Shortages On Madison Store Shelves, Worldwide Economic Concerns

Perhaps it is a coping mechanism, but during the pandemic, I latched onto certain topics and followed them rather closely. (Anything that was not about people on ventilators!) Then again, I might just be a nerd and that explains why I follow up on certain topics. But really, how can anyone not find some desire to better understand the effects of swamping the shipping industry with cargo, as happened in 2020?

Regardless of the reason, I have found interest in the costs of homes, reading today that the median price of one in Californian is $800,000. The stock of available homes for sale, the construction of new ones, along with the housing bubble is a topic I enjoy hearing about from our realtor friends.

I also find my curiosity heightened by the worldwide problems with supply chains concerning a wide swath of products. When masks, disinfectant wipes, and meat products had shortages and distribution problems during the pandemic there was a desire to better understand why. In the middle of 2021, as the shortages continue, and the world is impacted, as with the lack of computer chips for new auto construction, there are many others now trying to understand the reasons, too.

WISC reported on this issue Tuesday.

Tim Metcalfe, owner of Metcalfe’s Market, has seen it too. Paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and bottles of water are once again in short supply at his Madison-based stores.

“We might not have Dasani,” Metcalfe said. “But we do have ‘Everyday Essential.’ There’s always product available. It might just be a different brand.”

Part of the problem is increased demand: Grocery sales are up about 14% nationally from this time two years ago. But it’s also the result of a supply chain issue.

With the supply shortages, comes naturally an uptick in prices.

Kurt Bauer, president of business lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said that the supply chain is also causing issues because production hasn’t rebounded from the downturn caused by COVID-19.

“It takes a while for production to fill that demand, and so there’s more demand than there’s supply,” said Bauer.

Bauer said those issues are feeding into inflationary pressures, which are trickling down to consumers.

“Right now, what we’re seeing is something akin to an accident on a busy highway,” said Bauer. “There’s a bottleneck, and it takes time for traffic to resume normal flow after the accident is cleared.”

Bauer said as shortages ease, some prices could be driven down, but he said inflationary pressures “are here to stay, at least for the time being.”

The New York Times approached this topic from a worldwide perspective this week.

In the face of an enduring shortage of computer chips, Toyota announced this month that it would slash its global production of cars by 40 percent. Factories around the world are limiting operations — despite powerful demand for their wares — because they cannot buy metal parts, plastics and raw materials. Construction companies are paying more for paint, lumber and hardware, while waiting weeks and sometimes months to receive what they need.

In Britain, the National Health Service recently advised that it must delay some blood tests because of a shortage of needed gear. A recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry found the worst shortages of parts in the history of the index, which started in 1977.

The Great Supply Chain Disruption is a central element of the extraordinary uncertainty that continues to frame economic prospects worldwide. If the shortages persist well into next year, that could advance rising prices on a range of commodities. As central banks from the United States to Australia debate the appropriate level of concern about inflation, they must consider a question none can answer with full confidence: Are the shortages and delays merely temporary mishaps accompanying the resumption of business, or something more insidious that could last well into next year?

The economic levers and interworking parts of a global supply network may seem dry and academic. Until the item we wish to buy at the local store or purchase overnight through Amazon is just not available.

And so it goes.

Letter From Home: “Lessons From A Sunflower” 8/31/21

Last winter when the pandemic was racing across the nation I considered ideas that would alter the landscape of our gardens come summer. One way I coped with the sadness of news from hospitals and the ever-increasing number of people we lost to the virus was opening up seed catalogs and planning. Planning big!

Or in the case of my hopes with sunflowers, planning tall.

I love sunflowers, the brighter the yellow, the larger the bloom, the bigger the smile on my face.

When we first moved into our home I planted a long row of sunflower seeds alongside my neighbor’s garage, which abuts our property. The place was perfect with ample sunshine. They anchored themselves to the soil so securely that come fall there was no way to pull them out. Digging their roots out was the only way to remove them.

The glorious tall heads had a variety of birds darting about, with the goldfinches being my favorite as they pecked away while perched upside down. Blue jays were a part of my childhood, but the only time I have had a number of them in our yard was when the sunflowers seeds were ready to be plucked. Some say they are mean birds, but their grand color always gives them a pass in my book.

So with three large packets of a variety of seeds purchased via the mail, I awaited spring.

What I had not factored into my winter-time plotting was the growth of the nine trees we have planted since moving in 2007. One of them came to us our first spring, placed in a large bucket and carted in a wheelbarrow. The man lived a few houses down on our block.

“Welcome to the neighborhood!

That sugar maple was shorter than I was, but now it towers higher than our three-story home. That along with a red pine, spruce, two Pagoda Dogwoods, Pin Oak, Honey Locust, a crab apple tree, and a lilac bush pruned to look more like a tree means that when it came for staking out places with lots of sunshine…..well, I need more space!

So back to the now limited area where my memories of past sunflowers were raised. Alongside the neighbor’s garage.

I planted and watered and remarked to James each day the progress of their germination.

At this point, I should mention my soft-hearted nature when it comes to wild animals. Each winter I put out food for the bunnies. James even felt they needed a better place to stay so fashioned a large rose cone into a bunny home with a straw ground cover. I bought high-fat nuts and even a cheap metal baking pan so as to not just toss their meals into the snow.

I thought of all those little niceties we did over the winter each morning as I soon noticed the sunflower’s fresh green growth had been munched completely off! What to do?

I brought up some of the fencings we use for winter protection of plants and soon had the next freshly planted seeds–thankfully I had ordered large packets–protected from anything that could go wrong.



In our Catalpa tree this year we had a large squirrel nest with cute little tykes running about. The tree is not far from the sunflowers, or more to the point of this story, from the roof of the neighbor’s garage.

So as my seedlings now truly did grow and reach high up above my head with growth…

…the new squirrels would launch themselves off the roof and land on the top portion of a sunflower, their weight snapping the plant down and thus ending the hope of a bloom. The one pictured was soon taken down by a squirrel. None of those large plants in the back of the house would blossom this year.

BUT, there was a sunflower at our home that did bloom–numerous times in fact– and truly makes for a point about life.

On the front lawn is where we have some of our Adirondack chairs. During street updating several years ago the city constructed a stone wall at the edge of our property that at the corner point is 18 inches tall. It was at that spot in the landscaped portion of a flower bed that one of the animals dropped a sunflower seed. Perhaps it was one from the winter bird feeding, or perhaps one that was dug up on the backside of the house this spring.

The plant took off with ever-increasing growth. Higher, stronger, and then I noticed it was a variety with multiple blooms. Sitting on the lawn and looking straight ahead constantly places this wonder in view.

All my planning and work to create a garden plot had come to naught. But Mother Nature with ease and grace planted a seed, did not require a daily update, and placed it near thorny bushes that little animals are not very fond of.

The lesson from that sunflower is two-fold.

First, perhaps in life, we overthink things.

Second, life continues to be at its best with simple unexpected events.

And so it goes.

What To Do With A Racist And Conspiracy Nut In The Family?

The Trump Republicans have created more than their share of dysfunction in families and the nation. Today in the Boston Globe some advice was given to what has been, and continues to be a source of strife.

‘My father has gone down the rabbit hole of conspiracies and white nationalism’ How to confront a parent who embraces racist ideas.

My father (78) has gone down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and white nationalism. He is a good man (no, really) and I love him, but he seems increasingly determined to “convert” me, maybe to ensure his legacy lives on after he’s gone. I’ve never unloaded on him over his frankly racist attitudes, but the other day I snapped. I’m mad, he’s hurt, and we’re not speaking. I am not going to change, nor is he. But this is not how I want us to be in the final years of his life.

Let’s start with that “legacy” thing. Sometimes, when people know or sense that a separation is imminent—a kid leaving for college, a friend moving to a new town, a co-worker resigning, or the ultimate separation that may be on your father’s mind—they start fights. Some do it so that the loss doesn’t hurt as much. Others, like your father, are trying to maximize their influence in the time they have left. This behavior confuses the heck out of folks who don’t have that particular bug in their software, so thank you for the opportunity for a P.S.A. on the topic as the school year begins!

Now let’s talk about you, you and your racist dad.

You need to set boundaries. You should have been doing that from the start, but oh man, “the start” is sometimes only clearly visible in the rearview mirror. Call him, or take his call, when you are good and ready. Apologize for not having spoken up sooner and letting things slide until you blew up—not for what you said. Most importantly, tell him that you both are aware of each other’s views on right, wrong, and reality, and henceforth all such topics are off-limits because you can either enjoy the time you have together, or not.

Then follow the rule yourself and enforce it with him. Shenanigans? Dad gets one warning before you end the call or leave the room. If you can’t leave, open an app and donate to a civil-rights organization with an ostentatious poke to the screen every time he crosses the line. Make sure you have plenty of other things to talk about or focus on, so he’s not tempted to stir the pot out of boredom, and bring your filial A-game when he stays on topics of mutual interest and benefit.

Your father will either get with the program, or he won’t; he has agency in this situation. If he continues to antagonize you—well, write back, because I’m reaching my word limit. If he is the good man you believe him to be, he’ll make the right choice. But understand that the burden of peacekeeping is not 100 percent on your shoulders. And that burden is never, ever, on the shoulders of any people of color your father may abuse in your presence. If he does so, make it immediately and loudly clear that what he said is unacceptable, apologize to the other person without excuses, and if possible remove him from the scene.

No Black And White About Exit Strategy In Afghanistan

If you listen to the angry politicians who take to the airwaves and pontificate over Afghanistan a listener might be falsely led to believe that there are absolutes at play in the end to the nation’s 20-year war in that nation. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Over the past weeks, I have very much limited my intake of the reactionary Republicans on Capitol Hill who consider a dialogue on par with a fourth grader to be the extent needed when conversing on this topic. Making only inflammatory remarks when an international crisis flares are not my definition of leadership.

In addition, it is not possible to have the sureness the Republicans are pushing without the context of how we arrived at this point in time. That of course does not stop them from talking, nor those who listen from gobbling up the pablum.

I have found the best path to facts and analysis about Afghanistan are the same sources I use continuously. The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker, NPR, and BBC.

And of course, The New York Times.

I want a broad-based and intelligent perspective on what is taking place.

Sunday the NYT ran a superb news analysis article written by Peter Baker. If Baker writes it there is no way one should miss it. He is one of our essential reporters in America today.

Baker certainty questions the approach taken by President Biden, but also places the exit from Afghanistan in the larger arena of events.

Under the four-page deal signed in February 2020, Mr. Trump agreed to withdraw all American troops by May 1, 2021, lift sanctions and compel the release of 5,000 prisoners held by the Afghan government, which was cut out of the negotiations. The Taliban committed to not attacking American troops on the way out or letting terrorist groups use Afghanistan as a base to attack the United States.

While the Taliban agreed to talk with the Afghan government, nothing in the publicly released part of the deal prevented it from taking over the country by force as it ultimately did and reimposing its repressive regime of torture, murder and subjugation of women. It was such a one-sided bargain that even Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser H.R. McMaster called it a “surrender agreement.”

Following the deal, Mr. Trump reduced American forces in Afghanistan to 4,500 from 13,000. Eager to be the president to end the warhe signed a memo to the Pentagon instructing it to pull out all remaining forces by Jan. 15 before leaving office, but was talked out of it by advisers. Instead, he ordered the force drawn down to 2,500 troops in his final days, although about 3,500 actually remained.

For Mr. Biden, inheriting such a small force in Afghanistan meant that commanders were already left with too few troops to respond to a renewed Taliban offensive against American forces, which he deemed certain to come if he jettisoned Mr. Trump’s agreement, requiring him to send thousands more troops back in, officials said.

The Biden team considered other options, including keeping a small presence of troops for counterterrorism operations or to support Afghan security forces, but reasoned that was just “magical thinking” and would take more troops than was sustainable. They discussed whether to renegotiate the Trump agreement to extract more concessions but the Taliban made clear it would not return to the bargaining table and considered the Trump deal binding.

Mr. Biden’s advisers also considered extending the withdrawal deadline until the winter, after the traditional fighting season was over, to make the transition less dangerous for the Afghan government. The Afghanistan Study Group, a bipartisan congressionally chartered panel that was led by Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., a retired Joint Chiefs chairman and that included Ms. O’Sullivan, in February recommended extending the May 1 deadline and seeking better conditions before pulling out.

But Mr. Biden was warned by security specialists that the longer it took to withdraw after a decision was announced, the more dangerous it would become, aides said, so he extended it only until Aug. 31.

Particularly influential on Mr. Biden, aides said, were a series of intelligence assessments he requested about Afghanistan’s neighbors and near neighbors, which found that Russia and China wanted the United States to remain bogged down in Afghanistan.

“Biden basically faced the same issue that Trump faced,” said Vali Nasr, who was a senior adviser to Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, “and his answer was the same — we’re not going to go back in, we have to get out.”

Republican criticism now, he added, was brazenly hypocritical. “They’re the ones who released all these Taliban commanders, they’re the ones who signed this deal,” he said.

Mark T. Esper, a defense secretary under Mr. Trump, agreed that the deal was flawed and in fact argued against drawing down further in the final months of the last administration before being fired in November. In recent days, he said, “there were more options available to President Biden” than simply continuing Mr. Trump’s withdrawal.

“He could have tried to go back to the table with the Taliban and renegotiate,” Mr. Esper said on CNN. “He could have demanded, as I argued, that they agree to the conditions they established or they agreed to in the agreement and that we use military power to compel them to do that.”

How we arrived at this stage of the Afghanistan war must be viewed from the start of the mission. Republicans will not tell their constituents that , but Foreign Affairs presses the point continuously.

‘’In the aftermath of 9/11, intervention in Afghanistan took on enormous importance for the Bush administration, which was determined to prevent another catastrophic attack on American soil. But the administration had no desire to garrison Afghanistan indefinitely, so it chose to help build a successor regime to the Taliban that could presumably govern the country on its own one day—and ensure that it didn’t again become a safe haven for terrorists. The invasion of Afghanistan and the ousting of the Taliban went surprisingly smoothly, producing a quick, low-cost victory. In the flush of this initial success, the Bush administration was led to believe that the follow-up nation-building mission could be similarly easy.

The Bush administration’s first mistake was a failure to fully appreciate the geographic obstacles in the way of an Afghan reconstruction effort. Afghanistan is on the other side of the world from the United States, and in addition to being landlocked and inaccessible, it is surrounded by several powerful and predatory neighbors, including Iran, Pakistan, and nearby Russia. The only way the United States could get most of its forces and their supplies into or out of Afghanistan was through or over Pakistan—a country that did not share American objectives there and actively sought to subvert them.

Moreover, the population of Afghanistan was considerably larger than that of any other country involved in a post–World War II U.S. intervention: in 2001, Afghanistan had almost twice as many people as wartime South Vietnam. Typically, the troop-to-population ratio is an important determinant of the success of a stabilization operation. Two years before the invasion of Afghanistan, in 1999, the United States and its NATO allies had deployed 50,000 troops to stabilize Kosovo, a country of 1.9 million. Afghanistan’s population in 2001 was 21.6 million—yet by the end of 2002, there were only around 8,000 U.S. troops in a country that was more than ten times Kosovo’s size and had no army or police force of its own. There simply weren’t enough U.S. boots on the ground to secure the country the United States had captured.

One reason for the relatively small deployment was that the Bush administration did not intend for U.S. forces to assume peacekeeping or public security responsibilities—rather, they focused exclusively on tracking down residual al Qaeda elements, at the expense of the foundational security required to build a functioning state. The Bush administration also neglected to commit the necessary financial resources to the Afghan stabilization effort. In Bosnia, the United States and other donors had provided economic assistance amounting to $1,600 per inhabitant per year for the first several years after that war. The comparable figure in Afghanistan amounted to $50 per person—a paltry sum.’’

All Can Relate Going Home Again, Even To Kabul

Without doubt the best story to come from the Sunday newspapers was written by Mujib Mashal, who was but a child when Kabul was freed from the Taliban in 2001. He now works at the New Delhi bureau of the New York Times. Hours before Kabul fell to the dreaded Taliban he again took to the streets that he called home.

It is a story that resonates with all who know the feeling of walking again the streets from whence we came. It is simly a remarkable read.

I found a window seat in the back of a bus headed downtown, passengers in front of me and the uncertainty of the city around us. Some held documents, others scrolled on their phones. An eighth grader clung to his geography book — it was the last of his summer exams.

In the second to last row of seats, a middle-aged man fidgeted with his old Nokia phone and constantly made calls. Refugees from other provinces, fleeing the last stretch of intense fighting, were still streaming into Kabul, and he was calling friends and relatives offering to host them.

“The two rooms upstairs are still empty,” he told one person, insisting the family stay with him, as two other friends already had. “Of course, of course — for you a thousand times, anything you need.”

Everyone on the bus seemed tense, and it didn’t take much for things to boil over: It was one young man in the back row, briefly lowering his surgical mask (lest we forget that Covid was still stalking us) to put a pinch of tobacco into his cheek.

The man on the phone looked at him and couldn’t help himself. “Is that even good for your health?” he said, gesturing at the tobacco.

The young man stared at him, said nothing, and lifted his mask. But the man next to him, a lawyer named Zabihullah, stepped in.

“The Taliban haven’t even come to Kabul and you are policing people’s behavior?” he told the middle-aged man.

Then it was all argument, wild and loud, about everything: corruption, democracy, failure, change.The older man said the Taliban could at least end the kleptocracy and what he called the “vulgarity” of society and bring order. The young lawyer lost it.

“You think the only thing that came of the past 20 years was vulgarity?” he said. “I am also made in the past 20 years. You think I am vulgar?”

The older passenger tried to correct his statement, bring nuance, but the lawyer wouldn’t hold back.

“If you think the Taliban will practice true Islam, you are wrong. I can argue with you all night with proof to show you that what they practice is Talibanism and not true Islam,” he said.

The man with the phone turned back in his seat and muttered under his breath: “There is no point in arguing with you.”

When we hit traffic, the lawyer and I got off the bus and walked. He was trying to process documents for his final exam to become a judge. He was completing a two-year equivalent of a highly competitive master’s degree — something like 13,000 applicants had sought the 300 slots, he said. On the side, he was a masterful calligrapher, continuing a dying tradition of reed and ink calligraphy. He showed me samples of his work on his phone.

“Twenty years of effort, and all for nothing,” he said as we said goodbye.”

Flags In Dane County Underscore Weight Of National Pain

On my way outside of Middleton this afternoon I spotted an image that matched the mood of the nation. Three large American flags audibly flapped in the brisk breeze. Heavy, sad, and a most weighted feel matched the somber atmosphere across our nation.

There is no way to escape the enormity of the moment we are living in as the nation withdraws from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. The national angst was underscored with live coverage Sunday morning as 13 dead American soldiers returned in caskets to Dover Air Force Base.

The Taliban threatened us as we entered the war in 2001 and are seen now as victors upon our defeat. No matter how it is assessed the bulk of the war was a colossal failure.

Yes, we did gain an advantage over the ones who fueled the hatred and perpetrated the heinous crimes on 9/11. We sent the remains of Osama bin Laden to the bottom of the ocean.

We did open up the ability of a younger generation of Afghans to dream and see the world outside of a burqa and a tortured reading of the Koran. Therefore, we feel deep sadness about ‘turning off the lights’ on their education as the Taliban will again reject modernity when governing.

But the nation-building and processes for building a government, and have it in any way to be self-sustaining did not succeed. There was not enough time, or the willpower on the larger part of the Afghan populace. The urban areas grew, but the tribal foundations of the countryside did not have time to turn towards the 21st century.

Meanwhile, many people in America who by their own admission find history to be boring, have no real touchstones with the past so to weigh and balance what is now happening with the chaos and death in Afghanistan. One of my childhood heroes, astronaut John Glenn, after becoming an Ohio Senator spoke in 2009 about dead soldiers, also returning to Dover from Afghanistan.

As John Glenn said: “It’s easy to see the flags flying and the people go off to war, and the bands play and the flags fly. And it’s not quite so easy when the flag is draped over a coffin coming back through Dover, Delaware.

The gung-ho mentality that too often leads a nation to war is not able to define goals, strategy, or any exit policy. As Glenn said flags fly, and bands play.

And then soldiers die.

As a nation, we will most certainly be arguing how the Afghanistan evacuation policy was created and executed during the past months. There will be those expressing that our nation only needed to maintain a few thousand military personnel in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. A land, I need not remind my readers, which is termed the Graveyard of Empires.

Such arguments can be rebuffed with those pesky things called facts. After 19 years of our footprint all over Afghanistan, their government had seen its control seriously erode to 30% of the country’s 407 districts. Meanwhile, the depraved Taliban controlled 20% of the country, and it should be noted that was more than at any time since the U.S. started the war. As I said, 19 years previous!

We all are unpleased how this larger episode defines our nation on the international stage. After the past four years, we needed to start the restoration of our country’s image and undertake that mission by doing masterful deeds. While no defeat at the hands of the Taliban was ever going to look good the exceptional chaos and blunders (and worse) by the Defense Department, State Department, and White House–and there is plenty of blame to share–is beyond mind-boggling.

Just more reason to stand under a flag at half-staff and sadly ponder it all.

And so it goes.

Waukesha School District Proves Why Political Purity Is Rot, Free Lunch Program Rankles Conservatives

I do resent when embarrassing headlines are created around the nation by foolish actions from those who live in Wisconsin. That is the result today due to the purely political actions of a local school board.

The Waukesha School District board decided to opt-out of a federally funded program that would give free meals to all students regardless of family income. That is not a misprint, in case you are reading that line twice.

The backstory is that the school board voted on June 9th to return to the pre-pandemic National School Lunch Program, which offers free and reduced-price lunches to students who apply and receive federal money for them. It should be noted, however, that Waukesha is the only eligible school district in our state to up-end such funding.

As a side note, each of the state’s public schools adopted the universal meal program in March 2020. Now, the very Republican enclave is striking back.

The rhetoric that flowed from the board meeting even included board members who stated the reason to stop what is termed ‘universal’ lunch programming was to prevent an “addiction” to the service.

Karin Rajnicek, a school board member, said the free program made it easy for families to “become spoiled.” Darren Clark, assistant superintendent for business services, said there could be a “slow addiction” to the service.

Left unstated at the meeting was any mention if all this “addiction” will lead to more corporate welfare for the conservative business owners in the school district. (Ring…Ring….Hello….Pot calling Kettle.)

The out-and-out meanness and coarseness of the board action are most obvious.

The COVID pandemic is running wild and it does not take very long to see how the economic impact of the virus has made money tighter for many families. There continues to be a real need for some families to have food assistance to make it through this tragic time in our state and nation.

In addition, we are aware that often kids can be very callous with remarks aimed at those who are somehow ‘different’ or apart from the whole. By not having some kids, who can pay their way with school lunches, looking down on those who need assistance is one less stressful event in our schools.

The rank move by the board on June 9th can be chalked up to yet another form of political purity. Conservative politics is fine and dandy until it starts to damage those who are most vulnerable in our society. I place young students, who through no fault of their own, grow up in homes with limited means as being among the vulnerable.

It is then most appropriate that the rest of us find a way to best educate and uplift our youth. That was being done through the free meals program.

Conservative Republicans in Waukesha have proven in both word and deed that being kind, supportive, and humane is not a condition that all our state school boards have in equal measure. The universal way of allowing kids, who have fewer means, to have a school lunch with no guilt or bad feelings is the best route to proceed with this school year.

The only “spoiling” that occurs is with too many state residents putting up with the utter disdain conservatives continue to have for the rest of the state. Allowing them to think their behavior–as demonstrated with this issue–is in any way acceptable–only adds to the problem.

And so it goes.

Nation’s Newspapers: Front-Page Coverage Of Deadly Kabul Airport Depravity

The front pages of newspapers from around the nation showcase the anger and loss of life from yesterday’s bomb blasts at the Kabul Airport in Afghanistan.