How to Write a Country & Western Hit

RULES
1. Start with tragedy.

If your life is going great, write a pop song.
Sample: “I Don’t Care”
I’m dancing with my girlfriend
to crappy music
and
I don’t care
.

2. Pick the tragedy style:
a. Relationship: My baby left me
b. Natural disaster: I lost my town in the great flood.
c. Your pet: My dog left me.

3. It’s okay to combine the styles
My baby got washed away in the flood.

4. Pick the perspective:
a. Historical: My baby left me standing at the altar.
b. Contemporary: My baby drove away in my brand-new Tesla.
c. Existential: My baby left or maybe she didn’t; was it all a fantasy?

5. Add seasoning:
a. Getting drunk: My baby left and I’m drinkin’.
b. Going to prison: My baby’s in prison; my dog, too.
c. Mama: I got drunk the day my mama went to prison

6. Mix and match:
My dog drank my last beer.
PG&E turned off my power and now I can’t find my baby.
My mama got drunk, took my dog for a walk, and fell into a volcano.

View from the Barricades: The Labor Market


If you’re confused by the state of the US economy, you’re not alone.  Market watchers know that stocks are sending confusing signals.  Some “experts” say we are in a recovery, other predict big problems.  In August, consumer sentiment (https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/consumer-confidence ) hit a decade low.  The unemployment rate is falling but tens of thousands of workers are leaving the labor market.  What’s happening?

Duh: we’re in the middle of a civil war.

Thankfully, so far it’s a non-shooting civil war.  Nonetheless, it’s a civil war marked by two vectors: one is the millions of folks who insist that the orange menace won the 2020 presidential election; they’re more interested in creating chaos than a better world.  The second is the millions of Americans who refuse to get vaccinated.; they leaving and aggravating the labor market.  (By the way, these populations overlap.)

The Unemployment Rate: The latest jobs report ()https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf ) indicated that the US economy added 194,000 jobs in September and the unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent.  That seems like good news, but it must be tempered by the understanding that 183,000 workers dropped out of the labor force (mostly women). The “job participation rate” increased to 61.6 percent and remains below the 63 percent norm — pre-pandemic.

What’s happening? For one thing, the latest jobs report indicates that there’s no truth to the Republican claim that workers were staying out of the job market in order to get unemployment insurance benefits; many are reentering but looking for better jobs.  The churn in the  labor market can be understood by studying the relationship between unemployment and vaccination rates.  For example, California the state with the highest vaccination rate is also one of the states least impacted by the labor shortage.  (Conversely, South Dakota one of the states with lowest vaccination rate is also one of the states most impacted by the labor shortage.) Where it’s safe, workers are returning to the labor market, but they are being picky.  Where it’s not safe, workers are quitting their jobs.

Unfilled Jobs: There remains a big gap between the number of job openings and those who are looking for work — a deficit of several million.  Many employers — particularly small businesses — are desperately looking for employees.  There are several explanations for the lower than expected “job participation rate.” The most obvious is that “caregivers,” mostly women, are staying at home taking care of vulnerable family members: children or the elderly.  Their justification is that they don’t feel safe letting others care for their family members or, in some cases, there’s no safe hospital or nursing home option. (More than 300,000 women over 20 dropped out of the labor force in September.)

The second explanation is that some unemployed workers came from sectors that are on the “front lines” dealing with the pandemic: leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, retail trade, and public education.  Many of these workers left  jobs where there was a high probability of exposure to the coronavirus — such as bus drivers — or they were put in the unpleasant position of having to enforce a mask mandate — such as restaurant employees.  They don’t want to return to that hassle.  (Consider this Buzzfeed article where restaurant workers report the abuse they’ve recently had to endure  https://www.buzzfeed.com/rossyoder/why-people-left-restaurant-industry  or this similar Axios article https://www.axios.com/bars-restaurants-angry-violent-customers-pandemic-515777d8-8550-4cee-9193-c55eda96d2f1.html?  )

The third explanation is that many American workers now feel empowered to quit their jobs. The August labor report ( https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/jolts.pdf) indicated that a record number, 4.3 million, quit in August. (“Quits increased in accommodation and food services (+157,000); wholesale trade (+26,000); and state and local government education (+25,000)..”)

Writing in The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/30/during-great-resignation-workers-refuse-accept-unacceptable/ ) Karla Miller observed there are four main causes for “the great resignation:” “A backlog of workers who wanted to resign before the pandemic but held on a bit longer; burnout, particularly among frontline workers in health care, food service and retail; “pandemic epiphanies” in which people experienced major shifts in identity and purpose that led them to pursue new careers and start their own businesses; and an aversion to returning to offices after a year or more of working remotely.”

Worker Power:  UC Economist Robert Reich postulates that we’re experiencing a form of national strike (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/13/american-workers-general-strike-robert-reich ). “American workers now have bargaining leverage to do better. After a year and a half of the pandemic, consumers have pent-up demand for all sorts of goods and services…But employers are finding it hard to fill positions… Over the past year, job openings have increased 62%. Yet overall hiring has actually declined… My take: workers are reluctant to return to or remain in their old jobs mostly because they’re burned out… What’s really going on is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a healthcare shortage.” [Emphasis added]

Summary: We’re living in interesting times.  We’re in the middle of a (low key) civil war and similarly subdued national employment strike.  And then there’s climate change.  Stay tuned.

You Can’t Run Away from Death


Oh you can’t run away from death
No time to pause and catch your breath
The end is coming, don’t look back
‘Cause when you stop, death will attack.

You can’t run, oh you can’t hide
For death will take you for a ride
Past the story of your life
Through all the tumult and the strife.

Oh you can’t run away from death
Don’t try to swim the river Lethe
Just do your best and stand your ground
Ignore the breath of death’s great hound.

You can’t run, oh you can’t hide
Death flows onward with the tide
Carrying all your sins and woes
To leave you gasping in the throes.

Oh you can’t run away from death
No time to pause and to catch your breath
The end is coming, so don’t look back
‘Cause when you stop, death will attack.

Extreme Measures


A recent Washington Post Robert Kagan oped (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/23/robert-kagan-constitutional-crisis/) says what a lot of us have been thinking: the United States is heading into a constitutional crisis.  Would-be dictator Donald Trump is determined to run for President in 2024 and “Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary.”  To deal with this existential threat to our country, it’s necessary for all of us — not just our leaders in Washington DC — to take extreme measures.

Robert Kagan observes that Trump has consistently been underestimated: “[The establishment] underestimated the extent of [Trump’s] popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power.” Kagan details the forces that animate the Trump movement: “Suspicion of and hostility toward the federal government; racial hatred and fear; a concern that modern, secular society undermines religion and traditional morality; economic anxiety in an age of rapid technological change; class tensions, with subtle condescension on one side and resentment on the other; distrust of the broader world…”  Kagan continues: “What makes the Trump movement historically unique is not its passions and paranoias. It is the fact that for millions of Americans, Trump himself is the response to their fears and resentments. This is a stronger bond between leader and followers than anything seen before in U.S. political movements.” [Emphasis added]

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but this an existential crisis.  It’s time to get back on the barricades.  Here are the measures I suggest:

1.Guaranteeing fair elections has to be our number one priority.  In these difficult times, many policy initiatives are vying for our attention: climate change, racism, economic justice, reproductive rights, affordable housing, public health…to name only a few.  But we have to focus our efforts: guaranteeing fair elections has to be our unmistakable top priority.

The problem is that millions of Americans have pledged their fealty to Donald Trump.  And he is willing to do anything to regain power.  A recent University of Virginia study (https://www.alternet.org/2021/09/clear-and-present-danger-majority-of-trump-voters-believe-its-time-to-split-the-country-in-two/? ) detailed the extent of this problem: “A majority of Trump voters believe it’s time to split the country into two, with ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’ seceding from the Union.”

2. Enact Vaccine Mandates.  While enacting vaccine mandates might seem peripheral to the central problem, it isn’t, because vaccine mandates are a rare “two-for.”  First, requiring vaccination helps keep us (relatively) safe from Coronavirus; second, vaccine mandates drive a deep wedge into the Republican Party.  Mandates are a powerful wedge issue because hard-core Trumpers subscribe to conspiracy theories and many of these theories suggest that Coronavirus vaccines are evil.  (Recently Trump has given half-hearted support for vaccination; but there’s no evidence that this has changed the behavior of his rabid base.)

Therefore, if you are Trump supporter and you are required to get vaccinated, you have a difficult choice: get vaccinated to save your job — as a nurse, police officer, bus driver, or whatever — or not get vaccinated and lose your employment and possibly die.  This choice largely falls on Republicans.

Approximately 55 percent of all Americans have been fully vaccinated;  A recent NBC News poll (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/nbc-news-poll-shows-demographic-breakdown-vaccinated-u-s-n1277514 ) found that 69 percent of ADULTS had been vaccinated: 88 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents, and 55 percent of Republicans.  The NBC poll found that among those “Republicans who support Trump more than party,” only 46 percent had been vaccinated. (Nationally, there’s about a 13 percentage point difference between counties that voted for Biden  and counties that voted for Trump — there’s a 17 percentage points difference in California.)  Many Trump followers are going to get very sick, and possibly die, because they won’t get vaccinated.

Bottom line: Unless they are vaccinated, Trumpsters shouldn’t be allowed to be public employees, use public facilities, go to theaters or sport arenas, or use public transportation.

3. Restrict Hate Speech.  One of the consequences of the Trump ascendancy is that “hate speech” has been empowered.  Trump has obliterated the boundaries of political correctness.  He feels he can say whatever he feels like, whenever he feels like it.  And because of his stance, Trump’s followers believe they can say whatever sexist, racist, or xenophobic phrase that pops into their mouths.  Because of Trump, is it any surprise that the daily news features videos of minorities being threatened or taunted by white folks?

But the Trumpster conduct goes way beyond speech; opponents of Trump are threatened.  It’s become common for public officials — those who are perceived to be in Trump’s way — to be threatened with physical assault or death; often their families are threatened.  (This is the same “brown-shirt” behavior that characterized Hitler’s early followers — “Sturmabteilung”.)

Robert Kagan deplores the current state of the GOP: “The Republican Party today is a zombie party. Its leaders go through the motions of governing in pursuit of traditional Republican goals, wrestling over infrastructure spending and foreign policy, even as real power in the party has leached away to Trump. From the uneasy and sometimes contentious partnership during Trump’s four years in office, the party’s main if not sole purpose today is as the willing enabler of Trump’s efforts to game the electoral system to ensure his return to power.” [Emphasis added] Kagan speculates that many erstwhile Republican leaders are afraid of being primaried.  Sadly their motivation is more basic: they fear for their lives.  Many otherwise decent Republicans are afraid to oppose Trump because of the damage his deranged followers might do.

Trump is a thug.  He’s the reincarnation of Hitler.  The conduct of his followers needs to be opposed and penalized.

(By the way: we need to severely penalize those who planned and participated in the January 6th insurrection.)

4. Protect Voting Rights: Robert Kagan understands the nature of the dilemma facing the republic: “Senate Democrats were wise to cut down their once-massive voting rights wish list and get behind the smaller compromise measure unveiled last week by Manchin and Sen. Amy Klobuchar… Heading into the next election, it is vital to protect election workers, same-day registration and early voting. It will also still be necessary to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which directly addresses the state legislatures’ electoral power grab.”

Passing these changes in the Senate means either abolishing the filibuster — a move that seems unlikely — or gaining the support of ten Republican Senators.  Kagan asks, “If that means political suicide for this handful of Republicans, wouldn’t it be better to go out fighting for democracy than to slink off quietly into the night?”

Summary: This is not a drill.  We’re in the middle of an existential crisis.  Get to work!

18 Worries

I’m worried about fires.
Fortunately, it just rained.

I’m worried about getting old.
You still look young to me.

I’m worried that I keep forgetting things.
Nonetheless, you can remember what you wore to the Saperstein’s party, five years ago.

I’m worried that I’m not as spiritual as I was.
You still hunger for peace and justice.

I’m worried that we will run out of water.
The well is okay and it just rained.

I’m worried that you will die before me.
Our marriage contract says we go together.

I’m worried that my children don’t get along.
That’s because they are half French.

I’m worried that we will lose our Democracy.
They still need us on the barricades.

I’m worried about climate change.
Turns out Al Gore was right.

I’m worried that I’ll get dementia, like my sister.
You’re not a bit like your sister.

I’m worried that I’m getting “old lady” skin.
You still look young to me.

I’m worried that all my friends are going away.
Some are; but _____ and _______ are still here.

I’m worried that I’m not reading serious books.
What about “Lust on the Pecos?”

I’m worried that we’re not going to be able to go to Paris.
There’s always Petaluma.

I’m worried that Republicans are taking away the right to vote.
They still need us on the barricades.

I’m worried that  the news is all bad.
Turn up the Bruce Springsteen channel.

I’m worried that we’re not eating enough fresh vegetables.
There’s always chard.

I’m worried that we don’t talk enough.
Hmm. I’m worried that you’re worried.

What Did We Learn From the California Recall?

(Red = “no on recall” county.)

The September 14, 2021, California recall is over and Governor Gavin Newsom won a resounding victory.  What does this portend for California politics? There are four takeaways:

1. Democrats demonstrated they can mobilize their base in an off-election year.  The Republican recall “logic” had two aspects: first, Republicans wanted to get rid of Governor Newsom because of his strong response to the Coronavirus pandemic (the lockdown and mask mandates) and, second, they believed the recall would succeed because  Democrats would not be bothered to vote in an “off” election year.  However, Democrats did mobilize and blocked the recall with 63 percent of the vote.

There had been concern that California’s Latino voters might not show up.  However, Latinos did participate in the recall election and overwhelmingly supported Newsom; that is, voted “no.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/15/california-newsom-recall-latino-voters-democrats-lessons/ )

Republicans made three miscalculations.  First, because they didn’t like Newsom, they assumed that some Democrats and many Independents also did not like him.  That turned out not to be the case.  Second, they assumed that most Californians were also anti-vaccination, anti-mask, and anti-mandate.  That was also not the case; most Californians are tired of the pandemic and mad at those who will not get vaccinated, who will not take Coronavirus seriously.  Third, Republicans assumed they could mobilize behind a Trump clone, Larry Elder, and voters would prefer him to Newsom.  That was not the case; a strong majority of voters were horrified by Elder. Check out the CNN exit polls: (https://www.cnn.com/election/2021/exit-polls/california/recall )

(There were moderate Republicans who might have gotten traction with independents and some Democrats; for example, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.  However, Faulconer is now too moderate for mainstream Republicans.)

2. Most of Southern California voted “No” on the recall. This surprising result has consequences for six Republican held congressional seats.

California has 53 Congressional seats, 11 are held by Republicans: 4 of these are in Northern California — above San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield– and the remaining 7 are in Southern California: CA8 (Obernolte), CA 23 (McCarthy), CA25 (Garcia), CA39 (Kim), CA42 (Calvert), CA48 (Steel), and CA50 (Issa). Except for CA 23 (in Kern County), all of these districts opposed the recall. Before the recall, 3 of those congressional districts (CA25, CA39, and CA48) were already prime Democratic targets; perhaps CA8 and CA42 have been added to the list.

If Democrats continue to mobilize Latino voters, this will increase the likelihood of these Republican congressional seats flipping.

3. As a Republican candidate, linking yourself to Trump may be the most expedient thing to do, but it’s not a viable strategy, in California, because it doesn’t attract any crossover votes.  Trump is not popular in California.  For this reason, it didn’t make much sense for Larry Elder to run as a Trump “clone.”  In the upcoming midterm elections, all 11 Republican incumbent members of Congress will be linked to Trump and to Larry Elder.  This may help those incumbents who are in deep red districts, but it won’t help those who are in toss-up districts.

4. Republicans aren’t interested in most of the issues that concern the general California electorate.  One of the factors that hindered Larry Elder was his cavalier attitude about the pandemic.  Elder’s position appeared to be “We don’t need mandates to deal with Coronavirus, this is a matter of personal responsibility. I trust Republicans to do the right thing.”  Most Californians don’t trust individual Republicans to do “the right thing.”  Most Californians feel that individual Republicans have prolonged the pandemic by their irresponsible behavior. ( https://www.cnn.com/election/2021/exit-polls/california/recall)

Elder expressed opinions on a wide-variety of issues: crime, homelessness, education, immigration, etcetera.  His problem was that his positions never gained traction — outside the Republican base — because he didn’t have a realistic plan to deal with the pandemic.  (Elder also took extreme positions on social issues that diverted media attention from his bread-and-butter policy positions; for example Elder said that if he became governor, he would immediately issue an executive order banning all abortions.)

Summary: On November 8, 2022, Gavin Newsom will be up for reelection.  Based upon the September 14th recall results, Newsom will have no viable Republican opponent.  This suggests that Democrats will make a strong showing, in the 2022 midterm election, and probably pickup several house seats.

The New Civil War


On September 14th, Californians will decide whether to recall Governor Newsom.  In a difficult period, this recall is another Republican effort to disrupt democracy, to blow up government.  It’s another manifestation of the new Civil War.

The latest 538 polls ( https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/california-recall-polls/) indicate that the recall will fail.  If this occurs, it will be due to the fact that Democrats mobilized and that they have been willing to spend millions of dollars defeating the recall.  If the recall fails, it will likely be the result of conservative radio commentator, Larry Elder, becoming the leading Republican recall choice.  Elder is a Trump acolyte.  If he were to “win” the recall contest, he’d be able to issue “executive orders.”  Elder has promised to issue an executive order banning all abortions in California; he also would outlaw mask mandates and other common-sense public health measures to fight the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a period where Californians are concerned about climate-change disaster (fire and drought), Covid-19, housing, and other issues, the Republican party wants to blow up government.  This summer, nihilism has become the dominant GOP theme.  In Red states, such as Texas, while the Republican governor has failed to protect citizens agains the pandemic, GOP operatives have taken draconian steps, such as banning abortion.

This has made a difficult period much worse.  The latest PBS News/Marist poll (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/2-out-of-3-americans-believe-u-s-democracy-is-under-threat ) shows that two-thirds of respondents believe “democracy is under threat.”  As we might expect, the poll results are heavily influenced by Party affiliation: 87 percent of Republicans believe the country is NOT going in the right direction; while 87 percent of Democrats believe the country is going in the right direction.

What’s happening?  Why are Republicans so negative; so destructive?

There are three explanations, the politics of grievance, ideology, and greed.

Grievance: Donald Trump has had political success mobilizing the politics of resentment. At the core of this collective resentment is a sentiment shared by many Trump voters, the belief they have lost their shot at the American dream because others have played “the game” unfairly.  That is, Red voters believe they are economically and socially disadvantaged because some groups — such as women and “people of color”  — have received preferential treatment.  These Red voters have lost faith in the democratic process and, therefore, believe only “a strong leader” can save them.

Many Trump voters cling to the belief that Trump is the strong leader they have been waiting for.  Further, they believe he was cheated out of a win in 2020.  A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll (https://www.reuters.com/world/us/53-republicans-view-trump-true-us-president-reutersipsos-2021-05-24/) found: “A majority of Republicans still believe Donald Trump won the 2020 U.S. presidential election and blame his loss to Joe Biden on illegal voting…The May 17-19 national poll found that 53% of Republicans believe Trump, their party’s nominee, is the “true president” now, compared to 3% of Democrats and 25% of all Americans.”

Because of their suspicion of government, in general, and their belief they have been cheated, many Trump voters believe that the January 6h “Insurrection” was not the serious event portrayed by the media.  A recent NBC News poll (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/attitudes-jan-6-capitol-attack-settle-along-familiar-partisan-lines-n1277534 ) found that “Forty-six percent of adults say the attack has been exaggerated to discredit former President Trump and his supporters,”  This belief is held by 82 percent of Republicans.

Many Trump voters continue to be angry, to believe that they have been cheated, and lied to by the Federal Government.

Ideology: Although the level of Republican anger feels new, the underlying ideology is familiar. The first American Civil War was precipitated by a dispute regarding states’ rights and slavery,  The new Civil War involves a dispute about states’ rights and human rights.

Because of the widespread Republican belief that Trump “won” the 2020 election, the GOP leaders have asserted “states’ rights” in response.  For example, they have enacted draconian restrictions on voting rights.  As another example, Red states like Florida and Texas have defied Federal Public Health advice on vaccinations, masks, and social distancing. Finally, Red States are enacting new legislation restricting abortion rights.

Many observers described the Trump regime as “the new confederacy” because of its demonstrated preference for white men and its antagonism to women and “people of color.”  Many of us believe that Trump is a misogynist and a racist.  Predictably, Trump has responded to his 2020 election defeat by lashing out at women and people of color.  He’s despicable.  And his presence as the head of the Republican Party has caused many GOP partisans to adopt their own despicable stance.

Republicans seek to establish a confederacy where there is a weak central government and each state would establish their own definition of citizenship and the attendant rights. In this new confederacy, each state would establish their own environmental and business standards.

Greed:Of course, behind any political movement is money.  Donald Trump would not continue to be a political presence if he did not have the backing of wealthy donors. Trump’s funders include executives with conservative media organizations (such as “the Epoch Times” affiliated with the Falun Gong organization), fossil-fuel companies, real-estate developers, financial services companies, and others.

What do these donors want? The common thread that runs through these Trump loyalists is the desire for lower taxes and reduced government regulation.  They wholeheartedly get onboard the “blow up government” express because they resent taxation and government oversight of their business sector.  They can support notions such as viewing mask mandates as an infringement of individual freedom, because they espouse a libertarian philosophy that maximizes personal responsibility.  They see Trump as a “means” to their end game.  And this end game is, in effect, the establishment of a new confederacy.

Summary:  It’s not your imagination.  These are hard times.  Made more difficult by the Republican push to blow up democracy.  Tighten your seat belts, we’re flirting with civil war,

Trust Exercises


I’ll hold her.
Wow
She’s beautiful
Tiny.

You’re standing.
Go ahead sweetheart
Take a step
I’ve got you.

You don’t need training wheels
Just keep pedaling.
Steer straight ahead
I’ll keep you from falling.

Don’t worry
I’ll catch you.
Jump in the pool and
Swim to where I’m standing.

Close your eyes
Relax
Fall backwards
Into my arms.

Take a deep breath
You know your lines.
Just pretend
The audience isn’t there.

This song is a cappella,
Your voice is strong
We’ll start
With your solo.

The only way
to find out
Is to walk up and
talk to him.

Would you like to dance?
Take my hand
And
Follow my lead.

This party is boring.
Why don’t we
Take a walk
And get to know each other?

I was wondering
If you
Would be my date
For the prom.

A group of us
Are going skiing.
Would you like to
Go with me?

Next year
I’m going to rent off campus.
Would you like to
live with me?

You should go med school at Stanford.
After I graduate
I could live there
and get a job.

I love you,
It’s time
for us
to marry.

I’ll hold her.
Wow
She’s  beautiful
Tiny.

Afghanistan: 10 Takeaways


On August 30th, The United States military left Afghanistan.  This departure ended the longest war in our history, the 20-year US presence in Afghanistan.  Our military command announced: “Over an 18-day period… U.S. and coalition aircraft combined to evacuate more than 123,000 civilians.” There are ten takeaways from this experience.

1. The US presence in Afghanistan began with national unity and ended with divisiveness. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States was traumatized.  Congress wanted to do something and therefore passed the “Joint Resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States” — an authorization that led to the US military operation in Afghanistan.   On September 14, 2001, when Congress considered the  joint authorization of military force, only Representative Barbara Lee opposed it.

20 years later, the United States is divided. The latest Pew Research polling (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/08/31/majority-of-u-s-public-favors-afghanistan-troop-withdrawal-biden-criticized-for-his-handling-of-situation/) indicates that the majority of Americans (54 percent) support the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, but 42 percent oppose this, and 4 percent are not sure.  (Not surprisingly, attitudes about Afghanistan are split along Party lines.)  42 percent of respondents feel that Joe Biden has done a poor job “handling the situation in Afghanistan.”

The national Republican leadership opposed the evacuation.  Speaking on Fox News, Senate Minority Leader McConnell called the decision to withdraw the U.S. from Afghanistan “one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history… We leave behind exactly what we went in to solve 20 years ago.” Republicans continue to be the party of No: no evacuation, no vaccination.

2. The War in Afghanistan has ended but the War on Terror continues.  The US went into Afghanistan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and the others responsible for the 9/11 attacks.  In May of 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan.  Most of the other original Al Qaida leaders have been captured or are dead.

On August 31st, Biden observed (https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/joe-biden-speech-transcript-the-war-in-afghanistan-is-now-over ): “This is a new world. The terror threat has metastasized across the world, well beyond Afghanistan. We face threats from al-Shabab in Somalia, al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria and the Arabian Peninsula, and ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates across Africa and Asia.”  In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen an Al Qaida variant in Afghanistan, ISIS-K; on August 26th, they took credit for the huge suicide bombing at the Kabul airport.  Biden said, “We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it. We have what’s called Over The Horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground, or very few if needed.”

It will take a while to determine whether our total withdrawal from Afghanistan was the right step to take in the ongoing war on terror.  I think it was, but many Republicans disagree.

3. The US evacuated most but not all critical evacuees.  In his 8/31 speech, President Biden touted the effectiveness of the evacuation.  He indicated that more than 5500 Americans had been evacuated and somewhere between 100-200 remained in Afghanistan,  Biden explained, “Most of those who remain are dual citizens, long time residents, [who] earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan.”

Republicans are apoplectic that some Americans remain.  It will take a while to determine how effective the evacuation actually was.

4. We’ve taken a critical step towards a new foreign policy.  In his August 31st speech, Joe  Biden talked about ending “the forever war.”  He said, “As we turn the page on the foreign policy that has guided our nation in the last two decades, we’ve got to learn from our mistakes. To me there are two that are paramount. First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals. Not ones we’ll never reach. And second, I want to stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America.”

This is potentially a big deal: a policy shift that will see a reduction in Us foreign bases and a reduction in the DOD budget.

5. The US may have lost prestige.  There’s been a lot of talk suggesting that the United States has lost international prestige, because of the tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Perhaps, but to the best of my knowledge, all of our allies pulled out before our last troops left.  (Politico reported that our additional support of UK evacuations set up the August 26th suicide bombing.)  Hmm.  These same allies were already pissed off by Trump’s unilateral deal with the Taliban.

6. This was Trump’s fault.  Biden said, “By the time I came to office the Taliban was in it’s strongest military position since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country…
So we were left with a simple decision, either [carry] through on the commitment made by the [Trump] administration and leave Afghanistan, or say we weren’t leaving and commit another tens of thousands more troops going back to war. That was the choice, the real choice between leaving or escalating. I was not going to extend this forever war and I was not extending a forever exit.”

7. Biden conducted a level-headed cost-benefit analysis:  “I refuse to continue to war that was no longer in the service of the vital national interest of our people… After more than $2 trillion spent in Afghanistan…And most of all, after 800,000 Americans served in Afghanistan, I’ve traveled that whole country, brave and honorable service. After 20,744 American service men and women injured. And the loss of 2,461 American personnel, including 13 lives lost just this week. I refused to open another decade of warfare in Afghanistan” “We see it in the grief born by their survivors. The cost of war, they will carry with them their whole lives. Most tragically, we see in the shocking and stunning statistic that should give pause to anyone who thinks war can ever be low grade, low risk or low cost, 18 veterans on average who die by suicide every single day in America.”

8. This was not the disaster Republicans predicted: On September 29th, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said: “The parade of horribles are about to unfold … We’re leaving thousands of Afghan allies behind who fought bravely with us. We’re going to leave hundreds of American citizens behind. The chance of another 9/11 just went through the roof.”  Graham is wrong.

On August 31st, conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted: “Trump REPEATEDLY demanded that we bring our soldiers home, but only President Biden had the balls to do it.”  She described Trump as a “Wuss.”

9. The 20-year Afghanistan War was marked by Intelligence failures.  It shouldn’t come as any surprise that we’ve seen massive intelligence failures for the last few months; the entire war has been marked by intelligence failures. Late in November 2001, Osama bin Laden and many Al Qaeda fighters were cornered in the remote Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. Then President George W. Bush made the decision to capture bin Laden by relying upon Afghani mercenaries.  This didn’t succeed, because of bad intelligence.  And on and on.

In July. Joe Biden said this about the withdrawal of American troops: “it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.   Together, with our NATO Allies and partners, we have trained and equipped… nearly 300,000 current serving members of the Afghan National Security Force… We provided our Afghan partners with all the tools, training, and equipment of any modern military.  We provided advanced weaponry….  But most critically, as I stressed in my meeting just two weeks ago with President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah, Afghan leaders have to come together and drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve.”  At the time US intelligence believed that the Afghani forces would withstand the resurgence Taliban.  Our intelligence was wrong.

10. Biden’s approval rating has taking a hit, but it won’t last.  The latest 538  poll summary shows that 46.2 percent approve of Biden’s performance and 47.9 percent disapprove — the first time, since taking office, that Biden has been “underwater.”

BB prediction: Joe Biden is a leader.  He will weather this storm, and his approval ratings will go  up.

Foggy, Foggy Dew

In days of old
We damned the fogs
Made summers cold
Turned paths to bogs
Rendered every day a slog.

But times have changed
Events transpired
Perspective rearranged
By weather dire
Constant threat of fire.

Now fog has become
A treasured friend
As senses numb
Opinions bend
Fearing a fiery end.

The Tragedy of Afghanistan


National telethons used to be an annual event.  (The longest running was the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon; which closed in 2012.) If telethons reappear, I’m going to host the Bob Burnett Telethon to cure short attention span.  I’ll highlight the protracted failure of Americans to pay attention to the tragedy of Afghanistan.

On August 16th, President Joe Biden appeared on national TV and let the Afghanistan “buck” stop with him: “I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past — the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces.” God bless you, Joe Biden!  Thanks for being a real leader!

The US involvement in Afghanistan began twenty years ago, next month. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States was traumatized.  Congress wanted to do something and therefore passed the “Joint Resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States” — an authorization that led to the US military operation in Afghanistan.   On September 14, 2001, when Congress considered the  joint authorization of military force, only Representative Barbara Lee opposed it: “I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated matter… However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, ’let’s step back for a moment. Let’s just pause, just for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.’” [Emphasis added] [For years after making this speech, Congresswoman Lee was subject to death threats and harassing phone calls.]  God bless you, Barbara Lee!  Thanks for being a real leader!

Over the past 20 years, i have written dozens of times about the tragedy of Afghanistan.  My most prophetic article was written July 30, 2010, Afghanistan: America’s Failed Project.

Writing in Rolling Stone Michael Hastings concludes: “There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word ‘victory’ when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible.”  Reading this sobering article I was reminded of the advice proffered by a seasoned Silicon Valley software developer: “good projects may go bad, but bad projects almost never get better…” no matter how many billions the US spends, the situation in Afghanistan isn’t going to improve… The US effort in Afghanistan has become a failed project. We may follow Obama’s plan and tough it out for another 11 months, but there’s no reason to expect the situation to improve. We should cut our losses now; go to plan B.  Unfortunately, the US doesn’t have a plan B.

We’ve known for years that Afghanistan was lost.  Until Joe Biden became President, no one had the guts to admit this.  Why?

1.Failed Presidential Leadership: Over the past twenty years, there have been four American presidents: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden.  Earlier in the year, historians ranked the 44 presidents before Biden.  George W. Bush was ranked 29, Obama  10, and Trump 41.  For twelve of those twenty years, we had terrible leadership.

George W. Bush is the president most responsible for the Afghanistan tragedy.  In case you’ve forgotten, it was Dubya’s failure to heed intelligence reports that opened the door to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  Then he bungled the intervention in Afghanistan: Late in November 2001, bin Laden and many Al Qaeda fighters were cornered in the remote Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. Bush made the decision to capture bin Laden by relying upon Afghani mercenaries, who were not up to the job. By the time regular American forces arrived, bin Laden and most of his companions had slipped across the border into northwest Pakistan. In March 2002, Dubya abruptly changed his focus: “I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.” Bush had a short attention span; his focus shifted from bin Laden in Afghanistan-Pakistan to Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Trump made the Afghanistan situation much worse.  To score political points, in February of 2020, Trump brokered a “deal” that called for US troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Under the fourteen-month timeline, approximately 5,000 Taliban prisoners were also set to be released, including major Taliban leaders.  This legitimized the Taliban.

2. Failed Congressional Oversight:  Although the blame for the Afghanistan tragedy primarily rests with the four Presidents, Congress has a major share.  Under the Constitution, Congress has the responsibility to declare war.  Congress skirted this with the September 14, 2001, “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” which in effect gave the President carte blanche to send troops wherever he thought there were terrorists.  Afghanistan was occupied for twenty years because Congress stubbornly  held onto the attitude that Afghanistan might become a staging area for further terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Let’s be clear.  Since late in 2001, when Osama bin Laden and many al Qaeda fighters departed Afghanistan, there has been no justification for a U.S. presence in the country.  No President has defended the occupation on the grounds of “nation building.” Congress failed to do its job because it was very difficult for most members of Congress to stand up to U.S. military leaders, who were all too ready to argue: “Just give us a few thousand more troops and we will complete the mission in Afghanistan.”

3. Failed Military Leadership. In twenty years, the U.S. has spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan (https://www.forbes.com/sites/hanktucker/2021/08/16/the-war-in-afghanistan-cost-america-300-million-per-day-for-20-years-with-big-bills-yet-to-come/? ).  Take a moment to consider that.  $2 trillion.

With $2 trillion we could have ended U.S. poverty.  We could have built 10 million affordable homes.  We could have taken steps that directly benefited the American people.

The U.S. spent $2 trillion because the military lied to us.  First they said they could defeat the Taliban and pacify Afghanistan.  When that didn’t work, they created the myth of creating a reliable non-Taliban fighting force that we could trust to do the work when our troops left.  Biden called out this myth, noting that in the last couple of weeks the Afghanistan military collapsed. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”

Americans want to trust our military leaders.  Nonetheless, these military leaders misled us in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

4. Failed American Public Awareness: It’s a familiar maxim: “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  Since the end of World War II, the citizens of the United States have twice been lied to by the military.  Shame on us for believing them about Afghanistan.

Americans believed the lies we were told about Afghanistan, because we are lazy and arrogant.  We are lazy, because too many of us didn’t take the time to uncover the truth.  We are arrogant, because we believed that we could buy our way out of this mess.

Summary: The best words to describe this tragedy were written by Bob Dylan in “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll:”

Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace
and criticize all fears

Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.

Biden’s Infrastructure Win

On March 31st, President Joe Biden introduced his infrastructure plan, “The American Jobs Plan” (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/31/fact-sheet-the-american-jobs-plan/ ).  After four months of negotiation, on August 10th the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan plan. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/08/10/senate-infrastructure-bill-what-is-in-it/)

Even though Donald Trump lobbied against passage of the bill, the final vote was 69-30.  That is, nineteen Republican Senators voted for it, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump toady Lindsey Graham. The infrastructure bill now goes to the House where it is certain to pass — eventually.

The bipartisan infrastructure plan polls well.  The Hill (https://thehill.com/opinion/opinion/565157-mellman-voters-favor-bidens-infrastructure-plan?rl=1) reported:  “[When asked] ‘do you support or oppose President Biden and a bipartisan group of Senators passing a new infrastructure plan to improve roads and bridges, expand power infrastructure, increase passenger and rail access, expand broadband access, and improve water infrastructure?’ Sixty-six percent [of respondents] supported the plan, 22 percent opposed it.”  It’s noteworthy that most poll respondents want to pay for infrastructure by raising taxes on corporations and the rich: “AP-NORC found 66 percent in favor of raising taxes on corporations to pay for these improvements and 64 percent supporting higher taxes on households making more than $400,000 a year.”

The infrastructure bill will eventually wend its way into law.  Let’s look at what’s in it:

1.Transportation Projects: (Original plan $621 Billion; bipartisan plan approximately $500 Billion)  In essence the compromise plan kept the traditional infrastructure projects, including: $110 Billion for roads and bridges; $66 Billion for passenger and freight rail lines; $39 Billion for “public transit,” that is, upgrades of buses and rail cars; $25 Billion for airport modernization; $17 Billion for port upgrades; $15 Billion for electric vehicles, including $7.5 Billion for EV charging stations and $7.5 Billion for electric school buses. Etcetera.

2. “Quality of Life at Home”: (Original plan $650 Billion; bipartisan plan approximately $400 billion) In essence this is the original Biden proposal less an allocation of $213B to “build, preserve, and retrofit more than 2 million affordable homes and commercial buildings.” It focuses on modernizing the electric grid, $65 Billion.  It also includes providing broadband internet access to rural and low-income communities.  In addition there is $55 Billion to upgrade America’s water system — with a focus on bad pipes.  (There is also $8 Billion to build a new western water infrastructure,) It also includes $47 Billion for “Resilience,” funds for cybersecurity and climate change mitigation. There’s $21 Billion for Remediation; that is, “funds to clean up brownfield and superfund sites, abandoned mines, and old oil and gas wells that need to be plugged.”  There’s also $11 Billion for highway safety. Etcetera.

3. Caregivers for elderly and disabled. (Original plan $400 Billion; bipartisan plan $0) Biden’s original plan would have expanded Medicaid to provide affordable, quality care for everyone who needs it.

4. Research, Development, and Manufacturing: (Original plan $480 Billion; bipartisan plan approximately $100 billion.)

Jobs: The good news is that the bipartisan infrastructure bill will create jobs: “Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, estimates growth of about 660,000 jobs could result by 2025.”

The bad news is that the funding is sketchy: “The spending is partially paid for with unused covid-19 relief dollars, unused federal unemployment aid, sales of spectrum and oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, increased fees for some superfund sites and customs, and delaying a Medicare expense for a year. Some money would also come from tighter enforcement to ensure cryptocurrency investors pay taxes once they sell and realize their gains.”  Many progressives feel that the appropriate way to pay for infrastructure improvements is to increase taxes for millionaires and corporations.  Unfortunately, Republicans in general, and some Democrats, won’t support this.

Playing the bipartisanship card: President Biden lauded the bipartisan plan: “Democracy requires compromise. The historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will make life better for millions of Americans, create a generation of good-paying union jobs and economic growth, and position the United States to win the 21st century, including on many of the key technologies needed to combat the climate crisis.”

Clearly, Biden relishes the idea of Congress passing a significant bipartisan piece of legislation.  Writing in a June 28th editorial (https://news.yahoo.com/biden-americans-can-be-proud-of-the-infrastructure-deal-214533346.html) Biden observed: “The deal… is a signal to ourselves, and to the world, that American democracy can work and deliver for the people.  Neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted in this agreement. But that’s what it means to compromise and reach consensus — the very heart of democracy. When we negotiate in good faith, and come together to get big things done, we begin to break the ice that too often has kept us frozen in place and prevented us from solving the real problems Americans face.”

Nonetheless, Biden hasn’t given up on the other components of his original infrastructure proposal.  In his editorial,  Biden noted: “I will continue working with Congress to pass the remainder of my economic and clean energy agenda. We have an urgent need to invest in housing, clean energy deployment and the care economy. And we need to make equally critical investments in our human infrastructure: in childcare and paid leave, universal pre-K and free community college, and tax cuts for working families with children. They are inextricably intertwined with physical infrastructure.”

Next Steps: On August 11, the Senate narrowly approved Biden’s $3.5 trillion framework for improving health care, family services, and environmental programs.  In These Times noted (https://inthesetimes.com/article/infrastructure-reconciliation-senate-bernie-sanders-biden-deficit-climate-filibuster? ): “For Medicare, there is an expansion of benefits to cover dental, vision and hearing, and a reduction of the minimum age of eligibility, along with a lowering of prescription drug prices. The new expanded Child Tax Credit is extended beyond the current year. If the bill is passed in its current form, Americans will finally have access to at least some paid family and medical leave, child care, as well as two free years of community college and universal Pre‑K. The government will make massive investments in affordable housing, as well as a Civilian Climate Corps.”

Now the action moves to the House of Representatives which will return early from recess — on August 23rd: “to vote on the fiscal blueprint, which contemplates disbursing the $3.5 trillion over the next decade. Final congressional approval, which seems certain, would protect a subsequent bill actually enacting the outline’s detailed spending and tax changes from a Republican filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, delays that would otherwise kill it.” (https://www.npr.org/2021/08/11/1026635503/senate-passes-3-5t-budget)

BB prediction: The bipartisan infrastructure plan will pass this summer.  The remainder of Biden “Jobs Plan” will pass in the fourth quarter by means of reconciliation.