Category Archives: Political

Ukraine: What Happens Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold on tight.

 

2022 MidTerms: 10 Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ukraine: Sanctions and Opportunities


There are two schools of thought about resolution of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. One argues that there must be a negotiated settlement and the other believes the conflict will only end when Russia is “brought to its knees.”  The latter perspective carries risk but notable opportunities.

The negotiated settlement perspective suggests that Russia will stop the invasion if the eastern portion of Ukraine is ceded to Russia; that is, the Donbas region. Russia would require Ukraine to declare “neutrality.”  A negotiated settlement ends the conflict, for now; Russian bombing would stop, along with the horrific civilian casualties.  It’s unclear what would happen with sanctions or who would pay to rebuild Ukraine.

The “bring Russia to its knees” perspective argues that the invasion will only stop when the Russian economy is so weakened that Putin can no longer afford to have armed forces in Ukraine.  This is the position argued eloquently by Bill Browder in  a recent Renew Democracy podcast (https://renewdemocracy.substack.com/p/-winter-is-here-ep5-how-do-sanctions?s=r)

In essence, Bill Browder’s argument has three parts;

1.The west can’t negotiate with Putin because he is a psychopath.  Browder argues that the US and our allies  cannot trust Putin, because he invades neighboring countries as a tactic in his grandiose scheme to stay in power.  Therefore, from Browder’s perspective, a negotiated settlement is impossible because Putin will use this as an opportunity to rearm; Putin will not be deterred by an settlement in Ukraine.  Speaking to Barron’s magazine (https://www.barrons.com/articles/putin-sanctions-bill-browder-51646267765) Bill Browder observed, ““Putin has no reverse gear. His whole psychology is prison-yard psychology. You can’t show any weakness. You have to be more brutal than anybody out there.”

In recent days, as Russia has withdrawn from northern Ukraine, we have seen graphic evidence of Russian war crimes.  This underscores Browder’s contention that Putin is a psychopath.

The only way to stop Vladimir Putin is to (metaphorically) put him in jail. He cannot actually be put into prison, because he is in Russia.  Therefore, the strategy has to be to isolate all of Russia.  There must be a total blockade.

2. The best way to stop Putin is through sanctions.  One way to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine is for NATO forces to enter Ukraine, to fight alongside Ukrainian troops and force all Russian forces out of Ukraine.  The west hasn’t chosen to do this because of our belief that Putin would respond by using weapons of mass destruction and the conflict would escalate into world war III.

Browder believes Putin will stop the war in Ukraine when Russia runs out of money.  Browder notes  that Putin is financing the war by using funds gained from selling fossil fuel to the west.  (Estimated to be $1 billion per day.) That is, the current sanctions have diminished the flow of EU money to Russia but not eliminated  it.  Russia is wounded but not yet “brought to its knees.”

Renew Democracy is grading the sanctions (https://fight4ukraine.com ).  The US grades at B-.
Sanctions are broken down into seven categories: condemnation, military support for Ukraine, financial sanctions, sanctions on individuals, diplomatic isolation, propaganda, and replacement of Russian energy. Renew Democracy observed that the US is doing well on “condemnation” and “financial sanctions” but needs do more work on the other categories such as “military support” and “sanctions on individuals.”  The US and our NATO partners are sending increased level of military support to Ukraine.

The key problem is that NATO is not united in the severity of sanctions.  Some NATO members are buying lots of oil and gas from Russia and have implemented only limited financial sanctions.  (They can’t block money transfers to all Russian banks because they need to have a payment channel.)  Most Russian fuel exports go to EU countries: the largest customer is Germany which gets 49 percent of their fuel needs from Russia; the second largest is Italy (46 percent); then Turkey (65 percent); France (24 percent); Hungary (72 percent); Finland (100 percent); Slovakia (100 percent); Poland (60 percent); Czech Republic (82 percent) and Austria (63 percent).  If Russia were to cut off fuel exports to the EU, these countries would be severely impacted.

On April 8, the US Congress voted to ban all Russian oil imports.  (https://thehill.com/news/senate/3261477-senate-passes-package-to-limit-trade-with-russia/)  The same day, the European Union voted to stop all Russia coal imports by August (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/06/business/russia-coal-europe.html ) : “Imports from Russia accounted for 47 percent of coal coming into the European Union in 2019.”

To use a deliberately disturbing metaphor, NATO is a fossil-fuel junkie that finds itself at war with its dealer.  It is proving difficult for NATO to stop using Russian fuel imports.  So NATO continues to fund the Russian war in Ukraine.

Obviously, this is an opportunity for a massive shift to renewable energy.

2. Another way to stop  Putin is to seize the assets of Russian Oligarchs.  Bill Browder estimates that Vladimir Putin and his associates have looted $1trillion from Russia.  Browder estimates there are more than 100 “oligarchs.”  They have a straightforward relationship with Putin: half of their assets belong to him; they do his bidding without equivocation or they die.  (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/04/meet-the-oligarchs-sanctions-russian-billionaires )

NATO has  begun seizing the assets of these oligarchs; for example, seizing their super-yachts and planes.  However, many of these assets are hidden deep in a web of legal deception.  Like sanctions, dealing with the kleptocrats will take time.

This is an opportunity to deal with kleptocrats, in general.  For example, the US has oil barons.

Summary: Once again, I’m conveying a grim message.  Nonetheless, I do not feel pessimistic; i feel determined.  We’re at a moment similar to that in “The Wizard of Oz” when the curtains are lifted and we see the Wizard for who he truly is — a fake.  The curtains of Russia have been lifted and we’ve seen Vladimir Putin for who ihe truly is — a psychopath.  We can’t play nice with a psychopath.

We know what to do.  Now we must do it.  We must take the actions necessary to bring Russia to its knees.

 

 

Ukraine: What Have We Learned


It’s been five weeks since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The conflict threatens to stretch out for months; a resolution is murky. Nonetheless, we have learned several important lessons:

1.Putin is a thug. Out here on the Left Coast we never had high expectations for Vladimir Putin. We knew that he came out of the Soviet KGB and heard rumors that he was a “kleptocrat,” reportedly the richest man in Europe ( https://fortune.com/2022/03/02/vladimir-putin-net-worth-2022/). We didn’t trust Vlad. We believed that he contrived to get Donald Trump elected in 2016.

We thought Putin was immoral but smart. When it looked like he was going to invade Ukraine, we worried, “Poor Ukraine. Russia will roll over them in a few days.”

We forgot that thugs often start out wily but then get overconfident — inflated with hubris.  Thugs surround themselves with sycophants.  They start believing their own B.S.

Putin got cocky.  He thought Ukraine and NATO would roll over if he acted tough.  He confused brutality with guile.  As a result, Putin got Russia into a war it cannot win.  Now he is scrambling to find a way out that “saves face.” It’s not clear what that is.

2. Ukraine isn’t going to roll over.  What’s become obvious is that Putin underestimated Ukraine’s military capabilities.  Putin’s initial objective was to quickly occupy Ukraine’s four largest cities: Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, and Lviv.  That’s not going to happen.

Putin underestimated Ukraine and most of us over-estimated Russia.  Most Ukrainians would rather fight to the death than be occupied by Russians.  Given what we’ve seen in the last five weeks, the Ukrainian attitude makes sense: Russia has been brutal with civilians.

Russia has more missiles and bombs than Ukraine does.  But Ukraine has proven superior at ground combat.  It appears that the Ukrainian communication and logistical systems are better than those of the Russians.  For example, it appears that the Russian attack on Kyiv stalled because there was poor communication among the Russian troops and they ran out of supplies.

3. It’s difficult to find middle ground.  Russia has agreed to hold “peace talks” with Ukraine; they’re beeing held in Turkey.  Russia has suggested a “lull” in the fighting; they would pull back from Kyiv and concentrate on solidifying their gains in the east, in the Donbas region.  There’s no reason to believe the Russians are doing anything more than stopping to resupply their troops.

Ukraine would agree to “neutrality” but wants a return of the areas of Ukraine that Russia has seized.  Russia won’t agree to that.  Russia wants the economic sanctions to end; NATO won’t agree to that until Ukraine’s demands are met.

It’s hard to see how there can be a quick negotiated settlement.  Putin needs to save face and that’s not possible.

4.There are important consequences of a protracted conflict:

a. Food:  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.

b. Energy: A total blockade of Russia will create a fuel crisis in Europe.  Some EU members are extremely dependent upon Russian gas; for example, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Poland.  There is no quick solution for these countries.  (For example, Germany has no port suitable for the processing of liquid natural gas.)  At the moment, Germany and Austria have ordered fuel rationing; they are preparing for Russia to stop sending gas through the pipelines.

Russia is demanding that EU countries pay for Russian gas in roubles (https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/russia-sets-deadline-rouble-gas-payments-europe-calls-it-blackmail-2022-03-31/).  The EU countries seem unlikely to do this. The war will drive up energy prices.

c. Cyber warfare: We haven’t seen the massive cyberattacks that we expected.  But Russia has.  This week Aviation News (https://www.aviation24.be/miscellaneous/russo-ukrainian-war/powerful-cyber-attack-on-russias-civil-aviation-authority-servers-no-more-data-nor-back-up/ ) reported a massive hack: “A powerful and effective cyberattack on the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) infrastructure that took place on Saturday morning has erased all documents, files, aircraft registration data and mails from the servers. In total, about 65 terabytes of data was erased.”  This suggests that we will see an escalation of cyber attacks.  The war will directly impact US security.

c. Climate Change:  The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a disaster for the climate change movement.  The constant Russian shelling has dire consequences — along with the use of mines and other weapons aimed at civilians.

Because there will be an energy “panic” in Europe, there will be enormous pressure in North America to produce as much oil as possible, so we can ship a lot of it to the EU — to replace the oil no longer provided by Russia.

d. Accidents: the longer the war continues, the greater the probability that Putin will do something horrible.  It’s seems increasingly likely that Russian forces will damage a Ukrainian nuclear plant and cause a massive radiation leak (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/31/nuclear-power-plant-ukraine-danger/).  Sadly, it’s within the realm of possibility that Putin — because he is a thug, who is playing a losing hand — will use tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons.

Summary: If this analysis seems gloomy, it is.  The Russia-Ukraine conflict is going to stretch on; there’s little hope for a quick diplomatic solution.  There are all kinds of sinister side affects.  Putin made a big mistake, but he’s incapable of admitting it.