Valentine’s Day

POSTNOTE Feb 23: Ukraine at One Year, here.


There are several comments to the last post, from Claude, Rich, Jeff and myself about weapons of war.  You might want to take a look.

Today is Valentine’s Day.  Judging from the stash of old postcards from the farm, Valentine’s Day was significant, even against Christmas and Easter.  Below is one from the early 1900s.  Since I’ve focused on MLK’s Strength to Love this month, here’s his commentary on the word “love” from page 44: MLK Love.  Have a great day.

Postnote from Molly Feb. 15: Love Quotes 2023

Two items today:

Ukraine.  One year ago, Friday, Feb. 18, was my big surgery adventure – colon cancer.  So far so good.  The one year checkup was a couple of weeks ago.

Last year, the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022, about the day that I was discharged from the hospital.  I doubt anyone knew what would happen on and after February 14, 2022, though the storm clouds were abundant.  I doubt anyone knows exactly what will transpire in the days ahead, but keep the Ukrainians in your thoughts ongoing.

A major international security conference begins in Munich, hi-liting the increasingly intense clash between democracy and authoritarianism.  Heather Cox Richardson’s commentary on this is here, well worth your time.

Last summer I was honored to be able to visit with some Ukrainian students who were gifted by someone with a one month break from the war.  Recently one of them sent several photos from that day, including this one:

August 23, 2022, Minneapolis MN

What are Ukrainian young people like?  Like young people anywhere and everywhere.  Humanity’s future.

A bit of context: Ukraine is roughly the size of Texas (233  vs 269 thousand square miles, with greater population (41 million vs 30 million).  Minnesota: 87 thousand sq miles, 5.7 million people.). Ukraine’s geographic location is more or less like North Dakota and Minnesota.  (Kyiv and Winnipeg are almost exactly the same latitude). Ukraine as an area has a much longer history than the U.S., and a long and complicated relationship with Russia, and most recently has been independent since the Soviet Union broke up in about 1990.  The USSR at time of breakup was about the size of the North American continent.  Russia today has about half the U.S. population in about twice as much land area.  In most recent history, Ukraine had been independent for over 30 years; Russia had been nibbling away at it since about 2014, and a year ago Putin decided to pull out all stops.  The objective: to restore the old empire.

How are we, as related to Ukraine, today?  I’d compare our planet with about 195 nations to ourselves as human beings.

If one part of ourself is afflicted by something unexpected – let’s say a serious cut on an arm – our body responds to the crisis, and in most cases deals with it, diverting resources as needed to do battle against infections.  We’ve all been there, often.  The body has many mechanisms to heal itself.

Sometimes our body can’t deal with the crisis – my colon cancer last year is an example.  Or the replacement of my aortic valve in 2018 another.  An outside intervention was crucial in both cases.  Without such interventions, I likely would not be around to write this post.

So it is, I maintain, with Ukraine and all of us occupying planet earth.  Ukraine needs and deserves outside help; if Ukraine falls, it is damaging to us and the rest of the body of which it is a part, including the invaders.

There is a temptation to say “it’s their problem”; or to make  suggestion, as, Ukraine should just negotiate with the enemy sworn to destroy their territorial integrity.

I think we need to continue to be engaged with and for them.  I think Gandhi would agree.  Nonviolence has its place, but it doesn’t always work.  We can’t pretend evil away….

Continue to stay informed and engaged.  There have been numerous posts referring to  Ukraine.  Simply enter “Ukraine” in the search box (the magnifying glass symbol).

Separate topic: Social Security etc.

Jeff posed a question to a couple of us recently.  He ok’ed sharing with this list in case anyone might be interested in adding an opinion.  I’ve expressed my own, which are also shared, below.  As I’ve said often in assorted ways, we’re a democracy and in one way or another we choose our fate by whom we select to represent us….  Let your representatives know where you stand on this, and why.

Jeff:  Can Democrats consider some plans to address the shortcomings of Medicare and Social Security (SS) going forward?  Regardless what is said, the numbers don’t lie, and declining population growth and immigration bans don’t help shore up the 20-62 age group that essentially pays for the benefits of seniors ….and of course the general feeling is that I paid for it, it’s mine, which is a fundamental flaw in the history of the programs….should have been considered a social welfare benefit…not an earned benefit…but I suspect that ship left port a long time ago…

ideas being raised?
aa) raise the income level on payroll tax to at least 150,000 (or 175,000?)  something to catch more revenue that SS and medicare can pull from
bb) limit the SS benefits to people with high income or assets, emphasize it is primarily a guarantee to keep lower and middle class seniors without private wealth from poverty, I think the highest level now is about 42,000 per year and really that is well above the poverty level….
cc) raise the age at which SS withdrawals become mandatory
dd) means test Medicare: although frankly this is already being done and because of the sale of my company and the 5 year payout I am feeling this quite significantly ….my Part B premium increased by 125% this year. (a good problem to have I suppose, but I still bitch about it quietly because being self employed for 15 years I paid for high deductible insurance thru the nose and a couple years of lower cost premiums was nirvana)
ee) I don’t agree with raising the age to take SS, but I think there should be some carrots and sticks applied to allow for people who have physically or mentally demanding jobs, especially with low or lower middle incomes, to retire at 62 or 63, but at the same time make better incentives for the well heeled to wait even until 73 or 75?

Jeff added, later: I also agree, no switching to a privatized system….and don’t let the neocons/neoliberals suggest it as an option……you can see what is happening to Medicare…….. Medicare Advantage actually is not really Medicare, it is essentially a PPO/HMO program which they sell cheap because they get $860 in cash immediately for every enrollee before it costs them a dime…by running the algorithms, and setting the pay ups by enrollees and restricting the universal access of Medicare … it is growing rapidly and I fear it also will cause dangerous problems for actual Medicare if it continues.    Journalists are starting to show its shortcomings, but the selling of $0 premium plans with  2 free dental visits and a health club membership is a good deal for many people, until they get sick and have to go in hospital for 7 days or need specialists … then the bills come in.

Dick responding off the cuff:

My grandpa turned 65 in 1937, which happened to be almost exactly when SS was enacted into law.  His livelihood and his savings had disappeared when his employer, and their bank, went under in 1927 (I don’t think the two happenings were related), so I’d guess my grandma’s family was their early social security – the relatives were farmers nearby.  Of course, he’d not contributed to Social Security fund at all.
I have a couple of theories about today.
1) The money men want the schmoes to give their income to their broker, bypassing the govt.  Of course, this is the ultimate high risk for everybody – remember the roaring 20’s, and what followed?
2) The additional funds can and should be raised from those of means.  Biden et al seem to think this is $400,000 and above.  My wife and I are nowhere near 400K, but we both have social security, and pensions, and 401-k, and with required minimum distributions we can’t get ourselves below six figures annual income…which bothers my wife!  We’ve never paid more than about 15% federal tax, and we surely aren’t cheats.  We aren’t rich, but we sure as hell aren’t poor either.  Of course, the rich, (whatever number) that turns out to be, will rage: “us paying more ain’t fair.  We earned it.  We deserve it.”  It’s just another defect of our spoiled rotten richest country on earth.
So help me God!
(I have been poor a couple of times in my life and it is no picnic. Even so, speaking from the present much better circumstances, it is frighteningly easy to fall into the trap of blaming the poor for their own condition.  It is easy to become self-righteous.)

An interesting commentary on this came in Monday’s mail in the Weekly Sift, here.

Jeff added a supplement to above on Feb. 19: First, Heather Cox Richardson’s Letter from and American for Feb. 18, here.

Americans do support SS and Medicare……but the things done since the 1980s in the name of “privatisation” which combined

with tax cuts led to wider income divides (the rich did get richer, the rest can eat cake) but also decreased the ability for the middle classes and poor to utilize healthcare especially.  (figures this past 2 weeks on intl healthcare and health stats show the USA has been slipping in many areas compared to our OECD peers–this is  not a surprise, it is related mainly to the high cost of healthcare here <highest among our peers>)
Medicare: I keep making this point, but the GOP already created a Trojan Horse to destroy the program.  Medicare Advantage is NOT Medicare. It is a private health insurance PPO or HMO plan made and adminstered by big healthcare and pharma corporations.  It grows in subscribers as $0 premiums combined with free workout club memberships and 2 dental visits per year are a good hook.  Behind that are restrictions on health care systems, within states, and restrictions on specialist providers, there are also copays and maximum payments.   None of that
exists in actual Medicare A+B, but sadly we are now getting to the situation where only higher income or very low income people(medicaid) are actually on true Medicare as the cost of supplement part C has been going up….because of the increase in numbers in Medicare Advantage.
The corporations are playing the long game, they are aware this damages traditioinal Medicare which they have never liked….in the short term some subscribers win if they are healthy and choose Advantage plans….and of course the corporations  and corporate execs hauling in fat bonus checks.   In the long term we could lose traditional Medicare if it is starved of subscribers except for the upper and lower extremes.  And then we will be stuck with everyone on a PPO/HMO plan which will essentially be like the ones most people hated when they were working stiffs and were decided upon by their company execs and HR depts to save costs and increase profits.

Response to Jeff’s latest from Dick: There is absolutely nothing for nothing.  “Free” isn’t free – somehow or other it gets paid for.  I watch the Medicare Advantage ads on TV like everyone else does, and they are doing the hard sell, and they will get customers who, if they are very lucky, won’t get bit in the end (and, of course, if they do get bit, someone will pay, probably all of us in one way or another).
Caveat emptor.

POSTNOTE 9 a.m. Feb. 14:  Valentine’s started normally.  Out and about 6 a.m.; walk at 7:30; now home and whatever transpires (being retired means flexible schedule….)

Friend Robert stopped by Caribou and the conversation got around to what I would call ‘NORMAL’ – how life is.

Most of us have a routine.  For me, it’s easy to track me.  Normal is defined for me by who comes and goes at the coffee shop and at the health center, and the other usuals in my daily life.  Almost never DRAMA.  Just people going about their lives.

There is another life, of course, when you turn on the TV, or read the paper, or wherever your news comes from.

My growing up years were in the 1940s, and almost every piece of information was personal and very local, within the small town.

Nowadays we know almost everything, instantly, as interpreted by somebody else: Ukraine, Turkey, Syria, Congress – you name it.  Yesterday came a full page from the Wall Street Journal weekend edition Feb 4-5. 2023, sent to me by my sister.  It begins on the front page, and is about a Minnesota Somali family whose son went bad.  The paper helpfully and likely accurately notes that “Some 170,000 people in the U.S. have Somali ancestry.  The largest share lives in Minnesota.”

It is, of course, not unusual for a regular family to have such a crisis in America, but the skeptic in me wonders why this single Somali family gets a full page of ink in one of this country’s premier newspapers.  We’re around Somalis all the time; they happen to simply be people like all the rest.

I could go on at great length about similar examples, including what I’ll see in the media today.
Was it better to be kept in the dark in the 1940s, than to get sensational and too much news today?  Personally, I think it is important that we get the bad news today, and learn how to filter out the abundant crap.

We live in a very complex world and we are inextricably connected.  What happens there, has direct implications for us, more so than ever.  Thanks for NORMAL.

If you’ve read this far, HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY.

COMMENTS (others at end of post):

from Peter: On Ukraine, I do have close friends who are very heavily impacted. But I think it is an error to focus on the “Democracy vs. Authoritarianism” frame.

There is an enormous amount of context that is entirely missing, obscured by that narrative. Without that context, we are led to believe that it’s necessary to risk global annihilation rather than support negotiations.

Washington has quashed negotiations over and over again. The latest I heard was Blinken on NPR yesterday, asserting that any settlement must be “enduring”, and “lasting.” You no doubt remember one Condi Rice making that same argument against doing anything to stop the Israeli military from shooting thousands of Palestinians like fish in a barrel. That is morally bankrupt, besides being just plain wrong.

The policies this narrative supposedly justifies are the same completely bankrupt policies we have seen fail time and again, from Vietnam to the present, being implemented by the same people that failed the last time around.

One Ohio class submarine carries enough warheads in just one of its multiple missiles to end life, period.

Ok. One other rant for you on this Valentine’s Day, on Social Security, Etc.:

“Regardless what is said, the numbers don’t lie, and declining population growth and immigration bans don’t help shore up the 20-62 age group that essentially pays for the benefits of seniors”

This is the standard mythology that politicians all agree on, almost without exception. However, truthful numbers are routinely cited that are irrelevant. Stephanie Kelton (once the financial advisor to the Democrats) sent the following:

“Robert Eisner…was onto this charade. He was frustrated by the policy debates, which he saw as entirely misguided.
Eisner’s main message was that the obsession with Social Security’s Trust Funds (OASI and DI) is a distraction. To borrow a phrase from Gertrude Stein, “There is no there there.” The trust funds exist merely as accounting entities. We don’t need them to carry a positive balance—or any balance whatsoever—in order to preserve Social Security for future generations.
“Here’s Eisner:
“‘Expenditures alleged to be related to trust funds are often less than their income— witness the highway and airport funds as well [as] Social Security. There is no particular reason they cannot be more. The accountants can just as well declare the bottom line of the funds’ accounts negative as positive—and the Treasury can go on making whatever outlays are prescribed by law. The Treasury can pay out all that Social Security provides while the accountants declare the funds more and more in the red.'”
Kelton ends that post with this:
“the federal government always has the _financial ability to pay_ benefits—-to health care providers, future retirees, dependents, and the disabled. Sustaining these programs can never be about financial _affordability_. Any impediment that was written into the authorizing legislation—e.g. trust fund balances—can always be resolved by modifying the legislative text. It is always a policy choice.”

response to Peter and Bill Habedank (Below) from. Dick:  I always prefer negotiation of differences.  It was my work life, almost entirely.  It is sometimes neither possible nor wise, unfortunately.  Negotiations between parties presumes a willingness to negotiate and reach agreement.  And there is evil in our world, everywhere, and there will always be so.  MLK in Strength to Love acknowledged the same, as well as Gandhi.  Their positions, and others of similar philosophy, always had to be aspirational – a goal – as opposed to absolute truth.

The really big dilemma in democracies like ours is that ultimately the people decide who it is who will represent not only their aspirations but their biases.  The perfect candidate for any side, will probably not prevail in an election in which the electorate have differences of opinion about how to approach a problem.  Negotiations gets passed up the line.  At some point, “the buck stops”.  We hope the decision maker will be more congruent with our views than against.  We all know this to be true.

We have another example of this just today – the latest mass shooting at Michigan State U.  “We, the people” writ large refuse to acknowledge the deadliness of weapons of mass destruction under the guise of freedom.  So our dreams continue to be aspirational, but recognize the practical problem confronted by politicians in our jurisdictions, and each election help the best alternative to win.  (if one candidate is 60% on your ‘side’, and the other only 50%, the 60% is the best – but you have to vote for him or her and acknowledge the difficulties he/she faces.  After all, the “Washington” we love to despise, is actually all of us everywhere.  In our divided country this results in divided country – sometimes one philosophy, sometimes another.  Just my opinion.

from Barry:  

Note from Dick: the below article included many links, which I chose to remove.  Like all opinions offered, I am willing to pass along.  I have great respect for Barry, who passed this along.


Above photo: Gas leak detected by GHGSat satellite. GHGSat/ESA.

Seymour Hersh, considered one of the United States’ most accomplished investigative journalists, has just published a story giving forensic details about how the U.S. government blew up the Nordstream 1 and 2 pipelines. It is an indictment of the Biden administration at the highest level and confirms growing suspicions that the tens of billions of dollars our government has been sending to prolong the conflict in Ukraine has been about bolstering the American fracked gas industry all along. The American public must condemn this act of terrorism that caused a ”reckless release” of methane and other greenhouse gases and “amounts to an environmental crime.” We must stop our government from prolonging this unnecessary war and demand accountability from a government that seems to be the planet’s greatest obstacle to meaningful action on climate change.

Whereas before February 2022 Europe had earned a reputation as a world leader in conversion to renewable energy, starting that month this trend was reversed once the flow of cheap gas from Russia became less certain. As Michael Davies-Venn reported in May of 2022, “despite EU and U.S. claims of working with “diverse sources across the globe” to replace Russian gas supply to Europe, the reality is that the U.S. seems to have simply replaced Russia.”

In the first few months following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, just three U.S. liquid natural gas (LNG) exporters—Cheniere, Freeport, and Sempra—saw up to eight-fold increases in their sales to Europe, for a cumulative total of US$6.9 billion. The industry was part of the secretive US-EU Energy Taskforce that met all of the fracked gas industry’s demands within weeks of the invasion, which were to:

  • Resume fossil fuel leasing on US federal lands, and pave the way for more fossil gas pipelines
  • Expedite six specific US LNG export licenses
  • Get regulators to authorize new US fossil gas infrastructure
  • Approve $300 million in public funding to build infrastructure in Europe, including LNG import terminals and fossil gas pipelines.

The crisis in Ukraine has been used as an excuse to rollback other progress in the transition to a clean energy future. Germany, Austria, France, and the Netherlands all moved to reopen coal-fired power plants, while the United Kingdom postponed the decommissioning of some of these plants. Meanwhile Colombia, Australia, and South Africa have stepped up coal production to satisfy new demand emanating from interrupted access to Russian fuels. By May of 2022, European countries had even begun to turn to nuclear facilities, with all the environmental problems that would entail.

In my state of Maryland we banned fracking in 2017 because it harms human health, contaminates drinking water, and releases methane into the air, which has 80 times more global warming potential than carbon. For these same reasons, local activists around the country have been fighting pipelines that carry dangerous fracked gas through our communities, defacing the environment. And for years, environmentalists in my state fought Dominion Energy over its LNG export facility at Cove Point because of its environmental and climate costs, a fight we ultimately lost. We knew that the drive to export LNG came about because our country’s fracking bonanza had produced a surplus of gas and the fossil fuel industry needed to find new markets for it around the globe. We also knew that fracked gas infrastructure would soon be useless assets were our society to transition to clean renewables, as needed to keep our planet from succumbing to irreversible climate disaster. And we realized that the fossil fuel industry has undue influence on these decisions.

But that our government would commit an act of war and climate terrorism by blowing up the Nordstream pipelines goes beyond the pale. We cannot let them get away with it. Aside from the irresponsible escalation of tensions with another nuclear power, the environmental impacts of such actions are tremendous. These do not stay within national boundaries; they affect everyone living on our shared planet. We must demand accountability from our elected officials, and give them no respite until we get it. We must use this moment to not only demand an end to yet another war fought for the fossil fuel industry, we must come to our senses and realize that the biggest obstacle to environmental justice and a future for our planet is the unbridled, short-sighted greed of the dirty industry that has a stranglehold on our democracy. It is time to put people and planet over profit, while we still have a planet to save.

from Jim: about Ukrainian refugees. Our family has been supporting refugees financially for several months. We contribute to International Institute, Ukrainian Association and Alight  formerly the American Refugee Committee. These groups have been around for several decades and have a lot of useful experience.

Dick, final thought on this thread – at least from me Feb 17:  Last week I had occasion to ask a person I know about Ukraine.  The person is a native of one of the seven countries that border Ukraine.  The response was a reasonable one: “we don’t comment on politics”.  Before I left there was a small addition, to the effect: “well, you know about Europe”.

Of course, it’s hard not to know about the basics of history of Europe.  To start, I’m European descent, and European countries were very aggressive colonizers, and not humanitarians and the U.S. pitched right in as we expanded after the original 13 colonies formed the U.S.

The sins of our predecessors cannot be ignored.  Basically, we attribute the origin of those sins to the old days before 1900.

Ground zero for words like genocide are first applied after 1900, but they certainly existed in practice before 1900.  In our case Native Americans were victims.  One needs to be careful about finding fault with the latest pretender to Empire: Vladimir Putin.  But he’s treading dangerous ground, not only for Ukraine, but for his own country and the rest of us.

The EU has reformed from the fractionated old days.  There are still European countries, but basically they cooperate closely, and no one is running around rebuilding their empires.  The U.S. and others have thus far successfully kept their involvement within the borders of Ukraine, and hopefully that will continue.

And one has to be ignorant of history to justify Putin’s dream of a new USSR (which really didn’t exist until 1922, and by 1991 had ceased to exist).

Where this will all end is unknown to everybody.  I’m on Ukraine’s side – everyone has a lot to lose, if Russia wins….

5 replies
  1. Bill Habedank
    Bill Habedank says:

    I agree Dick that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was wrong but I also feel that it was not unprovoked by NATO/US.
    We must begin negotiations with Russia to find out the reasons Russia acted out in this way. To merely say they were evil does not solve the predicament the world is in. We all want peace but it only begins with negotiations and not supporting continued war. We must break the cycle of starting a war to end a war.

  2. Bill Habedank
    Bill Habedank says:

    Hi Dick, I wish to respond to your comments about negotiations. You obviously have done a lot more negotiating than I have but I have reservations about your idea that it is not always possible or preferable to negotiate with evil. The problem we have here is that the evil doer here has nuclear weapons. If they chose to use them because of their “evilness” the other side of course would retaliate, ending our world as we know it. Who “wins” then?

    In criminal cases the prosecution always seems it important to find a motive for the evil act. In other words, was the act pure evil or was there a reason for this deplorable act.
    In the case of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was it pure evil or was there a reason for this act which could explain why Russia acted out in this manner?
    The West has not wanted to examine a motive; a motive, if understood, could be a means to begin negotiations or to decide that it was pure evil. We cannot now know if it was pure evil and we must know before the West makes another move to confront this evil given the consequences.
    People nowadays use 1938 as a reason not to negotiate with an evil adversary.
    This is not 1938 Europe. This is 2023 where we have nuclear weapons ready to be unleashed at a moments notice. If we had denuclearised as was tried many times and it succeeded then we would not be in this predicament.

    It is time for US/NATO to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation and not continue to pursue the idea that “we are right”! Being “right” could get us all killed!

    • dickbernard
      dickbernard says:

      The conversation – any conversation, about most anything, is most important. These days there seem to be too few conversations. We tend to isolate into tribes on most anything. Thanks for talking.


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