Monday, February 28, 2022

Globalization Has Become the Tool to Defeat Putin

Mike Pompeo, who served as Trump's Secretary of State, had to defend his recent remarks about Vladimir Putin being "savvy" and "very talented." His response demonstrated an appalling ignorance. 

Rather than answer the question, Pompeo kept talking about "fighting communism," something that hasn't existed in Russia since the early 1990s. 

It is worth noting that, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia began to sell off all of its national assets - something that Vladimir Putin helped manage for then-President Boris Yeltsin. That gave Putin the knowledge and strategy he used to consolidate power by controlling the oligarchs who were empowered by the privatization. 

All of that is important as we watch the world unite by implementing catastrophic sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine. The transition from communism to oligarchy moved Russia away from being economically isolated, putting them in the midst of a globalized economy

The process of globalization impacts the processes of change on the local and regional scale...globalization implies a stretching of social, political, and economic activities across frontiers such that events, decisions, and activities in one region of the world can impact individuals and societies elsewhere, as well as an increased interconnectedness which transcends individual states...In the case of the Russian Federation and other post-Soviet states...we see societies that were previously closed off from global influence are now open to all these forces.

Max Fisher was one of the only reporters to point this out back in 2014 when Putin annexed Crimea.

The lesson that Putin is learning is that Russia depends on the global economy, whether it likes it or not, and the global economy doesn't like it when you go invading other countries and tempting the richest nations in the world to maybe consider sanctioning you. This is actually a significant change for Russia, which at the height of its Soviet power was not integrated into the global economy and so didn't have to worry about things like investor sentiment. But now it is and it does.

What's cool about this is that it theoretically could apply to lots of other possible acts of international aggression around the world. This is something that economists and political scientists have been predicting since World War One: that integrating all the national economies into the global economy wouldn't just make all of us richer; it would make war more economically painful for the people starting it and thus less likely to happen.

Of course, there are reasons to be concerned about the impact of globalization, but perhaps that puts a different spin on things than we've been used to hearing from the so-called "populists" who have been raging against it. 

At this point, we don't know the outcome of the war Russia has waged against Ukraine. But one of the reasons I have been transfixed as it develops is that it very well could represent the ultimate battle between the old world order and the new one. As I've suggested previously, Putin is attempting to turn the clock back to the days in which the most powerful countries were determined by their ability to dominate the rest of the world through military force. 

After years of trying to sow divisions among the allies of democracy, Putin is running head-on into a united effort being waged against him by the new world order. It is important to remember that the strategies being used against Putin right now (ie, debilitating sanctions) wouldn't have been effective against the former Soviet Union. Instead, the Cold War (where outright war between the two major powers was avoided due to fear of nuclear annihilation) was fought via proxy battles in other countries.

Putin is obviously attempting to re-establish the Russian empire as the 21st Century's Great Power by invading Ukraine. But he's not only having to face fierce resistance from the people of that country, most of the globe is uniting to ensure that Russia will pay an extreme economic price. You can almost feel the tectonic plates shifting beneath his feet.

If Putin is defeated, it will, as Fisher noted, "make war more economically painful for the people starting it and thus less likely to happen." Those are the stakes, and they couldn't be any higher.

Oh, and by the way...no one understands the stakes better than President Joe Biden, who has managed this whole thing masterfully. But that's a topic for another day.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Question of the Hour: Has Putin Lost His Mind?

On Sunday, there was both good and bad news about Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. Here's a summary of where things stand on the ground from a Pentagon briefing with reporters:

Russian troops entered Kharkiv overnight, and while they remain about 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the north of downtown Kyiv, reconnaissance elements have been operating in the capital city, the senior defense official said. Some members of those reconnaissance units have been wearing Ukrainian uniforms and have been outed by locals, the official added. It remained the Pentagon’s assessment on Sunday morning that the Russian military still has not seized control of any Ukrainian cities.

The Pentagon believes Russian forces are still about 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside of central Mariupol, an important port city along Ukraine’s southeastern coast. “Mariupol will be defended,” said the senior defense official, who credited Ukraine with mounting a “creative resistance” that was both “heroic” and “inspiring.” But the official cautioned that Russia still has significant “operational advantages” over Ukraine and would probably learn from errors that had slowed Russian forces’ advance in the days ahead.

The Russians have faced logistical challenges in sustaining support for the units operating in Ukraine, the senior defense official noted. The Pentagon has also determined that some, though not the majority, of the more than 320 missile launches Russia has undertaken against Ukraine have suffered failures.

The good news is that both Russia and Ukraine have agreed to send delegations to the border between Ukraine and Belarus for negotiations.  

Here's the bad news: 

Let's first note that, before Putin sent troops to invade Ukraine, a lot of very smart people thought he was bluffing. So it would be a huge mistake to assume that he's bluffing now. But after decades of nuclear powers recognizing that the use of those weapons could very well mean global annihilation, is the Russian president prepared to take that risk? Frankly, it all comes down to whether or not he's a madman. 

Especially after his deranged speech last Monday, people have been questioning Putin's mental state. Senator Marco Rubio sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and recently tweeted this: 

Michael McFaul, who served as Obama's ambassador to Russia tweeted this: 

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that Putin "has gone off the rails" after acting in a calculated manner in years past.

The New York Times reported that people have noticed that Putin “has fundamentally changed amid the pandemic, a shift that may have left him more paranoid, more aggrieved, and more reckless.”  Ryu Spaeth asked the question directly, "Is Putin sane?"
Two years since the onset of COVID, the Russian leader remains severely isolated, interacting with cabinet officials largely via video and keeping trips abroad to a minimum. When he does have to meet people face-to-face in Moscow, whether it’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or French president Emmanuel Macron, they must first pass through a “disinfection tunnel” and then sit at a social distance of Olympian proportions, at tables so long that they have become a physical manifestation of Putin’s remoteness from the rest of the world.

When Putin made the announcement about putting his nuclear forces on high alert, two of his military leaders joined him. Here's what the scene looked like:

I'm not going to speculate any further - other than to say that if a madman is in control of a country with a nuclear arsenal, we are all in serious danger. 

Hopes for avoiding that nightmare come in two forms. One is the fact that negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have been agreed to by both parties. The other is that there have been some tiny cracks in Putin's support from the Russian oligarchs he has empowered.

With those oligarchs facing the twin threats of massive debilitating sanctions that are likely to tank the Russian economy and a leader who could be insane enough to start a nuclear war, will they actually step up and do something to stop him? Let's hope so.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

How to Avoid Being Wrong About the 2022 Midterms

For months now we've been hearing that the 2022 midterms are going to be a bloodbath for Democrats (or a shellacking, depending on your choice of words). Those claims are often accompanied by statements about how liberals have lost the culture wars, especially after Republican Glenn Youngkin's 2021 victory in Virginia. 

But I'd be willing to bet that none of the pundits making those claims saw this coming:

The [Wason Center for Civic Leadership] poll finds that Virginia voters are not on board with Youngkin’s crusade against critical race theory...Slightly more than a third of voters (35 percent) support a ban on teaching critical race theory in public schools, while 57 percent oppose such a ban.
Similarly, nearly two-thirds of voters (63 percent) support teaching “how racism continues to impact American society” while one-third (33 percent) oppose such teaching, according to the poll.

The poll’s findings also undercut the law that makes masks optional in public schools, finding that 56 percent of voters think a decision about masks in schools should be based on health data and experts, while 41 percent think it should be left up to parents.

Those numbers go a long way towards explaining the fact that the same poll found Youngkin's favorable ratings under water (41% approve and 43% disapprove) after less than two months in office. As it turns out, "Virginia voters seem to be to the left of Youngkin on many of his most high-profile issues." 

That raises the question of whether or not Democrats have lost the so-called "culture wars" - at least in a swing state like Virginia. Immediately after that election, we were bombarded with stories about how it was angry parents who revolted against Democrats. But the data firm TargetSmart recently did a deep dive into the numbers and found something very interesting: a "silver surge."

Republicans rode a "silver surge" to victory in VA last year. Senior turnout surged to unprecedented levels - somewhat shockingly, more voters over the age of 75 voted in the 2021 election than have in any VA election other than 2020. Turnout among voters age 75 or older increased by 59%, relative to 2017...

While it is certainly possible that school closures motivated these seniors to vote, this "silver surge" does seem to undermine the narrative that the VA election was centrally about schools.

We may never know what really happened in Virginia because I doubt that media outlets and polling firms will do focus groups with Virginia seniors (like they did with white moms) to find out what motivated them to turn out in such huge numbers. The narrative that took hold immediately after the election has already been baked into the assumptions that are being used to predict the outcome of the 2022 midterms, which means they'll probably be wrong.

At this point, I'm ready to call a moratorium on whatever becomes the dominant narrative in the immediate aftermath of an election. I suspect that what happens is that people gravitate to data that supports the assumptions they had prior to the votes being counted. That's why those initial takes are almost always eventually proven wrong. One need only look at how "economic anxiety" quickly became the reason so many white people voted for Trump in 2016. Eventually we learned that race and religion (ie, Christian nationalism) were much bigger factors.

Friday, February 25, 2022

How Biden Got Inside Putin's Head

Let's review for a moment what President Biden's strategy was in the weeks leading up to Russia's launch of an unprovoked war against Ukraine. First of all, the White House began receiving intelligence about Putin's plan back in October. 

The White House acknowledged from the start that its campaign to stop Mr. Putin might not actually prevent Russia from invading Ukraine. But at the very least, White House officials say, Mr. Biden exposed Mr. Putin and his true intentions, which helped unite, at least for now, the at-times fractious NATO alliance.

One of the lessons I've learned in life is that you set yourself up for failure if you attempt to control something over which you can never have control. Biden recognized, from the start, that he wouldn't have control over what Putin would eventually do. What he did have control over was how the U.S. would respond. 

So the administration made the critical decision to share intelligence with both our allies and the public. That accomplished the twin goals of both combating the kind of disinformation campaign Putin was sure to launch in order to justify an invasion, and exposed his true intentions. As a result, our allies rallied together to respond in unison.

The strategy Biden chose wasn't without risks. For example, when the intelligence suggested that Putin would invade Ukraine on February 16, it didn't happen. During her press conference on Wednesday, Jen Psaki gave a plausible explanation for why they were wrong: Putin didn't expect the U.S. to have the level of information they have and didn't expect them to put that information out. In response, Putin has been adapting and improvising his strategy in Ukraine.

That leads me to step back for a moment and speculate about what it's like for a former KGB officer to have U.S. intelligence gathering such accurate information about his plans and basically use it against him in such an unprecedented and public way. 

Most tyrants who have been in power for a long time develop a strong streak of paranoia. They also don't have experience with having their plans and intentions thwarted. Putin is obviously no exception. So we can only imagine how angry and terrified he has become as the U.S. (and our allies) obviously have access to his inner circle. 

Can you imagine the time and energy Putin must be putting into trying to determine who is betraying him? Paranoia is corrosive, not only to an individual leader, but to the cohesion of those surrounding him. Everyone becomes a suspect. It could be that the hissy fit of rage we witnessed during Putin's speech on Monday was triggered, at least in part, by paranoia. 

Of course, there are risks associated with triggering that kind of rage from a brutal dictator. But from Biden's perspective, they already knew that Putin had decided to invade Ukraine and had calculated that they probably couldn't stop that from happening. What they could do was expose his true intentions and force him to make adjustments to his plan - possibly leading to mistakes. 

No strategy in a situation like this is ever guaranteed to be successful and the one Biden chose is unprecedented, so there was no road map to follow. It is way too soon to judge whether the president chose the right path. All we can say for now is that he got inside Putin's head in a way that seems to have caught the Russian president off guard.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Why Republicans Admire Putin

On the surface, it is clear that right wingers are split over how to react to the fact that Vladimir Putin has chosen to declare war on Ukraine. Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, and the rest of the MAGA crowd are openly siding with Putin, while the more traditional war hawks, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, are condemning the Russian president, comparing him to Adolph Hitler. 

There are, however, some disturbing things that unite both sides. At this critical moment, they are both joined in blaming President Biden for the actions of Putin. For example, House Republican leadership issued a statement stating that "Sadly, President Biden consistently chose appeasement and his tough talk on Russia was never followed by strong action." During an unhinged rant with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, Trump pretty much echoed those remarks.

But there is something deeper that unites the two Republican factions. Trump and Carlson openly praise the Russian tyrant. That side has always made it clear that they prefer strong-arm dictators to democracy. But when House Republicans suggest that Biden never followed his "tough talk" with "strong action," it's worth taking a minute to unpack what they mean. 

While the president was working tirelessly to unite our allies in response to Russian aggression, Republican hawks were pushing for him to act both preemptively and unilaterally. For example, Graham was pushing for U.S. sanctions before Russia invaded Ukraine - while diplomatic efforts were still underway. 

Sen. Ted Cruz introduced a bill that would have had the U.S. preemptively sanction the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, ignoring the fact that it was being developed via an agreement between Russia and Germany. As one of our critical allies, the Biden administration fought those efforts, knowing it was important to partner with Germany rather than pre-empt their decision on the pipeline. In the end, Germany made the decision to halt the launch of the pipeline itself. 

So while these war hawks denounce Putin, they mirror his attachment to a 19th Century Great Powers approach to foreign policy. They have no interest in working with our allies, but see the U.S. as the "exceptional country" that unilaterally dictates what will happen on a global scale. Putin sees Russia in much the same way.

The fact is that, going back to the days when Ronald Reagan declared that the Soviet Union was an "evil empire," Republicans have actually admired Russian leaders. Here's something Jonathan Chait wrote about that back in 2014:

Three decades ago, right-wing French intellectual Jean-François Revel published a call to arms entitled "How Democracies Perish," which quickly became a key text of the neoconservative movement and an ideological blueprint for the Reagan administration. Revel argued that the Soviet Union’s brutality and immunity from internal criticism gave it an inherent advantage over the democratic West — the United States and Europe were too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat the resolute men of the Iron Curtain.

“Unlike the Western leadership, which is tormented by remorse and a sense of guilt,” wrote Revel, “Soviet leaders’ consciences are perfectly clear, which allows them to use brute force with utter serenity both to preserve their power at home and to extend it abroad.” Even though Revel’s prediction that the Soviet Union would outlast the West was falsified within a few years, conservatives continue to tout its wisdom.

If you're like me, Revel's assessment that the U.S. and Europe were "too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat resolute men," sounds pretty familiar. It's the kind of thing we often hear about Democrats these days. Too few people on the left have come up with an adequate response to that kind of criticism.

It all comes down to two different views about how to wield power: dominance or partnership. What Republicans share with Putin is a belief in the idea that dominance is the only means to power. That leads them to embrace a Great Power view of foreign policy. During his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in 2009, President Obama offered an alternative.

Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.

To get an idea of how partnership can work, one only needs to compare the failure of unilateral sanctions against Cuba to how the global sanctions the Obama administration negotiated against Iran brought that country to the bargaining table. Another example of partnership would be the global reaction to apartheid in South Africa.  

We're already hearing a bit about how Russia's decision to declare war on Ukraine will impact the entire globe. The U.S. has a choice about whether to unilaterally attempt to dominate Putin (something that probably isn't on the table due to the risk of nuclear annihilation) or to explore the power of partnership by working with our allies to contain, and eventually stop him. The latter certainly doesn't guarantee success, but it sure beats the hell out of the alternative.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

How Christian Nationalist are Abusing the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court announced that it will take up the case of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. The plaintiff in this case is web designer Lorie Smith, who owns 303 Creative and asserts that she wants to expand her business to include wedding websites. Because she opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds, Smith does not want to design websites for same-sex weddings, but a Colorado law prohibits businesses that are open to the public from discriminating against gay people.

At issue in this case is the First Amendment, which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

You might think that Smith and her lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom would be basing their case on the free exercise clause ("Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise" of religion). But that's not the case. Their claim is that the Colorado law "censors and coerces the speech of creative professionals whose religious beliefs do not conform to state orthodoxy." In other words, they are equating our guarantee of freedom of speech with the ability of Christians to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. 

There is a lot of complex case law involved in this one, which you can read more about from people like Ian Millhiser and Mark Joseph Stern. But I'd like to focus on some of the history that has led Christian nationalists to shift their legal claims away from the free exercise clause in favor of the free speech clause.

Perhaps the most damning blow to the free exercise clause came from none other than former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In 1990 he wrote the majority opinion in the case of Employment Division v. Smith. That was a case filed on behalf of two Native American men who were fired for smoking peyote as part of religious ceremonies at the Native American Church. 

The Court held that the First Amendment's protection of the "free exercise" of religion does not allow a person to use a religious motivation as a reason not to obey such generally applicable laws. Scalia wrote: "To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself." That made it very difficult for Christian nationalists to use the free exercise clause to justify their attempts to skirt generally applicable laws, like the ones that prohibit discrimination.

As Katherine Stewart documented in her book, "The Power Worshippers," it was lawyers like Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at Pat Robertson's American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), who "asserted that religion is just speech from a certain, religious point of view. And to prohibit speech of any type on the basis of viewpoint is, by definition, to violate the free speech clause."

Stewart writes about the absurdity of those claims.

One could spill a lot of ink explaining why it is absurd to suppose that religion is no religion after all, but just speech from a religious point of view. But fine arguments are not necessary in this case because the Constitution itself supposes that religion is a category of activity distinct from speech. Why else would the First Amendment take the trouble to guarantee the freedom of religion and then turn around and add a separate and distinct guarantee of the freedom of speech? Indeed, the obvious fact that religion is a distinct activity is essential to make sense of the Establishment Clause.

Another issue at play is the fact that, for Christian nationalists, the free exercise clause of the First Amendment is inextricably tied to the establishment clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"). Since they are the ones intent on claiming that the United States is a Christian nation, they really don't like that part of our Constitution, which is why they spend so much time denying or trying to explain away Thomas Jefferson's statement about the First Amendment constructing a wall of separation between church and state.

So freedom of speech is the lever these folks have become intent on using to codify the U.S. as a Christian nation. Over the years, they've been successful in using it to defend their claims of "religious liberty." For example in Windmar vs. Vincent (1981), the Supreme Court ruled that when the U.S. government provides an "open forum," it may not discriminate against speech that takes place within that forum on the basis of the viewpoint it expresses—in this case, against religious speech engaged in by an evangelical Christian organization.

In the 2001 case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the court ruled that teaching religion in an after-school program was protected speech. The plaintiffs in that case wanted to set up an after-school program called the Good News Club, which is sponsored by the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF).

In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the activities of the CEF were not really religious, after all. He said that they could be characterized, for legal purposes, "as the teaching of morals and character development from a particular viewpoint." That is belied by the group's vision statement, which states that "Our special mission in CEF is to evangelize every child." Their aim is to proselytize, which is why they want to be in schools instead of just churches.

Other cases that Alliance Defending Freedom advertises on its web site as "free speech" issues include: 

1. Right to Life of Central California v. Bonta, which challenged a California law creating a 30-foot buffer of people from “obstructing, injuring, harassing, intimidating, or interfering with” others going inside vaccination sites.

2. Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut v. Tong, which challenges a Connecticut law stating that no limited services pregnancy center, with the intent to perform a pregnancy-related service, shall make or disseminate … any statement concerning any pregnancy-related service or the provision of any pregnancy-related service that is deceptive, whether by statement or omission.”

3. Kluge v. Brownsburg Community School Corporation, in which a teacher is suing a school district for firing him because of his refusal to abide by school policy requiring teachers to call students by their preferred gender pronouns and names.

In other words, the lawyers at ADF are defining "free speech" to include the ability to harass, lie, and refuse to treat students with a modicum of respect...all in the name of "religious liberty."

I suspect that when the Supreme Court rules in favor of Lorie Smith, they'll add "the ability to discriminate" to that list of "free speech" rights.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Two World Views That Are Battling it Out Over Ukraine

According to journalists at the New York Times, the Biden administration began receiving intelligence about Putin's plan to invade Ukraine back in October. Here was their initial calculation:

The White House acknowledged from the start that its campaign to stop Mr. Putin might not actually prevent Russia from invading Ukraine. But at the very least, White House officials say, Mr. Biden exposed Mr. Putin and his true intentions, which helped unite, at least for now, the at-times fractious NATO alliance.

The administration's response included three critical decisions:

1. Share intelligence far more broadly with allies than was typical...The idea was to avoid disagreements about tough economic sanctions by ensuring that everyone knew what the United States knew about Mr. Putin’s actions.

2. Publicly release intelligence information aimed at preventing Mr. Putin from employing his usual denials to divide his adversaries.

3. Send Ukraine more weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, and deploy more troops to other countries in Eastern Europe as a show of solidarity with Ukraine and to reassure nervous allies on NATO’s eastern flank.

Number one was especially significant.

European and American intelligence officials said that Mr. Putin initially believed Europe and the United States would remain divided and unwilling to impose strong sanctions, particularly in the defense of Ukraine. He thought that he could build up a significant force and then either attack Ukraine or extract concessions from Kyiv, without much unified opposition from Europe, the officials said.

“According to our assessment, at the end of summer, Putin likely gave instructions to prepare for military options against Ukraine,” said Mikk Marran, the director general of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service. “And in autumn 2021, we detected the attitude of President Putin: He felt the West was weak and the issue of Ukraine needed to be fixed.”...

But Mr. Putin’s assessment ended up being a miscalculation, according to American and European officials. As the United States shared more intelligence both with NATO and individual allies, the positions hardened against Russia. The Eastern European intelligence official said that Mr. Putin’s timetable for an attack might well have been pushed back in the face of the unexpected cohesion among the allies.

Number two was based on an awareness of Putin's pattern of spreading disinformation to confuse the public.

“Our theory has been that putting true information into the public domain, which was bearing out in real time because everybody can see what they’re actually doing, was the best way to prevent the Russians and what they always do, which is to try to control the narrative with disinformation,” a senior administration official recalled recently.

As the authors go on to note, this is why it's a good idea to elect a president who actually knows what they're doing.

In some ways, Mr. Biden was distinctly prepared for the moment. Having visited Ukraine a half-dozen times over the last decade, he knows the country better than any other American president...Aides also said Mr. Biden’s long history with Mr. Putin made him less susceptible to the Russian president’s tactics.

In the end, Biden's initial assessment that these tactics might not be able to prevent Putin from invading Ukraine was accurate. On Monday the Russian president gave a speech that one analyst characterized as going "full Blofeld" (those not familiar with James Bond films can check out the significance of that comparison here).

As a former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin has spent decades crafting an image of being sly and manipulative. But that isn't what he portrayed in that speech. Here is how his demeanor was described by Tom Nichols:

Putin’s slumped posture and deadened affect led me to suspect that he is not as stable as we would hope. He had the presence not of a confident president, but of a surly adolescent caught in a misadventure, rolling his eyes at the stupid adults who do not understand how cruel the world has been to him...Even discounting Putin’s delivery, the speech was, in many places, simply unhinged.

How does a tyrant, who is accustomed to absolute power, react when his plans are thwarted? He throws the kind of hissy fit we see from "a surly adolescent caught in a misadventure."

The thing about Putin's hissy fit of rage is that he exposed his real intentions for all the world to see. A couple of tweets from analysts in real time captured them. 

When Putin ended the speech by recognizing two breakaway regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, the reaction from our allies was swift. The European Union unanimously approved Russian sanctions, with Germany putting a stop to the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Members of the G7 have also promised to impose sanctions on Russia, along with several Asian allies.

Even China, a Russian ally, finds itself walking a tightrope.

“China wants to preserve its ties with Moscow, abide by its principles and avoid harming relations with the United States and the European Union,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “Navigating this crisis may be one of the toughest diplomatic challenges that [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping has had to face.”

The kind of unity Biden has nurtured in response to Russia's aggression is the "new world order" that Putin despises as a threat to his vision of a return to the Great Power politics of the 19th Century. Those are the two world views battling it out over the situation in Ukraine right now. While the new world order might not be effective in stopping a madman like Putin from invading his neighbor, we can hope that it forestalls a World War III. 

Monday, February 21, 2022

"All Roads Lead to Putin"

In October 2019, the New York Times published a chilling story about the Russian Air Force bombing of hospitals in Syria in order to crush the resistance to President Bashar al-Assad. A report from the U.N. published in July 2020 said that the bombings - which also hit schools and marketplaces - amounted to a war crime.

That is what was happening on the ground in Syria when Trump announced that he was pulling U.S. troops out of the country, a decision that would effectively cede control of the area to the Syrian government and Russia.

It was during a meeting with congressional leaders at the time that the photo above was taken. The House had just passed a resolution to rebuke Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria and Democrats were challenging the president to explain his strategy

Why, [Pelosi] asked, did he withdraw U.S. troops from Syria — a geopolitical calculation that allowed a toehold in northern Syria for Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Why, she asked with lawmakers and aides watching and a White House photographer snapping away, do “all roads lead to Putin”? 

By then, Trump had spent years kowtowing to the Russian president. In Helsinki, he had publicly sided with Putin over U.S. intelligence in dismissing the possibility of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and suggested that it would be “appropriate” for Russia to rejoin the Group of Seven richest countries — reversing the 2014 expulsion after Russia invaded Ukraine. 

All of that is important to keep in mind as Russia once again dominates the headlines. While an invasion of Ukraine remains imminent, Republicans are ignoring history and, as Sen. Ted Cruz recently demonstrated, seem intent on blaming Biden for Russia's actions, claiming that it is the current president who is weak and feckless. 

Perhaps it's just a coincidence that, just as all of that has been unfolding, right wing media outlets have been pretending that Durham's investigation has proven that the whole Trump-Russia collusion story was a hoax. For example, Gregg Jarrett of Fox News recently published a piece titled "Hillary Clinton was the mastermind behind the Trump-Russia collusion hoax and may never face justice."

Make no mistake --it was Clinton who invented the elaborate collusion hoax, financed it, and directed the process by which it was circulated to the media and the FBI. Her false claims were then disseminated by a cadre of cronies and dirty-tricksters working secretly in the shadows.

That confluence of lies is what passes for conventional wisdom on the right these days. Of course, to get there, they have to dismiss all of the evidence of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia that were identified by Robert Mueller, as well as the 10 counts of obstruction of justice the special counsel documented. 

But even more importantly, they have to dismiss the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation. Here is how Mark Mazzettii described their final report:

A sprawling report released Tuesday by a Republican-controlled Senate panel that spent three years investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election laid out an extensive web of contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Kremlin officials and other Russians, including at least one intelligence officer and others tied to the country’s spy services...

It provided a bipartisan Senate imprimatur for an extraordinary set of facts: The Russian government disrupted an American election to help Mr. Trump become president, Russian intelligence services viewed members of the Trump campaign as easily manipulated, and some of Mr. Trump’s advisers were eager for the help from an American adversary...

...the report showed extensive evidence of contacts between Trump campaign advisers and people tied to the Kremlin — including a longstanding associate of the onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, whom the report identified as a “Russian intelligence officer.”

Signing off on those findings was the chair of the committee, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), along with the other Republican members: Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Susan Collins (R- Maine), Roy Blunt (R- MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Ben Sasse (R-NE). 

In addition to what was reported publicly, all of those Republicans had access to the classified information that was eventually redacted from the report. Regardless of whether the evidence met the legal standard of a coordinated conspiracy, they saw proof that Putin interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump become president and that there was an extensive web of contacts between the Trump campaign and Kremlin officials. In other words, there was no "hoax," and they know it.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that the same people who want to re-write U.S. history in order to make it more "comfortable" for them are the same folks that are currently engaged in an attempt to re-write the history of Trump's relationship with Russia. But Speaker Pelosi nailed it when she said that, when it comes to the former guy, "all roads lead to Putin."

Friday, February 18, 2022

Senators Cruz, Hawley, and Cotton Demonstrate a Preference for Being Dumb on Crime

As we await an announcement about who President Biden will nominate to the Supreme Court, it is worth remembering how, in just over one year, he has worked to reshape the make-up of the federal courts.

Nearly 30% of Biden’s nominees to the federal bench have been public defenders, 24% have been civil rights lawyers and 8% labor attorneys. By the end of his first year, Biden had won confirmation of 40 judges, the most since President Ronald Reagan. Of those, 80% are women and 53% are people of color, according to the White House.

Biden's nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Nina Morrison, has a particularly unique background.

Nina has been an attorney at the Innocence Project ("IP") since 2002, where she helped lead the IP's growth from a small, law-school based legal clinic to a national criminal justice reform organization. To date, Nina has served as lead or co-counsel for approximately thirty innocent prisoners who were freed from prison or death row based on DNA or other newly discovered evidence. In her role as Senior Litigation Counsel, Nina also leads the IP's initiatives on prosecutorial accountability and reform. She frequently advises prosecutors, judges, and defense counsel about how to prevent wrongful convictions and improve prosecutorial practices...

Before joining the Innocence Project, Nina was an attorney with the firm of Emery Cuti Brinckerhoff & Abady PC, specializing in civil rights litigation. From 1992 to 1995 she was an investigator with the California Appellate Project, which represents California's death row inmates in post-conviction proceedings. 

The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck to use DNA testing to exonerate those who had been wrongfully convicted of a crime. To date, 375 people in the United States - who had served an average of 14 years each in prison - have been exonerated by DNA testing. But as Philip Bump pointed out, freeing those who have been wrongfully convicted is only one side of the coin.

There are two positive effects that follow from allowing an innocent person to be freed from prison following an improper conviction. The most obvious is that the innocent person is now free, able to reconstruct his or her life as much as is possible. Less obvious is that it also allows the system to actually find the criminal who committed the crime in the first place.

Bump talked to Tricia Rojo Bushnell, president of the Innocence Network, and further learned that, of those 375 exonerations, “the actual perpetrator was identified in 165 cases.” What's more, she told him that “Those people, because they were not convicted in the cases the wrong person was, went on to be convicted of 154 additional violent crimes, including 83 sexual assaults, 36 murders and 35 other types of violent crimes.”

In other words, ensuring that the guilty person is convicted of a crime is one of many ways that we can be smart on crime - making someone like Morrison an excellent choice to serve on the U.S. District Court

But at Morrison's confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Senators Cruz, Cotton, and Hawley demonstrated that they'd rather be dumb on crime. Those three senators disdainfully grilled Morrison about her past work, writings, and associations. Hawley summed things up by stating that he wouldn't support any Biden judicial nominees who are "soft on crime and soft on criminals." Similarly, Cruz said that “Your nomination is part of a pattern from this administration, and Democrats in the Senate, if they follow their pattern, will vote to [confirm] yet another judge who will let more violent criminals go.”

During his questioning, Cotton brought up a case from Arkansas involving Ledell Lee, who was executed in 2017 for the 1993 murder of a 26-year-old woman, Debra Reese. But four years after he was executed, a different man’s DNA was found on the murder weapon, which had not been previously tested. Morrison, who has taken on Lee's sister as a client, noted that there was “compelling evidence” that he might have been innocent of the crime. In response, Cotton threw up his hands and declared: "Compelling evidence that the court somehow overlooked for 20 years?" As Charles Pierce noted:

To hell with legislative research, has Cotton seen a movie in the past 20 years? Has he watched the news? Innocent people have been walking out of prisons after decades of mistaken incarceration.

I would remind you that Senator Cotton is the one who thinks that we have an "under-incarceration problem" in this country and recently stated that the minimal criminal justice reforms of the First Step Act were "the worst mistake of the Trump administration." 

Keeping innocent people locked up for crimes they didn't commit, while letting the actual perpetrators remain free to harm more victims, isn't just a matter of being dumb on crime...it's immoral. This country should have nothing but disdain for these three senators.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Neo-New Democrat Blames Obama for Loss of Support From Working Class Voters

As I noted previously, Ron Brownstein has written about a small group of data analysts - primarily David Shor, Ruy Teixeira, and Stanley Greenberg - who are suggesting that Democrats should harken back to the strategies proposed by the Democratic Leadership Council and largely adopted by Bill Clinton in the 1990s. As such, Brownstein refers to these analysts as "neo-New Democrats."

The main message of the neo-New Democrats is that their party must do a better job of winning back the support of working class Americans. Recently Stanley Greenberg, who worked for the Clinton campaign and administration, has written a piece about how they should go about doing that. In it, he contrasts the positioning of Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. About the former he writes:

In 1992, Clinton sought to win the support of both white and Black working families, pointing to their shared economic struggles and sense of grievance that hardworking people like themselves were not getting heard by government. He told them that “we need fundamental change, not more of the same,” and promised to raise taxes on CEOs while reassuring working-class voters of all races on crime and welfare.

What Greenberg doesn't mention is that, after following through on some of those promises, this happened in 2015:

Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday disavowed part of the anti-crime legislation that he long considered one of his top accomplishments, concluding that it went too far in sending even minor criminals to prison “for way too long.”

Addressing a convention of the N.A.A.C.P. a day after President Obama called for a wholesale overhaul of the criminal justice system, Mr. Clinton embraced the idea. He agreed that the law he enacted in 1994 played a significant part in warping sentencing standards and leading to an era of mass incarceration. 
“I signed a bill that made the problem worse,” Mr. Clinton said. “And I want to admit it.”

The other thing Greenberg didn't mention is that, during Clinton's two terms in office, he negotiated over 300 trade agreements, including the ratification of NAFTA. Trade agreements have been used by both the left and the right to stir up anger among working class voters as the reason so many jobs have been shipped overseas. 

Nevertheless, Greenberg makes it clear that he blames President Obama for the loss of support from working class voters.

Many analysts believe racism explains almost everything...But that misses how the Obama administration’s economic policy failed all working people... 

The Obama years were the critical juncture when Democratic leaders stopped seeing the working class and feeling its despair and anger. They stopped advocating for workers against corporate excess and stopped challenging the exceptional corruption that allowed billionaires and Wall Street to dominate politics. The result is that the Democratic Party has lost touch with all working people, including its own base.

Since Greenberg focused on Clinton's rhetoric rather than actual policies, it might be helpful to take a look at some of Obama's rhetoric to analyze the accuracy of that statement. In one of his most famous speeches during the 2008 campaign, Obama addressed the controversy over statements made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Often overlooked was this passage:

Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race.

Their experience is the immigrant experience. As far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything, they built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and they feel their dreams slipping away...

And just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze: a corporate culture rife with inside dealing and questionable accounting practices and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.

And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns, this, too, widens the racial divide and blocks the path to understanding.

The man who would become this country's first African American president articulated how the resentments of white Americans were "grounded in legitimate concerns."

After passing the stimulus bill, the Affordable Care Act, and the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform package, Obama turned his focus towards income inequality in 2011. He proposed the American Jobs Act, which was, of course, obstructed by Republicans. But he also gave several speeches about the need to address what he called "the defining issue of our time." One example was his speech on fiscal policy in April 2011 which took on the most recent Republican budget proposal.

In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes?

They [Republicans] want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

This vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America...There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don't think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. That's not a vision of the America I know.

But the defining speech came when Obama travelled to Osawatomie, KS where, 100 years ago, Republican President Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech about a "New Nationalism." Here's just a bit of what Obama said that day:

Today, we’re still home to the world’s most productive workers. We’re still home to the world’s most innovative companies. But for most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded. Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments -- wealthier than ever before. But everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t -- and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up....

But, Osawatomie, this is not just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. Because what’s at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.
And then there was the speech Obama made at an Associated Press Luncheon in April 2012.
In the face of all these challenges, we're going to have to answer a central question as a nation: What, if anything, can we do to restore a sense of security for people who are willing to work hard and act responsibly in this country? Can we succeed as a country where a shrinking number of people do exceedingly well, while a growing number struggle to get by? Or are we better off when everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules?

This is not just another run-of-the-mill political debate. I’ve said it’s the defining issue of our time, and I believe it. It’s why I ran in 2008. It’s what my presidency has been about. It’s why I’m running again. I believe this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and I can’t remember a time when the choice between competing visions of our future has been so unambiguously clear.

Finally, here's what Obama said during a speech on economic mobility in December 2013:

But we know that people’s frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles. Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles -- to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were. They may not follow the constant back-and-forth in Washington or all the policy details, but they experience in a very personal way the relentless, decades-long trend that I want to spend some time talking about today. And that is a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain -- that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.

I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American. It’s why I ran for President. It was at the center of last year’s campaign. It drives everything I do in this office.
When Obama said that this is the reason he ran for president, that claim is backed up by something Michelle Obama wrote in her book "Becoming."
I woke one night to find [Barack] staring at the ceiling, his profile lit by the glow of street lights outside. He looked vaguely troubled, as if he were pondering something deeply personal. Was it our relationship? The loss of his father? " Hey, what are you thinking about over there?" I whispered. He turned to look at me, his smile a little sheepish. "Oh," he said, "I was just thinking about income inequality."

That exchange would have occurred in the early 1990s, during Bill Clinton's first term. 

I recognize that almost no one actually listens to speeches given by candidates and presidents. Instead, everything is filtered through what various news sources chose to report. As such, everyone lit their hair on fire when Obama talked about people in small towns clinging to their guns and religion during the 2008 campaign. But here's the context of what he actually said.
You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

It is certainly possible to critique Obama for saying the quiet parts out loud. But that statement was incredibly prescient about the way working class voters have been manipulated - particularly by the likes of Donald Trump. 

It is understandable that many working class voters never heard about these speeches because they weren't highlighted in the media. But that's no excuse for the ignorance of someone like Stanley Greenberg. Either he didn't pay much attention during Obama's presidency, or he is simply dismissing this focus from the former president because it doesn't fit the narrative he's trying to sell. Either way, he's going to need to look at something other than Obama's economic policies/rhetoric to explain why working class voters have been leaving the Democratic Party since the 1980s.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Durham Isn't Conducting a Legal Investigation. He's Mounting a Propaganda Campaign.

For the last few days, right wing news sites have been obsessed with a new court filing from Special Counsel John Durham, claiming that it proves that the Clinton campaign "spied" on Donald Trump. For example:

Fox News: "Clinton campaign paid to 'infiltrate' Trump Tower, White House servers to link Trump to Russia, Durham finds"

Washington Examiner: "Durham says Democrat-allied tech executive spied on Trump’s White House office"

The Federalist: "Special Counsel: Democrats Framed And Spied On Trump While He Was President"

New York Post: "Clinton campaign paid tech workers to dig up Trump-Russia connections: Report"

All of those propaganda sites have published/aired multiple stories with similar claims. In other words, this has been the BIG story in the right wing media bubble over the last few days. Of course, the former guy had to get in on the action by issuing this statement:

The latest pleading from Special Counsel Robert [sic] Durham provides indisputable evidence that my campaign and presidency were spied on by operatives paid by the Hillary Clinton Campaign in an effort to develop a completely fabricated connection to Russia. … In a stronger period of time in our country, this crime would have been punishable by death.

For the nuts and bolts of what's going on, you might recall that Durham issued a flimsy indictment charging Michael Sussmann with lying to the FBI during a meeting in which he shared information that had been uncovered about a possible internet connection between Russia's Alpha Bank and the Trump campaign. Specifically, Durham charged that Sussmann lied when he failed to disclose that he was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign.

The most recent court filing from Durham is ostensibly about the possibility that Sussmann’s current counsel - Latham and Watkins, LLP - may have potential conflicts of interests. But in the midst of that filing, the special counsel decided to drop a little bombshell (for the sake of clarity, I'm going to insert names that are publicly known).

The Government’s evidence at trial will also establish that among the Internet data technology executive Rodney Joffe and his associates exploited was domain name system (“DNS”) Internet traffic pertaining to (i) Spectrum Health, (ii) Trump Tower, (iii) Donald Trump’s Central Park West apartment building, and (iv) the Executive Office of the President of the United States (“EOP”). Joffe's employer, Neustar, had come to access and maintain dedicated servers for the EOP as part of a sensitive arrangement whereby it provided DNS resolution services to the EOP. Joffe and his associates exploited this arrangement by mining the EOP’s DNS traffic and other data for the purpose of gathering derogatory information about Donald Trump.

The Indictment further details that on February 9, 2017, the defendant provided an updated set of allegations – including the Alpha Bank data and additional allegations relating to Trump – to the CIA. The Government’s evidence at trial will establish that these additional allegations relied, in part, on the purported DNS traffic that Joffe and others had assembled pertaining to Trump Tower, Donald Trump’s New York City apartment building, the EOP, and Spectrum Health. In his meeting with the CIA, the defendant provided data which he claimed reflected purportedly suspicious DNS lookups by these entities of internet protocol (“IP”) addresses affiliated with a Russian mobile phone provider, YotaPhones. The defendant further claimed that these lookups demonstrated that Trump and/or his associates were using supposedly rare, Russian-made wireless phones in the vicinity of the White House and other locations.

If you're like me, information about domain name systems goes right over your head. Here's how Charlie Savage described what happened after talking to Joffe and his associates:

A military research organization had asked Georgia Tech researchers to help scrutinize a 2015 Russian malware attack on the White House’s network. After it emerged that Russia had hacked Democrats, they began hunting for signs of other Russian activity targeting people or organizations related to the election, using data provided by Neustar...

The meeting with the C.I.A. involved odd data the researchers said indicated there had been communications with Yota servers in Russia coming from networks serving the White House; Trump Tower; Mr. Trump’s Central Park West apartment building; and Spectrum Health, a Michigan hospital company that also played a role in the Alfa Bank matter. The researchers...had prepared a “white paper” explaining the analysis, which Mr. Sussmann later took to the C.I.A.

In other words, Neustar and Georgia Tech researchers were doing the job they were hired to do. And when they found suspicious activity, their lawyer (Sussmann) took the information they had collected to the CIA. 

There are tons of inconsistencies in the way this is being reported by right wing news sites. For example, in responding to Durham's recent court filing, Sussman's lawyers included this:

[A]lthough the Special Counsel implies that in Mr. Sussmann’s February 9, 2017 meeting, he provided the CIA with EOP data from after Mr. Trump took office, the Special Counsel is well aware that the data provided to the CIA pertained only to the period of time before Mr. Trump took office, when Barack Obama was President. Further—and contrary to the Special Counsel’s alleged theory that Mr. Sussmann was acting in concert with the Clinton Campaign—the Motion conveniently overlooks the fact that Mr. Sussmann’s meeting with the CIA happened well after the 2016 presidential election, at a time when the Clinton Campaign had effectively ceased to exist. 

But perhaps most intriguing to me is that this information about YotaPhones and Sussman's meeting with the CIA has been public knowledge for a while now. Interestingly enough, it initially came to light during a House Intelligence Committee meeting on December 18, 2017 when Kash Patel, an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes, interviewed Sussmann.

Patel: Okay, fair enough. What was your contact [with CIA] about?

Sussmann: So the contact [with CIA] was about reporting to them information that was reported to me about possible contacts, covert or at least nonpublic, between Russian entities and various entities in the Untied States associated with the — or potentially associated with the Trump Organization.

Patel: And when did that contact [with CIA] occur, month and year?

Sussmann: February 2017.

Patel: Where did you get that information from to relay to [CIA]?

Sussmann: From a client of mine.

If this meeting with the CIA was so explosive, why didn't Patel gather information about it and blow the whistle on the "spying" while he was working at the NSA and DOD during the Trump administration?

But then, when Durham released his 27-page "talking indictment" against Sussmann last fall, Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman talked to the internet researchers involved about how the special prosecutor had cherrypicked what they'd said in emails to make it sound like they doubted their own conclusions about the Alpha Bank story. Included in their report on September 30, 2021 was this little gem:

In addition, the Alfa Bank suspicions were only half of what the researchers sought to bring to the government’s attention, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Their other set of concerns centered on data suggesting that a YotaPhone — a Russian-made smartphone rarely seen in the United States — had been used from networks serving the White House, Trump Tower and Spectrum Health, a Michigan hospital company whose server had also interacted with the Trump server.

Mr. Sussmann relayed their YotaPhone findings to counterintelligence officials at the C.I.A. in February 2017, the people said.

So why did Durham include this old news in his most recent court filing? It's clear that - much like the misleading information he included in the Sussmann indictment - he wanted to incite exactly the kind of reaction he got from right wing news outlets. That is precisely the point Sussmann's lawyers made in their response to the court. After dispatching quickly with the conflict of interest angle, they wrote this:

Unfortunately, the Special Counsel has done more than simply file a document identifying potential conflicts of interest. Rather, the Special Counsel has again made a filing in this case that unnecessarily includes prejudicial—and false—allegations that are irrelevant to his Motion and to the charged offense, and are plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool.

The fact is that Durham isn't conducting a legal investigation. I doubt any of this will ever actually lead to court proceedings. He's in the business of mounting a propaganda campaign in an attempt to not only discredit the Mueller investigation, but to shift the focus from Trump and Putin to a nefarious conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton. It leads one to question why someone who previously had a decent reputation would do such a thing.

Monday, February 14, 2022

A Competitive House Race in South Carolina Is Possible

Before we get to the midterm elections in November, the GOP primaries are shaping up to be quite a show - especially in the Senate, where Trump and McConnell are waging a battle against each other behind the scenes. 

With 435 races in the House, things get more complicated. But at least one contest is garnering some national attention. Last week Katie Arrington announced a campaign to primary Rep. Nancy Mace in South Carolina's 1st congressional district. Mace has not only sparred with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, she blamed Trump for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, accusing him of inciting the crowd with his rhetoric and Big Lie. On the other hand, Arrington was one of the first to declare that the GOP was the party of Donald Trump back in 2018.

Of course, Trump immediately endorsed Arrington. The next day Mace released this video:

That kind of blatant pandering isn't likely to help Mace at this point. But it demonstrates the control the former guy has these days over Republicans. 

To understand what's at stake in this race it's helpful to know a little history. Back in the 1990's, a deal was reached to create a majority-black congressional district in South Carolina. The rural counties of the historical black belt in South Carolina make up much of the district, but it sweeps south to include most of the majority-black precincts in and around Charleston, and west to include most of the majority-black precincts in and around Columbia. That is how SC's 6th congressional district was formed. Jim Clyburn has represented that district since 1993.

In a classic case of gerrymandering, the "low country" of the 1st congressional district is situated along the coastline to the east and south of the 6th district, grabbing as much of the majority white areas as possible. To demonstrate, the 6th district is 36% white and the 1st is twice that, at over 70%.


After ensuring a solidly white-majority district, Republicans were successful in maintaining control of the 1st district from 1980 until 2018. Then something out-of-the-ordinary happened. Republican Mark Sanford had represented the district for three terms starting in 2012. But he faced a primary challenge from none other than Katie Arrington in 2018. She sent him packing that year, but went on to lose the general election to Democrat Joe Cunningham. Mace retook the seat for Republicans in 2020. That is why, in the video above, Mace said that her opponent is uniquely qualified to make Republicans lose this seat to Democrats in 2022.

Regardless of who wins the Republican primary, they will face Democrat Annie Andrews in November. Here's her introductory video:   


As an active member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, we can rest assured that Republicans will attack Andrews for wanting to take guns away from law-abiding citizens. But here's what she says on her web site:
I support the second amendment. If you are a law-abiding gun-owner, I have no interest in your guns. Frankly, I have never been particularly interested in a conversation about guns, but I am interested in a conversation about bullet holes in children, and what we can do to prevent them. 

I'd say that's pretty compelling!

In order to reduce the risk of repeating what happened in 2018, Republicans will gerrymander the 1st  and 6th congressional districts. Noting the major shifts of voters in the Charleston area, which has experienced one of the state’s biggest population growths in the last decade, Mary Green wrote:

In that region, South Carolina’s only currently competitive seat — the 1st Congressional District, now held by Republican Nancy Mace — would become more favorable to Republicans, taking in more of Berkeley County in the Hanahan and Daniel Island areas. The district would also add part of Jasper County, near Hilton Head...

Meanwhile, the 6th Congressional District, represented since 1993 by Democrat Jim Clyburn, would add voters in the Johns Island and West Ashley parts of Charleston under the proposal, along with some precincts in Sumter County.

Just to be clear, both Berkeley and Jasper Counties are majority white, while Sumter is majority Black. So gerrymandering these districts based on race is still the name of the game in South Carolina.

Both Cook and Sabato's Crystal Ball rate this race as "solid Republican." Perhaps the gerrymander will prove effective and they'll be right. But I have a feeling that, come November, it will be a bit more competitive than that.

Our Democracy Is Under Siege. What Can We Do?

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court overruling Roe vs. Wade, it is important for all of us to acknowledge our anger, frustration, and fear...