Thursday, March 31, 2022

Markets End Down for First Quarter, Worst in Two Years

I hope my retirement accounts didn't take too drastic of a hit. I'm not getting any younger!

At WSJ, "Stocks Post Worst Quarter in Two Years Despite Strong Finish":

A head-spinning quarter came to a disappointing end, with major stock indexes suffering their worst performance in two years and other markets recording some of the most extreme moves on record.

The action reflects a sense of dislocation shared by many traders and portfolio managers who are confronting challenges not seen in years. Yet their unease has been offset in part by a fierce determination among many investors to take advantage of any price declines to add to positions in stocks, bonds and commodities.

Inflation has surged to its highest level in four decades, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has rattled already stretched supply chains and the Federal Reserve has embarked on a rate-increase plan whose pace investors are struggling to handicap.

All three major U.S. indexes declined more than 1.5% on Thursday, with losses accelerating in the final hour of the session as traders dumped stocks to end the quarter. The declines have dragged the S&P 500 down 4.9% over the past three months, snapping a seven-quarter streak of wins. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite have lost 4.6% and 9.1%, respectively, this year.

U.S. oil futures cleared $130 a barrel in early March, a level that flashed a warning signal for many economists. But the futures have since declined to around $100, a price that likely limits immediate economic damage but still marks the biggest quarterly gain since 2008.

“There are different parts of this market that rhyme with history, but really not even that well,” said Eric Veiel, head of global equities at T. Rowe Price, which oversees $1.5 trillion in assets. “This is a truly unique time.”

Underpinning the uncertainty that permeated the first quarter was the Fed’s plan to raise rates. In doing so, the central bank removed a historic wave of stimulus that had driven stocks to dozens of records over the past two years and fueled a rush into some of the most speculative investments in the market.

That made the recent market downturn markedly different from the crash in 2020, which was abnormally short and severe.

“The changes to our market views are just as dramatic as they were when the Covid-19 pandemic emerged two years ago,” Erik Knutzen, multiasset class chief investment officer at Neuberger Berman, wrote in a note to clients after the Ukraine invasion, adding that he is pessimistic about stocks over the next year.

Few assets were left untouched by the volatility. Investors have dumped bonds, sending yields on corporate and municipal bonds as well as Treasurys sharply higher. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate bond index—largely U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—returned minus 6% in 2022 through Wednesday, headed toward the biggest quarterly loss since 1980.

Wheat prices have climbed 31%, logging the best quarterly performance since 2010. The swings in nickel prices during the Ukraine crisis were so large that the London Metal Exchange closed trading in the commodity after a huge run-up in prices inflicted severe financial pressure on producers that sold nickel as a hedge.

“That’s not rational behavior for an instrument, and that’s terrifying,” said Paul Britton, founder of Capstone Investment Advisors, an investment firm specializing in trading volatility. He says he expects the turbulence to continue the rest of the year.

Adding to the pain for many investors was the decline among shares of big technology companies, the biggest market leaders of the past decade.

Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms Inc., lost about $232 billion in market value in a single session after posting disappointing earnings, the biggest loss in market value for a U.S. company in history. The next day, Inc. recorded the biggest-ever one-day gain in market value.

Meta had its worst quarter since its shares started trading publicly in 2012 and has been one of the biggest losers within the S&P 500. Other former market leaders also struggled. Netflix Inc. has lost 38% this quarter, its worst period since 2012. PayPal Holdings Inc. has also lost around 39%, its worst quarter on record, and Inc. finished its worst quarter since 2011.

The S&P 500 outperformed the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite by about 4.2 percentage points, the greatest margin since 2006, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Other corners of the market have fared better. The S&P 500’s energy sector has soared 38% and notched its best quarter in history. Energy stocks like Occidental Petroleum Corp. and Halliburton Co. have skyrocketed more than 95% and 65%, respectively.

​Some optimism crept back into the market recently. After the Fed raised rates in March for the first time since 2018, a familiar pattern emerged. Investors piled back into stocks and stepped in to buy the dips in shares of tech and growth companies, as well as more speculative bets that had suffered to start the year.

Bitcoin prices have rebounded in March. Meme stocks like GameStop Corp. and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. have soared, gaining more than 30% for the month.

Some analysts said individual investors appeared to be piling back into the market, driving some of the gains, a move reminiscent of last year...


Nice Catch

I mean the one in the middle.

On Twitter.

Also, Nalva Souza.

And Kari Nautique.

Governor Ron DeSantis Floats Revoking Disney Company's Independent Governing Status in Florida (VIDEO)

This is blowing up the culture war, dang!

At Fox News, "DeSantis broaches repeal of Disney World's special self-governing status in Florida":

Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed on Thursday the suggestion of repealing a 55-year-old state law that allows Disney to effectively govern itself on the grounds of Walt Disney World, following the company’s public opposition to a controversial parental rights law in Florida.

"What I would say as a matter of first principle is I don’t support special privileges in law just because a company is powerful and they’ve been able to wield a lot of power," DeSantis said during a press conference in West Palm Beach, Florida on Thursday...

Laura Ingraham's video is embedded at the article, "Angle: Disney turns its back on millions of Americans."

'Real Time' Panel Discusses Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' Legislation (VIDEO)

I hate this debate. I'm just sickened by it. 

I also hate attacks on opponents as "groomers." Maybe their are some, but those at the forefront of the opposition are radical trans activists pushing cultural Marxism on society to destroy the nuclear family and incite social revolution (as if that's not happened already). "Groomer" is a bigoted attack on legitimate interest group actors, and it's puerile. 

Fucking just beat these people at the polls, damn! 

The bill, now signed into law, is called "CS/CS/HB 1557 - Parental Rights in Education," and if you read it, it's just common sense. 

Anyways I watched this episode below on HBO because Batya Ungar-Sargon was scheduled and I like her a lot. 

If you haven't yet, get your copy of Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy. It's an outstanding book which should be winning all kinds of awards. 


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Frank McDonough, The Hitler Years

At Amazon, Frank McDonough, The Hitler Years: Disaster, 1940-1945.

Inflation Is Taking Biggest Toll on Nonwhite Voters, WSJ Poll Shows

Batya Ungar-Sargon can't say it enough: Democrat Party identity socialists, woke-leftist mainstream media goobers, craven corporate America, Marxist university elites, and Silicon Valley tech-totalitarians hate the very people they purport to champion and support. 

Biden's now set to release "a million barrels of oil a day" from the strategic petroleum reserves, which won't make a dent in the rising price curve for gasoline, groceries, consumer goods, heavy industry, manufacturing, shipping, and more. 

Inflation's the number one issue driving the concerns of everyday Americans, that is, the American voters. Add the crazy gender assault on morality and the schools, and the Democrats are looking to put themselves out in the political wilderness for a generation. 

It's bad.

At the Wall Street Journal, "Black women and Hispanic men reported the highest levels of inflation worry among different demographic groups":

Nonwhite voters are more likely than white voters to say the highest inflation in four decades is triggering major financial strain in their lives and that appears to be giving Republicans an opening with a growing segment of the electorate that traditionally favors Democrats, the latest Wall Street Journal poll shows.

Eight months before the midterm election, 35% of Black, Hispanic, Asian-American and other voters who said they were something other than white expressed that level of inflationary pain, compared with 28% for white voters. Black women and Hispanic men, both at 44%, reported the highest proportions of major strain among various demographic and gender combinations.

People with the lowest incomes also were most likely to report major financial challenges from inflation. Almost half with incomes of less than $60,000 reported major financial strain, while just 13% of those making $150,000 or more did so.

Some poll participants said they blame President Biden for inflation because he has taken actions to limit oil-and-gas drilling and pipelines in the U.S.

Roger Stephens, a 62-year-old mostly retired airplane mechanic who is Black and lives in the Harbor City neighborhood of Los Angeles, said gas is running close to $6 a gallon in his area. He is troubled by prices at the pump and those at grocery stores and restaurants.

“Uncle Joe has put us on a diet,” he said in a reference to Mr. Biden. “I like to have a steak once or twice a month. I can’t do it now.”

Mr. Stephens is a registered Democrat who said he twice voted for Democrat Barack Obama for president and then for Republican Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. He said he was more likely to back Republicans than Democrats in this year’s election. Inflation, he said, is one of the issues he is weighing.

The inflation numbers help explain why almost two-thirds of voters think the economy is headed in the wrong direction even as jobs are plentiful, wages are rising, home values are up and stock prices remain above where they were when Mr. Biden took office. Rising energy, food and services prices pushed inflation to 7.9% last month compared with a year ago. The Consumer Price Index, which measures the cost of goods and services, hasn’t been this high since it reached 8.4% in January 1982. Overall, 58% of poll participants said inflation was causing them major or minor financial strain, up slightly from 56% in a similar survey taken in mid-November.

In a potentially troubling sign for Democrats now running Washington, a 47% plurality of voters said they think Republicans can best tame inflation, compared with 30% who listed Democrats.

Almost 9 in 10 Republican voters think the economy is headed in the wrong direction, compared with 36% percent of Democrats.

Among independent voters—a key group in most close elections—71% say the economy is going the wrong way. Hispanic voters are even more likely to feel that way, with 78% expressing a negative view.

Stronger dissatisfaction with the economy among nonwhite voters could translate to softer support for Democrats in November if things don’t improve before then.

“They’re sour economically,” said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster whose firm conducted the poll with the firm of Democratic pollster John Anzalone...


Rural Voters Key to Battleground Races in November's Congressional MIdterm Elections

I love this.

From Josh Kraushaar, at National Journal, "Over half of this year’s toss-up races are in districts with a sizable rural constituency. That reality makes holding the House—or even staying within striking distance—more challenging for Democrats":

The story of Democratic success since the Trump era has been one of political shifts in the suburbs. Well over half of President Biden’s voters in 2020 hailed from the suburbs, and he won suburban voters by a whopping 11 points. Of the 41 House seats Democrats picked up in the 2018 midterms, 38 of them were located in predominantly suburban districts. The suburbs remain the preeminent battleground in the country, as Republicans in 2022 gained back much of the ground they lost with Democrats.

But in this year’s House races, a disproportionate number of battleground races are taking place in either rural districts or districts with a significant rural segment. Of the 20 races that are ranked as toss-ups by The Cook Political Report, over half have a sizable rural constituency. It’s a reminder that Democrats can’t take rural America for granted, at least if they hope to hold a House majority for the long term.

Several of the rural House battlegrounds are newly drawn districts, like North Carolina’s 13th, which combines the burgeoning, Democratic-trending Research Triangle exurbs with the deep-red rural outposts of Harnett and Johnston counties. One is a brand new seat, Colorado’s 8th District, which includes parts of Weld County where “cattle sun themselves on grazing land and feedlots,” as The Denver Post put it. Others have always been competitive, like Maine’s expansive 2nd District, home to one of the most independent-minded Democrats in the House.

The best chance for Democrats to hold down their losses this year is to win many of those seesawing suburban seats. But even if they make a miraculous suburban turnaround, they still could lose their majority by failing to hold onto the smaller number of rural seats held by their party. As national Democrats cater to urban, progressive interests, they’ve all but abandoned the rural constituencies that once made up a major part of their coalition.

As former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock warned in The New York Times: “The Democrats are in trouble in rural America, and their struggles there could doom the party in 2022.” He urged Democrats to “show up, listen, and respect voters in rural America” by finding common ground instead of talking down to them. A good start would be to spend time investing into the pivotal competitive House races taking place there....

If the Democratic Party can’t moderate its message on social issues, for instance, it’s easy to see even the most adept lawmakers getting swept up in the tide. The first step to getting things right is recognizing that, as important as the suburbs are, Democrats can’t write off rural America entirely. A winning political message for Democrats is one that accommodates their coalition to the interests of those being left behind..


Disney Admits It Wants to Queer Your Kids

From Rod Dreher, at the American Conservative, "Well, here you go."

BONUS: It's Karol Markowitz, at the New York Post, "I’m quitting Disney after seeing it boast about pushing ‘gender theory’."

Flaming Skull: Washington Post Verifies Some But Not All of Hunter Biden's Laptop Using Third-Party Cryptographic Signature Analysis ... Which the Daily Caller Did 17 Months Ago and Thereby Verified All of the Laptop's Contents

At AoSHQ, "Thanks to ... for that great 'Hunter Biden Flaming Crack Pipe' gif. I hope you'll forgive me for using it again. John Sexton at Hot Air reports on that, and in the except here, notes that the Post has finally verified that a Ukranian energy tycoon met with Joe Biden -- and Hunter Biden; but note "The Big Guy" was here for this meeting ... Twenty fucking months after the New York Post confirmed it."

'Hot Fun in the Summertime'

Sly and the Family Stone:

Emily Ratajkowski at Vanity Fair Oscar Party

At London's Daily Mail, "Emily Ratajkowski puts on a VERY busty display in racy orange split top at the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar party."

Wow, she did!

PREVIOUSLY: "Flashback, "Nude Emily Ratajkowski Stars for Jonathan Leder´s Limited Edition Photobook."

Vivek Ramaswamy, Woke, Inc.

At Amazon, Vivek Ramaswamy, Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America's Social Justice Scam.

Will Smith 'Perpetuated Stereotypes' About Black Americans

Following-up, "Academy Awards Condemns Will Smith and Begins Formal Review (VIDEO)."


This was one of the first things I said to my wife as I was following this story on Twitter on Monday (like everyone else). 

After almost a decade of anti-police protests and Black Lives Matter riots, chaos, and destruction --- not to mention the epic surge in crime over the last year or two, especially black motherfucker "smash and grab" attacks -- people see African-Americans as violent thugs. 

And why wouldn't they? 

Will Smith is one of the top stars in Hollywood, of any race. He would have given a triumphant acceptance speech for his Best Actor win but instead got up there to credit the Lord for how wonderful he is, how deserving, beyond criticism of his actions, or whatever. He for sure did not apologize to Chris Rock until yesterday, and that was on Instagram. I don't know, but if you did someone bad, slapping him on live television with tens of millions around the world watching, hurting him and humiliating him, the decent godly thing to do is say you're sorry in person, or at least by a phone call.

That Will Smith could not do, and it pained me in the moment to think how he was simply confirming so many bigoted prejudices against blacks. 

You may not care, and I understand, but it's a tragic moment for black Americans, and the country as a whole. My dad was black and he spent most of his adult life trying not only to protect himself against racism but to defeat the stereotypes that coincided with violence and murder of people of his race. (My dad was highly educated, cultured, and professional. But he told me many stories. He was born in St. Louis in 1913 and lived through Jim Crow segregation, first in Missouri and then in Chicago and New York City, where he met my mom.)

When I was just 5-years-old I saw Lew Alcindor at the UCLA barber shop, where my dad used to take me for haircuts. This was of course before he converted to Islam in 1971, taking the name Kareen Abdul-Jabbar. Seen by many as the greatest basketball player of all time, his comments certainly carry weight. 

As his Substack, "Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing"

Slapping Chris Rock was also a blow to men, women, the entertainment industry, and the Black community.

When Will Smith stormed onto the Oscar stage to strike Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife’s short hair, he did a lot more damage than just to Rock’s face. With a single petulant blow, he advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community.

That’s a lot to unpack. Let’s start with the facts: Rock made a reference to Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, as looking like Demi Moore in GI Jane, in which Moore had shaved her head. Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, which causes hair loss. Ok, I can see where the Smiths might not have found that joke funny. But Hollywood awards shows are traditionally a venue where much worse things have been said about celebrities as a means of downplaying the fact that it’s basically a gathering of multimillionaires giving each other awards to boost business so they can make even more money.

The Smiths could have reacted by politely laughing along with the joke or by glowering angrily at Rock. Instead, Smith felt the need to get up in front of his industry peers and millions of people around the world, hit another man, then return to his seat to bellow: “Keep my wife's name out of your fucking mouth.” Twice.

Some have romanticized Smith’s actions as that of a loving husband defending his wife. Comedian Tiffany Haddish, who starred in the movie Girls Trip with Pinkett Smith, praised Smith’s actions: “[F]or me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”

Actually, it was the opposite. Smith’s slap was also a slap to women. If Rock had physically attacked Pinkett Smith, Smith’s intervention would have been welcome. Or if he’d remained in his seat and yelled his post-slap threat, that would have been unnecessary, but understandable. But by hitting Rock, he announced that his wife was incapable of defending herself—against words. From everything I’d seen of Pinkett Smith over the years, she’s a very capable, tough, smart woman who can single-handedly take on a lame joke at the Academy Awards show.

This patronizing, paternal attitude infantilizes women and reduces them to helpless damsels needing a Big Strong Man to defend their honor least they swoon from the vapors. If he was really doing it for his wife, and not his own need to prove himself, he might have thought about the negative attention this brought on them, much harsher than the benign joke. That would have been truly defending and respecting her. This “women need men to defend them” is the same justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community.

Worse than the slap was Smith’s tearful, self-serving acceptance speech in which he rambled on about all the women in the movie King Richard that he’s protected. Those who protect don’t brag about it in front of 15 million people. They just do it and shut up. You don’t do it as a movie promotion claiming how you’re like the character you just won an award portraying. By using these women to virtue signal, he was in fact exploiting them to benefit himself. But, of course, the speech was about justifying his violence. Apparently, so many people need Smith’s protection that occasionally it gets too much and someone needs to be smacked.

What is the legacy of Smith’s violence? He’s brought back the Toxic Bro ideal of embracing Kobra Kai teachings of “might makes right” and “talk is for losers.” Let’s not forget that this macho John Wayne philosophy was expressed in two movies in which Wayne spanked grown women to teach them a lesson. Young boys—especially Black boys—watching their movie idol not just hit another man over a joke, but then justify it as him being a superhero-like protector, are now much more prone to follow in his childish footsteps. Perhaps the saddest confirmation of this is the tweet from Smith’s child Jaden: “And That’s How We Do It.” 
The Black community also takes a direct hit from Smith...

Keep reading.


Americans More Worried About Energy Crisis U.S. Than Any Time in Last Ten Years

This is just such a visceral issue for people. As pollsters ask respondents, "If the presidential election were held today, for whom would you vote?"

Whoever it is, it wouldn't be no Democrats. Frankly, Biden should be primaried. If not, he should drop Kamala off the ticket --- and that's if the grumpy old man even runs for second term.

In any case, at Gallup, "Americans' Energy Worries Surge":

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are significantly more worried about the energy situation in the U.S. than they have been in a decade. Nearly half of Americans, 47%, say they worry a great deal about the availability and affordability of energy. This is up from 37% a year ago and is more than double the percentage in 2020, when energy concern was at its low point in Gallup's trend.

Americans have expressed similar levels of concern about energy in the past, including in 2001, 2006 through 2008, 2011 and 2012.

The March 1-18 poll was conducted as gasoline prices reached record highs in the U.S., averaging more than $4.00 per gallon nationwide. High gas prices have often been a factor in prior years when energy concern was high, including 2006 through 2008 and 2012.

In addition to the 47% who worry a great deal about energy, another 30% say they worry a fair amount, 17% only a little and 5% not at all.

The survey also finds 44% of U.S. adults describing the energy situation in the U.S. as "very serious," with 46% identifying it as "fairly serious" and 10% "not at all serious." A year ago, 32% said the energy situation was very serious.

Gallup first asked the question about the seriousness of the U.S. energy situation in 1977, during the 1970s energy crisis, and updated it frequently the rest of that decade. The current percentage describing the energy situation as very serious is similar to what it was in the late 1970s, as well as between 2006 and 2009.

The trend high point of 58% saying the energy situation was very serious came in May 2001, when energy prices were rising and the state of California issued rolling blackouts to deal with energy shortages there...

Click through at the link. Gallup also asked respondents to "consider the tradeoffs in protecting the environment and developing new energy supplies..."

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

William T. Vollmann, Europe Central

At Amazon, William T. Vollmann, Europe Central: A Novel.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Warns Democrat Party: 'We're in Trouble'

She also wants Clarence Thomas impeached. Democrats. Always tearing down. Never building up.

They are in deep trouble though, and I'm glad. 

At New York Magazine, "The progressive star says she’s been vindicated about Joe Manchin and that President Biden must go it alone to save their party in the fall."

War in Ukraine: No Breakthroughs But Peace Talks Spark Hope

Well, don't get your hopes up. Moscow's just pulling back from Kyiv to reposition its forces and bide time for further gains in other parts of the country. Putin's campaign to "topple" Kyiv has been a complete disaster, and in my mind, it raises questions about Russia's great power status. I mean, Russia's like a Third World petrostate with nukes. 

No matter. The country's a threat to Europe, and by extension to the U.S. through our alliance commitments. 

At the Washington Post, "Ukraine-Russia talks in Turkey stir optimism, but Western allies urge caution":

ISTANBUL — Ukrainian negotiators in Turkey said Tuesday they had offered a detailed peace proposal to their Russian counterparts, exchanging military neutrality for security guarantees, as Moscow said it would “drastically reduce” military activity near the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations.”

The declarations from the two sides followed hours of negotiations hosted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in an ornate palace on the Bosporus strait. They signaled a rare moment of optimism after weeks of halting negotiations that have done nothing to slow the bloody invasion.

But U.S. and other Western leaders were skeptical, saying they would judge Russia by its actions and not its words. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said there were continued strikes Tuesday on Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. “We’re not convince that the threat to the capital city has been radically diminished,” he said.

Russia, whose forces have bombarded Ukrainian cities for weeks, said in a statement that Tuesday’s talks had focused on “humanitarian issues." The Kremlin also signaled it will keep fighting for Mariupol, a key southern port city, saying that unless “Ukrainian nationalist militants” stop resisting and lay down their arms, it will be difficult to “resolve the acute humanitarian situation” there.

The centerpiece of the Ukrainian proposal was a pledge that the country would give up its bid to join NATO in exchange for a security system guaranteed by international partners including the United States, Turkey and others. Ukrainian negotiators likened the offer to Article 5 of NATO’s charter, which ensures the alliance’s collective defense.

The guarantor parties — including European countries, Canada and Israel — would provide Ukraine with military assistance and weapons if it were attacked, the negotiators said. Ukraine, in turn, would ensure it remained “nonaligned and nonnuclear,” although it would retain the right to join the European Union.

The Ukrainian proposal also offered a 15-year timeline for negotiations with Russia over the status of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s lead negotiator, characterized the talks to reporters afterward as a “substantive conversation.” Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said the discussions amounted to “the most meaningful progress since the start of negotiations."

Reaction from the United States was mixed, even as Moscow’s pledge to reduce military activity boosted U.S. stock markets on Tuesday morning. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed skepticism about the talks in Turkey, saying Moscow’s brutal, month-old military offensive leaves little room for optimism...

Keep reading.

'Now or Never'

It's Halsey:

The End of Citizenship

From Michael Lind, at the Tablet, "Having converted their own republic into a borderless credit union, Americans have to borrow other people’s national pride":

In the spring of 2022, speculation in the commentariat that partisan rivalries were bringing the United States to the verge of actual civil war abruptly came to an end. With few exceptions, Americans of left, right, and center rallied around the national colors. Postmodern multiculturalism and anti-Enlightenment paleoconservatism suddenly were marginalized by romantic nationalism of the 19th-century variety. As war fever swept America, progressives and conservatives joined in denouncing not only the enemy government but also the enemy people and their enemy music, enemy literature, and enemy cuisine. Americans displayed the national flag in every imaginable form and pledged undying hatred of the nation’s foes.

The nation that Americans celebrated was not their own, but rather Ukraine, following the brutal Russian invasion of the former Soviet republic. Liberal Americans who would have thought it vulgar if not fascist to wave the Stars and Stripes took selfies with the blue and gold of Ukraine’s national flag. Democrats and Republicans who routinely demonize the leaders of the rival American party engaged in a kind of sentimental, uncritical hero worship of Ukraine’s president, Volodomyr Zelensky, which would have been mocked had its object been Joe Biden or Donald Trump. Neoconservatives and centrist liberals used the Ukraine war as an opportunity to settle scores by accusing opponents in the rival party and rivals in their own parties of moral if not legal treason for less than total and uncritical support of a foreign country with which the United States does not even have an alliance.

Whether the war in Ukraine is a final aftershock of the first Cold War or the first major proxy war in Cold War II remains to be seen. The sudden outburst of vicarious Ukrainian patriotism on the part of many Americans—as well as people in similar North Atlantic democracies—seems like a Freudian “return of the repressed.” Taught that celebrating their own national traditions is racist and xenophobic, and deprived of opportunities to play a meaningful role in national defense, many Americans and Western Europeans have found an outlet for a lost sense of belonging by borrowing the national pride of another nation.

Long before the United States began selling green cards—the tickets to U.S. citizenship—to rich foreigners by creating the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program in 1990, American citizenship had been devalued. From the days of the Greek city-states and the Roman republic to the city-republics of the Renaissance and the cantons of Switzerland, citizenship in the fullest sense originally involved active participation of citizens—a group not only male but also usually smaller than the population as a whole—in the government of their communities, as electors, office-holders, jurors, and citizen-soldiers.

In practice, the ideal of the amateur, omnicompetent citizen—a member of the militia today, a town or county council member tomorrow and a juror next week—could be realized only in small, relatively undeveloped communities. The ideal of the self-sufficient family farmer with a musket and a copy of the Constitution on the fireplace mantle was a casualty of economic centralization and modernization. Most Americans are proletarians who live from paycheck to paycheck, and a majority of American workers are employed by firms with more than 500 employees and supervised by salaried corporate bureaucrats.

The ideal of the male citizen-soldier who earns his civil rights by contributing to the defense of the republic survived for a while by being transferred to the colossal modern nation-state, whose citizens, mostly unknown to one another, are united by common culture, institutions, location, or some combination of the three. For a time, the mass national conscript army and its reserves were thought of, however implausibly, as the heir to the local militia. The older tradition of civic republicanism inspired the linkage of military service to government benefits like the GI Bill and other privileges for veterans. That link was all but eliminated by the abolition of the draft in 1973. Today’s American military is a professional force, more like those of premodern European bureaucratic monarchies than frontier militias.

The right to vote remains, but its power has been diluted, even as it has been extended in law and practice—first to white men without property, then to white women, and finally to nonwhite citizens. In a world of industrialized nation-states, in which even small countries are vastly more populous than the city-republics of antiquity and the Middle Ages, scale alone ensures that the influence that any one individual can exert by voting periodically in free and fair elections is negligible.

While the positive duties formerly associated with citizenship have gradually been discarded, there has been a trend to establish government requirements for the provision of positive rights or benefits, from public or publicly funded education and public retirement spending to guaranteed health care. As a result, in the United States and other Western democracies, it is widely accepted in the 21st century that national citizens have a right to various public goods and welfare services without any need to earn the benefits at all, purely on the basis of their status as citizens of a particular nation-state.

Already by the 1960s and the 1970s, the link between a citizen’s personal contribution and a citizen’s right to government benefits was being questioned...

Keep reading.


Julia Cavanaugh

A wonderful lady.

At Instagram.

Inflation, Shortages Push Americans to Switch Brands More Than Ever

I switched to Powerade from Gatorade, which is out of my price range now. 

Not only that, bottles now contain 28 ounces, down from at least 36. This is a longtime trend. When I was a kid my hands were too little to grasp those monster old bars of Safeguard. Now soap comes the size of a couple of Reese's.

And don't get me going about gas prices. I'm curtailing my driving, keeping it as local as possible for now. And I'm not poor, sheesh!

At WSJ, "Brand loyalty is tested as shoppers try new grocery products":

U.S. shoppers are buying what they can find—and afford.

Well-known brand names and flashy ad campaigns are no longer enough to command U.S. consumers’ loyalty in grocery stores, retail executives said. As inflation spreads and stretched supply chains leave gaps on shelves, shoppers are becoming increasingly fickle, with availability and price determining what goes into their shopping carts.

Shoppers’ new willingness to switch brands could shift the balances of power inside grocery stores. Big food companies like Kraft Heinz Co. and Kellogg Co. risk losing market share to competitors and store brands that are more readily able to fill in empty spots in store aisles, industry executives said. Supermarket operators, while grappling with shortages, said the situation is giving them more leverage with major brands and flexibility to test newer, often lower-cost products.

“We are seeing people make more choices on items because they are available,” said Tony Sarsam, chief executive officer of grocery chain SpartanNash Co. In the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company’s supermarket aisles, Mr. Sarsam said, Tropicana orange juice lost share to Coca-Cola Co.’s Simply Orange in recent months, which has been easier for SpartanNash to stock, while Tyson Foods Inc. similarly lost share in frozen breaded chicken to Conagra Brands Inc.’s Banquet meals.

Mr. Sarsam said he and his team now are examining the variety of groceries the company sells, recently trimming the number of items it offers in cookie, cracker and salty snack sections in response to some brands’ inability to meet demand and slower sales. SpartanNash is sometimes giving more shelf space to local brands, which are better able to keep products in stock.

Tyson said it is working hard to meet high demand for its products. Coca-Cola, Conagra and private-equity firm PAI Partners, which owns Tropicana, declined to comment.

About 70% of U.S. shoppers said they had purchased a new or different brand than they had pre-pandemic, according to a survey conducted from May 2020 to August 2021 by private-label consulting company Daymon Worldwide Inc.

As consumers try less familiar names, brand loyalty for companies with supply challenges is declining, according to market research firm IRI. Brands with low availability, or in-stock rates of between 72% and 85%, have lost 0.7 percentage point of share of wallet on average, the firm said. Share of wallet, which measures brand loyalty, shows whether companies are gaining or losing buyers.

Consumers often stick to brands they know out of convenience and buy more items from names they are familiar with, industry analysts said. But shoppers are inclined to switch brands when belt-tightening if they can find a better deal. During the financial crisis, major brands across the grocery store developed lower-priced versions of their products to try to keep consumers loyal, as Procter & Gamble Co. did with cheaper versions of Tide detergent, Olay skin cream and Pampers diapers, for example.

Today, however, shoppers feel the pressure of higher prices while also facing shelves that are short on products, companies said. Those factors, in tandem, are driving more consumers to switch brands, executives said.

At 84.51 LLC, a data analysis business of supermarket giant Kroger Co., Vice President of Commercial Insights Barbara Connors said that brand switching was driven by extreme shortages and stockpiling, and that shoppers increasingly are switching to lower-cost brands including those on sale.

Production constraints are costing some food giants grocery-store turf. Kraft Heinz said in February it lost share in some supermarket categories as the company struggled to keep up with demand. Kraft Heinz had no additional comment.

Kellogg said in February that some of its cereal brands lost ground in supermarkets and that it expects to gain cereal market share in North America in the second half of the year when it can get more products back on shelves. Kellogg said that it gained market share last year in salty snacks and crackers.

“We will see market share restoration,” Steven Cahillane, chief executive of Kellogg, said on an earnings call last month. “We’re focusing first on our biggest brands.”

Some food companies said they see opportunities as more shoppers switch brands. Geoff Tanner, chief commercial and marketing officer at J.M. Smucker Co., said the maker of Jif peanut butter and Folgers coffee has benefited from being able to more consistently meet demand compared with competitors.

“There’s more to get if you can outperform,” Mr. Tanner said. About two-thirds of Smucker’s product portfolio is increasing its market share today compared with one-third before the pandemic, he said, and the company is boosting advertising...


Monday, March 28, 2022

Bruce D. Jones, To Rule the Waves

Bruce D. Jones, To Rule the Waves: How Control of the World's Oceans Shapes the Fate of the Superpowers.

Red Hot Chili Peppers Out with New Album, First with John Frusciante Since 2006 (VIDEO)

At the video, the band's first single from the record, "Black Summer."

Here, "‘Unlimited Love’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers Is the Group’s Mildest Album Yet":

The 12th studio LP from the band features their classic sound but little that’s new or exciting.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have often seemed on the verge of implosion, but so far the group has always bounced back. The Los Angeles quartet, whose mix of punk and funk proved hugely influential in the 1990s and beyond, has scaled heights few current rock acts can touch—a performance at the Super Bowl in 2014, 100 million records sold. But every few years the hard-living outfit finds itself on the brink of collapse. After the massive success of the band’s 1991 breakthrough “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” wunderkind guitarist John Frusciante left the Peppers and struggled mightily with heroin addiction. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith have all had their share of substance abuse issues as well.

Mr. Frusciante rejoined and then left once again after 2006’s “Stadium Arcadium” to focus on his solo work, which is strange and sometimes wonderful and has earned him a cult following. The two records without Mr. Frusciante were decidedly uneven—one poor (2011’s “I’m With You”), the other intriguing (2016’s unusually lush “The Getaway,” produced by Danger Mouse and mixed by Radiohead associate Nigel Godrich ). Yet despite all this tumult, somehow the Red Hot Chili Peppers have endured.

On “Unlimited Love” (Warner), the group’s 12th studio LP, out Friday, Mr. Frusciante returns to the fold, for the first time in 16 years, as does super-producer Rick Rubin, who was integral to the group’s earlier success but hasn’t worked with them in over a decade. With the personnel behind the band’s biggest hits all back in place, it’s not surprising that the new set feels like a deliberate return to basics. The production is ultra-simple, keeping the focus on the group’s most identifiable qualities—Flea’s percussive bass, Mr. Smith’s rock-solid backbeat and Mr. Frusciante’s minimalist guitar.

And then there’s Mr. Kiedis. Plenty of people have poked fun at the silliness of his lyrics over the years. When he’s not crooning a ballad, his primary strategy is to deliver stream-of-consciousness observations pitched somewhere between a hepcat disc jockey from the 1960s and an old-school rapper. But if he’s heard the complaints, he’s chosen to ignore them, and goofy choices abound. This is apparent from the opening track and first single on “Unlimited Love,” “Black Summer,” which finds the frontman tossing off non sequiturs such as “My Greta weighs a ton” and “platypus are few” in what sounds like an Irish brogue. But the tune’s catchy and memorable chorus—traditionally a band speciality—blots out the song’s shortcomings.

Unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions—the following “Here Ever After,” “These Are the Ways” halfway through the record—killer choruses are in disconcertingly short supply on “Unlimited Love.” The songs are well played and logically arranged but also weirdly inert. As one midtempo groove follows another, we recognize Flea’s popping bass and Mr. Smith’s steady snare, but the song constructions are rote, enlivened only by the occasional guitar excursion from Mr. Frusciante.

On the one hand, the band and Mr. Rubin show remarkable restraint—there’s no attempt to dress up the group’s sound or bring it in line with current trends, and the simple arrangements will be easy to replicate live. But many songs feel half finished. As is typical for Mr. Rubin’s productions, each instrument is loud, heavily compressed and in your face. Which is ironic given that this is easily the Peppers’ mellowest record: The tempos are mostly slow, and there’s very little in the way of power chords. Unless you’re listening closely, the songs on this lengthy album—17 tracks, 73 minutes—bleed together.

The skeletal, funk-inflected R&B of early Prince seems to be a primary influence. This sounds promising on paper, but Mr. Kiedis’s attempts at lyrics about love and companionship fall flat. He has little to say about the finer points of relationships, and on the bland “She’s a Lover”—the most obvious Prince nod here—he falls back on groan-inducing come-ons like “She’s so full of learning curves.”

Here and there, Mr. Kiedis looks back on his life in music. The third track, “Aquatic Mouth Dance,” pays tribute to some of the group’s early influences over a busy bassline while horns add a touch of color; the fifth cut, “Poster Child,” is especially nutty, as he free associates about music history with no particular point in mind (“ Steve Miller and Duran Duran / A joker dancing in the sand / Van Morrison the astral man”). Mr. Kiedis sounds like he’s having fun, but these songs don’t hold up to repeated listening.

The penultimate track, “The Heavy Wing,” is one of very few places on the record where the Peppers really rock out, but the closing “Tangelo,” yet another quiet ballad, brings them back to earth. It’s so spare, the only things that pop out are awkward lines like “the smell of your hello” and “the smile of a knife / Is seldom befriending.”

The band and Mr. Rubin have been at this far too long to make a truly awful album—these are pros who know how to get these songs to the “listenable” stage, at the very least...

Dude's a little critical, eh?

Ima listen to the record and I'll let you know.

Still more.


Academy Awards Condemns Will Smith and Begins Formal Review (VIDEO)

This is the obligatory Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock at the Academy Awards Show post. 

I can't add much to all the commentary that's already been delivered, and I'm sure there's more to come. 

I wrote this last night after Will Smith accepted his Best Actor award for "King Richard," in which he invoked God in his apology, but *did not* apologize to Chris Rock at the time: "'I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people' — Will Smith, accepting his Academy Award after striking fellow brother Chris Rock across the face. God called on him to do that, you know."

Smith's assault on Rock has dominated the 24 hour news-cycles, and my continue to dominate for a few more days. Both astonishing and reprehensible behavior. 

At the New York Times, "Will Smith Apologizes to Chris Rock After Academy Condemns His Slap:"

“I was out of line and I was wrong,” said Smith, who hit Rock at the Oscars after the comedian made a joke about his wife. The film organization opened an inquiry into the incident.

LOS ANGELES — Will Smith apologized to the comedian Chris Rock on Monday evening for slapping him during Sunday night’s Oscars telecast after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which administers the awards, denounced his actions and opened an inquiry into the incident.

Mr. Smith, who had pointedly not apologized to Mr. Rock on Sunday night when he accepted the award for best actor, wrote on Instagram Monday evening that “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris.”

“I was out of line and I was wrong,” he said in the statement. “I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be.”

His apology came as the academy, a major Hollywood union and others criticized his actions, which stunned viewers around the world and overshadowed the Oscars.

“The academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show,” the film organization said in a statement. “We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.”

The academy’s statement came after a meeting Monday. A five-page document on standards of conduct that accompanied it spells out behavior the organization deems unacceptable. It prohibits “physical contact that is uninvited and, in the situation, inappropriate and unwelcome, or coercive sexual attention.” Also not allowed is “intimidation, stalking, abusive or threatening behavior, or bullying.”

Disciplinary action, according to the bylaws, could include “suspension of membership or expulsion from membership.”

The Academy was not known to have expelled a member before 2017, when Harvey Weinstein was removed amid allegations of sexual harassment and rape. Then, in 2018, after adopting a code of conduct for members, the organization expelled Bill Cosby, who had been convicted of sexual assault, and the filmmaker Roman Polanski, who had fled the country years earlier while awaiting sentencing for statutory rape.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the union representing thousands of people who work in film, television and radio, called the incident “unacceptable” but said that it “does not comment on any pending member disciplinary process.” “Violence or physical abuse in the workplace is never appropriate and the union condemns any such conduct,” the union said in a statement Monday. “The incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable.”

The incident unfolded Sunday night after Mr. Rock made a joke about the buzzed hair of Mr. Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia, a condition that leads to hair loss. Mr. Smith responded by walking onto the stage of the Dolby Theater and slapping Mr. Rock, leaving stunned viewers wondering at first if the blow might have been scripted until Mr. Smith returned to his seat and warned him to stop talking about his wife, using expletives.

Behind the scenes at the Oscars, there were serious discussions about removing Mr. Smith from the theater, according to two industry officials with knowledge of the situation who were granted anonymity to describe internal deliberations. But time was short, because the best actor award, which Mr. Smith was heavily favored to win, was fast approaching, one noted — and stakeholders had varying opinions on how to proceed. There was also concern about further disrupting the live broadcast, the other said.

As the show went on, the actor Denzel Washington spoke with Mr. Smith during a commercial break. Not long after that Mr. Smith won best actor. (Mr. Smith said in his speech that Mr. Washington had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.”) In his onstage remarks, Mr. Smith apologized to the academy and to his fellow nominees — but not to Mr. Rock — and defiantly sought to draw parallels to the character he played in “King Richard,” the father of Venus and Serena Williams.

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” Mr. Smith said. 
He received a standing ovation.

American society is completely (and perhaps irrevocably) degenerate.  

See Allahpundit for lots more, "No, Will Smith isn't going to lose his Oscar."

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Natural-Gas Industry Gets Boost as Biden Shifts Stance

Baby steps. Baby steps.

At WSJ, "Shares of large U.S. natural-gas companies rose as Biden softened position against fossil fuels":

President Biden’s pledge to boost U.S. liquefied natural-gas exports to Europe marks a further retreat from his hard-line stance against fossil fuels, sending share prices surging for natural-gas companies.

The president, who campaigned on a platform to transition the U.S. to cleaner energy, said Friday the U.S. is working to ship 50 billion cubic meters of LNG to Europe annually through at least 2030 to help the continent wean itself from dependence on Russian supplies.

The announcement came a day after Democrats on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission backtracked on new environmental policies, suspending implementation of heightened requirements on reviews that industry officials and Republicans said would impede gas-pipeline development.

Shares of large U.S. natural-gas companies rose 9% on average Friday as major stock indexes were mixed. Shares of EQT Corp and Southwestern Energy Co., two large producers, shot up to close about 12% and 16% higher.

Cheniere Energy Inc., LNG 5.46% the top U.S. exporter, was up about 5.5%. Tellurian Inc., which is seeking financing for an LNG project, soared 21%.

The gas industry’s prospects have been a concern among the sector’s executives because of Mr. Biden’s stance against fossil fuels. But the president has softened some of his positions in the wake of rising energy costs, which have been driven in part by the economic rebound from Covid-19, and more recently by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The White House pivot has also put the U.S. and its vast oil and gas reserves in shale rock back at the center of a global scramble for energy resources as a bulwark against petrostates and authoritarian regimes. The U.S. is the world’s largest oil and gas producer.

Daniel Yergin, the vice chairman of S&P Global and a noted oil-industry historian, called recent developments “a huge turn.”

“There’s a recognition now that shale—and particularly LNG—is a real geopolitical asset,” Mr. Yergin said.

Mr. Biden and his advisers have said they are still committed to ending the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, including gas, and will continue to fund renewable energy as part of their work with European allies. But they also acknowledged the need to deal with the reliance that exists today.

“While gas is still a substantial part of the energy mix, we want to make sure that the Europeans do not have to source that gas from Russia,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Friday.

Toby Rice, chief executive of top U.S. natural-gas producer EQT, said the Biden administration’s shift is an extremely encouraging political signal that natural gas will play a key role in the world’s future energy mix.

Mr. Rice said the U.S. could sharply increase LNG exports over time if companies build thousands of miles of new pipelines and billions worth of new LNG facilities. But unleashing that will require broader support for that infrastructure and speeding up the sluggish permitting process, he said.

“The problem we face is it takes longer to permit something than it takes us to build it,” Mr. Rice said. “The faster we move, the faster we move toward achieving our climate goals and providing energy security for people around the world.” Shippers of LNG have already sent most U.S. cargoes to European destinations this year, as prices have skyrocketed following Russia’s invasion. American exporters are moving cargoes as fast as physically possible and are on pace to send a record 11.4 billion cubic feet a day of LNG overseas this month, with more than 60% bound for Europe, according to market intelligence firm Kpler.

FERC has approved 13 LNG facilities across the U.S. that have remained unbuilt with the combined capacity to export about 25 billion cubic feet each day, according to FERC’s February update. Companies haven’t begun construction on those largely because they haven’t yet gathered enough supply agreements with customers overseas to finance the construction of those facilities.

Part of the arrangement between the U.S. and Europe is to ensure that European countries also come through to show they can take more U.S. gas. They are to build out their infrastructure to accept up to 50 billion cubic meters of additional U.S. supply a year between now and 2030, Mr. Sullivan said.

Before the Russian invasion, Biden administration officials had been hesitant about putting U.S. development money into fossil-fuel projects abroad...


U.S. Makes Contingency Plans in Case Russia Uses Its Most Powerful Weapons

At the New York Times, "BRUSSELS — The White House has quietly assembled a team of national security officials to sketch out scenarios of how the United States and its allies should respond if President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — frustrated by his lack of progress in Ukraine or determined to warn Western nations against intervening in the war — unleashes his stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons":

The Tiger Team, as the group is known, is also examining responses if Mr. Putin reaches into NATO territory to attack convoys bringing weapons and aid to Ukraine, according to several officials involved in the process. Meeting three times a week, in classified sessions, the team is also looking at responses if Russia seeks to extend the war to neighboring nations, including Moldova and Georgia, and how to prepare European countries for the refugees flowing in on a scale not seen in decades.

Those contingencies are expected to be central to an extraordinary session here in Brussels on Thursday, when President Biden meets leaders of the 29 other NATO nations, who will be meeting for the first time — behind closed doors, their cellphones and aides banished — since Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine.

Just a month ago, such scenarios seemed more theoretical. But today, from the White House to NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, a recognition has set in that Russia may turn to the most powerful weapons in its arsenal to bail itself out of a military stalemate.

NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, underscored the urgency of the preparation effort on Wednesday, telling reporters for the first time that even if the Russians employ weapons of mass destruction only inside Ukraine, they may have “dire consequences” for people in NATO nations. He appeared to be discussing the fear that chemical or radioactive clouds could drift over the border. One issue under examination is whether such collateral damage would be considered an “attack” on NATO under its charter, which might require a joint military response.

The current team was established in a memo signed by Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, on Feb. 28, four days after the invasion began, according to the officials involved in the process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive planning. A previous iteration had worked for months, behind the scenes, to prepare the U.S. government for the likelihood of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

That team played a central role in devising the playbooks of deep sanctions, troop buildups in NATO nations and arming the Ukrainian military, which have exploited Russian weaknesses and put its government and economy under tremendous pressure.

Mr. Stoltenberg, sounding far more hawkish than in the past, said he expected “allies will agree to provide additional support, including cybersecurity assistance and equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiologic and nuclear threats.”

As Mr. Biden flew to Europe on Wednesday, both he and Mr. Stoltenberg warned of growing evidence that Russia was in fact preparing to use chemical weapons in Ukraine.

These are questions that Europe has not confronted since the depths of the Cold War, when NATO had far fewer members, and Western Europe worried about a Soviet attack headed into Germany. But few of the leaders set to meet in Brussels on Thursday ever had to deal with those scenarios — and many have never had to think about nuclear deterrence or the effects of the detonation of battlefield nuclear weapons, designed to be less powerful than those that destroyed Hiroshima. The fear is that Russia is more likely to use those weapons, precisely because they erode the distinction between conventional and nuclear arms.

Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee, said on Wednesday that if Mr. Putin used a weapon of mass destruction — chemical, biological or nuclear — “there would be consequences” even if the weapon’s use was confined to Ukraine. Mr. Reed said radiation from a nuclear weapon, for instance, could waft into a neighboring NATO country and be considered an attack on a NATO member.

“It’s going to be a very difficult call, but it’s a call that not just the president but the entire NATO Council will have to make,” Mr. Reed told reporters, referring to the governing body of the Western alliance...

Still more.


Friday, March 25, 2022

Catherine Belton, Putin's People

Catherine Belton, Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West.

In Europe, President Biden Sticks With Longstanding Policy on Use of U.S. Nuclear Weapons (VIDEO)

This is very reminiscent of the Cold War. The unipolar moment post-1991 will be remembered as the Thirty-Years Crisis. 

The U.S. policy of "no first use" has been standard doctrine for decades. This seems different, though. I don't recall presidents talking about the potential deployment of strategic forces offensively in "extreme circumstances." Does this mean the U.S. will modify --- even abandon --- no first use? Some serious shit, damn.

At WSJ, "The president stepped back from a campaign promise that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons should be to deter nuclear attacks":

President Biden, stepping back from a campaign vow, has embraced a longstanding U.S. approach of using the threat of a potential nuclear response to deter conventional and other nonnuclear dangers in addition to nuclear ones, U.S. officials said Thursday.

During the 2020 campaign Mr. Biden promised to work toward a policy in which the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal would be to deter or respond to an enemy nuclear attack.

Mr. Biden’s new decision, made earlier this week under pressure from allies, holds that the “fundamental role” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be to deter nuclear attacks. That carefully worded formulation, however, leaves open the possibility that nuclear weapons could also be used in “extreme circumstances” to deter enemy conventional, biological, chemical and possibly cyberattacks, said the officials.

The decision comes as Mr. Biden is meeting with allies in Europe in an effort to maintain a unified Western stance against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and allied concerns that the Kremlin might resort to nuclear or chemical weapons.

A spokeswoman for the president’s National Security Council declined to comment.

Mr. Biden’s nuclear policy follows an extensive Nuclear Posture Review, in which administration officials examined U.S. nuclear strategy and programs.

U.S. officials said the administration’s review is also expected to lead to cuts in two nuclear systems that were embraced by the Trump administration. If Congress agrees, this would mean canceling the program to develop a nuclear sea-launched cruise missile and retiring the B83 thermonuclear bomb.

The review, however, supports the extensive modernization of the U.S. nuclear triad of land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles and bombers, which is projected to cost over $1 trillion.

During the Cold War, the U.S. reserved the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack to offset the Soviet bloc’s numerical advantage in conventional forces. After giving up its chemical and biological weapons in accordance with arms-control treaties, the U.S. later said it was reserving the right to use nuclear weapons to deter attacks with poison gas and germ weapons in some circumstances.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have been particularly nervous about shifting to a “sole purpose” doctrine, fearing it could weaken deterrence against a conventional Russian attack on the alliance.

Congressional Republicans had criticized Mr. Biden for considering a “sole purpose” doctrine.

In January, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking Republican members on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, urged Mr. Biden to stay with the U.S. nuclear doctrine that they said had deterred major wars and the use of nuclear weapons for more than 70 years.

In contrast, a number of Democratic arms-control supporters had urged Mr. Biden to minimize the role of nuclear weapons in the Pentagon’s strategy and stipulate that the U.S. would never make the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict.

“Allies were concerned that moving too far away from current posture would leave them vulnerable—in theory or in practice—to Russian threats,” said Jon Wolfsthal, who served as the senior arms control and nonproliferation official on President Obama’s National Security Council.

Mr. Wolfsthal, who served as an adviser to Mr. Biden when he was vice president, said it would be disappointing but not surprising if the president shelved his “sole purpose” initiative.

Some Biden administration officials say, however, that his decision doesn’t diminish his long-term goal to reduce the U.S. dependence on nuclear weapons and reflects the need to consolidate allied support in the face of Russian threats and a rising China.

Mr. Biden, these officials also note, has supported other arms-control moves, including prolonging the New START treaty limiting U.S. and Russian long-range arms, which he extended for five years.

During the 2020 campaign, Mr. Biden wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that he believed “the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be deterring—and, if necessary, retaliating against—a nuclear attack.”

Mr. Biden added that as president he would move “to put that belief into practice, in consultation with the U.S. military and U.S. allies.’’ Mr. Biden had also staked out a similar position before leaving his post of vice president in 2017.

“Given our nonnuclear capabilities and the nature of today’s threats, it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary,” Mr. Biden said at the time.

The reason for his “sole purpose” proposal was to narrow the circumstances in which the U.S. would consider using nuclear weapons by excluding the possibility that they could be employed in response to a conventional attack or other nonnuclear threats...


I'm counting down the days to Easter Vacation, when, counting the weekends, I'll have 10 days off from classes. I'll do some grading, but otherwise I plan to get out and get some sun and exercise. 

Check out this oldie, from the Go-Gos

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Ukraine Strikes Russian Navy in Occupied Port City (VIDEO)

Huge moral booster. Watch at the Telegraph U.K., "'We f------ hit them!' Moment Ukraine strikes Russian warship in Odesa," and the Guardian U.K., "Russian ship destroyed in port of Berdiansk, says Ukrainian navy."

The story's at the Wall Street Journal, "Ukraine Strikes Russian Navy as War Enters Second Month: NATO agreed to help Ukraine protect itself against potential biochemical warfare during an emergency meeting in Brussels":

Ukraine said it struck the Russian-occupied port facilities in the Azov Sea city of Berdyansk on Thursday, setting off a large fire and hitting a Russian warship as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization pledged additional help for Kyiv.

Seized by Russia in the first week of the war that began a month ago, Berdyansk has become a major logistics hub for Russian forces. Footage from the area showed smoke billowing from the berthing area and secondary explosions from detonating ammunition.

The attack in Berdyansk—which is 50 miles west of the besieged port of Mariupol and nearly 100 miles from the main front line in southern Ukraine—is a sign Kyiv has retained significant military capabilities as it pursues a large-scale conventional war against Russian forces.

President Biden met with NATO leaders in Brussels on Thursday to agree on new measures to help Ukraine battle Russia’s invasion and address growing concerns Moscow might use chemical, biological or other unconventional weapons in its monthlong war.

“Allies agreed to supply equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after the summit. That includes equipment to detect such weapons, protect against them, medical support and decontamination equipment, he said.

NATO, he said, also has activated chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense forces. “We are taking measures both to support Ukraine but also to defend ourselves,” he said.

Russian officials didn’t immediately confirm the attack in Berdyansk. Kyiv initially said the strike destroyed the Russian navy landing ship, Orsk. Later Ukrainian news reports from Berdyansk named the targeted ship as Saratov, the same class of large landing ship as Orsk. The Ukrainian military followed up with a statement that it had hit Russian landing ships in Berdyansk, and that one of them was engulfed in fire. It didn’t provide the name.

Footage from Berdyansk also showed two smaller Russian ships fleeing the port after the explosions, one of them on fire.

Berdyansk, where pro-Ukrainian protests erupt regularly, is one of a handful of Ukrainian cities captured by Moscow in the month since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Ukrainian officials haven’t disclosed how Ukraine carried out the attack. Ukraine’s new Neptune antiship missiles have a range of about 200 miles and haven’t been used in the conflict so far. Ukraine also has ballistic missiles with a known range of some 75 miles, though there may be modifications with a longer range.

Andrii Ryzhenko, a former Ukrainian Navy captain now with the Center for Defense Strategies, a Kyiv think tank with close ties to the military, said he believed Ukraine used one or more Tochka-U ballistic missiles to dent Russia’s supply chain along the Azov Sea coast.

“For the Russians, this is the easiest way to bring and feed their contingent,” Mr. Ryzhenko said. “These ships, they can carry a significant amount of cargo. Our specialists say that at least for a few weeks, Berdyansk is closed for them for resupply because of damage to the port.”

Mariupol, another Azov Sea port city, has been surrounded by Russian forces and pummeled with artillery and airstrikes for weeks. Thousands of civilians there have been killed, and most of the city has been destroyed, according to local officials. While Russian troops have entered the eastern side of Mariupol in recent days, Ukrainian forces continue to keep most of the city from falling into Russian hands.

Before Thursday’s strike, Ukraine managed to inflict severe damage on the Russian navy personnel in the Azov area. Moscow has acknowledged that Ukrainian troops killed the deputy commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Navy Capt. Andrey Paliy, and the commander of the fleet’s 810th Marine Infantry Brigade, Col. Aleksey Sharov, both of whom were recently operating in the Mariupol area.

The combat performance of the Ukrainian army and the failure of Russian forces to make significant advances have caught U.S. and allied officials by surprise. Weapons supplied to Ukraine before the invasion were tailored to fuel an insurgency campaign, with U.S. officials expecting Russia to seize the capital Kyiv in as little as three days.

However, Ukraine has managed to push Russia’s much bigger and better equipped military to a standstill, at least for now. Western nations are rushing to get more military supplies across Ukraine’s western borders as Kyiv says it risks running short of ammunition.

In Thursday’s address to the NATO summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the alliance to do more to help Ukraine defend itself. “Ukraine needs military assistance—without limitations. Just as Russia is using all of its arsenal against us without limitations,” he said...


Tucker Carlson: What is a Woman? (VIDEO)

This was the $64,000 question yesterday during Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson tesitimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I covered this a bit yesterday, here: "Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn's Tenacious Interrogation of Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson (VIDEO)."

Background at the New York Times, "Ketanji Brown Jackson Asked to Define 'Woman' at Hearing."

And here's Tucker:

USS Harry S. Truman Flexes Muscle in the Mediterranean

At Poliitco Europe, "‘The only thing Putin understands is strength’: US aircraft carrier flexes muscle in the Med": Russian ships and submarines patrolling the Mediterranean, the USS Truman teams up with French and Italian carriers.

NORTHERN IONIAN SEA — The flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman was covered with jet engine gas vapor as F-18 Super Hornets rocketed into the sky one after the other. Watching takeoffs and landings at close quarters “is one of the most dangerous things you will ever do,” claimed my minder, an officer with 28 years of experience in the Navy.

In the sound and fury of the flight deck, this didn’t feel like hyperbole: The experience was jarring. Despite ear-defenders, the growl of the throttle from an aircraft that travels at 1.8 times the speed of sound makes your chest cage rattle and your heart race. More than once we were yelled at with drill-sergeant intensity to “GET BEHIND THE LINE!” as aircraft constantly taxied, took off and landed around us. Welcome to the danger zone.

While the high tempo was business as usual for the crew of the USS Truman, the backdrop, both geographically and politically, was not: Accustomed to the Pacific Ocean and the seas of the Middle East, the USS Truman’s strike group is now in the northern Ionian Sea, its fighter jets and radar planes patrolling NATO’s eastern borders and looking east, to a Ukraine now under invasion from Russian armed forces.

Since the invasion almost a month ago, these jets have flown more than 75 patrol missions across NATO’s eastern flank up to the Ukraine border, from the Truman. The so-called Enhanced Air Policing mission is part of NATO’s Assurance Measures introduced in 2014, after Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and is aimed at defending NATO airspace, preventing incursions by Russians.

The 20-story nuclear-powered Truman is the flagship of a strike group, a mobile fighting force of up to 10 destroyers and submarines, eight aircraft squadrons and a missile cruiser that can move anywhere in the world’s seas, launching missile or air strikes or merely providing visible proof of American resolve.

As a mobile U.S. airbase, the Truman will be on the front line if NATO decides to enforce a no-fly zone, or should the worst happen and NATO forces be drawn into a direct conflict. “The role of Truman, with other allies, is to deter Russians from further aggression and to be on constant standby for orders that might be given from our president or from other leaders around the world for the protection of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine,” Secretary of the U.S. Navy Carlos Del Toro told POLITICO during a visit to the carrier...

Keep reading.


History Is Speeding Up: Vindication for Neoconservatism

An amazing essay from John Podhoretz, at Commentary, "Neoconservatism: A Vindication":

In 2022, the idea that Vladimir Putin’s Russia would actually roll the tanks and march the soldiers across the border into Ukraine seemed so irrational and peculiar to the Western consciousness that most of us—and in that “us” I would even include the heroic Volodymyr Zelensky—were living in a kind of weird haze of disbelief and denial that it could even happen.

Then it did.

And the surprise Jimmy Carter had felt in 1979 was as nothing compared to the shock wave across Europe in 2022. It took the United States three years to double its defense budget after the Soviet invasion. It took Germany three days. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his country would increase its defense spending from 47 billion euros to 100 billion euros 72 hours after the Russians crossed the Ukrainian border.

History. Speeding up. And rhyming.

Will this be a hinge moment in history as well? If so, the rhymes of history may be heard in the surprising present urgency of neoconservatism.

Throughout the 1970s, the band of writers and thinkers who came to be known as “neoconservatives” had taken defiantly unfashionable positions when it came to matters of defense and foreign policy. The neoconservatives opposed negotiations and treaties with the Soviet Union, which they considered a great evil. They reviled the United Nations for its “Zionism is racism” resolution at a time when the UN was almost sacrosanct (millions of little boys and girls across America, including me, had proudly toted orange tzedakah boxes on Halloween to raise money for UNICEF). And they feared that the United States had, in the wake of Vietnam, undergone what a 1975 symposium in this magazine called “A Failure of Nerve” that would have global consequences.

The general opinion among the American cognoscenti was that the neoconservatives were hysterics and vulgarians incapable of seeing shades of gray. A more mature sense of the world’s complexity was supposedly represented first by the hard-won realism of the establishmentarians who had embraced the policy of détente with the Soviet Union—and second, by hipper foreign-policy thinkers whose worldview was encapsulated by Carter’s May 1977 declaration that America had gotten over its “inordinate fear of Communism.”

Then came 1979. The year began with the Iranian revolution engendering an oil crisis. By the end of the year, Iran’s fundamentalists had taken 52 American diplomats hostage as crowds chanted “Death to America” in the greatest public humiliation the United States had ever experienced as a nation. A thousand miles from the U.S. border, Nicaragua fell to a puppet guerrilla army of the Cubans and the Soviets while a similar puppet force was threatening to do the same in El Salvador—thus potentially creating a Soviet-friendly anti-U.S. bloc on the American subcontinent.

Suddenly the vulgarity of the neoconservatives didn’t seem quite so vulgar. But they remained prophets without much honor in the quarters in which they had traveled for most of their adult lives. Both the old and new establishments were largely impervious to the way history was vindicating their warnings and fears.

Thus began the integration of the neoconservatives into the conservative movement and the Republican Party by Ronald Reagan, who became the dominating figure in both in the 1980s. What they brought to Reaganism was one simple policy approach: deterrence.

This magazine was the epicenter of foreign-policy neoconservatism. Irving Kristol’s magazine, the Public Interest, was dedicated to domestic-policy neoconservatism. COMMENTARY hammered home the flawed ideas of the prevailing consensus on world order. The Public Interest did the same on matters ranging from housing policy to urban policy to energy policy to criminal justice. What they had in common was this: Neoconservatives believed that the purpose of government was both to defend and protect our liberties from threats at home and abroad. How could this best be effected? Deterrence.

If the greatest threat to our liberty abroad from the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War was the Soviet Union, the best and only effective way to face it down was to work to deter its ambitions and its influence. You could not do so by entering into agreements with it. You needed to match its aggressions with countermeasures that would make those aggressions costly.

If they invade Afghanistan, you arm the Afghan rebels. If they seek beachheads in the Americas, you arm the Nicaraguan rebels even as you support the El Salvadorean government against their Communist rebels. Install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe to counteract the huge Soviet military presence in the East. The ultimate move in this regard was the Strategic Defense Initiative, which sought to use American ingenuity and scientific knowhow as a countermeasure against the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

These policies were wildly controversial, even though their aims were actually rather modest: Pin the bad actors down and raise the cost of their bad conduct to unacceptable levels. But for those who believed the best way to deal with the Soviet Union was to imagine that it was not an enemy or even an adversary but simply a nation with a different approach to things with which we could still do business, the neoconservative notion of matching Soviet moves pawn by pawn seemed openly belligerent and crazy.

Domestically, deterrence was achieved by countering the worst human impulses through the proper use of defensive protocols that would prevent the bad behavior from taking place. Contain the impulses and you could let everybody go on with their lives. In practical terms, that meant eyes on the street and cops on the beat.

There had been a policy revolution in the 1960s known as “911 policing” that essentially changed the nature of policing—cops were to respond to crimes after they happened, to wait for the call after the violence had been done. It was the domestic neoconservatives who laid the groundwork over more than 20 years for the crime drop that changed America for the better beginning in the early 1990s. Every one of the ideas they presented—broken-windows theory, COMPSTAT-driven deployment of police forces—was designed to enhance deterrence. So too with the way America dealt with wrongdoers: It criticized the movement toward more lenient sentencing because it limited the deterrent effect of punishment, even going so far as to say it would be dangerous to eliminate the death penalty because without the ultimate sanction all other forms of punitive incarceration would gradually be compromised.

Deterrence in domestic matters went beyond crime. The general proposition that good policy largely involved containing dangerous human impulses meant also grappling with the unintended consequences of well-intentioned social policy gone awry—as when cradle-to-grave welfare made it a benefit to be a single parent. The problems brought about by welfare policy also led to revolutionary changes no one really believed would ever take place, such as the welfare reform Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996—just as no one really believed the Soviet Union would collapse or that crime would drop by 80 percent.

It turned out that deterrence was not only simple but very powerful. And very practical...

Still more.