The Passing Parade

The year is almost over and so is the decade that’s strangely ending with a “19” instead of a nice, round “20”. There is lots of news and commentary out there. An extremely truncated summary:

It didn’t make a splash, because this is 2019, not 1971, but The Washington Post reported:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable…

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking … Who will say this was in vain?”

The Afghanistan Papers won’t get as much publicity as the Pentagon Papers. They should have called them the “Afghan Papers”, more concise language now being the custom.

The Post also explained the history of the “It was Ukraine, not Russia” myth that has taken up permanent residence in what’s left of the Toddler’s brain and is so popular among right-wing politicians and propagandists everywhere. In a few words, the Russian government created the myth in order to cast blame on somebody else:

The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity [of course]. . .One former senior White House official said [the president] even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.”

The Popular Information political newsletter summarized new analysis of the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors:

An extraordinary analysis by top legal experts, published by Just Security, clearly explains how the impeachment inquiry [implied] that [the pres] committed at least three (and probably more) federal crimes. All of these crimes involved him abusing his presidential powers, making them particularly relevant to impeachment….

  • Federal campaign finance law
  • Bribery
  • Honest services fraud

[This last one] occurs “when a public official breaches his duty to act in the best interests of his constituents by performing an official act in exchange for personal gain”, such as “withholding funding that had been allocated by Congress —  money intended to advance U.S. national security by helping Ukraine combat Russian aggression — to advance his personal political interests”.

Cool.

By the way, Congressional Democrats and Rep. Justin Amash (an independent who was kicked out of the Republican Party when he exercised his conscience) finally got around to impeaching the monster. Paul Krugman reacted:

What we saw Wednesday was a parade of sycophants comparing their leader to Jesus Christ while spouting discredited conspiracy theories straight from the Kremlin. And as they were doing so, the object of their adoration was giving an endless, rambling, third-world-dictator-style speech, full of lies, that veered between grandiosity and self-pity…

Republicans, in other words, are beyond redemption; they’ve become just another authoritarian party devoted to the leader principle. And like similar parties in other countries, the G.O.P. is trying to rig future elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression, creating a permanent lock on power

But if Trump’s supporters look just like their counterparts in failed democracies abroad, his opponents don’t.

One of the depressing aspects of the rise of authoritarian parties like Hungary’s Fidesz and Poland’s Law and Justice has been the fecklessness of their opposition — disunited, disorganized, unable to make an effective challenge even to unpopular autocrats as they consolidated their power.

Trumpism, however, faced determined, united, effective opposition from the beginning, which has been reflected both in mass marches and in Democratic electoral victories. In 2017 there were only 15 Democratic governors, compared with 35 Republicans; today the score is 24 to 26. And last year, of course, Democrats won a landslide victory in House elections, which is what made the impeachment hearing and vote possible.

Many of the new Democratic members of Congress are in Republican-leaning districts, and some observers expected a significant number to defect on Wednesday. Instead, the party held together almost completely. True, so did its opponents; but while Republicans sounded, well, deranged in their defense of Trump, Democrats came across as sober and serious, determined to do their constitutional duty even if it involved political risks.

Now, none of this necessarily means that democracy will survive….

What we learned Wednesday, however, was that those who define America by its ideals, not the dominance of a particular ethnic group, won’t give up easily. The bad news is that our bad people are as bad as everyone else’s. The good news is that our good people seem unusually determined to do the right thing.

Finally, speaking of good people, the widely-read evangelical magazine Christianity Today called for the Toddler’s removal from office. The editorial got so much attention, their website crashed:

His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused…. .Whether [he] should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments….

To the many evangelicals who continue to support [him] in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of [the president] influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off [his] immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?

You have to wonder how many of the president’s supporters understand that, if the Senate did its duty in the new year, our convicted president would be replaced by super-Christian Mike Pence, not the dreaded mainline Protestant who failed to carry Wisconsin.

In conclusion, it seems to me that we face two major issues:  climate change and bringing majority rule to America.

Majority rule would mean dealing with the courts, the Electoral College, a skewed Senate, gerrymandering, election security, campaign finance reform and voter suppression. It’s quite an agenda. But, as Senator Warren [subject of the latest Rolling Stone interview] keeps saying, we need big, structural change in our political system if we’re going to make progress on issues like climate change, inequality and much more.

Oh, and you might check out “The Historical Case for Abolishing Billionaires” in The Guardian. It begins by quoting another well-known proponent of regulated capitalism, Adam Smith.

Kiev Pro Quo

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She makes an excellent point.

Without looking at the suggestions she got from “politics Twitter” (in order to make the challenge more interesting), I put my thinking cap on and came up with “Kiev Pro Quo” or #KievProQuo, with “Kiev” having one syllable, making it rhyme with “leave”. That’s how the American diplomats have been pronouncing it, since one syllable is closer to how the Ukrainians say it. The two-syllable “Kee-ev” is how the Russians pronounce it.

I raced back to Twitter. There was no time to lose!

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Checking out the competition, I was stunned to see that someone else got there first. He beat me by 45 damn minutes. (If only we’d gone to dinner sooner. If only the waitress and cook had been faster.)

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So there it is, America. Now all we have to do is spread the word (or phrase).

For more on “kiev” vs. “kee-ev” and whether it’s “Ukraine” or “The Ukraine”, see this helpful explanation.

A High Crime or Misdemeanor If Ever There Was One

Federal law says that a public official (such as the President) who, directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value (such as the announcement of a criminal investigation into a prospective political opponent) in return for being influenced in the performance of any official act (such as inviting a foreign leader to the White House or delivering military aid to that foreign leader’s country) is guilty of bribery.

The Constitution says the President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Our president directly, indirectly and secretly demanded something of value to his political campaign in return for performing official actions. That’s one solid reason he should be impeached and removed from office.

It makes no difference that the foreign criminal investigation was never announced and never took place. It makes no difference that the military aid was ultimately delivered (after the president’s corruption was revealed). The president made it clear to his subordinates and his lawyer that he wanted to bribe the president of Ukraine. Attempted bribery, even if discovered in time to be interfered with, counts as bribery.

There are other reasons he should be removed from office, including the fact that a grand jury would have indicted him for obstruction of justice if the Department of Justice had chosen to prosecute, and the fact that he is knowingly receiving “emoluments” (i.e. cash) from foreign governments while in office, something the Constitution forbids. But bribery is the offense the Democrats are investigating and publicizing at the moment.

Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, summarized today’s testimony by Ambassador Gordon Sondland in thirteen minutes. It’s worth watching.

The View from Ukraine

By pointing out recently that there are a lot of Russian speakers living in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, I didn’t mean to imply that Ukrainians in those areas are pleased with the Russian occupation. The New York Times printed two op-ed pieces today by Ukrainians who dispute the idea that the Russians are welcome anywhere in Ukraine. 

In “The Myth of a Divided Ukraine”, Natalka Sniadanko writes that:

In recent days, in cities across the region, people have gathered to protest Russian aggression. Thanks to Mr. Putin, Ukraine has seen a rise not only in Russian-speaking Ukrainian patriots, but also “Russian-speaking Russophobes,” who identify as Russian but want nothing to do with him.

In “Crimea: Russia’s Next Afghanistan?“, Olga Dukhnich says that she lives and works among ethnic Russians who are deeply worried by the Russian occupation:

The leaders of Russia may be ruthless and determined, but they are not blind. They can try as hard as they can to shut the eyes and ears of the Russian public back home and in the Crimea through shameless propaganda on every TV channel. But — staged rallies and corrupt local quislings aside — the Russians, now that they have landed, surely see that they are not welcome, but feared, even by the ethnic Russians who they thought would embrace them.

Despite Ukraine’s recent political and economic problems, it is hard to imagine that many Ukrainians, ethnically Russian or not, want to go back to being ruled by Moscow instead of staying independent and moving closer to the West. Nevertheless, the most recent indications are that the Europeans, especially the Germans, don’t want to jeopardize their economic relationship with Russia, their principal supplier of energy. For that reason, there may be a very limited Western response to the Russian invasion.

Update:  If you want an excellent summary of Ukraine’s recent dictatorship and revolution, read this article written a few days ago by Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale and the author of a great book called Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. It’s especially helpful if you’ve heard that the revolution was led by fascists, the story Putin has been pushing.

The Russians in Ukraine

If you want to see what’s probably going to happen to Ukraine, take a look at the New York Times map below. In the orange area to the west, people speak Ukrainian and voted for the opposition in the last election. In the blue areas to the south and east (including the Crimean peninsula), most people speak Russian and voted for the President who was recently impeached.

It shouldn’t be a surprise if Russia eventually absorbs the blue areas. The West will strongly object, but nothing too bad should happen so long as the Russians don’t move too far west and their natural gas keeps flowing through Ukraine to Europe. On the other hand, nothing very bad should have happened after Franz Ferdinand was shot in 1914. (Other maps are here.)

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