Monday Wake Up Call – May 22, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Mountain Laurel with waterfall, Panther Creek trail, Chattahoochee NF, GA – May 2023 photo by Paula Johns

The Republican drumbeat to impose restrictions on women’s sexuality are growing ever louder. We’ve seen the Republicans pass laws to do exactly that in states where they have the legislative power to do so, regardless of local public opinion.

This Republican war on abortion, mifepristone, and contraception says that female bodily autonomy is a problem for most of the GOP (with some exceptions). It is pursued by Republican politicians from the lowliest state legislator to the Party’s representatives on the Supreme Court.

Some say that the Republican Party isn’t anti-woman, but the actions of Republican-led states and legislatures provide the best guide to what the Republican Party wants to do, and the best insight into the society it hopes to build. When Republicans call for a return to traditional values in family life, they mean returning to a legal and cultural place where women no longer have the freedom to leave bad marriages, the freedom to choose to have some or no children, or the freedom to obtain professional employment.

Jamelle Bouie had an op-ed in Sunday’s NYT about state GOPs efforts to gain cultural control over life in America. He outlined the “Republican Four Freedoms”, which are decidedly different from FDRs:

There is the freedom to control — to restrict the bodily autonomy of women and repress the existence of anyone who does not conform to traditional gender roles.

There is the freedom to exploit — to allow the owners of business and capital to weaken labor and take advantage of workers as they see fit.

There is the freedom to censor — to suppress ideas that challenge and threaten the ideologies of the ruling class.

And there is the freedom to menace — to carry weapons wherever you please, to brandish them in public, to turn the right of self-defense into a right to threaten other people.

And the Right continues to try to move the limits of control even further. Rolling Stone reports that:

“Republicans across the country are now reconsidering no-fault divorce. There isn’t a huge mystery behind the campaign: Like the crusades against abortion and contraception, making it more difficult to leave an unhappy marriage is about control.”

If you think that’s strange, more than two-thirds of all heterosexual divorces in the US are initiated by women. All 50 states and DC have no-fault divorce laws on the books — laws that allow either party to walk away from an unhappy marriage without having to prove abuse, infidelity, or other misconduct in court.

It took more than four decades to end fault-based divorce in America: California was the first state to eliminate it, in 1969; New York didn’t come around until 2010. But Mississippi and South Dakota still only allow no-fault divorce if both parties agree to dissolve the marriage.

Researchers who tracked the emergence of no-fault divorce laws state by state over that period found that the passage of no-fault divorce resulted in a 20% decline in suicide for married women in the first decade, and about a 40% decline since the first law passed in 1967. There also were dramatic drops in the rates of domestic violence, and spousal homicide of women.

Texas and other states are looking at legislation to end no-fault divorce. More from Rolling Stone:

“A…proposal is presently being workshopped by the Republican Party of Louisiana. The Nebraska GOP has affirmed its belief that no-fault divorce should only be accessible to couples without children.”


“At the Republican National Convention in 2016 — the last time the party platform was overhauled — delegates considered adding language declaring, “Children are made to be loved by both natural parents united in marriage. Legal structures such as No Fault Divorce, which divides families and empowers the state, should be replaced by a Fault-based Divorce.”

It’s kinda awful that Republican males seem to think that the only way to retain their partner is to legally trap them in the marriage. The GOP effort to end no-fault divorce is becoming a key piece of their agenda.

Time to wake up America! The GOP has been captured by religious radicals and wingnut social conservatives who would be happy if they could return the country to the way society was in the 1940s.

To help you wake up, watch and listen to Gloria Gaynor perform her hit “I Will Survive”, the ultimate breakup song. Did you ever notice at weddings, whenever this is played, all the women get up and dance?


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 21, 2023

Top negotiators for Biden and Speaker McCarthy resumed talks Friday evening after the Republicans said the negotiations had to go on a “pause”. Roll Call reports that:

“After a nearly daylong setback, White House Counselor Steve Ricchetti, White House budget director Shalanda Young, Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., and House Financial Services Chairman Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., resumed talks at the Capitol shortly after 6 p.m.”

Time is running out for Congress to raise the debt ceiling. If not, the consequences are stark. Keeping the lines of communication open and giving away the store are two different things entirely. On to cartoons.

McCarthy’s toll booth:

The North Carolina legislature overrode Governor Roy Cooper’s veto  of a bill imposing a ten-week abortion ban. Will this ensure Democratic victory in North Carolina in 2024?

Texas has sued the Biden administration 29 times in a Texas Federal District Court. Now after banning mifepristone, Texas judges have new careers:

Durham’s report:

Disney’s Bob Iger asks DeSantis: “Does Florida want our jobs and taxes or not?” This is a severe kick in the balls:

Wrongo’s old enough to have seen Jim Brown play in Yankee Stadium against the NY Giants:

Trump’s one note:


Saturday Soother – May 20, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Daffodils, Laurel Ridge, Litchfield CT – May 2023 photo by Dave King

The oil industry enjoys special economic status in the US. That is demonstrated by the tax breaks and outright subsidies we give them. Hannah Dunlevy notes that:

“In 2020, the explicit and implicit fossil fuel subsidies cost the United States $662 billion, around $2,006 per capita. Cutting just two tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry — the intangible drilling costs subsidy and the percentage depletion tax break — could generate $17.9 billion in government revenue over ten years, according to Congress’s non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation.”

Biden’s fiscal year 2024 budget proposed cutting some of tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, which would save the US $31 billion over ten years. It will probably not survive the current Debt Ceiling and budget discussions.

One hidden subsidy that the oil industry enjoys is when wells are no longer productive – they are idled. If it’s no longer profitable to return idled wells to production, they need to be plugged. And the cost of plugging a well can be $100,000 or more.

The problem is that when wells start to decline, they are sold by Big Oil to smaller producers. When the well is sold, the plugging and cleanup liability passes to the new buyer. And often, the new buyer simply walks away from the uneconomic well, creating what the industry calls “orphaned wells”. But if a company doesn’t plug its wells before walking away, the cleanup costs will ultimately fall to taxpayers and current operators.

This has already happened with thousands of wells in California and may happen to millions more across the country. Pro Publica reports that there are more than two million unplugged oil wells scattered across the US. California is just the tip of the iceberg.

Petroleum reservoir engineer Dwayne Purvis laid out the reality at a recent conference. His research shows that more than 90% of the country’s unplugged wells are either idle or minimally producing and unlikely to make a comeback.

California is the canary in a coal mine. Shell and ExxonMobil recently agreed to sell more than 23,000 California wells which they owned through a joint venture, to a German asset management group IKAV for an estimated $4 billion. This means that a subsidiary of IKAV now owns about a quarter of California’s oil and gas production, largely in Kern and Ventura counties.

This ownership shift moves the subsequent environmental liability from Big Oil powerhouses to firms with smaller capitalization, increasing the risk that aging wells will be left orphaned, unplugged and leaking oil, brine and methane. For California and other states, this could repeat what was seen in coal mining, which led to taxpayers bearing all of the cleanup costs.

The oil industry has created layers of LLCs that are used to screen Big Oil from the dirty end of the oil business, like responsibility for cleaning up the messes that they make. And these firms can easily declare bankruptcy rather than pay for cleaning up orphan or idle wells.

ProPublica reports on an analysis by Carbon Tracker Initiative, a financial think tank that used the California regulators’ draft methodology for calculating the costs associated with plugging oil and gas wells and decommissioning them along with their related infrastructure.

The cost categories included plugging wells, dismantling surface infrastructure and decontaminating polluted drilling sites. That would cost California about $13.2 billion. Adding inflation and the price of decommissioning miles of pipeline could bring the total cleanup bill to $21.5 billion.

Meanwhile, Purvis estimates that California oil and gas production will earn only about $6.3 billion in future profits over the remaining course of operations; nowhere near sufficient to pay for the cleanup, even if those profits could be captured by the state.

That’s just California. These costs are what economists call “Externalities”. An externality is an indirect cost (or benefit) to a party (taxpayers) that arises as an effect of another party’s (Oil Companies) economic activity. The problem is that the price of their product doesn’t include the externalities. That means there is a gap between the profit of these corporations and the aggregate loss to society as a whole.

Republicans have a tried and true solution for this problem. Taxpayers pay the bills. We’re back to the “privatize profit, socialize the losses” game that corporations have played forever. Maybe the correct terminology should be socialism for the rich.

They prefer to call it keeping government off the backs of job creators.

Time to let go of California’s messy problem and find a few minutes to center ourselves before next week which will bring either financial Armageddon, or a diminished Biden. At the Fields of Wrong, we had a freeze last Wednesday that caused us to cover the newly planted vegetables and bring the Meyer Lemon tree indoors. Spring in Connecticut can always show up with a backtracking nod towards winter.

But on this rainy Saturday, grab a chair by a big window and listen to Debussy’s “Nuages” (‘Clouds’) from his “Trois Nocturnes”. Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra made the first American recording of Debussy’s “Three Nocturnes” for a 1950 LP.

Here is the first “Nocturne”, a musical impression of slow-moving clouds:


The Durham Report Finds Nearly Nothing

The Daily Escape:

Tulips, Boston Common, Boston MA – May 2023 photo by Ken Grille Photography

The DOJ has released the Durham Report. Former Connecticut US Attorney John Durham was tagged by Trump’s Attorney General Barr with proving there was a deep-state plot against Trump. From the NYT:

“Mr. Durham’s 306-page report appeared to show little substantial new information about the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation, known as Crossfire Hurricane, and it failed to produce the kinds of blockbuster revelations impugning the bureau that former President… Trump….had once suggested that Mr. Durham would find.”

So, after four years, and $6.5 million of our money, Durham found nothing? Apparently the best he could come up with was a Right wing personal opinion. Meanwhile Conservatives are furious with Durham for not finding Hillary Clinton guilty of…something. The Right-leaning Washington Times said:

“Special counsel John Durham’s failure to indict any Obama-era FBI officials involved in the Trump-Russia collusion investigation has left conservative activists and Trump allies questioning why he didn’t pursue prosecutions that they said were handed to him on a silver platter….Mr. Durham brought three prosecutions during his sprawling, four-year probe that concluded Monday, but he netted only one conviction: a low-level FBI lawyer who admitted to doctoring evidence.”


“None of the three indictments involved high-profile FBI figures who greenlighted an investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign based on unverified intelligence and ignored evidence that countered the collusion narrative, according to Mr. Durham’s 300-page report released Monday.”

There’s a lot of crying on the Right. The broken down ex-football coach who became a Senator, Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) said the Durham report shows that: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…a whole list of people lied…If people don’t go to jail for this, the American people should just stand up and say, ‘Listen, enough’s enough, let’s don’t have elections anymore.”

Yikes! The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols observed:

“A US Senator says people should rise up and do away with elections unless the State punishes law enforcement officers for doing their job. A word I rarely use, but: This is pretty fascist stuff.”

So this is the Trump legacy in America. A Special Counsel appointed by Trump’s AG to disprove there was a connection between the Trump campaign and Russia doesn’t disprove it. He didn’t recommend filing any new charges against people he investigated in his final report. Despite criticizing the FBI, he didn’t recommend revamping the investigative procedures they use in politically sensitive investigations.

OTOH, the FBI’s investigation that Durham was supposed to debunk, wasn’t about investigating Trump but was about Russia’s support for his campaign. It was meant to find a conspiracy against Trump that didn’t exist. That’s the stock in trade of Trumpism. See the whole Republican investigation witch hunt list: Whitewater, Benghazi, Voter Fraud Commission, Hunter Biden’s Laptop.

It’s all political theater. The GOP outrage act has been running for longer than most Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.

Unlike the Mueller investigation, Durham mostly came up empty on the cases he brought to trial. The absolute best he can say is “Maybe the FBI shouldn’t have looked into Trump-Russia because the feds played it fast and loose“.

But since he doesn’t mention any individuals who should be recommended for charges or suggest any operational improvements, it’s clear it was Durham who was wasting everyone’s time, not the FBI. In the report’s executive summary, Durham says:

“…this report does not recommend any wholesale changes in the guidelines and policies that the Department and the FBI now have in place to ensure proper conduct and accountability in how counterintelligence activities are carried out,”

Durham concludes with the premise that he started with: That the FBI should not have opened the Trump-Russia investigation:

“We conclude that the Department and the FBI failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law in connection with certain events and activities described in this report…”

Durham’s job was to investigate the investigators (and also the investigation): To lend credibility to the idea that the Trump-Russia investigation was the product of a political witch hunt against Trump. He winds up accusing the FBI of “confirmation bias” in its legitimate probe of Trump/Russia links.

That’s rich since Durham never made any secret of his own bias in trying to discredit the Bureau with conjecture and few facts. He’s failed.

Durham found nothing but tries hard to make it sound like he did.


Links You Can Use

The Daily Escape:

Santa Rita prickly pear in bloom, AZ – May 2023 photo by Wilson Goodrich

Today Wrongo returns to his “Links you can use” format from several years ago.

First up, Bloomberg reports that Trump’s takeover of the GOP helped him to rewrite the rules on how primary delegates to the GOP presidential convention will be awarded. Since leaving office, Trump has gotten 10 more states to award delegates through winner-take-all primaries, even if the winner receives fewer than a majority of the votes. The number of winner-take-all states has grown from seven to 17.

Needless to say, if it’s crowded field and he gets the most votes, even if it’s only 30%, he’ll win.

Second, Republican governors have discovered that they’re getting significant political mileage out of championing people who have engaged in vigilante violence that dovetails with the GOP’s culture wars. Brian Klaas writes about the Right’s open embrace of political violence. In Texas, Governor Abbott has said that he was “looking forward” to pardoning Daniel Perry, who murdered a Black Lives Matter protester. Perry was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He had previously texted a friend that he “might have to kill” some people on his way to work.

Over the weekend, Florida Governor DeSantis tweeted his support for Daniel Penny (Perry and Penny?) after Penny killed the homeless Black man Jordan Neely, on NYC’s subway. DeSantis didn’t hold back:

Lots of dog whistles right there from the governor. NBC 4New York reported that the legal defense fund had raised more than $2 million after DeSantis tweeted the link to Penny’s donation page. This shows MAGAs have found another way to wealth and fame as Daniel Penny now joins Kyle Rittenhouse as a violent millionaire funded by the Republican Right.

Brian Klaas wrote about a study that shows “Who Supports Political Violence?”, conducted by Miles T. Armaly, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Mississippi and Adam M. Enders, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. Their findings show some key traits that predict support for political violence:

Perceived victimhood is highly correlated with support for political violence. This is different from actual victimhood. While previous research found that people who are actually being oppressed are more likely to turn to violence, this study shows that it doesn’t really matter whether someone is actually being oppressed; instead, the feeling of being oppressed is sufficient.

This was the strongest predictor of support for violence.

The next strongest correlate was a sense of “white identity.” And the two interact, as those who buy into the Right-wing narrative that white people are under attack in America (due to their loss of social dominance), are also likely to be the same individuals who feel perceived victimhood.

Also, past military service is correlated with a predisposition for vigilante violence. People who previously served in the American armed forces were more likely to express support for political violence than those who have not. None of this is good news for the US.

Third, the Debt Ceiling negotiations are resuming today in the White House after House, Senate and White House negotiators met for three hours Saturday, and then reconvened on Monday. Benjamin Studebaker worries that Biden may be about to repeat Obama’s errors in negotiations with Republicans in 2011:

“Back in 2011…Obama faced the same problem…Biden now faces. Congressional Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless Obama agreed to budget cuts….Obama….Instead…cut a deal. He signed the Budget Control Act of 2011. It committed the federal government to…enormous cuts. Over the course of 2012, it became clear that these cuts would cause serious damage to the economy. So…Obama negotiated another deal that would save most of the cuts for 2013. Over the course of 2013, the same arguments were made again, but this time Obama was unable to secure another delay, and the cuts took effect.”

Sounds like what we’re going through right now. In 2013, we escaped the economic disaster, but at the price of the Fed adding several rounds of Quantitative Easing leading to our current economic situation. If Biden agrees to cut spending, the economy will again be damaged.

And the Federal Reserve will be pressured to limit the damage via lower rates or flooding the market with more dollars.

Republicans will, of course, oppose tax increases. That means the Biden administration won’t be able to raise taxes to help offset the growing deficit or pay for future expenses. Therefore it has to rely on the Federal Reserve’s monetary policies. The weaker economy created by rate hikes is an economy where the current tax rates will generate less tax revenue. That creates more political pressure to cut spending.

All of these stories look like rinse, lather, repeat. And not to the nation’s benefit.


Monday Wake Up Call – May 15, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Scarlet Tanager, Manomet Observatory, MA – May 2023 photo by Ken Grille Photography

Today, Wrongo is going to be a grumpy old mossback. It rarely suits his politics or his outlook on life, but the WaPo is reporting that automakers are removing AM radio from their new models:

“Automakers, such as BMW, Volkswagen, Mazda and Tesla, are removing AM radios from new electric vehicles because electric engines can interfere with the sound of AM stations. And Ford, one of the nation’s top-three auto sellers, is taking a bigger step, eliminating AM from all of its vehicles, electric or gas-operated.”


“Now, although 82 million Americans still listen to AM stations each month, according to the National Association of Broadcasters, the AM audience has been aging for decades. Ford says its data, pulled from internet-connected vehicles, shows that less than 5% of in-car listening is to AM stations.”

Wrongo remembers car radios before FM, and long before SiriusXM, listening to Wolfman Jack at night, beaming his show from the USMexico border. Or hearing Alan Freed talk about the “submarine races” in NYC. Later, living in London, he would listen to pirate radio instead of the BBC.

At night, rotating the AM dial to bring in stations like KDKA in Pittsburgh or WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia was an art. It required that you avoid the interference of other stations or the snap and crackle of lightning. While driving in the car, the AM signal could also be corrupted by the hum of overhead power lines.

Now that less-than-ideal experience will soon be only a memory. But as always in America, there’s a political argument to be made about AM radio leaving a few high priced cars. More from WaPo:

“The removal of AM radio from cars — where about half of AM listening takes place — has sparked bipartisan protests. Some Democrats are fighting to save stations that often are the only live source of local information during extreme weather, as well as outlets that target immigrant audiences. Some Republicans…claim the elimination of AM radio is aimed at diminishing the reach of conservative talk radio, an AM mainstay….Eight of the country’s 10 most popular radio talk shows are conservative.”

But the auto makers aren’t abolishing AM radio; they’re just not offering it in their new cars. AM will persist on the dial in most of America.

As usual, the issue in America is profits. Eliminating AM is all about the numbers. From WaPo:

“Of the $11 billion in advertising revenue that radio pulled in last year, about $2 billion came into AM stations, according to BIA Advisory Services, which conducts research for broadcasters. And some of the country’s most lucrative radio stations are still on AM, mostly all-news or news and talk stations in big cities such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles.”

BIA Advisory says that about 40% of AM stations have news, talk or sports formats; 11% are oriented to specific ethnic groups; and another 11% have a religious format. About a third of AM outlets play music, including Mexican and Spanish music. But they also report that the AM audience is getting smaller and older. The in-car streaming technology has grown exponentially, as has the trend away from music and toward podcasts and other spoken-word formats.

WaPo also quotes Pierre Bouvard from Cumulus Media, which owns more than 400 (mostly AM) stations:

“Radio is still the soundtrack of the American worker….It’s what people listen to on the way to work. And Ford owners are massive users of AM radio — 1 out of 5 AM listeners are Ford owners, so Ford is missing something here.”

But people can stream AM broadcasts into their cars if they must have AM programming.

The demographics of in-car listening aren’t fully understood. A new study by Edison Research found that young people often prefer AM and FM broadcast radio because it’s free. Edison says that overall, AM and FM radio still account for 60% of all in-car listening. SiriusXM satellite radio makes up 16%, followed by drivers’ own music from their phones at 7%, with podcasts and music videos at 4% each.

If this makes a difference to you, several manufacturers including Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Jaguar Land Rover, said they have no plans to eliminate AM.

Time to wake up America! Nobody is shutting down AM radio stations! If you need AM in your new car, you’ll just have to shop for a car that offers it. Wrongo has nostalgia for the old days of AM radio, but the one AM station he listens to in the car can easily be streamed through Apple Air Play.

Let’s not create another faux cultural war issue over whether your new Tesla must have an AM dial. To help you wake up listen to Meatloaf performing “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” with Ellen Foley. It’s from his 1977 album “Bat out of Hell”:

Props to Mike and Marie S. who did the absolutely best karaoke version of this tune!


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 14, 2023

The Debt Ceiling fiscal cliff is looming. And since there’s offline negotiations going on as in the past, Biden will eventually offer a compromise on spending. It will include some things that Democrats care about, and that will make his base angry. Meanwhile, the few remaining establishment Republicans will be happy to take the deal, while the Freedom Caucus (now the mainstream of the GOP) will be outraged that the deal on the table isn’t what they originally asked for.

They’d rather blow up America’s credit standing if Biden fails to agree to roll back his legislative successes. That will put us back to square one with days to go before default.

If you remember the Debt Ceiling debates in 2013, the Freedom Caucus was willing to shut down the government, put the US credit rating in the dumper and possibly default. In 2013, Obama refused to negotiate with them over the debt ceiling, saying that the previous cuts that had been made through in the “sequester” in 2011 were plenty of compromise.

Both sides extended the Debt Ceiling in small increments over many months before they finally passed a clean bill in 2014. While the media said it was a loss for Republicans, the GOP won the presidency and both houses in 2016. So fasten your seat belts. What probably will happen is that either Kevin McCarthy will let the country default, or he’ll put some kind of deal on the table that will pass with bipartisan votes.

If it’s the latter, one or more of the now mainstream GOP will make a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair and McCarthy will follow John Boehner out the door. On to cartoons.

The state of the union:

The real situation:

Santos indicted:

Trump loses in Court:

Trump supporters need bigger tee shirts:

Wishes for Mother’s Day:


Saturday Soother – May 13, 2023

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Monument Valley, AZ – April 2023 panoramic photo by Rich Vintage Photography

The ripples from Trump’s appearance on CNN continue. Politico reports that: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Nearly under his breath….Trump said that he and…Putin “used to talk about” Moscow’s intention to launch [an] invasion in Ukraine.”

What’s Trump talking about? The invasion happened in February 2022, more than a year after Trump left office. In fact, Russia didn’t even begin massing troops on the Ukraine border until March 2021 while Trump was already at Mar-a-Lago. Russia’s troops were partially withdrawn by June 2021, although the military infrastructure was left in place. The second build-up began in October 2021, lasting until the invasion in February 2022.

Politico says that Trump mumbled at some point, that he and Putin discussed Russia’s intention to launch a second, larger incursion of Ukraine. Was Trump talking to Putin about a possible invasion of Ukraine after Trump left office? If so, what are the chances that Trump shared his news with Biden?

Today, let’s spend a bit more time on one of the reasons why we must rebuild our energy grid. Wolf Richter of Wolf Street writes that in 2022, electric vehicles (EVs) made their first visible dent in US gasoline consumption: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

“Gasoline consumption in the US dipped by 0.4% in 2022…(vs.2021) to 369 million gallons per day…. below where it had been in 2002, and down by 5.7% from 2019, and by 5.9% from the peak in 2018, according to data from the Energy Department…”

Wolf reminds us that employment grew in 2022 by 4.8 million. And miles driven by all passenger and commercial vehicles, including those powered by diesel, ticked up nearly 1% to 3.17 trillion miles in 2022, according to the Federal Highway Administration:

Miles driven still haven’t recovered to 2019 levels (-2.8%). That’s probably due at least in part to reduced commuting during the Covid Work From Home times. Now, many office workers are either working from home entirely, or are going into the office on some days and working at home on others.

So the data show that the economy grew and people drove more miles, but they bought less gasoline:

The above chart shows the impact of the various recessions on gasoline consumption.  The deep dip in 2020, and the 2021 recovery only brought gas consumption back to 2002 levels. Then they fell off again in 2022.

The question is why wasn’t there a further recovery in gas consumption from 2021 to 2022? One factor is the rising fuel economy of American vehicles. This started many years ago, and it continues today. But Richter says that the growth in ownership of EVs has dented US gasoline consumption:

“EV sales in 2022 grew to a share of about 7% of total new vehicle sales in the US. In California, EV sales in 2022 accounted for 17% of total sales. These numbers are starting to show up at the gas station as a decline in gasoline sales.”

Still a 7% share of market is small and for now, the impact on gasoline sales is also small in the US.

Another way to look at this is that while gas consumption declined, electricity sold to end-users in the US broke out of 15 years of stagnation and set a new record. The chart below shows that electric utilities have been a no-growth business for more than a decade, but now the volume of electricity sold is suddenly spiking:

Wrongo isn’t sure if these trends will continue, but continued growth in the number of EVs on America’s roads seems undeniable. EVs have lower energy costs and lower maintenance costs. That economic reality seems guaranteed to be sustained in the coming decades. The battery cost curve will continue to decline and the rare metals required in EV batteries are beginning to be helped by both new supply and changing battery chemistry.

Still, Wrongo isn’t a fan of EVs. Perhaps when EV charging stations become ubiquitous, he will reconsider. And there will be a place for the ICE engine for a very long time.

That’s enough for this week. It’s time for our Saturday Soother, where we disconnect from the crisis du jour and spend a few relaxing moments before charging headfirst into whatever next week brings. Here at the Mansion of Wrong, we’re off to the garden store to find vegetable plants for our puny garden.

It looks like a beautiful weekend in the northeast, so grab a chair outside and watch and listen to Manuel De Falla’s Danza from “La Vida Breve” (Life is Short or The Brief Life). It is from Falla’s 1905 opera. Here it is performed live at the ancient Roman Theatre in Cartagena Spain, by Paola Requena and Isabel Martínez who perform as the Carmesí Guitar Duo:


About The Energy Grid

The Daily Escape:

Coyote Gulch, Escalante, UT – May 2023 photo by Chirag A. Patel

Wrongo and Ms. Right watched the Knicks vs. Miami and Ted Lasso rather than dipping into the political rally for Trump held by CNN. But other news outlets reported on it. Apparently, the live audience gave him a standing ovation as he entered the set. They laughed when he called E. Jean Carroll “a whack job” and belittled her claim of sexual assault:

Trump suggested that the US should default on its debt if Biden didn’t agree to the cuts that House Republicans want. He pledged to pardon many of those convicted in the Jan. 6 attempted coup. He refused to back Ukraine in its war against Russia.

For those who think that there’s an opening in 2024 among GOP partisans to either vote for someone other than Trump or gasp!, vote for a Democrat, you are sadly mistaken.

A big part of the press (obviously including CNN) just can’t bring itself to admit the truth about the current state of the Republican Party. And they don’t really see it as their job to engage in such denunciations, even to protect the nation.

America is chockfuckingfull of Republicans who are, as Hillary said, “deplorables”. And they’re not all in New Hampshire. It’s way past time for the press to acknowledge this sad fact.

But today, let’s talk about the US energy grid. Our transition from fossil fuels to a green energy future will require a huge investment in our current electric grid. This probably means we’ve understated the costs of America’s energy transition. From Haley Zaremba, at OilPrice: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In order to keep up with the expansion of renewable energy production capacity, the United States will have to more than double the current size of the electric grid. Stimulus from both the public and private sectors are hitting their intended mark, and the clean energy sector is booming. However, much of the potential environmental benefits of electrification will be completely wasted if we don’t have the power lines and grid capacity to transmit that power from where it’s being produced to where the demand is concentrated.”

Zaremba quotes McKinsey, who say that building sufficient wind and solar farms to power the clean energy transition will require overcoming three major hurdles: Finding enough land at an affordable price, building up the power grid to support the influx of electricity, and fixing the archaic and inefficient permitting process that governs these processes.

America needs massive investment in our national energy simply to stand still, regardless of the source of electricity.

But it’s important to identify today the key energy sources of the future because that determines how we specify and build the upgraded grid. A grid based on renewable sources requires a denser network and more long distance direct current lines, while conventional grids need a relatively small number of very high capacity short distance alternating current lines (i.e. from a cluster of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) to the nearest city).

Either option is expensive and each brings its own set of regulatory issues. Zaremba notes that:

“Building power lines alone is an enormous bureaucratic hurdle that can take years to gain approval. The  average review of renewable energy projects takes about 3.5 years, but there are cases in which a single transition line took over a decade to be completed…”

According to the US DOE, the country will need 47,300 gigawatt-miles of new power lines by 2035. That represents a 57% expansion of the existing grid. And the real issue is the glacial pace of the bureaucratic review processes which underlie permitting and oversight of clean energy projects as well as grid expansion.

Zaremba closes with:

“Fixing the presently nightmarish permitting and approval system will be integral to decarbonizing the US economy…and making sure that the efforts already underway to decarbonize the nation’s energy mix are not squandered. It’s great that wind and solar capacity are being added at a record-breaking rate, but it’s all a waste if, once completed, there’s no permit allowing them to plug into the grid – or if there’s no grid at all.”

As if on cue, on Wednesday Biden signed on to Sen. Manchin’s (D-WVA) plan to speed the approval of some fossil fuel projects and to hasten the construction of new transmission lines. The NYT quotes John Podesta, Biden’s senior adviser for clean energy innovation:

“Right now, the permitting process for clean energy infrastructure, including transmission, is plagued by delays and bottlenecks…”

Manchin’s bill has some holding their noses because it is so pro-fossil fuel. But should it become law, perhaps the US government will be able to speed up approval for at least some of the green energy projects.

In summary, there’s lots to do and no sure way to get it all done.


Is Default Preferable To Compromise?

The Daily Escape:

Wild Ocotillo blooms with Agave buds, Anza-Borrego Desert SP, CA – May 2023 photo by Paulette Donnellon

Yesterday, Biden met with the leadership of the Congress to discuss the debt ceiling and the dangers of default. Wrongo is writing this before we know what if anything concrete, comes out of that meeting.

This is the third time in twelve years that a Republican House majority has tried to use the debt limit to extort a Democratic president into adopting policies that the GOP failed to enact through normal political means. This time around, like the past two times, Republicans say they want spending cuts, but as Nate Cohn wrote in the NYT:

“The 2022 midterm campaign didn’t show evidence of a resurgent conservative passion for spending cuts either. The debt-deficit issue had such a low profile in the national conversation that a question about it wasn’t even asked in exit polling.”

But absent real news, let’s take a look at the Republican position as outlined in the bill McCarthy and the GOP passed in the House. They’re pushing to pair $4.5 trillion in spending cuts over a decade with a one year, one time, $1.5 trillion increase in the debt limit. Their plan achieves most of its savings with spending caps for discretionary spending — the part of the yearly budget that isn’t automatic (like Social Security payments) — but it doesn’t say which discretionary programs should be cut and which should be spared.

Their plan caps government spending at last year’s levels. This would be a decrease of ~ 9%. A yearly increase is capped at 1% annually for the next 10 years. This action would save approximately $3.2 trillion. They haven’t offered any detail about where the cuts would come from, and there is no inflation adjustment to the spending cap.

But since the GOP has said it plans zero cuts in the defense budget and that there will be no cuts for veterans or for border security, cutting everywhere else will be very deep. The NYT estimates that if those programs remained untouched, the GOP plan would cut the balance of federal spending by an amount of a 51% cut across the board.

Seems unrealistic.

Social Security checks could still be issued because a 1996 law provides a means of circumventing the debt limit. It allows the Treasury Department to pay Social Security benefits, along with Medicare payments, even if there is a delay in raising the debt ceiling. It allows for the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to be drawn down to keep those benefits flowing until the debt limit is raised, and the trust fund replenished. It also prohibits those funds from being used to pay for any other government programs.

In the past, the usual political rhythm of fiscal crises is that the GOP House stumbles around for a while, and then, right before the deadline, Senate Republicans and Mitch McConnell come off the sideline. They cut a deal with the Democratic president and pass the deal in the Senate with a big bipartisan majority. They then leave town with the hot potato squarely in the Speaker’s lap.

It’s questionable if this will happen in May, 2023.

Biden should address the nation after the Tuesday talks. How about an oval office address that lays out the facts, along with a call to action: Call your representatives and tell them to pass a clean debt limit bill. He could detail for the American people the cuts the GOP are demanding in return for raising the limit. He could also say that he is willing to negotiate in good faith on the budget with House Republicans as long as the debt ceiling is a separate matter.

The compromise might be to have a temporary debt ceiling increase to allow both to move forward together. Sadly, for McCarthy and the House Republicans, default seems to be preferable to compromise.

This is zero-sum politics with the highest stakes. At the end of the day, all paths lead to the same place: The US will need to find a way to pay the bills it has incurred as they mature.

The question is how much damage will have happened along the way.