Good Friday Morning! And I wish the incredible writers and editors at the New York Post and Page Six a very merry weekend. They gifted the world one of the greatest reported political pieces ever: “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. press dinner explodes in war of words and farting.”
This is neither joke nor a parody; here’s the first full paragraph:
Page Six regrets to report that a press dinner to boost Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign descended into a foul bout of screaming and polemic farting Tuesday night.
The piece improves from there, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I was tempted to block quote the entire article and call it a week—incredible reporting. If you doubt the accuracy, know that Page Six attended the event. God Bless America.
In further fun news, I’m expanding my presence at the Conservative Institute. I’m officially a Monday-Wednesday-Friday columnist, with this newsletter still coming out on Fridays—links to the columns below. But feel free to drop by there during the week to read my columns. Writing more columns means more variety for me, exemplified by this week when I hit four topics between the newsletter and three columns.
This week, I will talk through the Ukraine war, where we are, and what continues to trouble me about the US response to this conflict — links to follow.
- The Bud Light hits keep rolling in, with perhaps the most significant on deck. The NYPost reports that shoppers across the country see the “star of death” on Bud Light products in Costco stores, potentially signaling the retailer is about to dump Bud Light. Neither Costco nor Bud Light commented on the story. This is happening while Bud Light is launching its summer concert tour, with four stops in Nashville, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, and Charlottesville. The brand is also pushing numerous celebrity-branded commercial deals across sports and entertainment. There’s yet to be evidence it’s worked.
- Two notable stories this week on the Biden 2024 front. Biden traveled to Europe this week. Tuesday, he skipped an evening NATO dinner with allies. Notably, the White House cited the workload on the trip. Fox News noted this is the third time Biden has skipped out on state dinners with allies. This story brought back the New York Times reports that the White House was forced to pace Biden’s workload. A few days later, CNN reported more “anonymous” Democrat sources who are growing nervous about Biden in 2024, with people claiming that the field is getting antsy. I’ve written several columns noting this continuing undercurrent in the press. Democrats can’t escape this reality: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the only options for 2024 – there’s no scenario where Gavin Newsom, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, or any other Democrat rides to the rescue. If Democrats want to push the first black woman in the Vice Presidency out of the way for one of their “top” candidates, they’re welcome to try. They risk irrevocably ripping their base apart.
- Headline inflation slowed to 3%, with core inflation dropping to 4.8%. Investors see this as a sign we’re heading towards a soft landing scenario, where inflation gets fixed with no meaningful job losses. The Federal Reserve is still expected to raise rates later this month. The Fed wants to avoid overreacting to a single positive report. Inflation doves are cheering, and many have brought back talking points that we only experienced “transitory inflation” (see WSJ journalist Nick Timiraos’s Twitter feed to see him arguing with that group this week). It’s hard to say this was transitory inflation when we’ve only gotten to this point after 500+ bps of rate hikes from the Fed, with more to come. Doves are whistling past the graveyard on that one. And then we have the Fed. What do they believe? Nick “Fed Whisperer” Timiraos had this nugget in his reporting: “Fed officials worry a still-tight labor market could continue to put upward pressure on wages. There were 1.6 open jobs in May for every unemployed worker—down from a peak of two last year but above the ratio of 1.2 that prevailed before the pandemic, suggesting a continued imbalance between the supply and demand for workers.” Worth monitoring how the Fed processes these developments.
- Late Thursday, Biden signed an order to augment US military troops in Europe as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the overall response to Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine going back to 2014. The order authorizes the DOD to add up to 3,000 more reservist troops for European operations. At press time, nothing is known about what these troops would do in Europe or if the DOD would exercise the option.
Where you can find me this week
Please subscribe, rate, and review my podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play — the reviews help listeners, and readers like you find me in the algorithms. Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter.
[07/10/2023] Republican Party Prepares for High-Stakes 2023 Primary Debate – Conservative Institute
[07/12/2023] US High-Speed Rail: A Bridge to Nowhere? – Conservative Institute
[07/14/2023] The Controversial Politics of FDA’s Approval of Perrigo’s OTC Birth-Control Drug Opill – Conservative Institute
Using Ukraine to Drain Russia – the Implicit US Strategy in Europe.
When I’ve written about the conflict in Ukraine, one of the points I’ve tried to make is that Ukraine and the United States have distinct strategic goals in play. Both claim to want an independent Ukraine with a defeated Russia at the end, but the path to getting there is different.
When Zelenskyy visited the United States and spoke to Congress, I noted this divide in the coverage. At the time, I was worried about the Ukrainians driving US policy, which would allow us to get pulled into a broader conflict with a weakened, but still nuclear-armed Russia.
While I still think there’s a threat of that happening — the United States bizarrely providing cluster bombs, weapons banned by most of our allies, to Ukraine being a critical example here. My concern has shifted back to something I wrote at the war’s outset: a divergence of interests driving greater bloodshed.
Ukraine’s goal is easy to see. What’s the United States? Draining Russia and either destroying it or triggering a regime change. In my March 25, 2022 newsletter, I quoted a Niall Ferguson column in Bloomberg, where he was discussing the US belief it could use Ukraine to drain Russia:
The fascinating thing about this strategy is the way it combines cynicism and optimism. It is, when you come to think of it, archetypal Realpolitik to allow the carnage in Ukraine to continue; to sit back and watch the heroic Ukrainians “bleed Russia dry”; to think of the conflict as a mere sub-plot in Cold War II, a struggle in which China is our real opponent.
The Biden administration not only thinks it’s doing enough to sustain the Ukrainian war effort, but not so much as to provoke Putin to escalation. It also thinks it’s doing enough to satisfy public opinion, which has rallied strongly behind Ukraine, but not so much as to cost American lives, aside from a few unlucky volunteers and journalists.
I was thinking about this essay again this week while watching two video reports from Ukraine. The first was from Sky News, which interviewed some foreign fighters who joined the fight to help Ukraine. Those foreign fighters are now leaving, disgusted by the recent Ukrainian counter-offensive. They survived multiple close counters before leaving.
The second was a video by the New York Times (warning, that’s graphic), which filmed a short documentary of life in a Ukrainian field hospital. It’s hard to miss the cold reality of Ukraine getting ground to a pulp in both. It and its people still stand, but the counter-offensive is becoming a human meat grinder. One of the doctors admits no one thought the war would last this long. They still hold out hope, but the blank stares into the distance are hard to miss.
The strategy here isn’t new. The United States supplied and funded Islamic radicals led by Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. We didn’t care as much about how many deaths a terrorist group was racking up against the Soviet Union.
Last fall, when Ukraine made a surprising surge with a counter-offensive, I thought there was a moment for the US to step in and provide a negotiated end to this conflict. Get Russia out, secure Ukraine’s borders, and end the bloodshed. The White House passed that without a second look, with jokes about Ukraine marching to Moscow.
Russia eventually pushed back, and things stalemated again. It’s a brutal meat grinder. And I feel it’s incumbent upon us to ask: how many Ukrainians are we willing to let die to accomplish the goal of draining Russia? What’s the endpoint? It’s not about appeasing Russia or anything like that. This war mortally wounds Russia, and it is barely persisting.
Cheering on brave Ukrainian fighters and people staying in the country is one thing. It’s quite another to push them to continue that while you encourage increasing brutality in the conflict.
I mentioned it already, but Biden granting Ukraine cluster bombs was a red-line moment for me this week. There’s no need to increase the possibility of civilian destruction. As the BBC reported:
More than 100 countries, including the UK, France and Germany, have signed an international treaty – the Convention on Cluster Munitions – that outlaws the use or stockpiling of these weapons due to their indiscriminate effect on civilian populations. Children are particularly prone to injury as the bomblets can resemble a small toy left in a residential or farmland area and are often picked up out of curiosity.
What are we doing to safeguard this? Taking Ukraine’s word for it: “US officials maintained that Ukraine has provided written assurances to minimize civilian casualties with the use of the controversial munitions as human rights groups stress that the weapons drop dozens of bomblets that endanger civilians.”
Frankly, that’s not good enough. The two sides have already used cluster munitions from their own stockpiles, and the devastation is widespread. The United States should not be actively adding to that destruction.
But we are.
We are continuing on that line that Ferguson outlined. We’re sitting back and encouraging more carnage and pursuing no negotiated settlement to end an immensely destructive war devastating lives, families, and land for decades to come. None of this is to let Russia off the hook for what it has done — it is the aggressor and deserves punishment.
It is to say that the United States has taken on responsibility by funding more and more of the conflict. Allowing cluster bombs from our arsenal into this one is a provocative increase in lethality without promising an end. It’s pursuing more carnage in Ukraine without finding a path to peace.
Teddy Roosevelt’s quote is, “Talk softly, and carry a big stick.” We’re just handing out large sticks and doing no talking at all. I get the impetus to drain Russia and try for a regime change. Things are unstable with the recent alleged coup of the Wagner Group (which I question more daily). But there’s a cost in the form of Ukrainian lives. It’s foolish to pretend that’s not a cost worth considering.
Every day the war goes on, more long-term impacts build up. We already have a long road ahead to rebuild Ukraine. Our expenditures to defend that country will look tiny compared to the rebuilding process. Rebuilding is a far nobler goal than encouraging the current human butcher shop.
Links of the week
The Supermarket Aisle Where Prices Are Still Soaring: Cost increases for meat, eggs and produce have been tamed, but inflation is running hot in grocery stores’ inner aisles, home to packaged food and household goods – WSJ
Last Mile of the Inflation Fight Will Be the Hardest: Housing and used-car sectors are expected to help push down core index, but progress could then stall so long as the economy doesn’t weaken – Nick Timiraos, WSJ
The pee tape vs. the bribe tape – Byron York, Washington Examiner
The Luxury Tower Built for New York’s Elite Still Sits Half Empty: Related Companies has struggled to unload its most expensive units at 35 Hudson Yards. Now the developer is offering deep discounts. – WSJ
Inside the Alabama Baseball Gambling Scandal: While one apparent perpetrator made a scene at the sportsbook, security cameras captured damning evidence, according to sources. – Pat Forde, Sports Illustrated
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!