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More insight on why Putin is in Ukraine from Julia Ioffe

This is another Frontline interview from a couple of days ago with Julia Ioffe. Ioffe is a Russian born American journalist. Her interpretation of Putin’s security council meeting with his advisors sitting 50 feet away is that it is very reminiscent of the Soviet era when the politboro was full of 3rd stringers and no one said what they were really thinking. We can see that as well at a superficial level but there’s something about that image that we Americans can’t understand because we’ve never lived through an authoritarian regime- yet. If we are prudent, we will never have to.

The thread that keeps getting reinforced in all of the Putin File interviews and most recent Frontline episodes is that we are where we are because of the naïveté of Bush and Obama, and the anomaly that was Trump. She is particularly hard on Obama who absolutely did not pay any attention to Putin’s moves, did not see them for what they were, and was at odds with his advisors on the issue.

I keep seeing the two terms of the Obama administration as a feel good, aspirational trip for the older boomers and well off professional class, and utter neglect of everyone else. There was a reason why I went on and on and on about Obama. He ignored Republicans and their strategy to take over state legislatures and the courts, and he let the DNC get lousy with consultants that sucked the life out of its ability to fight back. Oh sure, George Bush and his pointless war in Iraq was bad. Trump with his utter incompetence coupled with his shark like instinct to consume and corrupt everything he touches was awful and has brought us to the brink of a fascist state (and I don’t use that term lightly. It’s a real thing now, not hyperbole.)

But Obama, who should have known better, was an eight year long missed opportunity. He was not temperamentally suited for staring down someone as paranoid and motivated as Putin. Obama inherited the world’s last superpower; Putin inherited what he saw as a superpower failure.

It is only because he is bracketed by the two absolute worst American presidents in history that Obama’s inexperience, vulnerability and passivity comes off looking good.

And it all falls on Joe Biden to fix it and keep the tantrum throwing Republicans quiet, because we all know that we can’t expect them to put their country’s and world’s wellbeing first. That is just too much to ask of them. Ioffe says that at Helsinki with Putin in 2018, Trump makes the US look weak and stupid. Bush was naive and reckless, Obama was negligent and passive, and Trump just made us look like total losers. If you ever wonder why Trump is always going on about being weak, it is because he is projecting is own inadequacies on his base and our country and then acting accordingly.

From the transcript, Ioffe assesses what Putin sees America as today :

I think he [Putin] correctly sees America as a nation so divided that it’s paralyzed; that it is a nation at each other’s throats, that can’t agree on anything. And whatever one team says, the other team will say just the opposite, just because. He sees a president who, on one hand, he’s dealt with before. Biden was put in charge of the Ukraine portfolio in 2014, because Obama had not enough time to deal with it, and frankly, I don’t think cared that much about Ukraine.

So on one hand, he has—he’s dealing with a new president who is old, who has been around, who has Putin’s number, who is surrounded by aides and advisers and people in the State Department and in the White House and then the Pentagon who know Putin well, who know his tricks, who see right through him.

But on the other hand, he barely has control of Congress. He doesn’t have the Supreme Court. He doesn’t have the American public. And then Afghanistan happens, and the message that sends to Putin and I think to the rest of the world is that America’s done with its adventures abroad. America’s tired of it. America’s turning even more inward. America has no more appetite for war. It has expended all the energy it possibly had for war. It’s spent.

And if Putin were to do something now, America wouldn’t retaliate, because why end a war—a long foreign war, why take such a political hit, because this is done so messily—just to get your troops bogged down in another thing? And I think that was a very accurate read of the situation.

I admire Biden’s steadiness and resolve and I’ve been impressed by what he’s done so far with respect to the invasion of Ukraine but what a GD clusters}#% the situation is right now.

We should be asking Republicans if what they are doing right now, their relentless oppositional defiance disorder, is out of genuine concern or unparalleled selfishness and opportunism. Do they really admire what Putin is doing or are they still childishly trying to own the libs while Ukraine burns and the rest of the world looks down Putin’s barrel? Is their boisterous, obnoxious and uninformed support for Putin giving aid and comfort to an enemy who wants to take us back to the Cold War and drop another Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe?

Do they really want the US to become like Russia? We need to force their base to really take a look at what Russia has become. Do they want THAT? That’s where Trump and his ultra-wealthy friends and duped base are taking the rest of the country. Make no mistake. That’s where we are headed. No free and fair elections. If Trump or DeSantis is elected in 2024, no more free press. No more freedom of assembly. It’s coming. Somehow, they will make it happen and their Supreme Court will rubber stamp it. If there is a Republican in the White House and Republicans running Congress, we will become an authoritarian state. All that stands between us and that future is Biden and Harris for 2 years.

See the interview here on Frontline’s YouTube channel.

Why are Gas Prices Rising? Because the Oil Companies Raised Them!

Why do prices of any particular item go up? The quintessential reason is that the person or group selling the item have raised the prices. This might seem to be first-grade analysis, but it is actually more insightful than most of the people in the media or anywhere else who keep trying to provide external rationales for it.

These people, deliberately or foolishly, seem to start from an a priori assumption that people and companies only raise prices because they are required to by circumstances. It is implied, ridiculously so, that they only seek reasonable profits, and would keep prices fairly steady unless they were forced to raise them.

There are always rationales provided by those who raise prices on things they have and the public wants or needs. Cost of doing business is the umbrella term. They say that it costs more for them to extract or make the product. That weather problems made it more difficult. That they had to pay higher wages to workers because of a smaller labor supply. They even say that the demand was so great that they had to raise prices to not run out of product.

There is this mystique about business which somehow lets them get away with it. Turn on a business news station, and you will hear all sorts of jargon, not that it does not have some meaning, but is also a way to hide behind abstruseness.

I actually have an MBA, though I focused on the human side of management, and I have no expertise in the operational side, though I could read a balance sheet, and I had some idea of strategic management when I took the courses. As a bit of a side note, those of us in the Management School who had come from a Humanities background, which were not that many, feared the required course in Finance, taught by someone who was respected, but demanding, and required high-level mathematical computations, the sort that were why we Humanities types were required to take a summer class in Calculus to be admitted.

So we put off taking that Finance class, as we saw the other students who took it, complain and struggle, and take out their slide rules during lunch; and then finally we had to take the Finance course in the summer following the first year of the program. And for some amazing reason, we got a visiting professor with a Liverpudlian accent, who was affable and not very demanding. The first day of class he passed out copies of a balance sheet of a company, real or invented, and asked what we thought. The accounts receivable were high, much more than the accounts payable. So most students thought that the company was doing very well. But he said, “They went bust,” (which he pronounced “boost”).

The reason was that accounts receivable are not cash. And so even with all the money owed them, they ran out of funds. Oh, I suppose that someone might have loaned them the money based on the balance sheet, but maybe not. Anyway, it did highlight the fact that financial numbers do not always tell the story of what is going on in a company.

These corporations always have their “business-speak” to try to explain why they are raising prices. It has seemed that they are doing less of this,, they usually just raise them and let the consumers struggle with it, and fend for themselves. In many cases, maybe all of them, they do not “have to” raise prices, they just choose to. Why? So they can make more profits? When is the last time you saw an oil company president be grilled by members of Congress?

Based on their own balance sheets and reports, the major oil companies are making record profits. So in their narrow view of the world, why should they stop? As long as people are required to buy gas, they will have to pay for it, no matter what the price. Some may give up and stop working, or try to bicycle to work, but they are subsumed by the many who will simply keep paying at the pump.

Then the networks keep showing shots of gas stations, with the higher numbers, and they keep talking about how gas prices are going through the proverbial roof. But they almost never, if at all, say why the prices are going up. The implication seems to be the Russia situation, and that Biden cut off oil imports from them. But apparently only about 3.5% of the oil we use comes from Russia.

Some have speculated that Saudi Arabia has substantially raised prices over the last few years because their crown prince was upset that we protested their murder of Jamal Khashoggi, though Trump was fine with it. Some say that the oil companies did not ramp up supply fast enough to meet the greatly increased demand once economies began to heat up in 2021. Wouldn’t that be their problem? But they made it ours, as that is how they work.

Or, could it be….that the oil companies simply saw that this was a good opportunity to raise prices, and deflect it onto other things? Shell recently reported immense record profits, which as usual, they said were mostly used for stock buybacks and management raises. There are those in this country who applaud such things, “That is true laissez-faire economics, not any of this socialism! Demand goes up, prices go up! The goal of any business is to make the most profits possible!”

This has a certain appeal to many people, because it is simple, and mirrors their own personal beliefs that in Ayn Rand Objectivist fashion, if everyone were solely motivated by their own self-interest, it would all work out well. But of course it doesn’t, not for those who are not at the top of the financial pyramid, or those who have other motivators besides greed and acquisitiveness. Those at the top virtually never have the capacity of empathy or social concern, they are like the zombies or ghouls or Daleks in the stories, who move relentlessly ahead with one purpose, to gain for themselves, and destroy anyone who tries to prevent them.

They have set up this whole government structure to bend to their will. They have bought politicians by the hundreds, including presidents. They have bought a majority of the Supreme Court. They have bought the Congress and the state legislatures. They literally spend every day fighting against any legislative or executive action which would encourage or mandate the use of any sources of energy that are not derived from fossil fuels. It is a never-ending task for them, but it is assuaged by the billions of dollars they make.

There is no reason to ever think that the oil companies are going to lower prices, unless they have to. And maybe after pushing them up even higher, they will give people a respite, just so they can act concerned and moral, before pushing them back up.

Smart people have been saying for decades that America needs to wean itself off fossil fuels. But few of us do much about it. We can’t depend on the good will of corporations in any area, and certainly not the oil companies, whose standards of rapaciousness predate the Standard Oil Trust.

It’s like the song about the Arkansas Traveler who sees a man sitting in his living room, playing his fiddle, while his roof is leaking as the rain comes down. He asks him why he doesn’t fix the roof, and the fiddler replies that he can’t fix it now, it’s raining too hard! So he asks why he doesn’t fix it when it is sunny outside? And the fiddler says, “There’s no reason, the roof isn’t leaking then!”

Well, we all know that amusing yarn. But it does have relevance here. The predictable element is not the weather, but the greed of oil companies. Maybe they have additional motives. Maybe part of the goal is to damage President Biden, and make sure that Republicans take over Congress and then the Presidency, so that they can pass even more Big Oil-friendly bills, and make sure that the plebians are forced to pay whatever the oil companies think they can get away with charging them for the fuel they need to get to work each day.

Again, we cannot look at this with a moral sense, as to “How much money do you need?” as Jake GIttes asked Noah Cross in “Chinatown.” They need more, and even more. The competition to be trillionaires is a battle, and they cannot ease up for a moment.

The only answer is for our government to enact some high taxes on windfall profits and generally on the corporations. But they’ve stacked the deck to make sure that it cannot happen. While the candidates they pour money to, run on made-up culture issues to get the base riled up, they are really there to protect the corporate barricades. Maybe we need our own revolution, but we are not France in 1790, with the peasants starving, and Marie Antoinette saying that if there is not enough bread, they can simply eat cake instead.

What is most frustrating is how the oil companies and the media networks they own, manage to block and deflect any pointing of blame at them. Somehow it is as if the prices went up because they were forced to have to. That Biden is responsible for this, not the people who actually raise the prices. To extend the metaphor ,that is known as being able to have your cake, and eat it, too.

There has always been a much greater anger at the business powers and corporations throughout history, than there is now in America. Maybe that is simply due to media narratives that they themselves purvey, but which their audience does not realize is propaganda created by them. But while I do not watch all the programs, I wonder if any of them at all actually emphatically blame the oil companies for gas prices going up? It would seem very logical to do, wouldn’t it? “No, it wasn’t me, I didn’t raise our prices, look at that man over there! And even I did raise them, I had to, you can understand that. Blame the Democrats!”

All it takes is a little focus, don’t be fooled by the misdirection and deflection. The truth is right in front of us. Hercule Poirot would instantly figure it out. “Mon ami, the gas prices are going up because those who set the prices, have raised them! C’est tres evident!”