Inflation Is A Problem, But Not Caused By White House

Anytime there are economic pains felt across the nation the attempt to pin the blame on the occupant of the White House is the first action taken by the party out of power. Politically, I totally understand that phenomenon. Except in a few cases, however, that is not a logical way to view the factors that move the economy.

One instance of cause and effect between a president being reckless and the economic downturn which followed was in the 19th century. In 1832, Andrew Jackson ordered the withdrawal of federal government funds from the Bank of the United States, an institution he railed about and carped on endlessly. His actions are noted for what resulted during the Panic of 1837.

The consequences of the international implosion of so many aspects of numerous economies due to the pandemic were always going to be followed by some degree of inflation. Just based on the struggle to align all the parts of the supply and demand sectors would doubtless prove problematic. Regardless of who ruled in China, Germany, or Washington.

In the newspaper today a few solid paragraphs written by Josh Boak of Associated Press put some logic to the larger issue of inflation angst.

Consumers account for most U.S. economic activity, meaning they steer much of what happens with their collective choices. Their role tends to get overlooked in political speeches, which generally reduce the economy to talk about jobs, factories and other forms of production. Biden has gone so far as to say that his policies to promote port upgrades and domestic manufacturing will lower costs by improving production, a long-term fix to an immediate problem that can be reduced, simply, to demand exceeding supply.

“Fundamentally, the problem right now is the opposite of stagflation — it’s regular inflation driven by an economy operating at or even above its potential, with consumer demand outstripping the capacity of the economy,” Stevenson said. “I’m hoping that people stop digging into their savings and cut spending a little — not enough to slow the economy, but enough to slow the price increases.”

Stevenson also acknowledged that gas prices in particular might be driving the broader dissatisfaction, such that overall inflation could fall and do little to calm public anxieties so long as prices at the pump are high.

“Cars seem to be important to people’s sense of control and high gas prices for some might feel like losing your ability to just hop in your car and go where you want,” she said.

Despite the spike in prices, consumer spending increased faster than inflation during the first four months of this year. Whether consumers can maintain such robust spending will largely determine how the economy fares in the coming months.

I do not expect anything other than the continued political heat about inflation right through the midterm elections. Yes, if the GOP were in power the Democratic pols would be singing the tune the GOP now is using in races nationwide. None of that is shocking.

But it does underscore what I preach with frequency. Along with civics and history, our nation needs more time spent on economics education, too.

NATO Proves Why Intelligent Leadership In White House Matters

One of the driving reasons for my support of Joe Biden for president in 2020 was the requirement of our nation to again lead the world community. I was alarmed at the willful undermining of international alliances during the Donald Trump administration. Decades of work and cooperation that buttressed America’s needs and created working relationships for international order were at stake.

It has almost been a whiplash period between the narcissistic threat from Trump in 2018 about the United States withdrawing from NATO to the recent barbaric atrocities being committed by Russian President Putin in Ukraine. From Trump telling his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, to the news this past week that Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, is “highly likely” to join NATO.

Clearly, even Trump can now see the value and purpose of the military alliance. Even if it is being used with a high degree of success against the one person he can never say a cross word about.

It is hard not to smile about Russia’s disdain for having NATO members on its borders. If they thought they were being hemmed in prior to the genocide in Ukraine, they will really feel the squeeze should Finland and Sweden pursue the option of membership in the alliance.

Given the rash actions from Russia, and utter disregard for international law and norms there is every reason to consider that Sweden’s famous political neutrality could end up being, well, not so neutral. Today, neither Finland nor Sweden is considered to be in immediate military danger. But one does not make alliances for the present conditions, but rather bonds together and looks ahead to the potential dangers of the future.

Russia has a history of addiction to conquest and savagery. The Ukraine invasion, however, has proved thus far, the limits concerning the whims of an autocrat. Putin has made a colossal mistake. Instead of weakening NATO, Putin has actually strengthened his foe.

Autocrats prattle about how democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper. Actions from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. China has challenged democratic tendencies in places like Hong Kong, while we know all too well that Russia will do anything for wistful memories of an empire.

Meanwhile, many others in the world are finding a new resolve to adhere to alliances and the values of freedom. Those matters are not relics. The fact that only a few years ago some were even willing to let NATO drift and flounder is proof why having a delusional and populist-nationalist in the White House is not only bad for America, but also the world.

And so it goes.

President Biden Said What World Knows To Be True: Democracy Matters

President Biden addressed the 800-pond gorilla sitting in the international living room this weekend. While he was talking about Russian aggression against Ukraine, and spoke most candidly (and correctly) about the future of President Putin, it was his clarion call for democracy that rightly stirred people worldwide.

The last point is one I have persistently addressed over the years. The United States must reassert itself not only with our military and economic might, but also with our ideals.

(Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

We sometimes take for granted the role of a president, regardless of which party holds the office. It seems old-fashioned, perhaps, for younger generations to see our leader stand on the world stage and preach the values of democracy. But this weekend, on every television screen around the globe our President was seen speaking about the serious worldwide battle of democracy versus dictatorship, freedom versus authoritarianism, and human rights versus oppression.

(Somewhere Allen Drury is surely smiling.)

There was no way not to be pleased and reassured over the past days as Biden traveled to Europe and proved the value of again having a truly powerful and passionate champion of democracy speaking for the global community. It does feel good, even in these truly horrible weeks as Ukraine has been invaded, to see our nation in a leadership role.

Biden made the point learned from history.

….Ten years later, the Soviet Union collapsed and Poland and Central and Eastern Europe would soon be free. Nothing about that battle for freedom was simple or easy. It was a long, painful slog. Fought over not days and months but years and decades. But we emerged anew in the great battle for freedom. A battle between democracy and autocracy. Between liberty and repression. Between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force. In this battle, we need to be clear-eyed. This battle will not be won in days or months either. We need to steel ourselves of a long fight ahead.

Autocrats prattle about how democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper. Actions from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. China has challenged democratic tendencies in places like Hong Kong, while we know all too well that Russia will do anything for wistful memories of an empire.

Meanwhile, many others in the world are finding a new resolve to adhere to alliances and the values of freedom. So those matters are not relics, to be left gathering dust? Was it not only a few years ago some were even willing to let NATO drift and flounder?

The world looks at the bottom line and knows the value of free markets where the United States and Europe, combined, have $40 trillion of GDP as opposed to Russia eking out just over $1 trillion in GDP. The data shows the power of working democracies.

When watching Biden on Saturday, I will readily admit, to some goosebumps as his words struck historic themes and also again demonstrated the role I have so long wanted my country to take. I firmly believe in an internationalist mindset where we connect with other countries to foster united solutions. The firming up of our international institutions is imperative. And our resolve to demonstrate an ability to be the leader of the world is without question the first priority.

I have continually stated our nation can meet the test of democracy around the world if we meet the challenges with leadership and intellect.  We did that very thing this weekend.

In my own country, a former president named Abraham Lincoln voiced the opposing spirit to save our union in the midst of the Civil War. He said let us have faith that right makes might. Right makes might. Today, let us have that faith again. [Applause] Let us resolve to put the strength of democracies into action to thwart the designs of autocracy.

And finally, most urgently, we maintain absolute unity, we must, among the world’s democracies. It’s not enough to speak with rhetorical flourish of ennobling words of democracy, of freedom, of quality, and liberty. All of us, including here in Poland, must do the hard work of democracy each and every day — my country as well. That’s why [applause], that’s why I came to Europe again this week with a clear and determined message for NATO, for the G7, for the European Union, for all freedom-loving nations — we must commit now to be in this fight for the long haul. We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after. And for the years and decades to come. It will not be easy. There will be costs. But it is a price we have to pay because the darkness that drives autocracy is ultimately no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere.

And so it goes.

Biden Jumps Up In Poll With Rally-Around-The Ukrainian Flag Sentiment

There is good news to report. And two reasons we can find an uplift with the same evidence from the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

First, there is a foundation of resolve within the American public to stand with Ukraine, and take some of the blowbacks from economic pain that must be placed on Russia. Second, President Biden is showing leadership that resonates with the nation.

Last week, an hour after President Biden’s SOTU I wrote, Though the colors of the flag being rallied around are yellow and blue, Biden is surely hoping the effect will benefit his administration.

Polling data shows that to be the case.

Here’s a look at some of the Marist numbers:

  • Overall approval rating jumped to 47%up 8 points from the NPR poll last month. Presidents don’t generally see much, if any bounce, out of a State of the Union address. Since 1978, there had only been six times when a president saw an approval rating improve 4 points or more following State of the Union addresses. Three of those bounces were for former President Bill Clinton.
  • Ukraine handling is up 18 points to 52%.
  • Coronavirus pandemic handling is now 55%, up 8 points.
  • Economic handling up 8 points to 45%.

Now, as to why these numbers matter.

First, as a decades-long admirer and supporter of Joe Biden, I want to see him succeed in the Oval Office. While no presidency is easy, the array of issues and pitfalls that awaited Biden due to the previous four years of unmitigated disaster and chaos made for an all-uphill climb. No matter which Democratic candidate had entered office in January 2021 they would have been severely tested.

Biden’s desktop had myriad issues to deal with, all at once. From pressing for coherent and much-needed COVID policies, pushing forward with a national and-oh-so-vital infrastructure bill, removing our footprint in Afghanistan, while working to reassure alliances and international organizations that America is not becoming isolationist. (Recall Donald Trump continually demeaning and undermining NATO.)

Then two weeks ago came the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign nation. There is no nuanced way to view this war started by Russian President Putin. This is an international disaster. A true issue of up-and-down, black and white, good and evil.

And the polling data shows the American public understands the gravity of the matter. This is something I applaud but did not necessarily take for granted, due to the less than thoughtful way much of the public has handled policy issues since 2015.

I am very pleased that this poll, along with others shows the American public does understand we will need to do more to support Ukraine. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 45% of Americans in the days following the barbaric invasion of Ukraine felt the U.S. was doing too little to help the besieged nation.

The Marist poll had data to show what must be continued among the electorate moving forward.

Data shows 83% of Americans support the economic sanctions imposed against Russia by the United States and its allies. The poll also underscores Americans are willing to make sacrifices in support of Ukraine. 69% of Americans, including 58% of Republicans, say they support economic sanctions against Russia even if it results in higher energy prices in the United States.

Last week I posted my analysis following President Biden’s SOTU. This is what I wrote.

Biden has not only the responsibility of leadership on his shoulders but also the opportunity for this moment to make the man. Biden is meeting his moment with history, and if history is a guide the public will respond. CBS polling before the speech showed Ukraine was the number one issue Americans wanted to hear Biden address. That topic was ahead of both inflation and COVID.

How and why Ukraine matters to the nation is what Biden excelled at in his national address. Not only energy prices and NATO are at stake, but also the values surrounding democracy.

The brutality from Putin, the military along with day-to-day living needs of Ukraine, and the testing of democratic institutions and governments are all matters that are vital for this moment and our future. President Biden is using the powers of his office to work with international players, foster ways to limit economic stresses at home, and defeat the dangerous madman who works to snuff out a democratic Ukraine.

The poll shows what leadership can accomplish abroad, and at home.

And so it goes.

SOTU: President Biden’s Moment With History

Senator Mitt Romney was asked a few hours before President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address if he thought Russian President Putin would undertake a massive military move within Ukraine to upstage the annual event?

The Utah Republican politely stated something that could be inferred to mean it is hard to get into the head of a crazy man who is not making rational or logical decisions. With such questioning by reporters heading into the speech came the clear recognition that this SOTU, when a sovereign nation is being invaded with mounting deaths, would take on a far different tone. In so doing, this speech far more than in previous years, would reflect American values.

From a political perspective that can be a winning framework for President Biden, who is facing headwinds going into the midterm elections. From a historical perspective, it is a necessity at this time for the nation to promote our ideals about democracy.

While some conservative Republicans have had a warm fuzzy feeling regarding the nationalistic moves by Putin for many years, the nation as a whole now watching in almost real-time as missiles explode and the exit of Ukrainian families to bordering lands ramps up, have a different perspective. Though the colors of the flag being rallied around are yellow and blue, Biden is surely hoping the effect will benefit his administration.

His message to the nation reflected both the desire to promote democracy and also to frame a political message for the November elections.

Tonight, we meet as Democrats, Republicans, independents, but most importantly, as Americans with a duty to one another, to America, to American people, to the Constitution. And an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.

Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the very foundations of the free world. Thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways, that he badly miscalculated. He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would’ve roll over. Instead, he was met with a wall of strength he never anticipated or imagined. He met the Ukrainian people.

We, the United States of America, stand with Ukrainian people. Throughout our history, we have learned this lesson. When dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos. They keep moving. The cost to America and the world keeps rising.

Jill Biden hugs the Ukrainian ambassador and wears blue in support

There is no missing the fact that over the years the usual laundry list of policy items a president hopes for usually lands in the SOTU. That was certainly the case as Biden barrelled through a litany of programs and plans for the nation. But with the horrific events of the past week in Ukraine making for headlines Biden started out his speech with strong words and a forceful attitude when it came to Putin, and the need to fight Russian aggression relentlessly with economic tools.

Yes, the gravity of the international events is painfully real. Everything from a very jumbled world order, how to deal with an ever-growing number of refugees, a growing threat of cyber attacks from Russia, and the issue that bites the average American the most–gas prices. None of those are easy to address, and without a doubt, most will get worse in the coming weeks and months.

I have watched the SOTU speeches since my years of high school, and other than the impeachment scandal when President Clinton was working to move past that political nightmare, no other president has stood before the nation during a crisis of the kind Biden finds himself. He came to the senate during Leonid Brezhnev’s time but now finds Putin’s lack of control over his emotions and resulting actions creating a supremely challenging crisis.

Biden has not only the responsibility of leadership on his shoulders but also the opportunity for this moment to make the man. Biden is meeting his moment with history, and if history is a guide the public will respond. CBS polling before the speech showed Ukraine was the number one issue Americans wanted to hear Biden address. That topic was ahead of both inflation and COVID.

How and why Ukraine matters to the nation is what Biden excelled at in his national address. Not only energy prices and NATO are at stake, but also the values surrounding democracy.

The battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment. The world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security. This is the real test. It is going to take time. Let’s continue to draw inspiration from the Ukrainian will of the Ukrainian people. To our fellow Ukrainian Americans who forged a deep bond that connects our two nations, we stand with you. We stand with you. Putin may circle Kyiv with tanks but it will never gain the hearts and souls of the Ukrainian people. He will never weaken the resolve of the free world.

Biden spent the first 10 minutes of his 62-minute address to Congress speaking about the unfolding crisis in Europe. History will judge his words, tone, and determination of his resolve as an important part of the reason that Russian moves against Ukraine will not be allowed to stand.

And so it goes.

“False Flag’ Operation Feared In Ukraine, Biden Needs To Find “L” In Leadership

For a couple of weeks, many news analysts and foreign policy experts have warned what Russian President Putin may be planning as his excuse to invade the sovereign nation of Ukraine.

Many people fear that Russia is planning what is known as a ‘false flag’ operation, a contrived and self-generated event to give Putin a pretext to invade Ukraine.

It would be most similar to what the world witnessed, and history better understands in hindsight, when Wehrmacht troops, dressed as Polish soldiers, attacked a German wireless station in September 1939. (David Downing weaved that event into his John Russell series about espionage during WWII.)

It is strongly assumed this week the world will have headlined in every morning newspaper, and featured as the lead to evening news programs, the latest country in the world to have been brutally overtaken by a corrupt and dishonest nation. Russia and Germany have a list of such barbarity.

This weekend Putin’s troops exercised at strategic points surrounding the frontier of Ukraine. It is frighteningly clear that the US government expects that by the end of the week the Russians will be adding Ukraine to Poland, the Baltic States, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia on their list of shame.

This past week the line that jumped off of several news stories and pages of print was simple and direct.

“Moscow is actively trying to create a casus belli,” or a justification for war, a Western official said.

But the other statement that made me pay attention was uttered by President Joe Biden.

The weakness in American messaging and signaling blared when the White House let Russia know it need not fear the prospect of U.S. troops fighting to defend the sovereignty of Ukraine. Biden said, “there is not going to be any American forces moving into Ukraine.”

A BBC analyst read that comment as a means to lower confrontation and not ratchet up tensions into an even larger international crisis. That could very well be the case. And certainly, not a bad point to make in the midst of the gravest threat to international order since WWII.

Here at this desk, however, the rules of order and deliberative process that history proves stabilized Europe are the ones adhered to, and stressed when threats occur. No one should be pleased Russia knows before the first Ukrainian is killed there will be no military attempt to stop their forward motion. It is not a message we should have sent to the world that the United States will not stand up to Russia over Ukraine in a military fashion. In so doing, we have simply conceded a large nation to Russia, and in Cold War parlance enhanced their–sphere of influence–from which further efforts will doubtless be made upon other countries.  

We have set up a future of ever-more Russian meddling and militarism.

It galls me that area of the world is going to be further brutalized–Eastern Ukraine is already a war zone–due to a megalomaniac wishing to construct a map of the USSR. Nostalgia is a putrid reason for a war.

As such, the international order demanded that Biden not show his hand of cards or weaken the NATO alliance by telling Putin the limits of his ‘red line’ in Ukraine. A continuing strident message of deterrence is what Russia understands, and respects. And if we need to bump chests and eye the Russians down, then that is what we must do.

Leadership matters.

And so it goes.

Poke In The World’s Eye: Uyghur Dinigeer Yilamujiang Lights Winter Olympic Flame As Genocide By China Continues

Let me start with a fact that the vast majority of the nations in the world agree is taking place as I write.

China is carrying out a genocide in Xinjiang.

I applaud the actions of President Joe Biden for clearly demonstrating that such evil in the world must be called out, and never rewarded. I strongly support the decision of the United States to take a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in China. There is no way to not stand up in opposition to Beijing’s internment of nearly one million Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.

So it was a gigantic poke in the eye of the world community that China’s President Xi Jinping selected Dinigeer Yilamujiang, who is originally from Xinjiang, to play such a most prominent and troubling role in lighting the cauldron. If something can be expertly spun, creatively sold, or handsomely packaged, it can be sold and bought by others.

Right?

Wrong.

NPR’s Emily Feng recently reported:

“Since 2017, authorities in Xinjiang have rounded up hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority group, and sent them to detention centers where they are taught Mandarin Chinese and Chinese political ideology. Camp detainees have reported being forced to work in factories during their detention or after they are released. The children of those detained or arrested are often sent to state boarding schools, even when relatives are willing to take them in.”

Meanwhile, at the opening ceremonies, Russian President Putin and Xi sat together and surely were smirking. How could they not as the song Imagine, made famous by John Lennon, played to a choreographed scene in the arena? Hubris and irony competed for attention.

The list of atrocities China is engaged in today can not be forgotten with a truly impressive and technologically driven opening ceremony. While the LED show was dazzling for viewers, human rights abuses by China were taking place against Tibetans’ culture, religion, and language; Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms; and the continuous undermining of the democratic-island of Taiwan. 

Oh, yes, less we forget following the flame lighting Bejing….the genocide in Xinjiang.

The People’s Republic of China and the repressive government might think holding hands with Russia’s Putin and showcasing an axis of power while putting forth a global PR effort at the Olympics will turn the page.

But the world community has access to news and reporting about the genocide within China. In two weeks the Olympic flame will be doused, but the knowledge of the crimes continually perpetrated by China will not be forgotten.

And so it goes.

Biden’s Supreme Court Nominee Will Not Be Mired To Textualism, Will Understand Privacy

And just like that, a new page was turned in Washington. The national narrative took on a new angle.

The news this morning was surprising only that it did not wait to be released at the end of June. The end of this term of the Supreme Court.

Justice Stephen Breyer will retire and in so doing President Joe Biden will have his first opportunity to place a justice on the Court. The ideological balance will not change with this selection, but the placement of a justice who understands the foundation of how the law should be viewed in the larger context is simply vital.

It is strongly assumed that Biden will follow through on his campaign promise to place the first Black woman on the Court. That would be historic, and politically sound. But the larger victory to the nation is the fact that any nominee from the Biden White House will not be a follower of the sterile notion of ‘original intent” or its cousin in intellectual laziness ‘strict constructionist’ thinking.

When we placed a ballot in our hands in the fall of 2020 and cast a vote for president many likely did so with the character of Donald Trump top most in their thoughts. While that was clearly on my mind too, my overriding decision, however, was based on the need for solid fact-based and serious jurists for the federal courts and the Supreme Court. That consideration, along with international affairs drives my voting as it has since my first vote in 1980.

Many in the nation cringe, and correctly so when thinking about ‘original intent” or ‘strict constructionist’ thinking.  The main reason to dismiss this way to view the Constitution is that such concepts are nothing less than a slap to the Framers of that document. There is nothing to suggest they wanted to be the final arbiter on an evolving nation. The second reason to find much dismay with constructionism is the way it undermines the moral authority of the courts.

Republicans and right-wing conservatives talk often about reigning in the courts from ‘liberalism’ and in so doing think that then gives them license to enact harsh rulings about the progress of society regarding a whole raft of issues. Using ‘original intent’ as a partisan weapon places a wedge issue into the judiciary and in so doing undermines one of our republic’s major institutions.

To state, as the ‘originalists’ do, that the words of the Constitution do not evolve with time is a seriously flawed idea.  To pretend that the living America of ideas and events does not necessitate a Constitution that bends and adapts within the framework of guiding principles is one of the most bizarre and dangerous concepts that has ever been suggested.  Those who promote such ideas are the American equivalent of the Taliban, who use the Koran in highly misguided ways.  Pragmatic and logical voters understand past decisions made by the court, along with public needs, and expectations, along with the larger values that were implied in the Constitution, are needed to be used by judges when making rulings.

Trying to do a mind-meld with the Framers about software privacy or looking for guidance in their written texts about transgender rights is simply absurd.

History can be a guide as to the dangers of ‘strict constructionist’ thinking. It can also be a guide as to the wisdom of using guiding principles of the Constitution to expand rights and increase the American Dream. The horrendous Dred Scott decision can be viewed as the work of the former, but most of us better recognize the wisdom of the latter as Chief Justice Earl Warren’s tenure outlawed segregation in public schools.

That is why I firmly believe that when it comes to presidential elections we must always be aware of the need for a working modern judiciary.

One of the central issues in the nation is the right of women to have control over their bodies when it comes to abortion. One of the foundations in the 1973 landmark case Roe v. Wade, is the core constitutional principle of privacy. Conservatives rail against the idea that ‘privacy’ is even protected in the Constitution. 

Now, while it is true that the Constitution does not mention the right of privacy, over time there has been recognition that privacy is an unenumerated right.  The Griswold Case is one that every high school kid learns about; as it was the first time that the Constitution protects that vital right to privacy.  In that case, it was about the right to contraceptives.  In 1973, the issue of privacy was a central argument and focus, as it was in the famed Lawrence v. Texas, where privacy was used to strike down a law against gay sex.

The nation’s attention is now to focus on one way we judge the legacy of a president. The selection of a justice for the Court. We can be most confident that with President Biden the eventual nominee will have a firm understanding that the Constitution is a living document.

That is after all, why we vote for a Democrat to sit in the Oval Office.

And so it goes.