Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Bits n’ pieces from east, west and beyond

| December 1, 2023 7:00 AM

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. 

A recent sampling:

While farmers witness grocery prices rising, they are not benefitting. Bloomberg reported on a conventional agriculture farmer in Minnesota who said he now pays twice as much for diesel and he’s paying 242% more this year for “key [crop] nutrients.”

The Supreme Court’s recently-presented unenforceable code of conduct is being countered with a proposed Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act, introduced to the Senate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren says the Act calls for a binding Code of Conduct for the Supreme Court, bans federal judges from owning or trading individual stocks, tightens restrictions on gifts and privately-funded travel, overhauls the “broken” recusal process and creates new tools to hold judges accountable for their conduct.

While the U.S. economy has continued to grow, the European economy has contracted. The latter has been attributed to record-high interest rates there, The New York Times said.

Gaza, as witnessed by Mercy Corps: Over 2.3 million have no water, power, internet or food; 1.5 million seek shelter. Sanitation services have collapsed. Hospitals are severely compromised, many becoming death traps.

The father of a baby born a day before Hamas’s attack on Israel: “Our home has been bombed and we are struggling each day to find food and water to keep her healthy…The way we are living now is like we have regressed five decades or more… we rely on donkey-drawn carts for transportation…. Five pieces of bread cost $30.” 

Mercy Corps says once they have safety guarantees and access, their response will accelerate and they will provide essential items and shelter materials. Ongoing bombardment of Gaza by Israel has prevented provision of “meaningful” aid.

Israel and Hamas, the U.S.’s self-interest angle: Historian Heather C. Richardson points out that for the U.S. Israel is a “strategic ally” in efforts to stabilize the Middle East. A stabilized Middle East will help maintain the Middle Eastern oil supply that’s essential to the global economy.

Reservoirs that serve Mexico City, hit by drought, have led to the city imposing months-long water restrictions, numerous media reported.

A primary goal of recent talks in the U.S. between President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping: to restore communications, CNN reported. China agreed to “go after” their companies that make chemicals used to produce fentanyl. Discussion topics included Taiwan, Israel and Hamas (with Biden emphasizing he regards Hamas as separate from Palestinians), artificial intelligence, transparency on nuclear issues, and restrictions the U.S. has on technology exports to China. Xi regarded those restrictions as “technological containment,” but Biden said the U.S. refused to provide technology to China that could be used by the Chinese military against the U.S. 

Both countries agreed to increase renewable energy capacity around the world and -- this was a first for China -- to reduce power sector emissions.

More can-kicking: Last week the Senate approved the short-term government-funding bill that passed in the House, avoiding a government shutdown before Thanksgiving. ABC said the new Republican House Speaker came up with a two-step plan: Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Energy and Housing and Urban Development will be funded until Jan. 19; other government functions will be funded until Feb. 2. 

The “stopgap” bill has no supplemental aid for Israel or Ukraine.

If retail service ain’t what it used to be, an Institute for Policy Studies report hints at why. Rather than hire more workers, CEOs are instead opting to put money, which some call “excess cash,” into stock buybacks.

Example: one big box store spent close to $35 billion on stock buybacks in the last 3.5 years, artificially inflating the value of their stock. That included $14.1 billion spent in 2022 -- which would have been enough to give each of their 301,000 employees a $46,923 bonus to pad their annual average pay of $30,000. 

Or, they could have used some of the buyback funds to relieve understaffing.

CDC data shows a 3% rise in infant mortality in 2022: 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. Axios said the 2021 figure was 5.44. The increase hit all ethnicity groups, except for Asian infants. Black infant deaths remained highest, almost twice the average. A Toronto professor of population health commented that, given U.S. technology, the infant deaths reported should be, but are not, “super rare.”

Overconsumption of social media has been linked to a rise of narcissism, best-selling health author David Perlmutter points out in Brain Wash. But brain plasticity indicates that trend can be reversed by engaging in empathy. For a start on a quick fix: Giving Tuesday was Nov. 28.

Blast from the past: “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart, 1260-1327/28, German-Catholic theologian, philosopher and mystic.

And more: First Lady Rosalynn Carter died peacefully at age 96 on Nov. 19. Her husband, President Jimmy Carter, 99, said marrying Rosalynn was the “pinnacle of my life.” Her legacy, according to historian Stanley Godbold: she was “a master politician, diplomat, as well as caring mother and wife, she was intimately involved in every aspect of the Carter presidency.”