A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Although I consider President Joe Biden to have done an exceptional job during the first two years of his term, I would submit that neither the policies of the Democrats nor of the Republicans received a mandate in this last election season; it was Americans’ belief in democracy that won.  Right now, let us savor it with proclamations by our greatest real and fictional presidents.

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

… I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday in the month of November … as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.  And I recommend to them that, while offering up ascriptions justly due Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become … sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

 

The West Wing – “I Get to Proclaim a National Day of Thanksgiving” – YouTube

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Election Reflections

“I would be thrilled to be proven overly-pessimistic, and recognize that Democrats may still maintain control of the Senate, but inflation currently appears to be the Death Star through which the Empire will strike back.”

  • McCoy’s Noise, November 2, 2022 

Although I didn’t actually rule out the possibility that Democrats would hold the Senate, I am indeed thrilled to find myself guilty of having had too little faith in the American majority’s appreciation of the MAGA danger to democracy 🙂 .  As the results have rolled out in the days following the election, a few disparate reflections:

The most important and heartening first:  voters’ nationwide general – not total, but general – rejection of 2020 election deniers.  If we are going to rebuild faith in our democracy and reverse the distrust in our election systems and workers despicably sown in so many of our people by former President Donald Trump, this was a necessary first step.  Part of Democrats’ better-than-expected showing was seemingly Mr. Trump’s aggressive reentry into the campaign during its last month, and the galvanizing counter-effect it had not only on progressives and liberals but independents and moderates.  More – there is always more — on Mr. Trump below. 

Notwithstanding the delight [or relief  😉 ] felt by those of us encouraged by the recent results, at the time this is typed it seems highly likely that MAGA-infected Republicans will control the House of Representatives.  (The numbers aren’t finalized yet, but it appears Republicans may command a House majority at least in part because of aggressive Florida gerrymandering effected by Republican FL Gov. Ron DeSantis, while a similar Democratic gerrymandering effort in New York was struck down by that state’s highest court.  While on principle I’m glad that the Democrats’ New York effort was overturned, it’s infuriating that rabidly-partisan Republican gerrymandering in states like Wisconsin and Florida have been allowed to stand.)  While the GOP’s subpar performance may – but only may – dampen its appetite for the most excessive partisan mischief such as impeaching President Joe Biden, investigating Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, cutting Social Security and Medicare, or passing a nationwide abortion ban, the House seems overwhelmingly likely to seek to restrict funding for Ukraine’s defense and play politics with the debt ceiling – i.e., with the full faith and credit of the United States. 

Many will recall that in a lame duck session following WI Gov. Tony Evers’ defeat of then-WI Gov. Scott Walker, the MAGA-infected Wisconsin State Legislature passed a series of laws hobbling Mr. Evers’ ability to undo some of Mr. Walker’s programs and policies.  Given the paralysis and partisan histrionics that seem overwhelmingly likely to ensue when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives, I would hope that for the good of the nation, during the upcoming lame duck Congressional session Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (due to the power of the filibuster) can agree to pass measures that have received or could garner bipartisan support to blunt some of the most destructive future MAGA impulses.  (Any bills passed by the next Congress to repeal such bipartisan enactments will succumb to President Joe Biden’s veto.)  Below is a short list of such potential measures.  There are undoubtedly others that I have overlooked.

  1. Raising the federal debt limit to an amount projected to carry the United States through to April 1, 2025.  Our citizenry will really decide the future direction it wishes the nation to take based upon whom it elects president in 2024.  In the meantime, the full faith and credit of the United States should not be held hostage to partisan rabble.
  • Authorizing the President, under his Constitutional powers as Commander-in-Chief, to reallocate such amounts of the United States’ military budget to support NATO’s effort against Russian military aggression as he deems fit and proper, provided that the president cannot disproportionately reduce defense expenditures in any state.
  • Revising the Electoral Count Act.  The House has already passed revisions; the Senate has reported revisions out of committee with bipartisan support.
  • Providing those qualifying under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) a path to U.S. citizenship. 
  • Enacting the Afghan Adjustment Act to assure that those Afghans who were brought to safety by the U.S. military may apply for protection to stay in the U.S. long-term.

I concede that given the strongly-worded criticisms of Mr. McConnell I have lodged in these pages over the years, even I find it surprising that I sincerely hope that Senate Republicans name Mr. McConnell their leader to ensure that some level of sanity continues in the Senate. 

I was obviously elated by Mr. Evers’ 3-point victory over Trump-endorsed Republican Wisconsin Gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels.  Mr. Evers’ re-election reduces the risk to the integrity of Wisconsin’s 2024 electoral process and enables at least somewhat balanced administration of my state’s government.  Some close friends have indicated to me that they attribute the 1-point loss of Democratic U.S. Senate Nominee WI Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, an African American, to U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson primarily to racism.  While those notions undoubtedly contain some truth, I recall another black candidate, former President Barack Obama, who won here handily twice – the latter time with a Wisconsinite on the opposing ticket.  In a close race, there are many factors at play.  I consider Mr. Barnes’ demonstrable inclinations on police funding and immigration enforcement, despite his campaign protestations, to have been a genuine political liability in Wisconsin’s polarized political environment.  I will always suspect, given the narrowness of Mr. Barnes’ defeat, that as the Democratic Senate nominee, WI Treasurer Sarah Godlewski might have squeaked past Mr. Johnson.  ‘Nuff said; it is what it is.

Two final notes on Mr. Trump:

I consider his recent declaration of his candidacy for the 2024 Republican Party’s presidential nomination, while presenting a fascist threat to the country and being politically bad for the Republican Party, clearly the smart move for him personally, which is all that he has ever cared about.  More on that as we move into the parties’ respective 2024 political machinations.

The most delicious last:  of all of the Trump acolytes running in this past cycle, I considered Republican AZ Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake the most dangerous.  She was the Trump acolyte that some pundits have opined had captured Mr. Trump’s personal affection and mantle – his spiritual heir, with much of his charismatic appeal – the one in whom he placed the most store.  Like Mr. Trump before her, during her campaign Ms. Lake sharply criticized the late U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain.  At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) shortly after she won her party’s gubernatorial primary, she declared, “We drove a stake through the heart of the McCain machine.”  At a rally shortly before the election, she referred to Mr. McCain as a “loser” and told “McCain Republicans” “to get the hell out” of the gathering. 

As all are aware, Mr. Trump lost Arizona to President Joe Biden in 2020 by three-tenths of one point.  As all who care are aware, analysts have recently projected Ms. Lake the loser to Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate and AZ Secretary of State Katie Hobbs by less than one percent.  I hadn’t yet seen anyone else make this point when it occurred to me:  After an oft-recounted courageous military career, Mr. McCain was easily elected to the U.S. Senate by Arizonans six times beginning in 1986.  He died in 2018.  His service to his country still wasn’t completed.  He has since in effect beaten Donald Trump in Arizona.  Twice.  From the grave.

Requiescat in pace, sir.  Unless we need you again in 2024.

Is Brazil’s Allegiance to Democracy Stronger than Ours?

As many that read these pages are aware, we have family members based in Brazil.  We have visited the nation twice over the last several years and taken a particular interest in its affairs.  The country dominates South America, ranking 7th in the world in population and possessing the globe’s 12th largest economy.  The Brazilians are a warm, sensual, creative people and their land is both bountiful and beautiful.  Like the United States, Brazil was first claimed a colony by a European power – in its case, Portugal (making it the only South American nation whose native language is Portuguese rather than Spanish) – and, like the United States, has a history marred by African slavery.  Unlike the United States, its democratic roots are surprisingly short.  After being governed through the centuries by monarchy or military dictatorship with sporadic stabs at democracy, Brazil’s true democratic system of government only took hold in the 1970s.

Current rightist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was elected in 2018, in the aftermath of corruption scandals which engulfed then-President Dilma Rousseff.  Mr. Bolsonaro has been called “the Trump of the Tropics.”  His COVID denials and their devastating effect on his people, combined with his policies facilitating deforestation (he would call it, “development”) of the Amazon jungle so crucial to combat Climate Change, have caused Americans to take greater note of Brazilian issues and politics than would otherwise have been the case.  His effective use of social media was core to his election victory, and thereafter pivotal in building an even deeper loyalty among his followers after he took office.  He has consistently maintained a flagrant disdain for those who oppose him, engendering an antipathy in his adversaries corresponding to the allegiance of his adherents.

Perhaps because of the relatively short tenure of true democracy in Brazil, the merits of the system are a subject of genuine debate among Brazilians.  When we visited this past summer, a Rio de Janeiro paper reported upon a poll indicating that a solid – but not overwhelming – majority of citizens favored democracy over autocracy, while at the same time a similarly-sized majority believed that the country would run more efficiently under autocracy than it did under democracy.  

As all who care are aware, Brazil has just emerged from a bitterly-partisan presidential election in which Mr. Bolsonaro was defeated by former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva by a margin of slightly less than 2% of 120 million votes cast.  Mr. Bolsonaro, who before the election consistently criticized the Brazilian electronic voting system that impartial experts find above material reproach, declared in August that he would only accept the outcome of his contest against Mr. da Silva if the vote was “clean and transparent,” and that he saw only three alternatives for his future:  “being arrested, killed or victory.”

Earlier this week, almost two days after Brazilian election officials announced Mr. da Silva’s victory, Mr. Bolsonaro (through an aide) acknowledged his defeat and indicated that he would facilitate the transition to Mr. da Silva.  Despite this acknowledgement, unrest currently continues among Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters.

There was no notion of this post on the docket.  I was prompted to enter it by a November 2nd Wall Street Journal report of Mr. Bolsonaro’s concession:  “… [E]nding a tense silence of 45 hours in which he had refused to acknowledge the results even as his allies urged him to do so. … On Tuesday, the governor of São Paulo state … became one of the latest to call for the president to concede.  ‘The elections are over, we live in a democracy,’ he told reporters. … Mr. Bolsonaro’s [de facto concession] came as politicians called on him to acknowledge the outcome to help tame protests … [Emphasis Added].”

One can reasonably surmise that during the “tense … 45 hours” described by the Journal, Mr. Bolsonaro and his sons (his closest aides) were soliciting the assistance of military and political allies across Brazil to contest Mr. da Silva’s electoral victory.  If such was indeed the case, it is clear that not enough of these followers were willing to engage in an attempt to overturn what they knew was a valid election result to keep Mr. Bolsonaro in power.  I suspect that Mr. Bolsonaro conceded not because he wanted to, but because he had no choice.      

The Journal report made me reflect what might have been here, in 2020.  The vote totals of the state presidential races considered too close to call on Election Night were announced within a week after the election, a determinative number in favor President Joe Biden.  It’s all good – and indeed, vital to our system of government – to respect the legal process; even I initially nodded at Republican bromides asserting that Mr. Trump had the right to contest his defeats in court.  That said, professional politicians know their states.  Republican former WI Gov. Scott Walker, both the most savvy and virulently-partisan Wisconsin politician of his generation, made clear via tweet within hours after Wisconsin results were announced – before he or others grasped that then-President Donald Trump would simply choose to disregard facts in his quest to retain power — that although the contest was close, Mr. Biden had won Wisconsin.  Most if not all of the Republican party leaders and officials in each of the states narrowly won by Mr. Biden undoubtedly understood early on that that Mr. Trump’s challenges would have no appreciable effect on the election’s outcome.  They didn’t need to wait for their states’ respective formal election certifications or Congress’ January 6th formal counting of the Electoral College votes to acknowledge Mr. Biden’s victory.  Had they and right-wing propagandists such as Fox News done what Mr. Bolsonaro’s political allies have done – as soon as the result was objectively clear even if avenues for futile legal challenges remained, called in chorus upon Mr. Trump to concede and gracefully lay the ground for his opponent’s succession – it seems, at least to me, that despite his inevitable subsequent thrashing, Mr. Trump would have been politically hobbled, surrounded by a small cabal insufficient to sow the level of cancerous doubt and seditious impulse which we now confront.

But they didn’t have the … guts.  (You know that wasn’t the word I was thinking as I typed this, or you were thinking as you read it.)  Despite over two centuries of American experience, they didn’t have the love and respect for democracy shown by officials in a South American nation with scant experience in true self-government.

Brazilians have a wry saying about their country: “Brazil is the future, and it always will be.”  Maybe so; but right now, the future of its democracy seems brighter than ours.

An Election Lament

[I have always taken a greater interest in national issues and politics than in those of my state of Wisconsin.  There are followers of these pages who are deeply versed in Wisconsin policy and politics.  I would welcome any markedly different analysis offering other – hopefully, happier — views.] 

Wisconsin is one of our truly swing states.  The Marquette University Law School (“MU”) poll — considered the “gold standard” for political polling in the state – released today found Democratic WI Gov. Tony Evers in a literal tie with Republican and Trump-Endorsed Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Tim Michels, while Republican U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson held a 2-point lead over the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, WI Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.  Compared to the preceding MU poll released in October, the results constituted a slight decline for Mr. Evers, a 4-point improvement for Mr. Barnes.

Since the beginning of former President Donald Trump’s political rise, MAGA vote has been consistently under-detected by pollsters.  The last MU poll before the 2020 presidential election found President Joe Biden leading Mr. Trump by 5 percentage points in a race Mr. Biden ultimately won by a little over half a percentage point.  It does not seem unreasonable to apply this differential to any MU polling data.

Although I have never voted for him, it’s a source of considerable embarrassment to me that my state is represented by Mr. Johnson.  I suspect that nine months ago, it was incomprehensible to any rational observer outside Wisconsin, notwithstanding the indications of an electoral “Red Wave” in 2022, that the Senator could win reelection in November.  Given the eccentric range of Mr. Johnson’s untoward and inane activities and statements in the Trump Era – culminating in indications that he was willing to collaborate with Trump loyalists on January 6, 2021, to steal Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory — one can ponder whether Mr. Johnson is a conscious co-conspirator or merely a useful dupe in the MAGA movement to establish an American Apartheid; but whether villain or fool, he is manifestly a danger to our Republic. 

Although lacking the wherewithal to post a version of this note when I first considered it last July, I still have a pang of regret that Wisconsin Democrats nominated Mr. Barnes for the U.S. Senate rather than Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, one of Mr. Barnes’ opponents for the nomination.  Although whomever was the Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate was going to get my vote – Mr. Barnes can chalk my vote up to his column as assuredly as he can his own — I felt then (and feel now) that Ms. Godlewski would be better positioned than Mr. Barnes to leverage the Democrats’ “wedge issues” – abortion and gun control – against Mr. Johnson.  (I admit that I actually know very little about Ms. Godlewski.  I have heard that she is not popular in all Wisconsin Democratic quarters and perhaps she has political skeletons that would have been used against her by the Republicans, but I thought she did well in the Democratic Candidate Senate debate, and I would have loved the debate “visual” of the young woman up against the crusty, hoary Mr. Johnson.) 

Milwaukee is currently plagued by rising violent crime.  Even before Mr. Barnes was nominated, he seemed to me more vulnerable than Ms. Godlewski to Republican attacks on crime and immigration.  Despite his current campaign protestations, an analysis by CNN (hardly a conservative outlet) of Mr. Barnes’ past statements and social media postings indicated that he has signaled that he would support “redirecting or decreasing police funding” and “abolishing ICE [U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement].”  (There has been a picture of him holding up an “Abolish ICE” tee shirt on the internet for years.)  We saw at a Republican town hall meeting in the summer of 2021 how viscerally negatively conservative mid-state Wisconsinites reacted to migrants crossing our southern border.  While Mr. Barnes’ positions are more nuanced than Republican claims would suggest, it was apparent that Republicans could exploit them in Wisconsin’s highly-partisan political environment without even unduly spinning them. 

[NPR’s Tamara Keith recently reported that 70% of Republican ads in the Wisconsin Senate race were about crime.  While the Republican emphasis on crime carries a tinge of racial stereotyping against the African American Mr. Barnes when directed at white suburbanites, it also arguably resonates with some black city residents.  A recent Heritage Foundation study applying 2020 Census Data to 2020 FBI violent crime statistics found that African Americans make up approximately 14% of the U.S. population, but are victims of over 32% of all U.S. violent crime victims and over 54% of U.S. homicides.]

Even so:  in 1992, the presidential campaign of then-AR Gov. Bill Clinton best articulated the primary electoral challenge confronting Democrats today:  “It’s the Economy, Stupid.”  Although I have undoubtedly spent less time in grocery stores over the years than the average American – TLOML was always concerned that sending me would ultimately yield only ice cream and alcohol 😉 — I am nonetheless well aware that the prices of the few staples that I do buy are UP.  A LOT.  While other factors, arguably foreseeable and unforeseeable, have obviously been at play, I don’t think it can be tenably disputed that the Democrats’ last COVID relief bill, despite their good intentions and understandable underestimation of the impact it could have on prices largely quiescent for decades, has accelerated inflationary pressures.  The party in power when inflation climbs dramatically is going to feel the political brunt.  [Those with long memories will recall that one of the factors that contributed to former President Gerald Ford’s loss to former President Jimmy Carter in 1976 was the failure of Mr. Ford’s “WIN” (“Whip Inflation Now”) program.]  It is … what it is.

I have predicted in these pages more than once that the Supreme Court’s elimination of women’s Constitutional abortion right would cause enough moderate backlash to enable Democrats to hold the Senate.  At this point, I concede that I did not anticipate the level of inflation that our citizens would be facing at election time when I made my prediction.  I would be thrilled to be proven overly-pessimistic, and recognize that Democrats may still maintain control of the Senate, but inflation currently appears to be the Death Star through which the Empire will strike back. 

I do not begrudge the economy-driven votes of Americans; too many of us literally can’t afford to ruminate on the dangers the MAGA movement represents to our republic. It is also obvious why those feeling particularly prey to crime might not count saving democracy as their uppermost priority. Although it seems a bit ill-mannered to express my reservations about Mr. Barnes’ candidacy now when I didn’t have the opportunity to do so last summer, my lament is for the future of Wisconsin and its impact on our national fabric.  While Mr. Johnson would probably be leading Ms. Godlewski in the polls at this juncture had she been the Democratic nominee, the suspicion lurks – perhaps only with me — that she would be faring better than Mr. Barnes is.  Given voters’ sharply decreasing tendency to “ticket split,” I fear that any relatively larger margin of defeat for the Democratic Senate candidate may cause Mr. Michels to squeak by Mr. Evers, who for the last four years has held the line against the toxically-partisan MAGA-infected Wisconsin state legislature (which is now seeking a “Super Majority” that would enable it to override Gubernatorial vetoes).  Any ascendancy of Mr. Michels to the Wisconsin governorship will place Wisconsin’s entire state government apparatus in the hands of illiberal elements, which would not only bode ill for the citizens of the state but call into question the state’s willingness to fairly administer the 2024 Presidential election upon which our democracy, as in 2020, will rest.

America Ascendant

It is hard not to be taken up with the difficulties confronting us.  They are generally and regularly addressed in these pages and they obviously will be again.  At the same time, America still has more going for it than any other nation on earth.

One need only travel out of the country as we have over the last decade to appreciate that the vast majority of Americans live in better circumstances than a significant majority of the rest of the world’s population.  Visit Asia, the Caribbean, South America, Africa; get away from the nice sections of their cities and plush tourist enclaves, and see how much better the vast majority of Americans have it than most of those with whom we share the globe. 

Unemployment is low and the dollar is strong.  Inflation is high, and without doubt providing serious immediate hardship to our financially-constrained citizens, but some experts now opine that price pressures may be at the cusp of a decline.  More importantly, if a stable relatively-higher inflation rate results from a concerted effort to replenish the domestic capabilities we’ve allowed to wither over the past 30 years in homage to the Great Corporate God, Lower Cost, such would arguably lead to better employment opportunities for some currently-challenged segments of our people and is a price we should be willing to pay to reduce our global supply chain vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic.  We have the intellectual and financial capital to get this done.  No one else in the world does.

Our immigration policy and practices are obviously currently in shambles — primarily due to Republican grandstanding but also contributed to by Democrats – and we need more effective border controls.  That said, the crush at our southern border exists because – as has been true for centuries of immigrants coming from our east and west – people from other lands understand that this nation offers them and their loved ones the best opportunity for a free, better life.  It remains within our grasp to restore the healthy mix of immigrants that has always been our lifeblood.  Few if any other nations have this opportunity.

Watching the stock market retreat can be disconcerting, but using the Dow Jones Index as the indicator, the lowest point of the recent slide brought us to levels about on a par with late February, 2020, when Donald Trump was wishing away COVID because he didn’t want to alarm the high-flying stock market.  The market could fall roughly another 20% from there (to about 23,000) and be at a level not seen since the prehistoric days of … January, 2019.  Were those in the market feeling poor that day?  Ironically, equity values have fluctuated because economic indicators look strong, which the market realizes will cause the Federal Reserve to keep raising interest rates to battle inflation.  Investors are moving from stocks to bonds because the latter are starting to generate appreciable returns.  Being (as all are acutely aware) no financier, I nevertheless timidly venture that at a macro level, having liquid assets divided more evenly between stocks and bonds is a good thing.  Did anybody think that the market was always going to go up?

We’ve beaten the pandemic.  It was at great cost; over 1 million American lives lost – many, in my view, due to the self-absorption of Donald Trump.  At the same time, through the efforts of the scientific community and the Trump and Biden Administrations, we developed and distributed incredibly effective vaccines in an incredibly short time that got us back on our feet.  We will lose more Americans this winter, but it seems likely that most of these will sadly be lost due to their own misguided decisions.

America’s stature on the world stage hasn’t been as high as it is now since at least before the 2003 Iraq invasion.  While our standing has risen largely due to Russia’s barbaric and blundering invasion of Ukraine, and no one could have predicted that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would prove to be a Winston Churchill-like wartime leader, the NATO unity and effective support of Ukraine we’ve seen over the last eight months was anything but certain when the invasion began.  The allied success is a direct result of President Joe Biden’s incredibly skillful marshalling of NATO and deft management of American domestic sentiment.  Russia’s recent sham annexation of Ukrainian regions has been overwhelmingly condemned in the United Nations; China, Russia’s most significant ally, is clearly less than pleased.  The Russian nation will be a crippled pariah as long as Vladimir Putin remains its President.  (More on nuclear weapons below.)

China is also currently off its stride, which clearly augments our global position.  Chinese President Xi Jinping’s own ambition and impatience have significantly slowed and perhaps thwarted his aspirations for “The China Dream.”  Some China experts are opining that Mr. Xi’s recent seizing of a third term as President has sown dissention within China’s hierarchy.  Mr. Xi’s decision to spurn western-developed COVID vaccines for less effective Chinese vaccines and his enforcement of aggressive COVID lockdowns have not only hindered his economy but caused unrest among his people.  His human rights record — the de facto renunciation of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy with Hong Kong with attendant suppression of protestors; the bellicose comments about Taiwan; the regime’s concentration-camp treatment of Uighurs — has created deep reservations within the democracies about closer relations with China.  His buildup of Chinese armed forces and attempt to usurp and militarize the South China Sea have disconcerted both China’s Pacific friends and adversaries, causing some to welcome a greater American presence.  Mr. Xi’s Belt and Road initiative – i.e., a concerted effort to curry favor among poorer nations by providing them loans for their infrastructure projects — has saddled China with bad loans while its punitive collection methods on early arrangements have created reluctance to participate in other prospective applicants.  China’s economy is unquestionably slowing; Mr. Xi’s subordination of his predecessors’ freer-market policies to political orthodoxy and imposition of tighter government control over the nation’s economy have cooled global investors’ enthusiasm about China, accordingly strengthening America’s position as the dominant global economy and currency. 

We live, as we have for over 70 years, under threat of nuclear holocaust.  While we certainly cannot discount the possibility of an exchange between squabbling minor nuclear players (if there is such a thing) such as India and Pakistan, I would submit that we retain the same robust objective and psychological defense against a direct attack on us or our allies that we’ve had throughout the nuclear age:  Mutually-Assured Destruction (with the fitting acronym, “MAD”).  As long as the leader of a nuclear power – even one as stressed as Mr. Putin is at present – truly believes that launching a nuclear attack against us or our allies will elicit a nuclear response, I don’t believe s/he will do it.  The media focuses regularly on North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un.  I would assert that Mr. Kim’s posturing is strategically defensive (to protect himself against the U.S. and China) rather than offensive.  He undoubtedly realizes that the one sure thing that will happen if he launches a nuclear strike is that he himself will die.  (If our counterstrike doesn’t get him, the Chinese will.)  While an impending nuclear Iran is obviously of concern, I would submit that the conservative Shia Islam the regime imposes at home casts a patina of theocratic zealotry over its foreign policy aims, which I see as plain-old territorial:  to dominate the Middle East.  I would suggest that similar to Mr. Kim, its leaders must recognize that providing nuclear provocation to either the United States or Israel, no matter how it goes for us, won’t end well for them.  There is, obviously, a key caveat to this:  the world must believe that the President of the United States will respond if either the U.S. or its allies are attacked.  Save Mr. Trump, we’ve had such a President throughout the nuclear age; our safety in this quarter depends on such continuing.

Climate Change threatens us all.  There are those in America who still question its severity but few if any still doubt its existence.  Many of the nations that are now and soon will be suffering the greatest environmental hardship did little to cause the danger and have no ability to meaningfully address it.  The United States cannot fix the problem alone, but we are among the fortunate few nations that have it within our power to make changes, and to encourage others to make changes, to meaningfully reduce its impact.  Perhaps more importantly, at this stage American ingenuity is the most likely vehicle we have to develop new scientific approaches to clean up the mess that we have played such a large part – for decades, clearly unwittingly — in creating.

Despite all of these advantages, I recognize that we are holding elections next month in which it seems likely that the Republican Party – now completely dominated by MAGA fascists and fools and the cowards that bow before them — will gain control of at least one, and perhaps both, houses of Congress.  There is nothing here to cheer those that consider America the “beacon of freedom” described by President Ronald Reagan.  However, no matter the Congressional political complexion as of January, 2023, a good man remains President.  He will be able to defend if not extend what I consider to be an impressive array of achievements over the last two years (an assessment worthy of a separate post).  More importantly from a strategic political standpoint, MAGAs seem poised to overplay their hand in the House of Representatives.  They will dance to Donald Trump’s tune.  They give rein to the excesses of the likes of U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz, U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, and U.S. CO Rep. Lauren Boebert.  They will at least try to impeach Mr. Biden and current House Speaker U.S. CA Rep. Nancy Pelosi.  They will hound Hunter Biden.  They will attempt to hold America’s debt ceiling hostage.  They will seek to cut funding to Ukraine.  They will vote to repeal or restrict the Affordable Care Act.  They will propose major changes to Social Security and Medicare.  Almost certainly, they will pass a bill imposing severe national limitations on abortion.  Their legislative efforts will either die in the Senate (even if Republicans control that chamber) or will be vetoed by President Biden.  I believe that what these forays will do – because I believe that the majority of Americans value genuine democracy and hold America to be a well-meaning nation – will cause a backlash against MAGA excesses that will make it easier for the 2024 Democratic Presidential nominee to win the presidency (if the electoral process is fair) than will be the case if Democrats continue to control Congress.  Our experience since President Franklin Roosevelt – brought into the starkest relief by Donald Trump – has shown us that our democracy ultimately depends not on Congress but upon who sits in the White House.

Through the wisdom, industry and perseverance of our forebears and our land’s natural bounty, no other nation on earth has the advantages and opportunities we do today.  Which means:  It’s up to us to keep faith, and to uphold the promise of America.  Stay well.

The Scream

Those that know me personally are aware that for at least the last quarter century, the only Packer games I have seen live are those played in prime time; the day games I record for later viewing.  One might suppose that such a practice indicates that I care relatively less about the fortunes of the Green and Gold; it actually came about because I was perhaps relatively too involved in the team’s fortunes.  TLOML pointed out to me long, long ago – in exasperation tinged more than a bit with irritation – that when I watched the game live – an emotionally-raw 3+ hour experience, win or lose, for the true Packer fan – and the team lost, I was irascible for the remainder of the day and evening; I barked at the kids; the pleasantries of cocktail hour were sacrificed.  I completely acknowledge the inexplicability of such reaction over the performance of a bunch of young men whom I didn’t know and who didn’t, understandably, give a whit about me.

Once I started recording the games, all improved.  Unlike many who record sporting events and don’t want to know the outcome beforehand, I deliberately determine whether the Packers won the game I’ve recorded that day.  If they’ve prevailed, I watch the recording; if they’ve lost, I erase the unviewed tape.  On the days yielding unhappy outcomes, it turns out that my simply knowing they’ve lost, as contrasted with having viscerally experienced the loss by watching it live, has enabled me to maintain an even, even cheerful, demeanor throughout the rest of the day and evening.

Given the team’s success in the Favre-Rodgers Era, this approach has obviously still enabled me to see the lion’s share of Green Bay games, more than enough to assess that year’s team’s strengths and weaknesses.  On the other hand, this year, my viewing opportunities have manifestly been … painfully limited.  An apparently woeful opening loss to Minnesota?  Perhaps an unfortunate way to start, but a win over the Vikings when they come to Lambeau Field will fix that.  But losses to the Giants?  To the Jets?  To the Washington … Whatever-Their Name-Is-Nows?

Having not seen the games, I can’t offer what the team’s problems are.  It has Aaron Rodgers; it has Aaron Jones; it was supposed to have a decent offensive line; it was projected to have a championship-worthy defense.  Clearly, some or all of these and other factors are not exactly executing as anticipated.  The Packers now trail the Vikings by three games in the proverbial loss column, and although it’s early, currently aren’t close to qualifying for the playoffs.  If Mr. Rodgers comes out this week and tells the fans to relax, the team had better be able to back his words up.  In the meantime, when I heard of Sunday’s defeat, for whatever reason a certain well-known painting immediately sprang to mind.  If we can’t revel in victories, at least we Packer fans can contemplate renowned art that captures our mood  😉 .  The link is below.

https://www.edvardmunch.org/the-scream.jsp#prettyPhoto[image2]/0/

On the Nuclear Challenge

As you are probably aware, Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently repeatedly threatened to use so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons as a way to reverse Russia’s no-longer-deniable battlefield debacle in Ukraine.  At a gathering on October 6, President Joe Biden reportedly observed, “I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily [use] a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon.”  ­­­­­­­­­­­The President’s comments are obviously the most authoritative allusions to the risk of nuclear holocaust arising from the Russian invasion.

On October 1, Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan quoted former President John Kennedy from June, 1963, when Mr. Kennedy asserted, “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war,” and “[Leaving a nuclear-armed adversary no option but a humiliating defeat would be] a collective death-wish for the world.”  She also quoted former President Ronald Reagan’s well-known declaration, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”   

On October 2, Wall Street Journal Columnist Walter Russell Mead wrote, “As the Biden administration scrambles to manage the most dangerous international confrontation since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, it must see the world through Mr. Putin’s eyes.  Only then can officials know how seriously to take the nuclear saber-rattling and develop an appropriate response. … Mr. Putin sees global politics today as a struggle between a rapacious and domineering West and the rest of the world bent on resisting our arrogance and exploitation. … Mr. Putin’s version of the anti-American world view gives a special role to Russia.”

On October 7, MSNBC’s Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough declared:  “I know people love to say … that there’s no substitute but the complete destruction of Vladimir Putin.  No!  … They have more nuclear weapons than anybody else on the face of the earth, and we’re … going to have to be creative as Kennedy was when you got the missiles out of Cuba but quietly got the missiles out of Turkey.  We’re not dealing with Belarus here.  We’re dealing with a country that has nuclear weapons and doesn’t have any problems threatening to use them.”

The President is obviously the best judge regarding the likelihood of escalation if Russia chooses to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict.  That said, I completely disagree with the implication of Ms. Noonan and Messrs. Mead and Scarborough (which, no matter how obliquely they phrased it, I submit is inherent in their comments) that we should look for a way to – there is no other word for it – appease Mr. Putin’s delusions.  It’s too late for that.  Such perspective is akin to someone saying in 1940, “We need to see the world through Herr Hitler’s eyes.  He sees the extermination of the Jews as existential to Germany’s survival.”  At this point, the Ukrainians (with our and NATO support) should be – as they clearly are — in it to win it.  Mr. Scarborough’s reference to Mr. Kennedy’s order removing our nuclear arsenal from Turkey following the Cuban Missile Crisis is inapposite.  In October, 1962, no shot was fired, no lives were wantonly sacrificed, no property was needlessly destroyed.  Here, we have a campaign of unbounded barbarism – the latest intense barrages against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure coming this week — intended to destroy a people and its culture.  These losses cannot be undone.  Since the invasion began, media talking heads have constantly intoned about the need to provide Mr. Putin an “off ramp.”  Putting aside the fact that the Russian President has shown no indication that he is looking for an off ramp, I don’t see how any just settlement could include allowing Russia to retain any of the territory that it has stolen from Ukraine or releasing Russia from its obligation for reparations for Ukrainian losses (reportedly over a trillion dollars; a knotty problem obviously not yet ripe for consideration).  Most strategically, I myself can never get beyond the question I’ve already posed in these pages:  Unless one believes – and I do not see how one could – that following any Russian-Ukrainian settlement, Mr. Putin would cease attempting to undermine Ukraine’s and other democracies across the world, what long term value does an inevitably temporary settlement bring?  The Ukrainians and NATO must unreservedly press their advantage to culmination here – which, I concede, is more likely than not to involve the deposition of Mr. Putin.

I also take issue with those that conflate what may be politically (and perhaps literally) existential for Mr. Putin with what is existential for Russia.  U.S. and NATO officials need to continue to emphasize that they have no designs on Russia beyond reestablishment of Ukraine’s borders as they existed prior to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.  Among the audiences for such reassurances are members of the Russian leadership and the Russian populace (for the latter, to the extent that the messages get through.)  Although Mr. Putin is reportedly now only surrounded by hardliners, perhaps these reassurances about the limits of NATO’s aims combined with Russia’s battlefield losses will ultimately cause some of Mr. Putin’s advisors to ask themselves:  Is our floundering attempt to expand the Russian Empire worth nuclear Armageddon?  However, declarations regarding the limits of NATO’s mission apparently also need to be reinforced with the Ukrainians.  Washington Post Columnist David Ignatius reported this week that many Ukrainians see Russia, not Mr. Putin, as the enemy.  While those sentiments are certainly understandable, Ukrainians must come to recognize that while they deserve recompense for what has been done to them and protection against future Russian imperialism, any aspirations to bring about the dissolution of a nuclear-powered Russian state are neither attainable nor even advisable.  

I’ve heard any number of commentators inquire of any idea to avoid a possibly approaching nuclear confrontation.  I have one.  If this hasn’t already been tried, I would counsel Mr. Biden to quietly – with no notice to news outlets before or after — call the one man who probably still has significant influence on Mr. Putin:  Chinese President Xi Jinping.  I would propose that the President make clear to Mr. Xi that if Russia uses nuclear weaponry in Ukraine, we are prepared to respond in kind.  If Mr. Biden is serious – and he’d better be — I would  suggest that the President specifically state that he understood that his credibility with Mr. Xi would be forever lost if he did not follow through as he was indicating that he would.  I would recommend that the President reiterate his recent observation that he saw little hope for avoiding a nuclear Armageddon if such an exchange began.  I would advise that the President then suggest to Mr. Xi that Mr. Xi call Mr. Putin and indicate that if Russia initiated the use of nuclear weapons in its Ukraine struggle, China would join the international community in opposing Russia.  Additionally, Mr. Biden might suggest to Mr. Xi that since China undoubtedly has sources very close to Mr. Putin as we obviously do, Mr. Xi might instruct his agents to do what they could to impede Mr. Putin if it seemed likely that Mr. Putin was about to resort to a nuclear option.

I’ve recently heard our current relationship with China described as “cold,” “almost nonexistent.”  No matter.  Nuclear issues transcend all others.  The question would be how Mr. Xi would react to any overtures from Mr. Biden as outlined above.  The primary principle of foreign policy would apply:  nations will act in what they consider their own best interest.  Presumably, Mr. Xi wants China to ultimately control the world, not have it blown up.  If Mr. Xi either doesn’t take Mr. Biden seriously or calculates that there is better than an even chance that China will ultimately benefit from a U.S. – Russian nuclear exchange, he will stand back.  If Mr. Xi instead determines that China and the world he seeks to dominate will be engulfed if the U.S. and Russia so engage, he might well act as Mr. Biden suggested – even if he indicated on the call that he wouldn’t.

I disagree with the notion that China may view the U.S. support of Ukraine as an opportunity to expedite any plans it has to invade Taiwan.  America retains the Pacific strength to effectively support Taiwan’s resistance to any Chinese aggression, and I would suspect that Mr. Xi views the U.S. support of Ukraine as evidence of a greater level of American resolve to support its allies and protect its interests — at least while Mr. Biden is President — than was apparent before Russia invaded Ukraine.  There is, of course, a concession somewhat corresponding to our 1963 removal of our nuclear missiles from Turkey that Mr. Xi might raise if Mr. Biden indeed suggested that he intercede with Mr. Putin:  our private assurance that that we would not aggressively aid Taiwan if China chose to invade the island.  While from Mr. Xi’s perspective there would be significant benefit to asking, Mr. Biden would certainly and properly reject such a suggestion out of hand.

Some might say that this note borders on rant; I would timidly venture that it is but an expression of fervent belief 🙂 .  [I suspect that right now, many of those that follow these pages are exceedingly glad that I am not advising President Biden  😉 .]  I concede that I might feel less strongly if the Ukrainians were seeking a compromise with Russia – after all, it is they who are dying, it is their existence that has been forever altered, while we sit here spouting about strategic options – but they understand that it is their (and our) freedom they are fighting for.  Too often strategy and sentiment are in conflict; in Ukraine, they align.  For those of us of or approaching Medicare eligibility, any manner of U.S. accommodation to Mr. Putin’s nuclear threats would be the easy course; given America’s nuclear armament, any material threat from foreign adversaries will never reach our shores in our lifetimes.  That said, for our children’s and grandchildren’s sake, America cannot allow itself to become the “lone island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force” that former President Franklin Roosevelt warned against in 1940.  We should continue to vigorously support Ukraine no matter what nuclear threats Vladimir Putin makes.  

Observations About Immigrants and Immigration

Last night this came up on my Twitter feed, and I feel it appropriate to record it in these pages. In recent years, I’ve had the privilege to visit with recent immigrants to the United States from many nations and with citizens of distant lands. Despite all of the rancor and discord about immigration that has arisen in our public discourse over the last score of years, those from outside our country still invariably see America as the “beacon of freedom and opportunity” President Reagan referred to in his remarks, and they feel what he described as the “magical, intoxicating power of America.” While there are many aspects of our immigration policy that require attention, we need to cherish and nurture such a priceless mantle.

On Wisconsin’s Release of Paul Chryst

As all who care are aware, University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Chris McIntosh released Wisconsin Head Football Coach Paul Chryst on Sunday.  Mr. Chryst has been replaced on at least an interim basis by the team’s former Defensive Coordinator, Jim Leonard.

This may be the first time that I have addressed Wisconsin athletics in these pages; virtually all of my football focus has, since my preteen days in the Chicago area, been directed to the men who play on Sunday [and now on Monday and Thursday 😉 ].  By the rarest of coincidences, at the kind invitation of a good friend I attended the Badger game against the University of Illinois this past Saturday.  Although I came to the game with eyes conditioned by the NFL, putting aside that college teams understandably lack the skill and do not play in the mode of the professionals, it was glaringly apparent that Wisconsin’s team had limited passion and lacked discipline.  Illinois won 34 – 10.  Wisconsin couldn’t control the lines of scrimmage and had no run game – both hallmarks of the Badger football tradition established by former Athletic Director and Head Coach Barry Alvarez.  The stands were not completely full.  The fans were audibly unhappy.  It was easy to guess that the big Wisconsin athletic donors were expressing their displeasure about the program’s status to Mr. McIntosh.

Although I abhor the big business that college football has become, the fact remains that it is a big business.  Many millions of dollars ride on it for an institution like the University of Wisconsin.  We have lived in Madison long enough to remember when the University’s football team was awful.  Over the last thirty years, the program has maintained a consistent level of eminent respectability under the auspices of former Athletic Director Pat Richter and Mr. Alvarez.  Once such eminence is lost, it is hard to regain.  Sitting in the stands Saturday – and watching the crowd as well as the game – the program’s standing certainly seemed to me to be teetering.  Mr. Leonard, who in recent years has become a highly regarded college coach after a distinguished professional career (and he’s young, which in addition to his professional pedigree would also appeal to recruits), is a hot college head coaching candidate that the University risked losing if it clung to Mr. Chryst, who is by all accounts a fine man who indisputably lacks charisma.  Sometimes remove provides perspective; based upon this one afternoon, if advising Mr. McIntosh, I would have indicated that if he didn’t replace Mr. Chryst now, the program suffered additional erosion of its prestige during the remainder of the season, and he lost Mr. Leonard to another school, his own job would be at risk.

Two final notes.  First, it seemed to me that when it was clear that Illinois was going to win the game, Illinois Head Football Coach Bret Bielema – who succeeded Mr. Alvarez as Head Coach at Wisconsin, and I understand was on the same coaching staff with Mr. Chryst – let up.  Illinois repeatedly ran the ball into the middle of the line, although the gaps it had theretofore exploited in the Wisconsin secondary remained available.  Illinois could have tacked on another 10 points had it wanted to.  I suspect that Mr. Bielema has high personal regard for Mr. Chryst, retains enough background about the innards of Wisconsin athletics to have understood that Mr. Chryst was on shaky ground, and didn’t want to humiliate him.  I have never cared for Mr. Bielema, but that was classy.

Finally, I suspect that a disadvantage coaches now face because college athletics are big business is that universities’ upper echelons have less tolerance for middling performance than was the case decades ago; the advantage for someone like Mr. Chryst is the report I’ve seen that the University will perhaps owe him $16 million for letting him go.  No one likes hearing that s/he isn’t wanted, but his is probably the best severance package any Wisconsin state employee will receive for quite a while.

End of Summer Reflections

Due to traveling and other life pursuits, in the last several months I’ve had as little time to devote to these pages as at any point since they were launched [most probably a relief to those happy for a respite from long-winded Noise  😉 ].  As life is returning to a more normal routine for us, a few reflections as summer ends:

As you may be aware, the legal status in our country for many Afghans whom we evacuated in August 2021 – Afghans who aided our war effort, and whom we evacuated because of the severe retribution they would have faced from the Taliban if we left them behind – is not yet secure.  The Afghan Adjustment Act is a bipartisan bill (sponsored in the Senate by U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar and, of all people, U.S. SC Sen Lindsay Graham) that would, if passed, ensure that those Afghans who were brought to safety by the U.S. military may apply for lasting protection to stay in the U.S. long-term.  The bill is reportedly modeled after laws previously enacted to protect people from Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iraq.  Seemingly noncontroversial, the New York Times reported on September 22 that the bill has hit “snags” due to Republican objections that the people we evacuated were insufficiently vetted prior to withdrawal.  The Times quoted former Trump Administration official Stephen Miller (that’s a surprise) and U.S. IA Sen. Charles (“I was there when we nominated Abe Lincoln for President”) Grassley among those voicing objections for these predominately-Muslim evacuees.  Although this bill has the feel of one that will be passed in the lame duck session following the November elections, I will take the liberty of suggesting that in the near term you might encourage your Senators and Representative to vote for the legislation if they haven’t already indicated their support.

These pages’ last substantive observations regarding the Ukrainian conflict were published on April 22 – an amazing interval to this old retired blogger who professes a particular interest in foreign policy.  At that time, I offered that a primary challenge facing Mr. Biden related to the crisis was … time.  Since that note was posted – and while the world cannot forget the millions of Ukrainian lives forfeited or forever marred by the global ambitions of one man — the conflict has gone, from geopolitically-strategic and military perspectives, immeasurably better for Ukraine than the West could have then reasonably expected and devastatingly worse for Russia than Russian President Vladimir Putin could have then anticipated.  I agree with those that say that Mr. Putin’s recent mobilization of Russian reserves, orchestration of sham referenda in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories as a preface to their Russian annexation, and threatening allusions to Russia’s nuclear weaponry are indications of his desperation, and also with those that have opined that NATO forces should actively enter the conflict in aid of the Ukrainian army if he does deploy nuclear weaponry (I might go so far to include his use of chemical weaponry as sufficient provocation).  I most strongly disagree with those favoring negotiation with Russia at this point.  If one could now concoct some internationally-engineered settlement of the conflict, do you believe that Mr. Putin would thereafter cease in his attempts to disrupt democracy in Ukraine, the NATO nations that were once part of the USSR, the Nordic nations, western Europe, and the U.S.?  To ask the question is to answer it.  What, then, is the value in negotiating with Mr. Putin when he is at his weakest point? 

That said, I still fear that time is the Russian President’s ally.  I have quoted Fiona Hill’s and Clifford G. Gaddy’s study, Mr. Putin, extensively in these pages; the gist of their analysis is that once Mr. Putin commits to a fight, “he is prepared to fight to the end”; and “he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win.”  Without meaning to be facetious, The Godfather provides guidance here:  when the enemy seems the most disadvantaged, triple your precautions.  If advising Mr. Biden, I would ask whether we still have any measure available to materially press the West’s advantage that Mr. Putin might not be anticipating.  If so – short of nuclear weaponry – we should spring it now.  The only way this war ends is if Mr. Putin is deposed from the inside.  A protracted conflict, given an impending cold European winter without Russian-supplied energy and a global economic recession, will be more likely to adversely affect Western resolve than impact upon Mr. Putin’s designs.

In the short run, the Green Bay Packer offense may be able to get by on the strength of its running game complemented by sufficient production from its experienced (but physically limited) wide receivers.  In the long run, the Packers have no realistic Super Bowl prospects unless at least one of its rookie wide receivers blossoms.  I’m intrigued by Romeo Doubs.  Mr. Doubs certainly contributed to yesterday’s narrow win, but seemed to me to somewhat disappear in the second half; what I couldn’t tell was whether that was a result of an altered Tampa Bay defensive scheme or due to Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ well-known penchant for relying on veterans in tight situations.

President Joe Biden’s recent assertion that the COVID pandemic “is over” has been assailed as making it more difficult for public health authorities to combat a disease that is still taking hundreds of American lives a day (although the President did qualify his comment at the time with the indication that COVID remained “a problem”).  We can never forget the millions of lives lost to the disease worldwide, including the one million American lives lost (some significant percentage of the latter and of those we lose in the future, I would venture, being the fault of former President Donald Trump).  Even so, I would submit that the President is right in the larger sense.  We just got back from a trip across the globe.  We saw few masks.  As a retiree, I am now rarely out in morning rush hour on the route I took to work for decades; last week I was; it was the first time since March, 2020, that the volume and pace of traffic at that hour was virtually what it had been before the COVID shutdown.  As I’ve previously suggested here, the shutdown affected different dispositions differently:  some were sorely impacted by the sudden and enforced isolation; others who adjusted more readily to the solitude have perhaps needed more time to acclimate to pre-pandemic levels of social interaction.  I sense an awakening coming at a time of year that, at least in the Midwest, one customarily starts to hunker down.  That said:  Medicare authorities advised last week that updated COVID vaccines are available for increased protection against the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants to any Medicare recipient receiving his/her last vaccination/booster earlier than July 22.  That includes TLOML and me.  We intend to get the new booster.  I suggest that if you’re eligible, you should do so as well.