Monthly Archives: October 2021

How to Write a Country & Western Hit

1. Start with tragedy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from the Barricades: The Labor Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second explanation is that some unemployed workers came from sectors that are on the “front lines” dealing with the pandemic: leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, retail trade, and public education.  Many of these workers left  jobs where there was a high probability of exposure to the coronavirus — such as bus drivers — or they were put in the unpleasant position of having to enforce a mask mandate — such as restaurant employees.  They don’t want to return to that hassle.  (Consider this Buzzfeed article where restaurant workers report the abuse they’ve recently had to endure  or this similar Axios article  )

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Run Away from Death

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme Measures

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

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

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

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

The problem is that millions of Americans have pledged their fealty to Donald Trump.  And he is willing to do anything to regain power.  A recent University of Virginia study ( ) detailed the extent of this problem: “A majority of Trump voters believe it’s time to split the country into two, with ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’ seceding from the Union.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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