Ukraine Update

The Daily Escape:

Cowee Mountain Overlook, Blue Ridge Mountains, NC – 2022 photo by Jordan Hill Photography

The Washington Examiner posted this shocking number:

“More than 50,000 Russian service members have been killed in the more than six months since the war in Ukraine began.”

They are quoting from a tweet by the Ukraine Ministry of Defence that says 50,150 Russian soldiers have been killed. That doesn’t mean that the figure is accurate, but it’s a stake in the ground by Ukraine.

A separate tweet by someone who is difficult to verify, translates what purports to be a document from the Russian Ministry of Finance. It provides some backup to the claim of deaths, assuming it’s both accurately translated and authentic: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“The doc[ument] from the Russian Ministry of Finance, which is distributed online, says that as of Aug 28, the families of the dead soldiers were paid 361.4 bill[ion] rubles, 7.4 mill[ion] for each [soldier]. The division would give 48,838 CONFIRMED deaths. This does NOT include those LDNR”

LDNR is an abbreviation for the breakaway Ukrainian provinces under Russian control. This comes a month after a senior Pentagon official said it believes that roughly 70,000-80,000 Russian forces have been killed or wounded in action.

If the number of deaths was correct, one would expect the number of wounded to be substantially higher than the Pentagon estimate, assuming the 50,000 was subtracted from the 80,000 number.

Even if these numbers are exaggerated, and the reality is more like half the number of deaths vs. what Ukraine has reported, few governments can survive losing ~25,000 troops in six months in what amounts to a war of choice.

By contrast, the US lost 2, 456 military in the 20-year Afghan War, while the Soviet Union lost 13, 310 in its 10 years there.

Meanwhile CNN is reporting on Russian President Putin’s combative speech at the Eastern Economic Forum in the Russian Pacific city of Vladivostok, where he claimed that Russia is gaining influence on the global stage. This from a transcript posted on the Kremlin website:

“We have not lost anything and will not lose anything….the entire system of international relations has recently undergone irreversible…tectonic shifts,”

It makes Wrongo wonder if the families of the reported 50,000 Russian soldiers killed feel the same way.

Further, there have been several reports in Western media that support Putin’s claims that the sanctions aren’t really that successful. Western countries are trying to cripple Russia’s $1.8 trillion economy, and the effectiveness of our sanctions is a key ingredient in the outcome of the war in Ukraine.

The Economist reports that the sanctions are not going as well as expected, and Russia’s GDP will shrink by 6% in 2022. But Bloomberg, citing information from planners inside the Kremlin, says that the Kremlin planners’ base case sees the economy bottoming out next year at 8.3% below the 2021 level. That would be a severe economic impact, felt in all corners of the Russian Federation.

On top of that, if Putin carries through on his threat this week to cut off all natural gas exports to Europe, that could cost as much as 400 billion rubles ($6.6 billion) a year in lost tax revenues. And Putin’s touted new export markets wouldn’t fully compensate for the lost European sales, even over the next 3-5 years.

Sanctions won’t win the war. They are having the effect of weakening Russia, when what they thought would be a short war with acceptable costs has turned into a long war with costs that are potentially dangerous.

The high human death toll coupled with the burgeoning economic costs may mean sadder times in Moscow.

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While Wrongo Was Away

The Daily Escape:

Morning storm, Grays Beach, Cape Cod, MA – August 2022 photo by David J. Long

It’s good to be back. Did Wrongo miss anything besides the fraught decision by a Trump-appointed judge about the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago (MAL)? Or, the contrasting apocalyptic speeches by Biden and Trump?

First, with the end of summer in sight, a few words about what Wrongo did on his vacation. We attended a Judy Collins concert at Tanglewood, MA. At 83, her voice remains remarkable. She opened with “Both Sides Now” and although Joni Mitchell owns the song’s copyright, Judy Collins owns the song. Collins performed songs by many other artists and led the crowd in several folk-style sing alongs. It was a very worthwhile evening.

Let’s turn to the two big news items that occurred over the Labor Day break.

First, the competing views of America by President Biden and the former president. Last Thursday, Biden gave a speech identifying Trump and MAGA Republicans as a threat to democracy. Then on Saturday, Trump gave a speech in Pennsylvania that proved Biden’s point.

Trump reprised his “Pocahontas” attack on Elizabeth Warren. He claimed that the FBI planted evidence at MAL. He called for the death penalty for drug dealers, and a ban on electric vehicles. Trump took on the FBI and DOJ:

“The FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters, controlled by radical left scoundrels, lawyers and the media, who tell them what to do.”

David Frum in The Atlantic:

“For the 2022 election cycle, smart Republicans had a clear and simple plan: Don’t let the election be about Trump. Make it about gas prices, or crime, or the border, or race, or sex education, or anything—anything but Trump….Republicans had good reason to dread the havoc he’d create if he joined the fight in 2022.”

Now, Biden’s attacks have pushed Trump over the edge — exactly where Democrats want him in the run-up to the midterms. More from Frum:

“Biden dangled the bait. Trump took it—and put his whole party on the hook with him. Republican leaders are left with little choice but to pretend to like it.”

Sounds hopeful to Wrongo.

Second, Monday brought the order by federal judge Aileen Cannon approving Trump’s request to appoint a special master to review the documents seized by the FBI from MAL. This stops at least temporarily, federal prosecutors from using those documents in their investigation into obstruction and mishandling of government secrets by Trump.

From a political viewpoint, while her incorrect reading of the facts and the law may slow the investigation, the DOJ was never going to indict Trump before the midterms. They’re saying they are still at the early stages of the investigation.

The judge’s decision is wrong, because stolen defense secrets aren’t privileged; they are the evidence that Trump committed a crime.

It seems clear that the DOJ hasn’t decided whether to appeal her decision to the 11th Circuit, or to play out the special master fight. Of course, it could start by complying with the order and then appeal once the judge has: a) selected a special master, and b) provided instructions on the scope and duration of effort by the special master.

The DOJ’s delay may be caused by the fact that after an appeal to the 11th Circuit, any further appeal is first heard by a single Supreme Court Justice before it goes on to an expanded Supreme Court hearing. In this case, that initial hearing would be before Justice Clarence Thomas, who would likely side with Trump.

Like in Biden’s attack on democracy strategy, Trump’s theft of government secrets will remain a front page story throughout the mid-terms, and regardless of what happens afterwards, all the way to the 2024 presidential election.

The end game politically is to persuade the few persuadables on the Right, along with the majority of Independents to agree with Biden: That we’re in a “war” about the future of our democracy. The threat from one side of our political spectrum is grave. And it’s Biden’s obligation to do whatever he can to pull people away from the brink. On Friday, Biden said to Peter Doocy on FOX:

“I don’t consider Trump supporters a threat to the country. I do think anyone who calls for the use of violence, refuses to acknowledge an election….changing the way you count votes, that is a threat to democracy.”

That clarifies a message that could reach a few Republicans. They and most Independents should then vote with the Dems in November. The Dems now need to carry that message to its logical conclusion.

These can be good developments for Democrats. Before the Dobbs decision and the raid on MAL, Republicans had convinced Americans that the greatest threat to democracy was high gasoline prices.

Now Dems should be going for a win.

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New DOJ Filing In Trump Case

The Daily Escape:

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

(The Wrongologist is taking the next few days off to bask in the last days of summer. Unless something major requires his return to the internet, Wrongo will publish again starting on September 6. Enjoy your Labor Day break!)

 

He that cannot obey cannot command”  ̶  Benjamin Franklin

Perhaps you have been following the Mar-a-Lago (MAL) saga in which the FBI under an approved search warrant, removed government-owned secret and top secret documents from MAL. That search occurred after two prior attempts (Jan. 17 and June 3) by the US government to get Trump to return documents in his possession. Unsurprisingly, Trump was less than fully cooperative, and after the second attempt, said all documents had been turned over when they hadn’t.

The search has led to a war of words by Trump and Republicans against the FBI and the DOJ. It has also led to a legal back and forth between Trump and the DOJ. Most recently US District Judge Aileen M. Cannon has said she may appoint a special master to review the seized documents. That would be a win for Trump. She gave the DOJ until last Tuesday to explain why she shouldn’t do that.

The DOJ replied in a filing that included a photo of secret and top secret SCI documents found in Trump’s office. It shows files labeled “Top Secret” with bright red or yellow cover sheets, spread out over a carpet. The files were found inside a container in Trump’s office, and apparently, the FBI spread them on the floor to capture the extent of the secret material. The DOJ filing calls this a “redacted FBI photograph of certain documents and classified cover sheets recovered from a container in the ’45 office’”:

Close examination of one of the cover sheets in the photo shows a marking for “HCS,” a government acronym for systems used to protect intelligence gathered from secret human sources. Also, imagine thinking that carpet looks appropriate for an office.

Taking a picture that includes the easy to identify carpet lets the FBI show where they found the documents.

Regarding obstruction, the DOJ’s filing also revealed the text of a written assurance given to the DOJ by attorney Christina Bobb, Trump’s “custodian of records” on June 3. It says that Trump’s team had done a thorough search for any classified material in response to a subpoena and had already turned over any relevant documents.

That’s clearly untrue. According to the WaPo, the filing says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“When agents conducted their court-ordered search on Aug. 8, they found material so sensitive that even the FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents…”

The filing also says that the DOJ believes that documents at MAL had been likely moved and hidden. The search there on Aug. 8 found twice as many classified documents as Trump’s lawyers had already turned over voluntarily, despite promising they had returned everything.

One detail in the DOJ filing is that the search team found that some of the secret documents were co-mingled with Trump’s passports. That’s evidence of Trump’s active role in keeping/hiding them.

It gets worse. Scott Stedman explains what we’re looking at.

“The image is actually quite telling. The secret/top secret documents found in Trump’s office have a ‘TK’ classification which stands for TALENT KEYHOLE aka secret intelligence from spy satellites and planes.”

This means that Trump had super-secret spy technology and intelligence from human sources in his office desk at MAL.

As Wrongo has said, the government’s intelligence services have to assume that many of its sources are blown, even if they’re not. That makes Trump’s obstruction of holding on to documents he wasn’t entitled to, a National Security disaster. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that covert intelligence assets of the US won’t trust the CIA for many years.

Trump was the US Commander-in-Chief. He had access to the nuclear football. He took classified materials that were necessary to the job of president from the White House and stored them in his office closet and the desk drawer at his resort.

Wrongo is publishing this prior to learning the outcome of the hearing with Judge Cannon on Thursday. It’s unclear how she will rule on the Trump request for a special master, but the DOJ filing contains sufficient information for them to appeal if they receive a negative decision.

Trump has had more “this-time-he’s-gone-too-far” moments in the last six years than can be counted. So far, he’s escaped. It could well be that his future is as messy as that pile of documents found at MAL by the FBI. His belief that he is above the law is about to be tested.

But don’t get your hopes up, and yes, pass the popcorn.

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More On Student Loan Forgiveness

The Daily Escape:

Death Valley dunes, CA – August 2022 photo by George Cannon

At a dinner party over the weekend, blog reader Marie S. said that she felt ambivalent about Biden’s loan forgiveness plan. Several others (some were Democrats) echoed her viewpoint.

Republicans have attacked it because they’re desperate to change the subject from the extremist abortion position that they’re now trying to rapidly back away from. They’re also desperate to keep Trump off of the front page. With the loan forgiveness, they see an opportunity to excite their base and divide the Dems.

Wrongo agrees that there are things to dislike and also things to like about the plan. The major thing not to like is something that the Biden administration isn’t in a position to control: The high cost of higher education. Many say that it will be business as usual for our colleges and universities, with loan forgiveness needing to happen every ten years or so.

The cost of higher education is out of hand when we look at the growth in the cost of college and fees compared to the US consumer price index (CPI):

The chart shows that the cost of college is up exponentially more than CPI over the past 40+ years. For any child not born to affluent parents (or getting a hefty scholarship), the choice is foregoing college or taking on a ton of student debt.

Dealing with the increase in college costs isn’t something that the US government can do easily, if at all. We’re talking about a broad spectrum of privately owned institutions and an array of institutions owned by individual states. Biden has got zero power to flatten the cost curve.

Also, nothing is being demanded of the banks who made questionable student loans or the schools who gave students unrealistic information about their future earnings prospects, inducing them to commit to school.

One change that Biden could have made would be to make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy, as they were before the 2005 bankruptcy “reform” that then-Senator Biden helped push through Congress.

Businesses that make bad decisions get to restructure their debts and carry on. Individuals who have a run of bad luck (big medical bills or job loss) can file for bankruptcy, but students cannot. Why should college debt be carved out as not dischargeable in bankruptcy?

The program’s means-testing could have been tighter. The $125k (individual) and $250k (for married couples) income caps do seem high considering those levels of earnings puts you in the 76th and 94th percentile of earners respectively. OTOH, it sounds worse than it truly is. See this chart:

Wrongo also doesn’t like the fact that the government is still charging high interest rates on student loan debt. The average interest rate for existing borrowers under the program is 5.8%. A 5.8% interest rate on the $1.6 trillion of outstanding student debt equates to $93 billion a year in interest payments if all of those people were paying back their loans. Much of that big number could stay in borrowers’ pockets at a lower interest rate.

Finally, the US government owns 92% of all student loan debt. Why does the government need to make so much money on this debt? Wouldn’t a lower rate be a good investment to make for future generations of workers?

Wrongo does like that younger people are finally being helped out by our government. Pundits complain young people don’t get out and vote. Maybe that’s because politicians don’t help young people enough.

It feels like the government has ignored people under 40 in favor of the Boomers and corporations. Today’s young people have much higher costs for essentials: Their student loans, daycare, healthcare, their cost of housing, all are much more than previous generations had to deal with.

Wrongo does like the possible psychological benefit this could give people who felt like they were stuck. The White House estimates that more than 43 million people will qualify for loan forgiveness. Wrongo thinks that the majority of these 40+ million people are overjoyed by this news. His narrow survey of college age grandchildren shows them to be deliriously happy.

And most borrowers will likely experience some psychological relief along with their financial relief. It may allow some people to buy a home sooner than expected. Or get married or start a business. Or just stress a little less about money.

On balance, given the good and the not-so-good, Wrongo thinks the program is a good idea.

In the meantime, the politics bear watching. Republicans are trying to stoke jealousy, and they might succeed. Republicans don’t agree that this relief should take place. But every complaint makes it clear why Biden was right to do this.

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 29, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Estacada, OR with Mt. Hood – August 2022 photo by Mitch Schreiber Photography

The WaPo has a stunning exclusive story about Trump and the top secret files found in Mar-a-Lago. Apparently, he had been keeping them in the White House residence long before they were moved to Florida, and while in office, he took them on foreign trips: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“The Archives battle to secure records from Trump began while he was still president, according to records reviewed by The Post. Gary M. Stern, the [National Archives] agency’s top lawyer, began asking the former president’s attorneys to return two dozen boxes in the residency of the White House before he left. In an email Stern wrote to others, Trump’s counsel, Pat Cipollone, agreed with him. But Trump did not return them.”

This paints a troubling picture. First, these boxes had been kept in the residence of the White House for some time. The WaPo quotes Stephanie Grisham, Trump’s former director of communications:

“Any documents that made it to the White House residence were these boxes Trump carried around with him….Usually the body man would have brought them upstairs for Trump….They would get handed off to the residence and just disappear.”

Second, Grisham goes on to say that boxes of documents even went with Trump on foreign travel, following him to hotel rooms around the world — including countries  that are considered foreign adversaries. More:

“There was no rhyme or reason — it was classified documents on top of newspapers on top of papers people printed out of things they wanted him to read. The boxes were never organized….He’d want to get work done on long trips so he’d just rummage through the boxes. That was our filing system.”

Wrongo thinks Republicans will say that Trump took the documents when he traveled to satisfy his voracious appetite for reading. There’s not much about Trump that could shock America at this point, except perhaps him going to jail for something related to reading.

And do you think he did his own packing for those trips? Clearly there were staffers who ignored their signed acknowledgment of the criminal penalties for mishandling documents and brought them along because Trump said he wanted them.

It’s clear that many people were aware that Trump liked to keep top secret compartmentalized information nearby. They must have been acutely aware of the danger that might come with that. Has anyone checked to see if there might be more secret documents at his Bedminster, NJ, or New York places?

Sadly, that isn’t the only unbelievable story about Trump’s security breaches today. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting about a woman, fluent in several languages who people at Mar-a-Lago knew as Anna de Rothschild, mingled with Trump and his supporters. She also attended a golf outing with Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

She wasn’t a Rothschild; she was a fake. Apparently, she invented this other Anna. From the Post-Gazette:

“But the 33-year-old woman was not a member of the famous banking family and is now a subject of a widening FBI investigation that has delved into her past financial activities and the events that led her to the former president’s home.”

More:

“A year before the FBI’s spectacular raid of the former president’s seaside home, the woman whose real name is Inna Yashchyshyn, a Russian-speaking immigrant from Ukraine, made several trips into the estate posing as a member of the famous [Rothschild] family while making inroads with some of the former president’s key supporters.”

One suspects that if we knew the entire truth, it would reveal another unthinkable security breach. The ability of Ms. Yashchyshyn (who is the daughter of an Illinois truck driver) to bypass Trump’s security should make the National Security establishment very, very nervous, what with all of those secret documents hardly under lock and key.

And Wrongo thought they let only “the best people” into Mar-a-Lago.

Time to wake up America! Read what Wrongo said here about the potential damage done when the US government has to assume that secret operations have been compromised by mishandling of top secret information. Taken together, these two stories demonstrate clearly why the DOJ and the National Archives were so worried about classified documents stored insecurely by Trump.

To help you wake up, watch, and listen to Larkin Poe, a Nashville-based sister group, (featured once before on the Wrongologist) perform a new song “Georgia Off My Mind” from their album, “Blood Harmony” coming out in November:

Good groove, nice wordplay.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 28, 2022

A thought experiment about Trump’s collection of classified documents. Forget for a minute that we’re talking about Trump.

What does the US government (USG) do if it finds out a former employee took home dozens of boxes of sensitive/classified government information without authority? And then the USG finds out that the documents the former employee had taken included information on some of its foreign operations. And that the employee kept them in an unlocked closet for eighteen months?

The USG would assume that every one of those operations had been compromised, because it’s totally wrong to assume otherwise. So, the USG would move to close the affected operations down. It would pull its people and invent a cover story that the other side might buy as plausible. It would attempt to insulate its foreign operatives.

The agencies involved (CIA, DIA, AID, State Department, FBI) would lose some credibility for a blown operation, along with the budget for those operations. It would need to find the money to wind up and cover them up. They would have to lay the groundwork for replacement operations along with new budgets. That would take time. They would have to repair the damage to their networks: The foreign governments and recruited private actors, all because some shit for brains former USG employee stole classified records.

How do we estimate the costs Trump has imposed on this country, just from the activities implicated in his set of stolen secret documents? And what was his purpose? On to cartoons.

He can’t just take his sharpie and write DECLASSIFIED on it:

What the forgiveness means in real life:

Opinions differ about the value of the bailout:

How is it possible to get everything wrong?

Midterm voters now cite “threats to democracy” as their top issue:

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Saturday Soother – August 27, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Super moon over Lake Champlain, Burlington, VT – August 2022 photo by Adam Silverman Photography

Republicans are outraged this week about Biden’s cancellation of student loan debt! Americans now owe a total of more than $1.6 trillion for higher education. From the WaPo: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The result is one of the most significant changes to American higher education policy in decades — and a new cornerstone of the president’s economic legacy. Biden’s decision will dramatically change the financial circumstances of tens of millions of Americans, fully erasing the student loans of roughly 20 million people.”

Student debt played a minor role in American life through the 1960s when Wrongo accrued his $5k of college debt while attending Georgetown. But it increased during the Reagan administration. It then shot up after the 2007-2009 Great Recession as states made huge cuts to funding for their college systems.

But the argument that “tuition has gone up because public support for higher education has declined” isn’t the only one. While it’s valid for some institutions, it doesn’t explain the “arms race” among colleges and universities to add student amenities and layers of administrative staff over the past 10 years.

Over the last decade, revenue at independent (non-religious) private colleges and universities in the US has increased by 148% on an inflation-adjusted (real) per student basis. At religiously affiliated private colleges and universities revenue has increased by 87% in real per-student terms over the last 10 years.

Meanwhile, at public institutions, revenue has increased by just 23.4% on the same basis. However, this is still 36% greater than per capita GDP growth over the same 10 years.

The headline is that our elite educational institutions have gotten obscenely wealthy. And many of our second tier institutions chased after them, causing education budgets everywhere to explode.

It’s become another example of America’s new gilded age.

Opinions differ about the ethics of loan forgiveness for student debt, and that’s understandable. The general thrust of the Republican railing about the educational loan forgiveness is about how unfair it is when one group of Americans is getting a benefit at the cost of other Americans.

This tweet from former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is on point for most of the GOP:

“Joe Biden wants those who didn’t go to school, didn’t take out loans, or already paid off their loans to pay off $300 billion of other people’s debts…..It’s socialism, it’s un-American, and only makes his record-setting inflation worse.”

But it isn’t socialism when our government bails out one group at the expense of another; it happens all the time. No Republican complained about the Trump tax cuts which were directed at America’s wealthy and its corporations. No Republican complained about the bank bailout in 2008. No Republican objected when Trump gave $16 billion to farmers hurt by the Trump tariffs.

Second, despite what the GOP is saying, the $300 billion in loan forgiveness isn’t inflationary. It’s true that it’s money that student borrowers won’t be paying back. But because of the student debt moratorium, they had already stopped payments in 2020, so there’s no change going forward. They simply won’t have to restart making payments on that $10,000 of debt.

It isn’t clear that there will be much impact to inflation or the Consumer Price Index. Since they weren’t making payments, it’s likely they were already spending those funds that might have gone to loan repayments. So no new spending.

We can have a debate about how much higher education should cost per student. We live in a society that is a whole lot wealthier than it was 40 years ago, but many of our students do not come from those few wealthy families.

The political calculus of Biden’s decision will be seen in November. The WaPo reported that a majority of Americans support limited debt forgiveness. Biden’s pollster, John Anzalone said:

“This is a motivator for young people….It’s a huge issue for young people — the support levels for them are in the high 60s.”

Let’s hope they turn out to vote on November 8.

Now, it’s time for our Saturday Soother, where we decompress from another week of body blows to America and find a few moments to gather ourselves for the week to come.

Here on the Fields of Wrong, we had a day of very satisfying brush clearing although we’re still waiting for rain.

Go get a big mug of decaf cold brew coffee and grab a chair in the shade. Now listen to Schubert’s “Impromptu in G flat Op. 90 No. 3”, written in 1827, and played here in 2012 by Olga Jegunova at the Bishopsgate Institute in London:

Schubert really understood how to capture emotion in his music.

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Russia, Iran Form Energy Cartel

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Lookout Point, Harpswell, ME – August 2022 photo by Rick Berk Photography

Good strategy is supposed to include a look at what the logical outcomes may be, once you’ve implemented your strategic plan. Was that done when the US and the EU decided to sanction Russia about its Ukraine invasion after having sanctioned Iran, well, for being Iran?

When you treat much of the world as your enemy, you should expect them to eventually find common cause and fight back. We’re speaking about the world’s supply of natural gas (NatGas). There is a new alliance between Russia and Iran on NatGas. At Oil Price, Simon Watkins says that a new energy cartel is forming: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“The US $40 billion memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed last month between [Russia’s] Gazprom and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) is a steppingstone to enabling Russia and Iran to implement their long-held plan to be the core participants in a global cartel for gas suppliers in the same mold as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for oil suppliers.”

The article describes how Russia and Iran are creating a NatGas OPEC. The two countries are first and second respectively in holding the world’s largest NatGas reserves. Russia has just under 48 trillion cubic meters (tcm) and Iran has nearly 34 tcm, so the two countries are in an ideal position to form a cartel.

NatGas is a vital commodity. It is widely seen as the optimal product in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. And controlling the global flow of it will be the key to energy-based power over the next 10 to 20 years. This has already been demonstrated in Russia’s hold over the EU through its NatGas supplies.

From a top-down perspective, this Russia-Iran alliance might also draw other Middle East gas producers, who have tried to be neutral between the Russia-Iran-China axis or the US-EU-Japan axis.

Qatar has long been seen by Russia and Iran as a prime candidate for this kind of gas cartel because it shares its gas field with Iran. Iran has exclusive rights over 3,700 sq.km of the well-known South Pars field (containing around 14 tcm of gas), with Qatar’s North Field comprising the remaining 6,000 sq.km (and 37 tcm of gas).

If they can enlist Qatar, this new cartel would control 60% of world gas reserves, allowing them to control NatGas prices globally. It would be logical for prices to rise, given the growing demand for NatGas in the coming decades.

America can dodge this bullet for a few years because proven gas reserves in the US amount to about 13.5 tcm. So, at the current level of production we can produce sufficient NatGas for another 13-15 years.

But this means that in a decade or so, the US, Europe, and Asia will all be more dependent on imports from Russia, Iran, and Qatar, while competing with the rest of the world for our share in order to maintain our economy and lifestyle.

So, strategy can be a bitch. By creating a global political and economic environment that pushes Russia, Iran, and Qatar into a cartel, we’ve created a significant future economic vulnerability.

There are immediate NatGas cost implications in the US today. Bloomberg’s article, A ‘Tsunami of Shutoffs’: 20 Million US Homes Are Behind on Energy Bills, paints a picture:

“…about 1 in 6 American homes…have fallen behind on their utility bills. It is, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), the worst crisis the group has ever documented. Underpinning those numbers is a…surge in electricity prices, propelled by the soaring cost of natural gas.”

That’s 16% of American homes for the math challenged. Winter in the US may not be as big a disaster as in the UK and Europe, (better insulation). But plenty of people here will have to choose between food and heat.

The world is sorting itself out into blocks of countries aligned with each other. Russia, China, Iran and perhaps India, want their own commodity-based financial system to reduce their exposure to the political impacts from the West’s corporate/state “free” market system, which has used trade as a weapon for the past few decades.

There are two ways of looking at this. We could just build this energy vulnerability into our economic planning and prepare to devote a growing share of our GDP to paying the cartel for more NatGas.

Or, we could immediately start seriously building out our renewable energy capacity. There’s a model. Europe is attempting to pivot away as quickly as possible from its dependence on Russia.

We could do the same thing.

That could reduce our exposure to imported NatGas because it’s largely a bridge from coal to renewables. Massive investing in renewables would give Russia and Iran a shorter bridge than they think they’re getting.

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Louisiana Denies Flood Control Funding to New Orleans

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, North Plains, OR – August 2022 photo by David Leahy Photography

Wrongo and Ms. Right are streaming “5 Days at Memorial” a dramatization of the tragedy at a downtown New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina. It’s adapted from the 2013 book “Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. Ms. Right highly recommends the book.

It is difficult to watch something when you already know the outcome is a terrible loss of life. Hurricane Katrina happened in 2005, some 17 years ago. When we visited New Orleans three years ago, damage was still visible in parts of the city.

So imagine Wrongo’s surprise to read that the state of Louisiana is withholding nearly $40 million in funding for flood control in New Orleans: (brackets by Wrongo)

“[Louisiana] Attorney General Jeff Landry successfully pushed [the State Bond Commission] commissioners to withhold the funds as punishment, after the New Orleans City Council passed a resolution asking law enforcement officers not to enforce Louisiana’s near-total abortion ban…”

Yesterday, Wrongo quoted Dan Pfeiffer who said: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Democratic efforts to turn this midterm from a progress report on Democratic governance into a referendum on GOP extremism failed to connect until the Dobbs decision. That was when Republican extremism went from an abstract argument to lived reality.”

The Dem’s performance in Tuesday’s primaries showed that Pfeiffer may be right, as many Democrats outperformed in swing districts. And what’s happening in New Orleans is another example of Republican extremism around the Dobbs decision. From Salon:

“The New Orleans City Council on July 7 passed a resolution in which local policymakers proclaimed their support for reproductive healthcare access and asked police, sheriff’s deputies, and prosecutors not to… enforce Louisiana’s draconian prohibition on abortion…”

That led to the state’s Bond Commission voting 7-6 to defer a motion to approve flood prevention funding until next month. CNN reported that this was the second time in two months that the panel rejected financing for a $39 million project that is meant to pay for drainage pumps critical to protecting New Orleans from flooding.

The Louisiana AG Landry sent a letter urging the bond commission to:

“…defer any applications for the City of New Orleans, Orleans Parish, and any local governmental entity or political subdivision under its purview….Any other funding that will directly benefit the City of New Orleans…should also be paused until such time as the council, mayor, chief of police, sheriff, and district attorney have met with and affirmed that they will comply with and enforce the laws of this state and cooperate with any state officials who may be called upon to enforce them.”

New Orleans mayor, LaToya Cantrell told CNN that she is unwilling to budge on abortion and criticized Landry and other Republican members of the bond commission for endangering public health by holding flood mitigation funding hostage:

“We cannot afford to put politics over the rights of people, and particularly safeguarding people from hurricanes and other disasters, because we are on the front lines of climate change…”

Republicans used to favor local control. They always say federal policies shouldn’t apply unless the states agree. Now they’ll only say that if it’s politically convenient. This is political blackmail, not simply politics.

The sad part is how short sighted it is. This Landry guy and his Republican supporters who live outside of New Orleans think this can’t harm them. But, how long has it taken Louisiana to recoup all of its losses from Katrina?

And this bad behavior is becoming normalized. It happened in Texas’ Harris County when Houston was denied funds related to 2017’s Hurricane Harvey until recently. In Houston, the funds were not denied due to the abortion issue, but for other political reasons (including voting rights). Texas’s decision matrix favored more sparsely populated areas and areas with higher property values, which worked against Houston and Harris County, Harris County is a Democratic stronghold in a very Red State.

This kind of blackmail won’t go away unless fair-minded people win these important state offices, like attorney general and secretary of state.

Democrats need to hold the US House and Senate in November and retake the Presidency in 2024. If not, we will have failed to meet the moment. The defense of our previous political wins must be a constant goal in the game.

The 2022 and 2024 elections are America’s political endgame. And right now, it’s unclear how it’s going to play out.

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The Mid-Terms Landscape

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Grand Teton NP, MT – June 2022 photo by Charyn

On Monday, Robert Hubbell had a very useful column about how some of the anti-Trump narratives are already baked into the politics of the mid-terms (barring some huge unforeseen event): (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…it is likely that the political throughlines are set for the midterms. That is both good and bad for America and Democrats. The topics for debate have been identified and the rules of engagement have been set….Let the media do its job, which, in this instance, will consist of talking about the same half-dozen stories non-stop.”

Hubbell outlines that the narratives that will dominate the news from now until November 8 are unlikely to produce political earthquakes:

“It is unlikely that the DOJ will indict anyone in Trump’s inner circle (including Trump) before the midterms. For example, in a filing last week, the DOJ said its investigation regarding the improper removal and retention of defense secrets was in the “early stages.” Nearly every Trump administration witness appearing before a federal grand jury was examined by the J6 Committee six to eight months ago. And the only grand jury subpoenas published in the press indicate that the investigations were opened in 2022 and that the subpoenas were issued in June.”

Wrongo agrees. This is also true for the Georgia grand jury investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s 2020 win in Georgia. Few realize the grand jury that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is presenting evidence to cannot indict anyone. According to the Georgia Recorder: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“In contrast to a typical grand jury, the 23 members on the special grand jury do not have the power to indict anyone but can [only] make recommendations to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.”

So, when DA Willis has sufficient evidence to indict, she must then impanel a new grand jury, present evidence, and ask for an indictment. Not likely to happen before November.

While the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago (MAL) has Trump on every front page, the DOJ says its investigation regarding the Mar-a-Lago search is in the “early stages.” The way America’s legal back and forth works, it is doubtful that we will see any facts contained in the affidavit the FBI used to justify the application for the search warrant before November.

Trump made a court filing requesting a Special Master (instead of the DOJ) review the documents removed from MAL. However Trump’s new request is decided, it’s likely to be appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, if not the Supreme Court, which will take time. That means we can expect Trump and the GOP to continue undermining the DOJ and FBI right through the mid-terms.

And there will be few new facts to indict Trump in the court of public opinion.

It’s likely we will see a steady drip of information about the recovered documents, just like Tuesday’s NYT article saying that, including the FBI seizure, Trump took more than 300 classified documents when he left office. That seems to say it couldn’t have been an oversight.

Finally, the January 6th Committee returns to work in September, but as of today, there are no hearings scheduled. Mike Pence will never testify. Since he still has presidential ambitions, testifying would put him on the wrong side of Trump supporters, making a run in 2024 problematic.

While the January 6th hearings have moved the needle on US public opinion, it’s difficult to what they will add to what we know in the time remaining for this 117th Congress.

Of course, running against Trump is the Dem’s dream, but there are other issues out there, like abortion. In the new NBC News poll, abortion rights was only the seventh most important issue:

But it’s only one poll, and voter enthusiasm and turnout win races. The Morning Consult has the Democrats’ enthusiasm at 62%, up dramatically from 52% on July 31. That’s comparable to the GOP’s 65%.

Dan Pfeiffer believes the political environment has shifted in Democrats’ favor because of the abortion issue:

“Democratic efforts to turn this midterm from a progress report on Democratic governance into a referendum on GOP extremism failed to connect until the Dobbs decision. That was when Republican extremism went from an abstract argument to lived reality.”

Dems need to remind voters that unemployment is at record lows, that its Democrats who fight for economic progress, and to preserve women’s right to an abortion. Democrats can’t keep people from worrying about inflation, but they can influence whether it is the top issue to voters. They can keep the heat on Republicans for their extremist views on abortion and on Trump’s extremism and his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The hope is that these realities overtake concern about inflation as the main issue for a big swath of Independent voters.

That could be the difference.

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