Ukraine: What Happens Next?

It’s been seven months since Russia invaded Ukraine (February 24).  It’s turned into a remake of David vs. Goliath.

1.Russia is losing the war: At the beginning of the invasion, most observers believed that Russia would overwhelm Ukraine.  That didn’t happen.  After months of conflict, the war reached a tipping point with the Ukrainian liberation of Kharkiv Oblast (province).  Now it appears to be only a matter of time until Ukraine pushes out all the Russian invaders.

There are multiple reasons why Russia is losing.  The first is that the Ukrainians have out-fought the Russians; the Ukrainian soldiers are highly motivated and the Russians are not.  The second reason  is that the Russia military has been “hollowed out” because Russia is a kleptocracy and Putin and his cronies have siphoned funds, that should have gone to defense, for their own purposes.  In all facets of the Russian invasion we see indications that the invasion was underfunded, and terribly managed.

Russian soldiers are poorly trained.  There is inadequate communication between front-line troops and battlefield commanders.  The Russian generals have made many bad tactical decisions; for example to invade the Donbas region in the spring while the ground was very wet.  The Russian supply infrastructure is woefully inadequate.  Russians seemingly have no capability of repairing vehicles that break down in the field.  Because of the EU sanctions, Russia cannot obtain critical parts it needs to repair or replace its equipment.  (While Russia has shown the capability to build prototypes of advanced weapons, they cannot manufacture them.)  Ukraine used NATO High-Mobility Artillery Rocket systems (HIMARS) to destroy Russian arms depots and supply lines.  In many parts of occupied Ukraine, Russian troops are running low on food, gasoline, and weapons.

The Russian military is a mess.  Russian military power was over-rated.

2. Russia is headed for a major defeat.  The war is being fought in four eastern Ukrainian oblasts: Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk — from south to north.  (Ukraine recently liberated the Kharkiv Oblast — adjacent to Donetsk and Luhansk.)

Russia was duped into massing troops in Kherson Oblast, particularly around the capitol city of Kherson.  Instead of attacking Kherson, Ukrainian forces moved rapidly into the eastern sector of Kharkiv Oblast and recaptured it.  Now they’ve moved into Donetsk Oblast and liberated the city of Lyman.  Meanwhile in the south, Ukrainian forces have advanced to the key city of Kherson and seem close to trapping thousands of Russian troops in the section of Kherson Oblast that is west of Dnipro river.  (These troops are perilously short of food, gasoline, and ammunition.)

When Kherson Oblast falls, Russian forces will be forced to retreat into Crimea — historically part of Ukraine, but occupied by Russia since 2014.

3. Putin is not ready to accept a loss.  Even as it appears obvious that Russia has lost its war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin remains intransigent.  His desperation has driven him to three ill-considered actions:

First, Putin announced the annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine: aspects of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk Oblasts (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/23/russia-referendum-occupied-ukraine-annexation/? ) to declare this Ukrainian territory as part of Russia.  Thereafter, we will claim that any Ukrainian attacks in the region are an attack on Russia itself.  He’s intentionally expanding the scope of the war.

Second, Putin declared an additional mobilization of Russian forces.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/21/putin-speech-annexation-ukraine-russia/?) He called up 300,000 reserves to join the forces already in Ukraine.  (Russia has about 2 million reserves.)

Third, Putin issued new nuclear threats.  (In a televised address, Putin said, “I’m not bluffing,” about the possible use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.)  Russian forces control the Ukrainian nuclear facility at Zaporizhzhia; it’s the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and the 10th largest in the world. Putin will use this facility as a threat and (possibly) bring tactical nuclear weapons into the newly “annexed” areas of Ukraine.

Adding 300,000 reserves will not help the Russian effort in Ukraine.  The Russian problem is not manpower; their problem is mismanagement of the war effort.  That’s a problem that goes all the way up the chain of command and ends with Putin.  Putin is a terrible manager and, therefore, a loser.

At some point, Ukrainian forces will push far enough into Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk Oblasts that Putin will be tempted to use tactical nuclear weapons — perhaps this will be precipitated by the fall of the city of Kherson.

4. Russians have committed atrocities.  It’s one thing to be incompetent and quite another thing to be a brutal loser.  Russia’s conduct of the war has outraged the western world. Russian troops appear to have no respect for civilized norms.  Most recently we learned of a massacre at Ilium in the Kharkiv Oblast.  (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/16/ukraine-mass-grave-with-440-bodies-discovered-in-recaptured-izium-says-police-chief)

5. Putin is murdering his opponents.  For months we have been reading stories about the “mysterious” deaths of high-level Russians who have dared to criticize Vladimir Putin.  (https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/08/26/dan-rapoport-putin-critic-was-it-suicide-00053836) Typically, they fall from tall buildings. (https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2022/9/21/2124313/-Another-Russian-dies-from-Tall-Building-Syndrome?)

Putin is taking extreme action to silence Russians who disagree with him.

5. Winter is coming.  This isn’t a war that will be ended with a peace conference where dignitaries sign agreements.  This is an ugly conflict that threatens to get even uglier.

In the next three months, it’s likely that Ukrainian forces will retake most of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk.  (Unless, of course, the unthinkable happens and Putin uses nuclear weapons.)  By December, the Ukrainian HIMARS will be able to reach all of Crimea, and possibly the Russian Navy which has been hiding in the Black Sea on the south side of the Crimean peninsula.

In response, Russia will cut off all fossil fuel deliveries to the EU.  There will be severe economic consequences.

6. China as peacemaker.  In his prescient dystopian novel, 1984, George Orwell imagined the planet being governed by three totalitarian states: Oceania (the Americas, Australia, and South Africa), Eurasia (the EU and Russia), and Eastasia (China).  There were shifting alliances between the three powers.

With regard to the Ukraine-Russia conflict, there are four geo-political stances: NATO (North America and the EU), Russia, China, and neutral states, such as Brazil.  If Russia/Putin threatens the use of tactical nuclear weapons, it’s reasonable to expect NATO to form an alliance to stop this. The question is what will China do?

China is helping fund Putin’s war by buying fossil fuel from Russia.  China can stop Putin from using tactical nuclear weapons by threatening reprisals.  Will Chairman Xi do this?

Hold on tight.

 

Waiting Room

Central train station was
crowded, hot, and smelly.
I worried
“She’s a lady, maybe she won’t come in.”

I bought tickets
sat between
a snoring fat man
and a frail woman carrying a Chihuahua.

The Gruen clock ticked
my ardor faltered
enumerating reasons
She wouldn’t show up.

The station door opened
all the air
left the room
as Daisy entered.

Dragging a bulging brown suitcase
crimson lipstick
navy-blue dress
cream pearls.

Radiant
She pressed her hand
to my thumping heart
“Our life begins.”

2022 MidTerms: 10 Observations

Two-thirds of the way through 2022, the political situation is quite different than it appeared to be on January 1st. Then, Democrats viewed the midterm elections with trepidation; now, they see them as an opportunity. Here are ten reasons why the situation has changed.

1.Trump is on the ballot: The midterms are no longer a referendum on Joe Biden; now they are a referendum on Donald Trump. Say what you will about Trump, he has a unique way of making himself the center of attention. The first eight months of 2022 have seen the political focus shift from Biden to Trump. Trump’s retention of classified material, and the FBI raid on Mar-al-Lago, has made his personality the center of political attention. In many congressional contests, there’s a Trump proxy on the ballot: voters aren’t being asked to simply vote for Republican John Doe; they are being asked, “Do you want Trumpism to continue?” In many instances, the answer is “No.”

Trump is a divisive figure. According to the 538 website (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/favorability/donald-trump/ ), 55 percent of voters view him unfavorably.  NBC News (https://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/first-read/nbc-news-poll-57-voters-say-investigations-trump-continue-rcna43989 ) reports that 57 percent of voters believe the Department of Justice Trump investigations should continue.  A recent NPR poll ( https://www.npr.org/2022/09/07/1121307491/poll-trump-fbi-search-run-2024) found that 61 percent of voters do not want him to run in 2024 — notably, 67 percent of Independents.

Having Trump on the ballot will affect the outcome of closely contested congressional races.  We just saw this in the recent race for Alaska’s lone congressional seat.  The contestants were Sarah Palin (Trump’s candidate); Nick Begich (a Republican alternative), and Mary Peltola (Democrat).  What should have been a safe Republican seat went to Peltola because Palin and Begich split the vote — the final tally was aided by a byzantine rank-choice voting process.  Trump interfered and, in a closely contested race, his candidate lost.

We’ve seen that pattern repeated in the runup to the November 8th election.  In the Republican primary, there’s a Trump candidate and a “moderate” Republican candidate.  More often than not, the Trump candidate wins only to be defeated by a Democrat in the general election.  Trump appeals to Republicans but not Democrats or Independents.

Trump is a GOP problem not only because he is divisive, but also because he is maniacally self-absorbed,  In a recent “joint” Pennsylvania appearance, Trump spoke for two hours and gave Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate candidates, two minutes.  Trump raises lots of money but the vast majority goes to the “Donald J. Trump Improvement fund.”

2. Democrats have a chance to keep control of Congress.  At the beginning of the year, Republicans were favored to take back the Senate and the House.  Now Democrats are favored to retain the Senate ( https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2022-election-forecast/senate/) and have moved closer in the House races.  There are five shaky Democratic Senate seats; at the moment three lean Democrat (Bennett, Hassan, and Kelly) and there are two where the Dems are ahead (Cortez-Masto and Warnock).  There are Five shaky Republican Senate seats; at the moment two lean Democrat (Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and there are three where Dems are ahead (Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio).  There are many reasons why the Democratic candidates are doing well.

3. Democrats have an agenda and the Republicans don’t.  Republicans might disagree; they probably would say that their agenda is, “Donald J.Trump has been poorly treated.  The 2020 election was stolen from him and now the FBI is harassing him.”  This appeals to Trump devotees but it doesn’t work with “rational” Republicans and Independents, who ask: “What about the economy?  What about abortion?  What about climate change? What about the other issues?”

4. Many Republican candidates are terrible.  One of the reasons that Democrats are doing better than expected in the Senate races is that the Republican Senate candidates are unprepared for prime time,  Democrats are doing well in Pennsylvania because their candidate, Futterman, is much better than the GOP candidate, Oz.  Likewise in Wisconsin, where Barnes is stronger than Johnson; and Georgia where Warnock is infinitely preferable to Walker.

5. Abortion is a big issue.  On June 24th, the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing women’s constitutional right to abortion.  It came as a shock to many female voters, who had not taken seriously Democrats’ concern that a conservative Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. Now this ruling has become a rallying point for Democrats who go to the midterm polls not only determined to stop Donald Trump but also set on protecting reproductive freedom of choice.

There are many polls suggesting that voter enthusiasm is up (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2022/9/4/23333329/roe-voter-registration-dobbs-midterms-democrats ), particularly among women and younger voters — segments that traditionally benefit Democrats.

6. The economy may not be the deciding issue.  Historically, the state of the economy has been the determining issue in the midterm elections.  This year, that may not be the case as abortion should be the biggest issue.  Not to say that the economy will not be a big concern, but rather that the economy has improved enough that abortion — and other issues — will be more important.

Why?  First, the US economy has stabilized and is clearly the world’s strongest economy.  (For example, compare our economy to that of Great Britain or France or Germany or China or Russia.) Second, we’re not headed into a recession — sorry Republicans, we know this disappoints you.

Of course, inflation is a concern, but many key consumer costs — such as food and fuel — are headed down.

And, the job market is robust.   And — drum roll — enthusiasm for unions is rapidly growing (https://news.gallup.com/poll/398303/approval-labor-unions-highest-point-1965.aspx).  A recent Gallup Poll showed that “71% of Americans now approve of labor unions” — duh.  After the pandemic, millions of American workers woke up to the reality that they would have better pay and job protection if they belonged to a union.

By the way, Republicans don’t have an economic message other than: “Vote for Trump; he’ll handle the economy the way he handles his businesses.”

7. The Environment is an issue.  This is good news and bad news.  The good news is that the environment should be an issue; the bad news is that this is happening because, in many parts of the United States, we’re seeing clear evidence of the impact of global climate change.  In California, we’re suffering from a terrible drought and, of course, mammoth forest fires.  (BTW, this week we had a heat wave that set records.)

In the California central valley, climate change will be the primary issue in several key races.  For example, in CA 22 where incumbent Republican Valadao is running against Democrat Salas.  In CA 22, wells are going dry.  The Republican response is “Biden took your water.”  The Democratic response is “We have to stop giving a disproportionate amount of water to big agriculture — for example, almond farmers — and give better access to the people.”

8. Democracy is on the ballot.  A recent Quinnipiac Poll  (http://Americans 67 – 29 percent think the nation’s democracy is in danger of collapse. ) found: “Americans 67 – 29 percent think the nation’s democracy is in danger of collapse.”  We should be concerned that a large number of Americans support Donald Trump and many of them do not appear to support Democracy.  In states controlled by Republican legislatures, they’ve made it harder to vote.  They’ve continued to support egregious gerrymandering.

Recently, Joe Biden called Trump’s political philosophy “semi-fascism.”   He’s right.  Trump has fomented an authoritarian cult.  He’s a threat to democracy.

9. Democrats are (relatively) united; Republicans are not. A recent NPR poll (https://www.npr.org/2022/09/07/1121307491/poll-trump-fbi-search-run-2024) found that 61 percent of voters do not want Trump to run in 2024.  Nonetheless, 67 percent of Republicans do want him to run.  While this is dismaying, it indicates that in a contested race the Trump candidate will probably lose because the Democratic candidate will have the support of an overwhelming number of Democratic and Independent voters and a few Republicans.  That’s what’s happened in the Alaska congressional race.  (By the way, the Trump supporters are primarily “White Evangelical Christians” — evidently motivated by Trump’s moral conduct.)

10. Elections are determined by turnout.  On November 8th, Democrats will prevail if they get out the vote.  Will they?  I think so.

Last year, in California, governor Newsom faced a recall.  A lot of Democrats were worried.  Then they got busy and turned out the vote.  When the recall “dust” settled: 61.9 percent voted to retain Newsom, and 38.1 percent voted to recall.

It’s time to get busy, Democrats.  It’s time to end the Trump madness.  It’s time to save Democracy.

Caverns of Silence

Embracing the silence
I enter
The grotto of my ancestors.

Treading carefully
Mindful of ancient
Baggage.

Familial stalactites
Traps designed to
Poison and pierce.

Bungled aspirations
Petty antagonisms
Nonchalant prejudices.

Skirting
Frozen portals
Of trauma.

Standing before
The speckled mirror
Of my forebears:

White, Anglo-Saxon, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, educated
privileged
ignorant.

Headstrong child
Crawling naked
Through razor-blade ancestral tombs .

Wolf Heart


Last night
I heard your howl
Felt your soft skin
Smelled your scent
Tasted your sweet sweat.

Wide awake
I understood
You didn’t take all my heart
There remains a piece
That howls in the night.

Breaking the Silence


After 45 minutes
of deep silence
Len stood up
in Quaker Meeting.

He was upset
by the amount of fruit
wasted
in Sebastopol’s gardens.

Len’s voice
shook
and he couldn’t stop
talking.

Marcy
tugged at Len’s sleeve
but
he wouldn’t sit down.

Len was angry
because so many go hungry
while the rest of us
wallow in  privilege.

Across from Len
in our small circle
sat Josephine
with two of her grandchildren.

She rose
and raised one eyebrow.
Len dropped
into his seat.

For five minutes
Josephine stood
in silence
and then closed Meeting.

Afterwards
Marcy consulted Josephine
I comforted Len
who was quaking.

Upgrade


My manufacturer
sent a message
“Your model is
scheduled for an
upgrade.”

I shouldn’t complain.
My model has been
remarkably
defect free.

There was that
issue with
running away from home.
Resolved by the
discipline
upgrade.

And that
issue with
insubordination.
Resolved by the

Hmm
Maybe I skipped that upgrade.

I accepted the
upgrade for
punctuality.
It irritated
my wife.

Now my manufacturer
wants me to
download the
sensitivity upgrade.

The logic:
Turn down the sensitivity
There’s too much pain
In the world.

Nonetheless
Thich Nhat Hahn taught
“Life is dreadful and wonderful.”
Am I really alive
If I deny the pain?

The New Civil War: The 50-year Conservative Plan


The June 24th Supreme Court ruling nullifying Roe v Wade should not be viewed as an isolated event in America’s cultural wars but instead as the result of a fifty-year conservative strategy to supplant US democracy with plutocracy. Although culture wars are an important aspect of this strategy, conservative SCOTUS cultural rulings are not the final objective but merely a stepping-stone to the ultimate goal: weakening the Federal system to the point where the US becomes, in effect, a confederacy. Conservatives are refighting the 1861 Civil War. And they’re winning.

Although the American Civil War is usually regarded as a war fought over slavery, from the perspective of constitutional law it was a war fought about states’ rights.  In this instance, the rights of states to permit slavery (and the expansion of slavery into new states).  The debate about  states’ rights dates from the beginning of our country.  At the 1787 constitutional convention, concern about the power of the central government versus the power of individual states led to series of compromises: notably the baroque electoral college system used to elect our President, the creation of the Senate where each state has two votes, and the “three-fifths” formula where each slave got three-fifths of a vote.

The June 24th SCOTUS Dobbs Decision nullifying Roe v Wade stated that women have no Federal right to have an abortion, each state must decide this issue.  By implication, this means that each state must determine the right to obtain contraception or to to marry a person of the same sex (or different race) or to own property and on and on.  Plutocrats believe that turning the United States into a confederacy will result in a situation where many states permit unfettered capitalism.

(The June 30th SCOTUS decision in West Virginia vs EPA is consistent with this trend towards giving more power to the states.)

The Dobbs Decision is a direct consequence of the conservative plan initiated by Lewis Powell Jr in his (infamous) 1971 memo “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System” (https://www.thwink.org/sustain/articles/017_PowellMemo/PowellMemoReproduction.pdf).  Powells began: “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack… The sources are varied and diffused. They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history.”  Powell goes on to to blame the success of these attacks on universities, the media, and, in particular, an apathetic business community.

Powell’s memorandum spurred a broad response from Republican politicians, conservative ideologues, and the American business community — led by the Chamber of Commerce.  Fifty years later, the consequences are clear:

1.The Republican Party has become the Party of Big Business.  In the twenties, Republican President Coolidge said, “the business of America is business.”  It’s no surprise that today’s GOP is strongly identified with big business.  The Republican agenda is the big business agenda.  President Reagan, in particular, went out of his way to declare that America’s best minds were to be found in business, not in government.  As a consequence, many struggling Americans look to business for salvation, not to their church, and certainly not government,

2. Republicans became opposed to the federal government.  in 2001, Grover Norquist, a Reagan disciple, said: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”  The Republican mantra became: “if only government would get out of the way, US business would solve all of our problems.”  Republicans want a gargantuan Department of Defense, but otherwise they have no use for government.

3.Republican politicians became tools of business.  With a fifty-year theme of “government is bad, business is good” it’s not surprising that the Republican Party became the disciples of plutocracy.  It’s no surprise that Republican officials became the tools of the rich and powerful.  It’s an open secret in Washington that Republican politicians can be bought; Senators like Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham do not represent their constituents; they represent big business.

4. Republican presidential candidates became figureheads.  Starting with Ronald Reagan, in 1980, Republican national candidates were chosen for their media talents rather than for their intellect or principles.  (I’m thinking of Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump.)  They weren’t successful businessmen or conservative philosophers, these Republicans were picked because they would faithfully read the lines dictated by oligarchs, and give the right-wing base the “red meat” it wanted.

5. Republicans focused on getting their own media outlets. In his 1971 memo, Powell expressed his opinion that the so-called “attack on the free-enterprise system” was facilitated by the mainstream media.  As a result, conservatives developed their own media outlets; notably, Fox TV News and the Rush Limbaugh radio show.  As a consequence, millions of Americans do not get “mainstream” news, they get news filtered through the Republican lens.  They live and breathe an altenate reality

6. Republicans abandoned democratic principles and Christian ethics.  To be clear, business ethics are not Christian ethics.  “Love they neighbor and I am my brother’s keeper” may be inspiring words on Sundays but they have little to do with the way American business is conducted.  Stated otherwise, business maxims such as “the ends justify the means” and “do what you need to do to satisfy your shareholders” have no basis in Christian principles.  Republicans became obsessed with winning at all costs.

7.Republican took advantage of wedge issues.  The typical US businessman is amoral; the only ethical issues he cares about are those that reflect on the corporate bottom line.  Republicans politicians, in the abstract, don’t care about issues like abortions, guns, or gay marriage.  But GOP politicians have come to care about these because they are wedge issues.  For example, there are some conservative Christians who are single-issue voters; they will only support politicians who oppose abortion.  Republicans cynically take advantage of these voters.

8.Republicans focused on controlling the Supreme Court.  Shortly after writing his infamous memorandum, Lewis Powell Jr was nominated to the Supreme Court.  Republicans became focused on ensuring a conservative majority on the court.  A landmark appointment was the 1991 replacement of liberal icon Thurgood Marshall (who had died) with Clarence Thomas. In 2022, Thomas, the most conservative member of the court, wrote much of the Dobbs decision.

9.Republicans denied climate change.  Global Climate Change is bad for business.  It’s a sad reflection of the times that we live in that most of the largest US businesses should change because of climate change.  (For example, ExxonMobil and Chevron)  Some of these changes are major — stopping petroleum exploration — and others minor — prohibiting plastic packaging.  But, of course, it’s cheaper not to change.  US business doesn’t want to change and, therefore, Republicans deny climate change and oppose related government regulations.

10. Republicans brand Democrats as socialists or communists.  In 1971 Lewis Powell Jr wrote that the “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System” was being led by communists, socialists, and revolutionaries.  The Republican demonization hasn’t changed in fifty years.  Instead of saying, Republicans stand for plutocracy, Democrats stand for democracy; or saying, Republicans stand for big business, Democrats stand for workers and limited capitalism, Democrats have allowed themselves to be put in the “socialist” box.

Will the new civil war result in violence?  620,000 soldiers died in the first civil war.  (50,000 in the Battle of Gettysburg.)  We all hope there will not be a second civil war; we all hope that there will not be violence.  That said, On January 6, 2021, Donald Trump spawned an insurrection that resulted in the deaths of seven people,  There are Republicans who advocate violence.  As part of their deal with the big business “devil,” Republicans have abandoned Christian ethics and adopted the maxim “the ends justify the means.”

Hold on tight.

My Laughin’ Place

Everybody’s got a laughin’ place,
A laughin’ place, to go ho-ho!
Take a frown, turn it upside-down
And you’ll find yours I know ho-ho!
Walt Disney, “Song of the South” (1946)

I lost my laughin’ place
There’s no smile upon my face
Hard times have swept this space
I can’t find my laughin’ place.

I’ve forgotten how to smile
All the news is full of bile
Staying numb is not my style
I can’t find my laughin’ place.

My days are filled with gloom
Darkness shrouds my room
Now I fret and fume
I can’t find my laughin’ place.

Hark, I hear a sound
Nature’s music all around
Beams of starlight
Cleanse the night
My foot began to tap
My fingers start to snap
I cast my gaze above the ground
Notice beauty all around
Spring has broken through the cloud
Pulled away my fearsome shroud
Joy became my laughin’ place.

What to do about Inflation

Americans are not lacking for things to worry about: mass shootings, extreme weather, insurrectionists, and, of course, inflation.  On June 10th,  the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm ) that the consumer price index had increased 8.6 percent in twelve months, the largest yearly increase since December 1981.  Americans are very upset by the rising costs.  The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/06/07/pessimism-about-economy-is-about-both-partisanship-prices/) noted: “Polling from YouGov conducted for The Economist found last month that 58 percent of Americans think the economy is getting worse.”

There is some positive economic news: unemployment is low (3.6 percent) and real hourly wages have increased (5.2 percent).  The economy is growing (3.5 percent annually) — although it dipped slightly in the first quarter of 2022.  Nonetheless, concerns about inflation dominate the mainstream media.

1.The biggest contributor to inflation is the increase in energy costs — 34.7 percent in twelve months (with gasoline up 48.7 percent).  On June 10th, the average US cost of a gallon of gasoline reached $5 — a year previous the average cost per gallon was $3.08.  Analyzing this increase, the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/11/business/energy-environment/gasoline-price.html) stated: “The war in Ukraine has had the most direct effect on gas prices, as sanctions on Russia have pulled more than a million barrels of oil off global markets. Energy traders have also bid up oil prices in anticipation that Russian production and exports will fall further…. [However] There isn’t enough capacity to refine oil into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Oil companies closed a handful of refineries in recent years, especially during the pandemic when demand plummeted.”  That is, the biggest factor has been the war in Ukraine, but another contributor has been the delay in increase in domestic production.  CNET (https://www.cnet.com/personal-finance/heres-why-gas-prices-are-so-high-and-why-they-wont-be-going-down-anytime-soon/ ) commented: “Demand for gas plummeted during the pandemic, causing oil producers to put the brakes on production. Even though demand is nearing pre-pandemic levels, producers are still gun-shy about increasing production. In April, OPEC fell short of its targeted production increase by 2.7 million barrels a day.”

A recent Washington-Post poll (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22056399-2022-05-12-post-schar-school-trend-for-release ) indicated that Americans blame high gas prices on “corporations trying to increase profits” (72 percent),  “Russia’s actions against Ukraine” (69 percent), “disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic” (58 percent), and President Biden (58 percent).

Two factors are interacting: Russian oil is now unavailable on the open market and the other major producers are under capacity.  (Some say that the big domestic oil producers are happy with the high prices and place greed above the national interest.) President Biden has indicated that he is willing to use emergency powers granted under the “Defense Production Act” to boost production and to keep domestic suppliers from exporting oil. (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-06-15/biden-willing-to-use-emergency-war-time-law-to-boost-gasoline) That would be a good move.

2.The next largest contributor to inflation is food costs — up 10.1 percent in twelve months.  Many of the same factors that affect gas prices also impact the cost of food.  For example, the war in Ukraine has Increased the price of food throughout the western world.  The increased cost of gasoline has drive up food costs because food needs to be transported from farm to market.  In Asia, a resurgence of the pandemic has disrupted supply chains.  There are also food staples that have been impacted by extreme weather; for example the price of beef has been affected by increased costs of feed and water.

If the US government brings down the price of oil, this will lower the cost of food because transportation costs will go down. The Biden Administration might also consider relief for farmers that are severely impacted by climate change.

3.The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that “all items other than energy and food” have increased 6 percent in the last twelve months.  this includes items such as “new cars,” “shelter,” “apparel,” and “medical care services.”  All these items are going up, but some more than others; for example, “new cars” are up 12.6 percent because of supply-chain issues.

On June 15th, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates .75 percent. (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/15/business/economy/fed-interest-rates.html ) Not all economist agreed on this step.

The interest rate increase won’t impact the cost of energy and food — they will require the interventions noted above.   The Federal Reserve interest rate increase will impact housing purchases (and renovations) and the purchase of new cars (and other large consumer expenditures like TVs and boats.)  The trick will be to “cool off” these purchases and not tank the economy.  The Federal Reserve intent is to inspire a “soft landing” and not a recession.

4. The BB perspective: the US economy is in good shape compared to the rest of the world and we’re likely to go into a period of modest growth compared to our trading partners, who will be in recession.  (For example, Great Britain and Germany are probably headed for a recession.)

5.PoliticsIn today’s polarized environment, Democrats and Republicans view inflation differently. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/06/07/pessimism-about-economy-is-about-both-partisanship-prices/)

Most Republican voters don’t understand economics, so it’s easy for them to believe that President Biden caused inflation.  Recently Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio  said: “This will be a [period] of high gas prices, shortages and inflation because far left lunatics control our government.”

BB perspective: President Biden should get very aggressive with big-oil companies, and Russia.  He should blame energy costs on them and subject them to harsh penalties.

Biden should blame food costs on big-oil (transportation) and climate change.

In general, Biden needs to be more outspoken about inflation. And, of course, more aggressive attacking the root causes.

The Half-Life of Troubadours


Artistic prowess is a  gift.

Miles lived 65 years
flamed brightly to the end.
Bird lived half as long.

Leonardo lived 67 years
but had to move to France.
Raphael died at 37.

Ella lived 89 years
had her chops all along.
Eva Cassidy lived 33 years.

When the brass ring comes around
Hold on tight.

In the western tradition, spirit imparts
Gifts
Christians write of these gifts:
prophecy
teaching
healing
miracles…

Artistic prowess is a miracle.

I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.
Miles helped me see.
Cezanne helped me see.
Leadbelly helped me see.
Stoppard helped me see.

I may not yet be found
but I have a map.

Everything is Broken: 5 Interventions


The horrific Uvalde massacre, and the Republican non-response, confirms what many of us have thought: the U.S. political process is broken. Not “strained” or “damaged” but rather “rent asunder.”  America’s political process can’t be repaired by applying duct tape. It needs reconstructive surgery.

The Uvalde massacre had tragically familiar components: a mentally-ill, socially-isolated gunman who had been bullied; ready access to weapons of mass destruction; targeting of innocents; and a shameful police response.  It was a horrific metaphor for the Republican response to the plight of our nation’s less fortunate citizens — the “99 percent.”  The Party of Trump responds to tragedy with “hunker down, snowflake; it’s going to get worse.”  And then dances.

The vast majority of Americans want common-sense gun reform (https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2022/05/26/new-poll-shows-huge-support-for-gun-restrictions-00035349 ). Republicans block this reform. (Trump’s response was: “defund Ukraine; fortify schools.”)

Because our political process is broken, we need to take strong measures.

1.Put people before profits. The U.S. political system has been corrupted by big money. Unfettered capitalism has taken democracy captive.  Republicans refuse to allow new gun-control legislation because they’ve sold out to the pro-gun lobby.

In 2022, the United States has two political Parties.  Democrats, who mostly support democracy (although there are “big-money” interests in the Party).   And Republicans, who are the Party of unfettered capitalism; the Party where “money talks and principle walks.”

It’s no secret that Republican politicians can be bought.  Consider Ted Cruz or Ron Johnson or (shudder) Mitch McConnell, among others.  The GOP leader is Donald Trump who has no principles at all, whose credo is “I’ll say whatever you pay me to say, for a big check.” The Republican Party is for sale to the highest bidder.

The only way to resolve this situation is to get money out of politics.  The only way to achieve this objective is for the Democrats to not only hold onto the House and Senate but to add seats.  Congress has to pass significant campaign-finance reform and this will only happen if Democrats prevail in November.

2. Expand the Supreme Court.  Meanwhile, because of the Trump “presidency,” the Federal judiciary is packed with ultra-conservative judges.  Therefore, it won’t be sufficient to simply pass reform legislation, because it will eventually be blocked in the Supreme Court.  (Blocked by the judges that the Republicans bought.)  Democrats have to expand the Supreme Court by at least three judges.

3. Protect voting rights. Restrictive voting rights favor Republicans; common-sense voting rights favor Democrats.  The GOP attack on equitable access to the ballot favors the one percent at the expense of the 99 percent.

Heading into the November election, it is vital to pass laws to protect election workers, same-day registration and early voting. It is also necessary to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which directly addresses the state legislatures’ electoral power grab.

4. Pass common-sense gun control. The vast majority of Americans want common-sense gun reform (https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2022/05/26/new-poll-shows-huge-support-for-gun-restrictions-00035349 ).   The place to start is with mandatory background checks for gun purchases and the banning of sale of assault weapons.

5. Pass real economic reform.  The first four corrections are essential but not sufficient to repair our broken democracy.  The United States needs real economic reform.  Democracy doesn’t work in societies where there is extreme economic inequality.  Sadly, that’s what has happened to the United States.

US inequality is at a historic high.  Compared to our European partners (England, France, and Germany) the US has a much greater gap between the rich and the poor.  The rich — think Elon Musk — have so much more money than most Americans that they are buffered from economic turmoil.  During the pandemic, rich Americans got richer and everyone else got poorer.

Republicans, the Capitalist Party, seek to increase the power of the one percent.  If you ask Republicans why they supported Donald Trump, they will typically respond: “I don’t like him personally but he did a lot of good things.”  By “a lot of good things” Republicans mean: Trump helped Mitch McConnell pack the judiciary with conservative judges and Trump signed tax reform that massively favors the interests of the “one percent” and corporations.  Trump didn’t do very much as “president” but what he did do favored the interests of the rich.  This needs to be reversed. Democrats should sponsor concrete actions to secure a more equitable society.

Summary: To repair our broken political process, we need to do two things.  First, get out the vote in November.  It’s imperative that Democrats retain control of Congress.

Second, we must improve our messaging.  Democrats should say, “We put people over profits.  We represent the 99 percent not the richest one percent.”  Democrats should say clearly: “Republicans have sold out to the rich.  Republicans have sold out to big oil.  Republicans have sold out to the NRA.  Republicans have sold out to white male supremacists.”  “Democrats are the Party of the people.  Republicans are the Party of the dollar.”

This moment requires direct action.  “Thoughts are prayers” are woefully insufficient.