America Held Hostage

As traditionally happens in this century, a Republican controlled House of Representatives is holding the nation’s debt ceiling hostage to get concessions from a Democrat president. So far, despite the cliff hanging last minute resolutions of the past, the U.S. has never defaulted on its debts. This time it feels different. I’ll explain why below.

As I have written in this space before, it is important to remember that the debt limit is based on commitments already made by the U.S. government based on the budget and appropriations authorized by past Congresses. It is not about new spending. It is about paying for past commitments, much like using a credit card to pay for a new suit and then later having to pay the credit company for the clothes you are already wearing. The laws creating the debt ceiling can be traced to the U.S. entry into World War I and were designed to make it easier for the government to expend funds in time of war. Since 1960 the debt ceiling has been raised 78 separate times, 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents. Indeed, it may surprise you to know that the debt ceiling was raised three times under the last administration with no muss, no fuss and in a bipartisan vote.

Why the debt ceiling is important can be complicated. Likewise, so is the impact of failing to raise it this time. In part, no one knows exactly what will happen because the U.S. has never defaulted on its obligations to pay creditors. However, most economists and financial experts believe that a default, perhaps even the threat of a default as we inch closer to the deadline, could have catastrophic consequences for the U.S. economy and to the world economy. As Catherine Rampell succinctly outlines it in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, based on interviews with leading experts on the subject, the result would be a “financial Armageddon.” Briefly, much of our and the world’s investments and financial institutions are based on the ironclad belief in U.S. Treasury bonds. The U.S. has always made good on the interest and principal payments for those bonds. They are the bedrock of the financial system because they have always been considered risk free. If U.S. bonds are deemed unreliable and they are down graded, it has a cascading effect on other assets. As a result, interest rates would rise across the board, the stock market would plummet, companies holding bonds that count on bond interest payments for revenue and investments could collapse, investors accepting bonds as collateral could call in the money owed, which without the bonds and their interest, could cause borrowers to go bankrupt and if all of that happens at the same time, the system simply would collapse.

Kind of a big deal. That summary also does not mention that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, military salaries, government workers salaries, etc. etc. would not be paid. Some believe that “selective” payments of certain bills over others could mitigate the impact of a full default but no one in government is sure how that would work, who decides and whether it is even legal under current laws.

That is why the MAGA Republicans are holding the debt ceiling hostage. The consequences are considered to be so dire, that surely the president must concede to their draconian demands in order to save the world. Bwaaaahahahaaa.

In theory, we have already broken through the ceiling. In practice, through the use of “special measures” Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen has been able to keep paying the bills. She now says that come 1 June, the special measures will no longer be able to meet the payments required.

The Republican controlled House did pass a debt ceiling increase in a bill last week. Many of the Republicans that voted for it expressed their opinion that it would never make it into law but rather that it was just a starting point for negotiations with the president. In fact, President Biden is scheduled to meet with the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate to discuss the issue tomorrow. The problem is that President Biden says he will not negotiate with terrorists. Well, I said that. He said he would not negotiate over the debt ceiling but was happy to do so for the budget and appropriations. The Speaker of the House refuses to separate the issues. Probably, because the House bill passed last week is so extreme, he knows it will not pass on its own and thus he must hold the debt ceiling hostage in order to squeeze out concessions.

Please note that President Biden put forth his budget over a month ago and the Republicans have yet to present their version of the budget, only the vague provisions in their debt ceiling bill. (A quick primer on U.S. government. The budget is the desired spending requirements and where, the Appropriations process is where the actual allocation of funds occurs and the Authorization committee allows for funds to be spent. The bills usually go through a lengthy committee process that involves detailed negotiations. That is the “regular order” that the president would like to see happen rather than the high stakes game playing out now.)

Here are some of the highlights of the bill pushed through by the MAGA Republicans in the House. The actual bill is hundreds of pages long, but here are areas that have drawn the most attention. The debt ceiling will only be extended until March of 2024. Thus if the president accedes to all of their demands, we will be in the same situation in less than a year anyway and an election year at that. They demand a 22% cut in all “non-defense discretionary spending.” They also say Social Security and Medicare are off the table. As Dana Milbank explains, that means that the areas cut will, among others, include the FBI, border security, airport security, highway construction, veterans health benefits, food stamps, national parks and a whole lot more. If they decide not to cut 22% from some programs (remember that they have not said where the cuts will come from, only that they are required), then the cuts will be more than 22% in some areas. Should this become law, it will have a devastating impact on our economy. Economists warn that the provisions of the current bill would greatly increase unemployment, significantly slow economic growth and raise the probability of a recession in the coming months.

Why would the MAGA Republicans want to do that? Two things come to mind. One, is if the economy is significantly disrupted, it increases Republican chances to retake the White House and the Congress in 2024. That’s the most charitable scenario. The second reason for playing with the economy is much more nefarious in my mind.

By definition, MAGA Republicans are ardent supporters of Trump, Trumpism and the insurrectionists on 6 January. Trump tried to overthrow the government in order to keep himself in the presidency. There is no question about that. Fake electors. Attacks on voting machine companies. Pleas to find phantom voters — “I just want 11,780 votes.” Fomenting violence against the Congress to preclude a fair and peaceful transition of power. It is all there. They are domestic terrorists. Too strong a statement? I think not. What else would we call people that supported overthrowing the duly elected government of the United States? If they supported Osama Bin Laden they would be called terrorists. He didn’t fly the planes into New York and Washington DC. Yet, clearly he was a terrorist. How is it different in this case? I cannot believe that anyone in these united states would support Trump for anything other than a long prison term. I cannot think of one good policy or decision that he made. But even if you named twenty wonderful things that he did, sorry, game over. He tried to foment a coup to overthrow the government. End of discussion. It did not work but I think he and his supporters will try again. Yet increasingly, Trump’s actions are being normalized. He has an upcoming one hour “town hall” on CNN. That is normalizing his actions and legitimizing his candidacy. To date, no other candidates have a one hour town hall scheduled. Why give him his infomercial to spread lies?

What does all of this have to do with the debt ceiling? My point is that there are MAGA Republicans willing to do anything to get rid of President Biden and bring in Trump (or some other autocrat wannabe like him). If that means tanking the world economy and throwing everything into chaos, then so be it. Terrorists use every means available to gain their desired end state.

I have absolutely no doubt that there are members of the House that would be perfectly happy to see the U.S. default on its debt. Just the price of doing business to create the conditions for an autocrat to assume power.

There are ways to stop the madness. I am not sure that there are any Republican “moderates” left in the House that could be counted upon to do the right thing. They all voted for the current mess of a bill that we have now. Yet, the Speaker only has a four vote majority. There may be five or ten Republicans willing to break ranks and join the Democrats to pass a reasonable debt ceiling bill. There are at least 18 House districts where Republicans won, but President Biden won the presidential vote handily. The Democrats already have a bill in committee that could be used to create a “discharge petition” that under certain rules, could bring a bill to the floor despite the Speaker’s objections. It requires the signed support of the majority of the House, which while a long shot, has a chance. Unfortunately, the window between proceeding with collecting the signatures and the date of default is very narrow.

Another option may be the 14th Amendment which reads in part, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” The original intent of this portion of the amendment was a reaction to Civil War debts, and it has never been used in modern times. Some legal experts believe that it gives the president authority to exceed the debt limit on his own, but should it be invoked, it will surely end up before the courts and that process could lead to a long period of uncertainty which would be nearly as disastrous to the economy.

What is certain is that no one knows exactly how this will be resolved. Current proposals include a few months extension for more negotiations, but personally, I do not see how the situation will change by then. The simplest answer is to raise the debt ceiling with a “clean” bill (no amendments or poison pills attached) and then do as the government should do — negotiate separate budget and appropriations bills.

But then when was the last time that things unfolded as they should?

The Constitution Is Not A “Terms of Service” Agreement

Thursday, the twice impeached, anti-Semitic, racist former president was indicted by a grand jury called together by the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. This is the first time in our history that a former President of the United States was indicted. As of this post, the specific charges are unknown, something to remember amidst all the pro-Trump blather about how unjust the indictment is to the former president. A grand jury of ordinary citizens of the state of New York found that sufficient evidence exists to conclude that there is probable cause that a crime (or crimes) was committed. Trump will be given all due legal protections and is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the unanimous vote of a jury of his peers. While historic, this indictment is no different than that of any other citizen in our country. Keep that in mind when listening to the hyperventilating MAGA politicians and their hyperbolic accusations amplified by the court-proven liars on Fox News prime time talk shows..

It is the reaction of the MAGA politicians, probable 2024 presidential candidates and Republican members of the House of Representatives and Senate that really worries me. Obviously, Trump is stronger in his control over the Republican Party than I thought he was, but time will tell whether he keeps control in the coming months. But their reactions, statements and actions show that the majority of national Republican politicians are firmly in the Trumpist camp, even as he threatens “death and destruction” if indicted. I find that dangerous. (The Trump campaign put out an email where six governors, 26 Senators, 64 members of the House including the Speaker, and ten state Attorneys General stated their solid support for Trump following his indictment.) Whether or not Trump continues as the center of attention or ends up as a has-been, Trumpism, MAGAism or what I prefer to call it, authoritarianism, is the bedrock philosophy of many in the current MAGA Republican Party. Let me explain.

Many Republican leaders did not wait to see what the charges against Trump are before protesting his indictment in vile, radical and un-American terms. Their support is unwavering and full-throated. This deep support is for a man that attempted to destroy the Constitution and to stage a coup. (I feel confident that there are more indictments in his future.) No Americans who call themselves true Americans should in any way, shape or form support a coup. They took an oath to the Constitution, not to one man. Unfortunately, too many politicians seem to equate their oath of office “to support and defend” the Constitution with that of the terms of service on an electronic device app. In their minds, their oath seems to be just another box to be checked in order to get the job. They are cult-like in their loyalty to Trump and his authoritarian ways. Remember that last week the cult members attacked Mr. Bragg for his indictment of Trump when Trump was not even indicted. Trump declared he would be arrested on a certain day and all hell broke loose. He wasn’t. But he did make a pile of money for his so called “legal defense fund.” Apparently, to them, swindling people who can ill afford to pay for the legal fees of an alleged billionaire, when he was not even indicted, is okay. However, upholding the Constitution is only relevant when convenient.

Here is what I am most concerned about, with or without Trump. In a 16 March 2023 campaign video allegedly outlining his national security policies as president, Trump said the following (the transcript and capitalization are courtesy of the campaign):

“We have never been closer to World War III than we are today under Joe Biden. A global conflict between nuclear-armed powers would mean death and destruction on a scale unmatched in human history. It would be nuclear Armageddon. NOTHING is more important than avoiding that nightmare. We will avoid it. But we need new leadership.

Every day this proxy battle in Ukraine continues, we risk global war. We must be absolutely clear that our objective is to IMMEDIATELY have a total cessation of hostilities. All shooting has to stop. This is the central issue. We need PEACE without delay.

In addition, there must also be a complete commitment to dismantling the entire globalist neo-con establishment that is perpetually dragging us into endless wars, pretending to fight for freedom and democracy abroad, while they turn us into a third-world country and a third-world dictatorship right here at home. The State Department, the defense bureaucracy, the intelligence services, and all the rest need to be completely overhauled and reconstituted to fire the Deep Staters and put America First. We have to put America First.

Finally, we have to finish the process we began under my Administration of fundamentally reevaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission. Our foreign policy establishment keeps trying to pull the world into conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia based on the lie that Russia represents our greatest threat. But the greatest threat to Western Civilization today is not Russia. It’s probably, more than anything else, ourselves and some of the horrible, U.S.A. hating people that represent us. It’s the abolition of our national borders. It’s the failure to police our own cities. It’s the destruction of the rule of law from within. It’s the collapse of the nuclear family and fertility rates, like nobody can believe is happening. It’s the Marxists who would have us become a Godless nation worshipping at the altar of race, and gender, and environment. And it’s the globalist class that has made us totally dependent on China and other foreign countries that basically hate us.

These globalists want to squander all of America’s strength, blood and treasure, chasing monsters and phantoms overseas—while keeping us distracted from the havoc they’re creating right here at home. These forces are doing more damage to America than Russia and China could ever have dreamed. Evicting the sick and corrupt establishment is the monumental task for the next president. And I’m the only one who can do it. I’m the only one that can get the job done. I know exactly what has to be done.”

Scary stuff. American citizens are a greater threat than Russia or China? Dissolve NATO? Allow Russian aggression against Ukraine to stand? Eliminating the Department of State, the defense establishment, the intelligence services and any member of government that does not kneel to Trump? His messianic message is that only he is worthy of leading our country. This is exactly what authoritarianism looks like.

The speech is also full of code words that resonate with white supremacists, Q-Anon believers, neo-Nazis and others that would violently destroy our diverse society. One example is the reference to “the greatest threat to Western Civilization.” This is the same phrase used by the authoritarian leader of Hungary Victor Orban and of indicted war crimes fugitive and child kidnapper Vladimir Putin of Russia. Their view, and those hard core followers of Trump, is that western civilization means preserving a society that is of western European descent, white, Christian, heterosexual and living in a nuclear family where the husband is in charge. If you are black, brown, an immigrant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, single parent, LGBTQ, or any of the “others,” then do as many Trumpists have said, “go back where you came from.” They do not want you in America.

Do not think that this speech was a one off. During his campaign rally in Waco Texas last weekend, he doubled down on all of it, almost verbatim, and adding names of people that need to be removed. In a stunt right out of the authoritarian handbook, Trump began the rally with an announcer intoning “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and place your hand over your heart for…”Justice For All” featuring President Donald J. Trump and the J6 Choir.” He then stood at faux attention with his hand over his heart while the J6 Choir began the Star Spangled Banner interrupted at various times by Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Thus, he has usurped our national anthem for personal monetization (one can buy the recording on line) and glamorized insurrectionists. The J6 Choir members are convicted insurrectionists and coup plotters serving time in jail. While the song played, giant video screens played recordings of the insurrectionists attacking the capitol. Glorifying violence. Calling for violence. The actions of the rioters are not considered thuggish or criminal. Pay attention to the language. The MAGA believers think that violence is justified, even patriotic. It will only increase as Trump and his lackeys in the Republican Party continue to incite it. All of it shows yet another sign of the authoritarian roots of the MAGA philosophy.

Whatever happens to Trump himself, there are just too many Republican politicians that have unabashedly embraced the tenets of his political movement. The movement’s efforts will to be create chaos, uncertainty and violence in order to sow doubts as to the efficacy of our democratic Republic. The chaos is added to by a refusal to raise the debt limit, by Trump’s speeches and willingness to provoke “death and destruction”, by Congress attempting to interfere with the Judiciary as they are with District Attorney Bragg, by the continued undermining of democracy through the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen, by the refusal to address gun safety legislation, by the apocalyptic language regularly used, and, a big “tell”, as they use the phrase “Biden Regime.” By dehumanizing those not in the cult, romanticizing criminals as “patriots” and using language that sounds like President Biden is a dictator, they are attempting to create a scenario where they and their followers can step in and restore order through an authoritarian leader.

Take these efforts seriously. Those pushing this agenda have no use for the Constitution. It is merely a prop. There are far more good people in these United States that believe in the system and believe in their fellow Americans regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation or any other factor. The good guys will win. But only if we pay attention and make our voices heard.

Lying For Profit And Purpose

The lying liars that work at Fox News Corporation (FNC) are now the official propaganda arm of the MAGA Republican Party and cater to the party’s autocratic and fascist tendencies for corporate profit and to push lies about the 2020 election (still!) and the attempted coup on 6 January 2021. Too strong of a statement? I think not. This week we saw for ourselves how hypocritical and uncaring about the future of our country the “talent” and corporate leaders at FNC actually are.

In recent days, two sets of supporting documents were released for the Dominion Voting Systems Corporation case suing Fox News and FNC for defamation and asking for 1.6 billion dollars in damages. They are also suing Rudy Giuliani, Sydney Powell, Mike Lindell, Patrick Byrne, One America News Network (OANN), and Newsmax for billions more. (Another voting machine company called Smartmatic is also suing FNC for 2.7 billion dollars along with the other defendants.) The Dominion case is moving through the judicial system as, so far, all attempts by the defendants to have the cases dismissed failed.

The documents released so far clearly show that the leadership at FNC and the on air personalities such as Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and others knew that the falsehoods being spread by Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell and the rest were entirely false. Yet, they continued to give them air time and to promote the lie that the election was rigged and that Trump actually won the election. They purposely tried to undermine the 2020 election results as they feared a loss of profits from a Fox viewership that was turning to other sources of right wing conspiracy stories because Fox announced Joe Biden as the winner. (Isn’t it ironic that they lost viewers by telling the truth?)

Under the terms set by the Supreme Court decision in New York Times vs Sullivan, there is a very high bar required to prove defamation or libel by a news organization. Because of the First Amendment, the court ruled in that 1964 case that the plaintiff must show that “the defendant knew that a statement was false or was reckless in deciding to publish the information without investigating whether the information was accurate.” Over the years, this ruling has protected many news organizations from lawsuits. In the Dominion case, judges have so far ruled that there is sufficient evidence in the case to move to trial because it may be possible that FNC knew what they were doing was wrong, but they did it anyway. I am not an attorney, but to me the emails, texts, and memos revealed so far clearly show that everyone involved knew exactly what they were doing and deliberately and with malice of forethought went ahead and spread lies as though they were facts.

It gets worse.

Knowing full well what was happening in the Dominion case, and that many Fox News personalities were liars, the Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (MAGA – CA) none-the-less turned over roughly 44,000 hours of video evidence from the violent attack on the capitol to Tucker Carlson of Fox News. Only to Tucker Carlson. Not to any other news outlet, at all. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Carlson played his selected excerpts from the recordings that purported to show that the rioters and thugs in the building were actually just “sightseers.” He claims that the footage shows that “taken as a whole, the video does not support the claim that January 6 was an insurrection. In fact, it demolishes that claim.” He also claimed that the authorities lied about the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, a particularly callous and shameful statement. In other words, all of us that saw what was happening, live and in color, as it happened, are all victims of yet another big lie. Or as Trump once said, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Only people like Trump, Green, Boebert, Gaetz and Carlson are truth tellers, otherwise it’s all “fake.” Thankfully, many Senate Republicans, along with all Democrats, condemned the selected release of the tapes and reiterated that it was a full blown attack on the capitol by insurrectionists. Unfortunately, in the heart of MAGA country — the House Republican caucus — there was no such condemnation. In fact, there was celebration in some corners that now the “truth” is out. They claim the insurrectionists are actually patriots being held as “political prisoners” by a corrupt government.

Why do I bring this up? Because to me it is terrifying. I may be able to call Tucker Carlson a liar and understand his devious motives, but millions of others take him at face value. He is purposely poisoning the well of facts, truth, and trust in order to undermine our democracy. Oh, and to make a profit while doing so. Despicable. Why poison the well? Because he, and those like him, do not believe in a democracy where everyone has the right to vote and a voice in choosing the direction our country should go. Mr. Carlson’s favorite leader is Victor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary. Why? Because Mr. Orban is anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-free press, and believes that the white Christian culture of Europe is being destroyed by “outsiders” and must be “saved.” He is creating an autocratic state where his is the only voice that matters.

It gets worse.

Last weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — a long standing conference that used to be about discussing conservative values and policies and ideas, but now is a MAGA rally — Trump took it over as a coronation of his future presidency. In a nearly two hour rambling mess of a speech, Trump laid out the reasons he should be elected president. While I happen to believe that he is becoming less and less a factor in politics, he is not irrelevant. And his supporters are becoming ever more rabid. That makes him dangerous.

In his speech he said these ominous lines, “If you put me back in the White House, their reign will be over and they know it. America will be a free nation once again. We are not a free nation right now. We don’t have a free press or a free anything right now. In 2016 I declared I am your voice. Today I add that I am your warrior, I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged, and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution. I will totally obliterate the deep state.”

Fascism, here we come. “Retribution?” Sounds like he is claiming that he will rule with an iron fist. Recall that he called for the “termination” of the Constitution.

What do we have when we put this all together? Danger. The MAGA crowd in Congress, some state legislatures, some governors, “news” outlets, and the dark reaches of the web all believe that they must “rescue” our country. The threats of violence are barely disguised. The propaganda machine at FNC continues to pump out lies. And on and on in various forms. For those not paying attention, the anti-democratic voices are getting louder and stronger.

Why? To sow division, hate, fear and confusion. Once people think that they cannot trust any government or elected official, any news organization or any other citizen outside of their tribe, the door is open for the autocrats and fascist leaning elements of our society to step in and impose their own view of the future. Believe me, most of us reading this piece are not in their plans.

We have to care or they win. No more “whataboutism” or “both sides” or “I don’t read the paper or watch the news anymore because it is too upsetting.” That is what they are counting on. The aim is to wear people down to the point that they stop paying attention. Do not let it happen. Pay attention. Vote. Let your voice be heard.

By nature I am an optimist. I think our democracy will survive, after all we survived the Civil War. But it won’t survive on its own. I worry that the attack on 6 January was a dress rehearsal. I worry about political violence, as does FBI Director Wray who is on record that the number one threat to our society is domestic political terrorism — and most of it comes from the hard right. When Trump talks of “retribution” he is using a thinly disguised reference to violence. When MAGA Republican members of Congress wear AR-15 lapel pins on the House floor, they are silently implying violence. There are signs everywhere.

Be careful out there.

Danger! Drag Queens Ahead

You are forgiven if you have not been following the hullabaloo surrounding red state culture war foolishness. There are many serious concerns in the world and most folks are just trying to get through the day with work, school, kids and the travails of everyday life. Unfortunately, the impact in the states pursuing laws meant to inhibit or exclude LGBTQ citizens is real for those that bear the brunt of those laws. But here is how bad the paranoia and faux rage is — at least nine Republican led states have legislation proposed or under review to criminalize drag queens.

The reasoning behind these proposals is that drag shows are venues for “grooming” young children for sexual purposes or to “turn” them gay or lesbian. Representative of these arguments is the one made by a Republican Texas legislator who argues that drag shows are a “slippery slope” to the legalization of pedophilia.

Most of these proposed laws are so broad that it may lead to First Amendment and other issues given that the language in them generally says that it applies to anyone who appears in a gender identity different than that of their birth identity. Anyone so dressed would be violating the law. Indeed. Well say goodbye kids to a host of popular movies, TV programs and plays. In no particular order, here are a few that seemingly could be deemed illegal under these laws if shown in a public place or viewed by a person under 18.

White Christmas (1954 movie where Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye perform dressed as “sisters”)

Tootsie (1982 movie where Dustin Hoffman poses as a female soap opera actress)

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993 move where Robin Williams poses as a female housekeeper/nanny)

Bosom Buddies (1980-82 TV sitcom where Peter Scolari and Tom Hanks pose as women to live in women’s housing)

The Flip Wilson Show (1970-74 TV variety show where Flip Wilson often dressed as the female character Geraldine)

The Bob Hope Show (TV shows and specials where Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Jack Benny and others dressed in drag)

Some Like It Hot (1959 movie with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dressed as women to join an all female jazz band)

Victor/Victoria (1982 movie with Julie Andrews playing a man playing a woman to sing in a nightclub)

Angels in America (2003 TV mini-series where Meryl Streep played multiple characters including an aging male rabbi)

As You Like It (Shakespeare play where the character Rosalind disguises herself as a young boy)

The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare play where the character Portia disguises herself as a male law clerk)

I could go on and on but you get the idea. Some form of “drag shows” have been a part of the mainstream for decades, nay, for centuries as in earlier eras women were not allowed on the stage and men played all of the parts, male and female. The Shame!

I’ve seen all of these programs, some as a child, and I never felt “groomed’ or that anyone was trying to “convert” me. These attempts at banning or restricting drag shows, such as the current hot button issue with children’s reading hour at libraries, are merely ploys to inflame fear and to be “anti-woke” — whatever that means — for political reasons.

Here is the most interesting part for me. These same Republicans rant and rave that parents should have the final say on what books can be read in school, what content should be in school curriculums and a host of other “parents’ rights” issues. Yet, these legislators must be convinced that when it comes to drag shows that parents cannot make a considered decision for their own children. If you don’t want your kids to go to the drag queen reading at the library, then do not go. The very people that want to condemn the federal government for being the “nanny state” want to tell us what TV shows, movies and plays we and/or our kids should watch.

Unfortunately, however frivolous such laws appear, they are really thinly disguised efforts to further restrict the rights of LBGTQ citizens. That is serious business. The real “slippery slope” is the restriction of our basic rights. That is no laughing matter.


This week on the first anniversary of the Russian assault on Ukraine, President Joe Biden marked the occasion in two important ways. In an act of secrecy worthy of a spy thriller, he visited the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to reiterate U.S. and NATO support of the Ukrainians in their fight to retain their democracy against a ruthless dictator. The next day, President Biden gave a major speech in Warsaw Poland celebrating the stand that democracies around the world are taking against Russia and vowing that their support will continue until Ukrainian democracy is secure.

One year ago, I am sure that Russian President Vladimir Putin thought that he would be standing in Mariinsky Palace, the ceremonial home of the Ukrainian president, rather than the President of the United States. Many others, whether or not they admit it now, thought the same thing one year ago. There was no way that Ukraine could stand up to the mighty Russian bear. And yet, they did, and they have, and they continue to do so. It must have seemed like the ultimate insult to Mr. Putin that President Biden strode the streets of Kyiv in broad daylight, even as air raid sirens blared during his stroll with Ukrainian President Zelensky. Neither president flinched.

President Biden’s visit lasted five hours after flying all night from Washington to Germany to Poland where he boarded a train for the ten hour trip to Kyiv. It was another ten hour train trip back to Poland after his visit. Not too bad considering his critics think that Mr. Biden is “too old” to continue as president. He seemed invigorated and on top of his game as he proudly stood by Mr. Zelensky’s side and declared “Ukraine stands! Democracy stands!” During his visit, Mr. Biden promised an additional 500 million dollars in military aid to Ukraine. The visit was symbolic, of course, but in many areas of diplomacy and international affairs, showing up is important. It indicates resolve and commitment. It has real meaning. It puts strength behind words that could have been spoken in the White House but that mean so much more when said in the streets of Kyiv.

Several historians pointed out that this is the first time an incumbent American president has been in a war zone and vulnerable to enemy fire since President Abraham Lincoln visited Fort Stevens on the outskirts of Washington D.C. on 12 July 1864. There, during the second day of an attack by Confederate soldiers, President Lincoln stood on a parapet of the fort to see what was happening and came under fire from enemy snipers. Thankfully, he was uninjured. While not trying to make President Biden’s visit comparable to President Lincoln’s, as he did not come under direct fire, it was still a remarkable act of courage personally and as a president. While other presidents have visited war zones before in Viet Nam, Afghanistan and elsewhere, they were visiting U.S troops in areas under U.S. control under very strict security protocols — often in the dark of night. Mr. Biden had no such protection from American forces on the ground which is why the impact of his visit was so powerful and meaningful to the Ukrainians and to our NATO allies and friends.

The following day, Mr. Biden gave a powerful speech in Warsaw. It was perhaps the best foreign policy speech of his presidency and was delivered forcefully and convincingly. In it, he vowed that Russia will “never” win in Ukraine and reiterated that the U.S. and NATO will stand stronger than ever in their support for Ukraine. He also directly refuted a claim made by Mr. Putin in a speech earlier in the day where Mr. Putin claimed that Russia was not attacking Ukraine but merely defending itself from an attack by NATO forces. All lies, as most of the world knows. As Mr. Biden said in his speech, “This war was never a necessity. It’s a tragedy. President Putin chose this war. Every day the war continues is his choice.” He also further emphasized the remarks made by Vice President Kamala Harris a few days before that the Russians are conducting “crimes against humanity without shame or compunction.” This is a statement that has meaning in the long run as it triggers international laws and treaties that will attempt to hold Mr. Putin and his flunkies accountable for the purposeful death and destruction the Russians are inflicting on innocent civilians.

Mr. Biden put into words what is at stake. Simply put, it is freedom. Not just for Ukraine but for the world. As he said in his speech:


There is no sweeter word than freedom.  There is no nobler goal than freedom.  There is no higher aspiration than freedom.  Americans know that, and you know it.  And all that we do now must be done so our children and grandchildren will know it as well.


The enemy of the tyrant and the hope of the brave and the truth of the ages.


This is where the far right MAGA crowd in the U.S. House of Representatives misses the mark. They are very critical of our policy towards Ukraine and our willingness to support them in their fight against Russia. Some are open admirers of Mr. Putin and all that he stands for. I will resist slamming their ignorant statements, for in the end, most Americans understand that if we allow Russia to subjugate Ukraine, it will not end there. For the first time since World War II, a country, Russia, is openly saying that the old world order where nations do not subjugate other nations by unprovoked force, no longer applies. If we do not stop Mr. Putin in Ukraine, then the Baltic States, Poland, and other eastern European nations will be in line for Russian aggression. Mr. Putin has for years reiterated his belief, first stated in 2005, that the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.” Worse than World War I. Worse than World War II. He intends to restore that empire. It is his vision quest.

If he is not stopped in Ukraine, then nowhere is safe. Make no mistake, under President Biden if Russia attacks a NATO country, it is war. It is better to stop him in Ukraine than to allow that to happen. It is incredible that some right wing MAGA advocates do not know or understand history or the threat imposed by Russia.

There is another player on the world stage watching all of this. China. Be assured that President Xi Jinping is following events in Europe closely as he contemplates his own ambitions towards Taiwan. A year ago he would be among those that thought Ukraine had little chance of holding off the Russians and he likely assumed that NATO would not band together to support them. While China is willing to take the long view, he must now assess whether the Taiwanese will fight as relentlessly as the Ukrainians. He must also assess whether the rest of the world will come to Taiwan’s aid as they have in Ukraine. He must also assess whether his own military, in which no one currently in his Armed Forces has experienced full scale combat, is up to the test against the U.S. and other NATO countries and friends that have become combat hardened in over twenty years of wars in Asia.

It is not just about Ukraine. It is about fighting tyranny and autocrats the world over. Will democracies be up to the task? One year ago many autocrats around the world assessed the U.S. and NATO as weak and unwilling to stand up for their principles. Probably, that is a legacy from the previous administration. Now those autocrats know the answer.

Let’s make no mistake, however. The war in Ukraine will continue for a long time. Perhaps years. While the U.S. and NATO have been crucial to Ukraine’s success, the aid given so far mostly just keeps Ukraine from losing, rather than winning. The West must increase the lethality and range of the weapons and systems supplied to Ukraine. Without expanding our support, the war will continue to drag on and on. In the end, do not forget that Russia has a larger population, economy and military than Ukraine. A war of attrition is not good for Ukraine and that is how the war is slowly evolving. In some respects, it resembles the trench warfare days of World War I. If the West truly believes that this is the critical stand that democracies must take to prevent the spread of dictatorships, then it is worth giving the Ukrainians the weapons they need, including offensive capabilities.

As the well worn phrase explains, “freedom isn’t free.”

Under The Big Top

Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung.

— P.T. Barnum

As expected, the 118th Session of Congress got underway with a real spectacle after fifteen ballots to finally elect Kevin McCarthy (RMAGA – CA) as the Speaker of the House. In his vision quest to finally achieve his lifelong dream to be Speaker, he gave enormous power to the clowns that constitute his main supporters in the Republican caucus. Some observers argue that he gave away too much power, and thus will have little ability to actually govern or to accomplish much of anything. Assuming that the Republicans in the House of Representatives really intend or desire to accomplish anything of substance, those observers may be right. The bottom line, however, is the same. Not much of value will come out of the House in the next two years. Anything that does is likely to be ridiculous — such as their current effort to do away with the Internal Revenue Service and eliminate federal income taxes — and is almost certainly assured to fail in the Senate and absolutely will be vetoed by President Joe Biden.

There are, however, some elements of Mr. McCarthy’s concessions to the most extreme elements of his caucus that can cause real harm to our country. (I say most extreme in the context of believing that all elements of the House Republican Party are extreme. I don’t think that there are any “moderates” left. There are only hard right wing and dangerously hard right wingers in the Party now. The evidence is based not on public pronouncements, but rather on actual votes. So far, no matter how extreme the issue, the Republicans have voted unanimously. We will see if some long time Republican members realize that the country is being taken hostage and form their own bloc to counter the crazies.)

Many analysts have focused on the moves inside the House and how damaging they may prove to be. Some of it is arcane to the casual observer, but has real consequences to how things are accomplished. Or not accomplished. I do not intend to go into each and every corner of Mr. McCarthy’s concessions to the extreme right. However, there are two that we should pay attention to as the consequences could impact us all. One is the impending battle over raising the debt limit in the United States. The other is the formation of a new committee called The Select Subcommittee On The Weaponization of the Federal Government. The Chair of the Judiciary Committee Representative Jim Jordan (RMAGA – OH) will chair the subcommittee. Some critics grimly call it “The Tin Foil Hat Committee” or “The Committee to Obstruct Justice” because its primary goal is to investigate the Department of Justice, the FBI, our intelligence agencies and according to Mr. Jordan, to investigate why conservatives are being targeted by the federal government and therefore he needs to protect the First Amendment, including such violations of the amendment as is embodied in the investigations into the events on and before 6 January 2021.

It has become a twenty first century game for Republicans to try and hold the debt ceiling hostage when a Democrat is in the White House. When a Republican is president, the necessary legislation passes without remark or notice. Separating the hyperbole from the facts is important. Without going into all of the history, one should note that the Fourteenth Amendment (one amazing Amendment, by the way) says in part, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” In other words, pay the bills lawfully incurred by the U.S. government. Simple, right? All it means is that we as a country, just like most consumers, buy things on credit and pay them off over time. And it’s in the Constitution. There should be no problem but somehow in this century Republicans try to use it as a way to cut spending by the federal government (and thereby shrink the size of the government and eliminate or shrink programs they don’t like). Their concerns are over future spending. That’s legitimate and should be debated in every Congress. But they present it to the American public as some kind of current fiscal responsibility, not future. Again, let’s look at the facts. The debt ceiling was originally an accounting step that Congress took during World War I to allow more flexibility to the Treasury Department to spend during the war without continually coming to Congress for approval. It was not meant to be the same as a budget, appropriation or authorization. It is only in recent decades that it has become a weapon that the Republicans use against the Democrats, depending on which party is in power. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s official web site, the debt ceiling has been raised 78 times since 1960. Forty-nine times under Republican presidents and twenty-nine times under Democratic presidents. That is not exactly a Democrat spending problem. Math can be a tricky subject and one can manipulate the numbers a lot of ways whether discussing absolute dollars, percentages, relative dollars or other measures. That said, most experts conclude that the three presidents to have the national debt grow the most were, in order, Abraham Lincoln, George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump.

Here is the bottom line. The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. We have already passed the debt ceiling but the Secretary of the Treasury is using “extraordinary measures” to keep paying the bills until there is a new limit (which allows more borrowing). Those measures run out around June. The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt in our entire history. No one knows exactly what will happen because it has never happened before. However, there is near unanimous agreement by serious financial experts and economists that it will trigger a world wide recession, including sky rocketing interest rates in the U.S., millions of jobs lost, the government shut down, social safety nets dry up and an economic nightmare for the average citizen. No one wants that to happen. And that’s the rub. Republicans know that Democrats can never allow that to happen and so, voila, the perfect hostage situation. Speaker McCarthy wants to “negotiate” with President Biden over spending cuts in order to raise the debt. The president says that there can be no negotiation because raising the debt limit is the normal business of the Congress under the Constitution and has nothing to do with future spending. Here’s the problem for the president. Mr. McCarthy is coming to the table with a wide ranging and drastic reduction in government programs, including in Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. If the president gives in to even a little bit of that agenda in exchange for raising the limit, the Republicans have scored a tremendous political victory without having given up anything in return, merely doing their Constitutional duty. That is not a “negotiation.” Further complicating the issue is that members of Mr. McCarthy’s caucus probably would not mind seeing the U.S. default on its debts. Their goal is create as much chaos, anarchy and division as possible in order to fill the vacuum with their own autocratic policies and leaders. In other words, there is no guarantee Mr. McCarthy can pass anything without the Democrats help.

Some of those same extremists that would not mind destroying the American and world economy are on the Weaponization Committee. Chairman Jordan is under investigation for his actions leading up to the attempted coup on 6 January 2021. Other prominent members of the committee include MAGA supporters that are also under investigation. The panel will have thirteen members and Mr. McCarthy has already put eleven Republicans on it. Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) automatically gets a seat as the senior minority member on the Judiciary Committee. That leaves space for two other Democrats. Democracy in action.

It is a dangerous situation. While little of substance will come out of that committee, it will be used to try to investigate the investigators and as a cudgel against any other member of the government or a particular agency that irks them. Mr. Jordan has already demanded that the Department of Justice turn over all of their investigatory information on the 6 January coup. This would be unprecedented in American history. The Congress cannot interfere in ongoing criminal investigations. It would completely undermine the rule of law in our country. DOJ rebuffed the request but I am sure that the committee will haul the Attorney General, Director of the FBI and others before their panel to brow beat them, bully them and otherwise yell and put forth misinformation. In other words, their goal is to create more chaos, more attempts to undermine American’s faith in the government and our institutions and to foment more efforts to bring down our democracy. Also in their aim is the Department of Education and “Big Tech.” They are chartered with the ability to access the same information shared with the Intelligence Committee, another unprecedented move. They will investigate the “unfair” search warrant at Mar-a-Lago and the discovery of classified papers found in President Biden’s home (but not those recovered from Mar-a-Lago because, as one Representative put it, “he’s been investigated enough.”) They most certainly will project the insurrection on 6 January as a group of patriots exercising their First Amendment rights (see above) and of course try to cover up their own involvement in the coup attempt. Recall that 147 Republicans voted on 6 January 2021 to overturn the election. All eight of the Senators and 118 of the Representatives are part of the current Congress.

In simple terms, the Weaponization Committee can try, and will try, to investigate anything that they want to anywhere in the country and anywhere throughout the government. Witch Hunts, indeed. More dangerously they will attempt to gain access to the most sensitive information available to our justice and intelligence systems. No one knows what they may do with that information or how destructive they may be. Every Republican in the House voted to authorize this committee. That is why I despair that there are no moderates left on the Republican side of the aisle.

The clowns are in charge in the House. The circus is underway. It will be quite the show. One hopes that it results only in fury and showboating and lots of air time on Fox News rather than causing real harm to our democracy.

The Insurrection Continues

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then get elected and prove it.

P.J. O’Rourke — American Satirist

As I write this, the House of Representatives failed for the twelfth time to elect a Speaker of the House, a position that is second in line to the presidency. Until a Speaker is selected, no other business may be conducted in the House, including swearing in the Members. Technically, right now, we do not have a House of Representatives and you have no representation in that body. This is the first time since 1856 that it has taken so many votes to elect a Speaker, and the first time since 1923 that more than one vote was required. In 1856 it took 133 votes over two months. In that case, the main issue was the debate over whether slavery should be allowed in the new states joining the Union or not. It was a substantive issue with real consequences. Today’s votes have nothing to do with any substantive issue. It is purely and plainly a power struggle within the Republican Party. Whether a political party has a huge majority or a slim one, as in this case, that party is expected to put together the votes to select a Speaker and to institute the rules for the incoming Congress. The current crop of Republicans are failing in every respect and the humiliation of the would be Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) continues.

I have written in this space before that Mr. McCarthy is a textbook example of a poor leader, and now we can observe just how bad he is. Apparently, he wants the title of Speaker of the House but he doesn’t really want the job. In his attempts to get himself elected, he has abdicated most of his responsibilities and given those that are holding him politically hostage everything that they have asked for, and yet he still does not have enough votes. It is likely that later today, or tomorrow, or next week he will end up as Speaker, but he will be the weakest one to serve in that position in a very long time. The intra-party fight is mostly over power. To outsiders it seems like an arcane collection of rules and patronages and who can chair what committee. It is a fight for power. It has nothing to do directly with policy or governing. However, those arcane rules and committee assignments will set the tone for what, if any, legislation comes to the floor for a vote. Primarily, those Republican Members gumming up the work of the House now are the very same ones who want to spend their time in office impeaching President Biden (allegedly Mr. McCarthy has promised that they can start hearings to do so in order to get their votes) investigating the J-6 Committee, and generally seeking revenge on any Democrat, Republican or citizen that they perceive to be their “enemy.”

This week’s boondoggle is only a preview of things to come. I do not expect any serious work to be accomplished over the next two years. Should there be a Speaker McCarthy, and should he accidentally want to do some serious work, such as, oh say raise the government debt limit on expenditures already made, and thus keep from ruining our economy and plunge the world into a previously unknown crisis, he can be challenged by one disgruntled Republican who can force a vote on his continued Speakership. In other words, Mr. McCarthy is mostly powerless, held hostage by the people within his party that have no interest in actually governing. They are only interested in power, Fox News exposure and raising money. Chaos and anarchy are their goals. They are a mix of insurrectionists, grifters, election-deniers and idiots. And Mr. McCarthy is ready to turn the People’s House over to them so that he can get his portrait mounted in the Capitol.

Actually, this should come as no suprise.

Today is the second anniversary of the insurrectionist attack on our government in an attempt to keep the former president in power. For the first time in our history, there was no peaceful transition of power from one president to the next. Similarly, in the House, there is no peaceful transition of power from one leader to another. In this case it is not because one party or opponents of those newly in power fought to keep the transition from happening. This is an intra-party Civil War for the heart and soul of one of the two major parties in the United States. The situation is entirely the creation of the Republican Party.

There is a straight line connecting the events from two years ago to those of today. In 2021 it was an outside attack on our government. Today it is an inside attack. The enemy is within. Never forget that Mr. McCarthy headed up not only the Republican Caucus in 2021, but also the Sedition Caucus. Even after the attack on 6 January he voted against certifying the free and fair election of Mr. Biden and he led 139 of his fellow Republican Representatives to do the same. (There were also eight Republican Senators in the Sedition Caucus.) For two years, those now obstructing the smooth functioning of the government have tried to disrupt the entire electoral process. Many of these same people are open admirers of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister and budding oligarch Victor Orban. Their goal is to create enough chaos and disruption to allow a “strongman” to rise to power and take control of the government. They cloak themselves in patriotism but have no idea what the Constitution means or what it stands for. In a way, we should be thankful for their dysfunction. If they were organized and united they could be an even greater threat to our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson famously said that “the government you elect is the government you deserve.” I think we deserve better than the circus we are witnessing in the House of Representatives. As the dysfunction continues over the next two years, I believe that the American people will come to realize that they deserve better and will throw the bums out (well, many of them). It remains to be seen how much damage the insurrectionists can do in the meantime. Thank goodness the Senate remains as a buffer to the insanity.

We Must Continue to Stand With Ukraine

“Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

—Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress on 21 December 2022

As we celebrate the holidays and look toward a new year, it is important to remember that the war in Ukraine continues. This is day 307 since the Russian invasion in February. Fierce fighting continues in eastern Ukraine and the entire country is subject to air raids from missiles, drones and artillery. While the Ukrainians continue to fight with courage, tenacity and ability, they are still outnumbered and with fewer technologically advanced weapons than their Russian counterparts. It is a a brutal war.

Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he will send 500,000 additional troops to the Ukrainian front. Such numbers are staggering and could easily overwhelm the Ukrainians on the ground. That is until we pull back the curtain and it reveals that most of the 500,000 are conscripts off the street and, literally, convicts recruited from prisons throughout Russia. They are sent to fight with little or no training and often suffer from lack of adequate weapons, winter clothing and food. Such is the Russian way of war. Even their most vaunted Army units are in trouble as outlined by a recent article in the Washington Post. The “200th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade” was considered one of the most elite units in the Russian military. Originally tasked with protecting the nuclear missile submarines of the Russian Navy based in the far northern Kola Peninsula, since the end of the Cold War, the “200th” was often tasked to take on some of the Russian military’s toughest assignments. Last February, they were among the lead elements of the invasion tasked with taking Kharkiv. Since then, their staggering losses of experienced personnel and of state of the art equipment leaves them, in the estimation of several European intelligence assessments, in such a state that it “cannot be considered a fighting force.”

The Russians are losing the ground war. Unfortunately, Mr. Putin is determined to continue the fight. His goal seems to be the total obliteration of Ukrainian culture, quality of life, and the civilian population. In the dark of winter, the fighting on the front will continue with heavy casualties on both sides while attaining only minor tactical advantages. Operationally and strategically, the winter fighting will remain stagnant.

The result? Nearly daily Russian terrorist attacks on civilians in Ukraine. If he cannot win on the battle field, Mr. Putin will punish the civilian population. Terrorism is the only way to describe the continued attacks on schools, hospitals, museums, power stations and water plants. Mr. Putin is determined to destroy the will of the Ukrainians to resist. Clearly, he has never studied history if he believes that a reign of terror descending from the skies will turn the tide of war. He obviously never studied Britain’s response to the intense bombing of World War II, his own nation’s resistance in that same war to the Germans in Leningrad or Stalingrad, or countless other stories of a determined population strengthening their resistance to tyranny while under relentless attack.

Mr. Zelenskyy was in Washington D.C. last week to convey directly to the U.S. Congress and to all of us as citizens that Ukraine will not fall to Russian aggression. They are unwavering in their determination. But they need continued help from the U.S. and NATO and Mr. Zelenskyy was here to make sure that we do not get weak-kneed in our support. With the swearing in of a new Congress in January, numerous MAGA Republicans are pushing to end, or at least severely restrict, the aid we send to Ukraine. (Incredibly, some are open admirers of Vladimir Putin — their view of a strong and effective leader.) For the time being, our support of Ukraine continues thanks to the Omnibus Bill passed by the House and Senate as they headed out the door for the holidays. The all encompassing bill (ostensibly a 1.7 trillion dollar spending bill, it is packed with numerous amendments addressing everything from tax law to the Electoral Count Act of 1887) included 45 billion dollars for Ukraine. Thus Mr. Zelenskyy’s statement that this is not charity, it is a fight for the rule of law and the sanctity of democracy. I agree with him.

The war in Ukraine is not some far off, obscure war where the average American could probably not even find it on a map (of course the average American isn’t very good about locating places on a map of the United States). It is nothing less than a line in the sand that western democracies will not see the post World War II world order go up in flames. Ukraine is the first attack on European soil since the 1940s where one country is determined to take over another through military force. The West either believes in supporting democracy or all democracies will be threatened. The Baltic States, Finland, Norway and Sweden certainly understand the stakes due to their borders with Russia. Polish history makes them very aware of the dangers of this Russian threat. This is the biggest test yet as to whether we in the U.S. and NATO believe what we say or whether we are going to look away. Our domestic politics sometimes obscures this point. But if we do not help Ukraine, we may as well tell the world that we are no longer a world player, and China would certainly be glad to hear that as they continue to threaten a peaceful Taiwan.

The size and scope of our support is growing as the conflict continues. The U.S. and NATO are walking a fine line in trying to keep Ukraine in the fight and capable of defending themselves without expanding the war into the rest of Europe. In November, a missile landed in Poland near the Ukrainian border and killed civilian workers. It turned out to be a Ukrainian air defense missile gone astray, but it raised serious concerns as it exemplified a possible Russian provocation. President Joe Biden declared that we will defend every inch of NATO territory. What if the next “stray” missile is Russian and we have the intelligence to support the fact that it was not accidental? Such a scenario will severely test NATO resolve and engender debate as to the appropriate response. (Most likely the response would be measured and on a similar scale, such as a cruise missile slamming into the launch site from which the missile came. The problem, of course, is that a miscalculation or misunderstanding the intent can quickly lead to a massive escalation.)

I have at least two recommendations to move our country’s support of Ukraine to a new level. One is to declare Russia a terrorist state. There is no question that they meet the criteria. The torture, rape, abduction and murder of Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers are war crimes. Mr. Putin’s order to indiscriminately bomb cities and towns along with the deliberate targeting of humanitarian facilities are terrorist activities. Car bomb or exploding drone? No difference. To do so incurs certain legal and international actions and the West is not certain how the Russians might respond, as well as concern over the second and third order impacts on our other friends or allies. At this point, it is necessary. Make the proper diplomatic preparations and then do it.

The second game changer would be to give the Ukrainian military offensive weapons. The U.S. and NATO are reluctant to do so in fear that the Russians would see it as provocative and a possible act of war should they be used against the Russian motherland. It is a risk worth taking in my opinion. Through training, effective intelligence to monitor their use, and other measures to modify the weapons the West can minimize the chances that the Ukrainians would misuse the weapons. The rationale for supplying them is that as long as Russia has safe havens for their missile launching aircraft, drones and ships, they run no risk and can fire at will to destroy Ukrainian cities. Bringing Russian logistics hubs, training centers, and bases in occupied Ukrainian territory into the war raises the stakes for the Russian military and contributes to the unmistakable decline in Russian morale. It could help to convince more Russian soldiers to defect or go home (thousands already have), and the increased destruction of the Russian military could lead to increased unrest in Russia, including some in the government that do not want to see their military and economy destroyed because Mr. Putin has some kind of crusader-like vision quest for Ukraine. It is worth the risk.

I am sure that efforts already are under way to curtail third party efforts to supply Russia. Most notably, Iran is sending armed drones in vast numbers for the Russians to use against Ukrainian cities. There is also open source reporting that North Korea is probably supplying Russia with artillery and ammunition for use in the war. The U.S. and other nations have the means to make this too painful for those countries to continue their support. To date, China has not helped Russia militarily. Diplomatic efforts must continue to ensure that they do not do so.

As it is, Mr. Biden promised to send a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine. This is a very advanced air defense system. It will take time for the battery to arrive and for the Ukrainians to get properly trained in its use. Some have criticized the decision as being provocative and could lead to an escalation by the Russians. Not so. As Mr. Biden pointed out, it is a defensive weapons system. It won’t be used unless the Russians continue to attack Ukraine.

To me it is not only important from a geo-strategic viewpoint for the U.S. to continue to support Ukraine. It is in our national interests to help them. It is not an act of “charity” or done at the expense of our own citizens. It is absolutely a case of pay me now or most certainly we will be paying much more later, including with the blood of our sons and daughters.

A Good Day for Democracy

Last week’s election was a tribute to American democracy and to Americans. As I write this, the make-up of the House of Representatives is unknown, but it likely will be controlled by the Republicans with a majority of between two and seven Members. Regardless of the result in the upcoming runoff election in Georgia, the Democrats retained control of the Senate, which will provide a buffer for any craziness that comes from the House in 2023 (a function the Senate traditionally fulfills regardless of which party may be in power) and will allow President Joe Biden to continue to appoint members to senior administration positions, and most importantly, to appoint members of the judiciary.

Historically, last week’s results are very unusual as the party in power at the mid-term elections of a president’s first term almost always loses seats (often lots of seats) in the House and Senate. Not this time. While the Democrats seem ecstatic over the results, it still is likely that the Republicans will control the House. To me the Democrats celebrating the results of this election is like the losers of the Super Bowl celebrating. “We only lost by one point as time expired! What a great victory!” There are no “moral victories.” It is still a loss, and despite the signal that some of the more mature members of the Republican Party understand the message that voters sent, there are still a whole bunch of MAGA Republicans in the House (and elsewhere) just salivating at the prospect of being in charge. Time will tell which branch within that party prevails, but I fully expect that the craziness coming from the MAGA crowd will only increase. Buy your tickets now for the three ring circus that the House of Representatives will be for the next two years.

That said, we as a country, should celebrate this election. Democracy worked. Most of the truly extreme candidates did not win. Election-deniers conceded (so far) that they lost their races. No significant fraud or disruptions to voting occurred. It went as planned and as it should, despite the best efforts of those on the far right that desperately wanted things to go awry. The system worked. That in itself is a great accomplishment as many of us were not so sure that it could work, much less that it would. Thankfully, it appears that we stepped back from the brink of losing our Republic.

In another series of votes last week, we learned that the Supreme Court is hopelessly out of touch with the majority of Americans and that two things can be true at the same time. Last summer Kansas held the first state-wide referendum on abortion rights in the wake of repealing Roe v Wade in the Dobbs v Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization decision. Kansans overwhelming defeated an amendment that would have prevented abortions in the state. In the recent election, voters in five states either rejected restrictions on abortion or outright affirmed a women’s right to choose — all of the states that had the issue on the ballot. In Montana and Kentucky voters rejected further restrictions on abortion. Vermont, Michigan and California approved amendments to enshrine abortion rights. So far whenever the issue is left to the voters, rather than to male dominated state legislatures, the people have voted in favor of women’s rights. Many thought that Roe got it right — they want abortion to be safe and legal. To me, this demonstrates that the Supreme Court is out of touch. It also demonstrates that individuals may personally oppose abortion (they would never have one or help to facilitate one) but that they still do not want government officials, elected or otherwise, interfering in what is the most personal of decisions. Some also rebelled at the idea of imposing other’s religious beliefs on everyone. Additionally, I think many Americans have learned that the issue of abortion is about more than just a “cavalier” decision on wanting children or not. There are complicated emotional, economic, and practical issues at play. We have also (re)learned that draconian anti-abortion laws really do impact women’s health. It is not a black and white issue to most voters. It’s complicated. And they so voted.

It will take some time to fully digest the import of this election. However, even as results continue to trickle in and there inevitably will be recounts and challenges, it is clear that democracy won. People understood that our political way of life was on the line and they responded. We should all give ourselves a pat on the back.

So Long Democracy

The mid-term elections will be held nation-wide on 8 November this year. All 435 Representatives in the House and thirty-five Senators, along with thirty-six state governors are up for election. Many more office holders at the state and local levels will also be chosen. It seems that during every election campaign, during every election year, multiple candidates, pundits and editorials opine that this will be the most important election in our history. This time they are right.

The Brookings Institution published an analysis of the candidates on the ballot in 2022 and found that there are 345 election deniers running for office. All are Republicans. The election deniers in the analysis are running to be governors, Secretaries of State (in most states they are responsible for running and certifying elections), Attorneys General, members of Congress, and members of state legislatures. Using a scoring sheet based on the state or district, past performance and other criteria, the study’s authors then calculated the probability of an election denier winning office. They concluded that 199 (58%) had a high probability of winning their race. Seventy candidates (20%) have a medium probability of winning. The remaining seventy-six candidates (22%) have a low probability of taking office. Every state in the Union has at least one candidate that denies the results, or questions the legitimacy, of the 2020 election. Most of those likely to win, 131 to be precise, are running for the U.S House of Representatives or the Senate, including incumbents that voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral win.

To my mind, this demonstrates that only one party, the Democrats, is interested in maintaining our Republic through a functioning democracy. The other party, the Republicans, are deliberately sowing distrust in our election system and in many cases advocating for violence against our political system if their candidate does not win (more on that later). Most of these candidates openly state that the only result they will accept is their own victory and the victory of those that they support — all Republicans. If a Democrat wins, it is presumed that the election was “rigged.” Not only does this perspective lead to the end of democracy as we know it, destroying all that we used to hold dear under our Constitution, it also pits Americans against Americans. Election officials are bipartisan professionals assisted by a large number of bipartisan volunteers that believe that they are contributing to the fundamental strength of our nation. The election deniers claim that those very people — just trying to do the right thing — are the enemy. And an enemy of the United States must be destroyed. Consequently, many jurisdictions around the country have a paucity of election workers. So many have been threatened through social media, phone calls, emails, letters and demonstrations in front of their homes that they have quit. We received graphic testimony during the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (J6 Committee) hearings as to the impact that those threats have on everyday citizens. Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss testified as to their experience in Georgia as election workers. As Ms. Freeman testified, “there is nowhere that I feel safe.” Even today, almost two years after the 2020 election, she does not go into public spaces if she can avoid it for fear that someone will recognize her and attack her. Shameful.

As I have written in this space before, the role model for many of these Trump Republicans is Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary and his anti-immigrant, anti-democratic, Christian, white nationalist philosophy. Recently he implied that the war in Ukraine was the fault of the U.S. Other Trump Republicans go even further and admire Vladimir Putin as the model for the type of strong leader that we should have in the U.S.

As we have learned from the J6 Committee, the events leading to the attack on the Capitol was not a series of random events, or spur of the moment actions by a president who refused to accept that he was a loser. It is increasingly clear that there was a connected, concerted, planned sequence of events to keep the loser in office. The planning began as early as the summer of 2020. The attack on the Capitol was the final stage of the plan. In my view, based on the J6 hearings, the losing president wanted there to be real and extreme violence at the Capitol, including gunfire, serious injuries and deaths. As he wanted to do multiple times previously, he would then invoke the Insurrection Act, declare martial law, and declare that he must stay in office to restore order across the country. In other words, a coup via violent means. He tried unsuccessfully to pull off a coup through fake electors, law suits and Congressional malfeasance by the Sedition Caucus vote to not recognize the Electoral College results. All failed. Violence was the final answer. I sincerely believe that if he did not actively wish the death or capture of his Vice President, he would not have minded if it had happened. Not only was he genuinely angry at Mike Pence, I think that if he was harmed or killed, then the outgoing president had a spectacular reason to declare martial law.

These are the 345 people that are running for office. Some will be directly in charge of carrying out the elections, deciding which votes count, and certifying the results. They all support the former president’s Big Lie that the election was stolen and that he should be restored to office. They all declare that the only legitimate outcome of any election is that their candidate wins. It isn’t just crazy anymore. It is real. There is a nation-wide effort underway to rewrite the rules of our democracy to leave only one party in power. Presumably forever.

This upcoming election is about one thing only — the survival of our Republic as we know it. On the campaign trail most of the discussion is about inflation, gas prices, immigration, abortion and other issues. Those are real problems. They need to be addressed. However, in the current context they are a smoke screen to allow Trump Republican candidates to talk about anything but the real goal. If you listen carefully, they have little to no policies or solutions to alleviate those problems. There are slogans, there are attempts to “own the libs” and there are other non-consequential statements, but no substantive proposals. When asked by reporters as to what Republicans would do should they win back Congress, here is what the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said about the Republican platform for 2022, and I quote, “That’s a very good question. And I’ll let you know when we take it back.” Note that the 2020 Republican platform did not exist. It merely stated in a very few words that they would do whatever Trump wanted. No policies. No agenda.

Here is what to expect next year if the Trump Republicans win the House of Representatives — a large number of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) types running the show. You may remember her as the far right conspiracy monger that loves the limelight by owning the libs. She also is an advocate of the Great Replacement Theory whereby immigrants (only the black and brown immigrants) are sent to the U.S. by Democrats to replace “good Americans” (white Americans) in their jobs, schools, and in the voting booth (never mind that you need to be a U.S. citizen to vote). Among other things. Think she is a whack job on the fringe of politics that only crazies listen to? Think again. In the new Congress, she will be in the main stream of her party along with all the election deniers and far right wing advocates ready to change the way that the U.S. government acts domestically and internationally. Think I am exaggerating? Take a look at the news video clips and photographs where the-wants-to-be-Speaker-of-the-House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is announcing some new effort on behalf of the Republican caucus. Standing over his right shoulder, or sitting next to him, more times than not, is Marjorie Taylor Greene. She would not be there if she was not a player in the new extremist Republican party. Or let her tell you herself as she told a reporter for the New York Times. Speaking of Minority Leader McCarthy she said, “I think that to be the best Speaker of the House, and to please the base, he’s going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway. And if he doesn’t, they’re going to be very unhappy about it. I think that’s the best way to read that. And that’s not in anyway a threat at all. I just think that’s the reality.” Which House Committee do you think she wants? Oversight? Judiciary? Appropriations? Q-anon follower Marjorie Taylor Greene as a Committee Chair for any committee in Congress is scary all unto itself. And she will only be one of many.

(Speaking of Q-anon, Trump now plays the unofficial anthem of Q believers at the end of his rallies.)

There is only one way to combat this direct attack on democracy. That is to continue to repeat the facts over and over and over again. As Joe Friday would say on the old Dragnet program, “just the facts, ma’am.” Clearly, many people will not accept the facts. Ever. Especially as they are bombarded with lies, propaganda and conspiracies. But we have to try. These new politicians have learned one lesson well from the losing president. Lie, lie, lie. Never apologize. Double down if caught. It worked for him and it appears that it works for many of his approved candidates. If there is any phrase that best sums up the current crop of Trump Republicans it is “I don’t care.” They don’t care if they lie. They don’t care if they are doing great harm to our country. They don’t care if people are suffering and will continue to suffer as the new leaders put power and making money over the needs of our citizens. They just don’t care about anything, period. Except winning the election so that they can force themselves on the rest of us.

Many of the election results are going to be very tight. If only a handful of voters learn the truth and vote against the far right candidates, it could turn an election. In any case, we have to try. Otherwise, it is so long democracy. It was nice while it lasted.