Edition IV - 2024

D for Democrats, D for Disarray, D for Democracy

It has been sad, watching the end come for Joe Biden. It isn't that he is on his death bed, but as I write this word has come that he is dropping out of his campaign for reelection. He is now a ghost, an apparition in the process of departing a Rome that he has ruled rather well. There is a tragedy about it, more Greek than Roman, but America's President has much more in common with the end of empire than with the age of inspiration, so the Roman allussions seem apt. Biden got the opportunity Caesar never had: he got old in office.

Biden feels betrayed by Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and everyone outside of the Black Caucus, who put him in office and would like to see him remain there, for a whilel, until their top representative, VP Kamala Harris, can assume the reins of power. Joe did it to himself. He got the nomination in 2020 because the Democrat Party rigged it for that to happen, the idea being that Biden, already historically old for a President, would serve one term and step aside. He has now only reluctantly kept his part of the bargain, which was to serve one term and then step aside for the next generation.

Apparently, in Biden's mind, he has been reluctant to step aside because the monster son of Grendel remains on the field of battle, and he has felt it his purpose, late in life, to slay that awful beast (metaphorically speaking, not literally). Biden feels he can, once again, defeat Donald Trump at the ballot box, though most polls seem to indicate otherwise, and finally he has given in, surrendered to time.

Joe Biden has lost favor with folks traditionally considered natural constituents of the Democrat Party, especially young Black males. They see Biden as a relic from another era, completely out of touch with their lives, and their personal needs. Plus, there seems to be all kinds of indications that the values of young Black men have changed as surely as they have for other sectors of the American electorate that feel marginalized by the Democrat's focus on cultural issues, and by Democrat economic policies.

Unhappy people seem to gravitate toward strong leaders, defined as brash, reactive, threatening. Those are the kind who will protect their personal interests, or so the thinking seems to go. We haven't found a formula for that yet that ends well. Our current round of dissatisfaction has given us the MAGA movement, however defined, and Donald Trump, who sees in his fanatic following the potential to rid the country of democratic pretense, to make America the every-person-for-himself that God and our country's founders intended.

Whatever God and the founders intended, the message may have become lost by interpretation, loophole, and amendment.

With Joe Biden now out, the question becomes - who can save democracy now?

A Hillbilly's Dream of Flight

Donald Trump has selected Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, as his Vice-Presidential running mate, creating in the 39-year-old Vance the same mystery that surrounded the sudden rise of Barack Obama. Who is this guy, anyway?

In the widely-praised best-selling book "Hillbilly Elegy", Vance focused on factors destabilizing American families, which he identified as economic decline, addiction, family instability, and cultural challenges. 

The liberal media mistook Vance's book as a progressive tome, so it surprised many when the best-selling author announced as a Republican candidate ready to unseat Democrat Tim Ryan, which he did. He has now been in the Senate for two years.  

Just looking at his resume, one might be excused for getting the impression that J.D. Vance has never done much of anything with his life prior to becoming a U.S. Senator. Like the thin-resumed-Obama, Vance appears to be a guy lifted to power as a surrogate for special money interests.

Vance joined the Marines upon graduation from high school, in 2003. He did a tour of duty in Iraq, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was a Corporal working as a public affairs specialist. 

He returned home in 2007 and enrolled at The Ohio State University, graduating in 2009 with degrees in political science and philosophy. He somehow got into Yale Law School graduating in 2013, then he went to work for the multinational law firm Sidley Austin LLP. 

Vance didn't last long as a lawyer, relocating to California and in 2016 becoming a junior investor at Mithril Capital, a firm backed by Peter Thiel. Vance had already published his memoir “Hillbilly Elegy". People don't seem to remember Vance doing much of anything the venture capitalist business, though he did co-found two companies:

  • Narya Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm founded by J.D. Vance and Colin Greenspon that backs companies in the healthcare, agriculture, defense, and financial services sectors.   
  • Our Ohio Renewal was founded in 2016 on the success of "Hillbilly Elegy" to address critical issues in Ohio, including education and opioid addiction. It dissolved within two years, dead by 2018.

Bottom line seems to be that J.D. Vance has never done "shit", but somehow has been elevated, likely a pawn, a surrogate for the deep state in Silicon Valley. That would be suspicious enough, but Vance's personal agenda is far more conservative and right-wing oriented than Donald Trump's. It includes a complete ban on abortion, no exceptions. Hard times - Vance grew up poor and in a dysfunctional home - seems to have formed in him some extreme position regarding cultural values, and freedom of choice. The apparent heir of the MAGA movement is apparently a pretty thin shill, but perhaps a dangerous one.

America's Class Issue

American dissatisfaction is often pinned to the country's horrible history of racism and social injustice, mostly focused on Black history in the U.S. Part of what is driving the MAGA movement is a basic misunderstanding that our wretched history of racism is only a piece of a larger class system, and class struggle. Our problems go even deeper that what can be ascertained by noticing the various colors of peoples' skin. We find all kinds of ways to categorize folks.

Bad Trump News: U.S. Violent Crime Rate is Down 

Among the many unfounded claims that Donald Trump and his MAGA followers echo is their stating that the crime rate in the U.S. is out of control. They see the flash mob robberies at retail stores, see the buttoning up of regular, daily use items at CVS, and find that as evidence that the U.S. has gone to hell!

Like Republican claims on the economy - that is, that things were great under the Trump Administration, but lousy under Biden - their claims on the crime rate are either not true, or are spins on truth. On June 10, 2024, the FBI issued a report showing that "Violent crime dropped by more than 15% in the United States during the first three months of 2024." Property crime, on the other hand, has gone up, mostly due to motor vehicle thefts (including the lucrative trade, in California, of stolen catalytic converters).

Violent crime actually was out of control in the decades following World War II, when America "was Great". The murder rate soared between 1960 and 1991, when it reached its peak, but regarding murder, the United States has become a safer and safer place with each year since 1991. It doesn't seem like it to anyone watching the mass shootings reported daily on the national news, but overall, your chances of becoming a murder victim in the U.S. have declined significantly over the past 33 years.

Property crime is an issue, and one that affects citizens directly and/or psychologically. 

Theft or larceny is the most common type of property crime. It's estimated that someone is a victim of theft every 5.5 seconds. The next most common crime is burglary, which involves breaking and entering. (Gelman Law).

ScienceDirect reports: "(2017) show that while the share of the total U.S. adult population with felony records is about 8 percent, the share of Black adults is about 23 percent. This rate is even higher for Black men, where one-third (33 percent) have a felony record (Shannon et al., 2017)." Hard to know if that is an artifact of unequal enforcement of the law, or of economic conditions in under-served communities, but it no doubt contributes to the general public perception that crime is a big problem. There may be racist perspective at work, as well, regarding media crime reports.

How Are Gas Prices Set?

The President of the United States gets a lot of grief for the price of gas, but how much control does the President actually have? 

Crude oil price accounts to more than half of what you pay at the pump. Supply and demand is a primary determinant of pump prices, but crude oil is traded on the futures market, which means that oil purchasers can purchase oil at a predetermined price at a future date. That helps with discovery and risk mitigation, but it doesn't do much to prevent manipulation of the markets by the big players, like Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are the top exporter, and they influence supply targets.

Crude is also sold on the spot market (purchase for immediate, as opposed to future, delivery) and spot market prices are used to determine futures. The formula is SPOT PRICE x EULER'S NUMBER RAISED TO THE RISK-FREE INTEREST RATE x TIME TO MATURITY. (Futures require costly storage.) 

Euler’s number, “e”, is 2.71828, an irrational and transcendental constant used as the basis for determining natural logarithm function, compound interest, and exponential function, all of which means something to students of calculus, but to people filling their car up with gas just means money spent, however it is figured.    

Pump prices are influenced by four factors: Crude Oil Prices (54%), Refining Costs (14%), Taxes (16%), and Distribution and Marketing Costs (16%).

As mentioned earlier, the price of crude is largely under the control of the OPEC and OPEC+ cartels. The costs of refining crude is set by the oil companies, who set refinement costs based on the quality of the crude they have to process, the technology available to refine the crude with, the location of the refinery. And, of course, they build a businessman's margin into the pricing, passed on to consumers, taking special care of executives and company shareholders. 

From the Bing robot: "According to an analysis by Accountable.US, 28 large oil and gas companies, including Exxon and Shell, gave a total of $394 million to their CEOs last year. These chief executives, such as Marathon Petroleum’s Michael Hennigan and Exxon’s Darren Woods, were exceptionally well compensated, with bonuses reaching millions of dollars."

Oil prices began to rise dramatically in 2021, as the Covid-19 pandemic became more controlled the the public desire to get out of the house and to travel drove demand for gas up. The oil people were happy to exploit that desire, and they raised oil prices for consumers. 

While state and federal taxes factor in to gas prices, and their are significant regional differences in gas pricing, the President of the United States has no direct role in setting gas prices.

Drill Baby Drill?

Donald Trump and other Republicans keep repeating Sarah Palin's call to "Drill, Baby Drill!", which we'll assume was referencing expanded crude oil production. In fact, U.S. crude oil production has never been greater. From the Bing Robot: "The United States holds the top spot in crude oil production, surpassing all other nations. In 2023, our average daily production reached 12.9 million barrels, breaking the previous global record of 12.3 million barrels set in 2019. No other country currently matches our production capacity of 13.0 million barrels per day. For context, the next three largest producers—Canada, Iraq, and China—combined produced only slightly more oil than the U.S. alone. Texas, New Mexico, and North Dakota are the leading states contributing to this impressive production."

The U.S. has been pumping more crude oil than even Saudi Arabia since 2019. And this production has been done under the Biden Administration, which has been criticized for promoting electric vehicles over traditional gas guzzlers. It turns out Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and anyone else repeating this stupid, worn-out Republican slogan is not "well" informed, get it?

Old Parties Here but Gone 

To anyone who has been around more than fifty years - and admittedly that leaves a pretty broad swath of the public out - the changes that have taken place in America's two main political parties is profound. Neither is "your father's" party anymore. Both have become characterized by extreme agendas, left and right, and in the process they have altered their messages, modified them to become a confusing clash of contradiction and falsity. 

These days, Democrats with a sense for history tend to year for those Republicans they used to abhor, because their modern-day counterparts seem nuts. Likewise, the new Republicans look at the Democrats, as represented in Congress by "The Squad", and yearn for that previous time when adults in the two parties talked in collegial ways with one another. We may not have fully appreciated "Tip" O'Neill sufficiently, and those of his generation, which passed significant social legislation against significant resistance. Even elected adults don't talk to each other anymore in the ways they used to, and the natures of those we elect to Congress has been changed by the way the electorate has changed, as shown in the following video.

What Value Art?

What, exactly, is art, in the esoteric sense? That is the first conundrum to work through before a person can put a value on whatever it is you have decided it is.

We recognize art in superior human execution of all manner of things, which is part of what makes art hard to define. A person can see art in superior human expression, in the performance of some thing in a manner that illustrates the potential for an inspiration reached by some devoted practitioner. We feel uplifted by the reconfirming, reassuring insights of others, their demonstration of godliness on the human level. We feel uplifted by evidence of earned grace, of superiority honed through repetition, sweat, and breakthrough.

Artistic achievement of that kind can be found in all kinds of places, including those one might think most unlikely. Among the RCJ's favorite example is the gentlemanly art of boxing. This writing is inspired by a viewing, on YouTube, of an 8-round Cruiserweight boxing match between YouTube star Jake Paul, and mixed martial arts champion Mike Perry

To understand American politics, analysts must try to understand why bizarre exploitations like mixed martial arts and bare knuckle boxing have become so popular with segments of the American public, right up there with professional wrestling and Nascar. There must be some vein of American zeitgeist informing those extreme obesessions, which are of interest to the RCJ because they don't exactly excite the art enthusiasts among us.

See this YouTube video, titled A complete guide to Defense Mastery Boxing, which like many other such videos introduces the casual boxing fan to the nuances of professional boxing. It is called "the hurt game", because getting hit hurts, and your goal is to inflict hurt on your opponent, but the real art is in not getting hit. There are techniques for that, which knowledgeable boxing fans recognize, so they also recognize the behaviors of boxers who haven't the experience or discipline to refine their game. They may swing big and hit hard, but they lose to real fighters, who have educated themselves.

See the Youtube video titled Jake Paul knockout vs. Mike Perry Full Fight HD and you see where much of America is now at in terms of our appreciation for technique and discipline. You can watch these people and see that they have talent without training and discipline.

That bloody, amateurish mess, is mirrored in our current politics. A person wonders if, as a nation, we could learn to fight more grace.

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