As I write this piece, the world is on the brink of the biggest combat operations in Europe since World War II. Approximately 190,000 Russian troops threaten Ukraine’s borders on three sides supported by air and naval units in position to attack targets inside Ukraine. In military intelligence terms, all of the Indicators and Warnings (I&W) point to an invasion within days or even hours. Most telling is that the Russians have moved perishables, such as blood and plasma supplies, to positions near the border. Those types of logistics cannot sit in storage at the front for long.
Yesterday President Biden made a rare revelation in a speech to the nation addressing the impending crisis. When asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided on his course of action, the president responded, “As of this moment, I am convinced he’s made the decision.” By that, he meant that Mr. Putin had decided to invade. When asked how he could know, he responded that the U.S. has a “significant intelligence capability.” This is important on several levels. One is that he is telling the world that the full weight of American capabilities indicates that the attack will happen and we should be prepared. On another level he is giving Mr. Putin an indication of our skill and capability in using our intelligence assets to keep a much closer eye on him and his activities than he might know. Finally, if we have this level of granularity into the Kremlin’s thinking, we may yet deter him from taking military action.
Personally, I have thought for quite awhile that the Russians would attack Ukraine. The only questions were when, and how strongly. He is going to do it. Mr. Putin clearly stated on numerous occasions that he considers Ukraine to be part of Russia. He will not be deterred. How far he goes depends on the Ukrainians. Mr. Putin’s goal is to depose the current Ukrainian government and to replace them with one that is more “friendly” to Russia. How far he goes militarily most likely will depend on the depth and degree of resistance from the Ukrainians and whether the current government stays in place.
This afternoon the artillery and Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) attacks from the separatist regions of Ukraine have dramatically increased. At the same time, they are evacuating civilians from cities in the Donbas region, specifically the Donetsk People’s Republic — one of the break away regions in southeastern Ukraine — to Russia. The Russians and their proxies in the occupied region are trying to provoke a response from the Ukrainians as a pretext to attack. So far, the Ukrainian military has exercised remarkable restraint by not taking the bait. As the Biden Administration has warned over the last several weeks, there is likely to be a major “false flag” incident (Russian agents attack their own people, or buildings or otherwise make it look like an atrocity occurred) to further the lie that Ukraine is the instigator of hostilities. There are numerous misinformation campaigns underway on the internet claiming that the Ukrainians are conducting genocide against the separatists or that chemical weapons attacks have occurred there. It is likely that some major manufactured incident will give the Russians their excuse to invade.
The Biden Administration has put steel into the spine of our NATO and EU allies. After weeks of diligent diplomatic efforts, the vast majority of the world’s leaders are condemning the impending attack and are onboard with sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy and going after Mr. Putin and his pals directly. Questions remain as to whether those sanctions should be used before or after the invasion. Many diplomats argue that invoking sanctions now may give Mr. Putin an excuse to attack. Others, such as Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky argue that they should be put in play immediately. At a security summit in Munich today, Mr. Zelensky addressed the assembled diplomats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, and bitterly chastised the western powers for waiting. He argued that sanctions need to be implemented now, not after the attack when Ukraine’s economy will have collapsed and “parts of our country will be occupied.”
Further, Mr. Zelensky decried the absence of support promised in a 1994 agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Put together by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation, the Memorandum gave security assurances to Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan against threats or use of force to change the territorial integrity or political independence of those states in return for their relinquishing all nuclear weapons. Following the break up of the Soviet Union, those three countries had large stockpiles of former Soviet nuclear weapons. Indeed, in 1994 Ukraine had the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. While the Russians retained operational control of the weapons due to controls required to utilize them, the Ukrainians had physical control of them. Arms control experts around the world worried about those three states’ ability to protect the weapons from falling into the wrong hands, especially terrorist hands. Mr. Zelensky today pointed out that in 2014 Ukraine got no help from anyone when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. He wants it now.
Post World War II history teaches us that our enemies, competitors and adversaries often grossly under estimate American resolve. They view our very public domestic political fights as signs that we are distracted or weak. Currently, the incorrect view that we “ran away” in Afghanistan solidified the narrative that the U.S. was no longer a player on the world stage. Wrong. Over the last year, the Biden Administration worked hard to repair the damage done by the former guy to our relationships with our allies and especially within NATO. In my view, Mr. Putin did not expect the strong, and most importantly, unified stand that the West is taking to support Ukraine. He miscalculated. The effort to deter him permanently will probably fail, but it appears he is at least thinking twice before proceeding. In the end he probably will calculate that he can survive the sanctions and other non-military measures from the West. He is on a vision quest to restore the Russian Empire and Ukraine is the key to his ambitions. At this point, he cannot totally turn away. Deflect, delay, or otherwise play games with the timing or methods of attack, but in the end he will not leave Ukraine as it is.
The U.S. deployed about 5,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division to Poland. Accompanying them is a headquarters element from the XVIII Airborne Corps to form Joint Task Force (JTF) Dragon. Their deployment is designed to strengthen our ties to NATO and probably to help with the influx of refugees into Poland when the fighting starts. Additionally, about 2,000 troops are redeploying from Germany to Romania for the same reasons. Both Poland and Romania border Ukraine. There are about 80,000 members of the U.S. military in Europe including forces from every branch. Some of those are rotating forces that come in and out of various countries based on the threat and/or exercises. Less well known is the fact that the U.S. has elements of the U.S. Navy ashore in Poland and Romania. The Navy’s Aegis Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) System that is the main battery on our cruisers and destroyers is now in ground based installations in those two countries. Known as Aegis Ashore they are placed there to protect our NATO allies from “rogue” ballistic missiles — most likely from Iran or North Korea. They are purely defensive in nature, but you will sometimes hear Mr. Putin reference them when he talks about Russian security threats from NATO.
When the invasion begins, it is unlikely to start with Russian troops blasting their way across the border. The fighting will come in stages, perhaps with operational pauses to negotiate before the next attack. Cyber attacks will be followed by an onslaught from the air from the Russian air forces and from cruise missiles from Russian ships in the Black Sea. Ukraine has little in the way of air forces or air defense capabilities. The Russians will own the air space which will allow them to move forces with impunity and attack at will. Russia does not have to occupy the entire country. Decapitating the government and holding key positions in key cities will give them the “victory” that they need to control Ukraine’s future. Russia has been fighting in Syria for years. They made a point of rotating all of their key combat units through that battle space so that they are now all battle tested. Both in terms of individual units, and in terms of command and control of combat forces spread over a wide area — two things that they did not previously possess or do well. They have learned a lot of lessons and have applied them.
The Ukrainians have the will to resist but little in the way of organized military forces once they have been decimated from the air. Their plan is to conduct a guerilla war and to inflict as many Russian casualties as possible to undermine the will of the Russian people when their sons and daughters are killed or maimed.
Make no mistake about it. This is going to be ugly. Barring a Ukrainian surrender or collapse at the start, there will be tens of thousands of casualties and as many as a million refugees fleeing the country. This will have world impact, economically and politically. We will all suffer. As is often the case, once war begins, no one can predict whether it will spread or how it will play out in the end. A few “mistakes” could lead Europe into another war. Kyiv is a modern city with about 2.5 million residents. Once electricity is knocked out and water is unavailable living conditions in the city will deteriorate rapidly. In addition to war casualties, it will be a humanitarian disaster.
As President Biden and his cabinet have been warning us, events in Ukraine will not be about some far off place nobody has ever heard of or people we do not care about. Even if one thinks that now, a war in eastern Europe will impact all of us.
The United States Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, commonly referred to as the 1/6 Committee, was formed via a House resolution on 30 June 2020. Its membership was finalized on 25 July after the Speaker of the House added Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-ILL) to the committee. It consists of seven Democrats and two Republicans (there are only two after Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA) refused Republican participation over a dispute as to membership), and is chaired by Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS). We do not know the full extent of the information that they have collected to date, but it is known that they have interviewed over 300 witnesses and collected well over 35,000 documents. They are known to have subpoenaed 78 people, some of whom have testified, others are fighting it and some are under investigation or indictment for contempt of Congress. While the final report is not expected until late this coming summer, the committee has shared some information through carefully crafted subpoena letters and through media interviews. A lot of what we know now we instinctively or intuitively knew around the time of the events. What is coming out of the committee’s investigation is an understanding of the depth and breadth of the ex-president’s efforts to execute a coup to keep himself in office. It was a carefully thought out effort and not the disjointed and seemingly spurious or spontaneous collection of individual events that it at first appeared to be.
Think about that for a minute. A President of the United States tried to execute a coup to keep himself in office after what his own Attorney General and administration officials called the most secure and fair election in the history of the United States.
Not content to merely attempt a coup that failed at the time — mostly by luck it appears, as key people decided to uphold the Constitution rather than swear allegiance to one man — the ex-president continues to try to create the conditions to overthrow the current president. With the support of the majority of his party, an ex-president is purposely undermining our democratic ideals a year after leaving office and he continues to claim that he is the real president.
Apparently, the bulk of the Republican Party is okay with that.
Some of what they planned to do to retain Trump in power was obvious and heavy handed. Some of it was more subtle, with behind the scenes maneuvers to manipulate the certification process in the Congress. Here is some of what we have learned so far about the coup that may not be so obvious to casual observers:
- Professor and Trump adviser John Eastman put together a memo (now called the Eastman Memo) that uses unprecedented interpretations of the 12th Amendment and Electoral Count Act to convince Vice President Mike Pence to decide in favor of Trump electors from key states and to disregard the official certified electors from states that President-elect Biden won.
- This memo was the basis for electors in key swing states to put together an “alternative” slate of electors to substitute for, or at least to compete with, those submitted to certify Mr. Biden’s election. The Select Committee subpoenaed representatives from seven states that submitted alternate slates (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin). Not surprisingly, all of the documents have identical wording, font, paper and format — as though it was formulated elsewhere and sent to those “electors.” These forged documents were sent to the Senate and to the National Archives.
- Key Republican members of Congress were coached on raising concerns over electors in those key states and were encouraged to substitute the Trump slates, or to have the official slates for Mr. Biden thrown out. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) self-identified himself as one of those encouraging the Vice President to call the votes for Mr. Biden “unconstitutional” and have them thrown out.
- An alternative plan was briefed in the Oval Office and to several Republican members of Congress that was outlined in a 38 page power point presentation by Colonel Phil Waldron USA (ret) that would have the sitting president declare a national security emergency prior to 6 January. That declaration would preclude the counting of the Electoral College ballots. They would then reject all machine counted ballots from November and mobilize the National Guard to seize all of the machines and paper ballots. The National Guard would be tasked to recount the ballots or to hold new elections in certain key states.
- Among other documents, there is a draft 17 December 2020 Executive Order to seize all election related materials for “national security” reasons. A similar letter outlined plans for all Republican elected officials at the state and federal levels to ignore the “fraudulent” vote count and to “certify the duly-elected President Trump.”
- The entire effort leading up to the 6 January insurrection was intended to either delay the certification of Mr. Biden, or to prevent it from happening through Trump allies in Congress. This is the reason for the 147 members of the Sedition Caucus in Congress to vote against certifying Mr. Biden’s election.
- The insurrection itself was one of several steps aimed at stopping or delaying the certification process in order to at least keep Trump in office beyond 20 January, if not to keep him in office for a second term.
There is more. Much more. You get the idea. There was a vast, organized effort to keep Trump in office. A coup.
And now, this.
In his usual unhinged style, this past weekend Trump held a rally in Texas where he continued to rant and rave over the “stolen election.” Only this time it was worse.
Trump called for the “biggest protest” the country has ever seen in New York, Atlanta, and Washington DC. These are the very places where Attorneys General are investigating his coup attempt and his shady business practices from before 2016. He called the AGs “racist” — they all happen to be African-American and two are African-American women. For good measure he called them “mentally sick.” He also wondered aloud why the Supreme Court and other courts are not giving him “protection.” He lost every court case so far concerning the election and the release of his tax returns.
Ominously, he opined that the 6 January insurrectionists are being treated “unfairly” and that if necessary to be fair, he would pardon them all when he takes office in 2024.
So let’s put this all together. He has called for protesters to take to the streets in his support over a “rigged” election, given an undisguised dog whistle to white supremacist groups by calling black AGs racist, and said that he would pardon insurrectionists. If you need a green light from an ex-president to further incite violence and undertake a forceful coup, you just got it.
We cannot in good faith allow his blatant attempts to undermine our democracy to continue unchallenged. Where are all the “good” Republicans? How can people, as Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) did recently, as have other Republicans in Congress, say that if he is their candidate in 2024 they will vote for him? When does it stop?
There is no “both sides.” There is no “this is just politics.” This is not “what about Biden and taxes.” This is about nothing more fundamental than whether or not one supports the Constitution of the United States. If an elected official takes the oath to defend the Constitution and supports Trump, then they lied in saying “I do” and are unfaithful to their oath.
Let’s get to the bottom line.
Last night Trump released an “official” statement commenting on attempts to refine and update the Electoral Count Act where he denigrates the effort. It read in part:
“Actually, they are saying that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!”
Any doubt about his intentions a year ago? Or now?
Any elected official that swore an oath to defend the Constitution and still supports Trump is un-American, un-patriotic and aiding and abetting sedition. They must choose between their oath and their allegiance to one man.
We can no longer pretend that he is irrelevant or just crazy and can be ignored. He is a maniac intent on overthrowing our democratic values and installing himself in office. It was an attempted coup and the effort continues. Wake up America!
There is no longer a question and it is no longer hypothetical. Trump is a threat and he and his accomplices are accountable under the law — ex-president or not.
As we are all undoubtedly aware, over the last two months Russia has increased the size, lethality, and capability of its combat and logistics forces along its border with Ukraine. Ukraine is now surrounded by Russian troops in Crimea (stolen from Ukraine), Russia, and Belarus, placing them under threat from the North, East and South.
There is much speculation as to what will unfold and as to Russia’s intent. There is only one person who knows whether Russia will attack and that is Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is entirely possible that even he does not know at this moment in time as to what he will do, but he has himself in a position of strength that gives him many plausible opportunities to achieve his goals.
We are at a moment in time where Mr. Putin sees his opportunity. The leading nations within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are facing domestic issues that help him with his plans. The United States is facing Congressional mid-term elections, France has national elections coming up, there is a new government in Germany that is still trying to find its way, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom is under considerable political pressure at home.
Negotiations are under way in Europe, with the US taking a leading role, to try and defuse the situation without abandoning Ukraine. To date, the Russians are making outrageous claims and are putting forward proposals that they must know are totally unacceptable to the West. Foremost among Mr. Putin’s demands is that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO — a condition that cannot be accepted if nations are to be sovereign, independent and allowed to find their own destinies. He is also demanding that NATO revert to its 1997 boundaries. This means withdrawing all troops and weapons in Eastern Europe deployed since then which leaves Eastern European and Baltic States dangling as current members of NATO. On its face this is totally unacceptable, which Mr. Putin must know.
Mr. Putin does not want any western or western leaning countries on his border. In his public pronouncements he likens it to our reaction if Russian forces were in Cuba or Venezuela — which he made vague threats to do if he does not get his way. He believes that all former Soviet Socialist Republics as a minimum should be in his sphere of influence and that no former member of the Warsaw Pact should be in NATO. The world has moved on, but he has not.
What motivates his undivided attention on Ukraine? Traditionally and culturally the area of Eastern Europe that is now known as Ukraine was part of Russia. Kyiv was the first capital of the Rus people in the 10th to 12th centuries. Following WWI a Republic was born which resulted in civil unrest and battles with the Red Army. These continued until the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was established in 1922, making it one of the three original members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Ukraine reclaimed its independence in August, 1991. Their independence became official when Ukraine, Belarus and Russia (the original founders) officially dissolved the USSR in December.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine stayed closely aligned with Russia. Starting in 2014, with considerable internal unrest, Ukraine began to move more towards western Europe. In that same year, Russia invaded Crimea (with stealth forces and special operations forces — the infamous “little green men” that Russia claimed were not theirs) and subsequently annexed it into Russia. Meddling in Ukraine continued as Russian operatives supported a civil war in southeastern Ukraine in a region known as Donbass. Fighting there continues to this day and has claimed about 15,000 lives.
Understanding the ethnicity and culture of Ukraine helps to explain some of the developments and may indicate where fighting could erupt, at least in the opening stages of military operations. Crimea is mostly populated with ethnic Russians, and large portions of eastern Ukraine (such as the Donbass) are heavily ethnic Russian. Central, northern and western Ukraine, including around its capital in Kyiv, are predominantly ethnic Ukrainians. There is a smattering of other nationalities throughout the country, especially Poles.
It is impossible for me to know his intentions but it would seem that Mr. Putin’s aim is to replace the current western leaning government with one within his sphere of influence. It would be a de facto puppet government, or at least one totally aligned with Russian interests. He is looking to dominate Ukraine as he does Belarus. Although Belarus is independent, their government makes no moves without at least tacit Russian approval.
Why do we care here in the United States? After all, we have plenty to worry about with the state of the pandemic and thwarting attempted coups. One reason is that there is the potential for the largest land war in Europe since WWII. Our lesson learned from the twentieth century is that our political and economic interests in Europe will inevitably pull us in to the conflict. NATO was formed as a deterrent to the USSR but also to bring together the fractious nations of Europe into a common cause. Further, we claim to honor the rule of law, the right for each nation to determine its own destiny, courses of action and affiliations, and to protect democracy.
It is unlikely that Mr. Putin will stop with Ukraine should he be successful. He has similar claims for the need to “protect” ethnic Russians in the Baltic States, Poland, and parts of other Eastern European nations. If successful in Ukraine, he will meddle elsewhere. If one thinks that a Putinesque leader is satisfied with “only” Ukraine, take a look at the developments in Europe in the 1930s leading up to WWII. Adolf Hitler was “just” protecting ethnic Germans in Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. There is no end.
There are many, many scenarios for Mr. Putin to achieve his ends. He does not necessarily have to invade with ground troops to achieve his goal, although the roughly 130,000 Russian troops from all over Russia that now nearly surround Ukraine certainly raises that possibility. His goal is simple, topple the current government and replace it. In recent days, public US and UK intelligence reports indicate that there are Russian operatives in Ukraine prepared to carry out “false flag” operations and other sabotage and that there are individuals in Ukraine or nearby that are set to take the reins of government. One scenario is that Mr. Putin gradually ups the ante. First comes crippling cyber attacks. Next, or simultaneously, take out energy and water supplies. If those actions are not sufficient to bring Ukraine to heel, then selected or even massive aerial attacks could ensue that take out culturally significant buildings and monuments and also aims to decapitate the existing government. These might be similar to the US “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq prior to the ground war. Sending troops across the border could be the last resort. As part of his plan Mr. Putin may even threaten Estonia, Latvia and/or Lithuanian or parts of Poland in order to take assets away from NATO that might otherwise provide support to Ukraine.
I do not envision that NATO will fight in Ukraine, but the member states can provide significant support. NATO is preparing to activate the NRF (NATO Response Force) designed to respond to threats to NATO members under the auspices of Article Five of the NATO charter where an “attack on one is an attack on all.”
The US and Europe are threatening very strong sanctions against Russia. However, there is little agreement as to exactly what those sanctions should be and should they apply before or after an attack? Does NATO deter or respond to Russian aggression? The biggest threat to Russia would be to cut off their petroleum exports. Unfortunately, the main source of heat in much of Europe is Russian natural gas and it is, after all, winter. To cut off those exports would devastate the Russian economy but it would also severely impact Europe’s economy and it would have a real impact on the rest of the world as well. No politician going into elections (which are coming up in the US, UK, and France) wants gas prices to go up just before an election.
One proposal is to block Russia from SWIFT. (The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications — the Belgian based intermediary for all bank transactions world wide.) This would essentially cut off Russia from any international commerce — they would be unable to sell or buy on the international market. Economically, it is a “nuclear option” with unknown consequences.
The US already has about 70,000 military personnel in Europe with about 6,000 of those in Poland and the Baltic states on short term unit rotations. Yesterday, the US announced that an additional 8,500 troops were put on heightened alert (meaning able to deploy within five days of getting the word to go) in order to bolster the NRF or to respond to other NATO nation’s requests for additional forces. In military terms, 8,500 troops in Europe is a symbolic gesture, but in strategic terms, it sends a clear signal to Mr. Putin that the US is serious about protecting our allies and that we would respond, thus upping the ante for Mr. Putin. There are not significant troops (roughly less than a hundred for training of Ukrainian forces) in Ukraine and there is no intent to put any combat troops in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin holds all the cards. He does not care much about sanctions as it will not impact him personally. To be honest, he probably thinks that any severe sanctions would be temporary and he would still have been successful in Ukraine. He probably feels that he has already raised his stature in Russia by making it appear that Russia is a great power that all the other countries in the world must respect and come to him to meet on his terms. In military terms, because of the common border, he has internal lines of communication and can quickly move forces as needed. Additionally, he already occupies some of their territory.
It is possible that he is waiting for the right time to strike, including waiting for the right weather conditions. There is a window fast approaching where the ground will be frozen hard enough to support large tracked vehicles such as tanks and mobile missile launchers. If he waits too long, the spring thaw will make much of the ground too marshy to effectively use until late spring or summer.
I am out of the prediction game, but at this point, I do not see Mr. Putin backing off. The only thing that will change his mind about attacking Ukraine, in whatever form, is the total capitulation of the Ukrainian government. To date, the Ukrainians swear that they will not fold. As a result, some sort of physical action will be required on Russia’s part to subjugate the Ukrainians.
It is equally unclear how far the US and Europe are willing to go to help Ukraine. Particularly weak in the knees right now are the French and German governments, the heart of any coordinated European response to Russian aggression. A secondary Putin goal is to weaken NATO and if possible, to create the conditions to render it meaningless as a toothless organization. To that end he may have already failed as both Finland and Sweden, not currently members of NATO, have expressed interest in exploring the chance to join. Both border Russia.
The coming weeks will be tough ones for Europe and the world. History tells us that to unleash the hounds of war often leads to perverse and unintended consequences and hostilities can easily spread. In the end, Mr. Putin may decide that in his risk/benefit calculation a direct assault on Ukraine will be counterproductive. History also shows that once nations mobilize for war, they are hard pressed to back down. There is a certain “use it or lose it” mentality. Let’s hope that clearer heads prevail.
Regardless, the next several weeks are fraught with danger.
President Joe Biden gave a speech yesterday on the first anniversary of the assault on the U.S. Capitol building where he clearly and unequivocally laid the blame of the attack on our democracy at the feet of the ex-president. It was the first time since taking office that he directly addressed the issue in depth. Never invoking his name, President Biden made it clear that “the defeated former president” was, and continues to be, a grave threat to our nation. There were no “patriots” attacking the Capitol that day, they were a mob “literally defecating in the hallways.” If you did not have a chance to see the speech, I recommend that you read it here.
In his speech, he addressed many of the lies being told by the ex-president and his radical supporters. To me, this was one of the key sections of his speech:
“The Big Lie being told by the former president and many Republicans who fear his wrath is that the insurrection in this country actually took place on Election Day. November 3, 2020. Think about that. Is that what you thought? Is that what you thought when you voted that day? Taking part in an insurrection, is that what you thought you were doing, or did you think you were carrying out your highest duty as a citizen and voting?
The former president’s supporters are trying to rewrite history. They want you to see Election Day as the day of insurrection. And the riot that took place there on January 6th as a true expression of the will of the people. Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country, to look at America?“
President Biden, was, of course, immediately attacked by his predecessor in a series of unhinged “press releases” that mostly made no sense and were echoed by his lackeys in the House and Senate. No surprise there.
The saddest parts of the day were the moment of silence in the House chamber for those that died that day and in the following days and the candle light vigil on the steps of the Capitol. Only two Republicans attended. Representative Liz Cheney (WY) and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney were the only two from either the House or the Senate Republican caucus to attend. What a sad day for the Republican Party. What a sad day for America.
“And so at this moment, we must decide, what kind of nation are we going to be? Are we to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people? Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but under the shadow of lies? We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation. The way forward is to recognize the truth and to live by it.“
“I think the country needs a strong Republican Party going forward, but our party has to choose. We can either be loyal to Donald Trump or we can be loyal to the Constitution, but we cannot do both.”
—Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) on CBS “Face the Nation” on 2 January 2022
Welcome to 2022! Most of us are optimistic at the start of each new year that the coming year will be better than the year before. It is a time of hope, good will and enthusiasm. By nature, I am an optimistic person that believes when given a chance, the average person will do the right thing. Looking ahead to the coming year, I do not have that feeling.
We thought we had the pandemic under control in the summer and fall of 2021 and we didn’t. We now set new records daily thanks to the omicron variant. As we pass 825,000 dead Americans, we still have about 100 million of us that refuse to get vaccinated, swamping our hospitals with cases that squeeze out others with life-threatening illnesses or injuries. Indeed, many of those hospitalized with Covid-19 still refuse to believe that it is a thing. Republican politicians around the country encourage irresponsible actions in the name of “freedom,” even as they themselves are vaccinated. I did not imagine such abominable behavior when the true import of the pandemic first hit home. There are now new ethical decisions that none of us are prepared to address. Do we turn people away from the use of limited medical care after they chose to act irresponsibly in favor of those that have done everything right and still end up in the hospital? Do all of our insurance premiums go up to take care of those that deliberately choose to disregard all prudent actions? Tough questions that none of us thought much about before.
As serious a threat as the pandemic is to our well-being, a bigger threat looms ever closer to destroying our democracy. As we approach the first anniversary of the assault on the Constitution through the 6 January insurrection, we still have no one held accountable that was “in charge.” Roughly 750 insurgents that attacked the Capitol have been indicted or tried for the assault. The foot soldiers are being tracked down and punished, but the ersatz colonels and wanna-be generals that sent them to create havoc have not. We are now in another election year and the perpetrators of the studied attempt to overturn our democracy have not been held accountable. Indeed, those in and out of government, including the 147 members of the Republican Sedition Caucus are free to roam the country demanding faux audits (several are ongoing or about to begin in Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere) over a year after all states certified the actual results. Countless court cases have been dismissed for a lack of evidence. Not one scintilla of evidence that anything harmful was done anywhere that would change the election results has been produced. And yet, it continues. I do not think that any of those perpetrating the Big Lie through court cases and audits truly believe that the election was stolen. Their goal is to continue to undermine election integrity and to create the conditions that if their preferred candidate does not win, then it is by definition a bogus election and must be overturned.
Thus, our great experiment in democracy comes to an end.
The safeguards that were in place in November 2020 will not be there this time around as extremist Republicans are systematically replacing bipartisan or nonpartisan election officials with their own hardcore believers at the county and state levels. Next time when a presidential candidate calls a state Secretary of State in charge of the election and says “So look. I just want to find 11,780 votes” he will get them. Numerous states passed new election laws that aim to suppress the vote. That arguably can be overcome with a concerted effort to get out the vote and by educating voters on how to cast a ballot in spite of those efforts. More troubling are the laws like that proposed in House Bill 2720 by the Arizona state legislature that allows the Republican controlled legislature to override the popular vote count and send their own chosen electors to the Electoral College — for any reason.
As I have written in this space before, there are Bills passed by the House and sent to the Senate that would standardize national elections across all fifty states. Currently, they are stalled in the Senate by the filibuster and the reluctance of numerous Senators to create a “cut-out” of the filibuster to allow for a simple majority to pass election laws — something, by the way, that since the mid 1960s used to enjoy a bipartisan consensus to protect the vote. No longer. Lost in the discussion is the practical logic that the numerous state voter suppression and cancellation laws passed in Republican legislatures pass on the basis of a simple majority. So by the Senate’s logic, states can restrict the vote at their discretion, even if it is by only one vote, but the mighty Senate of the United States cannot protect it with an elected simple majority. Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently announced that he will hold a vote no later than 17 January (Martin Luther King Day) to pass voting rights legislation — and will include a measure to override the filibuster if so needed. It is unclear if the votes are there. My feeling is that they are not. I hope that Leader Schumer forces the vote in order to put on the record those Senators that oppose voting rights.
Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump and his minions continue to bray about the “rigged” election that he lost fair and square — as attested to by many in his own administration including his personal attorney who also happened to be the Attorney General of the United States at the time. While they are making what is professionally called “a ton of money” pushing this scheme, it is also clear that they were serious in their intentions. The House Select Committee investigating the 6 January assault has unearthed a treasure trove of information about the days leading up to the insurrection. At that, they have only publicly talked about a fraction of the information that they have gained from interviewing 300 witnesses and collecting over 30,000 documents. They are putting together the case that most of us knew instinctively — Trump and his sedition bound cohorts had a plan to deny Joe Biden the White House to keep Trump in power. We now know that the wheels of that plan began to turn as early as the day after the election and was based on numerous simultaneous and complimentary efforts to throw out Electoral College votes from key swing states — or better yet, replace the certified votes with new ones picked by Trump’s cronies. Their ultimate goal was either a revised Electoral College count, or to throw it to the House of Representatives where under the terms of the Electoral Act of 1887 and the 12th Amendment to the Constitution Trump would win as each state has only one vote, regardless of the number of Representatives from that state. The purpose of the actions by Trump, the Sedition Caucus, pressure on Vice President Pence, his “War Room” in the Willard Hotel and other Trump efforts was to delay the certification of the Electoral College vote so that the rest of the plan could come to fruition.
The attack on the Capitol was the last effort to delay that vote. In my view, it was intended (and I mean intended — it was no spontaneous eruption) to further aid in delaying the certification of the election in order to buy more time to complete the plan. If members of Congress were killed, injured, or kidnapped, in the process, too bad, but so much the better as that would certainly slow things down. I further think that when all of the evidence is assembled, that a secondary element of the plan was the expectation that counter-protesters would attack the Trump supporters creating a general melee and chaos, allowing Trump to declare martial law and delay the certification proceedings for an indefinite period of time. The then Commander-in-Chief watched the assault on TV for 187 minutes before calling it off. What was he waiting for? Clearly, at worst he was hoping that they would succeed. At best, he was derelict in his duty as the Commander-in-Chief. Either way, he needs to be held accountable.
(A side note: I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist. I am not falling prey to that with my comments above. I think that the evidence will show that there were multiple avenues of obstruction to their plan and the belief that counter-protesters would attack is the reason that the National Guard was not quickly deployed. They were being held in reserve to “rescue” the Trump supporters.)
They had a plan. It had branches and sequels. It failed. They are now putting into place the mechanisms to succeed next time around. That scares me greatly.
As Representative Cheney said, it is time for Republicans to choose to follow their oath to the Constitution or to continue to actively undermine our country in the support of one man — as if in a cult — who clearly wants to be an autocrat for life. Just this week, he “endorsed” Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban for reelection. Mr. Orban is a hero of the American right-wing and held up as an example for our own leaders to emulate. To the rest of the world, Mr. Orban is an autocrat who eroded all of the rights of a former post-Soviet democracy, turning the country into a democracy in name only. As the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is said to have proclaimed, “I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how?”
There is one final consideration. Should we or should we not hold a former president criminally liable for his actions and take him to trial and possibly incarcerate him along with his accomplices? Following Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 over the Watergate scandal, President Gerald Ford chose to pardon him in order to relieve the nation of the ordeal of a possible trial and the chaos that may ensue. Further, in the United States we have no tradition of incoming administrations of another party prosecuting former political enemies. Indeed, we scoff at other nations that do so and label them “Banana Republics.” Impeachment by the House and conviction in the Senate is our preferred method of holding presidents accountable. To take one to trial would be unheard of and perhaps set a horrible precedent for the future. But…..
We have never had a president in our long history try to overthrow a duly elected successor in order to keep himself in power. Even after such a failed attempt, we have never had another ex-president continue to claim that he is the “true” president and to incite others to overthrow the government. Even a year later. Those actions are unprecedented and therefore the remedy needs to be unprecedented. I hope that the Department of Justice puts together a case against all of those that were involved, including the ex-president. Although I am out of the prediction business, my sense is that once again, Trump will walk away without consequences. Perhaps that may be best for our country in the long run, as a trial and conviction of the ex-president would, I fear, lead to widespread violence across our country. It may be a lose-lose proposition.
So, my optimism for 2022 is subdued, at best. We are in for some tough times as a country. Not the toughest — the Civil War comes to mind — but a dangerous time for certain.
Stay healthy and may good fortune find you this year.
Our country passed an unfathomable milestone as we recorded over 800,000 deaths in the United States from Covid-19. The most in the world. Many experts believe that the real number is much higher. Ironically, we are passing this horrendous marker just about exactly one year after the first American got the first dose of a vaccine that can prevent, or at least significantly reduce the impact of, the disease.
On 2 April 2020 I wrote about the pandemic in depth for the first time. At that point, the President’s Covid Task Force under the direction of Dr. Deborah Birx was projecting 240,000 deaths (total!) from Covid, if we did everything perfectly. Her projection was that if we did not, then we could lose over 1.2 million Americans. The shrieks and cries and accusations of scare tactics, hoaxes, and socialism (yes, socialism) surrounding these projections and the steps needed to protect ourselves were unleashed far and wide. It was thought to be a gross exaggeration meant to hoodwink us all into becoming “sheep.”
And yet, here we are. The combination of the delta and omicron variants of the coronavirus could easily leave between 837,000 and 845,000 dead by 8 January 2022 according to the CDC ensemble forecast (a combination of multiple models). Many fear that by spring, we will have lost over a million Americans.
For comparison, our last big pandemic, the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, caused about 675,000 deaths in the U.S. In those days, there was no vaccine, and scientific understanding of the disease was woefully inadequate compared to today.
The good news is that we can protect ourselves. As everyone should know, a series of three vaccines significantly reduces the chances of serious illness. Wearing masks aids in stopping the spread of the disease. And on, and on. We know the routine, like it or not. We thought we had it beat, but we don’t and I am not sure that any responsible scientist or physician is willing to say when we return to pre-Covid days. Perhaps never.
To me, one of the two most inexplicable developments of the last two years is the politicization of efforts to control the spread of Covid and to protect individuals. Mind numbingly stupid. I am gobsmacked whenever I think about how many lives are lost through a stubborn refusal to comply with measures that in years past would be welcomed rather than vilified. Studies indicate that without the vaccines, an additional 1.1 million Americans would have died by the end of November 2021 and there would have been 10.3 million additional hospitalizations. As it is, about 300,000 Americans died from the pandemic before vaccines were available. That means that about 500,000 American deaths from Covid were largely preventable. Vaccines were made available to all adults on 19 April 2020 and yet the death toll continues to rise. An unvaccinated person is six times more likely to test positive than a vaccinated person, nine times more likely to be hospitalized, and fourteen times more likely to die.
The U.S. has over a sixty percent vaccination rate. But that still leaves over 100 million people unvaccinated. I do not get it.
Politicians and media pundits that push people to protect their “freedom” and fight against masks, vaccines, and common sense steps to protect themselves have blood on their hands. Even as they get themselves vaccinated. Shameful. Unfortunately, in one sector of today’s politics, shame no longer exists.
I will never understand it.
While many of us are focused on the internal threats created by actors within one of the two major parties in our country, developments overseas may create long and short term threats to our national interests. The chaos created by an ex-president ranting about stolen elections and defending insurrections, coupled with Members of Congress that threaten other Members with death, and the general unrest fomented by self-declared revolutionaries, draws attention away from other developments.
In the long term, China provides a real threat to many of our established interests. In the short term, Russia is under increasing internal pressure to improve the quality of life for its citizens, a challenge that President Vladimir Putin may not be able to meet. Thus, he increasingly turns his focus outward. In both cases, a tried and true tactic of autocrats is to quell internal unrest by creating outside enemies that focus citizens’ attention outward.
Looking long term first, China is vying to be the biggest economic, political, and military competitor to the U.S. Chinese legislators recently removed term limits for their presidency, making President Xi Jinping the de-facto President-for-Life. He has now amassed power on the scale of the late Mao Zedong. Indeed, in December 2019 the Chinese Politburo gave him the official title of the “People’s Leader.” That title was only used once before — for Mao. Since assuming power, President Xi has taken a hard line nationalist position on national security and foreign affairs. As part of this strengthened position, Xi has consolidated Chinese control of Macau and Hong Kong. Especially in the case of Hong Kong, this enhanced control led to the loss of most of the freedoms its residents previously took for granted. The Hong Kong of pre-2019 is no more.
All of which leads to the long term threat. China seems to be intent on gaining control of Taiwan, much as it did with Hong Kong. The U.S. walks a fine line in its relationship with Taiwan. In adhering to the “One China Policy” the U.S. recognizes the government in Beijing as the “true” government for China, rather than any government in Taiwan. The Chinese view is that Taiwan is a break-away province of China and must be reunited with the rest of the country. In order to have diplomatic relations with Beijing, there can be no official recognition or official relations with the Taiwanese government. Complicating the issue is that Taiwan considers itself to be the Republic of China — an independent country. The U.S. encourages the re-unification of the two, but only under peaceful, negotiated conditions and has vowed to support Taiwan against any coercion or military actions to force the situation.
The threat is one of war in the Pacific. Over the last few weeks, China has become increasingly bellicose in its statements concerning Taiwan and has sent ships and aircraft in the direction of the island nation — drills according to the Chinese, tests of Taiwanese defenses according to the view of those on the island. As many as 56 aircraft at a time have flown into Taiwan’s ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone — airspace controlled by a particular nation to enhance national security but outside its territorial boundaries). The United States and Australia in particular, but including other countries with interests in the Pacific, have warned China about its provocative actions and that they will respond to any Chinese military attack or other coercive measures against Taiwan.
Stay tuned as this crisis will continue to build. It is unlikely in the near term that China will directly attack Taiwan or any other forces in the region, but we can expect China to continue to ratchet up the pressure and to increase the level of provocations. There is always the danger in such conditions for an error or inadvertent action that results in shots fired. More ominously, it is likely that China is taking the long view — as in years. They will continue to enhance their economic and military strength to the point that their threats and provocations will have real teeth. They are probably not there yet, but under Xi, they clearly intend for Taiwan (formerly Formosa) to rejoin mainland China for the first time since 1949.
Russia is a different case. Since 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, an uneasy truce prevails along the border, even as active fighting occasionally occurs in some areas. In recent weeks, Russia moved 80-100,000 troops to the Ukraine border region. U.S. and NATO officials are worried that such movements may be a precursor to an invasion to reassert the Russian control that they lost with the 1991 break up of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part.
Western sanctions against Russia are having an economic impact, as well as the fact that Russia is experiencing a devastating fourth wave of COVID infections. Things are not good in Russia these days. Additionally, it is believed that President Putin believes the West is in disarray and that this may be his best opportunity to enact his vision of a “Greater Russia.” Mr. Putin never accepted the breakup of the Soviet Union and once said that “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century.” He sees that the U.S. is focused on internal dissent and domestic turmoil as well as China and Asia in general. Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany is stepping down. The French have elections in a few months. Ukraine appears weak and fractious. The U.S. is absent its ambassadors pretty much throughout the world, including to the E.U. and NATO and is missing high level political appointees in the Department of Defense (DOD) and State Department weakening our diplomatic clout. (Senator Ted Cruz (Tr-TX) primarily, with an assist from Senator Josh Hawley (Tr-MO) are holding the nominations hostage for their own purposes. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for some reason is not playing hard ball and is letting them get away with it. How about keeping the Senate in session day and night right through Thanksgiving until all nominations are approved? But I digress.)
The situation is ripe for Mr. Putin to take action. We may be seeing the early stages of the drama play out in Belarus and Poland. In brief, Belarus is “importing” “refugees” from the Middle East and Africa and sending them to the Lithuanian and Polish borders. The Belarus military is reported to be aiding the refugees in trying to enter those nations, and at the moment, particularly in Poland. Poland refuses to take them. Besides a looming humanitarian crisis, the aim of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (referred to as “Europe’s Last Dictator”) is to create a political crisis and to destabilize the western nations by overwhelming them with poor refugees. President Lukashenko is angry over western sanctions against his country following their imposition in response to a totally corrupt and illegal “election” last fall that allowed him to stay in power. Mr. Lukashenko never would do anything to upset the stability of the region without at least tacit permission from Mr. Putin. Many speculate that it is direct Russian permission and support.
There are two possible reasons to create this crisis. One is to take more attention away from activities along the Ukrainian border. The other is to provide an excuse for Russian western expansion.
Note Kaliningrad. Part of Russia. To get there, Russia needs to cross into Poland, and/or Lithuania. The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) were once part of the Soviet Union and still have large ethnic Russian populations. As does Ukraine. If Mr. Putin is serious about his Greater Russia, there is no better place to begin his expansion. (I’m sure everyone remembers what happened in the Sudetenland with Germany in 1938.) As those familiar with European wars know, the terrain between Russia’s mainland and the Baltic is mostly flat, open space. In military terms, there is little defense in depth nor are there many geographic features to use to mount a strong defense against armor columns. Indeed, the U.S. keeps a military presence in the Baltic states in order to deter Russian meddling.
Am I predicting another theater-wide war in Europe? No. I do not predict much of anything anymore. It just seems that Mr. Putin may assess that if he is ever going to start building his vision of a restored Russian Empire, the time is now to start somewhere. “Reuniting” Kaliningrad and the Russians in northern Poland and the Baltics with the motherland may be on his mind. A crisis on the border with Ukraine or Belarus may give him the pretext.
The point is that these are dangerous times. There is a lot going on in the world outside of our obsession with an ex-president and his corrupt political party. We must be on guard against “all enemies foreign and domestic.” While we are focused inward, our enemies and competitors will take advantage of it.
These are, indeed, interesting times.
“Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and to get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”
— John Lewis
There is an autocrats play book. History is full of examples of successes and failures. Those that succeed most often follow a step-by-step process that creates an insidious stream of events that lead to a strongman in power. First, condone violence. “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Second, do not accept election results. “Stop the steal!” Then the violence becomes political violence. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Then it becomes political violence to overturn lost elections. “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol… because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.” In my view, the insurrection on 6 January is only the beginning.
A not so fun fact: Since 1 January 2021 there have been about 70 bomb threats on Capitol Hill. Just another day at the office.
With or without Congress taking action to normalize our elections across all fifty states, there will be more violent political activity. Currently Congress is working to enfranchise all eligible voters, thus overturning the many state voting laws that limit voting and give power to Republican controlled entities to overturn any election that their candidate does not win. With the passage of a national voting law, we will survive the attempted coups and remain a democratic Republic. Without such laws, I fear we will not survive as a democracy.
While voting laws have been the purview of state legislatures, there is ample precedent for national standards. In addition, Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution, commonly known as the “elections clause,” and as modified by the 17th and 20th Amendments, gives Congress the power to “at any time by Law make or alter such regulations” passed by individual states.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was passed by the House in 2020 but not by the Senate and has since been reintroduced. It is designed to reinstate provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 to over ride a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted the core elements of the VRA.
A second bill called the Freedom to Vote Act was an attempt by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to create a compromise bill, stripped of some its more controversial elements, that could gain ten Republican votes to over ride the filibuster of the For the People Act already passed by the House. After a summer’s worth of work and assurances from Senator Manchin that he could find some moderate Republicans in favor of the bill, not one Republican voted for over riding a filibuster to bring it to the floor for discussion. For discussion. They will not even talk about voting rights in the Senate, much less vote to protect those rights.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R?-KY) is counting on Senator Manchin to effectively do his dirty work as Mr. Manchin vociferously proclaims that he will do nothing to eliminate the filibuster for voting rights. An outdated Senate rule is apparently more important than allowing people to vote and to maintain the integrity of election results.
Thus, phase one of the Republicans’ attack on democracy continues without interruption.
This leads me to the second phase of that plan. The demonstrations — occasionally violent but with violence always as an implied threat — over masks, Covid-19 vaccines, and Critical Race Theory (CRT). Initially, I could not fully grasp what the problem might be. Why such vehement over reaction? So much of our common good derives from mandatory actions — seat belts, smoking, drinking and driving, wearing shirts and shoes in restaurants, and other required vaccines, for example — to protect the individual and the community at large. People do not protest those requirements, so why these? Now I am beginning to get it. The issues are merely excuses for most protesters, not core beliefs. To put it in simple terms, they are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. The issues themselves are not relevant. They are just mad. Nearly any issue will do, and in fact the issues do change over time and depend on the circumstance. These issues are merely symbols for pushing back on what they see as a dominant federal government that is mandating change. Be it LGBTQ issues, same sex marriage, immigration, an increasingly diverse nation, and on and on. The white, male, Christian dominated society that they believe is the true essence of our American national identity is changing. And they will not go quietly into that new society.
That is the genius of Trumpism. Tap into the rage, the fear and the sense of loss and turn it into power.
As a result, we are now seeing 6 Januarys across the country at school board meetings, county council meetings and other local seats of community engagement. The threats, intimidation and violence against local elected officials and their families are a manifestation of Trumpism and the autocratic methods of using violence as the means to achieve political ends. If they can remove the officials that are the focus of their ire, or better yet, intimidate them into quitting, then they can replace them with people that will do their bidding. Please do not misinterpret my comments to mean that I object to legitimate protest, I do not. I understand that such protests can get heated at times. What I am talking about is a lot more than that. When people show up at local officials homes, burn slogans into their grass, brandish weapons outside their windows, and conduct other such documented “protests,” then we are in an entirely different world.
Perhaps the people using such tactics are a tiny minority of the population, but the impact that they have is real and significant. History tells us that be it Russia in 1917, Germany in 1933, or nearly any country where autocrats now rule, they were in the minority until they seized control. Autocratic parties generally are a minority party when they seize power. That explains the tactics to suppress the vote, to intimidate those that do not support them, and to use violence to refute and change election results.
I have lost faith in our elected officials in Congress. The Democrats continue with “regular order” and debates within the party that create the appearance that they cannot get their act together. When faced with direct threats to our democracy they act like wimps in the face of these challenges choosing to honor arcane rules of the Senate that do not have a basis in law or the Constitution rather than to support and defend the Constitution. Republicans are the party of “no!” I do not believe that they stand for anything. Their only goal is to march in lock step to use Trump and his followers to regain power. They are using those arcane rules — especially in the Senate — to stop anything and everything put forward by President Biden or his party. They do not just vote against it, they filibuster almost everything, making it nearly impossible in the current environment to do anything, even if as many as nine Republican Senators support it (although most times the total number of Republican votes for something is zero).
We already are a minority rule country. For example, Senators from 21 mostly small or rural states representing less than a quarter of the total population of the country, can stop any legislation of which they do not approve. Put another way, Senators from 15 small states represent 38 million people while the Senators from one state (California) represent 40 million citizens.
We now have an ex-president roaming the country continuing to claim that he is the real president. Recent polls suggest that more and more people believe him. One poll shows that 66 percent of Republican voters and 18 percent of Independent voters believe that the election was “stolen” from the ex-president. 53 percent of Republicans in another recent poll believe that the ex-president is the “true president.” That does not bode well for a democracy. Propaganda works. Tell a lie enough times and people start to believe it. Unfortunately, history provides countless examples.
Most threatening, and appalling, is that the Sedition Caucus (those that voted against certifying Joe Biden as the 46th president) in Congress is growing stronger. New candidates recruited to run as Republicans in the 2022 election are nearly universally required to continue to vociferously support the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by the Democrats.
(Timeout. It continues to baffle me that to date, no one can explain why there is no evidence of any widespread fraud, ballot manipulation, Jewish-Italian lasers from space or any other discrepancy in the voting process despite nearly countless challenges in court, state audits, faux audits and every other endeavor known to mankind to find a problem. The usual answer is to blow off the lack of evidence as evidence itself. In other words, the Democrats and the thousands of poll workers of both parties required to do what is alleged were so clever, that they left no trace of evidence behind. Also unanswered is why on the same ballots, only the presidential votes were allegedly tampered with but not the hundreds or thousands of other offices voted on during the same election?)
In a country where vigilantes are legitimized by the Supreme Court, Congressional subpoenas are routinely ignored without consequence, people actively attempt to overthrow the government and overturn elections, and the evidence continues to mount that a sitting president tried to use the power of the federal government to remain in office after losing an election, there is real evidence that our way of life is being directly challenged. We are in big trouble.
Where does it stop?
The first and most important step is for Congress to pass legislation to standardize national elections and to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast a ballot and that those ballots mean something. The results cannot be overturned by one party that is not happy with the result. Period. Nothing else matters. It is job one and the Democrats need to make it happen. Now. Do your damn jobs and pass the voting rights legislation.
Do not sit by. Get into some good trouble. Elections matter.
All revolutions are impossible until they happen. Then they become inevitable.
— Albert “Albie” Louis Sachs
It has been quite a long time since I have written in this space. The reasons for it are many, but primarily it is because I find the current state of our nation to be so perilous that I seriously wonder if our course can be corrected to avoid the shoals. It is overwhelming. One hardly knows where to start. Seemingly everyday we are bombarded with bad news.
- Despite over 705,000 Americans (that is roughly 1 out of every 468 of us) dying from COVID-19 we still have millions of yahoos that deny the efficacy of vaccines and violently protest having to wear a mask.
- The Supreme Court allowed the implementation of a Texas law that monetizes vigilantism. The ability to spy on your neighbor and earn 10,000 dollars for doing so comes on top of a “gun rights” law that allows anyone to carry a weapon without a license, training, background check or any other common sense limitation.
- State legislatures in several states are banning the teaching of “critical race theory” — a concept that they do not understand. They only want to teach the “positive” aspects of American history and not “embarrass” or “traumatize” students by also including such upsetting facts that the Founding Fathers included many slave owners, there was a Civil War fought over slavery as an institution and the Ku Klux Klan terrorized Black Americans for decades. The term “in Order to form a more perfect Union” (striving for, not already in place) and Lincoln’s “that this nation — under God — shall have a new birth of freedom” (we need to do better and live up to “all men are created equal”) apparently does not mean anything to those pushing the legislation. Probably because they never got a good education, so their legacy is to pass down their ignorance.
Unfortunately, I could go on and on. Our country is doing some really bonkers things. Almost everything pales in comparison to the real threat to our future. Our democracy and the future of our Republic is under attack. Not from a foreign enemy or an outside terrorist threat. It is under attack by one of the two major political parties crucial to the functioning of our democracy. Republicans have become a direct threat to our democratic future. Only one party — Democrats — is interested in governing. The other is hell-bent on upending our traditions and norms in the pursuit of absolute power. This is both exceedingly sad and completely distressing. I don’t write these words carelessly. It is not about policy or “politics as usual” or differences in opinion or differing outlooks on what is good for our future. The majority of Republican elected officials at all levels of government are working day and night to subvert our elections and to solidify their control over the country. I am not sure we have ever faced this development — certainly not since the Civil War.
On one level, Senator Mitch McConnell (R?-KY), in lock step with his caucus, is willing to destroy the US economy and seriously damage the world’s economy for a short term political gain in the 2022 elections. Despite voting 32 times — and three times under the ex-president with the Democrat’s support — to extend the country’s debt limit, he suddenly decides it’s a Democrat problem rather than a national problem. The debt limit (as anachronistic as it is) allows the government to pay the bills for what was already spent, not future spending. The ex-president ran up an additional 7.8 billion dollar tab on top of the national debt in four years and now the Republicans say it is the Democrat’s problem. Today a temporary truce to extend the issue until December was agreed upon, but this is going to come up again. More to the point, every single Republican in Congress voted against raising the limit knowing the consequences. And for the first time that I know about, they did not just vote against it, they invoked the filibuster, making it almost impossible to overcome. Don’t talk to me about any “moderates” in their caucus.
(Footnote: Contrary to popular myth and propaganda, every single Republican president since 1960, except for Richard Nixon, added to the national debt. Every single Democrat president since 1960, except for Barack Obama, lowered the national debt. In today’s world, as we well know, facts don’t matter anymore.)
All of this takes a back seat to the real battle underway. I am sad to report that, understandably or not given all that individuals and families are dealing with today, most Americans are blissfully unaware that their ability to elect their government representatives is slipping away. States are enacting laws that suppress the vote — especially for the poor and minorities — and rigging the certification of the results if the suppression does not work.
This is all part of a larger plan.
For months after the 2020 election I thought that the loser of that election was a whiny complainer that could not face reality. As more and more information becomes available, I realize just how close we came to his pulling off a coup and that in fact, even as he complains about 2020, it really isn’t about that election anymore. He and his cohorts are laying the ground work to successfully steal the election in 2024. It’s no longer about the past, it is about the future. If the ex-president doesn’t run, or cannot run because he is in jail, then someone like him will use the tactics, techniques and procedures that are being put into place now to make sure that a Republican is named president (whether actually elected or not). Democrats won the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. Think about that. Only President George H.W. Bush won the popular vote in 2004 by about 3 million votes. (Remember that President Joe Biden won the popular vote by about 7 million and many express the opinion that the other guy “barely” lost.) The Republicans know that it will only get harder for them to win a national election, therefore, they are working hard to ensure that they can overcome their deficit in, you know, actual votes.+
We do not yet know everything involving the 2020 election shenanigans and the events surrounding the 6 January assault on the Capitol in an attempted coup. It appears that the then president did everything in his power to stay in office. Basically, without going into every detail, he had a three part plan. The big picture plan was:
- Get state officials to change the official vote counts. Famously, the ex-president or his flunkies badgered officials in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and elsewhere to change the votes or to decertify the results in order to allow “alternate” presidential electors to be counted.
- Throw the election certification in Congress to the House of Representatives to resolve — where under the rules of one state one vote he would have prevailed. How to do this was specifically spelled out in the “Eastman memo” which was written by a legal adviser to the president and provided a six step plan on how to declare the 2020 election results as invalid and thereby give the Vice President the opportunity to declare the incumbent the winner. Constitutional scholars deride the legal reasoning in the memo, but the fact remains that despite the perception that they were “winging it”, there was an actual plan. It also appears that Vice President Pence is not quite the hero that many made him out to be on 7 January. In fact, it appears that he looked for a way to satisfy his boss and throw the election his way until it became apparent that there just was no way that he could reasonably do so. But imagine the chaos had he tried, especially as the majority of the Sedition Caucus in the Congress voted to invalidate the results.
- Send hooligans, miscreants, ignoramuses, and staunch supporters to the Capitol to overthrow the government on 6 January. The full story of how this came to be will be uncovered in future months but already roughly 600 people have been arrested with many in jail and others awaiting trial. So far they have all been “soldiers” in the coup. I cannot wait until some of the “colonels” and “generals” (in the Congress and the White House and the campaign) get to do the perp walk. All involved need to be held accountable.
They had a plan. As I wrote in this space often last year, they told us what the plan was. They just failed to execute it because a few state and local officials — of both parties — refused to go along. What to do? Put people in place for the next time that will go along. This is the purpose behind the candidacy of numerous state and local officials throughout the country and the changes to laws in numerous states as to who can certify election results. If all else fails, states such as Arizona, the legislature reserves unto themselves the ability to over-ride the announced results and send the “approved” slate of electors to the Congress — regardless of the popular vote. This is the purpose of all the sham audits now taking place, along with the rallies, statements and other popular messaging. They are indoctrinating voters into the belief that they cannot trust the system, therefore we will decide for you what the results are. They are laying the groundwork to overturn the next election.
Many of us may think “impossible.” It cannot happen here. Too many safeguards are in place. It did not work in 2020 so why would it work in the future? Because of what I explained above, which is only the tip of the iceberg of the efforts underway to ensure that the next election results in the Republican candidate’s victory. Period.
Many comparisons are being made to Hungary, Turkey, and other “western” NATO democratic countries. All of them claim to be democracies, but in fact, their leaders have stacked the deck so heavily in every area of the society that the rules preclude anyone from winning an election that the controlling powers do not want to win. Likewise, the 6 January coup attempt is alternately compared to Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 or the Russian Revolution of 1905. Both failures. Both were effectively “dress rehearsals” for later successful government take-overs.
I am more fascinated by a possible comparison to Uruguay in 1973, which in some ways was reflective of events throughout Latin America in the years before and after. I was briefly in the country just before the pandemic and had the opportunity to visit a museum dedicated to the nation’s long legacy of democracy and democratically elected presidents. Knowing the basic history of South American military dictatorships, I asked our guide whether or not such a thing occurred in Uruguay, since it wasn’t mentioned in the museum. The answer was “yes.” But they do not like to talk about it and consider it an anomaly. When I asked why it did happen, the short answer — my interpretation, not a direct quote although some of the same words were used — was that “everyone” was afraid that the “socialists” and “communists” would take over and there would be a dictatorship. The same justification for coups given throughout much of South America in that period. So, a right wing military dictatorship was better than a socialist government, or so they thought.
I think of that every time I hear Senator McConnell, or the former guy, or any number of Republican Senators and Representatives give prepared remarks excoriating the “socialist Democrats” and the “communist Democrats.” Over and over and over. Of course some call Democrats “fascists” and “communists” in the same phrase, but they cannot help it if they are ignorant. More to the point, thanks to their repetitive accusations, millions of people think that the Biden Administration is socialist, or worse, communist and is the equivalent of an autocracy because, after all, aren’t all socialists and communists dictators? Couple that barrage of propaganda with the Big Lie that the election was stolen and it is not hard to understand why our democracy is in trouble. Millions of people believe it. Earlier this year the American Enterprise Institute did a survey where one in three Americans believe that force is justified to “save our way of life.” Roughly two-thirds of Republicans in that same poll believe that the 2020 election had wide spread voter fraud.
If you want to understand what has happened and is happening, I recommend that you read Robert Kagan’s essay “Our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here.” It is sobering to say the least.
There is a way out. Several bills passed by the House and pending in the Senate will give fundamental base lines for voting rights and the conduct of national elections across the 50 states. Again, the entire Republican caucus opposes these laws. Once again, as I have said before, if there is nothing else worth getting rid of the filibuster, this is it. At least for bills relating to basic voting rights.
If we lose our ability to participate in our democracy, we lose our country. There is nothing else more important. Not infrastructure, not budgets, not tax cuts or increases, nothing else can be accomplished unless we have free and fair elections where everyone that can vote is able to do so.
A revolution is underway. Republicans have become a subversive operation in the thrall of one man who strives mightily to be our first autocrat, king, or strongman. Pick your euphemism. He wants to gain unfettered power. Only we, the people, can stop the revolution.
Nothing is impossible for the person that doesn’t have to do it.
— With apologies to A. H. Weiler
There is plenty of blame to go around for the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. It took a lot of work by multiple U.S. administrations to get to the point that we are at today. President Biden is getting the blame today because, it is after all, his watch. He is responsible for what happens during his time as president. However, it is amazing how short the American memory is for politicians, journalists and pundits as they continue to heap scorn on the president for the current “fiasco” and “embarrassment.” Let’s get a few facts straight.
It is wrong to call this a defeat of the American military and that it shows that we are weak and incompetent. The Taliban did not defeat the American military. They defeated the Afghan military. As has happened throughout history, an army can be well trained, fully equipped with modern technology and it means nothing if there is no will to fight. In the end the Afghan military did not have the will to resist the Taliban. The reasons for that are many. Saying that they lost the will to fight in no way diminishes their numerous achievements on the battlefields of Afghanistan nor does it diminish the bravery of many Afghan soldiers and units during twenty years of war. In the end, they were betrayed by their own political and military leaders. The Taliban regaining control over the entire country was a political and policy defeat, not a military one, that had been years in the making.
I do not think it was a wasted war. American lives were lost in the cause of destroying terrorists that attacked our country. We did that and more. The U.S. military should be proud of the sacrifices that they made. It was worth it.
To begin a discussion, one has to decide whether or not we should have withdrawn from Afghanistan. Since 2011 and the killing of Osama bin Laden then Vice President, now President, Biden has been calling for the end of American involvement in Afghanistan. The original mission was to overthrow the Taliban, defeat al-Queda and to capture or kill Osama. In 2011 all of that was accomplished. Many argue it was essentially finished within a year of our invasion of Afghanistan and that it could have included Osama’s death if we had not let him get away in Tora Bora. Indeed, the Taliban offered to surrender in 2001 and the U.S. refused. As is often the case, the original mission morphed into a nation building exercise. Again. Again we learned that cultures with no history of democracy or loyalty to a central government will not adapt to American style democracy. President Biden’s decision to withdraw can be debated — I happen to think it was the right choice for reasons that I will explain below — but it is reasonable for others to argue that we should have stayed. Those people that so argue should also recognize that we would have had to return large numbers of American military personnel to the country. The 2,500 that were there when the Biden Administration took office would not have been sufficient to stop the Taliban’s increasing influence and control over the entire country. More troops would have been required. More troops in combat means more casualties. To argue that there had been no casualties for over a year ignores the reasons for that — the fact that the Trump Administration struck a deal with the Taliban. Had we not left as the previous administration agreed to do, undoubtedly there would have been renewed attacks on U.S. personnel.
Once the decision to leave is made — and it should have come as no surprise to anyone — then it is up to the Department of Defense, State Department and other government agencies to execute it to the best of their ability. I happen to think that they are doing a better than average job under very trying circumstances. To date, over 20,000 civilians have been evacuated from Kabul without a single American casualty. As the president said, however, it is a very volatile situation and there is no guarantee that it won’t fall apart at any moment. But despite the chaos of the first day, it has proceeded better than most could have hoped.
The real criticism of the Biden Administration — and a situation that needs a Congressional inquiry — is the total and complete miss on the intelligence estimates of how long the Afghan government and military could continue to function after the U.S. withdrew. Either there is a long litany of lies about conditions in Afghanistan or the Intelligence Community totally missed the boat. As is often the case, it is probably some combination of the two, but the fact remains that public statements did not in any form match the reality on the ground that the Taliban would take down the government controlled areas of the country in just over a week.
It should not have been a surprise. Twenty years on the ground with supposed experts making entire careers analyzing events in the country should have known what was going on. In the simplest terms, open source material indicates that following the 29 February 2020 Trump Peace Accord, known formally as “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan Between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America” — just the name of the agreement tells us something — the Taliban began preparing for their take over. Note that the agreement was between the U.S. and the Taliban. The Afghan government had no say or role in the negotiations and got no results from the agreement. The following are the key parts of the agreement which are spelled out in detail in the Accord:
- The U.S. agreed immediately to begin to reduce the number of troops in the country and promised to withdraw all remaining forces within fourteen months (May 2021).
- The U.S. released 5,000 prisoners that were Taliban fighters.
- The Taliban promised to prevent terrorist groups, especially al-Queda, from using Afghanistan to attack the U.S. or its allies.
- The Taliban and the national government of Afghanistan will enter negotiations for a cease fire and a coalition government.
- The Taliban will no longer attack U.S. forces or bases while the U.S. withdraws.
Almost immediately the Taliban began to approach low-level officials, and then gradually more and more senior officials and leaders throughout the country to convince them, through persuasion, threats and especially bribes, to surrender their villages, cities and regions to the Taliban when the time came in return for protection for them and their families. When the leadership quietly slipped away in the night, the rank and file were not going to risk their lives for nothing. In much of Afghan culture their loyalties are to family, village, tribe and not the central government in Kabul. Graft and corruption are so rampant in the country that many of the police and soldiers had not been paid in months. When offered money, and knowing that the central government would not help them, they took it.
Recall the optics of the Trump agreement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Doha Qatar to meet with the Taliban and proudly stood side by side for photo ops. Recall that the ex-president while in office wanted to bring the Taliban negotiators to Camp David on 11 September 2019. Trump adviser Stephen Miller — the virulently anti-immigration nut case — actively undermined the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) program for Afghanis that helped us as translators and in other ways because he did not want them in our country. And on and on. It is more than hypocritical of Republicans in Congress and the right-wing media to accuse President Biden of selling out the Afghan people and giving recognition to the Taliban. It was already done. President Biden could have refused to follow the Trump deal, but he made the decision to delay the withdrawal from May 2021 to August 2021 to allow more time for a better deal to be reached. It wasn’t. Neither the Taliban nor the Afghan national government were interested in any type of serious agreement with each other. I suspect that the Afghan government did not really expect the U.S. to leave completely, or else they already had their escape plans in place. None-the-less, the Biden Administration is in charge and it is their responsibility. But let’s not forget how we got to this point. These events set the stage for what we now see happening.
There were elite, well trained and disciplined Afghan special forces. They were ready to defend Kabul. When the president and most of the cabinet, along with other senior government officials, flew out of the country without warning, they melted away like all the others. They cannot fight to save the national government if there is no national government to defend.
It was, in essence, at the end, a nearly bloodless coup. Money talks and a lot of Afghanis walked. I think President Biden is correct to say that he will not send young American women and men to fight and die in a country where their own military will not defend themselves. It is over. The decision is made. It is time to make the best of a bad situation.
What makes it bad is that many American civilians remain in the country and it becomes a greater moral dilemma because we owe a debt to tens of thousands of Afghanis and their families who helped us over the course of twenty years believing that things would end differently. This is the mess. The timing comes under this administration, but this same circumstance would have ensued whenever the end came. Once people believe that all is lost, the stampede is on. As soon as the U.S. began withdrawing its embassy personnel, aid workers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and others, the Afghanis would know that it was over and panic would ensue. Could it have been timed out better? Yes. Could the chaos have been avoided? No. It is inevitable at some point.
The question now is what to do. The U.S. goal is to complete the evacuation by 31 August. Many critics believe that is too early, ignoring the president’s statements that the date is a goal, not a hard and fast requirement. Developments over the next few days will determine what happens. People are looking for hard and fast answers. That is reasonable but not realistic. The commanders on the ground are going to have to make some quick and difficult decisions. It is a very fluid situation. So far, for the most part the Taliban have stuck by their agreement to let the evacuation continue. There is no way to definitively say that this will last forever. I believe the Taliban leadership wants it to go smoothly and quickly because they want us gone. The sooner the better. They do not want to risk our return. That does not mean that some hothead on the front lines or a group of hotheads might not take matters into their own hands. The situation could blow up quickly with very little instigation. This is especially true if the U.S. begins going outside of the airport perimeter, or even outside of Kabul, to bring evacuees in.
There is a lot of blame to go around. Our collective amnesia of events in other administrations should not cloud our thinking about the current situation. In the end, the Biden Administration will demonstrate that they have the ability and know-how to pull off a Dunkirk style evacuation. Or not. Until then, the critics should hold their fire until the results are known.