Dangerous Corporate Policies

Alan Zendell, April 10, 2023

While my wife was running errands this morning, she side-swiped a curb, leaving a two-inch tear in her right front tire. The way her car came to rest, she couldn’t see the rip, so she thought she’d run over a nail. She made two phone calls, one to AAA and one to me to come rescue her. She told the AAA dispatcher she needed a tire changed. They asked if she had a spare, which sounded like an odd question. Doesn’t every car have a spare tire?

Being someone who never leaves details to chance, she opened the hatch of her 2018 Toyota Prius to look for a spare. There was none in sight, so she began to disassemble the tools that came with the car, but it was more than she could handle. I finished what she started; there was no spare. But there was a folded up jack and a sealant pump that can sometimes make a tire drivable for a short distance until it can be repaired.

With a gaping hole in the sidewall, that wasn’t going to work. I waited an hour for AAA to show up. The technician, a good guy, was genuinely distressed to learn that he’d been sent out to replace a tire in a pickup truck, only to discover the was no tire to replace the damaged one. He called his dispatcher and requested a tow truck. I’d given my car to my wife.

Three hours after I arrived to rescue her, I finally reached the Toyota dealer. My service rep advised me to replace two tires so the tread on both front wheels would be the same, but the matching tires were out of stock. Don’t you love days like that? I purchased two Goodyears to replace the Toyos. $400 and ninety minutes later, I got home. If you’re a fan of pyrrhic victories, you’ll appreciate that I was offered free coffee, popcorn, and a car wash.

Wasting an entire morning was annoying, but the real problem is that car manufacturers have been phasing out spare tires for years, and there seems to be a silent conspiracy to avoid publicizing that. My 2020 Camry Hybrid doesn’t have one, either. If you bought a new car within the past few years, chances are, neither does yours. The chances are even greater that no one bothered to tell you that, not your salesperson, the financial officer who took your check, or your service rep. Like most us, you probably never thought to ask. It’s like asking if the car has brakes.

But let’s not jump all over Toyota – they all do it. It’s industry policy, and it’s a dangerous one. I got together with the guy who sold me both cars and the guy who services them. When I asked why neither of them told us when we bought the cars, they seemed dumbfounded. I know both of them well. I like and trust them, which made it all the more surprising. Maybe the corporate executives chose to leave the lack of a spare tire out of their orientation training on features of new models.

It’s bad enough that the lack of a spare tire is a major inconvenience, but if you think of all the ways you can get a flat tire, it’s clear that many situations would put the occupants of the car at risk. If my wife had been driving alone in a remote area late at night, the consequences of not have a spare might have been catastrophic. The sales and service guys agreed completely, baffled that no one had ever raised the subject before.

This is particularly irking because of a similar incident we experienced twenty-five years ago. We were driving in my wife’s Nissan Stanza on a cold March night, with snow and slush piled up on the side of I-95 in Maryland, in one of the worst traffic mixing bowls I know, with cars and big trucks merging at high speed from two freeways into one from both sides. The perfect place for a timing chain to break.

Timing chains aren’t supposed to break, at least that’s what everyone thought. When one snaps under those conditions, it can be life-threatening, because everything goes dead – the engine, the power brakes, and the power steering. When I spoke to the service manager at our Nissan dealer the next day, he got a stricken look on his face. He closed his office door and took a folder from his desk, handing me a copy of a memo he’d received from Nissan headquarters in California. It ordered dealers not to mention the well-documented flaw in Nissan’s timing chain to customers unless it was clear that they already knew about it.

Nissan had made a corporate decision to maintain secrecy, putting drivers’ lives in jeopardy. I appealed to the Maryland Attorney General’s office for assistance. They contacted their counterparts in California, the only state in which Nissan had a corporate presence, and were obscenely told to mind their own business: “No one in this office f**ks with Nissan.”

If I were you I’d check my trunk.

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Tipping Points

Alan Zendell, April 5, 2023

History teaches that most things about our society are cyclic. Politically, things swing left or right every generation, the economy goes up and down, fashions and fads appear and disappear. Those in power continually seek ways to increase and perpetuate their influence, which invariably leads to trying to enact more and more radical laws and policies that enrich themselves and their benefactors, which eventually backfires. Both major parties fall prey to that, but since Ronald Reagan was elected, the Republicans have been on a relentless mission to alter our political landscape permanently, even at the cost of trashing our Constitution.

Our political swings are driven by a number of things that echo our less than proud past. The most important are wealth and racism, both of which are inextricably tied to immigration. The majority of people seeking to enter the United States, either as immigrants or refugees are nonwhite, something Donald Trump was quite vocal about during his presidency. He loudly proclaimed that we need to stop accepting “losers from shithole countries” and increase the number of immigrants coming from Europe – as long as they look like white Americans.

We reached a tipping point when the Statue of Liberty’s promise that America was a haven for the oppressed caused the pendulum to swing so far toward black, brown, and yellow people, that voting majorities in many states and the nation as a whole were flipping from white to nonwhite. Republicans, who had evolved to become a party of wealthy individuals and powerful corporations, and had either been supporting racist and misogynistic policies overtly, or looking the other way when others did, realized that if women and minorities held critical majorities, they would never hold power again unless they changed their policies.

But the Republican Party, which is firmly in the grip of people whose values are alien to those most Americans share, instead of evolving toward the center became more extreme. Their greed and lust for power, and the defacto power of racism that still pervades our institutions made changing their philosophy a nonstarter. For forty years, they have repeatedly doubled down on policies and attitudes that look more fascist than democratic. Everything the radical Republicans who have steadily gained influence over their party policy have done over that time has benefitted the wealthy, removed restrictions on corporate activities, worked against the interest of women and minorities, and attempted to make it harder for them to vote. Worse, they have undermined many Americans’ faith in science and adopted a blatant policy of drowning out facts and truth with lies and hyperbole.

This kind of overreach only has two possible outcomes. Either it will succeed in destroying our democracy, or it will infuriate voters enough to pull them away from their social media accounts and football games to fight back. Another tipping point, just in time, before the same people who attempted to undermine our Constitution and overturn the 2020 presidential election can fine tune their act for 2024. The pendulum is now further to the right than it has been since the Civil War, and still, the far-right radicals want more. They won’t stop until their wealthy sponsors and white supremacist backers are in complete, unassailable control.

Are there more tipping points? When Donald Trump called his white supremacist supporters to arms to protest his arrest and indictment in New York, most of the small crowd who showed up cheered his arrest. His right-wing militias saw nearly a thousand of their own convicted and imprisoned after January 6th, and many realize how the MAGA movement has ripped them off. Last year’s midterm elections presaged a change when the red wave that was supposed to give Republicans a huge majority in the House and control of the Senate failed to materialize. And it led to an embarrassing spectacle when one of their number, George Santos, was revealed to have been elected based on an entirely fraudulent resume. But the Republican majority is so thin and devoid of ethics, an obedient chimpanzee would be permitted to keep his seat.

The Tennessee legislature appears to be out of control, as the latest murder of school children by a lunatic with an assault weapon has awakened the gun-loving state to the reality that some regulation is needed. In response, its Republican legislature chose to expel its members who advocate gun control, but a lot of average Tennesseans aren’t buying it. Another tipping point. And perhaps the most optimistic sign of change is that not one of the forty-nine Republicans in the Senate openly supports the extremist agenda being put forth in the House.

2023 will be a critical year. The right-wing radicals know their best chance to win in 2024 is through chaos and misinformation. It’s up to us to prevent that.

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In Normal Times…….

Alan zendell, April 5, 2023

In normal times, the election of a state Supreme Court Justice in a mid-western state would either pass unnoticed or soon be forgotten by most of the country, especially if the justice’s name looked impossible to pronounce. That will not be the case for Janet Protasiewicz, the judge who won Liberals their first majority on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court in fifteen years, but the victory has far greater significance than that. Wisconsin was to have been the first domino to fall in a nefarious plot funded by right wing billionaires, Charles and David Koch.

The goal was to assure long-term political control for Republicans in more than a dozen states, the next step in right wing activist Grover Norquist’s blueprint for assuring that the wealthiest Americans pay little or no taxes, and that power at both the federal and state levels remain in Conservative hands indefinitely. The plan had multiple phases: first, maximize gerrymandering favorably to Republicans to assure that Democrats never hold majorities in those states again; second pack the courts with friendly judges committed to supporting the election district maps that result from the gerrymandering effort; third, when the first two phases result in complete Republican control of the states’ legislatures, immediately pass new voting laws to restrict the opposition party’s ability to get out their constituents’ votes, with the assurance that the now-friendly courts will support those laws.

Massive conspiracies like this one often make considerable headway initially, because most voters take a wait-and-see attitude toward dire predictions of doom. Moreover, our media are so dominated by political spin and the media outlets’ lust for profits, it’s often difficult for voters to know who to believe. A nation as large and powerful as the United States has enormous inertia – unless we see killer asteroids or enemy ICBMs on an unavoidable collision course, we’re slow to enact major changes, and in most situations, that’s a good thing. Economic stability and public safety require that our leaders avoid knee-jerk responses.

Over time, however, if we judge by results, American voters are both resilient and smart. They usually do a pretty good job of re-adjusting when either party appears to dominate policy for too long. British historian, Lord Acton, accurately warned over a century ago that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Human nature is such that power is addictive, creating a perpetual need to expand and strengthen itself. Over time, then, when voters see the negative effects of one-party dominance, they become the court of last resort to restore balance.

That’s why most midterm congressional elections tend to shift power back toward the party that lost the last presidential election, and it’s why voters in ruby-red Kansas voted to preserve a woman’s right to an abortion in their state constitution after the shocking overreach of the right-wing Supreme Court that reversed Rowe v Wade. That’s why Israeli voters are turning on Prime Minister Netanyahu after seeing the result of decades of corruption and sabotaging efforts to achieve lasting peace with their Arab neighbors. And that is why Wisconsin voters went to the polls and said NO to those who would steal their democracy, yesterday, by a ten-point margin in a state where Democrats hold a three percent edge.

How significant was Janet Protasiewicz’s victory? Because Wisconsin’s voters scuttled the Koch brothers’ long-term scheme, right-wing extremist Ali Alexander predicted that Republicans would never have a voting majority in the foreseeable future. In normal times, that would concern me. No matter which side you support politically, it’s always dangerous when one side holds too much power for too long. But because Donald Trump shattered the traditional Conservative movement, replacing it with his philosophy of greed, bigotry, misogyny, and white supremacy, the traditional rules had to change to preserve our Constitution and our republic. At least until the Republican Party puts itself back together and re-asserts its support for our Constitution, the country needs Democrats to win.

The MAGA crowd have ruled by intimidation, threats, noise, and a complete disregard for laws, either those that maintain order or those prescribed by science and nature. They have sucked all the air out of most rooms for seven years, dominating our attention to such a degree that concern over ratings brought CNN and other cable networks to a new low of journalism, yesterday. Not since 1991, when a nation of soap opera-addicted housewives sat glued to their televisions watching the LAPD follow O. J. Simpson along Los Angeles’ freeways had we seen such an imbecilic spectacle. While Wisconsin was setting the nation back on track, television viewers were treated to endless replays of Trump’s motorcade taking him home after he was arraigned in New York on thirty-four felony counts.

How appalling!

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Our Fragile Democracy and Trump’s Indictment

Alan Zendell, April 3, 2023

Our democracy is based on two simple notions: every American has the right to cast a vote, and once cast, that vote is equal in importance to every other vote cast, no matter who you are or where you live. What happens, then, when one of the two major political parties decides to pursue a strategy of rigging elections? What happens if, in addition, several major media outlets forego their primary responsibility to accurately report news based on facts, and instead support efforts to nullify our two-party system?

It would be naïve to assume either party would avoid taking any advantage that would help win an election. But it’s one thing to be opportunistic and quite another to spend millions on expert consultants and software to disqualify votes for the opposition. That is exactly what Republicans have done under the tutelage of Grover Norquist since 2010, and to a lesser degree since the Reagan administration.

The most egregious form of election-rigging is gerrymandering, a procedure based on mathematical and statistical analysis that causes one party’s votes to count more than the other’s by re-writing district boundaries. For example, we know most large cities have significant majorities of Democratic voters. Gerrymandering re-draws boundaries so that most of those voters are packed into a small number of districts that are up to 70-80% Democratic. The result is that Democrats win huge landslides in a small number of districts, but Republicans eke out 51-52% victories everywhere else.

Red states have been doing this successfully, and because several have also packed their courts with sympathetic judges, legal challenges to redistricting maps have almost always been rejected by the courts, including the U. S. Supreme Court which Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell remade into a right-wing mouthpiece.

The state considered most seriously biased against Democrats is Wisconsin, where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans, but because of gerrymandering, Republicans nearly have a supermajority in the legislature. Boston College historian Heather Richardson summarized this beautifully. In 2018, Democrats elected Tony Evers as Governor, and won 53% of the votes cast for state assembly, but won only 37% of the seats, and a nearly nonexistent presence in the state senate.

This kind of outcome is possible because statewide (and national) elections aren’t affected by gerrymandering. Thus, a Democrat was elected Governor, and with the same districts in place in 2020, Democrat Joe Biden won the state in the presidential election. Obviously, statewide elections in which every voter has an equal opportunity to vote are the most accurate reflection of a state’s population, but once Republicans seize control of a legislature and pack courts with friendly judges, they immediately change election laws to make it more difficult for some constituencies to vote.

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is currently politically deadlocked at 3-3, with one vacant seat that will be filled by state-wide election today. The candidates for that seat have been quite vocal that Wisconsin voters will either set the state on a course to fairer district maps, or perpetuate the state’s slide toward one-party dominance. The outcome will be viewed as a model for Republican attempts to permanently take over other red states. Common sense says that since the election to fill the supreme court seat is statewide, if Democrats care enough to turn out they should win this one, but no one who values democracy can ever stop being vigilant.

A similar situation applies to the Trump-hijacked national Republican Party. Trump lost the popular vote in both his presidential runs by margins of four million and nearly eight million. But because the outmoded, Electoral College functions like state voting districts, Trump won the 2016 election. The balance is so delicate that in 2020, by increasing his popular margin by four million votes, two percent of the total, Biden flipped the Electoral College, winning by exactly the same count Trump won by in 2016.

Imagine – if Thomas Jefferson’s concept of one person one vote applied to presidential elections: Al Gore would have defeated George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton would have defeated Trump, and there would have been no reason for Trump to incite the January 6th insurrection. No wonder Republicans feel the need to cheat! Our best hope for saving democracy is that the majority continues to speak with its full voice.

Fortunately, the public is getting wise to Trump lying, falsifying facts, and accusing the opposition of doing everything he does. Consider his current efforts to raise money based on claiming that his indictment on thirty counts of criminal behavior by New York City is a political witch hunt. He doesn’t appear to be fooling anyone outside his gullible core base. A poll released today showed that more than 60% of Americans believe Trump should have been indicted, and only 10% said Trump is not guilty of either breaking the law or acting unethically. My faith is in the other ninety percent.

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Two Small Steps in the Right Direction

Alan Zendell, March 31, 2023

During a week in which I focused on getting home from a winter in Florida, I still checked the news (as opposed to rabid political rhetoric) every day. It made me feel like the fabric that keeps our civilization intact was unraveling. Valdimir Putin announced that he would position tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which shares Ukraine’s northern border. He also begged Xi Jing Pin for support for his underperforming military, while Xi treaded the line between economic aid and weaponry, seeking leverage against America’s support for Taiwan.

There was another mass shooting, in Nashville, in which a lunatic with an assault weapon killed three nine-year-old children. Tennessee is a very red state whose right wing politicians constantly play on the Second Amendment to court voters. Thus, instead of a of reasonable response to President Biden’s appeal to re-enact the ban on assault weapons, all we got from them was condolences and advice to mourning family members to pray. There were deadly tornadoes in Mississippi, clearly exacerbated by climate change, which the crazy wing of the Republican Party thinks requires no government action.

Finally, there’s the two-ring circus of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu dancing to avoid criminal prosecution. We learned throughout Trump’s presidency that Netanyahu has no more respect for truth and the rule of law than Trump does. Both attempted to subvert their nation’s legal system, placing their constitutions and democracies in serious jeopardy. Whether you love or hate their politics, the ego-driven lust for power that drives their behaviors makes both men unfit to lead nuclear armed countries that spend every day on the brink of hostilities. It was easy to imagine all of us slipping downhill toward catastrophe and powerless to do anything to stop it.

And then – we saw evidence that we might have passed one of the inflection points President Biden likes to refer to. (An inflection point occurs when negative trends turn positive, or vice versa.) In response to Netanyahu’s attempt to undermine Israel’s judiciary by granting the legislature full power to overrule court decisions on elections, Israeli citizens staged massive protests across the country. Both Israel and the United States have constitutions that assure a separation of powers to prevent democracy from turning into autocracy. If successful, Netanyahu’s action would nullify a critical lynchpin of Israel’s democratic political system in the same way Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election would have. Israelis have made it clear they won’t let that happen.

And then – a long awaited shoe dropped. The New York District Attorney’s grand jury voted to indict Donald Trump on thirty criminal charges. That indictment came down yesterday, to predictable reactions. All of Trump’s closest supporters, mostly people who would profit if Trump defeats all charges, are screaming about political persecution and weaponizing the legal system.

Richard Nixon famously asserted that anything a President does is legal by definition. That didn’t shield Nixon from justice, and it shouldn’t shield Trump. No one is above the law, and the legal system must be allowed to proceed. Two weeks ago, anticipating his arrest and indictment, Trump flooded his social media outlets with appeals to his supporters to come to New York and hold massive protests. He predicted that his arrest would result in death and destruction, a delusional attempt to re-enact the January 6th insurrection at the New York courthouse.

It’s striking that not a single Senate Republican has said anything about Trump’s indictment, and not one of Trump’s outraged supporters says a word about whether Trump actually committed the crimes he’s accused of, not a single word proclaiming his innocence. Fox News, OAN, and Newsmax all know the source of their revenue is hard core Trumpers. As usual, it’s greed and power over the rule of law.

Long-time Conservative S. E. Cupp summed it up perfectly. Addressing the outrage of Trump’s supporters, she said they were not outraged by Trump’s attempt to overturn a legal election, by the violence and death at the Capitol that resulted from Trump calling his supporters to arms, by the illegal phone calls to Georgia election officials, or his illegal attempt to extort political assistance against Joe Biden from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. They weren’t outraged by the shocking number of accusations by women of sexual harassment and assault, by Trump’s sexist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic behavior, or his white nationalism, his defense of antisemitism and support for neo-Nazi groups.

When he pre-emptively pardoned Richard Nixon for crimes he committed while serving as president, former President Gerald Ford said he did so to avoid exactly what we are seeing concerning Trump. Nixon had already been declared guilty by his own supporters led by Senator Barry Goldwater. Nixon’s former White House counsel John Dean said, however, that Ford didn’t act out of compassion or to aid Nixon as much as to protect his ability to govern and maintain order. While I believe that President Biden should pardon Trump if he is convicted and faces potential prison time, the nation’s long-term health depends on the legal process proceeding to a conclusion so we can all see the evidence.

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The Politics of Obstruction

Alan Zendell, March 17, 2023,

“The minority wins when Congress accomplishes less.” Long time Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) attributed that statement to former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA). In a nutshell, it summarizes the philosophy of obstructionism that has dominated Congressional politics whenever Republicans have been in the minority since Gingrich gained control of his House caucus in the 1980s.

Political differences have always been fierce in Congress; one led to the Civil War. But obstructionism as a political weapon has only been a major force since the ’90s. Strong opposition is normal and healthy in public debate. The alternative is one-party domination, a slippery slope to Fascism and autocracy. But obstruction is opposition on steroids, to the point at which the line between partisanship and responsible governing is blurred to insignificance.

Both parties practice obstructionism, but it has become a mantra for Republicans. It was Gingrich who introduced the idea of using the annual increase in the federal debt ceiling as a cudgel, taking an outdated procedural rule and weaponizing it. He engineered two shutdowns of the federal government during the Clinton administration in failed attempts to blackmail the White House into accepting serious cuts in welfare and Medicaid spending.

We use the same strategy in war, in athletic competition, and in the games we play. I did it myself as a fourteen-year-old when I was shamed into playing chess against the youth champion in the state where I spent the summer. I knew I had no chance to win, but I was just barely a good enough player to frustrate the hell out of my adolescent opponent. Instead of trying to win, I spent the entire game obstructing him, upsetting him enough to force a draw.

In chess, that was fair game, because there was nothing at stake but our youthful pride. When two football teams do it, we sit on the edges of our seats as they fight out a low-scoring match that goes down to the wire – but here, too, there’s nothing at stake except which team wins. With politicians, it’s a very different matter. If a game ends in a zero-zero tie, we put it in the record books and move on to the next one. But if every vote in Congress maintains the status quo, the country is in grave trouble.

That mentality has metastasized in recent years. Donald Trump’s Big Lie and his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election were based on similar tactics. January 6th was an attempt to re-interpret a symbolic vote to ratify the votes of the states’ electors to unconstitutionally imbue it with the power to change the outcome. We might have lost both our Constitution and our Republic that day, because some of our leaders cared more about power than living up to their oath to defend them.

Threatening to shut down the government or actually doing it has never been a successful strategy because the consequences are severe enough that only the most radical and irresponsible Members held out till the end. Mitch McConnell, one of the worst practitioners of obstructionism in our history, distanced himself from the latest round of threats, because he knows that shutting down the government can do irreparable harm to the country. But the radicals of the MAGA movement, enabled by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s lust for power: Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, et al, are either too ignorant to understand or craven enough not to care how much damage they do.

Failing to raise the debt ceiling and sending the nation into default could be the feather that causes our markets to crash, a crippling blow to our waning influence in the world with the threat of nuclear war looming in Europe. If we manage to avoid the worst, obstructionism can lead to a slower, more agonizing death. The immediate effect of stifling the legislative process is governing through executive action, a process that can only be effective over the short term. Every executive action can be erased the next time the majority changes. Thus, no one, not individuals, not business owners, not local governments, and most seriously, not our allies can count on the longevity of American policy.

This outs the real Big Lie of MAGAism. Far from assuring America’s greatness, this kind of irresponsible politics is the surest way to destroy it. The best thing it can result in is chaos. Once people lose confidence in the government, life savings and investments could disappear overnight, millions of jobs could be lost, major industries could be devastated.

In Joe Biden we have a President whose hand is steady on the wheel of government, who never lowers himself to that kind of politics. I’m confident that there are enough people in Congress who share his commitment to governing that the crazies won’t win – this time.

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Financial Instability

Alan Zendell, March 13, 2023

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and its subsequent shutdown by California regulators and the FDIC brought back nightmarish memories of the financial crisis of 2008. That one happened so fast, we didn’t have much time to panic before the federal government stepped in to bail out banks that were too big to fail. It was only after things had been stabilized that we were told the whole truth – that our entire financial system had come close to collapsing.

The most convincing evidence of how serious things were was the way the outgoing Bush administration and the incoming Obama people worked smoothly together to institute reforms and restore confidence in the system. In a time of already heightened divisiveness, the relative lack of partisan sniping and finger-pointing was a clear indication of how much jeopardy we were in.

The banking crisis was also a poignant reminder that those on the far right who advocate weakening the federal government and giving much of its regulatory authority to the states are playing politics with the financial security of our country. Without the resources of the federal treasury and the government’s flexibility to react globally in a timely manner, we might have found ourselves in the middle of a second Great Depression. It’s also a hopeful reminder that when the chips are really down, most of our leaders are able to put partisanship aside and govern.

Major bank failures are always scary, but the Biden administration acted quickly to avoid panic. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen coordinated the rapid emergency response that enabled the President to speak reassuringly to the nation this morning. Does that mean everything is fine, that there’s no risk of a financial collapse?

There’s more than one right answer to that question. On one hand, I learned in thirty-seven years of working for the feds that every high-level speech and press release is entirely about spin and influencing public opinion. I’m not implying that Biden was lying, although assuming that his assurances are a hundred percent reliable, or that there’s not a lot more information out there that wasn’t revealed would be naïve. Every president weighs what the public is told, whether it’s about a financial crisis, a war, a pandemic, or an investigation of wrongdoing. It’s like a scene from one of those disaster movies about an asteroid causing an extinction event. The president says to his cabinet, “We’re all doomed, but only we know we have no chance of surviving. What would be gained by telling everyone?”

So maybe the world banking system is secure and maybe it’s like a huge dam with serious cracks. We can only be sure that our best financial people are working on it, and the more serious the problem turns out to be, the more likely it is that everyone – the White House, the Congress, and the Courts, if necessary, will work together to fix it.

The problem I see is that a potential banking crisis cannot be isolated from every other major policy decision. In today’s world, they’re all inextricably tied to each other. What if the cost of shoring up our financial system is a trillion dollars or more? How do we, as a nation pay for it? We’re already facing serious challenges from House Republicans on whether to approve an increase in the debt ceiling and what measures should be taken to reduce our current deficit.

We all know the drill. Do we repeal the Trump tax cuts that cost the treasury almost three trillion dollars? Do we severely reduce services for welfare, education, Medicaid, and Medicare? Do we cut back on our essential investment in converting to renewable energy so we’re no longer dependent on Russian or Middle Eastern oil? Or do we decide we can no longer afford to support Ukraine in repulsing Russia’s invasion, thus setting up a Neville Chamberlain-like scenario in Europe, increasing the likelihood  of nuclear war?

Whether you’re a tax-hating Conservative, a Progressive, or a Libertarian, it’s time to realize that extremist solutions won’t solve this problem. In the end, there’s only so much to go around. In the event of a serious looming catastrophe, the world economy, in the short run, is a zero-sum game that will require a careful triage analysis. The wealthiest among us who have benefitted greatly from the growing influence of the far right will have to step up and pay their share, simply because no one else can. And the Bernie Sanders advocates who want every social problem fixed, today, will have to accept that the survival of the country and the world economy take precedence.

The failure of the Silicon Valley Bank could be a helpful development if in the end, it forces us to refocus on our real priorities and put politics aside.

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A Matter of Perspective

Alan Zendell, March 5, 2023,

I just had a milestone birthday, the kind that makes you step back and think. My family made it really special for me – one son bought me a ride next to a NASCAR driver taking curves at the Daytona Raceway at 180 mph, my wife hosted a wonderful dinner at one of Central Florida’s finest restaurants; and my other son gave us round trip plane tickets to visit him in California. I had a party with my grandsons, and I netted $52 from the lottery tickets people gave me.

My sister gave me a wonderful gift, a beautiful, hardbound book filled with New York Times front pages from the day I was born and each of my subsequent birthdays. It’s especially fitting. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, and those pages reminded me of what life was like in the city where I grew up.

The first page, from the first day of my life, was a startling reminder of how different the world was. I was born sixteen months after Japan destroyed our Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. Europe was overrun by the Fascist/Nazi armies of Germany and Italy, and most of east Asia was occupied by Japanese forces. March 3, 1943 was a dire time for Americans. We were at war, but most of those sixteen months was needed to rebuild our Navy and gear up every factory capable of producing warplanes, tanks, and every kind of munition and weapon.

The British were carrying most of the combat load in Europe, but American industry had enabled them to halt the Nazi advance, and a rapidly growing force of newly trained American soldiers and sailors were itching to join the fight. In the Pacific, in addition to massive gains on the Asian mainland, the Japanese occupied every strategic island within bombing distance of their homeland, until the American, British, and Australian navies halted their expansion.

We’ve spent the last few years in an environment of constantly worsening divisiveness. We’re still experiencing the worst pandemic in a century, and after living with nuclear weapons for my entire life, we are engaged in an existential fight for survival with revisionist elements in Russia and a more subtle, but equally critical struggle with China. My life began twenty-four years after the end of “the war to end all wars,” yet, one generation later we were involved in an all-out battle for world domination.

Today’s headlines are about finding a way to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine without setting off a nuclear conflagration, about a worldwide struggle between authoritarianism and democracy, and about an insurrectionist element in our own Congress who seem to treat the January 6th, 2021 attack on the U. S. Capitol as the starting point for a second civil war, rather than the one-time act of madness it was. But overall, despite our very serious problems, Americans are far better off today than they were in 1943.

War news back then was more government propaganda than facts. President Roosevelt’s assurances that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself, and Winston Churchill’s exhortation to every Brit to fight on the beaches to the bitter end needed to be backed up with positive news. Thus, the headlines on March 3, 1943 were about the RAF staging a massive bombing raid on Berlin, 900 tons of bombs in thirty minutes, and American forces in North Africa pushing the enemy back in Tunisia. They were about rationing meat, cheese, sugar, butter, and gasoline, and practicing air raid drills. We applauded advances by Russia’s forces on three fronts, but those fronts were the same ones we read about today in Ukraine. 2022 wasn’t the first time Ukrainians had to defend their territory against an overwhelmingly superior force, and they did so brilliantly. General Douglas MacArthur was lauded for disrupting Japanese convoys, and way down in the lower left-hand corner of page one was a warning that New York was about to be inundated in heavy snow.

It was a terrifying time, whether you were directly involved in combat, or a wife, mother, or child of someone who was. German and Japanese submarines lurked off our coasts and wreaked havoc with our shipping and troop transports. Today, the defense of Ukraine has cost us in increased defense expenditures and higher prices for energy, but more Americans have jobs, enough to eat, and a safe place to live than ever before. Despite the risk of allowing Russia to continue its expansionist policies, some of our elected leaders prefer to use that struggle for political gains.

In 1943, Americans accepted the need for sacrifice, because the threat to our nation was visible and imminent. But there was another difference. It may have been misguided, but we believed almost to a person, that we were in the right. We knew America was where the good guys lived, and that freedom comes with a price.

I was lucky. My father and my uncles got home safely. They celebrated a great victory. Today, we gripe about taxes and the cost of gasoline, when back then a good day was one on which no one received a letter from the War Department informing them that their loved one had died bravely defending his country.

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Politics or Treason?

Alan Zendell, February 23, 2023

In the past week, several events in the global struggle to defend democracy and freedom occurred virtually simultaneously. In no particular order, they are:

  • President Biden made a secret trip to Kyiv to stand with Ukrainian President Zelensky amid the blaring of air raid sirens set off by a Russian MIG fighter approaching Kyiv’s airspace.
  • Chinese leader Xi Jinping promised a peace plan by week’s end that would resolve the dispute between Russia and Ukraine and respect every nation’s sovereignty, while hinting that China may provide military support to Russia. China already provides financial support by importing much of the oil Russia can’t sell to Europe.
  • A bipartisan delegation led by House Republicans visited Kyiv to stand with Zelensky. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was part of the delegation, said that defeating Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the single most important thing happening in the world today.
  • Matt Gaetz, one of the small group of extreme right-wing House Republicans that refuse to support Speaker Kevin McCarthy, proposed a resolution stating that we are suffering from “Ukraine Fatigue,” suggesting that the commitment by Biden and the majority of Republicans cannot be counted on indefinitely.
  • Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, in a speech that coincided with Biden’s visit to Kyiv, said we should not be defending NATO’s eastern border with Russia when we can’t defend our own border with Mexico, while former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who is already running for president, argued for a more aggressive stance against Russia.
  • Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene said red states should secede from the United States. DeSantis, while not advocating the breakup of the United States, argued strongly in favor of intensifying the culture wars which have already caused irreparable differences among Americans.

My chief takeaway is that the actions of the radical right-wing of House Republicans have reached a new high in irresponsibility, bordering on treason. They are the same people who still cling to the lie that Biden stole the 2020 election from Trump, who played active roles in the January 6th insurrection and supported dozens of attempts to undermine the Constitution when they refused to certify the electors who were required by law to confirm Biden’s victory. On the other hand, while their politics was spawned by Trump, they seem to be marching to their own anarchistic tune and ignoring Trump’s campaign speeches, further dividing their own party.

I expect no less from Gaetz and Greene, but DeSantis? There’s a long-standing, unwritten rule that you never undercut the president when he’s on foreign soil negotiating on behalf of American national security interests. But DeSantis, who is coy about his intent to challenge Biden in 2024, delivered a message that might have undermined NATO’s entire effort to defend Ukraine, had other Republicans not simultaneously spoken in unison in support.

DeSantis is a very smart man. Unlike Trump, whose diplomatic acumen redefines the cliché about bulls in china shops, he understands every nuance of foreign and domestic policy. He has decided that his path to the White House is essentially a search and destroy mission. In 2016, Trump’s backers understood that there was a very angry minority of Americans who would respond positively to his reckless attacks on the establishment. DeSantis obviously believes there is an even larger group of Americans who encompass Trumpism and are so anti-Washington and anti-Biden, that he can use their anger to overthrow the status quo both domestically and diplomatically.

He may not have used the same words as Representative Greene, but the message was the same. The right wing’s desire to focus on the culture war that pits white, male Americans against everyone else, regardless of the obvious damage the divisiveness in the country has caused, knows no limits. In just a couple of days, their loudest spokespersons openly advocated formally splitting the country in two and undermining support for NATO and Ukraine, putting political gains at home ahead of the existential threat of nuclear-armed adversaries who have shown that they intend to reset the world order.

I’ll leave the legalisms to people qualified in constitutional law, but in purely lay terms, what could be more treasonous than advocating a new civil war or deliberately undercutting your Commander in Chief during wartime? The people who advocate such things presage the dissolution of everything Americans were raised to believe in, but there’s hope.

The State of Georgia is close to issuing indictments against some of the worst offenders, and the foreperson of the Special Grand Jury convened to study the efforts to overturn Georgia’s choice of Biden in 2020 hinted that Trump and more than a dozen of his loudest supporters may face serious criminal charges. We can only hope that presenting clear evidence of criminal acts will set Americans back on course.

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Ukraine and China

Alan zendell, February 18, 2023

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reaches its first anniversary…I find it difficult to even finish this sentence. The very idea of a vicious war raging in Europe for a full year with no end in sight is horrifying. And this is more than just a war. The Russian military vastly outnumbers and outguns the Ukrainians, and while Ukraine is fighting a defensive battle for its survival, Russia is razing cities to the ground, targeting and killing civilians by the thousands, and its only justification is Vladimir Putin’s assertion that Ukraine has no right to be an independent nation.

That’s because it wasn’t independent until the dissolution of the Soviet Union thirty years ago. The fledgling nation has struggled with corruption, organized crime, and economic instability, in large part because of Russian infiltration. But what began as Putin’s pipe dream of restoring the former Soviet empire has become an embarrassing debacle. His military, thought to be one of the most formidable in the world, has shown itself to be badly trained, unmotivated, and poorly equipped with mostly obsolete, badly maintained equipment. Beyond that, the unprovoked brutality of Russia’s tactics are visible for the entire world to see. Except for rogue regimes like North Korea, even governments that feel supportive of Russia in general have not spoken out in support of the invasion.

Russia has seen its military hardware decimated and its supplies of missiles, drones, and ammunition run out, so it is reduced to begging assistance from countries like Iran, North Korea, and China, and even re-supplied with munitions and hundreds of thousands of recruits thrown into the fight, the media talking heads are nearly unanimous in predicting that Ukraine will beat back the new assault planned for Spring – unless Russia resorts to using nuclear weapons. The war has turned into a dangerous game of chicken with Putin under attack domestically and a pariah in the eyes of most of the world, and his country’s economy badly suffering from sanctions.

While no one completely discounts the possibility that Putin might be obsessed and crazy enough to risk all-out war with NATO, most observers believe he will lose politically and ultimately be blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths, the destruction of entire cities, and the displacement of millions of people, not to mention a looming possible economic collapse at home. Russia’s allies see that as well as we do, and no one wants to be on the losing side, even if it’s their friend who’s losing.

I believe Putin is continuing the war, and will be even more brutal in its second year, because he believes the Trump wing of the Republican Party will undermine American support for Ukraine, which could well result in the dissolution of NATO that President Biden did such an amazing job of shoring up. As NATO prepares to expand by including Russia’s neighbor, Finland, the question is whether Putin is so committed to his war that he’s willing to risk total destruction. Perhaps that’s why leaders of nations like India, Iran, and China are not speaking publicly in Putin’s defense. It’s almost certainly why China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed the Munich Security Conference about the need to end the “warfare” in Ukraine.

Observers who like to parse such things note that it was the first time a representative of the Chinese government used that word concerning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Wang went on to say the raging war must end, and that China will soon propose a peace settlement that respects the sovereignty of all nations. On its face, that statement sounds far more supportive of Ukraine than Russia, because Ukrainian President Zelensky says Ukraine will fight until all Russian forces withdraw from Ukrainian territory. But not so fast…is it likely that China will live up to that statement, given its own threats against Taiwan? China’s attitude toward Taiwan is very similar to Russia’s claim that Ukraine has no right to be a sovereign nation.

If China follows through and is willing to throw its weight behind respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty, it could be a crucial contribution to the future of a stable world order. If it’s true, and not just diplomatic spin, China’s intervention at the ministerial level could be the most constructive initiative of the twenty-first century. Whether or not Putin can rein in his ambitions and accept the humiliation of defeat, Russia’s allies clearly have no interest in being the collateral damage of a third world war, assuming such a conflict would leave enough standing to rebuild.

From the point of view of the United States, I’ll be watching to see if new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy retains enough integrity to separate himself from Trump and crazies like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene. America has a long tradition of uniting and putting its differences aside when the nation’s security is at stake. If we don’t, the entire world is in great jeopardy.

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