Author Archives: Bob Burnett

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.

Magical Paris


A world-traveler name Harris
Took a trip on a wheel made by Ferris
It rolled faster and faster
Deftly forestalling disaster
And arrived at a cafe in Paris.

Ukraine: Putin Backs Down

On May 9th, Vladimir Putin made a much-anticipated speech to the Russian people (https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/nato-nazis-and-the-motherland-putin-s-full-victory-day-speech-1.10787657 ). Interspersed with familiar tropes, was a softer Putin message.

1.Narrowed Focus: Rather than focus on annexing all of Ukraine, Putin now seems intent on solidifying control of the Donbas region; that is, the eastern-most provinces of Ukraine: Donetsk and Luhansk.  In addition, Putin wants to build a land bridge between Crimea and Donbas: secure Kherson and Melitopol and the surrounding territory.

Putin observed, “Donbass militia alongside with the Russian Army are fighting on their land today… I am addressing our Armed Forces and Donbass militia. You are fighting for our Motherland, its future, so that nobody forgets the lessons of World War II.”

Captured Russian documents (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/putin-s-precious-war-plan-left-behind-by-fleeing-russian-troops-officials-say/ar-AAXaaQ5 ) reveal that Putin’s original focus was to annex all of Ukraine: “‘Investigators… found important documents of soldiers of the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces that give a clear understanding that Russia was preparing to seize all the territory of Ukraine,’ Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation Chief Oleksiy Sukhachev said in a statement.”

2. Calmer Presentation: Although Putin’s justifications for the invasion were the same as they had been in previous speeches, his words were less bellicose.

Although western observers can be encouraged that Putin has narrowed the scope of his invasion, the fact remains that he seems intent on annexing the Donbas region.  Putin is going to have considerable difficulty doing this.  Russian forces have lost control of strategic terrain and they can no longer move supplies using Ukrainian railways.  This suggests that Putin has put himself in a “box.”  He can’t move forward and he’ll lose face if he retreats.

3. Falsehoods: Much of what Putin told the Russian people were lies.  The BBC fact-checked his speech (https://www.bbc.com/news/61379405).

a. Ukraine wants nuclear weapons:  “President Putin has repeatedly said Ukraine plans to acquire nuclear weapons as a justification for Russia’s invasion, although there’s no evidence this is the case…   the Ukrainian government has not expressed an intention to acquire nuclear weapons and a military strategy document published last year did not refer to them.”

b. Neo-Nazis are seizing control of Ukraine: “President Putin has frequently claimed the presence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine as a justification for Russia’s invasion.  At the last parliamentary election in 2019, support for far-right candidates was just 2% – far lower than in many other European countries. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and members of his family died in the Holocaust.”

c. NATO was preparing for war before the invasion: “President Putin appears to be suggesting, not only that Nato has been expanding its influence in the Baltic states which are Nato members – but also inside Ukraine, which is not in Nato. It’s true that Nato allies have supported Ukraine with equipment and training since 2014, and they have deployed more forces to some Nato member states in eastern Europe.”

4. IMPASSE:  Russia cannot win this war, but it can inflict terrible damage as it thrashes around.  On May 10th, President Biden’s advisor, Avril Haines (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/10/putin-nuclear-weapons-us-intelligence-avril-haines?) warned there is a dangerous path ahead : “Vladimir Putin could view the prospect of defeat in Ukraine as an existential threat to his regime, potentially triggering his resort to using a nuclear weapon… The prediction for Ukraine was a long, grueling war of attrition, which could lead to increasingly volatile acts of escalation from Putin, including full mobilization, the imposition of martial law, and – if the Russian leader felt the war was going against him, endangering his position in Moscow – even the use of a nuclear warhead.”

Summary: Putin isn’t going to “fade away.”  He’s a psychopath.  Hold on tight.

Weddings


Some weddings are brief
Some last all day
My favorite is
When I don’t have to pay.

Weddings are:
Complicated
Serpentine
Existential.

One of the few social occasions
Where you are obliged
To confront
Your family.
(Funerals are another.)

Of course,
The couple can always elope
Or not get married.
(“Shack up” or “Live in sin.”)

There’s no such thing as a
small wedding.

If you decide to
“tie the knot”
You invite your entire family
Even Uncle Bud who drinks way too much
or Leaping Lena who “sleeps around.”

Then you have to decide who sits where
What food to serve.
What kind of ceremony.
Should there be music
Who is going to pay for it all.

My favorite ceremony:
Everyone I know attends
Outdoors in good weather
Sit on ground
Wonderful food and drink served by robots
Lawrence Ferlinghetti reads
Ray Charles and Bruce Springsteen play
Desmond Tutu officiates
My children pay.

Abortion Politics: SCOTUS Goes Rogue


When historians look back on 2022, they’re likely to characterize it as “the year of the big reveal.” The year Vladimir Putin was revealed as murderous thug. The year Donald Trump was revealed as feckless loser. The year Republicans were revealed as the party of white male supremacy. The year the US Supreme Court went rogue.

On May 2nd, Politico (https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/02/supreme-court-abortion-draft-opinion-00029473 ) published a draft Supreme Court opinion indicating the court was about to issue  “a full-throated, unflinching repudiation of the 1973 [Roe v. Wade] decision which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights.”

1. Philosophy: Overturning Roe v. Wade is a reflection of two philosophical pillars of the contemporary Republican Party: state’s rights and misogyny.  It’s a reflection of “state’s rights” because overturning Roe v. Wade means that each state will determine abortion rights.  This is a reflection of the current Republican thinking that most civil rights should be determined at the state level; for example, the right to same-sex marriage should be determined by each state.  (In effect, the Republican Party is taking the same states-rights position that led to the civil war in 1861.)

It’s a reflection of the underlying Republican misogyny because overturning Roe v Wade means that, in Red states, white men will control women’s bodies.

2.Public Opinion: Most Americans do not want Roe v. Wade to be overturned.  For example, a recent Public Policy Institute of California Poll (https://www.ppic.org/blog/a-broad-range-of-californians-oppose-overturning-roe-v-wade/? ) found that 76 percent of likely voters do not want Roe v. Wade overturned; 87 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Independents, and 54 percent of Republicans.  (There was no major California Demographic category that did not oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.)

Of course, California is a blue state.  But recent polling indicates that there is strong national opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade.  The Guardian notes: “A Politico/Morning Consult study found voters are two to one in favor of preserving the 1973 Roe v Wade opinion that safeguarded protected women’s access to abortions… exactly 50% of respondents wanted it maintained. 28% wanted it overturned, and 22% were undecided. A separate Washington Post/ABC poll reports 54% in favor of preserving Roe, and 28% against, while an even higher number of Americans, 70%, think abortion is a private issue between patient and doctor.”

The New York Times breaks this down by state (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/04/upshot/polling-abortion-states.html), noting: “the national average [is] 54 percent who mostly or fully support legalized abortion, compared with 41 percent who mostly or fully oppose it.”  The Times article goes on to state: “The public’s views on abortion are notoriously hard to measure, with large segments of the public often seeming to offer muddled or inconsistent answers. Polls consistently show that around two-thirds of Americans support the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade and oppose overturning it.” [Emphasis added]

The map accompanying the Times article indicates that in all the swing states — that is, the ones whose votes will determine control of Congress in November — a majority of likely voters support Roe v Wade.

3. Politics: It’s unlikely that Republican politicians (McConnell, McCarthy…) wanted SCOTUS to strike down Roe v Wade at this time.  After all, until recently, it was widely assumed that Republican voters had more enthusiasm heading into the 2022 midterms.  Nonetheless, after Russia invaded Ukraine, and Biden showed remarkable leadership, Democratic enthusiasm ticked up.  Now it has exploded.

Politicsusa.com (https://www.politicususa.com/2022/05/03/bombshell-poll-shows-overturning-roe-could-trigger-a-blue-wave.html ) reported: “An Ipsos poll exclusive for Reuters, fielded May 3, 2022 after the leak of a Supreme Court draft decision challenging Roe v. Wade, finds that in the upcoming November elections, two-thirds of Americans (63%) would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports passing a law legalizing abortion, replacing Roe if it is struck down.”

4. Platform: At the end of 2021, it appeared that the 2022 midterm elections would be, in effect, a popularity contest; Republicans would say, “Trump was cheated; we can’t stand Biden; we want anybody else.”  Democrats would say” “C’mon, Biden’s not that bad.

That’s changed; the November election will not be a popularity contest.  The consequence of the SCOTUS decision will be that voters will consider consequential differences between Democrats and Republicans.  There’s at least four differences between Democrats and Republicans:

a. Abortion: Democrats will say, “We support a women’s right to make her own healthcare decisions.  Moreover, we believe that civil rights should be determined at the Federal level; for example, the right to chose who we marry and the right to vote.”

Republicans will counter: “We oppose abortion in all circumstances.   And, by the way, we plan to repeal Obamacare.  Moreover, we believe in ‘State’s Rights;’ we believe that civil rights should be determined at the state level.”

b. Voting Rights: Democrats will say, “We believe  the right to vote should be guaranteed at the Federal level.  By the way, we believe the 2020 presidential election was fair and what occurred on January 6, 2021, was an insurrection.  We also want to abolish the electoral college and have national presidential elections decided by popular vote.”

Republicans will counter:  “Each state should determine its own voting standards.  By the way, we believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen and what occurred on January 6., 2021 was exaggerated by the liberal media.  We want to hang onto the electoral college as a cherished heirloom.”

c. Economy: Democrats will say: “Democrats have guided the US economy out of a tough period and, after hitting a few potholes, the economy is back on track to be the strongest in the world.  By the way, we need to tax corporations and rich individuals to ensure they pay their fair share.”

Republicans will counter: “Biden’s handling of the economy has been a disaster.  We need to return to the days of ‘Trumpanomics’ where we had a steady hand on the wheel.  By the way, taxes on corporations and rich individuals are still too high; everyone should pay a minimum tax — particularly the poor.”

d. National Security: Democrats will say, “President Biden recognizes Vladimir Putin as a murderous thug; Biden has united the western world in opposition to Russian aggression.  By the way, the most serious national security problem is climate change.”

Republicans will counter: “Putin is a strong leader; he’s smart.  The real national security threat is Hunter Biden.”

Summary: SCOTUS has gone rogue and Republicans have joined them.

Ukraine: What We’ve Learned


It’s been more than two months since Russia invaded Ukraine (February 24).  We’ve learned enough to be able to predict what will happen next and what the geo-political consequences will be.

1.Russia will lose the war: At the beginning of the invasion, most observers believed that Russia would overwhelm Ukraine.  That didn’t happen and, as time passes, it seems more unlikely to happen.  The conflict may drag out but eventually, Russia will lose.

There are multiple reasons why Russia has performed so poorly.  The first is that the Ukrainians have out-fought the Russians; the Ukrainians are highly motivated and the Russians are not.  The second 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 bad tactical decisions; for example to invade the Donbas region in the spring while the ground is very wet.  The Russian supply infrastructure is inadequate.  Russians seemingly have no capability of repairing vehicles that break down in the field.  Because of the EU sanctions, Russia cannot get 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 these.)

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

2. Russians soldiers 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 have no respect for civilized norms.

3. Ukraine will win the war, but at a terrible cost.  The war will end when Russia either runs out of money or  has lost so much equipment it will be unable to maintain its lines. Then the Russians will withdraw, looting and burning everything in their path.

Most likely, Russians will retreat to the previous Ukraine border; they will cede Donbas but there will be nothing left of it.  Russia will pay no reparations.  (The fate of Crimea remains to be determined.)

4. Sanctions will continue.  This isn’t a war that will be ended with a peace conference where dignitaries sign agreements.  Russia will slink back to its den.  The west will be outraged by Russia’s conduct.  Putin will continue to threaten us.  (How does it all end? “Not with a bang, but a whimper.”)

Russia will be isolated from the western world.  “Normal” relations will not resume until Putin is out of power.

5. Russia will lash out.  Since the war began we’ve been expecting Russia to do something to hurt NATO countries — such as arrange for Marine Le Pen to become president of France.  The  most likely possibility is cyber warfare.  A recent “Sixty Minutes” segment explored this possibility.  ( https://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-cyberattacks-60-minutes-2022-04-17/)  One of the presenters observed: “The reality is that [The United States has] way too many targets. If you look particularly in our energy sector, you have regional utilities. You have minor energy processing companies, storage companies, pipeline companies. And make no mistake, Bill. The cyber actors that [Russia has] are top notch. And they’ve demonstrated that time and time again.”

Russia will continue to interfere in US Politics.  (Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, Rand Paul…)

To say the least, this is a dangerous period.  If, as i expect, Russia eventually retreats to the previous Ukraine border, Russian forces will likely use heinous weapons to render the Donbas landscape unusable.

6. Germany is particularly vulnerable.  German has taken steps to aid Ukraine but not to the extent that the other major NATO members have.  That’s because Germany gets 34 percent of it gas, 32 percent of its oil, and 43 percent of its coal from Russia.

If Russia loses, as we expect, it’s reasonable to expect NATO members to suffer for this; of course, Russia would need to find a big customer to replace the revenue.  The Guardian observes that Germany is at the edge of recession.  (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/apr/22/russian-gas-ban-germany-recession-bundesbank?)

7. Russia is vulnerable to China. In a recent Renew Democracy podcast (https://renewdemocracy.substack.com/p/germanys-making-a-deadly-mistake? ), Tom Tugendhat was interviewed; he’s a member of the British Parliament and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  He observed that it’s not just Russia’s reputation that’s been damaged by their poor performance in Ukraine.  Tugendhat noted that to resupply troops killed or injured in Ukraine, Russia has been forced to withdraw troops from their eastern provinces.

It’s conceivable that China will capitalize on Russia’s weakness and take back territory such as Manchuria.  China might invade Siberia, where there are big oil fields.

8. There will be severe economic consequences.  There is a school of thought that argues the war will only stop when Russia runs out of money; that is, when NATO countries stop buying Russian fossil fuel — currently estimated at $1 billion per day. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/27/russia-doubles-fossil-fuel-revenues-since-invasion-of-ukraine-began? )

However, there is an emerging school of thought that argues the war will end when Russia so depletes their military store that to continue the Ukrainian invasion would present Russia with a grave national security threat.  In other words, Russia will have lost so many troops, tanks, trucks, and other weapons that they will not be able to adequately secure their vast territory.

The latter possibility once seemed unthinkable. Now it isn’t.  Russia has lost far more troops than they anticipated and cannot adequately replace them.

During the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has lost about one-quarter of their armored vehicles — roughly 1200.  They still have a lot of armored vehicles but they are not replenishing this supply and evidence suggests the existing store is poorly maintained.  That suggests that by June, Russia will have lost more than half of their half of their armored vehicles.

The war may continue but it will soon have grave consequences for the Russian and Ukrainian economies.  Russia exports fertilizer, and grain to the West.  These exports will stop as well as Ukrainian agricultural exports. The cessation of Ukrainian agricultural exports will create a food crisis in the Mediterranean region.  Writing in Common Dreams, Steven Devereux (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2022/03/28/russias-war-ukraine-poses-threat-global-food-security) observed: “Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of Europe, and Russia and Ukraine have both become major food exporters in recent years. In 2020 these two countries accounted for one third of the world’s wheat trade and one quarter of the world’s barley trade. Ukraine alone exported 15 percent of the world’s maize and half of all sunflower oil traded globally.”  The war will drive up food prices.

9.  The environmental consequences are unthinkable.  Russia is the largest country in the world with 11 percent of the world landmass.  It’s unthinkable to seriously attack global climate change without the support of Russia.  Nonetheless, under the present circumstances, that’s not going to happen — and is unlikely to happen until Putin is out of power. (Note that the effort to combat climate change has some support from all other major powers, including China, third largest, Brazil , fifth largest, India, seventh largest, and Kazakhstan, ninth largest.)

For the foreseeable future, the world will have to tackle climate change without the support of Russia,

10. Politics: We’ve started World War III, but the United States remains divided along political lines;  According to the latest Pew Research Poll (https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2022/04/06/seven-in-ten-americans-now-see-russia-as-an-enemy/ ) “69% of Republicans [describe] Russia as an enemy.”  (Only 6 percent express confidence in Putin.)  Nonetheless, there are huge partisan divide on the conduct of the war;.The latest Pew Research poll indicates that Americans are divided on the Biden Administration’s handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: 47 percent strongly approve and 39 percent strongly disapprove.  Opinion is divided along partisan lines: 69 percent of Democrats strongly approve and 67 percent of Republicans strongly disapprove.

It’s difficult to understand what Republicans disapprove of since they seem to change their tune every day.  The one continuing theme is that Republicans don’t like Joe Biden.

But some Republicans have seen the light.  Writing in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/24/biden-is-getting-ukraine-right-russia-war-critics/?), Republican columnist Jennifer Rubin thinks that Biden has done a good job managing the war in Ukraine. “In our age of perpetual cynicism, distrust and discontent, it would be unheard of for [Republicans] to acknowledge that an administration is doing just about everything humanly possible to confront evil. But this administration is. For that, Biden deserves a great deal of credit.”

Summary: Welcome to the new world order.  We’re not doing enough to combat climate change.  Russia has launched World War III.  And Republicans have lost their minds.

La Bulle

While I sat at my desk searching for artistic vision
A gust of whimsy lifted me up out of my senior routine
As if I were a wayward party balloon.

I hovered above my house
Slightly to the left of the solar panels.

To the west, a glimmering sliver of the Pacific
A tonsure of fog.
Cattle ranches separated by
Oak-dense canyons.
Around me redwood groves
the green hills of Occidental.
To the east, vineyards
Organic farms.
The dreaded strip malls of Petaluma.

Sanctuary
Unified by music and poetry.

Ukraine: Russian Disinformation


As the war in Ukraine drags on, it becomes increasingly apparent that one of the major parameters is disinformation. For example, the attitude inside Russia seems to be that Vladimir Putin’s military operations are justified because Putin is protecting “the fatherland” from neo-Nazis. Pro-Putin propaganda has been disseminated throughout the world; It has infected Republican legislators.

Russia: In the United States, a narrative has circulated suggesting the war will end when Russians rise up and depose Putin.  Nonetheless, Russian opinion polls suggest that Putin is very popular because the average Russian believes that Putin is protecting “the fatherland.”  A recent Levada poll discussed in Newsweek (https://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-approval-rating-increase-russia-1693521 ) “Showed that approval of Putin’s actions increased from 69 percent in January to 83 percent in March.”  (Statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/896181/putin-approval-rating-russia/) confirms that within Russia, Putin has strong approval ratings.)  Nonetheless, a recent academic study discussed in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/04/13/putin-public-opinion-propaganda-levada-center/ ) indicates that Putin’s ratings are fragile: “These findings suggest that much of Putin’s support is based on perceptions that he is popular. Without that perception, Putin’s popularity fades.”

The Russian media has a consistent message: “Ukraine is a threat to ‘the fatherland’ and Vladimir Putin is a strong president who is protecting Russia.”  The monolithic Russia media is also dismissing reports that the initial Russian effort was unsuccessful or that Russian troops have committed war crimes.

If this seems familiar, it is similar to the situation in Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II.  Hitler was very popular in Germany and disliked in most of the rest of the world.  One of Hitler’s lieutenants, Joseph Goebbels, ran the ministry of propaganda.  He succeeded in convincing most Germans that Adolph Hitler was the right person to protect their country.

Europe: Russia’s distorted view of Putin isn’t an isolated phenomenon.  Throughout the world, there are many countries where the Russian actions in Ukraine are viewed more sympathetically than US citizens would believe.  For example, “In polls on several Chinese websites, generally about 40 percent of Chinese people remain neutral, about 30 percent support Russia, and about 20 percent support Ukraine.” (https://thediplomat.com/2022/03/why-do-many-chinese-sympathize-with-russia-in-the-ukraine-conflict/)

While most of the NATO countries have strong support for Ukraine in the war, and equally strong dislike of Putin, there is a different attitude among Europe’s far-right parties.  This is seen in Hungary with the government of Viktor Orban.  It is also a feature of the current French election which pits centrist Emmanuel Macron against right-wing Marine Le Pen.

Al Jazeera (https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2022/4/4/forbidden-love-putin-and-the-french-european) recently observed: “French opposition leader Marine Le Pen, the de facto spokesperson of the European far right, has been rising in the polls despite her ongoing support and admiration for [Putin] …. In 2014, Le Pen endorsed the Kremlin’s referendum in the Russian-annexed Crimea as legitimate and has been accused of being a Putin stooge. In 2015, reports in the French press based on hacked Kremlin records showed that Le Pen may have lent her support to Putin’s annexation in return for a nine million euro ($9.9m) loan from a Russian bank – although the allegations of a quid pro quo have never been proved.”

On April 24, Macron and Le Pen will vie for the French presidency.  Le Pen is close despite her long-time support for Putin.  The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/11/french-election-runoff-marine-le-pen-putin/) noted: “A National Rally campaign leaflet distributed this year depicted her shaking hands with the Russian president, and the party funded itself with a 9 million euro loan from a Russian bank in 2014. Ms. Le Pen’s long-standing hostility to NATO is well-known; she is promising to withdraw the French military from the alliance’s command structure.”

United States: Donald Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin is well known. On February 27, Trump said: “Yesterday, I was asked by reporters if I thought President Putin was smart. I said, ‘of course he’s smart… The problem is not that Putin is smart, which of course he is smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb.”

But Trump wasn’t the only Republican leader to admire Putin.  “Putin’s high-profile admirers include alt-right agitator Steve Bannon and former White House communications director and presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. Prominent television host Tucker Carlson spoke out in support of Putin just one day before Russia invaded Ukraine, questioning whether Putin was the enemy liberals painted him to be: ‘Why do Democrats want you to hate Putin? Has Putin shipped every middle class job in your town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked your business? Is he teaching your kids to embrace racial discrimination?'” (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-04-02/putin-s-supporters-in-united-states-europe/100944412)

Late in January, a Yahoo/YouGov poll (https://news.yahoo.com/poll-as-ukraine-tensions-escalate-62-percent-of-republicans-say-putin-is-a-stronger-leader-than-biden-192437439.html ) found “more than 6 in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (62 percent) now say Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a stronger leader” than Joe Biden.”

50 days into the war, most Republicans have changed their tune.  According to the latest Pew Research Poll (https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2022/04/06/seven-in-ten-americans-now-see-russia-as-an-enemy/ ) “69% of Republicans [describe] Russia as an enemy.”  (Only 6 percent express confidence in Putin.)  Nonetheless, there are huge partisan divide on the conduct of the war; for example, like Marine Le Pen, most conservative Republicans do not have confidence in NATO.

The latest Pew Research poll indicates that Americans are divided on the Biden Administration’s handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: 47 percent strongly approve and 39 percent strongly disapprove.  Opinion is divided along partisan lines: 69 percent of Democrats strongly approve and 67 percent of Republicans strongly disapprove.

Analysis: Note that since Russia invaded Ukraine, most Republicans have become negative on Putin and Russia, but have not rallied around President Biden.  We’re at war with Russia but unlike the situation in previous wars, Republicans have not rallied around the commander-in-chief.

There are two connected explanations for this.  One is that many Republicans like Putin because he reflects their world view.  Putin is a racist misogynistic bully.  Many conservatives see him as a rugged individual guided by the philosophy of self-interest popularized by Ayn Rand (BTW: She was born  Alisha Rosenbaum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.)  In other words, Vladimir Putin is not woke.  He has a very simple moral philosophy; the ends always justify the means.  Writing in the New Statesman ( https://www.newstatesman.com/world/americas/north-america/us/2022/03/why-parts-of-the-us-right-cant-quit-putin) Emily Tamkin opined: “The far right – or at least the Trump-aligned far right – is already too deep into conspiracy theories to break with Russia, or at least to side cleanly with Ukraine…”

The other explanation for the undue influence that Putin has had on US politics is that we have allowed Russian money to have undue influence in US politics.  Since Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign, there have been indications that Russia funneled money to the Republican Party.  The Mueller investigation reported that Russia “interfered” in the 2016 election and there were troubling links between the Trump campaign and Russian actors including Russian Oligarchs; see for example, this article by professor Ruth May (https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2018/05/08/how-putin-s-oligarchs-funneled-millions-into-gop-campaigns/ )

Summary: Recently, CNN host Jim Acosta (https://www.politicususa.com/2022/04/10/jim-acosta-nails-tucker-carlson-for-using-russian-talking-points.html ) pointed out that Tucker Carlson (Fox News) was repeating Russian talking points about Ukraine: ” Last week Tucker Carlson tried to imply that some of what you are seeing [about Russian atrocities] has been fabricated and amplified by news organizations. That sounds a lot like what we heard from Putin’s spokesman who said bodies lining the streets were, quote, a forgery, aimed at denigrating the Russian army.”  Prominent Republican members of Congress like Marjorie Taylor Green and Josh Hawley are also repeating Russian talking points.

It’s time to call out the ongoing Russian-sponsored disinformation campaign for what it is: a national security threat.

It’s time to call out Republicans, who praise Putin and denigrate Biden, for what they really are: traitors.  It’s time to brand Tucker Carlson as a traitor.

We are at war with Russia.  We don’t have to put up with Republican craziness any longer.