Democracy has been on the defensive lately. The forces of autocratic authoritarianism have ascended across the globe, backed by the immense wealth concentrated in the upper 1/10th of one percent who collectively own more than the rest of the 8 billion people currently crowded on planet Earth. It is all too easy for the uber rich to buy politicians and turn them against the majority and to buy up the world’s media to spread lies and confuse the masses.
In 2022, democracy fought back. From Ukraine’s outgunned population, Iran’s oppressed women and China’s locked-down billions to the January 6th House Committee investigating Trump’s attempted coup, lovers of freedom and its foundation – democracy – stood up to the power elites. Ordinary people demanded that the silent majority, the downtrodden and the forgotten be recognized and given their basic human rights. Life and liberty have never been more precious and more violated.
While the fight has just begun and the powers that be have deadly weapons available to beat back any populist uprising, I remain optimistic about the future of self-determination. Just try this experiment: stop any stranger anywhere in the world and ask them one simple question. Would you rather live free or a slave? I guarantee you that 100 percent of the people who honestly respond to that question will choose freedom. It is a universal human desire to be in charge of one’s own life. The very definition of adulthood is to be an independent agent. No regime in history has been able to stamp out our universal human need for self-control and self-actualization. We may die fighting, but humans will not quietly submit to sub-human bondage in the 21st century.
Russia Invades Ukraine
The biggest news of 2022 was the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, a major escalation of a territorial conflict that had been simmering since 2014. Putin’s aim is to recreate the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and impose his will on a neigbor who had overthrown his hand-picked henchman and freely elected Volodymyr Zelensky as their President. Putin apparently planned to blitzkrieg across Ukraine and seize the country before anyone could act to stop him. Instead of a 72 hour war, Russia has found itself bogged down in a quagmire of hand-to-hand combat and trench warfare while suffering huge casualties. In the past few months, Ukraine has mounted a counter-offensive that has reclaimed major sections of the country from Russian occupation.
The world has witnessed horrific crimes against Ukrainian civilians, including torture, rape and assassination, and seen the destruction of Ukrainians cities and infrastructure in a cynical attempt to demoralize the population and destroy the country’s ability to function. This is the modern face of war, the most serious outbreak of violence in Europe since the end of World War II. Instead of uniformed armies battling each other, modern warfare depends on attacking from the air unarmed civilians and the infrastructure that supports urban life. The vast majority of war casualties are no longer the troops paid to fight, but the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. We are seeing the legalization of genocide in this war, a truly troubling sign for the future of our species. Putin’s loose talk about using nuclear weapons to end the conflict only adds to the risk that this regional conflict could spin out of control into World War III before it comes to a merciful end.
Midterm Elections: Red Wave Wipes Out
Based on history, Republicans were supposed to take control of Congress in a massive red wave that would leave President Biden as the lone Democrat still standing in Washington. In nearly every midterm election in the past century, the party out of power gained seats against the ruling party two years after Americans selected a new President. But the red wave didn’t materialize this time. Instead, Democrats actually gained one seat in the Senate and lost only 9 seats in the House. Although Republicans managed to take the House of Representatives, their razor-thin four-seat majority is making it difficult for them to choose a Speaker, let alone try to govern.
Why Republicans failed, despite ripe conditions for the opposition party, is the subject of many political post-mortems. The most prominent reason cited was the Supreme Court’s decision to end abortion rights, which a sizable majority of Americans opposed. A second reason was the Trump effect, especially his endorsement of unqualified Senate candidates like Herschel Walker and Mehmet Oz, who both lost. In the end, Americans decided that while they didn’t always like the way Biden was handling the US economy coming out of a three year pandemic, they feared even more what Republicans would do in power. They had good reason to fear, since Republicans signaled that if returned to power their agenda would include eliminating Medicare and Social Security, two of our Federal government’s most popular programs.
Reproductive Rights Gone in Half of USA
The Supreme Court reversed 50 years of precedent this year, allowing states to ban abortion within their borders. This happened after Republicans put three more devote Catholics on the Court during Trump’s reign, bringing the total of Catholics on the court to a super-majority of six. Although Catholics make up only 23% of Americans, they and the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church now rule the Supreme Court. Anything the Catechism proclaims sinful our Catholic Supreme Court is prepared to declare unconstitutional. Move over, Iran. The Supreme Court has placed America on the road to becoming a White Christian theocracy.
About half the states have enacted abortion bans, including some who refused to make any exception for rape, incest or even the life of the mother. Radical anti-abortionists are promoting “fetal personhood,” the dubious legal theory that life begins at conception (or even at erection!) and therefore the zygote should be granted the full rights of citizenship. Advocates haven’t explained how the fetus is supposed to exercise its rights from the womb, but have decided that the life of an unborn fetus is more important than that of the woman carrying it. They are willing to force women to die in childbirth so they can bring a motherless child into the world. Forced prenancy is now the law of the land in half of America. Women are treated as little more than broodmares.
If you’re a politician, I guess it’s easy to love a fetus. You don’t have to worry about it voting. You don’t have to spend anything to feed or house the fetus. It’s all on the mother to take care of. But once that fetus is born and becomes a living human being, someone has to provide food, clothing, shelter and education to that growing child. If the parents are gone or too poor to do so themselves, then that “someone” becomes the government. That’s when right-wing politicians lose all interest in supporting life. They love the fetus and hate the child.
The economic news was dominated by rising inflation and global Central Banks’ attempts to control it. In the U.S., inflation ran between 7-8 percent, the highest since the stagflation of the late 1970s. Everyone feels the pain of higher prices, which makes inflation a threat to the standard of living. Though everyone is against it, few understand why inflation has returned post-pandemic and what we should do about it.
Fundamentally, economists say inflation is caused by an imbalance between supply and demand. Typically, inflation occurs when demand outstrips supply and scarcity drives up the price. Think of the price of gasoline after a natural disaster knocks gas stations offline. Or the resale price of Taylor Swift concert tickets that sell out within minutes of going on sale. Inflation can also occur when the supply of money far outstrips demand, thus causing the value of the money to fall. This happens when governments take on more debt than they can repay and print too much money in an attempt to lower their debt repayment.
Inflation in 2022 has at least three root causes, though economists disagree on exactly how much each has contributed. First, the COVID pandemic caused supply chain disruptions and shortages after much of the world went into lockdown and then rapidly reopened in the past year. For example, shortages of critical computer chips hampered production of motor vehicles which created a shortage of new cars and led to rising prices for used cars. Shortages like that rippled across the economy, hitting virtually every industry and crimping supply.
Second, governments around the world responded to the pandemic by providing emergency relief to their citizens in the form of direct cash and other subsidies that allowed consumers to build up savings during the lockdown, when much discretionary spending ceased. That extra money circulating in the economy helped to fuel the inflationary condition of too much money chasing too few goods and services. Again, think of Taylor Swift concert tickets.
Third, the concentration of the American economy into the hands of a few corporate giants has given them the power to raise prices with impunity. Economists point to our free market system and competition as the natural moderators of inflation, under the theory that if one business raises prices, others will offer a lower price to lure customers and thus prevent constantly rising prices. However, American businesses have spent the past 40 years buying each other up in a frenzy of mergers and acquisitions, thus eliminating much competition.
If you don’t have any competitors, then you can charge whatever the market will bear and make as much money as you want. That’s also a big reason prices are going up. One personal example involves the airline industry. I took my family to Rochester, New York for my mom’s 90th birthday in September. I have been flying between LAX and Rochester for over 50 years and have generally paid between $250-400 for a ticket. When I bought tickets this year, the price had jumped to $691 and the only two airlines who still fly the LA-Rochester route were, by some celestial coincidence, charging exactly the same price. Did the airlines’ costs double post-pandemic? Of course not. They simply took advantage of increased demand and their shrinking supply of flights to gouge the flying public.
Thus, another cause of inflation is monopoly. Not the game, but the monopoly power that mega multinational corporations have amassed which allows them to control markets and dictate prices. Fifty years ago, a half dozen airlines serviced Rochester and other mid-sized cities and they actually competed on price. Today, the only two remaining airlines watch each other’s internet prices as closely as consumers do and instantly match them. Neither American nor Jet Blue, the two remaining carriers serving Rochester, have any interest in competing on price, since both have a corporate strategy to maximize profit for their shareholders. This is happening across our economy in every major industry, from energy to food to health care. Some economists estimate that about 50% of the recent price hikes have been due primarily to corporate profiteering, not due to higher supply and labor costs as Wall Street pundits like to claim. Just to cite one egregious example, American oil industry profits doubled after Russia invaded Ukraine and disrupted world oil supplies, allowing them to push gas prices to record highs.
We are now seeing that the central bankers’ cure for inflation is to actually further drive up the price of big ticket items by dramatically increasing interest rates and the cost of borrowing. That’s right, folks. The way to fix inflation, according to our Central Bankers, is to raise prices until people stop buying, thus forcing us into a recession. If rising prices are the problem, why don’t they directly address them by putting a cap on price increases? Well, that would be socialism – the government intervening in the “free” market. Price controls would hurt corporate profits and send the stock market into a tailspin. So instead of directly addressing the issue, our leaders are going to force all of us to suffer a recession in the coming year to protect corporate monopoly profits.
This year was not your grandfather’s COVID. New mutations have sprouted variants that are more contagious but less deadly, allowing the virus to continue to spread across the world, defying all efforts to eradicate it. We seem to have resigned ourselves to the new reality that we will have to learn to live with COVID, just as we have learned to live with the flu every winter since the deadly flu outbreak of 1918. But we haven’t decided exactly how we intend to live with COVID. Between America’s carefree approach to live and let die and China’s draconian lockdowns and invasions of privacy, there must be a place somewhere on this Earth where people have found the responsible middle way – strict attention to personal health and hygiene and a robust public health response that work together to mitigate the disease’s deadly toll. I have to hope, for humanity’s sake, that such an idyllic place exists, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Cryptocurrency burst onto the world financial stage a few years back with the incredible promise of new-found wealth, free of government control. With a sales pitch that sounded way too good to be true, investors poured billions into the many forms that this unregulated currency became. Crypto got its name enshrined on sports arenas and celebrity endorsements made crypto seem as safe as your local bank. I know retirees who pulled money out of their 401ks to jump on the crypto bandwagon.
Late this year, the bubble burst. Cryptocurrency exchange FTX collapased and its founder and former CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, became the latest poster child for Wall Street greed gone wild. Valued at $32 billion back in January, the company declared bankruptcy in November after investors discovered that Bankman-Fried had been using its assets like a personal piggy bank, spending investors’ money instead of investing it. Since cryptocurrencies are devoid of any regulation save the law of the jungle, investors are wiped out with little recourse to recovering the billions they lost.
The future of cryptocurrency is uncertain. Some preduct that this fiasco will kill the industry as skittish investors pull their money out of these risky investments and seek the relative safety of the stock market and regulated assets like gold. Others see governments stepping in to regulate crypto like other currencies and provide some assurance to investors that they won’t be victims of recurring fraud. As for me, I’m sticking with my safe, if boring, retirement strategy of diverse assets and guaranteed income. I still remember the words of P.T. Barnum, 19th century American circus owner: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Despite all the sanctimonious rhetoric about how much we trust in God, everybody knows that Americans really worship one thing above all else – the Almighty Dollar.
Emerging from the pandemic, a new form of hybrid work is developing. It promises employees greater flexibility and the option to work from anywhere they can be productive. Hybrid work is creating an ecosystem of working from home, in coworking spaces, and in the office. A common model is 3-2 or 2-3, where employees spend two or three days a week in the office and the other days telecommuting from home. Wednesday is a new common day where everyone comes into the office and face to face meetings occur. The other four days feature a mix of people working in different locations and yet connected constantly by the Internet and social media, which has allowed this work anywhere phenomenon to flourish.
A more radical experiment underway in a few workplaces is the four day workweek. Now it’s not 4-10, but 4-8. That is, full pay for 32 hours of work. It is a movement worth keeping an eye on. Who outside the luxurious halls of the mahagony suite would oppose a four-day workweek? I can just hear the U.S. Chamber of Commerce scream in horror at the thought.
For the training and education industries, hybrid has meant mixed delivery modalities. I have spent 2022 delivering both in-person classes in Dallas, Orlando and Phoenix and delivering online webinars via WebEx and Zoom for virtual audiences all over the world at all hours of the day and night. The flexible delivery options enable learning to reach a wider audience and promises to bring our world closer together. I enjoy the benefits of both traveling the world and walking down the hall to my office to report for work.
Although I am past official retirement age now, I intend to continue working for my two remaining clients until I no longer can. I enjoy the teaching and auditing work I perform for them and it keeps me busy and out of trouble.
Here are some of my favorite moments and people of 2022:
To Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine President and TIME Person of the Year:
You are the most unlikely of heroes, a former actor/comedian who somehow got elected and then faced down the world’s leading dictator in a stalemated war. Your secret seems to be your extraordinary ability to rally the world behind your nation, a tribute to the power of communication when employed for a noble purpose.
To Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year – Gaslighting
Having nothing whatsoever to do with “gas” or “lighting,” the 2022 word of the year is defined as “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.” We have been deluged with gaslighting politicians in the past few years, so the term is not entirely new, but 2022 saw a surge due to the spread of political disinformation and deepfakes on social media. It actually derives from a 1940s film noir crime thriller in which a husband tries to drive his wife insane by manipulating the gas lights in their house. In the modern version, some politicians try to manipulate our minds into thinking that our problems are all due to people who look and behave differently. They want us to believe it has nothing to do with authoritarians like them exploiting us for their own selfish purpose.
To New LA Mayor Karen Bass:
Los Angeles finally elected a woman as mayor after 241 years. Mayor Bass is also the second Black person to lead the city. As a former state and federal legislative leader, Bass brings decades of experience to the difficult job of running America’s second largest city. Her immediate challenge is the explosion of homeless people camping on our streets. The latest census estimates LA has 69,000 people without shelter in a city where average rent tops $2000/month. If she can solve that conundrum, there’s no telling what she’ll do next. But homelessness has plagued her predecessors for decades, so I’m certainly not holding my breath.
To Florida Governor and Republican Presidential Aspirant Ron “Diablo” DeSantis:
For a man whose surname means “blameworthy” in Latin [sanctus], you are certainly skilled at blaming the “Other” for everything wrong in America. Your cynical campaign against “wokeism” claims that all of America’s problems are due to too many Blacks, immigrants and LGBTQ people having the audacity to demand equality. The real problem is that self-serving politicians like you hope that America just rolls over and goes back to sleep so you and your campaign donors can loot the public treasury.
To Retiring House Speaker Nancy Pilosi:
As the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House of Representative, you had to face every misogynist trope ever hurled against female leadership. As a liberal, you became the poster child for the right’s campaign against any progress in this country. Your gender and your city became symbols of hate and caused a MAGA terrorist to attack your husband in your own home. Yet, despite all the negative opposition, you managed to become one of the most productive and effective legislative leaders in our nation’s history. I think it’s time for more women to assume leadership. After all, look at how men have screwed up our world with their ego-driven, my-way-or-the-highway approach to leadership. (I’m looking at you, Elon Musk and Donald Trump!)
To FIFA World Cup Champion Argentina and Host Nation Qatar:
When FIFA announced that Qatar, a tiny Arabian nation with no soccer tradition, would host the World Cup in 2022, soccer fans expressed their dismay and disapproval. To avoid its oppressive summer heat, Qatar moved the games to November, disrupting European league schedules. As a conservative Muslim nation, Qatar also banned liquor at the games, causing many European fans to suffer withdrawal symptoms. Yet, despite the challenges, Qatar managed to host a thrilling World Cup with Lionel Messi and Argentina breaking Europe’s stranglehold on the Cup after its final victory over France, sealed by penalty kicks. This unique World Cup proved that fans could still enjoy the beautiful game without getting drunk and disorderly. But shouldn’t the biggest game on soccer’s schedule require sudden death overtime until someone finally scores? Can you imagine the Super Bowl decided by field goal kicks?
Are we headed to a future where governments serve ALL citizens or are we headed to WWIII?
Are we headed to a future where governments serve ALL citizens or are we headed to WWIII?
a. Governments serve the people