Texas Outlaw Writers Newsletter: Eeeeek! It's Almost Christmas Edition

Texas Outlaw Writers Newsletter: Eeeeek! It's Almost Christmas Edition
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash


LET THAT SINK IN, as the kids like to say.

Ahem. How's your Christmas season going? Got the shopping done? The cookies baked? The figgy pudding pudded? Does the season of Advent bring you a sense of peace and quiet anticipation? Are you thinking about giving, and not worrying about receiving?

Ha-ha! Kidding... I kid! You're out of your friggin' mind! Things are insane! Your kids are out of control. You and your partner's workload just went through the roof: "we really need to wrap up Q4 and close these projects out." The inlaws decided that they WILL come this year, after all. This time, they PROMISE not to talk about the stolen election or complain about that musty smell in the guest room.

And then you hit some local shops. You make a grocery store run to start stockpiling food as if you were laying in supplies for "Pandemic: Part IV." You actually do the thing that  you swore that you would never do again in this convenient, Amazon world: you decided to get a few things at "the mall." There wasn't a parking spot to be found in the city limits. It took two hours to get home in traffic.

Your freakout level just took a ride on an Elon Musk rocket... what are these prices??? You're just trying to buy some Christmas gifts for the kids, not send them to an Ivy League school! Grabbing some cute hostess favors and a new party dress is going to set you back the cost of a wedding in the Hamptons. Groceries for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (or the holidays of your choice) are equal to a house down payment.

And the tamale index is through the roof!

Tamales are $17.00 a dozen. SEVENTEEN. PER DOZEN!

There is no other option. It must be paid. The engagement ring might have to be pawned, or one of the children may need to be sold for medical experiments, BUT THERE WILL BE TAMALES!  

Gas has dropped to about 2.40 a gallon in parts of Texas, about equal to prices over a year ago. We're at full employment. Businesses are running pretty smoothly. Well, most businesses. What gives?

Well, there's a war on, have you heard? International fuel prices and delivery is still a problem. And it may get worse again here as a result.

Used cars are down all of 3.3%. Still leaving them 33% higher than if normal depreciation was occurring. (New cars are 7.2% higher, with a small drop in EVs due to the drop in gas prices.)

But eggs are up almost 50%. Through November, grocery prices were up 12% for the year! Flour prices jumped 24.9%, bread went up 15.7%, milk was 14.7% higher and coffee prices rose 14.6%. Chicken was up 12% and fruits and vegetables spiked 9.7%. Restaurant prices followed that pretty closely.

What the hell? Aren't those 'supply chain issues' over?

Uh, no. Have you heard about the Mississippi River? That big creek running down the middle of our country? Sure, it's a fun waterway to book a paddlewheel vacation, but it's also the nation's food highway until it doesn't rain. And rain it hasn't.

92% of US agricultural exports and 78% of the global exports of feed grains and soybeans come from Mississippi River Basin. And it needs to move.

A severe drought has gutted river traffic. More than a third of the rain in the US ends up in the Mississippi River system. You've seen the quaint stories about old sunken riverboats being exposed as the water levels drop. But barge traffic on the river has been devastated. The slow and low river flow has allowed salt and brackish water to move upstream, threatening the drinking water supply drawn for residents of Louisiana. The Mighty Mississip is less mighty and more a sip.

It takes 16 rail cars or 62 semi trucks to transport the same amount of cargo as a single barge if you can book space on either. A 15-barge tow keeps 1,050 trucks off the highway. Moreover, a barge can move one ton of freight 29% further than a rail car, and four times further than a truck. Rail puts out 39% more carbon dioxide than barges for the same amount of cargo; for trucks, the figure is 371%. But hey, let's not bring climate change into the discussion, right? What would that have to do with anything?

The barges that are coming down the river are often fractional loads since the draft is so shallow. Rates, if you can find a river carrier, are up 300%.

Remember the barely averted rail strike? The government ordered the rail workers' unions to keep working, specifically due to the current demand and continued backlog of freight. Over the years, the railroads have reduced rail lines, even digging them up. It's much easier to cut expenses/services and raise prices to show a profit when you have a near monopoly. Between 2014 and 2019, the four largest railroads laid off around 30,000 employees. The remaining workers had a reason to be angry about their exhausting work schedules with very little relief for sick leave or personal time off. This has resulted in great profits for the carriers while it has frustrated workers and resulted in less cargo capacity in times like these. Barges are simply tied up by the thousands, now being used to store grain since silos are full. The farm yields that aren't stored in a proper silo or being stored on a carrier somewhere are simply being piled on the ground. These crops don't have a lot of time to find protection from the weather.

And speaking of weather, most predictions see a pretty dry winter ahead, though some recent rainfall has put a small measure of precipitation into the watershed.

The forecast, however, is for continued inflation and lower credit scores as a holiday spending front drops a blizzard of debt on consumers.

What financial advice do the Outlaws have for this holiday season... what with inflation and interest rates still rising?

Buy the tamales. Sell the kids if you have to. These are desperate times.

From the Outlaws this week...

You've heard that WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner got out of a brutal Russian penal colony this last week. She's safe and back in Texas, where no doubt she has been welcomed home by the entire country... right? Nothing controversial about her release and homecoming, right???

RogerGray takes a look at the big prisoner swap with Russia. The President sees it as a real-life "Bridge of Spies." Republicans are thinking "Ship of Fools."

Just Shut Up and Dribble | Texas Outlaw Writers
Who knew hostage swaps could get so political? Oh, who are we kidding? We all knew.

DeeceX wanted to update his piece from last week on the Moore v. Harper case that is being argued before SCOTUS. This decision is flying a little under the radar as far as the media is concerned, but it will be a very consequential case when it comes to future elections in the country...

UPDATE: Moore v. Harper | Texas Outlaw Writers
Yesterday’s oral arguments in the controversial case about Independent State Legislature Theory provided clues but not answers about how SCOTUS will ultimately rule.

Myra Jolivet, as usual, brings peace and thoughtfulness to the seemingly unredeemable Outlaws. (!?!) More importantly, she starts a three-part series. "We begin clearing the last of the harvest and preparing for a new year." And to do that, she wants to highlight the good works of do-gooders, praise those that have fought for justice, and a little later she'll reveal her holiday wishlist for everyone.

No ugly. No snarky politics. Just Myra, shining her light.
<sigh> Breathe. Let her light shine while you share some goodwill. And thanks, Myra.

Countdown to the Holidays Pt. 1 | Texas Outlaw Writers
“Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus, it’s a time for worshipping whatever floats your inner boat. Whether it’s the god of Nordstroms, deep spiritual introspection, or heading to a church of choice.”

Everyone is shaped by the times in which we grow up. The world around us, what we see on the news, experience from our parents, friends, and our schools. Some generations are uplifted and others are stunned by the history they live through. This week Jim Moore looks at what was happening in this country when he was coming of age, and how that time period has shaped him, our country…..and all of us….

Growing Up | Texas Outlaw Writers
“We were a Dixie Diaspora, believing hard work was the magic for fulfilling dreams, not just breaking backs and hearts. The repeated tasks of a factory floor held more allure than swinging a hoe and chopping cotton along the Mississippi River, but it might have even been harder on the spirit.”

And finally, a DeeceX bonus as he gives a go at a bit of fiction. A short, Short Story about an incident on the little league field. We should all give him a hand...

A Summer Night in the Park | Texas Outlaw Writers
I spent many summer evenings down at the city park. One night turned out very different. A work of fiction.