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!
Unless you were on vacation on a tropical island last week, you undoubtedly heard about yet another criminal act by the ex-president. Just when you might be thinking that we’ve heard it all, that it is impossible for Donald J. Trump and his wholly owned subsidiary formerly known as the Republican Party to further debase and destroy our nation, we find ourselves shaking our collective heads over another despicable and corrupt violation of our nation’s laws, morals, ethics and sense of duty.
As his actions continue to come to light through the actions of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection and the conspiracy to overthrow the duly elected president of the United States, one has to wonder why the man is still walking the streets creating hate and discontent throughout the land. He needs to go to jail.
Yes, yes, I know. He is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law following the rules under our system. That said, it is not clear why he has not been arrested and forced to post bail. Were I to have his track record, I know that I would have already taken a “perp walk” into court.
To me, perhaps the most despicable and shameful aspect of the last week was the reaction by nearly every senior elected Republican official in the land. Most of them attacked the FBI and DOJ. Not one that I heard of even took a “wait and see” approach. Instead they followed in Trump’s footsteps and attacked, attacked, attacked — with the vilest and darkest comments imaginable. Do you want an example? How about Senator Rick Scott (Tr-FL) who, following the execution of a court approved search warrant, said; “This should scare the living daylights out of American citizens. The way our federal government has gone, it’s like what we have thought about the Gestapo and people like that — that they just go after people. What we thought about the Soviet Union.” Rick, you make me proud to be an American. Or perhaps the comments from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (Tr-GA) — as fine an American as you would ever want to meet — who is yelling to “Defund the FBI.” And in the finest Trumpian way, she is selling caps and t-shirts with that slogan for a mere thirty dollars. I could go on and on, but I would rather not.
For those that have never dealt with material classified Top Secret (TS) or Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) you may not understand the impact of Trump’s actions. Not only is the information highly classified, but what is really causing most of those SCI classifications is what is commonly called “sources and methods.” In other words, the way that the information was obtained. Foreign intelligence services receiving such documents could reverse engineer the information in order to find out where it came from. Perhaps it is a highly placed mole. Perhaps it is good old fashioned espionage. Perhaps it is through secret technology capabilities. Or a variety of other sources. The point is, people’s lives may be at stake and the country’s safety and security are certainly at risk by carelessly handling the documents.
I will not go into explaining or rebutting all of the silly excuses that Trump is putting forth and finding support for from his employees in the wholly owned subsidiary. All of it is total fantasy and as big of an unbelievable lie as is possible to concoct. There are no “oops” moments with TS and SCI material. It is always signed for and always guarded. Nearly every time it is created and maintained in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). It is not even discussed outside of those facilities. The Oval Office is not a SCIF. The few times it is taken outside of a SCIF, it is signed for, and carried in a special satchel that is literally handcuffed to the courier. Afterwards, it is signed back in. If the same person does not return it and sign it back in, there is big trouble. Like losing your job and going to jail trouble.
The point of bringing this up is that there can be no “accidental” leaving of documents around or just borrowing them for awhile or anything else. Even taking into account that one is dealing with the President of the United States, there would be no chance of a breach.
Unless it was done intentionally.
How was this accomplished? I do not know. I will leave that to the FBI. Just as importantly, why was it done? Again, I do not know, but I will merely state that Trump does nothing that he cannot monetize. The Washington Post reported that at least some of the classified documents had to do with nuclear issues. I will just ponder the fact that during Trump’s administration he and his inner circle, including his son-in-law, wanted to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. Ostensibly it was for nuclear power plants, but many experts concluded that it could also lead to Saudi Arabia building nuclear weapons. Thankfully, cooler heads in the National Security areas of the government were able to stop such a deal. Coincidentally, after leaving office, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner landed a two billion dollar deal with the Saudis. Last month the Saudi funded LIV golf tour held a tournament at Trump’s Bedminster course in New Jersey. Could there be a connection? I do not know. People are just asking.
In my opinion the FBI should not be asking what he was going to do with that information but rather what did he already do with it?
There is a larger picture here. Trump clearly cares nothing about the laws, norms or traditions of the United States or what it means to be president. It appears that he thought that as president, he owned the country, everything in it and everyone that worked in the government. Whether his approach was that of an autocrat or a mafia boss does not really matter, he believed that anything he wanted was his. (For the record, I think he operates like a mafia boss. Autocrats at least have an ideological base to operate from. Trump only cares about himself and making money. He has no underlying beliefs, be they good, bad or indifferent. He only cares about what rewards him.)
Trump and his fellow conspirators and abettors should be held to account to the fullest extent of the law. For everything. I think the impeachment charges brought against him were insufficient. By this I mean that twice the House tried to simplify his transgressions to one, easily understandable charge rather than the full breadth and depth of his criminality. They gambled that the public would buy into something that could be easily digested. They also saw as their primary goal to remove the cancer from our government and keep it from ever returning again. They only needed him to be found guilty on one charge. They failed.
The DOJ cannot fail. Trump needs to be stopped. Trumpism will not die if Trump is removed as too many other politicians (especially certain southern governors) have learned his lessons. At least if Trump is indicted, tried and convicted, the leader of the cult will be disgraced and removed. Millions of people will think that it was a kangaroo court and that he was set up. They already think that, so there is nothing to lose by acting and a lot to lose if we do not hold him accountable. Those same politicians taking the mantle of Trumpism will also see that if they become president, they can do whatever they want because there are no consequences. His cult members argue that Trump is the most persecuted president in our history. I want him to be the most prosecuted.
Cries that these actions are unprecedented are true. Primarily because we never had a full scale mafia boss as our president before. But if his home can be raided, then anyone’s can, they cry. Two points. Mar-a-Lago was not just a residence, it was a club. People come and go. Memberships are sold. It is not exactly like the FBI searched a two story colonial on a cul-de-sac. Secondly, yes, if you break the law, conspire to over throw the government, take TS and SCI documents home to your basement, you can probably expect a knock on your door from the FBI. That is the point. No one should be above the law. Not even an ex-president who is now, under the law, just a regular citizen like the rest of us. No magic wands to declassify documents. No thoughts in his head that everyone should instinctively obey. Just follow the law.
I fear for our republic, I fear for our democracy and I fear for our future. Trump and his cult followers and collaborators in Congress are the single greatest domestic threat to our country and our way of life since the Civil War. I am very afraid there will be more domestic political violence. Firing up the cult to attack FBI officers and federal judges is dangerous, as we saw earlier this week in Ohio when one of the cultists tried to kill FBI officers at their area headquarters.
For nearly 22 months now, Trump has been doing his best to destroy this country and make himself the Dear Leader. It is not getting any better. During the dangerous response to the pandemic during his administration I opined in one of my postings that Trump may in fact be an agent of Vladimir Putin because things were getting so bad, it could not be by accident. It had to be by design. Chaos, discord and political violence in the U.S. are right in keeping with Putin’s goals. No one person in our history has done more to align with the goals of an adversary than Trump has done. I cannot forget those meetings between Trump and Putin, alone, with only Putin’s interpreter. We may never know what words were exchanged, but Trump’s continued actions designed to undermine our government on every level may tell us more than any transcript.
Our way of life is under attack — a warning that I have been shouting for some time now. While the former guy continues to push the Big Lie (in order to continue to profit off of the Big Grift), his impact on our country is more insidious and much more long lasting than just his attempts at overthrowing our government to keep himself in power. His biggest impact is the radicalization of the Supreme Court. Perhaps more correctly, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) orchestrated a type of revolution when he pushed three Supreme Court nominees through the Senate while making up the rules as he went along — changing them to suit his purposes. He refused to consider President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland because it was an election year, leaving the seat empty for almost a year. Then in 2017 he changed the filibuster rule to push Justice Neil Gorsuch through to confirmation. The nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh was equally rushed. Finally, Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by the Senate eight days before the 2020 election, after early voting had started in many states. So much for consistency, honesty or integrity.
Those three Justices have now joined with Justices Clarence Thomas (I should mention that his wife advocated for decertifying the election of President Biden and reinstating the former guy), and Samuel Alito, two ultra conservative Justices that have been waiting for the opportunity to undo decades of rulings. Five Justices now have a veto proof majority to decide cases for decades to come. Chief Justice John Roberts, a true conservative and not a Trumpist, has become something of a moderate vote, although in most cases he is expected to vote with the majority.
The result is a runaway court eager to execute a political agenda. Their most spectacular decision so far, of course, is to take away the Constitutional right to an abortion decided in Roe v Wade, the first time in our history that the Supreme Court took away a right. This decision will have far reaching repercussions throughout the land, many of which are yet to be understood. Many Americans are morally opposed to abortion but also believe that the government should stay out of imposing its will on women and girls’ health care decisions. Technically, the ruling did not ban abortions. It merely said that there was no Constitutional protection and it was left to the states to decide for themselves. In some states, the laws can be interpreted as preventing In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), “morning after” pills and some forms of contraception. Some states have no exceptions including the health of the woman, rape or incest. Where the health of the women is included as an exception, the wording is often vague making physicians and other health care providers reluctant, or down right refusing, to provide care for fear of prosecution. Some states are seriously considering making it a crime for a woman to go to another state for a legal abortion. Will there be pregnancy police? It is illegal in some states to gamble or solicit a prostitute, will they prosecute travelers to Nevada where such things are legal? A whole barrel of potential invasions of privacy in many aspects of our individual lives are just waiting to be unleashed by overzealous legislatures around the country.
But, wait! There’s more!
As I explained in my 5 May 2020 piece (The Minority Rules) the majority opinion overturning Roe essentially says that the Fourteenth Amendment “due process” and “equal protection” clauses do not apply to anything that was not mentioned in the original Constitution or that was unknown to the Congress and states when the Amendment was ratified. Let that sink in. Here we come 1868! All kinds of things were unknown in those days and the rights of women and minorities were nearly non-existent.
Although Justice Alito and other Justices tried to say that previous rulings using the Fourteenth Amendment, such as same sex marriage, unfettered access to contraceptives, marital privacy, mixed-race marriages, and a slew of other rulings, are not in jeopardy, several of them have voiced opposition to those rulings in the past or said that such decisions should be left to the states (more on that in a minute). More to the point, Justice Thomas in his concurring opinion expressly addressed those issues (except for some reason, mixed race marriages) as being wrongly decided. In essence, he was sending notice to the states that the Supreme Court would gladly re-adjudicate those issues if they are brought forward.
In this session the Court also weakened gun laws, narrowed the gap between church and state and crippled the federal government’s ability to regulate carbon emissions to fight climate change, among other things. Two guiding principles seem to be at work with this majority.
One is the “nondelegation doctrine.” This court used that theory to block vaccine mandates during the pandemic and now to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating power plants. In essence, the theory holds that Congress cannot delegate policymaking authority to Executive Branch agencies. In other words, if the law does not specify the powers of a particular agency, then they are not allowed to put forth regulations or rules that govern a given activity. In the modern United States, science, technology, knowledge and innovation are advancing at ever increasing speeds. To keep up with modern advances, and unable to anticipate every development, Congress since the late 1930’s increasingly wrote laws governing federal agencies in broad terms, allowing them to operate in a particular regulatory area, precluding the need to constantly rewrite the laws. In one study, 99 percent of the laws passed since 1947 delegated some authority to a federal agency. If the nondelegation doctrine becomes the new norm for the Supreme Court, the federal government as we know it may be made impotent and unable to govern. Which, of course, is the goal of several far right conservative groups. Certainly, there will be many, many challenges to federal control.
The second aim of this Court seems to be to return as many things to the states as possible for them to legislate as they please. We see this with the abortion decision. Expect it to continue in many areas of what was once considered settled law. Where you live will dictate your rights. One might ask why have a federal government if the states will be able to do as they please? Good question. Apparently national defense and interstate commerce are the only areas of responsibility for the federal government.
Historically, “states rights” has been the cover for the Civil War, enslavement of human beings, Jim Crow laws, and preventing people from voting to name a few of the oppressive laws enacted over our history through the middle of the 20th Century. Let’s remember our history. After the Revolutionary War the colonies first banded together under the Articles of Confederation, giving great latitude to each. It did not work. With the Constitution and the creation of a federal government, we became a (mostly) united functioning country.
For me, all of the above not-with-standing, the scariest part is yet to come. The Supreme Court announced that next year they will hear Moore v Harper a case from North Carolina involving a gerrymandered voting districts map created by the state legislature that was overturned by the North Carolina state Supreme Court saying that it violated the state Constitution. The court ordered up a more fair map drawn by the court. This case involves yet another far right legal theory called “the independent state legislature theory.” Without getting too far into the legal weeds, the theory claims that the Election Clause of the Constitution says that state legislatures are the only groups with the right to decide on election rules unless Congress passes overriding legislation. In other words, an individual state could set up whatever rules it wants concerning federal and state elections and that state’s Supreme Court or governor have no say whatsoever as to how it will be done. The governor cannot veto such laws and the state Supreme Court cannot declare it as running counter to the state’s Constitution. The legislature can do whatever it wants regarding elections. Or so the theory states. Put that in the context of the 2020 election and the former guy’s attempts to overturn the election. Had states passed laws prior to the election giving themselves the sole power to choose the electors for the Electoral College they could have ignored the actual popular vote and sent a slate for whomever they want. I cannot predict what will happen when that case comes before the U.S. Supreme Court, and that’s the problem. Maybe they will make clear that state legislatures do not have that unfettered power, maybe they won’t. And that’s scary to me.
Prior to the Civil War, the correct grammatical statement was “the United States are…” After the Civil war it became “the United States is….” I fear we are moving backward in time.
For anyone that cares about the fate of our country now, or in the future, this was one busy week in Washington D.C.! While the Supreme Court was busy making our country less safe and rescinding a Constitutional right for the first time in our history (while threatening to continue to eliminate more in the future), the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (commonly referred to as the J6 Committee) continued its hearings. Yesterday was the fifth in the series, and at least to this observer, the most compelling of them all. Which is saying something as each has been ever more riveting than the previous ones and they continue to boggle my mind with the audacity of the ex-president’s attempted coup.
While we were aware of seemingly isolated events in real time in late 2020 and early 2021, the J6 Committee is able to connect the disparate dots into a comprehensive explanation of the attempted coup following the 2020 election. What seemed to me at the time as a series of egotistical bloviating statements, coupled with wild and preposterous claims by unprofessional and clueless attorneys acting simultaneously with unscrupulous election officials and elected officials in key swing states can now be described as a preposterous, but highly coordinated, well-executed series of conspiratorial schemes to decertify the presidential election to keep the former guy in office. For the first time in our history (there seems to be a lot of that these days), a losing president refused to conduct a peaceful transfer of power to his successor and tried to retain power for himself. The ongoing hearings reveal just how close we came to losing our Republic.
Many an amateur historian wondered how the democracies in Italy and Germany could lead to dictatorships in the 1930s. We now know how it happens because we came oh so close to having it happen here. A charismatic leader creates a cult-like following and then finds people within the system that are willing to do anything to gain power for themselves in support of the would be autocrat. Based on yesterday’s sworn testimony, we now have a poster boy for those that would overthrow our way of life. His name is Jeffrey Bossert Clark, an Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ). While his is a Senate confirmed position, he is relatively low on the hierarchy to be known to the average member of the public. He is now known far and wide as the man who was willing to stage a coup within DOJ in order to help the now ex-president stay in power. (As a side note, he was the subject of a pre-dawn visit by federal agents on Wednesday executing a search warrant to confiscate electronic devices for investigation into their possible use in a criminal enterprise.)
Mr. Clark worked a behind the scenes deal with the defeated president to become the Acting Attorney General of the United States. As was abundantly clear during yesterday’s testimony, Mr. Clark had no experience, expertise, or ability to run the DOJ. What he did have was the willingness to send out a bogus, deceitful, and unscrupulous letter to officials in Georgia and other states insinuating that the DOJ was investigating election fraud. Which was a lie. (Seemingly, the best way to find a place in the ex-president’s inner circle is the ability to unabashedly and unashamedly tell bold faced lies.)
His involvement seems like the “smoking gun” demonstrating the ex-president’s intent, ability, and effort to undo the free and fair election that gave President Joe Biden the presidency by roughly 7 million votes.
The then president continued to push the actual Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen and Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue to send out the letter mentioned above. For days and in multiple conversations they explained that they had investigated every claim of fraud or improper election activity and there was nothing that impacted the outcome of the election. It was a free and fair election. As he testified yesterday, and in Mr. Donoghue’s contemporaneous hand written notes provided to the J6 Committee, Mr. Donoghue and Mr. Rosen explained that they could not “just change the outcome of an election. It doesn’t work that way.” The now ex-president responded “I don’t expect you to do that. Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.“
(In yesterday’s proceeding, sworn testimony from at least two sources included the fact that Republican Representatives Mo Brooks (ALA), Matt Gaetz (FL), Louie Gohmert (TX), and Scott Perry (PA) asked for “blanket pardons” before the 2021 Inauguration. Additionally, it is believed that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) asked for one. There was also a request for blanket pardons for “every Congressman or Senator who voted to reject the Electoral College vote submissions of Arizona and Pennsylvania.” aka the Sedition Caucus. Anyone that continues to support him now, knowing what we know with who knows what other gasp inducing revelations to come, is a traitor to the ideals of our nation.)
The ex-president knew that there was no corruption, he just needed DOJ to officially corrupt itself by signing a false document to fool the American public into thinking something was amiss so that he could use his allies in the Congress to decertify Electoral College votes for Mr. Biden and throw the whole process into chaos.
It was a premeditated plan with a beginning a middle and an end to keep him in power. As the hearings continue, we now know that there were multiple avenues of corruption intended to decertify Mr. Biden’s victory and to keep the former guy in office. The insurrection on 6 January was not a random act but rather part of a larger plan to pressure Vice President Mike Pence into changing the Electoral College votes, or, should that fail, bring down the Congress and decapitate the number two and number three office holders behind the president. We shall see what else the committee brings forward, but my guess is that the intent was to create such chaos and uncertainty with the attack on the capitol as to allow the president to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare Martial Law to keep himself in power until he could rig things to keep Mr. Biden from assuming the office.
There are two things that worry me going forward.
First, unlike former president Richard Nixon, this ex-president is not going away. He continues to rile up his cult followers in the public and in elected office to pursue the Big Lie that he won the election in, as he likes to say, “a landslide.” Over one hundred successful candidates for office in this year’s Republican primaries are advocates of the Big Lie. In many ways, the events surrounding the 2020 election were a dress rehearsal for 2024. Only a few real patriots that understood and stood by their oaths to the Constitution saved the day. Next time there will be people in place that do not take their oath seriously and will be willing to do whatever it takes to put their person in office. Apparently, some people put their oath to support and defend the Constitution in the same category as checking the box for terms of service to get on a web site.
As former Republican United States Circuit Judge John Michael Luttig, a conservative’s conservative, warned in a previous J6 Committee session, that there “was a war on democracy instigated by the former president and his political party allies on January 6” when “knowing full well that he had lost the 2020 presidential election… he and they set about to overturn the election that he and they knew the former president had lost.” He then went on to say that the ex-president’s actions today create “a clear and present danger” to the future of our democracy. Words no judge states lightly.
Second, what do we do about it? The danger of indicting and sending a former president to trial, under a new president from a different political party opens an entire series of questions about what that means to the future of our country. Does it set a precedent for every succeeding administration to pursue the previous one as punishment or payback? Would we be, as Dana Milbank of the Washington Post put it, “one bunch short of becoming a banana republic?” It is scary stuff. Unprecedented in U.S. history. It could start a Civil War — taking our current cold civil war to a hot one. Unknown territory.
On the other hand, the ex-president’s actions and those of his cronies and accomplices are also unprecedented. If we believe that in these United States “no one is above the law” then why would we not prosecute him? Clearly, I am not an attorney, but to this layman’s eyes the ex-president and many of his accomplices broke the law. They tried to overthrow the government. They were willing to establish an autocracy with one-man rule. Why should that go unpunished? If ever there was a political crime in our history since THE Civil War, this it. And he is planning to do it again. He told us as much. Holy Moly! As I have mentioned in this space on many previous occasions, autocrats from Mussolini to Saddam to Trump tell us exactly what they are going to do. They do not always succeed, but they have no shame and their ego is such that they are convinced that they can get away with it. Why let a petulant bully get away with crimes just because he happens to be a former president?
Taking the emotion out of it, hard to do, at least for me, there are pros and cons whichever way DOJ decides to go. There is every possibility that however Attorney General Merrick Garland decides to pursue this, or not, it could go south and turn out very badly for our country. To me, we have too much to lose by not pursuing every legal measure available to hold the former guy accountable. It is far more dangerous to our country in the long run to turn a blind eye to the coup ring leader. After each of his impeachment trials he was emboldened to take ever more egregious actions. If he is not held accountable for an attempted coup, who knows what he is likely to try next.
I agree with Judge Luttig. He is a clear and present danger to the future of our Republic. If one believes that, then there is no question as to whether to pursue a legal remedy to hold him accountable. Do it.
As many of you know from these pieces, I am basically an optimist. I want to believe that given the chance, most people will do the right thing. I am no longer certain of that. In my past pieces, I tried to present a balanced approach to issues, even if I do express my opinions and have things that I am for or against.
Today, I am not pulling any punches. I am sick and tired of a large number of Republican politicians that are trying to destroy our country in order to return it to an era where white men ruled without question and citizens that do not share their world view are discouraged or prevented from voting. In order to achieve those goals, they are willing to turn our form of government into an autocracy and are willing to support a coup to attain their desired end state.
First and foremost, anyone, repeat, anyone, that supports Donald J. Trump is a traitor to the ideals of our country. I no longer tolerate the “yeah but, he did this or that which was such a great policy.” There are no “yeah, buts.” There are no “both sides.” I did not, and do not, understand why anyone would support him for president, but for arguments’ sake I will take people of good faith at their word that he truly was such a master of economic, immigration, pandemic mitigation or whatever policy you choose, that it was worth looking past his misogyny, racism, greed, criminal enterprises, and the like. All that ended after the 2020 election. Besides the insurrectionist attack on the seat of government on 6 January, we now know that there was an active, multi-layered, wide-spread attempt to thwart the will of the voters and to keep Trump in office past the end of his term. The attack on 6 January was just the last phase of that effort.
In my mind, it’s game over. Period. That undoes any good he possibly could have done. Anyone that still supports Trump, the Big Lie, or any other avenue aimed at returning him to office is a co-conspirator to overthrowing the government and should never be allowed to hold office. Unfortunately, it seems that the price to pay to run for almost any office in our land as a Republican is unabashed support of the Big Lie. Our country has gone nuts in support of a man with no moral compass or integrity. A sad turn of events.
Exacerbating the problem is the rash of racism sweeping the country and the open advocacy of the great replacement theory. This is the idea that “Democrats” and “others” are purposely bringing in immigrants of color to “replace” white citizens in jobs, voting, and economic prosperity in order to take over the country and install a “socialist” regime. Republican politicians such as Elise Stefanik (NY) (the number three ranking Republican in the House), Ron Johnson (WI), Matt Gaetz (FL), Senate candidates J.D. Vance (OH), Eric Schmitt (MO) and Blake Masters (AZ) and many more — it is quite a list — openly or obliquely espouse it. TV “personalities” such as Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson push it openly on their programs (according to the NY Times, Carlson has done so over 400 times). And of course, Donald J. Trump turned making people afraid of the “others” that were going to replace them into an art form. Anyone who is not a white Christian fits into the pattern of those “replacing” the “true” members of American society. That includes Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and non-white immigrants (or “third world voters” as Carlson calls them).
Wow. A lot to unpack there.
The replacement theory is the basis for numerous mass shootings in recent years, including Pittsburgh, El Paso, Poway CA, and elsewhere. Of course, most recently, it is the alleged motivation behind the Tops supermarket massacre in Buffalo. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) the movement has its roots in the early 1900’s in France. It was picked up in the United States to justify Jim Crow laws and the continued oppression of African-Americans. The theory rebounded in the current era when another French writer Renaud Camus published “Le Grand Replacement” (the great replacement) in 2011. His book focused on immigrants from Africa and Asia, especially Muslim immigrants, that will take over Europe due to higher birth rates which will eventually drive European whites into extinction. White supremacists around the world latched on to this revived theory to justify their racist activity. Thus the claims that a “white genocide” is underway. It is now a growing refrain from Republican politicians around the country and has taken on an anti-semitic tone as some of the theory’s advocates believe that a Jewish cabal is orchestrating the “take over” on behalf of the Democrats.
Yes it sounds crazy. Unfortunately, it is increasingly a mainstream Republican talking point.
Finally, we are coming apart at the seams because we put guns over the lives of our children. There were huge protests surrounding the wearing of masks in schools during the ongoing pandemic, but people just shrug when 19 innocent kids and two teachers are gunned down in their classroom. (Ho hum, thoughts and prayers.) Republican politicians such as Ted Cruz (TX) smarmily tell us he is so saddened by this event, but mostly because now Democrats, the mainstream media and “others” (that word again) will try to use it for political advantage. When is enough enough? I have written too many times following such tragedies that we are the only developed country in the world with this problem. The Second Amendment does not give citizens the right to carry semi-automatic weapons of war into classrooms. Canada, Australia, England, and many other countries share our values, movies, video games, mental health problems and all of the other “reasons” people give to explain away these atrocities and yet, it is extremely rare for them to experience the type of violence that happens with increasing frequency in our country.
It is shameful. If more guns made us safer we would be the safest country in the world. And we most definitely are not.
In my view, we as a country are in big, big trouble. I am not sure we can survive as the country we know for much longer. We have a former president posting from his castle in Florida about an impending “civil war”. Is he advocating for one? I’m not sure, but some folks in our country will see it as a call to arms.
So am I down on the Republican Party? Yes. I am not saying that every Republican advocates for these issues. I am saying that increasing numbers of them are. By far, most disheartening is that good people in the Senate and elsewhere that know that this is an impending doomsday crisis say nothing. They remain silent. They do not condemn their fellow office holders for being anti-American. Crickets. Apparently they are either afraid or else regaining power is of the utmost importance, even if it means more people die, elections are overturned and morons run the government.
Meanwhile the Democrats, especially in the Senate, sit around wringing their hands and expounding on how bad things are. Fix it! You are in power. Do something! If the Democratic leadership has not figured out by now that Republicans are never — never — going to support any action that makes President Biden or the Democratic Congress look good then they deserve to be replaced. Republicans even voted in a bloc to deny funds to help to alleviate the baby formula crisis. Come on! Why would any right thinking Democrat believe that they will get Republican support for anything? Boo hoo. The filibuster keeps us from acting. I guarantee that when Mitch McConnell (KY) takes over as the Senate Majority Leader there will be numerous “carve outs” preventing the use of the filibuster for legislation that he wants to see passed.
There is an old saying that we get the government we deserve. I think we deserve better than that which we might be about to experience. The only way things change is through the ballot box. There is a part of me ready to throw up my hands and say “screw it!” Let loose the hounds! Then I calm down and say to myself that if I don’t care, then what kind of world will our kids and grandkids live in?
We can do better. We must do better. Otherwise we will be hopelessly broken.
The fall out from the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v Wade published by Politico this week is getting a lot of richly deserved attention. While it is a February draft that is sure to change in some form or another, the basic tenets of the opinion will most likely remain — perhaps better refined, but still tendering the same basic argument. To date, much speculation centers on how the document was leaked. In a world where everything seems “unprecedented” this truly was. While Supreme Court decisions have been leaked before they were announced in the past, this is the first time in memory that an entire opinion was leaked. However, the why, who and when concerning the leak, although important in an institutional way for the integrity of the Court, is secondary to what is in the opinion.
I am not an attorney and I am not a Constitutional scholar, but it doesn’t take much more than an ability to read and to understand what is written to know that this opinion is a direct threat to way more than just the one case. Whatever one’s opinion on abortion may be, I recommend that you put aside those thoughts for a moment and think about what Justice Alito’s draft opinion means in a larger context.
For the the last year or two, my view is that the Supreme Court has, in a series of decisions large and small, been moving toward a very, very tight interpretation of our nation’s laws and Constitution. As this trend continues, it will move our country back at least one hundred years, and possibly back to life as it was under Reconstruction in the late 1800s.
For example, since the New Deal, and in keeping with rapidly developing complex technical developments, Congress increasingly gives authority to Executive Branch departments to regulate all manner of government and private enterprises. Recent district and appeals courts decisions have increasingly decreed that if a certain regulatory authority is not specifically written into the law, then that agency has no power to enforce it. For about one hundred years, we have assumed otherwise as long as it was reasonable and in keeping with the basic function of that agency. Chaos is likely to ensue should this trend continue as it would necessitate re-writing countless laws to specify powers that by the time the law is enacted are no longer relevant as technology and society move on.
The second trend that appears to be growing in numbers and reinforced by the Supreme Court is giving priority to the states over the federal government. Reconstruction, here we come. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were focused attempts to abolish slavery and to provide the same rights to formerly enslaved individuals as to those that enslaved them. The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 (a date which we will come back to shortly) in particular is relevant to this discussion. Section One of the amendment includes the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Basically, the Due Process Clause extends the rights under the Bill of Rights to the states. The Equal Protection Clause says that every state must extend the protections of the law to every group equally. These clauses have been the basis for decisions such as Loving v Virginia which overturned laws prohibiting mixed race marriages allowing those marriages to be recognized in every state; Obergefell v Hodges which makes same sex marriages valid in every state of the Union, and of course, Roe v Wade, a right to abortion and the case now in question. Also relevant to this discussion is Griswold v Connecticut which hinged on marital privacy and the right to use contraceptives. The fact that the word “privacy” does not appear in the Constitution was a subject of debate in that case and is relevant in the Roe v Wade case as well.
From the last paragraph note that “abortion” “marriage” “privacy” “contraceptives” and many more modern activities and life style choices that we assume to be common in the course of everyday life are nowhere to be found in the Constitution. This is why Section One of the 14th Amendment is the source of arguments for and against many cases that reached the Supreme Court in the last 60 years or so.
This draft opinion is so upsetting to many Americans, beyond the impact of turning abortion laws over to the states, because it threatens other aspects of life that were considered settled. What other rights might states take away? It is not hyperbole. It is not hysteria. Several Republican members of the Senate raised similar questions as to why rights could not be “undone” during the hearings to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. If the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses were the basis for these decisions, and Justice Alito argues that they should not apply, then what is to stop states from taking away the rights of numerous groups based on marital status, race, gender identity or any other factor?
Do not be sanguine if you support a women’s right to choose that half of the states in our country still allow abortions. The Congress could pass a law institutionalizing the right to an abortion. Many Democrats have declared that they will work to pass just such a law before the mid-term elections. It will not happen. There are not enough votes in the Senate to break a filibuster and the Democrats will not or cannot overcome that rule. I guarantee, however, that if in 2024 the Republicans control the Congress and the White House that they will pass a law that does away with abortion in all fifty states — and they will ignore the filibuster if needed.
Several things jump out to me, a lay man, in the Justice Alito draft opinion. Most glaring perhaps, is that he says that a right decided nearly fifty years ago should be taken away. This is the first time that this has happened in our history. Justice Alito argues that the Supreme Court has changed their opinions several times throughout history. In particular, he mentions the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson case that established in law the “separate but equal” doctrine that institutionalized racism in our country. That ruling was overturned in the 1954 Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. Please note that the Brown ruling gave equal rights to a group of Americans. It did not take away a right.
If you happen to read the draft opinion (the link is in the first sentence above) you will notice a disturbing tone in his writings. I will not dwell on that, but he essentially calls his predecessors on the court morons and says that their decision, upheld in other cases since the original 1973 ruling, is “egregiously wrong.”
Digging deeper into his draft opinion, he seems to claim that the 14th Amendment only applies to things known in the year that it was ratified — 1868. Anything after that such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and countless other elements of modern life should not be included because they were unknown or unaddressed in that time. He says that “a fundamental right must be ‘objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.'” One could argue that racism, misogyny and bigotry are “deeply rooted” in our history, although the Justice may disagree. He goes on to argue that what people want (he uses liberty as an example) is not the same as what the 14th Amendment protects. Therefore, he continues, the Court should be “reluctant” to “recognize rights that are not in the Constitution.” And there we are. Apparently, we should live and act like it is the 1700s or 1800s.
Keep in mind that the majority of Americans favor no changes to Roe v Wade. Polls vary, but all show a majority favors keeping the government out of what may be the most personal of decisions. Remember also that many of the recent state laws make no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother. When that is factored into polling, 80% or more of Americans are opposed to such restrictions. It seems like a single opinion is overwhelming what the majority of Americans want. Justice Alito addresses that fact by saying, in essence, “too bad.” He is not swayed by public opinion.
When this interpretation is tied to increasingly favoring states rights over the federal government, we are living in very regressive times. One would think that such an issue was solved with the Civil War, but apparently, I was wrong. We can already see in states like Texas and Florida what an over zealous legislature subservient to an autocratic governor can do to undermine the rights of those citizens.
In my mind, it gets worse.
The fallout from the Supreme Court rulings comes in the context of an ex-president that is still raising money and holding the party formerly known as the Republican Party hostage. There are very few traditional Republicans left that have not fallen into the MAGA Party. In way too many local, state and Congressional primaries, to win an election one must agree with the Big Lie and vow to overturn any election that a Republican does not win. That is where many, many states are headed. If your guy or gal does not win, then it could only be because the election was rigged, and the results should be overturned. I guess in many states, only Republican candidates are allowed to win elections.
In addition, looking at the Supreme Court which many would hope would be a bastion of defense against such un-American activities, we see a tendency to follow political beliefs rather than the rule of law.
Apparently here too, only Republicans can name Supreme Court Justices. Remember that the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell packed the Court with his nominees (I say his because the then president did not care about the Court, only that he got credit from his base). He blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland for nearly a year because of an upcoming election. Then, after voting for a presidential race had begun, he crammed Amy Coney Barrett through the Senate. Even as the president that nominally nominated them lost the popular vote twice. (Fun fact: A Republican presidential nominee has only won the popular vote once in the last 30 years.) To pour salt on the wounds, when asked recently whether any future Supreme Court nominees would go forward under President Biden’s last two years in office should the Republicans regain the Senate in 2022, Leader McConnell demurred, implying that it was unlikely. So, it is amazing that Judge Jackson’s nomination process went forward because it seems that only Republicans are supposed to be able to nominate Justices.
It is enough to make me wonder if our Republic can survive much past 2024.
Few people truly believed that Roe v Wade would actually be overturned. Primarily because in our history, rights had only be restored, never rescinded. Even Republican Senators such as Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski did not think that it would be overturned as they were personally assured — assured — in public and in private by nominees Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett that it was “settled law” or “stare decisis” meaning that the precedent had been set and there was no reason to change it. So, both Senators came as close to calling those Justices “liars” as is possible to do in polite company.
As has been noted, this is a draft opinion for the majority of the Justices. It could change. Some speculate that it was leaked in order to force a change — others argue it was leaked to solidify the vote of a wavering Justice currently in the majority who might change his/her vote. Time will tell. The final decision should be handed down in late June or early July.
My advice to all Americans that do not agree with this course of events is to do something about it. Demonstrating in the streets is great, it makes people aware and allows for a release of emotion. Unfortunately the only thing that will change things is to vote. Organize, get out the vote, and cast a ballot. Otherwise, the crazies will take over.
In what should be more than a war of words, the term “genocide” is being tossed around in the wake of the fighting during Putin’s War. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the term prior to his invasion of Ukraine, claiming that the Ukrainians were committing genocide against the Russian speaking population of Donbas in the eastern part of Ukraine. Indeed, it is part of his disinformation campaign to justify his invasion and he connects it to his declaration that the Ukrainian government is run by “Nazis.” There is a long history of this sort of talk from Mr. Putin. In short, the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany in World War II is glorified in Russian history beyond any level that we in the United States may understand. He is trying to build support for his war by tying it to the success of the Soviet army against the Nazis. Forgotten in that telling, of course, is that in 1939 the Soviet Union was allied with Germany via a non-aggression pact and they divided Poland between them. Also conveniently forgotten is that in April and May of 1940 the Soviets executed about 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia in the Katyn forest.
In 2022 we face a difficult situation. President Joe Biden called Mr. Putin a “war criminal” for the atrocities taking place in Ukrainian areas occupied or under siege by Russian troops. At last count, Ukrainian government prosecutors were investigating about 5,800 cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, with more uncovered everyday. These are facts which, unfortunately, many of us can see for ourselves each night on the national news. Last week Mr. Biden took it a step further during an event in Iowa by saying that Mr. Putin is “a dictator that commits genocide.” Later, he doubled down on his statement saying, “Yes. I called it genocide. It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian.” Which has a basis in fact, as Mr. Putin repeatedly claims that Ukraine should cease to exist as a sovereign nation. He believes it should be Russian with only Russian speakers living there.
War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are all legal terms under international law. Each is the result of ever more horrifying actions of one people against others. Genocide, however, has usually been reserved for the most heinous of crimes and gives another level of importance to the events in Ukraine. As if they were not already of utmost importance. The moral stakes are as high as they can be.
The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (often called the Genocide Convention) codified the United Nations resolution of 1946 that made genocide a crime under international law. In Article II, the Convention document defines genocide as meaning “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
I will leave it to the international law experts to define what “in whole or in part” means, but it would seem that actions by one nation attempting to eliminate another does not have to succeed in entirely wiping them out. Merely trying to do so is a crime. In fact, the Convention states that conspiracy or incitement to commit genocide is itself a crime. Certainly it is easy from what we know in open source reporting that the Russians have violated at least four of the five genocidal actions under the Convention.
Sadly, whether brought up on war crime charges or for genocide, it is unlikely that Mr. Putin or any of those in his inner circle or those carrying out his orders will be brought to trial. Under the Convention the investigation and trial of such crimes are to be undertaken by the nation in which they occurred or in international court.
The real issue here is a moral one. It raises new questions about how NATO should support Ukraine and how this conflict will end. If we in the West truly believe in the slogan “Never Again!” — meaning we will never again sit by and watch the slaughter of thousands or millions of our fellow human beings as occurred in the Nazi death camps — then now is the time to step up. This is a major test of the world order and a test that will have consequences for decades to come. Russians are deliberately torturing, killing, beheading, raping, and desecrating civilians in Ukraine. I’ll repeat that. Deliberately. Even though I cannot understand how human beings can be so cruel to others — and yes, I know my history from around the world including here in the U.S. — it is none-the-less happening. It is an instrument of planned terror. It also provides a look into the psyche of the average Russian. Only by dehumanizing an opponent — thinking of them as “scum” (Putin’s word) and other than human — can people be so cruel.
These actions also impact how the war will end. How can Ukraine reach a negotiated settlement with Russia if the Russians are attempting to wipe out the very meaning of what it means to be Ukrainian? How can the West broker a settlement with a country accused of genocide? Is anything short of a complete defeat of Russia rewarding their genocidal policy? Does giving up Ukrainian territory — rewarding Russia for committing genocide — even make sense? Such questions have a significant impact on the course of the war, who gets involved, and its outcome.
My thoughts on NATO and with that, U.S. support to Ukraine have evolved over the course of the last few weeks. I think we need to go all in. Not with troops in Ukraine — at least not yet — but with every offensive and defensive weapon we can reasonably give to Ukraine. I am sure that we are providing valuable intelligence data to the Ukrainians (surprise Russian flagship Moskva!) to help them with their targeting but we should take that a step further to allow them to attack into Russian territory to hit supply, fuel and military targets. Continue to put our best military minds to work with imaginative, but deniable, actions that hinder the Russian military. Sanctions are the public face of such efforts — and they are beginning to work — but there is much more to do. Our covert capabilities are excellent. There is more to do without directly fighting the Russians.
The moral imperative is there now. I have come to understand what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is saying about how this is a fight for the future of western democracies. It may sound like hyperbole, or over-dramatization on their part, but as we see the ruthless brutality of the Russians such statements take on more meaning. Importantly, remember why Mr. Putin started this war. Once the propaganda is removed it is for one major reason. He saw a direct challenge to his totalitarian regime. If Ukraine — where many Russians have family members as do Ukrainians in Russia — becomes a full fledged western democracy sitting fully on his border, he will soon have internal domestic problems as more and more Russians clamor for a similar assimilation into Europe. As it is, many of his troops are seeing a way of life that they could not imagine. In addition to the subjugation of a nation, there is a reason Russian troops are carrying away washing machines, laptops, televisions and other consumer goods. They cannot get them in many parts of Russia and certainly, many average Russians cannot afford them.
Mr. Putin is desperate to maintain his way of life and to rule Russia with an iron fist. That is why Ukraine is such a threat. He must destroy it in order to show that the western democracies of NATO cannot succeed in protecting it, therefore no nation should think that democracy is a way of governing that succeeds. How far he is willing to go in this scorched earth policy we can only guess. This is the first time in my experience that sober, knowledgeable people are talking about the use of nuclear weapons. Many surmise that Mr. Putin thinks such weapons are a viable option if needed to succeed in Ukraine. That should give all of us pause and emphasize once again how serious this war is and how much more serious it can become.
We get easily distracted by such things as “The Slap” at the Academy Awards show, or whether we now have to wear masks on airplanes. Life goes on, yes, but the stakes are higher in Ukraine than many believe. Five million people to date have left Ukraine for other countries. This in its self is a humanitarian crisis. It is also part of the Russian plan to destabilize western Europe by disrupting the ability of democratic governments to care for their own people and the refugees.
Genocide is underway. There is a massive humanitarian crisis underway. Terror is raining down on the civilians in many Ukrainian cities, killing tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Russia is reportedly deporting women and children from occupied areas to camps in Russia. More atrocities will be uncovered. Mr. Putin is trying to destroy the ideals of western democracy. The list will grow longer.
If we mean “Never Again!” we need to act on it.
“Russia is worse than ISIS. Full stop.”
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister
This past weekend we witnessed two significant events surrounding Russia’s war on Ukraine. The Russians withdrew from the towns and suburbs around the capital Kyiv, and the resulting discoveries were horrendous. Besides the utter destruction of homes and buildings, it was clear to the most impartial observers that the Russians had conducted untold atrocities on the civilian population including murder, rape and looting. To date, over four hundred civilian Ukrainians are known to have been murdered in one town alone. Some were buried in mass graves, some were left where they were shot in the street. Dozens were shot execution style with their hands tied behind their backs. The pictures are horrifying. The stories from the survivors are worse. The town of Bucha was the first to uncover the breadth of the atrocities but it will not be the last. Many observers believe that similar war crimes are being committed in other occupied cities and towns. The only difference so far is that those areas have yet to be freed of Russian forces, their accomplices from Chechnya and the mercenaries sent to bail out the Russian military.
These two developments together may mark a turning point in Putin’s War. Analysts believe that the Russians are in the process of concentrating their remaining forces in eastern Ukraine to dominate the separatist areas of Luhansk and Donetsk. This is why the battle for Kharkiv is so essential. Additionally, they will concentrate on completing a Russian land bridge from Crimea to Russia along the coast of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. This is the importance of the battle for Mariupol and efforts by the Russians to capture Odessa. So far, the Russians have failed to achieve all of their strategic and operational goals. The Ukrainian resistance is unbelievable and is to be commended. Unfortunately, the war is not over and time is on the Russian’s side. At the current rate, the Ukrainians cannot hold out for ever, perhaps only a few more months. Meantime, the loss of Ukrainian lives, military and civilian, continues during heavy fighting and deliberate and random Russian attacks on cities and civilians. Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to be taking the approach that if he cannot have Ukraine, then he will make sure that there is nothing left for the Ukrainians that survive his brutal attacks.
This should come as no surprise to anyone that studies eastern European history. It is certainly no surprise to the Ukrainians. For a hundred years or more, the Russian way of fighting includes destroying civilian infrastructure and killing as many civilians as possible. While leading the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin killed millions of Ukrainians, Poles, Russians and others in war and in peace. Mr. Putin has used scorched earth tactics in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria and elsewhere. It is what they do. It is what they are doing now. Make no mistake, the war crimes ongoing in Ukraine are not the result of poorly trained, undisciplined individual units going berserk. This is a strategy. It is meant to terrorize the civilian population into giving up. Even as the Russians deny their atrocities and call it “fake news” they are glad it is publicized. It gets the message out to those watching that the terror is real and it is personal. It is an integral element of their conduct of war and crucial to the PSYOPS (Psychological Operations) they are conducting to demoralize the Ukrainian population.
Now is the time for NATO to act with ever greater urgency. The Russians are temporarily disorganized, demoralized and lacking in unit cohesion, supplies and the essentials of war. That will not last forever. While they are regrouping in Russia and Belarus, the NATO allies and other supporters should be pouring weapons and materiel into Ukraine to give them the chance to go on the offensive and push the Russians back. Apparently, there is a debate among the allies as to supplying “defensive” arms to Ukraine as opposed to “offensive” arms. It is past time to forget about such niceties. For the Ukrainians, this is a fight to the finish. For the rest of the world, this is a fight for freedom and democracy. Ukraine is on the front lines. What happens there will have great geo-political consequences for the West and much of the rest of the world. Give them what they need. They are doing an incredible job defending themselves. They are not asking for NATO troops or forces from anywhere else — only the weapons they need to fight the Russian war machine. As important in warfare as weapons is the will to fight. The Ukrainians have proved their determination to fight for every inch of their nation. But they don’t have the weapons. Most military men and women will tell you that when the shooting starts, they don’t know or care whether the bullets and shells coming at them are from “defensive” or “offensive” weapons. They just know that they are getting shot at. Of course, let’s not forget that the Russians went on the offensive to start the war and continue to be offensive in their operations and actions in every sense of the word.
Primarily, the U.S. is under pressure to supply more sophisticated weapons to Ukraine. Without going into a litany of particular weapon systems, U.S. sophisticated weapons are not of much use at this point because the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not have the training to use them. The U.S. should continue to supply massive amounts of effective, but less sophisticated weapons such as MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems such as Stinger missiles) and NLAWS (Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon Systems such as British and Swedish shoulder fired systems or the larger U.S. Javelin). Such weapons are easy to learn to use in a short period of time and are quite effective in the right circumstances. Just ask the Russian armored columns.
More sophisticated weapons such as mid or high-altitude air defense systems, or coastal missile systems, or tanks or airplanes should come from our NATO allies that were formerly part of the USSR or Warsaw Pact. These Soviet era weapons are of the same types that Ukraine primarily has in their military so there is no ramp up in training. They can be used immediately. Poland in particular could be quite effective in this way.
As much as can be provided now, not a month from now or later, would be most effective in saving Ukrainian lives and in giving the Ukrainian military the opportunity to take advantage of the Russian disarray. Let’s face it. The Ukrainians are not going to march to Moscow. They will not retake Crimea through force. Whether “offensive” or “defensive” they need the equipment now to save lives and to push Russia to meaningful negotiations.
At the same time NATO needs to decide which “red lines” must be drawn. War crimes are taking place daily. Russia must be held responsible. It is too far-fetched to believe that Mr. Putin will ever stand trial in person for his war crimes. However, significant destruction of his conventional military power is not beyond the realm of possibility if he continues to pursue the war in Ukraine. They have been proved to be ill-equipped, poorly trained, lacking in leadership and short on logistic support. But there is still the preponderance of force on their side both in manpower and in numbers of weapons. They can still over-run Ukraine if they go all in, which it seems Mr. Putin is willing to do. He is not personally suffering from sanctions or the war. As I mentioned above, the Russian mentality is to crush everything in their path. If that means losing thousands (or in World War II, millions) of their own troops, so be it. They are ruthless in every way, including the treatment of their own fighting forces. To date, no number of casualties is too high.
The Butcher of Bucha will not stop the atrocities. We need to make them pay the highest price we can.
As we approach the end of four weeks of fighting in Ukraine (or more accurately, 8 years, three weeks and three days since the first Russian invasion), pundits, analysts and government officials from around the world are surprised at the continued and valiant resistance from the Ukrainian military and the resilience of its civilian population. It is genuinely inspiring.
Most of those observers are equally surprised (including me) at the utter incompetence of the Russian military. Make no mistake, the Russians can overwhelm the Ukrainians with sheer numbers of troops and weapons, but they have shown a shocking lack of understanding about combined arms attack (integrating combat air, sea, and land forces in a concentrated and mutually supportive way), basic tactical operations, logistics and combat leadership. They are not the modern, effective military machine that Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he spent the last twenty years and billions of dollars building. It appears that they have a limited number of “smart” weapons to precisely hit military targets and have thus used ballistic missiles and “dumb” bombs to terrorize the civilian populations of major cities. Likewise, their tactical aircraft are mostly grounded since the early days of the invasion because they have not gained air supremacy (Ukrainian air defenses have destroyed a large number of low flying aircraft) and the Russians are afraid of losing aircraft and pilots in unsuccessful attacks. Without low level tactical aircraft coordinating with armored columns, the tanks and personnel carriers are left in the open to be ambushed by Ukrainians armed with anti-tank missiles and other weapons.
All of this means between 7,000 (US estimates) and 14,000 (Ukrainian estimates) dead Russian soldiers. Probably there are at least twice that number wounded or captured. That is a lot given the preponderance of force the Russians should have and that the war is only about four weeks old. The Russian military is not the mighty twenty-first century fighting machine that they pretended to be.
That is of only small consolation to the Ukrainians under attack. In fact, it may actually be to their detriment. As the battle lines become more static and Mr. Putin more frustrated, he may increase the attacks on non-military targets to terrorize civilians and break the will of the government to continue to resist. It could lead to more casualties over the long run than a quick, effective strike might have caused.
The scenes are heartbreaking and the cry to help the Ukrainians is getting louder and more insistent. So what should the West do?
Just as nearly everyone overestimated the Russians’ strength, nearly as many people underestimated the ability of NATO to stand together. After the “former guy” nearly destroyed NATO, Mr. Putin calculated that the alliance would not band together against him. He was wrong. The Biden Administration has done a remarkable job in bringing all thirty member countries into a united front to work to isolate Russia and inhibit their ability to fight Putin’s War. Beyond NATO, the Biden Administration has lined up most of our friends and allies around the world to impose sanctions on Russia and to put their economy in extremis. No one thought it possible even three months ago. It is the result of basic hard work, diplomacy and the world’s desire to see the United States as the strong leader needed to bring others into the fold.
Is it enough? Only time and patience will tell. Most likely it will make Russia a pariah for years, if not generations, to come. Except for its nuclear weapons (admittedly, a major element), Russia is a third rate country. Its fate as such will be sealed for a long time to come. Unfortunately, none of that helps the Ukrainians today,
President Biden has the unenviable task of walking the fine line of keeping NATO together, giving lethal and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and not instigating World War III. His Republican critics in Congress and the Senate have criticized his efforts. While legitimate policy discussions are warranted, many Republicans are pushing to “do more” without much specification as to what. And, oh yeah, the recent omnibus spending bill that President Biden signed into law last week had $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine. Thirty-one Republican Senators voted against it, including many of those most vociferous about the president needing to do more. In addition, other Republicans are from the Putin Wing of the party and are saying unbelievable things. The words spewing from their lips continue to support Mr. Putin and they refer to the Ukrainian president as a “thug.” They and their propaganda wing of a certain cable channel use Putin talking points verbatim in their commentary and are despicable (as a result, they are a part of daily news broadcasts in Russia showing that the “American people” support the Russian “Special Military Operation”).
Talk of a “no fly zone” is just that, talk. Not every American understands what a no fly zone means, but most of those in the Senate pushing for one do know. It would mean declaring war on Belarus and Russia. This is not Iraq. When they talk of a no fly zone they mean stopping aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. To do that would mean destroying the bases ashore and the ships at sea that are launching the weapons, eliminating Russian anti-air defense missile launchers and shooting down Russian aircraft. Most of those are on Russian soil. The ships at sea fly Russian flags. It would be a direct attack on Russia itself. That would be World War III. If the Senate wants to do that, they should use their Constitutional powers and declare war on Russia. They won’t do that, of course. The Congress long ago abdicated their responsibilities regarding war. Their real purpose is to use the continued suffering of the Ukrainian people as a domestic political weapon against the president.
Everyone should also remember that the the leader of the Republican Party was impeached for withholding military aid to Ukraine for his own political gain. All Republican Senators voted not to remove him from office save one (Senator Mitt Romney of Utah). He also threatened to withdraw from NATO and did everything in his power to weaken the alliance — to Mr. Putin’s advantage. Please do not tell me that you now really care.
There are some additional actions that the president can take that should be done quickly. So far, Mr. Putin is setting all of the “red lines.” Those are the actions he says will escalate the conflict and he even cavalierly reminds the world of his nuclear arsenal. President Biden should be setting red lines for the Russians, something that has not yet really happened. Put Mr. Putin on notice that we are not afraid of his hollow Army and will not allow him to continue to act recklessly.
First on the list should be chemical weapons. Mr. Putin and a major personality on a Fox cable channel are spreading the false narrative that the U.S. has secretly been helping Ukraine build chemical and biological weapons. This is a bald face lie. Unfortunately, it is entirely possible that Mr. Putin will conduct a chemical or biological attack on a major Ukrainian city as he gets ever more frustrated by Ukrainian military resistance. He will then blame the attack on the U.S. and Ukraine. The Biden Administration has been working overtime to debunk this abominable lie. They should go further and make it clear (not vague statements) that any use of chemical weapons will be met with a harsh military response. The what and where are our choice, but their will be a military response.
Likewise, Mr. Biden and our NATO allies have repeatedly assured the world that they will not give up a single square inch of NATO territory to a Russian attack. This also needs to be clarified. Mr. Putin has repeatedly stated that the resupply of Ukrainian forces with weapons killing Russians is an act of war. He stated that resupply lines and bases are legitimate military targets. It is easy to envision a scenario where Mr. Putin tests NATO resolve. A single cruise missile, for instance, that hits a supply warehouse just across the border in Poland. No territory taken, but it was clearly an attack on NATO. Would we go to war over a single missile or bomb, especially if no one was killed? It should be clearly stated that the West will not tolerate any kind of attack, regardless of scope. It is easy to sense that Mr. Putin might try to pull something to embarrass the West or to test the “how much is too much” theory of tolerance.
It is hard to imagine a modern European city under attack by the Russians. It is even harder to watch the gut wrenching videos on TV and to hear the horrible stories from survivors. Most of us want to do something concrete to help them out, especially with a superior force represented by NATO that is not coming to their aid to stop the bombing. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy argues that those worried in the West that current events may lead to World War III are naive. He and others believe World War III has already begun. It is only a matter of time before NATO is involved and meanwhile many hundreds or thousands of people are losing their lives waiting for the West to act. He may be right.
As we all know, we cannot predict the future even if some things seem inevitable. Putin’s War is going to become a long drawn out affair with many, many casualties on both sides and the resultant destruction of a modern European country. The impact will be felt world-wide as oil and agricultural prices increase because of the loss of Russian and Ukrainian exports. It will get even more ugly.
Our leaders need to do everything in their power to end this needless slaughter. If it was easy, we would have ended it already. The western democracies need to lead the way and to keep up the pressure.
Ukraine has not yet perished, nor its glory and freedom,
Luck will still smile on us brother Ukrainians.
Our enemies will die, as the dew does on the sunshine,
and we too, brothers, will live happily in our land.
We’ll not spare either our souls or bodies to get freedom
and we’ll prove that we are brothers of Kozak kin.
— English translation of the Ukrainian National Anthem adopted in 1992.
Roughly seventy-two hours ago, the Russian military attacked and invaded Ukraine from the air, land and sea. It was expected that the Russians would swiftly roll over the Ukrainian countryside and capture key cities, especially the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. So far, that is not happening. The Ukrainian military is fighting hard and inflicting severe casualties on the Russian invaders. Although accurate information is difficult to come by, especially since Russia has released no casualty figures, the Ukrainians are believed to have captured, killed or wounded thousands of Russians. At the same time, the Ukrainian government is mobilizing the population, arming them — over 18,000 weapons were issued to civilians in Kyiv alone — and teaching them how to make Molotov cocktails (gas filled bottles with a fuse thrown at vehicles — ironically named after a Soviet era Foreign Minister) and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs). None-the-less, the world does not expect Ukraine to defeat Russia or even to hold them off forever. Ukraine is getting moral support and supplies, but under the current conditions, there is no expectation that outside forces will come to their support by fighting inside Ukraine. Instead, countries around the world are imposing the “Mother of All Sanctions” on Russia. Realistically, this will not stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from destroying Ukraine, but it will make it much more painful for his country’s citizens than they may be prepared to experience.
The biggest concern to the rest of Europe and to the United States is that purposefully, or through an accident, the war will spread outside of Ukraine. In particular, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are worried that Mr. Putin will take the opportunity to reimpose the outlines of the former Soviet Union. Likewise, Romania is concerned about the integrity of its border. All are NATO countries. (Norway is also a member of NATO and borders Russia, but has fewer concerns about an attack.) I am neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist but the speeches that Mr. Putin has given the last few days are bordering on the psychopathic. He sounds delusional, fundamentally unsound, and oblivious to any criticism inside or outside of his inner circle. In short, he sounds like a madman, even insinuating that anyone that thwarts his plans could be subject to a nuclear attack. Last Thursday he referred to the fact that “Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states” and went on to say that “there should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.”
As the fighting continues, for the first time in NATO history in response to war on the European continent, the NATO Response Force (NRF) is being activated. The NRF includes 40,000 military personnel from countries throughout NATO, and in past exercises included forces from non-NATO members Finland and Sweden — both of which border Russia. Their governments are now considering joining NATO in response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The force includes aircraft and naval forces in addition to land troops. The president order the deployment of about 7,000 more troops from the United States for the NRF, which is in addition to the thousands already deployed from home in response to Russia’s attack.
What are the chances of war spilling over into other areas of Europe? As I often do, let’s take a look at history to see if there are any parallels. There are two that jump out in my mind. One is the events leading up to World War II. The other is the Cuban Missile Crisis. (I am of the generation that in elementary school, we practiced hiding under our desks or assembling in the hallways should there be a nuclear attack. No joke. When we assembled in the hallways, we would press up against the walls in two rows. I always wondered about the kids in the outer row who in my mind would take the majority of the blow from an explosion. Of course, we were too young to appreciate that none of us had a chance in the case of an actual attack.)
The Cuban Missile Crisis reflects the dangers of miscalculation and sheer brinksmanship between two nuclear powers. We are not there, but a chance encounter could put us into this category.
So far, this is a conventional war so let’s use the run-up to World War II.
- Following the end of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 formally ended hostilities and completely reshaped the geographic boundaries of many central and eastern European nations, in some cases creating or recreating nations that had “disappeared.” CHECK. Following the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, newly independent countries emerged such as the Baltic States and Ukraine. Mr. Putin calls this the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and is the basis for his claim that Ukraine does not exist as an independent country.
- In 1938 Germany annexed the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia) as a result of the Munich Agreement between Germany, United Kingdom, France and Italy to bring “peace in our time.” CHECK. In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea, part of the territory of Ukraine. The world scolded Russia but made no meaningful effort to stop or reverse the first such annexation in Europe of one country’s territory by another using force since World War II.
- Throughout the spring and summer of 1939 Germany annexed parts of countries throughout central and eastern Europe claiming that that they were ethnically, culturally, and traditionally a part of Germany. CHECK. Mr. Putin claims that Ukraine is actually part of Russia and points to the large number of ethnic, cultural and linguistic similarities between the two countries. He claims that he must move into Ukraine to protect Russians.
- On 23 August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty providing for a secret plan for the two countries to divide Poland and “giving” the Baltic States and Finland to the Soviet Union. CHECK. Prior to the Beijing Olympics this year, Mr. Putin and China’s President XI Jinping met. Although the details of any agreement is not known publicly, it is assumed that some sort of deal was reached that at a minimum, China would not interfere with Russia’s ambitions in Europe.
- On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland. France and the United Kingdom had promised to protect the territorial integrity of Poland. World War II began. CHECK? No guarantees were given to Ukraine that its territorial integrity would be protected by NATO or any country. However, NATO is implementing the NRF to protect NATO states from Russian aggression. NATO and non-NATO nations are supplying Ukraine with significant weapons and materiel to fight the Russians. To keep those supply lines open under the current conditions could easily result in a Russian attack on the supply lines into Ukraine.
- In September 1940 the America First Committee was formed to pressure Congress to keep the United States out of foreign wars. Although its aim was to promote American isolationism, it was also antisemitic and largely pro-fascist. Charles Lindbergh (yes, that Charles Lindbergh) was the face of the organization that eventually reached about 800,000 dues paying members in 450 chapters around the country. The goal was to put, surprise, America First by not getting involved in World War II and by protecting “American” culture, which did not, in their view, include taking in immigrant Jews from Europe. The committee disbanded on 10 December 1941. CHECK. Our own American useful idiots for Russian propaganda want to put America First and raise many of the same questions that the original brand raised. DJ Trump, M. Pompeo, T. Carlson, and many others in the MAGA crowd question why we don’t support Russia (after all, they are just protecting their borders) or openly admire Mr. Putin (“genius”, “savvy”, “talented”, “enormous respect”, “capable statesman”, etc.) Indeed, Russian state television is running verbatim clips of a certain Fox evening celebrity defending Mr. Putin and asking “Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? So why does permanent Washington hate him so much?” (There’s more but I can’t stomach any more of this unpatriotic nonsense.)
There are many parallels. There are areas where there are no parallels. The point is that history often has serious lessons to be learned. I have no idea if the war in Ukraine will spread, but I think that every American should be paying attention to it because there are indications and warnings that it could, in fact, spread to a NATO country and then the world is at war. Even without war, there will be hardship in the United States. Nowhere near the hardship the Ukrainians are going through, or even the families of those young Russians sent out to die for Putin, but the American populace should be ready for economic sacrifice as the world’s economy is impacted by sanctions on Russia and their reciprocal actions. We in the United States have not really had to sacrifice in any real way in a long time. The “Greatest Generation” knew sacrifice. We do not. Shoot. We as a nation could not even be bothered to wear a mask during the greatest pandemic in the world in a hundred years without whining about it and claiming that health professionals were fascists and dictators. No wonder Mr. Putin and those like him think he can get away with an unprovoked attack on a neighbor.
I hope that President Biden and his administration do a better job explaining to our fellow citizens why it is important to help Ukraine defeat Russian aggression. We have seen time and time again that ruthless dictators are never satisfied. Mr. Putin’s stated objective is to restore the Russian empire and to regroup those nations that were once Soviet Republics. Like so many despots and autocrats, he is telling us what he plans to do. Believe him.
I am gobsmacked that many Americans do not know that Russia is a dictatorship and Ukraine is a real, no kidding, democracy. The Ukrainians have some problems. They are working on those issues. So, when did we stop supporting democracy in order to cheer on a dictator? A dictator that works aggressively to undermine everything that we stand for in this country? I really do not get it.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainians hunker down in a real fight to the death. The very survival of their country is at stake.
“Ukraine has not yet perished.”