Thursday, June 16, 2022

Supply And Demand Upended

As we drive around in our cars these days, one cannot avoid seeing the large gasoline station signs that tell us – usually in large, bold, brightly-colored numbers – what today’s gas price is per gallon. Inevitably, it is a bigger number than the day or so before. We drive past, likely shaking our heads in disbelief, discouragement, and a host of other thoughts and emotions at yet another thing taking control away from our daily life.

Yet you know what we do not see? Plastic shopping bags wrapped around the nozzles of the fuel hoses, accompanied by a cardboard sign that proclaims “No Gas.” We are used to this scene because on various occasions (e.g. hurricane destruction of refineries, Russian hackers blocking a major gasoline distribution line), demand for gas temporarily exceeds supply. The typical results are long lines at filling stations, different strategies for locating which stations have gas available, refilling the car at every opportunity, all while paying increases in price, And then, seemingly miraculously, everything goes back to “normal” within a couple of weeks. The refineries are back in production, the delivery trucks are making their rounds, and truck and automobile drivers are back to their old driving patterns. All is well.

This time it is inexplicably different. We have plenty of gas for everyone. Big Oil says these double-digit price increases are due to breaks in the gas supply because of the war in Ukraine and sanctions levied against buying Russian oil. But the amount of our imports from Ukraine and Russia is near-negligible, and we are drawing down significant quantities from our Strategic Oil Reserves to help offset those losses. And the backdrop to our story is that the U.S. has been a net exporter of oil the past two years, and over half of our imports come from Canada – not Russia.

Do I over-simplify our current situation? Admittedly, yes. But it seems that one must over-simplify to begin to understand the current rules of the road we are driving under. We all understand the principle of “supply and demand” in a free marketplace environment. When demand exceeds supply, something is deemed “more valuable” and the price is raised to take advantage of that scarcity. (I am not exactly sure why scarcity should drive price, but I accept that that has been accepted marketplace practice for near-eons.) Yet some societies have made exceptions to this principle by passing anti-gouging and/or price control laws effective in times of crisis, thereby not allowing profiteers to take undue advantage of the citizenry during short-term disasters. Problematically, price gouging creates a “bandwagon” effect: one store, one vendor, starts raising prices when there is panic in the streets, and so another sees an opening to increase his/her profits, and so on and so on. Pretty soon prices are exploding everywhere.

In the case of Big Oil, we have an extended supply chain of links engaged in bringing gasoline to the pump. The original driller; ongoing pumping at the wellhead; transport to the refinery; refining of the oil into its varying products; transport of gasoline to a regional distributor; distributor transport to the local filling station; sale of the gas to the ultimate consumer – the automobile drivers. That is a lot of links in the chain of transactions, starting from under the ground and ending in a car’s gas tank. EACH link in that chain has its own cost and profit demands to meet. Each link raises its prices on top of the prior link’s raise, thereby creating a compounding effect on prices. Add up all these increases, throw in price manipulations by commodities brokers and other financial hangers-on, layer the cake with the demands of national economies who are dependent on oil revenue (e.g. OPEC countries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela), and you have a marketplace that has little to do with the actual oil on hand. The current record-breaking revenues for the oil giants, and all these other integrated inks, confirm that their hunger is being fed quite well.

Against this formidable, multi-pronged and ravenous beast, the individual car owner has little chance in affecting a resolution to this current inflation crisis. Ditto the farmer, the school system, the emergency responders, the truckers, the American family, etc. – all trying to survive these new economic demands affecting their personal and professional lives. Lives built upon a foundation of gasoline. But let us be clear. There is plenty of gasoline in barrels to meet our fuel needs. Whether we are paying $2.50 or $6.50, there is gasoline available to keep us moving. But if we are not careful, fulfilling the price gouging pump will be at the bigger cost of losing our potential to bring our economy back to a more normal, post-pandemic time. We do not have a supply problem. We do not have a demand problem. We have a price and profit problem. 

©  2022   Randy Bell    


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Blog On Hold

Thank you for visiting this Thoughts From The Mountain blog site.

Please note that, after 14 years of continuous writing, I am temporarily not posting new essays to this site. Given the national and international events of these past couple of years – cultural, political, medical, and spiritual – I find myself in need of a break from my writing commitment. For me, this is a time for reflection and renewal, a time to pause and better absorb the words and actions that have gone down since 2016, better understand their implication, and extract the underlying themes of what we have witnessed. Only after this needed reflective time do I feel I will be adequately prepared and qualified to resume the discussions to which this blog is dedicated.

My Thanks to all of you for your generous support and quality feedback over these years. Stay tuned – I will be in touch when appropriate!

Randy Bell

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Generational Hate

Unreasoning prejudices are bred out of the continual living in the past.”  

—Prentice Mulford, author and philosopher

 Around 30CE, a council of Jewish high priests found Jesus of Nazareth guilty of religious crimes and blasphemy, accusing him of claiming to be the “Son of God” and “King of the Jews”; thereby, a threat to their religious authority over the Jewish community. At the council’s request, Jesus was crucified by the occupying Romans as a potential disrupter and threat to the authority of the Roman Empire. Over the 2000 years since, some people continue to saddle all Jewish people and their descendants with permanent guilt for this act, subjecting them to unending punishments of prejudice, discrimination, and cruelty. Essentially, it was/is a fight over power.

Muhammad ibn Abdallah was the founder of Islam. He defined the teachings; defeated the powerful religious and secular leaders seeking to eradicate his followers; ultimately, brought religious peace to both Moslems and non-Moslems. Upon his death in 632CE, a contest arose over the selection of his successor. Moslem elders picked Abu Bakr to lead the movement by election; Ali ibn Abi Talib – Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin – claimed the position by family succession. Unable to resolve their differences, Moslems split into two camps: Sunni (Bakr) and Shia (Talib). 1400 years later, the division, and the arguments for supremacy, continue – oftentimes violently. Essentially, it was/is a fight over power.

In 1533, England’s King Henry VIII sought to divorce his first wife Catherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn, but Pope Clement VII refused to grant the annulment required by Catholic law. Henry married Anne anyway, triggering his excommunication by Clement. In retaliation, Henry named himself as head of the Church in England. He appropriated the property and wealth of the Catholic hierarchy into his new Protestant church (Anglican), while the population divided itself into Catholic minority and Anglican majority constituencies. 500 years later, division and certain prejudicial limitations toward Catholic continue (particularly as regards the monarchy), with tensions remaining very high in Northern Ireland. Essentially, it was/is a fight over power.

In 1619, the first African slaves were brought to the English colonies. As a slave, one’s conditions were totally controlled: inescapably tied to their owner; no say in their future; no privileges of ownership, wealth, income, or economic opportunity; no bond of family; no legal standing; considered “property” to be used, bought, and sold at the sole discretion of one’s owner. It was a control held in place through violence, both threatened and all too real, as well as by the legal systems. 150 years ago, America’s most deadly war supposedly ended slavery, yet it also created years of White Americans – overtly and/or covertly – continually blaming and punishing Black Americans for the war’s outcomes. 400 years after that first slave arrived, Americans are still grappling with how to permanently end racial discrimination and violence. Essentially, it was/is a fight over power.

This is a consistent pattern being repeated in our modern times. In 1947, British India was partitioned into two parts: “India” became an independent Hindu-majority nation, while a newly-created “Pakistan” was made home for Moslems.  Millions of people were moved – some forcibly – to enforce this religious demarcation. Political disputes, often marked by violence, have continued ever since. A similar story occurred in 1948 when the United Nations carved out an area in Palestine and designated it as “Israel,” a new Jewish-majority state. Israel, and the Palestinians/Moslems who surround it, have since been in perpetual animosity – often erupting in violence. After 75 years of continuous dispute, will we still be talking about these (and other such) fracturings 200 years from now? Essentially, it was/is a fight over power.

What these examples demonstrate is how the development of human cultures and relationships is often bound up within, and shaped by, long-term historical moments. Decisions are made; events follow; perspectives are shaped; human relationships are resultantly defined – often as “winners” versus “losers”; institutions are created to give substance to those definitions. Over time, that substance (including hate and prejudice) takes on a life energy of its own – “The Culture.” It defends itself, enlarges its scope, exercises its power, entrenches itself into the very fabric of the community. It becomes the community. This culture is reinforced and perpetuated by passing itself down generation thru generations. Over hundreds of years, a society functions as it does based upon old decisions and actions often long since forgotten. We observe the established rules simply because they are “the rules,” whose reasons are very likely irrelevant to current times.

Continuing to fight old battles long past cannot change our present. We merely change the setting or the players, perhaps temporarily drive the conflict under the radar, or hold the stage for never-ending violence and upheaval. It creates back and forth winners and losers, carried out by deliberate acts of prejudice and discrimination, economic supremacy, or at times, outright warfare. Insane? Yes. Yet even against such intransigent hurdles, Civilization surprisingly continues to make incremental progress toward a more just and connected world.

It is important to know the histories, both our own and others. There is much to learn about what worked, what did not, and how we got to where we are. But when we seek to avenge history long gone, we are living backwards, perpetuating other people’s fights, living lives of people long dead rather than our own. We do so at the cost of giving away life’s opportunities, no matter how noble we may enshrine “our cause.” We give away the opportunity to simply start fresh today with what is, what can be, what makes true sense, what is “right” in simple human terms, without the old baggage. We need to know our past, but not (re-)live our past. A conversation based upon a centuries-old foundation will most likely lead to maintaining the status quo, reinforced by hundreds/thousands of years of self-righteous finger-pointing and repetition. A conversation that instead begins with today has the potential to lead to lives generously and properly fulfilled. It begs the question: Whose life do we seek to live?

“While seeking revenge, dig two graves – one for yourself.”    Douglas Horton, clergyman and ecumenicalist


©   2021   Randy Bell     


Monday, June 21, 2021

Confronting Our Secrets

“Great nations don’t run away [from their past]. We come to terms with the mistakes we have made. And in remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.” —Joe Biden, 46th President of United States

My hometown was a small border city in western Arkansas. At the western end of the main downtown avenue is a bridge over the Arkansas River that lands you in Oklahoma. From there, you could visit family friends on Oklahoma lakes; purchase fresh-grown produce from the many farms located about; or most importantly, make your way to a liquor store located at the base of the bridge where –fake ID in hand – an underage teenager could illegally purchase beer,

The biggest treat was making the few hours journey to nearby Tulsa. It was the oasis for sophistication and upscale living.  Great shopping for clothes and household items; fine restaurants; entertainment that was beyond our hometown local venues. When I left my hometown to spend my adult years in Boston/New England, the memories and impressions of Tulsa were good ones, even as they gradually faded over the years.

Fast forward approximately 40 years. I was enjoying reading a book consisting of stories of various lesser-known events from our past. One story was about Tulsa, but it was not about the Tulsa I had known in my youth. Rather, it was a new journey into a hidden, secret place.

This story goes back one hundred years, to May 31/June 1, 1921. It is an episode of racial violence unequaled in America’s continuing struggle over our aspiration that “all [men] are created equal.” It begins with yet another accusation that a Black man (19 years old) assaulted a White woman (17 years old) – a scenario virtually guaranteed to lead to racial violence. Following his arrest, hundreds of White Tulsans gathered at the jail, threatening to lynch the accused. In turn, approximately 75 Black Tulsans surrounded the jail to protect the accused. A shot(s) was fired, and (according to the sheriff), “all hell broke loose.” Ten Whites and two Blacks were dead. Word of the killings quickly spread throughout the city, unleashing an armed mob of White rioters. The accused Black man was no longer the priority. Instead, in their racial anger, the rioters were now intent on destroying the prosperous commercial and residential Black community of Greenwood (nicknamed “Black Wall Street”), one of the most prosperous, developed and stable Black communities in the country. And destroy it they did. Over the course of the night and next morning, the armed mob indiscriminately killed innocent Blacks that they encountered, and looted and burned the homes and stores of Greenwood. It was a violent massacre of destruction that ended only when the Oklahoma National Guard declared martial law the next morning.

But the damage was done. Given space limitations, this synopsis cannot do proper justice to this story of Tulsa. But the numbers help. It has been estimated that 75 to 300 Greenwood residents were dead; 800 were admitted to those hospitals that would take them in (given segregation restrictions); 6000 Blacks were interred in large holding facilities; 10,000 were now homeless; property damaged was over $30 million (2020 dollars). Next-day photos confirmed the scorched-earth destruction was complete: 35 square blocks of a thriving community had disappeared into smoldering ruins.

In the aftermath, the Governor called for forming a grand jury. The all-White grand jury attributed the riot to Black mobs. 85 people were indicted, but not a single person was convicted or held accountable for the deaths and violence. A group of city leaders was formed to rebuild Greenwood, but promised funding never materialized. The area was instead rezoned to impede rebuilding, and the Black community was forced further out to the edges of the city.

President Warren Harding said of the event, “Despite the demagogues, the idea of our oneness as Americans has risen superior to every appeal to mere class and group. And so, I wish it might be in this national problem of races ... God grant that, in the soberness, the fairness, and the justice of this country, we never see another spectacle like it.” Yet soon the wall of silence came down. Harding spoke often in promoting Black equality, but died just two years into his term. National newspaper coverage of the initial story faded away and disappeared. Local newspapers refused to talk about it for generations afterwards. It never made it into the history books. It disappeared from public, civic, and private conversation. Hidden behind the silent curtain, it never happened.

When I finished reading the narrative held in my hands, I was angry. Very angry. One, at the event itself, a reminder of the destruction and indiscriminate cruelty human beings are still capable of towards their neighbors. Two, angry at “the powers that be” that deliberately hid these episodes from recognition, discussion, and accountability. It was a betrayal from so many teachers I had trusted.  Third, angry that I had allowed myself be deceived about, and been blinded to, these realities for so many years. All of those times spent in Tulsa, unknowingly looking at a false fa├žade. What else was I never told?

Walls of silence are intrinsic to many cultures – for the individual, among family, and within the community. Do not speak “ugly” words, words of bad things and bad times, unless you can remold it into a positive story (e.g. “The Lost Cause” of Southern secession). By not speaking of it, it never happened, and our life goes on undisturbed. Except that which is secret did happen, and the conditions that caused it simply lie in wait to happen again. Nothing has truly changed except on the surface in a pretend world.

These walls of silence we live behind are one of the major reasons our national dialogs makes limited progress. We each live, think and act from our individual frames of reference built upon our past experiences and knowledge; frames that led us to this moment of time, place and thinking. Silence creates great holes in that frame. But discussion can only become productive when each of us can speak from a common reference. How can one have a meaningful conversation with a White American without knowing their stories of religious and economic persecution (“Irish need not apply”) under the rule of myriad kings and the most very rich? Or with a Black American without knowing their stories of enslavement, lynchings, economic discrimination and legal injustice? Or with a Japanese American without knowing their stories of forced removal to resettlement camps during World War II? Or with a Mexican American without knowing their stories of invalidated property rights and land seizures across the southwest? Or the stories from each of these groups of voting and other discriminations since our founding? Too many of our individual stories live within, unshared with others

America is a great country. Both the idea of it, and the actualization of it, unique across the millennia. There are endless good stories of accomplishment, innovation, creativity and community across virtually every field of human endeavor. There are also many instances where we have come up short in our human interactions. Those shortcomings potentially can weigh us down and devolve into hatred and strife.  Alternately, they can challenge us to face them directly, change our direction and expectations, and do better in the future. We certainly have many past accomplishments of change for which pride is justified. But those changes only come from full disclosure of our past, airing our dirty laundry in order to clean it. Unfortunately, there are those today who claim that discussions of past troubles divide us, promote separation, and denigrate the country. Therefore laws are needed to prohibit such airings in our nation’s classrooms. Certainly a balance must be taught – the good stories along with the not-so-good.  But these initiatives to continue to distort and silence selected pieces of our past realities should be resisted.

There are so many stories waiting and needing to be told, stories needing to be heard. It is in the light of day that things grow, including societies. We cannot change what we cannot see. But what we can see is our future.

©   2021   Randy Bell   


Monday, May 3, 2021

Images Of Covid-19

It was 2500 years ago that a Chinese spiritual philosopher famously observed that, “one picture is worth a thousand words.” The truth of that insight has been re-proven countless times over the ensuing centuries. Beginning with simple prehistoric cave drawings and basic stick figures, visual art has evolved through changing styles, new tools, and emerging technique. The images created by the painter, the sculptor, the woodworker, the photographer can provide us with factual information, evoke a range of personal emotions, and serve to document the life and times of moments of human experience.

Nowhere is that more true than with the work of the creative photojournalist meeting the right moment in time, particularly in instances of great national or historical significance. In the last hundred years, there was Dorthea Lange’s portrait of the “Migrant Mother” that told the story of the 1930s Great Depression and the Dust Bowl infused in the tired, beaten-down, exhausted face of Florence Owens Thompson surrounded by two of her seven children. During World War II, there were the Marines hoisting the American flag over Iwo Jima; the Soldiers fighting their way onto the beaches of Normandy in history’s greatest coastal landing, surrounded by the deafening sounds of war and smell of death; the emaciated bodies, walking skeletons, of the few survivors of the untold millions killed in the Nazi death ovens. But there were also the images of Rosie the Riveter working in the factories to support the war effort, and citizens holding paper and metal drives, and living within rationing controls, all illustrating the united cooperative spirit of the home front. Finally, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s image of “V-J Day in Times Square” showing the spontaneous kiss between an unknown sailor and a nurse conveying the joy over war’s end.

In subsequent years would come Viet Nam. Photographer Nick Ut’s “Napalm Girl” showed young Phan Thi Kim Phuc running down the war-torn street, screaming in pain and terror, her clothes entirely burned away by the weapons of war. The image of the young college student, her arms extended as she crouched over one of the four bodies killed in 1970 at Kent State University while protesting the war, her tortured face begging the question “Why?” – her pain in that moment echoing the pain of a country being torn apart within. The true horror of that war was brought home into our living rooms.

Today, America – indeed the world – has been thrust into a different kind of threat: a previously unknown, fast moving, highly contagious, deadly respiratory virus. It is an extensive disruption of global society for which the world has shown it was not prepared. Despite our recent progress, the death toll has been horrendous, and many potential new victims are still to come. A variety of forms of suffering inflict millions of our citizens, from “long termers” recovering from the aftereffects of the illness, to  those made homeless and/or jobless, to those trying to hold families together against most difficult circumstances.

Twenty years from now, what will be the images that will define this historical moment and tell its stories? Will it be:

-A picture of doctors and nurses draped head-to-toe in protective gear, hands in gloves, face hidden behind masks and plastic shields, protecting themselves from the virus, but also attempting to cover the personal frustration and emotional drain of losing too many fights against this virus?

-Or a picture of citizens gathered at government buildings, some armed with military-grade weapons, protesting against the social, economic and health rules instituted by public health officials to combat the virus and protect the population?

-Or of close-up portraits of faces, masked versus uncovered – one a statement of public health and personal compliance, the other a political statement or a statement of indifference?

-Or of unmasked / un-distanced patrons crowded into bar gatherings, and large beach parties?

-Or of lines of people, “social distancing” 6’ apart, as they wait in long lines to cast their ballot in spite of new health rules and voting requirement obstacles?

-Or of coffins stacked in refrigerator trucks, because there was no more room at funeral homes?

-Or of older persons, alone, often isolated in nursing homes, sitting by a window in order to see and wave to families separated outside?

-Or of a near-empty Times Square in New York City on New Year’s Eve, sans celebrators?

-Or of a barber shop with a defiant “Open” sign out front, a restaurant with a “Closed” sign on the front door, or a small business with a “Mask Required” sign in the window?

-Or of college kids volunteering ad hoc help to farmers seeking to donate their food that would otherwise rot in the unattended fields?

-Or of long car lines at food banks, and at mass vaccination stations, as citizens respond to both needs and opportunities?

-Or of teachers sitting in front of computer screens, teaching their students online through Zoom connections, using technologies and teaching methods created “on the fly”?

-Or, of the simple image of a vaccination needle inserted into an arm?

-Or, that best sight of all, of a Covic-19 survivor being wheeled through hospital halls, heading home, accompanied by congratulatory applause from health care workers.

-Or …

We have made good progress in this health fight. Yet we could take a backward turn in a seeming split-second if we fail to see this thing through. No one yet knows what havoc this pandemic will ultimately have wreaked, what economic / social / political structures will have been permanently transformed into some unknown New. Will we have been consumed by our arguments, our differences, our personal self-concerns without regard for our impact on others? Or will we have found new strength in our ability to work together and share burdens, unity in our willingness to look out for and protect one another? What images will we put into our history books for future generations – our children and grandchildren – to look at as they ask us, “When called on, what did you do in 2020-2021 to help protect yourself, your community, and the Nation during that virus?” To what picture will we point? 

©   2021   Randy Bell             https//


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Filibustering The Filibuster

 Recently, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a threat to his Democratic colleagues. I.e if you eliminate the filibuster (in which a 60% vote is needed to shut off debate and move a bill forward to a vote), the Republican minority will pursue a “scorched earth” posture towards  all future Senate business. McConnell went on to say that they would use all available Senate rules and procedures to tie up legislation and drag out any proposed legislation as long as possible, thereby rendering the Senate ineffective and unable to accomplish any business or Democratic agenda priorities. (Unsurprisingly, the public’s view of the Senate’s accomplishments and effectiveness is already low, at best.) Further, when the time comes that Senate control flips back to the Republicans (which it inevitably will at some point in the political ebb and flow over time), Democrats will be shut out of any participation or consultation in matters coming before the Senate. To further emphasize his point, McConnell subsequently referred to the filibuster as “Kentucky’s veto.”

It all seems like a pretty scary and intimidating threat, and typical for McConnell as a means for maintaining some level of control over Senate business for his Party. Scary, at least until one looks at the intimidation more closely and sees it to be essentially a hollow threat. In reality, McConnell has already made good on that promise over the past six years since Republicans gained control of the Senate in 2014. Since then, McConnell has de facto exercised his own personal filibuster against virtually any Democratic-sponsored legislation by personally refusing to allow any such proposals even to come to the floor for a vote. Nor has there been any meaningful “consultation” or input solicited, allowed, or accepted from Democrats on Republican-sponsored legislation. To listen to Mitch McConnell (and several other particularly egregious senators) protest about a “lack of partisanship” in the Senate is at best irony, at worse just another example of hypocrisy in the extreme that marks much of the political debate today.

The much-maligned tool of the filibuster was introduced in its present form around one hundred years ago during the debate over the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I. Ironically, the procedure (“Rule 22”) was originally instituted as a means to END senate debate, which had heretofore allowed unlimited speaking time for Senators. Rule 22 was therefore adopted to end unlimited debate (and allow business to move forward) by a 2/3rds vote (now 3/5ths / 60 votes). In today’s time, the Rule has morphed into being a method to CONTINUE debate, since it is virtually impossible to get 60 votes on any measure – whether procedure or legislation. Additionally, an individual choosing to execute a filibuster used to be required to stand on the floor and speak continuously until they exhausted themselves or were voted down (think the iconic Jimmy Stewart scene in the 1930s movie “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”). No other business could be conducted while the filibuster was occurring  and the senator was speaking. Today, a senator only has to state off-camera his/her intention to filibuster and the mechanism is initiated – the issue at hand is thereby tabled for an unlimited time. No “closure” vote is publicly taken; no non-stop speeches are given. Meanwhile, other Senate business moves on unabated and unaffected. No muss, no fuss, all virtually invisible to the public.

It should be noted, however, that Rule 22 is not carved in stone. Harry Reid, the previous Democratic Majority Leader, became frustrated at Republican filibustering of Obama’s Executive Office and Judicial appointments. So he changed the Rule to exempt Executive branch appointments, and federal judges other than to the Supreme Court, to be exempt from the 60-vote requirement. Predictably, Mitch McConnell went ballistic over this change and the loss of his leverage. Hell hath no fury like a political leader scorned. Nevertheless, when McConnell became Majority Leader, he was perfectly happy to not only continue the policy for President Trump’s nominees, but to even expand the exemption to include Supreme Court nominees.

We are now two months in with Joe Biden’s presidency. Biden has spoken of a “big agenda” of change: the Covid relief package just passed; renewed voting rights protection; immigration overhaul; climate change; major infrastructure investment; etc. However, he is supported legislatively with only a narrow Democratic Party majority in the House, and a 50/50 split in the Senate. 60 votes in the Senate on anything looks every bit like wishful thinking – stalemate for stalemate’s sake itself. Past history during Obama’s presidency shows that Republican requests for “input and negotiation” in the end have no meaningful substance. McConnell has demonstrated numerous times over that his word is unreliable and not his bond. In the face of these realities, what’s a President to do?

There are numerous calls from supporters of the Biden agenda to eliminate the filibuster option. Or to exempt voting rights legislation (or other categories to be identified) from its purview. Or to reinstitute the requirement for speeches on the floor, and full-Senate votes for closure (or not), so that voters can track the actions of their senators. Or contrarily, to leave everything in place as is. Plus perhaps other ideas not yet identified. What is true is that when you are in the minority, the filibuster is a precious tool for blocking the potential extremes of the other Party. When you are in the majority, it is the devil’s curse and a tool that prevents America’s progress. And at some point in the fickle cycle of shifting political opinion, today’s majority is destined to become tomorrow’s minority. Each side gets its turn at the helm. That turn could easily happen only two years hence.

It will be interesting to see what procedural route(s) Democratic senators take. Move cautiously? Or damn the torpedoes and move forward while you can? As usual, easy answers can have hard, unintended consequences. So think it through. In the meantime, political theater and rhetoric seem to continue to be the drivers, while real solutions to our needs await their turn.

©   2021   Randy Bell   


Friday, February 5, 2021

Expectations Of A Biden Presidency

“Joe Biden is as good a man as God ever created.”   —U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC

 Shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President in January 2017, I posted an essay entitled “Expectations of a Trump Presidency”. The intent was to imagine Trump’s four years in office, based upon what we had seen and learned from two years of his campaigning. When I recently \reread that essay, I was surprised at how prescient the conclusions proved to be. Four years later, we have now inaugurated a new President – Joe Biden. It therefore seems appropriate to similarly speculate on what we might anticipate from his next four years.

 Given the events, conduct and outcomes of Trump’s four years in office, one must necessarily insert a context to properly determine expectations of a Biden presidency. Donald Trump drastically changed the landscape of the Presidency and Executive Branch – indeed, all parts of the federal government – as well as the interactions and perspectives of the citizens that government serves. Therefore Joe Biden’s presidency will initially be defined and driven largely by reacting to Donald Trump’s legacy, rather than starting from Biden’s own aspirations and political platform. That reaction will need to focus on four key areas:

 TRUTH: We all know that politicians will at times stretch the truth or a perspective in ways that will cast them in the best light. But not until the last four years has lying become the given, the reflexive response, with truth hidden away unseen in the dense forest of obfuscation. No thoughtful decisions, no effective actions, are achievable in such a distorted climate. The most fundamental priority for the Biden presidency is to restore the telling of the Truth into the national dialog. Certainly there are times when multiple truths can legitimately collide against each other. But only by facing those truths can we successfully plot our course with a reasonable expectation of achieving our objectives. Credibility is an essential foundation for leadership.

 RULE OF LAW: Since the adoption of our Constitution in 1788, our allegiance has been to that Constitution, not to an imperial king or queen. Our government is subservient to that Constitution.  Its elected and appointed officials are subservient to the citizenry. The Rule of Law took a setback over the past four years, as our president flagrantly ignored Constitutional principles, legal requirements, and historical precedent and conventions. He exposed holes in our operating structures that had never been seen or anticipated before, and defied “legal process,” in an effort to convert the Executive Branch into a political extension  of his own making. Restoring the Rule of Law as our guiding principle, strengthening the structures that execute the Law, and rebuilding the trust of the citizenry in impartial execution, is paramount.

 REBUILDING GOVERNMENT AGENCIES: The various departments, bureaus, agencies that make our government function were decimated over the past four years. Internationally respected offices were decimated by budget cuts; staffing cuts and/or leaving posts vacant; wholesale closing of offices; constant turnover in leadership positions, replaced by “acting” agency heads; muzzling and/or blocking personnel from executing their job description. This decimation was extended through politicizing agency missions by subjugating them to a reelection agenda; appointing incompetent and untrained people – with fealty only to the president – to leadership positions; obviating accountability requirements by firing various Inspectors General and inflicting retribution on (supposedly) protected whistleblowers. There is much for our government to do in the days ahead. None of those things can get done until the workforce is rebuilt – in quantitative as well as competency terms – and their missions are reestablished, performed under an ethical apolitical umbrella. Government does not function when the People do not trust that well-qualified people are doing the jobs expected of them.

 WORLD LEADERSHIP: For most of its young life, America adopted an isolationist stance, happy to go about its business with minimal interaction and interference from Europe and with other countries of the world. That changed when Pearl Harbor committed America to a new role of principal leadership in global affairs, working in partnership with other countries in formal treaties and ad hoc engagements, articulating the case for democracy. Our leadership has not eliminated wars, but the world has become more mutually intertwined, culturally and economically, to the mutual benefit of all. America – by word, by deed, by its steadfastness – has been the linchpin for this current stability. These relationships have been turned upside down and severely tested over the past four years. Our adversaries have seemingly become new-found “friends”; long-standing true friends have been pushed aside as new adversaries. The America countries have depended upon for years has walked away from its global opportunities and obligations; our word, and our participation, is now suspect. At a time when the countries of the world are more connected and interdependent than ever, America has become a minor player in world affairs. These relationships demand to be rebuilt for the benefit of all.

 Today, there is a laundry list of specific issues that demand our attention. Most critical are the inter-joined issues of the Covid pandemic and our crippled economy that have upended our daily lives. After that come issues of climate change and the environment; of health care reform and access; immigration reform / DACA / caged children; racial justice; the continuing assault on voting rights; policing reform; livable wage / economic disparity; etc. It would be great to attack all of these issues immediately and concurrently. But that is not possible given the status our government has been brought to. We first have to rebuild the infrastructure and capacity of our government in order to address our national laundry list, else we will flounder in the sea of good intentions not realized. We need to rebuild with the right people, policies, clarity of mission. This rebuilding will require patience from a citizenry whose patience runs very thin these days. But it is the first priority for America before much else can be done.

 Can Joe Biden accomplish this rebuilding task, especially in these hyper-partisan times? I honestly do not know. I do know he will need wide support to get it done. Support from people whose first concern is for the Country, not their personal agenda nor their reelection prospects. Joe Biden is not intuitively a big-picture thinker. A political moderate, he sees things in much more of a “task to do” working-class mentality: here’s a problem, let’s solve it, and use a hefty dose of common sense in the solution. We have witnessed the damage an inexperienced “outsider” president can do through four years of a pretend President who failed to understand and neglected the institution of the Presidency. In contrast, Joe Biden’s 30+ years of experience in the federal government gives us a president who should know his way across the playing field of governance, operating with a genuine understanding of people’s needs and with minimal malice in his heart.

 Getting things done. That is what we need right now. The big visionary dreams can perhaps come later. Made possible by a well-functioning government in which we can have confidence and pride. Joe Biden likely will not be a candidate for a future likeness on Mount Rushmore. But will he get this very important core job done? If so, he could just be one of those right people who shows up at the right moment for the right need. We shall see.

 ©   2021   Randy Bell