened self-interest.

Enough about geopolitics and whether countries should back the US play with Russia. It’s time for our Saturday Soother, where we try to forget about why Republicans are against capping the price for Insulin.

Or why they seem to be suddenly against what they’re calling “sportsball”. Apparently sports have become so woke that NBA, NFL and college teams are doing things like having woke slogans on their uniforms. That’s making Republicans like Ben Shapiro feel like he’s lost his safe space.

That won’t stop Wrongo and Ms. Right from watching both the men’s and women’s Final Four basketball championships this weekend.

Anyway, it’s time to let go of the internet and find a safe space of our own for a little relaxation. Let’s start by brewing up a mug of Big Trouble coffee ($16/12oz.) from Durham, NC’s Counter Culture Coffee.

Now grab a seat by a south-facing window and listen to the late Julian Bream play “The Miller’s Dance” from Manuel de Falla’s ballet. “The Three-Cornered Hat”. This performance was filmed in La Posada del Potro in Córdoba, Spain in 1985. Bream was one of the most distinguished classical guitarists of the 20th century. He also played a significant role in reviving interest in the lute:

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Will Sanctions Hurt the Dollar’s Role in Trade?

The Daily Escape:

Cherry Blossoms, Univ of Washington, Seattle, WA – March 2022 photo by Erwin Buske Photography

One of the most important elements in the undeclared war between the West and Russia is how sanctions are changing both international trade and the international payments system.

The West has basically frozen Russia out of both. First, by taking Russia out of the SWIFT payments messaging system, and second, by sanctioning Russian banks and the Russian Central Bank. Third, by seizing Russia’s currency reserves that were held in the West.

All of this means that Russia can’t easily accept dollar/euro payments for exports and then convert them into rubles for use at home. By losing access to the international currency markets, it’s become impossible for Russian businesses exporting their energy, goods, or commodities to get paid. This may be a historic moment in economic history.

By freezing hundreds of billions of dollars of Russian reserves, the Russians no longer can access those dollars or euros. Sanctions mean that even the dollars and euros they could create through trade cannot buy much in the countries that support the sanctions.

Naturally Russia is looking for work-arounds for this dilemma. Selling the West anything in dollars or euros no longer makes sense: They can’t use them at home without exchanging them for rubles. And sanctions make that very difficult, since they’re closed out of our banking system.

There are two ways around this. Either use Russian banks that are not banned from SWIFT or go through an informal third-country currency exchange. Russia’s first effort is to only accept payment in rubles for its exports to “hostile nations”. That is, those nations who have imposed sanctions because of Ukraine.

In order to buy Russian oil and gas which they desperately need, Europeans will have to pay in rubles. That means either selling dollars/euros for rubles or selling them for yuan (China) or rupees (India), two countries that are not part of the sanctions regime.

The West’s move has the potential to upend the world’s trading system which today relies on payments in dollars. The dollar has been the world’s principal reserve currency since the end of World War II and is the most widely used currency for settling international trade. The dollar represents about 62% of global trade, down from much higher levels before the euro was established. The other important currencies are the euro at 20.1% and the Japanese yen at 5.7%. China’s yuan is at just 2.0% of trade settlements.

It is increasingly likely that Russia’s move will result in a further “de-dollarization” of trade. Recently, there have been new attempts to abandon the dollar. Saudi Arabia and China are planning to use the yuan in a new oil deal. Russia and India are negotiating to pay for trade in rupees.

China’s energy trade with Russia uses the dollar. Chinese energy imports from Russia soared 47.4%, an increase of more than $52.9 billion from 2021. This accounts for more than 65% of China’s total imports from Russia. Since the sanctions, both countries have stated their intention to move more of this trade to yuan.

A new multilateral financial system is emerging before our eyes. Who the participants will be, and what rules they will follow, are up in the air. The dollar will remain primary between the US and its allies, but alongside it, there could develop Russia-yuan, Saudi-yuan and India-yuan arrangements for trade in oil, minerals, and industrial products. Shifting just part of the global oil trade into the yuan is potentially huge. Oil is the world’s most traded commodity, with an annual trade value of around $14 trillion, roughly equivalent to China’s GDP last year.

We’re likely to see more trade occurring in more currencies, probably on a number of exchanges. We will see the world realign into different trading and monetary blocs, like there were in the past.

However the Ukraine war is settled, the Russian claims that the US has shot itself in the foot about the dollar’s dominating role in trade has a ring of truth. In the past, the US took Iran’s reserves after the Shah was overthrown. We froze Afghanistan’s foreign reserves earlier this year and now the West has done the same to Russia. A few years ago, the UK froze Venezuela’s gold in the Bank of England.

These systems are built on trust, and for the next few decades, trust may be lacking. So we’re looking at the possibility that there will be two quite different geo-political philosophies operating as trading partners as the non-US world develops its alternatives to the dollar as the world’s dominant trading currency.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 28, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Soaptree Yucca at sunset, White Sands, NP – March 2022 photo by SkyVista Photography by Steve Luther

Biden ended his four days in Europe with a speech. It was designed as a call to democratic countries to stay unified even as Putin’s forces trash Ukraine. But with nine ad-libbed words at the end of a 27-minute speech, Biden created a furor by calling for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to be pushed out of office. Biden said:

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,”

That last line was a logical conclusion to Biden’s argument in the speech about the struggle between democracy and autocracy. But it prompted many pundits to treat what Biden said as a gaffe, since it changed his long-standing insistence that the US is not engaging in regime change but is supporting Ukraine’s right to exist.

From Charlie Sykes:

“The moment was electrifying — a sort of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” moment — until the White House hastily walked it back, insisting that what the president really meant to say was that the butcher of Ukraine should not be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors.“

Sykes says: “Biden had it right the first time.” David Rothkopf hit the nail on the head with his reaction:

“There is within Biden’s comment a kernel of truth….Vladimir Putin can’t lay waste to a country, kill tens of thousands of civilians, commit serial war crimes, and expect to be welcomed back into the community of nations. If Russia wants to be part of the community of nations, then they are going to have to produce change.”

Support for Biden’s idea also came from former Russian Chess champion Gary Kasparov, who said what the world is thinking:

This is precisely correct. Many pundits are critical of Biden for saying something provocative. But there shouldn’t be a resumption of the status quo ante, even once there’s an agreement between Russia and Ukraine. By attacking Ukraine, Russia has become a pariah state. It will remain so as long as it threatens its neighbors and as long as Putin is in power.

There can be no lifting of sanctions or concessions of territory (unless Ukraine insists on conceding it), and no reward or face-saving after the fact for Putin’s War.

Biden’s goal isn’t to negotiate an end to the war. If Ukraine wants to make concessions to Putin which allow him to keep huge chunks of their country, pay no price for the damage he’s done, do nothing to rebuild Ukraine’s flattened cities, and wait a minute until the sanctions are lifted, they can make that call themselves. Neither Biden nor our allies should press that kind of decision on them.

But let Wrongo be the first to say that Russia must be made to pay reparations for the destruction of infrastructure in Ukraine. And keeping sanctions in place until Russia pays up is the right thing to do. You don’t just get grounded for a week when you invade another country.

Russia must leave Ukraine and pay reparations. Russia must work to rejoin the community of nations. That means reestablishment of normal diplomatic and economic relationships. That won’t be possible with Putin in charge.

Russia’s military leadership certainly understands this. And they’re the ones who will have to remove Putin from power and negotiate the peace. So Biden’s frank talk makes transparent what was sub-rosa: The West is using Putin’s War as a way to weaken him to the point where he is ousted from power.

So, when pundits and foreign policy experts get upset with Biden, saying that he gave Putin less reason to negotiate, you have to ask what is there to negotiate? And who, other than Zelensky, should be negotiating with him?

Putin will leave office one way or another, and what Biden said didn’t change that.

It’s time for the pundits and foreign policy wonks to wake up! While it’s true that words matter and can sometimes express risky things that cannot be taken back, what Biden said was worth saying. Biden wasn’t talking to Putin; he was speaking to Russians with the power to remove Putin. And that’s the right strategy.

To help them wake up, listen to Sting reprise his song “Russians” originally from his 1985 debut album titled “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”. The tune was based on the Cold War. Here is his March 2022 version for guitar and cello:

Sting says:

”I’ve only rarely sung this song in the many years since it was written, because I never thought it would be relevant again. But, in the light of one man’s bloody and woefully misguided decision to invade a peaceful, unthreatening neighbor, the song is, once again, a plea for our common humanity.”

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 27, 2022

The public personas of three women: the late Madeline Albright, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Ginni Thomas were on display last week. Two of them seem destined for important places in history.

You know Albright’s story: A refugee from Hitler and Stalin. A naturalized American, the first woman US Secretary of State (fourth in the line of presidential succession), and a huge influence on US foreign policy in the 1990s. The New Yorker says that she was the first “most powerful woman” in US history.

They report a great story about Albright attending a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1998. She and the then-Russian Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, performed a skit for the assembled diplomats, despite growing tensions between Washington and Moscow over NATO expansion. They did a bit from “West Side Story”, with Albright playing Maria and Primakov playing Tony. To the tune of “America,” the two sang back and forth:

Albright: “America’s nobody’s enemy.”
Primakov: “So why do you practice hegemony?”
Albright: “I want to know what you think of me.”
Primakov: “Look in your file at the K.G.B.!”

Today it’s a different world. It’s hard to imagine Anthony Blinken and Sergei Lavrov doing a skit.

It’s also a different Washington. We’ve now had several female Secretaries of State. We have a female Vice President, and a woman as Treasury Secretary. Not all that Albright advocated or was a part of were with hindsight, the best actions for the US, but she left an indelible mark on the world.

Ginni Thomas won’t ever be able to wear Albright’s shoes (or her pins). From the WaPo we learned that Thomas exchanged at least 29 text messages with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, as both of them strategized about overturning the 2020 election result.

Shortly afterward, her husband became the only justice to dissent when the Court granted access to Donald Trump’s White House records. Ginni Thomas has also since confirmed that she attended the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection. That means Justice Thomas voted against disclosing information about an attempted coup that Ginni Thomas supported.

It’s ridiculous that Ginni Thomas, who tried to directly influence Meadows and Trump, thinks that we will believe that she would not try to influence her husband. Together they are a stain on public life.

The same day the Thomas scandal broke, Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she would recuse herself from a major case involving Harvard University, where she serves on the governing board. That’s what true public servants do. They respect the norms of civility. On to cartoons.

Ginni’s world:

A fair and sober hearing:

Good question:

A clown show broke out in DC:

The difference:

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Saturday Soother – March 26, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Crocus in bloom, Holliston, MA – March 2022 photo by Karen Randall

Let’s take a look at three stories that didn’t get their due this week. First, from the LA Times, about gang infiltration of the LA County Sherriff’s department:

“The top watchdog for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has identified more than 40 alleged members of gang-like groups of deputies that operate out of two sheriff’s stations…..Inspector General Max Huntsman said his office has compiled a partial list that includes 11 deputies who allegedly belong to the Banditos, which operate out of the East L.A. sheriff’s station, and 30 alleged Executioners from the Compton sheriff’s station.”

Huntsman told the LA Times that about a third of the 41 deputies on his list had admitted that they had gang tattoos or belonged to the groups. Allegations aren’t proof but apparently, there is a long history of allegations like this one surrounding the LA Sherriff’s department.

Also consider this article in the WaPo about police wrongdoing:

“The Post documented nearly 40,000 payments involving allegations of police misconduct in 25 departments, totaling over $3 billion. Departments usually deny wrongdoing when resolving claims.”

They found that more than 1,200 officers in the departments surveyed had caused problems resulting in at least five payments each by their municipalities. More than 200 had 10 or more payments for actions that resulted in lawsuits. New York City leads the way with more than 5,000 officers named in two or more claims, accounting for 45% of the money the city spent on misconduct cases. There are 36,000 officers in the NYPD. That’s 13.8%.

Settlements rarely involve an admission of guilt or a finding of wrongdoing. City officials and attorneys representing police departments say settling claims is often more cost-efficient than fighting them in court. Since there’s no formal list of bad actors, there’s little reason to hold these officers accountable.

Law enforcement throughout America gives itself a black eye whenever stories like these are written.

Second, the NYT reported that several of the Republican Senators who suggested that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had given uncommonly lenient sentences to felons convicted of child sex abuse crimes had all previously voted to confirm judges who had given out similar prison terms below prosecutor recommendations, the very problem they had with Judge Jackson:

“But Mr. Hawley, Mr. Graham, Mr. Cotton and Mr. Cruz all voted to confirm judges nominated by President Donald J. Trump to appeals courts even though those nominees had given out sentences lighter than prosecutor recommendations in cases involving images of child sex abuse.”

You can read the article for the examples.

Hypocrisy is fuel for politicians, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. We know that Sen. Graham had voted only a year ago to confirm Judge Jackson, despite the sentencing decisions she had made as a district judge, the same ones that he now objects to.

Third, Bloomberg reported that private equity money is again pouring into residential real estate markets. They cite Phoenix, AZ as a prime example: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The median home [in Phoenix] was worth about $285,000 at the beginning of the pandemic; it was valued at $435,000 two years later.”

That’s a 53% increase. This is also true in NJ, where Wrongo’s son just got an all-cash offer from an investment group for his home, sight unseen, at 11% higher than the closest offer from a retail home buyer who needed a mortgage.

This is turning first-time home buyers into long-term renters, with real-world consequences.

Home equity represents a huge portion of individual wealth in the US, especially for moderate-income families that have few other opportunities to use borrowed money to purchase assets that can increase in value over time. Price appreciation lets owners accrue wealth which can be tapped later on when they have a large or unexpected expense.

Wall Street’s spin is that there just aren’t enough rentals for families who want to live in good neighborhoods but can’t afford a down payment. So they’re providing a necessary economic service. You be the judge.

Enough of this drama! It’s time to find a way to let go of the tragedy in Ukraine and the clown show surrounding Judge Jackson for a bit. It’s time for our Saturday Soother.

Here on the fields of Wrong, it’s time to take down the deer fencing and put up the bluebird nest boxes. We also need to watch what we can of college basketball’s March Madness.

To help you get ready for the weekend, grab a chair by a large window and listen to Mozart’s “Turkish March” played here on bamboo instruments. It was performed in 2015 by Dong Quang Vinh on a bamboo flute along with the Bamboo Ensemble Suc Song Moi, in Haiphong, Vietnam:

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Which States Have the Highest Homicide Rates?

The Daily Escape:

Moonrise over Salt Run, St. Augustine FL – March 2022 photo by Bob Willis

Republicans can’t stop talking about how the murder rate in America has grown. It’s true that the homicide rates are up, although they remain well below their historic highs of the 1990s. There were more than 21,500 murders in 2020, the latest year for which we have data. The national murder rate in 2020 was about 6.5 per 100,000 people, about 40% below what it was in the 1990s.

With the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the trope about a liberal soft-on-crime plot against America returned. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said:

“We are in the middle of a violent crime wave including soaring rates of homicides and carjackings….Amid all this, the soft-on-crime brigade is squarely in Judge Jackson’s corner.”

Would you be surprised to learn that McConnell’s home state of Kentucky has the third-highest homicide rate per capita in the US? In fact, eight of the 10 states with the highest homicide rates in 2020 voted that year for Trump. The truth is that Red states (those run by Republicans) have a bigger problem with murder than do the Blue states; their murder rate is higher.

Jonathan Capehart says in the WaPo: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“This startling data is revealed in a new report from centrist think tank Third Way. Mississippi leads the way with a 2020 homicide rate of 20.5 per 100,000 residents…the five states with the highest murder rates, all Trump-voting states, had rates at least 240% higher than New York’s murder rate and at least 150% higher than California’s.”

Here’s a chart from the WaPo:

The per capita homicide rates above are per 100,000 people. Remember that the national average is 6.5 per hundred thousand people. Beyond the top 10 states, the report looked at the 2020 murder rates in the 25 states that voted for Donald Trump and compared it with the murder rates in the 25 states that voted for Joe Biden.

The news was the same. The murder rate in Trump states (8.20/100k) was 40% higher than the 5.78/100k murder rate in Biden states. These facts really hurt the Republican narrative of “crime-is-out-of-control” in cities like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Portland, Baltimore, and Minneapolis, all of which have a bad rap among our Red state friends.

When you dig into the report by city, Jacksonville FL, a city with a Republican mayor, had 128 more murders in 2020 than San Francisco, a city led by a Democrat. Despite having comparable populations, few would say that San Francisco is a safer city than Jacksonville.

The narrative by the Right (and supported by the media) about crime and murder is both convenient and wrong. Many on the Right attribute the homicide increase to Democratic policies, specifically about police reform. The fact is that murder rates are actually higher in Republican states that haven’t even flirted with ideas like defund the police.

The eight of the ten Red states in the top ten are not only Trump-voting states, but they have been bastions of GOP policy for the last 25 years. The true conclusion from the data is that Republicans do a far better job of blaming others for high murder rates than they actually do to reduce murder rates.

Sorry Mitch, the increase in murders is not a liberal cities problem. It’s a national problem.

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