Cathy’s Climate Change Coming Out

From “Save the Dams” to “Drill, Baby, Drill”

For at least a decade U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ (CD5, eastern Washington) stock pivot from any question relating to the science of global warming was, “I’m for saving the dams! They make clean, renewable energy!” In a similar vein, whenever the northwest is blanketed with choking smoke from widespread forest fires, Cathy’s stock pivot solution to any question that might link forest fires to climate change is “Reduce forest fuels!” The consummate smiling, baby-cooing politician, McMorris Rodgers has studiously avoided making any public statement suggestive of her full-on denial of climate science. 

Now, after more than a decade of pivots, buzzwords, and obfuscation, thanks to the new slim Republican majority in the House, McMorris Rodgers, having risen in the U.S. House Republican hierarchy by seniority, has become the leader of the powerful United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce. She is finally in a position to actually help move the country to produce more of that “clean, renewable” energy like the energy produced by the Snake River dams she disingenuously touts. Instead, she is more clearly showing her colors.

While she lulls her constituents back home in Washington State with platitudes about renewable energy, her first action as the new leader of the Energy and Commerce Committee is an important re-naming. You won’t learn of this in the Spokesman Review, but her action was headlined “House Republicans announce major shakeup for key committee that oversees energy, health, technology policy” on Fox News (the bold is mine):

“…We are reorienting our subcommittees to ensure our work tackles the greatest challenges and most important priorities of the day, including lowering energy costs, beating China, and building a more secure future,” she [McMorris Rodgers] continued.

Under the changes, the Energy Subcommittee will change to the Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee; the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee will switch to the Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Minerals Subcommittee; and the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee will now be the Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee.

Changing a name might seem like a small thing, but you can bet that changing the name of a powerful Congressional subcommittee—and, with it, that over which it has jurisdiction—is not done on a whim. It speaks volumes. In 2012-22 McMorris Rodgers was the top recipient of PAC money among all House members, the winner both of the most PAC money overall, but also the leader among recipients of Business PAC money—precisely because she was in line to lead Energy and Commerce and because she is committed to fossil fuel energy as the ascendent driver of the economy and, therefore, of national wealth and power. 

She can be counted on by the fossil fuel companies to drive their agenda on account of her steadfast Fundamentalist upbringing and faith, a faith that acts like a shield to prevent her from understanding, or even hearing, the scientific consensus on global warming. (If you subscribe, as she proudly proclaims, to the literal interpretation of Genesis as the origin story of the earth and all of life, then an ice core from the Greenland ice sheet demonstrating the history of climate over the last 100,000 years must be dismissed as a least misinterpreted—or even as the work of the devil trying to deceive mankind from the one true Word.)

Danny Westneat, in a November 19, 2022 article in the Seattle Times, puts McMorris Rodgers’ commitment to the fossil fuel agenda in perspective:

One of her largest categories is oil and gas, with donations from Koch Industries, Marathon Petroleum, Chevron, Southwest Gas, Occidental Petroleum and so on. McMorris Rodgers scored $270,000 in oil and gas contributions — more than the rest of Washington state’s 12-member congressional delegation combined, federal finance reports show.

She has been open about using her new position to push for drill, baby, drill. She calls it “flip the switch.”

“We need to Flip the Switch on American energy now to bring down costs,” she said in a recent Energy and Commerce news release, meaning ramping up “coal, oil, natural gas, hydropower, and nuclear power.”

Notice that coal and oil get first billing, while solar and wind are not mentioned at all. McMorris Rodgers has been one of Congress’ top skeptics of a green energy transition, as well as a booster for coal mining, restarting the Keystone oil pipeline, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and selling more oil-drilling leases on federal lands and offshore waters.

Now, three months after Westneat’s article, McMorris Rodgers is in charge of Energy and Commerce—and she is all about “flipping the switch”, starting with renaming subcommittees to bury any commitment to climate and renewable energy and in favor of drilling, digging, and burning more fossil fuel. Remember that next summer as we choke on wildfire smoke, the Southwest goes dry, and “100 year storms” occur many times each year. McMorris Rodgers, the doctrinally committed devotee of the fossil fuel companies, will be working hard to make things worse.

Keep to the high ground,

Jail Misconceptions

Why “Supported Release” makes a lot of sense–and how Republicans exploit the misconceptions about how it works

Allow me to get right to the point. As a society we claim to believe that people are “innocent until proven guilty”, but we fail to internalize what that means. As citizens who try hard to avoid involvement with what we refer to as the “criminal justice system” I’m afraid we assume that anyone who gets arrested and put in jail is highly likely to be guilty of a serious crime, that they are part of that “other” that is not us, automatically unworthy of being considered “innocent until proven guilty”. 

Until I looked at the local justice system much more closely, my bias was to think of everyone under detention in any facility, including those detained by Spokane County Detention Services, as likely felons. That bias incorrectly colored my understanding of every article I read in local news that touched on our local jail system. 

A better civic understanding of our local criminal justice system is key. On the way to this year’s elections we are likely to be pummeled with political ads telling us we in Spokane County should authorize a highly regressive 0.2% increase in the county sales tax to fund a new jail. It behooves us to understand what we are talking about.

Let’s go back to some basic wording. My electronic dictionary points out a usage distinction between the terms jail and prison:

In North America, prison specifically denotes a facility run by the state (in Canada provincial) or federal government for those who have been convicted of serious crimes, whereas jail denotes a locally run facility for those awaiting trial or convicted of minor offenses.

Spokane County Detention Services runs two jails, the Spokane County Jail just south of the County Courthouse and Geiger Corrections Center out near the airport. These are both jails, not prisons. People convicted of a felony are transferred (usually with some lag) into the Washington State prison systemrun by the Washington State Department of Corrections. (The nearest such prison facility is Airway Heights Corrections Center [AHCC] in, yes, Airway Heights.) 

Prisons and convicted felons (for the most part) are NOT what is being talked about in local news articles that discuss the Spokane County jail. Instead, the local jail system (Spokane County Detention Services) mostly houses people awaiting the workings of the local judicial system. I hesitate to use the wording “awaiting trial”, since only about ten percent of criminal cases ever come to a jury trial. The rest are mostly settled in a process designated “plea bargaining” in which the defendant is presented by the prosecutor’s office with a list of threatened charges and the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or several of the lesser ones rather than risk losing a jury trial. 

A majority of those detained in the Spokane County jail system are detained in the system while they await judicial proceedings simply because they cannot “make bail”. For example, as of December 31, 2022, the jail data “snapshot” showed that of the 764 people in detention 507, two-thirds, were “Pre Trial – No Hold”, that is, they were eligible to be immediately released on bond—if they or friends or family could come up with the money to post bond. In contrast, only 59 were “Pre Trial – Hold”, that is, they were held with circumstances that prevented an immediate release on bail. (In the U.S., bond and bail are synonymous.) Only 56 detainees held in the local jail system were already sentenced, most, one presumes, to a term less than a year (the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor) that does not require transfer into the state prison system. (See P.S.)

Bottom line: The majority of the detainees held in the “Spokane County Jail” await the processes of the local judicial system, that is, they are people who are supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty.” Two thirds of them could be out on bail to continue with their lives—if they had the money and a support system.

On January 23, the Spokesman carried an article by Colin Tiernan entitled “Spokane County is about to try a criminal justice reform effort that once seemed doomed.” The article is well worth your attention, but it is inadequate in its depth of explanation (due to space constrains of a paper paper or overly generous assumptions about readers’ familiarity with the system?). 

The “criminal justice reform” referred to in the article is the supported release proposal that Maggie Yates, the county’s former regional law and justice administrator, presented “to the [at the time, three] county commissioners [French, Kerns, and Kuney] in the fall of 2021. Her efforts to launch the program stalled, however, following resistance from the prosecutor’s office [read that ‘County Prosecutor Haskell’].” In early 2022 Maggie Yates resigned. Last fall she narrowly lost a bid to unseat long time Spokane County Commissioner Al French. 

On the campaign trail last year, French criticized Yates and ran a TV ad that accused her of wanting to give criminals a “get out of jail free card.”

I suppose it is no surprise that French would twist the public’s limited understanding of jail facts to tar his opponent—and then, this January vote in favor of the program she had championed. 

Tiernan’s Spokesman article also notes that the proposed supported relief program will be applied (at least initially) only to the “district court” detainees—without explaining what that means. In Washington State district courts (county level) are courts of limited jurisdiction. One of those limitations is that district courts process up to misdemeanor criminal cases, not felonies. (Felony cases are tried in the county’s superior courts.) In the State of Washington misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors are legally defined as crimes carrying a penalty of no more than incarceration for a one year in “the county jail” (and/or a fine), that is, no one convicted in district court winds up in the state prison system. (For more detail see P.P.S. below.)

Mr. Tiernan’s Spokesman article notes that the new supported relief program will apply only to detainees charged with nonviolent crimes, detainees screened by the judge in charge of their case. This is anything but a “get out of jail free card”. Al French’s vile and dishonest attack ad against Maggie Yates in the 2022 election plays on the public’s fear of crime and ignorance of the details of our judicial system. French’s attack ad is as much a part of the Republican playbook as George H.W. Bush’s vile and misleading “Willie Horton” ads deployed, successfully, against Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988. 

Civic education around the basics of our legal system is the antidote to this Republican fear mongering ad tactic—as is knowledgeably calling out their bullshit. I know this because, sadly, my own basic grasp of how the local judicial system works and who is detained in the Spokane County jail system was very rudimentary. Reading news articles and hearing TV news clips without further explanation left me little the wiser. 

Since Spokane County Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns took it upon themselves (last December when they still had the power between them to do such a thing) to vote in a jail funding referendum for the fall 2023 ballot, Republicans will inevitably fear monger to the public this year about how our jail system works. Let’s work ahead to counter that tactic.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. If you’re doing the math you noticed that on December 31, 2022, snapshot I didn’t account for 142 detainees. Click here to see the details if you’re curious. Eighty-nine were federal detainees. 

P.P.S. For a sample of what crimes in Washington State constitute a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor (the charges that may be eligible for supported release) read this explanation pasted from a west side attorney’s website:

Misdemeanors are further classified as gross misdemeanors and simple misdemeanors.

Simple: You can be charged with a misdemeanor for crimes like petty theft, disorderly conduct, trespassing, vandalism, and possessing more than an one ounce (but less than 40 grams) of marijuana. These crimes carry a maximum of 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Gross: Driving Under the Influence (DUI) can be charged as a gross misdemeanor rather than a felony if it is a first offence. Other charges of this magnitude include reckless driving and domestic assault. Gross misdemeanor crimes carry a maximum of 364 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

However, these maximums are set as a limit for sentencing rather than a guaranteed punishment. Your specific penalties will depend on the seriousness of the offense and your previous criminal history.

Spokane GOP Takes a Hard Right Turn–Again

There is a lesson in this

A month ago, on Saturday, December 12, at the Valley Assembly of God church in Spokane Valley, Steve Bannon scored a notable victory. Bannon wasn’t present in person, but the success of the “precinct strategy” that Bannon promoted was on display as the Spokane County Republican Party (aka SpokaneGOP) chose new leaders in a series of votes. We should all be paying attention. 

Background—Nuts and Bolts

Like it or not, the two biggest political parties in this country are still the main organizations through which people seeking election to public office establish their candidacy. As a result, it matters in our small-d democratic lives how these parties are organized and run. 

Bannon recognized that the way to control a major political party is to quietly take over its governing structure. In Washington State in even numbered years you might have noticed a contest on your ballot for a Democratic and/or Republican “Precinct Committee Officer (PCO)”. You also might not have noted such a contest because 1) they only appear on the August primary ballot (a voting opportunity that many ignore) and, 2) unlike uncontested races for judges, for instance, PCO contests don’t appear on the ballot at all unless there are two people for the same seat (something that rarely occurs these days for PCOs). 

To one degree or another, our lives can be indirectly shaped by these people, so it behooves us to pay attention. In a sense, Precinct Committee Officers represent the basic building blocks of our political system and, as a result, our governance. By force of law in Washington State (See RCW 29A.80.030) PCOs comprise the “central committee” of each “major party” in each county. Every two years this “central committee” elects a party chair and vice-chair “of opposite sexes” to run the party in that county. 

The strategy for party takeover should be coming into focus for you: Find one like-minded person in every voting precinct that you can, convince them of the strategy, and help them through the process of becoming a PCO (it’s not very challenging). With a bit of diligence, by December of any even-numbered election, voila!, your faction might gain majority voting power in your Party’s county governing structure. (If you want a chilling example of how this is done check out this article and/or this phone conversation recording of a far right Republican operative in Kootenai County [next door in Idaho] attempting a PCO strategy to take over and destroy the Kootenai County Democratic Party.)

Fact: In recent years citizens have drifted away from participation in party politics—partly because many of us are completely unaware of how it all works. According to Colin Teirnan in an excellent article in the Spokesman:

Two years ago, the Spokane County Republican Party had about 190 PCOs following the primary election. This year, the number soared to about 250. For comparison, the Democratic Party’s PCO count went from about 150 in 2020 to 110 after the August primary.

For reference, Spokane County is now divided into (following the redistricting process) 439 voting precincts every one of which should have a PCO from each “major” party to send to county party meetings and vote. 

Steve Bannon, for all that he is the embodiment of conniving evil, is not dumb. The playbook for taking over the leadership of a major political party in this country, the “precinct strategy” was written and popularized by Dan Schultz, a man you’ve probably never heard of, an Arizonan without even so much as a wikipedia entry. In February 2021, Bannon invited Schultz on his podcast, a podcast avidly followed by Trump Republicans. Based on subsequent events it is a fair bet that a group on the far right wing of the local Spokane County Republicans listened to that podcast and read Schultz’s material. Then, sensing opportunity, they worked diligently over the next year and a half recruiting far right individuals to run for mostly uncontested PCO positions that, because they were uncontested, wouldn’t even appear on the August 2022 primary ballot. The members of this group who took up the Bannon/Schultz banner and spearheaded this PCO takeover are not speaking up. 

When there is a competitive race for a PCO position that, therefore, doesappear on the ballot, the contest is often so sleepy that all it takes is a wee bit of quiet diligence in knocking on doors and using the telephone to win the seat—combined with an incumbent who doesn’t quite perceive the threat. Thus, Beva Miles, a stalwart Republican who has served as chairwoman for the Republicans of Spokane County, a relatively moderate wing of the county Republicans, lost her PCO seat (and her voting rights as a PCO in the larger party structure) in just such a contest. 

The new lineup of local Republican Party officials is revealing. I refer you to another excellent article by Colin Tiernan in the Spokesman for much more detail. Pastor Brian Noble of the Valley Assembly of God church is the new chairman of the SpokaneGOP, winning the chairmanship with 128 PCO votes against the 62 votes garnered by the former vice-chair of the SpokaneGOP, Susan Schuler. (A total of only 195 votes were cast, suggesting that 55 Republican PCOs did not show up to vote. Did they not sense that something was up?) Just three months ago in the November 2022 general election, Pastor Noble, the new chairperson, lost to incumbent County Commissioner Mary Kuney 42.5% to 55%, respectively. In that race Pastor Noble’s strongest monetary and rhetorical supporters included Caleb Collier and Matt Shea, local far right wing political activists formerly associated with Pastor Ken Peters Covenant Church, The Church at Planned Parenthood (TCAPP), and still associated with the Liberty State movement—which would carve Washington State in two. Matt Shea, forced out of his Washington State House seat after exposure of his document, “The Biblical Basis for War”, now is the self-appointed pastor of the politically active “On Fire Ministries” in Spokane. Such are the new Spokane County Republican chairman’s allies…

MJ Bolt became vice-chair. She was the only nominee. She ran last August in the primary for the LD4 (Spokane valley to Mt. Spokane) State House seat that election-denier Bob McCaslin was about to vacate. She ran with his expressed endorsement—and lost out in the August primary, coming in third with only 27% of the vote.

Matt Hawkins, a strong ally of Bob McCaslin and a fervent devotee of election denial conspiracy theories, will remain the county party’s state committeeman. He retained his seat by a voting margin almost exactly the same as Pastor Noble’s—suggesting a PCO voting block. Hawkins is the same man who, last August, received a vote of no confidence from the folks who at the time made up the Spokane County Republican Party’s executive board—many of whom have now been replaced. 

This takeover did not happen by accident. The local Republicans claim a “big tent”, but their leadership has, once again, shifted to the flapping fringes of the right, a place similar to where they found themselves under the chairmanship of Cecily Wright. You may recall that Wright had to resign from her position after her Northwest Grassroots organization welcomed avowed white supremacist James Allsup to speak.

Meanwhile, as a matter of slight encouragement, local Republican and independent voters are hinting at movement in the opposite direction: Mary Kuney bested Brian Noble for a place on the Spokane County Commission; Leonard Christian knocked off incumbent election denier state Representative Rob Chase in LD4 (Spokane Valley to Mt. Spokane); and enough independents and Republicans supported incumbent Democrat Vicky Dalton for Spokane County Auditor to send former State Rep. Bob McCaslin, election denier and Matt Shea ally, back to teaching elementary school.

Those glimmers of hope aside, this post should be a wake up call for people who fully or generally support the Spokane County Democratic Party. There are roughly 330 open Democratic PCO seats at this moment (439 total minus 110 filled). Every one of those seats could have a say and a vote in how the county party is led and run. We need, as citizens, to get informed, pay attention, and get involved before we wake up and find ourselves essentially stripped of our small-d democracy. 

Keep to the high ground,


The Ubiquity of Guns

And the man whose academic stature fueled the crisis

About a month ago I read a Spokesman article that stuck with me. As I remember it, a woman driver in a hurry somewhere in north Spokane cut off a male driver, a chase ensued, middle fingers were raised, the two got out of their cars and, in less than a minute, two lives were ruined. The woman was dead of a gunshot wound and the man was likely destined for prison on a charge of murder. His excuse for shooting her? “I thought she was reaching for a gun.” (It was her cell phone. She was unarmed, but in our society with the ubiquity of guns, who could be sure?) Take his gun out of the equation along with his concern that she might be armed and they both might have gone on their own way after shouting match.

Why did this hothead have a pistol in his car, a weapon that, in an instant, would change his and this woman’s life forever (to say nothing of the lives of the passengers, bystanders, and relatives of the two)? When I follow the threads back they lead to a conservative academic, John Lott, who, based on his sociological claimed a counter-intuitive fact that he in 1998 immortalized in the title of his book, “More Guns, Less Crime”. The book is still available today (in its third print edition) as well as on Kindle and Audible—a remarkable run for a book by a writer with academic credentials discussing supposedly original research. 

The title “More Guns, Less Crime” vividly expresses the intended takeaway of Lott’s book. It is a polemic seeking to justify broad ownership of guns. Like Jude Wanniski of “The Two Santas Theory”, Fred Singer of climate denial, and, locally, Chris Cargill of the Washington Policy Center, John Lott found an audience with an existing bias ready to hear and spread his convictions. (See P.S. below). One should know from the title of the book that this is not an academic paper. It isn’t titled “Statistical evidence that guns reduce crime”. The title is meant to catch the eye, sell books, and plant an idea. John Lott has made a career out of promoting his faith in the value of guns, possessing them and brandishing them—and firing them—when you deem it necessary. 

If you have any doubt of Lott’s success in promoting his faith in gun ownership and carriage, I invite you to click and learn from a remarkable animated map that illustrates the progressive stripping away, U.S. state by U.S. state, of legal restrictions on the carriage of a concealed weapons. Between 1986 and 2022 the overwhelming majority of states have gone from concealed carry permit “No issue” or “May issue” laws (“may issue” depending on various attributes of the applicant and the issuing agency) to “Unrestricted”—no regulation at all—or “Shall issue”—which, depending on the state, might still restrict certain people, e.g. former felons, from carrying a concealed pistol. It is a fair bet that most Americans are unaware of this creeping legal cancer—unless they are current or former denizens of gun culture. (See P.P.S.)

John Lott’s “More Guns, Less Crime” thesis rests on a critical piece of data: a telephone survey conducted over a three month period in 1997 allegedly demonstrating that a significant number of crimes are averted each year by a potential victim brandishing a gun to a potential assailant. To fearful Americans mentally beaten up every day with sensational crimes headlining the news, that is an appealing data. This is the “data” upon which a lot testimony and a lot of legislation has partly or wholly depended for the last twenty years. The trouble is that John Lott cannot now demonstrate that the survey was actually performed—a survey on the veracity and details of which so much opinion and legislation depends. Even if the survey had been performed, knowing what we know of the vagaries of human memory in recalling distant events and the human tendency to embellish stories, one has to wonder at the accuracy of the accounts—and meaning—of the numbers presented. 

It is one thing to have a strong opinion. It is quite another, especially for an alleged academic, to conjure up data in support of your opinion, especially data you will use to influence the course of history. 

I invite you to read reporter at large Mike Spies’ article in the New Yorker from November 3, 2022, entitled “The Shoddy Conclusions of the Man Shaping the Gun-Rights Debate” for details. The full wikipedia article on John Lott is another eye-opener. It paints a portrait of a man with strong right wing opinions, supported by a number of right wing institutions including the American Enterprise Institute and the John M. Olin Foundation (Mr. Olin made his money in munitions), a man diligently in search of data not to test a hypothesis but to justify his foregone conclusions. (Be sure to read the section titled “Disputed survey”.) 

“More Guns, Less Crime” sparked a lot of academic debate—but, for a certain audience, there was no need to pay attention to such nuance. The conclusion was right there in the title… I will never read another commentator or researcher without paying attention to their background. I am thoroughly embarrassed that I was taken in by the man’s claims, if only for a time.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Full disclosure: I bought the book—and I bought the argument. After all, as a physician and a scientist, I’m supposed to believe in reasoned arguments based on solid data. I failed to account for my own biases: I grew up in gun culture in Wisconsin. As a youth I raptly watched all the sanitized violence of American “Westerns” on TV. By the 1990s I had been involved in shooting sports off and on for much of my life. In the late 1990s I was a credible competitor in the regional scene of action pistol shooting (IPSC). I bought and read Lott’s book. It satisfied my bias in favor of responsible gun ownership and carriage. I could not—and did not want to—see beyond my bias. In the 1990s I had neither time nor interest in digging deeply into the research and academic controversy that around Lott’s book. 

P.P.S. Be aware that “our” U.S. Congresswoman for eastern Washington, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, as she offers “thoughts and prayers” after each mass shooting, quietly supports federal legislation that would force states that still have (mildly) restrictive concealed carry laws to accept concealed weapons carriage within their territory by a resident of another state with less or no restrictions. Proponents of concealed carry and gun proliferation find her support for this bill really exciting. Meanwhile, she is careful not to advertise her support for this bill to the majority of voters, people lulled into thinking their smiling Representative touting “Christian values” couldn’t possibly support the dismantling one of the few gun regulations this country still possesses.

Spread of the “right-to-carry”:,_timeline.gif

John Lott, the “elite intellectual” gun dissident. Also writes articles on excess votes for Biden in 2022.

Gary Kleck

The Two Santas, the Debt Ceiling, and a Man You Never Heard Of

The reason Republican whining about debt is political bullshit

There is a glaring problem with House Republicans shrieking that they will not pass a “clean” rise in the debt ceiling arguing that cuts in Social Security and Medicare must be negotiated because these programs will bankrupt the economy. These are many of the same Republicans who endlessly proclaimed to all who would listen that the deceptively named Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 would put “money in your pocket” (by, among other things, cutting the top corporate tax rate from 39 to 21 percent)—while refusing to acknowledge to the average voter that, in terms of debt, cutting taxes is monetarily equivalent to spending. People like “our” U.S. Representative to Congress, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, undoubtedly console themselves with the self-deception that this cutting rich people’s taxes would create jobs (aka the flimsy theory of “supply side economics”) 

Now, for me, every time the “debt ceiling crisis” is mentioned it reminds me that Republicans are only concerned with the debt when there is a Democrat in the White House. The wholly Republican-owned game of taking the economy hostage over the debt ceiling has appeared during every Democratic administration since the 1990s. It is part of a larger Republican political scam hatched and popularized by a man you’ve never heard of, Jude Wanniski, a heretical, self-taught political economist who promoted the Two Santa Claus Theory to the Republican Party in the 1970s. (Check out Wanniski’s obit in the conservative “newspaper”, The New York Sun.)

The article from Thom Hartmann copied and pasted below is a fascinating read. Wanniski’s tireless promotion of the Two Santa Claus Theory is a reminder of how one man’s efforts working in the background can influence the course of history. It is a backstory well worth absorbing and sharing.

Keep to the high ground,


Are We Seeing the Last Gasp of the GOP’s Two Santa Claus Scam?

Has the American public finally wised up to Wanniski’s and Reagan’s Two Santas scam, even if they don’t know the details or the backstory?

Thom Hartmann, January 20th

The media refers to it as a debate around the debt ceiling, but it’s actually far simpler than that. And entirely political.

Back in November, a few weeks after House Republicans won the election and seized control of that body, I wrote to you warning that the House Republicans would try the same scam that Ronald Reagan first rolled out in the 1980s. I wrapped the article up with the “hope that Democratic politicians and our media will, finally, call the GOP out on Wanniski’s and Reagan’s Two Santa Clauses scam.”

So far, no soap. I haven’t heard a single mention of Two Santas in the mainstream media, and I’ll bet you haven’t, either. That’s the bad news.

The good news — perhaps — is that the scam has lost its sting after working so well for them for 42 years. President Biden and House Democrats are standing firm, saying they have no intention of negotiating around the debt ceiling with terrorists threatening to destroy our economy.

But even if it’s the last gasp of this scam, it appears House Republicans plan to go out with a bang. So let’s quickly review how Two Santas works.

Back in 1976 the Republican Party was a smoking ruin. Nixon had resigned after being busted for lying about his “secret plan to end the Vietnam War,” his involvement in the Watergate burglary, and his taking bribes from Jimmy Hoffa and the Milk Lobby. He only avoided prosecution because Gerald Ford pardoned him.

His first Vice President, Spiro Agnew, had also resigned to avoid prosecution for taking bribes.

Newspaper and television editorialists were openly speculating the GOP might implode. The Party hadn’t held the House of Representatives for more than two consecutive years since 1930 (and wouldn’t until 1994), Jerry Ford had ended the War the year before in a national humiliation, the unemployment rate was over 7 percent, as was inflation after hovering around 11 percent the year before.

The Republican Party had little to offer the American people beyond anti-communism, their mainstay since the 1950s.

Americans knew it was Democrats who’d brought them Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, subsidized college, the right to unionize, antipoverty programs, and sent men to the moon. And they knew Republicans had opposed the “big government spending” associated with every single one of them.

But one man — a Republican strategist and editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal named Jude Wanniski — thought he saw a way out. It was, he argued, a strategy that could eventually bring about a permanent Republican governing majority.

In a WSJ op-ed that year, Wanniski pointed out that Americans thought of Democrats as the “Party of Santa” and Republicans as, essentially, Scrooge. Republicans, he noted, hadn’t even proposed a tax cut in 22 years!

The solution, Wanniski argued, was for Republicans to start pushing tax cuts whenever the GOP held the White House. This would establish their Santa bona fides, particularly if Democrats objected. It would flip the script so Democrats would fill the role of Scrooge.

To make it even easier for Republicans to cut taxes, Wanniski invented and publicized a new economic theory called Supply-Side Economics. When taxes went down, he said, government revenue would magically go up!

Four years later, when Reagan came into the White House with the election of 1980, he picked up Wanniski’s strategy and doubled down on it. (In the primary of 1980, he’d even run on it: his primary opponent, George Herbert Walker Bush, derided it as “Voodoo Economics.”)

Reagan not only cut taxes on the rich: he also radically increased government spending, goosing the economy into a sugar high while throwing the nation deeply into debt.

Citing Supply-Side Economics, in eight short years Reagan ran up greater deficits than every president from George Washington to Jerry Ford combined, taking our national debt from around $800 billion all the way up to around $2.6 trillion when he left office.

By 1992, when Bill Clinton won the presidency, Reagan and Bush’s debt had climbed to over $4.2 trillion, giving Republicans a chance to double down on Two Santas. Bill Clinton would be their test case.

House Republicans loudly demanded that Clinton “do something!” about the national debt, waving the debt ceiling like a cudgel. Over the next eight years they repeatedly wielded the debt ceiling, shutting down the government twice. The battles lifted Newt Gingrich to the speakership.

Clinton caved, making massive cuts to the social safety net to get a balanced budget in a gut-shot to the Democratic Santa programs.

By the end of the Clinton presidency the formula was set. When Republicans held the White House, they’d spend like drunken Santas and cut taxes to the bone to drive up the national debt.

When Democrats come into the presidency, Republicans would use the debt ceiling to force them to cut their own social programs and shoot the Democratic Santa.

As I noted last November, when Clinton shot Santa Claus the result was an explosion of Republican wins across the country as GOP politicians campaigned on a “Republican Santa” platform of supply-side tax cuts and pork-rich spending increases.

Democrats had controlled the House of Representatives in almost every single year since the Republican Great Depression of the 1930s, but with Newt Gingrich rigorously enforcing Wanniski’s Two Santa Claus strategy, they used the debt ceiling as a weapon.

State after state turned red and the Republican Party rose to take over, in less than a decade, every single lever of power in the federal government from the Supreme Court to the White House.

Looking at the wreckage of the Democratic Party all around Clinton in 1999Wanniski wrote a gloating memo that said, in part:

“We of course should be indebted to Art Laffer for all time for his Curve… But as the primary political theoretician of the supply-side camp, I began arguing for the ‘Two Santa Claus Theory’ in 1974. If the Democrats are going to play Santa Claus by promoting more spending, the Republicans can never beat them by promoting less spending. They have to promise tax cuts…”

Ed Crane, then-president of the Koch-funded Libertarian CATO Institute, noted in a memo that year:

“When Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich, Vin Weber, Connie Mack and the rest discovered Jude Wanniski and Art Laffer, they thought they’d died and gone to heaven. In supply-side economics they found a philosophy that gave them a free pass out of the debate over the proper role of government. … That’s why you rarely, if ever, heard Kemp or Gingrich call for spending cuts, much less the elimination of programs and departments.”

Two Santa Clauses had fully seized the GOP mainstream.

Never again would Republicans worry about the debt or deficit when they were in office, and they knew well how to scream hysterically about it and hook in the economically naïve media as soon as Democrats again took power.

When Jude Wanniski died, George Gilder celebrated the Reagan/Bush adoption of his Two Santas “Voodoo Economics” scheme — then still considered irrational by mainstream economists — in a Wall Street Journal eulogy:

“Unbound by zero-sum economics, Jude forged the golden gift of a profound and passionate argument that the establishments of the mold must finally give way to the powers of the mind. … He audaciously defied all the Buffetteers of the trade gap, the moldy figs of the Phillips Curve, the chic traders in money and principle, even the stultifying pillows of the Nobel Prize.”

After Clinton, George W. Bush was handed the presidency by his father’s friends on the Supreme Court in 2000.

Bush put into place another massive $2.5 trillion GOP Santa tax-cut gift for the rich while committing the US to new spending of over $8 trillion (and 7,054 American lives) on two illegal and unnecessary wars.

Not a single Republican of any consequence publicly objected. None have to this day. The debt ceiling was never mentioned, other than to quietly raise it year after year.

Barack Obama was elected in a 2008 landslide and within a year Republicans were screaming that he “do something!” about Reagan’s and Bush’s national debt that was then climbing toward the $19 trillion he’d face in his last year in office.

Republicans wouldn’t tolerate increasing taxes in any meaningful way and continued to use the debt ceiling as a weapon, so Obama, weakened and waffling, nearly agreed to cut Social Security (the proposed “chained CPI”) before his own party restrained him.

The result was the GOP pushing our nation to a near-default in 2011 that badly damaged our economy for the following two years, cost us hundreds of billions, and hurt Democrats in the 2012 election.

Trump came into office in 2016 after losing the election by almost 3 million votes (but winning the Electoral College with help from Putin) and instantly reverted to Reagan’s Two Santas strategy, again spending like a drunken Santa while cutting taxes.

The total cost of his 4 years of combined new tax cuts and new spending was $13.9 trillion. While a few Republicans — apparently not clued in on the Two Santas scam — finally objected, they were quickly overruled by Party leadership.

As former Florida Republican Congressman David Jolly tweeted this week, “[R]oughly 25% of our total national debt incurred over the last 230 years actually occurred during the 4 years of the Trump administration.” Snopes then rated the claim as “true.”

David Jolly @DavidJollyFL

For context, roughly 25% of our total national debt incurred over the last 230 years actually occurred during the 4 years of the Trump administration. That’s right. 25% of our entire national debt, all during the Trump years.

Kevin McCarthy @SpeakerMcCarthy

House Republicans are on a mission to end wasteful Washington spending. From now on, if a federal bureaucrat wants to spend it, they have to come before us to defend it.3:20 AM ∙ Jan 18, 202364,636Likes32,780Retweets

Now that a Democrat is back in the White House the GOP is again demanding cuts in the Democratic Santa programs, threatening again to repeat the debt ceiling government shutdowns they forced on both Clinton and Obama.

Will McCarthy’s House Republicans again get away with their Lucy-with-the-football routine? Will they succeed at crashing our nation’s economy and blaming it on Biden to hurt Democrats in the 2024 election?

While many in the mainstream media (and Joe Manchin) are already leaning hard on the President to “negotiate” cuts to Democratic Santa programs, the administration insists it’ll stand firm. After all, Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972 and knows this story well: he’s lived every minute of it.   

And, increasingly, it appears the American public has finally wised up to the GOP’s Two Santas scam, even if they don’t know the details or the backstory.

Nonetheless, Republicans are still claiming they’re ready to force a default on our debt if Democrats won’t gut Social Security and Medicare. Now may be a good time to prepare as best you can for the chance Republicans will actually throw us into a major, worldwide economic disaster…

Fentanyl–Details We All Should Know

Synthetics vs. Plant-Based

Last week my partner and I were made aware of the death of a third young person in our mutual acquaintance, another young, vibrant life snuffed out quietly in an apparent accident—no suicide note, no evidence of actual suicidal intent—and—importantly—the result of simply swallowing a pill

That last detail is, at least for me, the major eyeopener—the thing that brings the much talked about fentanyl crisis home to roost. Most of us are accustomed to imagining that drug induced deaths are mostly the result of intravenous drug use—a death one could therefore avoid simply by avoiding recreational drug use administered with a needle. Given the squeamishness most of us have around needles, especially poking ourselves, it seemed a good dividing line. No longer. 

It is tempting slip by endless media clips on the topic of drugs, fentanyl in particular, but when the bodies start to pile up around you and you realize this epidemic will eventually touch someone you know, someone dear to you, someone you didn’t even know was using, it takes on new significance. I recently came upon two articles in the Washington Post that I found enlightening:

One, entitled “Cause of death: Washington faltered as fentanyl gripped America”, is a long narrative woven around Ed Byrne, a man who has been on the scene in the aftermath of nearly 500 fentanyl deaths since 2018. It is a gripping story. I highly recommend it. 

The other, entitled “Why is fentanyl so dangerous?” I recommend for its plain English explanations. Hats off to these investigative reporters. If you don’t have a subscription to the Washington Post, these two articles are each worth expending some of your monthly free reading allotment. 

Even as a retired physician reading these two articles (and some of the links contained in them)—and talking with a few people who have recovered from narcotics addiction—re-oriented my thinking. What follows, in no special order, are just a few of my takeaways. I urge to to read, study, and follow the links in these articles I just mentioned. Your takeaways may be different than mine. 

  • Fentanyl and all opiates, when they kill by overdose, do so by suppressing or stopping breathing. Within five minutes of cessation of breathing the brain begins to die and eventually the heart stops. It follows that if, in time, breathing is supported (mouth to mouth, Ambu Bag, artificial respiration) and/or if the drug effect is pharmacologically reversed (naloxone, brand name Narcan) the overdosed patient can totally recover. Apart from the very nasty consequences of physical and psychological addiction, opiates generally don’t otherwise ruin the body the way cocaine and methamphetamine often do. 
  • Fentanyl is synthetic opioid. The opiate class of drugs (see below) historically derived from plants, but thanks to “the wonders of modern chemistry” fentanyl decouples production from the need to engage in agriculture. Instead of the legal exposure of growing acres of plants, fentanyl is produced in what might be a make-shift laboratory using chemicals that have other, mundane uses. (Note that there aren’t any farmers whose livelihood is dependent on producing growing the raw material—a fact that reduces risk and probably further increases the profit margin.)
  • Fentanyl (and its hundreds of variants) may be lethal in unbelievably small doses, around 2 milligrams, 2 thousandths of a gram. For reference, that’s about the weight of a small mosquito or about 20 grains of fine table salt. (In contrast, a lethal dose of heroin [a plant-based but chemically manipulated opiate] is 50 times that.) 
  • a typical intravenous dose of fentanyl for relief of discomfort in the context of surgery is a mere 50 micrograms, that is, effects are felt from the drug in weights (and volumes) that even tinier (1/40 of that small mosquito).

Several things follow from this level of potency: 

  • Even tiny, very hard to detect amounts of fentanyl produced and smuggled across the border can be massively attractive and profitable for the folks engaged in this trade. The high value of even small amounts of pure fentanyl smuggled into the country—once it is peddled in tiny doses to those who those who want it (the “demand” side of the equation), is a powerful incentive. The opportunity for profit is just too tantalizing—especially when those orchestrating manufacture and distribution are relatively insulated from arrest and prosecution.
  • The difference between a pleasant dose and a lethal dose of fentanyl is dependent on demanding, highly accurate measurement of tiny quantities of the drug prior to the sale to the consumer. People die from unintentional overdose of fentanyl probably because of failure in measurement and quality control somewhere along the illicit drug pipeline. This is likely not intentional. Killing one’s customers is maladaptive and unprofitable.
  • Chemical variants of the basic molecule of fentanyl vary in potency, making dose adjustment even more dicey.
  • The supply side of this scourge of death due to fentanyl, a problem that is in the public mind intertwined with the “Border Wall” and immigration, won’t be usefully tackled by Congress until either 1. Republicans become convinced that shouting about walls and talking about Replacement Theory won’t buy them votes—or 2. There is a large Democratic majority in both houses of Congress.
  • Money spent on interdiction of fentanyl as it crosses our borders (in the form of technology and hiring more border agents—and even some improvement in border walls) will never totally solve the problem—but it can help. 

What can we do then?

  • Elect Democrats who understand the issue to Congress
  • Educate, educate, and do so realistically. Make clear the danger of addiction. Understand the physiology that can lead to death. Understand that the risks are not limited to intravenous use. A counterfeit pill purchased on the street inevitably carries a risk of death. We need to understand and admit past glaring lies, for example, the “this is your brain on drugs” ad suggesting that marijuana was inherently addictive and destructive—an ad that nearly everyone since my generation knew was a sad, blatant lie. There is an analogy here to the honest, medically accurate sex education that equips young people to understand the problems and pitfalls, rather than relying on ignorance and scare tactics.

Keep to the high ground,


A few more notes:

  • The name for this whole class of drugs is “opiates”, a word that comes from a There are two plants with which humans have had complicated relationships for thousands of years and from which most of the drugs we broadly call “narcotics” have been derived. The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), a native of the Old World, is the source of the raw material for opium, morphine, codeine, and the inspiration for semisynthetic (e.g. heroin) and full synthetic (e.g. fentanyl) opiates. Cocaine comes from an entirely different plant, Erythroxylum coca, native to South America. Cocaine is not an opiate. Indeed, in many ways it is the opposite of an opiate. Cocaine is fundamentally a stimulant. When cocaine is overdosed it typically kills by stopping the heart. Opiates, in contrast, kill by depressing breathing. Both classes are lumped together as “narcotics” (derived from a Greek verb that means “to make numb”)
  • Methamphetamine is (broadly speaking) a potent stimulant with some similarities to cocaine—except that, like fentanyl, methamphetamine production is entirely synthetic. No plants, no agriculture needed. “Meth” is often and rather inaccurately and confusingly lumped under the term “narcotic” along with cocaine and most of the opiates, especially the illegal ones. 
  • All of these drugs classified and regulated under the Schedules established by the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 (aka the Controlled Substances Act [CSA]) and signed into law by President Richard Nixon at the beginning of the “War on Drugs”. The history of attempts at legal control in the United States is fascinating—and far beyond the scope of this blog.

Who’s Fiscally Responsible?

Fiscal Responsibility in Spokane Municipal Government

On December 20, 2022, the Spokesman published an article entitled, “Spokane City Council passes $1.2 billion budget with eye to sustainability” written by Emry Dinman. In the print version the article appeared in the lower right hand corner of the first page of the Northwest Section. In the paper (but not in the online version) a subtitle was offered: “Council Members approve their own plan for 2023, bypassing mayor’s proposal that dipped into reserves”. 

The article is a blizzard of numbers only an accountant could love. Even so, the featured numbers only represent a few highlights of all the money our city gathers and spends in order to provide all the functions of a modern municipality. 

We elect the people who are ultimately responsible for managing (and balancing) a 1.2 billion dollar budget: a mayor, a city council president, and six members of the city council—and then we (mostly) pay little attention to how those individuals we’ve elected actually participate in the process of running a complex enterprise. 

For decades, the Republican Party has tried to paint itself as the party of fiscal responsibility. One might imagine that a “fiscally responsible” Republican would propose a sober, balanced, sustainable budget. Our Mayor Woodward’s proposed City of Spokane budget for 2023 is neither balanced nor sustainable. (Technically she was elected as a “nonpartisan”, but anyone who believes that fiction is not paying attention.) In the City of Spokane’s budget process the mayor and the mayor’s staff construct a budget for the following year that they propose to the City Council for approval in the last quarter of the preceding year. 

As presented the Woodward 2023 proposed budget supports itself by drawing down $2.6 million from savings. Worse (see Dinman’s Spokesman article), City Council Budget Manager Matt Boston highlights issues in the Woodward budget that result in “more like a $15 million hole”. 

Non-federal governments have to live within their monetary means, that is, they need to balance their spending against their income. If income falls short there are three options: adjust one or more rates of taxation, borrow, or withdraw from savings. Just like with a family that wants to remain financially solvent, withdrawing from savings poses a risk of financial trouble in coming years. Borrowing is usually in the form of city-issued bond debt, debt that, by the nature of borrowing, imposes the burden of interest payments on subsequent budgets (think credit cards). Moreover, the City of Spokane City Charter generally requires the voters to authorize borrowing. For Washington cities, taxation options (primarily consisting of adjustments in sales or property taxes) are limited by laws of which most of us are unaware. (To be complete, federal [think the American Rescue Plan Act, aka ARPA] and state funds are also sometimes available for use within the municipal budget.)

The calculated “$15 million hole in the budget” (or even the acknowledged 2.6 million dollar hole as a withdrawal from savings in Woodward’s budget) is a glaring example of fiscal irresponsibility. 

With her unbalanced 2023 budget proposal in the works, Mayor Woodward chose a political grandstand over the harder task of explaining the budget to the voters. In November she “vetoed” the City Council’s ordinance approving the 2023 property tax levy. “Vetoed” is in quotes because she knew full well that her veto would be overridden. The ordinance had passed 5-2 in the City Council, a veto-proof majority—with, no surprise here, Republican Council Members Bingle and Cathcart casting the dissenting votes. Her politically expedient grandstand was quoted in the inevitable Spokesman article:

“I decided to not include the tax increase to give families a break during an economic climate that has seen prices rise dramatically due to inflation and brought on fears of a recession going into the next year,” she wrote. “As our citizens tighten their budget, now is not the time to ask more of them.”

The property tax increase contained in the ordinance Woodward “vetoed” amounted to a few dollars (single digits) increase in tax bill paid on the average residential property. Woodward and her Republican allies on the Council counted on the voters to misunderstand what the Spokesman headlined in loaded English as a “one percent property tax ‘hike’”

Woodward’s proposed budget also contained an arguably illegal transfer of funds dedicated to affordable housing to support her Trent warehouse—another problem that the City Council fixed before approving the final budget. 

In the end, thanks to the diligent efforts of the City Council members, the re-worked 2023 budget adds $200,000 to the city’s reserves rather than withdrawing $2,600,000. Even with a total budget for 2023 of $1,200,000,000, drawing on savings is neither sustainable, nor fiscally responsible. 

We the voters need to get over the idea that a “Republican” label should imply fiscal responsibility. That is certainly not the case when it comes to our Mayor Woodward. We should remember that when elections come around this fall.

Keep to the high ground,