Lying For Profit And PurposePosted: March 8, 2023 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Dominion Voting Corp, Fox News 2 Comments
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 AheadPosted: February 23, 2023 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Drag Queens, Gender Identity 1 Comment
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.
FreedomPosted: February 22, 2023 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Russia, Ukraine Leave a comment
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 TopPosted: January 28, 2023 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Congress, Congressional Oversight, Debt Limit, U.S. Constitution Leave a comment
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 ContinuesPosted: January 6, 2023 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Congress, Partisan, Politics, Speaker of the House, United States Constitution 1 Comment
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 UkrainePosted: December 27, 2022 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Congress, Ukraine Russia, United States, Vladimir Putin 1 Comment
“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 DemocracyPosted: November 14, 2022 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Congress, Politics 1 Comment
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 DemocracyPosted: October 19, 2022 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2022 elections, Elections, J6 Committee, Q-anon 2 Comments
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.
Ukraine (Still) Has Not PerishedPosted: October 12, 2022 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Russia, Ukraine, War Crimes 1 Comment
In English, the Ukrainian national anthem is known as “Ukraine Has Not Perished.” Indeed, it has not perished, even as the unprovoked Russian invasion of its territory continues. The initial invasion took place in February 2014 and the Russians invaded again in February 2022. Over seven months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin went all in on his long-standing desire to annex all of Ukraine, not just Crimea or the eastern part known as the Donbas. After seven long months of warfare, massive casualties continue to mount on both sides of the conflict. Recently, however, the Ukrainians have shown themselves to be the superior force on the ground — both in terms of their fighting ability and in terms of their will to destroy the Russian troops invading their country. There does not appear to be any comparable will to fight in any of the Russian units engaged in combat and thus the tide is starting to slowly turn in the Ukrainians’ favor.
Perhaps surprisingly so, the Ukrainian successes create an ever more dangerous situation. The last few weeks have shown that President Putin is not willing to back off of his stated goal to crush the Ukrainian people, overthrow its government, and install a puppet regime that is controlled by Moscow. Indeed, he is doubling down despite his gross miscalculation that he could take Ukraine in a matter of days with a quick strike into Kyiv. To show his resolve to control Ukraine, earlier this month he formally annexed the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia in eastern Ukraine. That part of the country is where the fighting on the ground continues and the Russian and pro-Russian forces are concentrated there. The annexation was announced despite one important thing — the Russians do not control all of that territory. In fact, Ukrainian forces have the Russians in retreat in several parts of the annexed areas. This is where things get dicey.
President Putin declared that those four regions were now a part of Russia proper (just as he claimed Crimea in 2014) and that an attack on them would be considered an attack on the homeland. In a late September speech, President Putin declared that he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity.” Since then he has reiterated that he is willing to use “all means necessary” to protect the newly acquired territory, which is a euphemism for threatening to use Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to prevent Ukraine from retaking their own territory. (WMD are chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.) Bluff? Bluster? Empty threats? Warning? No one is sure, and that is the problem. Mr. Putin backed himself into a corner that now threatens the stability of Russia as a country and threatens his own iron grip on the population. He considers the current state of affairs to be “an existential threat” to Russia and to himself. Is it possible that if he sees his own safety and power threatened that he would lash out? Possibly, but let’s look a little closer.
The past few days have given us some ideas as to how Mr. Putin might respond to an expanded war. When the twelve mile long Kerch Strait Bridge from Crimea to Russia was partially damaged on Sunday, the Russians retaliated by launching massive air strikes using approximately one hundred cruise missiles and suicide drones in one morning to attack Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian neighborhoods. (So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack on the bridge, but Russia assumes it was Ukrainian special forces.) The Russian supply of such weapons is not endless, but air strikes are probably the primary method that the Russians will use to continue to disrupt daily life in Ukraine and to inflict serious damage. The intent is to break the will of the civilian population and force the Ukrainian government to seek a settlement of some kind. It will not work.
The Russian style of warfare is based on raw brutality. Massive numbers of people and weapons are used against every aspect of an opponent’s military and civilian systems, capabilities, support and people. The term “collateral damage” does not exist for Russia. Killing civilians and destroying playgrounds, hospitals, apartment buildings, and any other area of a city is the point. Torture is a tool to be used. Indiscriminate bombing is a tool to be used. Everything is on the table. If brutality is the point, then that adds credibility to any threat to use WMD. So does that include nuclear weapons?
In my opinion, no. Not because Mr. Putin considers them to be off the table. Rather, so far, he calculates that he has other means at his disposal to achieve his war aims. In my many years in the military, I never seriously believed that we, or anyone else, would use nuclear weapons. The deterrent impact of sufficient numbers of weapons on both sides made it highly improbable. But now, for the first time in my adult life (I was around for the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that is a different situation), the chances are not zero. I still think that the probability of Mr. Putin using a nuclear weapon, even as a “demonstration,” is incredibly low, but no one knows for certain what he may be capable of doing. Probably more likely is the use of chemical weapons. The Russians used them, or at least abetted their use, in Syria. It may be as the Russian army withdraws from yet another town or village that the incoming Ukrainian forces may be subject to a chemical attack. If so, it is likely to be on a small scale and intended to be a deterrent to a continuing Ukrainian offensive and a warning to the rest of the world that the Russians are not bluffing when they threaten to defend themselves using “any means necessary.”
More likely, the Russians will expand their use of asymmetric attacks such as cyberwarfare, economic warfare such as limiting or stopping the export of oil or natural gas, or halting the shipment of goods (especially grain) from the Black Sea. A clear sign of such efforts occurred in late September this year when Swedish and Danish sensors detected explosions in the Baltic Sea. It was soon discovered that the Nord Stream pipelines running from Russia to Europe were experiencing massive leaks, thus stopping the flow of natural gas to Europe. To date, there is no official blame or explanation for the leaks. It is widely believed, however, that Russian special forces are to blame. The Russians, and other nations including the United States, have the capability to operate from submarines near the seabed to disrupt the wide array of modern infrastructure that crosses great bodies of water such as gas and oil lines and fiber optic cables. As winter approaches, Mr. Putin may be pushing European nations, especially Germany, to give up their support of Ukraine by disrupting their economies and signaling that other elements of infrastructure could be at risk if their support to Ukraine continues. It may be a long, cold winter in much of Europe. In the short run, it actually hurts Russia as the gas it sells to Europe is a major element of support to the Russian economy. The side effect is to again signal that Mr. Putin is willing to do “anything,” even if it hurts his own people, to achieve his goals. I would expect to see more of these moves from the Russians, as long as they can plausibly (or in some cases implausibly) deny their involvement.
The war in Ukraine will drag on for months to come, possibly years. Mr. Putin knows that he is in trouble on the ground and his army is being destroyed. Recent attempts to mobilize 300,000 additional troops to fight in the war have gone badly. Russian men are leaving the country in droves. Reportedly, over 200,000 have fled to Kazakhstan alone. Another 100,000 are said to have left for other countries surrounding Russia in order to avoid conscription. Even if he raises an additional 300,000 troops, they will be poorly trained and equipped based on what we see with his allegedly “elite” forces that have already been decimated on the battlefield. They will only be cannon fodder, which is yet another indicator that the Russian army and Mr. Putin in particular have no concerns about the lives and well-being of their soldiers or their civilians. It is worth noting that Mr. Putin’s retaliatory strikes this week and his threats to use “any means necessary” are not aimed at the Ukrainian soldiers on the front. Rather, they are all aimed at the Ukrainian civilian population. It is terrifying for them, but as has happened throughout history, his terror tactics only increase the resolve of those under attack.
Mr. Putin has many options left in his bag of tricks. However, even he must recognize that he does not want to go toe-to-toe with NATO. He must also recognize that as his attacks on Ukrainian cities escalates, he runs the risk of NATO and other friendly nations increasing the number and sophistication of the weapons they are sending to Ukraine.
It is hard to know how this conflict ends, but it is increasingly less likely that there will be a negotiated settlement.
The Never Ending StoryPosted: September 6, 2022 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Classified Documents, Donald J Trump, Executive Privilege, Special Master Leave a comment
In case you had a normal, enjoyable long weekend, you may have missed the ruling yesterday from U.S. Judge Aileen Cannon of the Southern District of Florida. In her order, she decreed that a Special Master (or impartial reader) must review the roughly 11,000 stolen government documents legally seized by the FBI from Donald J. Trump’s club at Mar-a-Lago. Nearly every law professor, former prosecutor, and legal analyst considers the judge’s intervention in an ongoing criminal and national security investigation to be “unprecedented.” Many also think that it violates the separation of powers delineated in the Constitution.
This may be grounds for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to appeal her court order.
As I understand it, she went beyond the usual procedure for a Special Master when she included issues of executive privilege. In what to some of us may seem is double think, since the DOJ, FBI and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) are all part of the Executive Branch, there is no executive privilege to protect documents from the Executive Branch when it is the Executive Branch that wants them. Furthermore, Judge Cannon indicated that the use of executive privilege was not settled law. In other words, the previous court cases that said that executive privilege does not extend to former members of the Executive Branch, including former presidents, is wrong. This would include the 7-2 Supreme Court decision in 1977 that a former president does not have unrestricted use of government documents after leaving office. The case is Nixon v General Services Administration and had to do with the Constitutionality of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act passed in the wake of the Watergate revelations. The law is Constitutional according to the Supreme Court.
In her order (Donald J. Trump v United States of America, Case No. 22-81294-CIV-CANNON), among other notable exceptions to precedent, Judge Cannon (appointed to the bench after Trump lost the 2020 election and rammed through by then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), said in her order that those decisions do “not negate a former President’s ability to raise the privilege as an initial matter.” Since the FBI assumed that executive privilege did not apply (because it didn’t), they did not screen for it, according to the judge, and therefore, among other reasons, the Special Master is needed.
Furthermore, the judge argues that because Trump is a former President of the United States, he deserves special treatment. He would be impacted by the “stigma” of the legal seizure and he could suffer from “reputational harm.” In other words, we are not all equal under the law. Trump is special and should be so treated. She argues that one must be “mindful of the need to ensure at least the appearance of fairness and integrity under the extraordinary circumstances presented.”
Let that sink in for a moment. Judge Cannon is basically arguing that because Trump and his MAGA supporters are raising such a fuss about the FBI carrying out the legally obtained search warrant, that she must appease them. This past weekend Trump spoke at a campaign rally and said, “The FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters, controlled by radical left scoundrels, lawyers and the media, who tell them what to do!” (FBI Director Christopher Wray was appointed by Trump.) None of the MAGA crowd will be appeased by anything short of a coup to put Trump back in power. Judge Cannon is either a part of, or falling for, the scam that everything happening to Trump is unfair and only happens because the “radical left” hates him and causes all of his problems. It is a closed propaganda loop that reinforces itself over and over again. Not one thing that goes against Trump will be seen as fair or correct under the law.
In fact, it gets worse. Trump golf caddy and former-person-with-a-spine Senator Lindsey Graham proclaimed a week ago that if Trump is indicted for stealing the nation’s most highly guarded secrets that “there will be riots in the streets.” Not that he was afraid that there might be riots or that people may think that but they shouldn’t do it. No. “There will be.” Mob lingo for “it’s a nice little country you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to it.” Of course Trump trumpeted that statement on his financially broke social media forum. They know exactly what they are doing by threatening violence if they are held accountable. Such statements are particularly reprehensible in the context of Trump having used inflammatory language that lead to the assault on the Capital on January 6, 2020. Shameful.
The bottom line on the Special Master ruling is that as per his usual tactics, Trump will continue to delay, deny and then delay some more. Expect that there will protests over the selection of the Special Master, the decisions made by that person, and every imaginable thing that can be appealed. Many of those issues may end up with the Supreme Court. The point is that it will be months, if not years, before the items seized in August will again be turned back to the DOJ, FBI, or NARA.
We learn again and again and again that Trump has no regard for anything that does not enrich him or empower him. He simply acts as though the rules do not apply to him. Yesterday, a federal judge agreed. They don’t.
Think about it. The President. Of. The. United. States. stole government secrets and kept them in his club in Florida without anyone having any clear idea as to why, who has seen them or even if all of the documents have yet been recovered by national security officials. Are there some at his golf club in Bedminster N.J.? In Trump Tower? Did he sell them? Give them away? Clearly Trump had no understanding of national security, how information is obtained, the damage it can do, or that he has exposed every one of us to grave risk. He just doesn’t care. In a recent interview, Sue Gordon the recently retired Deputy Director of National Intelligence, calmly and clearly explained that this could be the biggest blow to U.S. national security ever. It could do irreparable harm to our interests and those of our friends and allies around the world.
I for one am exhausted by the never ending story. There is hope. The judge’s order does not cover the material obtained by NARA in January or the material turned over in June. (At that time a signed statement under oath said that was the last of the documents. One more of the tens of thousands of lies associated with Trump in the past six years.) It does not impact the work of the House Committee investigating the attempted coup and attack on the Capital. It does not impact the grand jury now known to be investigating that same attack. It does not impact the grand jury investigation in Georgia looking into Trump’s attempt to change the vote totals there in 2020. It does not impact the investigation underway in New York looking into the shady practices of Trump, Inc. (For which his CFO already pleaded guilty.) And that’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding Trump’s illegal activities.
So why is there not one indictment? From just what we know publicly about the classified documents it is unbelievable to me that no indictment has yet been handed down. Surely, the DOJ knows even more and that there is plenty of evidence with or without the documents seized in August.
In my mind, there are only two explanations. Either they will not prosecute him or there are bigger fish to fry than just stealing classified documents. They could be building a much larger case, especially if they have evidence as to what Trump did with that information. Personally, I think that the attempted coup and fomenting an insurrection are the crimes that should bring him to justice. That case may take longer because it is more nuanced and requires more hard evidence of Trump’s direct involvement in planning the coup with the intent to overthrow an election.
Whatever the case, get on with it already!