Category Archives: To Save Democracy

Quote of the Weekend: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries vs. Clarence Thomas

Democrat Hakeem Jeffries calls out Clarence Thomas

David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement — May 12, 2022

Democratic House Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) delivered an impassioned speech Wednesday, telling Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas he should “have a conversation” with his spouse.

The far-right activist and lobbyist Ginni Thomas reportedly had a months-long text conversation with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, vehemently urging him to have the 2020 presidential election overturned.

Last Friday Justice Thomas complained in a speech to a group of judges and attorneys from the 11th Circuit, “We can’t be an institution that can be bullied into giving you just the outcomes you want.” He was referring to the majority of Americans who want the Court to uphold the 49-year-old decision in Roe v. Wade, supporting a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

“If Justice Thomas really wants to deal with bullying in America, or this problem of people supposedly unwilling to accept outcomes that they don’t like, I’ve got some advice for Justice Thomas: start in your own home, have a conversation with Ginni Thomas,” Congressman Jeffries said.

“She refused to accept the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. Why? Because she didn’t like the outcome,” Jeffries reminded the House. “So instead, she tried to steal the election, overthrow the United States government, and install a tyrant. That’s bullying. That’s being unwilling to accept an outcome because you don’t like the results, because the former twice impeached so-called President of the United States of America lost legitimately to Joe Biden.”

“How did she respond? Instead, she said, the Bidens should face a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, on trumped-up charges of sedition. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

 

When news broke in March of the text exchanges between Thomas and Meadows, Slate’s legal expert Mark Joseph Stern, said: “Ginni Thomas urged Mark Meadows to overturn the 2020 election by any means necessary—while her husband was ruling on cases attempting to overturn the election.”

Congressman Jeffries, considered by many to be Democrats’ next Speaker of the House after Nancy Pelosi, was far from done with the Supreme Court Justice.

“And lastly, let me ask this question of brother Thomas:

Why are you such a hater?

Hate on civil rights.

Hate on women’s rights.

Hate on reproductive rights.

Hate on voting rights.

Hate on marital rights.

Hate on equal protection under the law.

Hate on liberty and justice for all.

Hate on free and fair elections.

Why are you such a hater?”

“And you think you can get away with it – escape public scrutiny. Because you think that shamelessness is your superpower? Here’s a newsflash from the House Judiciary Committee,” he said while being interrupted. “Truth pressed to the ground will rise again. And truth will be your kryptonite.”

A video version of Jeffries’ speech is here.

 

 

A Progressive Catholic Goes There: Against Abortion, But Supports Keeping Roe

I can relate to this article. I published one like it in a Boston alternative weekly in early January of 1973. Angry letters poured in for weeks, until January 22, when Roe v. Wade was issued; then my qualms & quibbles were instantly forgotten.

I wasn’t sorry. Since then, some of my views have evolved, while my general antipathy to most abortions remains. (More on my personal pilgrimage here.) But I’m still as staunchly against criminalization as I was 49 years ago.

Now I’m too old to draw much fire, so it was gratifying to see this piece by a young radical Catholic (if indeed she’ still identifies as Catholic), planting her flag in the columns of the National Catholic Reporter, the “loyal opposition” progressive American weekly.

Some pro-Roe adherents may not care about Chastain’s reasons, but only that she arrives at their preferred destination.

A blast from the Kavanaugh past; we didn’t get fooled, like Collins & other Fools on the Hill.

That’s a mistake. In the new struggle that’s upon us, the agonized ambiguity of many, Catholics and non-  will be a crucial arena of either progress or further setbacks. If not agreement, finding a basis for respectful coalition will be — and in truth, long have been — imperative.  This article is one  such new opportunity.

I’m thinking first here of my fellow liberal Quakers: to save our rights, we’ll have to learn & think and act outside our blue bubbles. But this sentiment applies more broadly too.

National Catholic Reporter: COMMENTARY

I’m an anti-abortion disability advocate. Overturning Roe isn’t the answer.

Medical instruments for a surgical abortion are seen in this photo. (CNS/Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein)

Medical instruments for a surgical abortion are seen in this photo. (CNS/Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein)

I was in high school when I first learned which of my extended family members had encouraged my mom to abort my very-much-alive disabled brother. At the time, I had just begun attending youth group, which was the first place I ever saw images of abortion. I attended my first Walk for Life. Those same youth leaders helped that same brother finally receive his sacraments of initiation, after he’d been denied them for almost a decade.

As I entered undergraduate studies at a small Catholic liberal arts school and pursued a degree in theology with an emphasis in disability, I confronted the historical reality that had galvanized me as a teenager: Abortion is implicitly eugenic. The disproportionate targeting of disabled fetuses for termination hinges on deeply violent assumptions around worthiness, rooted in capitalistic beliefs around productivity and conventional social futurity.

Put plainly? Disabled people may not learn, work, marry or procreate “normally,” and that nonnormative lifestyle will inconvenience too many people. A disabled person may experience profound pain and social exclusion.

Regardless of whether or not these things are always and everywhere true (they are not), it is equally troublesome that people who hold these beliefs around disability often don’t believe these circumstances are within their power or responsibility to change outside of abortion (they are).

Abortion was always going to be personal for me — the abortion topic always is — even when approached from different angles. One in four women will have an abortion, which includes treatments of ectopic pregnancies, tubal pregnancies and other forms of “spontaneous” abortion or miscarriage. And whether or not they personally experienced one, everyone knows someone impacted by abortion. It is this intimacy that has kindled the fire of many in the pro-life movement, including myself.

20210316T1100-NORTHERN-IRELAND-DISABILITY-1166813 resize.jpg

Pro-life supporters are pictured holding signs outside the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jan. 30, 3019. (CNS/Reuters/Brian Lawless)

Pro-life supporters are pictured holding signs outside the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jan. 30, 3019. (CNS/Reuters/Brian Lawless)

But then, in graduate school at a large secular research university, I began to study feminist, queer and crip histories and theories of the body. I began participating in more progressive religious spaces that emphasized Catholic social teaching and needs for social reconciliation.

Being in relationship with secular, pro-abortion feminists who were learning alongside me about the systematic underresourcing of marginalized groups — while the world’s racial and medical disparities were being aired live during the COVID-19 pandemic — moved me into the place of intense nuance where I am now and that I believe undergirds a truly consistent life ethic: I am anti-abortion, but I do not think criminalizing abortions will stop them, because having access to abortions isn’t what causes them.

Things that cause abortions: lack of comprehensive sex education, inaccessible health care, violence against women, religious shame and exclusion, familial rejection or coercion, and workplace inequalities including but not limited to barriers for advancement, disparities in pay and lack of paid parental leave or child care.

Making abortion illegal before addressing these injustices is going to kill women, because women will continue to have abortions, secretively and unsafely.

For the first time that I can recall in my years of being anti-abortion, tales of the pre-Roeworld from women who lived it are being shared on a massive scale. (Many are circulating this New York Times article from January and sharing their own stories in the captions.) Social media is a flurry of back-alley horrors.

And in a post-COVID-19 society when young people are already experiencing a catastrophic mental health crisis, making abortion illegal is going to kill women in more ways than one.

Refusal to accept the reality of these dangers is resisting a nuance that is dire. You can accept the dangers of overturning Roe v. Wade are real and still be anti-abortion. I certainly am. None of these dangers changes that abortion is a deeply ableist system used to root out genetic differences based on bigoted sociocultural values. None of these facts change that I’ve seen disability-motivated abortion rhetoric devalue people at the cornerstone of my life. It is personal, but it is also necessarily systemic.

We can recognize that abortion being legal represents a certain form of public complicity in permitting a grievous sin to happen. But are we actually permitting it any less without changing the causes of abortion? To achieve the desired society in which abortion is no longer permitted, we have to create a reality where abortion is no longer caused. We are complicit in those systems, too.

We need mandatory and comprehensive sexual education and accessible health care. We need to address income inequality and mandate paid parental leave. We need to demolish the prison industrial complex and stop criminalizing the poor and marginalized. We need robust community-based postnatal care and to crack down on violence against women. We need to revolutionize the way churches approach sexuality, that we might embrace and support sexually active women in crisis, regardless of their marital status.

I am still anti-abortion. And yet, it is amazing how quickly the solidarity comes with my pro-abortion loved ones the moment I articulate these nuanced beliefs: I am anti-abortion, and I do not want it to be illegal. This solidarity will be crucial to providing a safe haven for at-risk women, if Roe v. Wade is indeed overturned. We must all keep our eyes on the true culprits; we must shout about the real causes of abortion, together.

Madison Chastain

Madison Chastain

Madison Chastain writes about the body, faith and culture. You can find more of her work on Instagram @maddsienicole, or on theologyforeverybody.com.

Roy Cooper for President?

I’m not in the habit of taking political advice from rightwing websites.  Never mind a site started by Tucker Carlson; or from anything else associated with the top Fox News motormouth.

But the headline below, I admit, gave me pause today. So here it is, with some comments in bold dark red.

The Daily Caller: The Democrats Only Have One Hope For 2024, And He’s Already Beaten Trump Twice
Hayden Daniel — May 3, 2022

Though it’s still over two years away, Democrats are beginning to panic over the 2024 presidential election.

Can’t argue with that.

A humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan,

— “humiliating” is YOUR word, Dude. I still give Biden points for biting that awful bullet.  Yeah, the execution sucked, and there’s other fair criticisms to be made, but Biden had the stones to do  what should have been done years ago– Continue reading Roy Cooper for President?

Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

Some liberal pundits are predicting a tidal wave of backlash against the leaked SCOTUS decision to reverse Roe & Casey, the decisions that have made abortion a right since 1973, forty-nine years ago. (The full text of the draft decision is here.)

I’ve written that, while a Roe supporter, I’m not at all sure any such tidal wave is certain, or even likely.

Let me add here that this uncertainty seems to apply just as much to U. S. Quakers.

Why?  In sum, because

A. Americans (Quakers too) are exhausted by years of crises, from an attempted (& ongoing) coup begun at the capitol, a continuing pandemic (case numbers are rising again, fast), a new, not-exactly Cold War/World War 3, inflation, and more.

B. Americans, even American women, are and long have been divided on the issue. Furthermore the pro-Roe supporters have long been out-campaigned by the anti-abortion side. Again, Quakers too.

This last is not just my opinion. The leftist journal Dissent put it bluntly and well in 2019:

The American right is winning the battle over abortion rights. In fact, they have been winning for a long time. Since the late 1970s, conservatives have worked to build a well-funded, militant anti-abortion movement that that includes white nationalists, religious extremists, and pro-life feminists. Now, the end of the legal right to abortion appears terrifyingly imminent.

(More on my own ambivalence about a great backlash here.)

I’d be happy for Dissent and I to be wrong and the prophets of political tsunami proven right; but the evidence for it isn’t there now, and I’m not in the “wish-casting” business.

Besides, an informal survey of public Quaker sources only reinforced this impression. Continue reading Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

Finland, Sweden, NATO, Mud, Macron & Putin?

Ukraine might yet repel the Putin invasion. Or it may be ground under by Russian forces, then snuffed out as a nation and culture.

Either way, the Ukraine war appears to be redrawing the strategic map of northern Europe, with implications reverberating far beyond Scandinavia.

A double strategic earthquake is underway, without a shot having been fired  (yet), in long-neutral Sweden and Russian-tilted Finland. This Nordic pair now appear poised to dump generations of policy and join NATO.

The Guardian’s  Patrick Wintour examines this sudden, seismic switch, and weighs its potential impact.

Meantime, we hear also from Gwynne Dyer. An independent Canadian reporter/analyst, Dyer is now based in London. He has a doctorate in military & strategic history, and has served in several military forces, and I have long admired his work.

Here he considers the pause in the war due to the spring thaw (aka Mud Season),  and another possible European earthquake, if French president Macron is defeated by a nakedly pro-Putin challenger in next weekend’s electoral runoff.


The Guardian: Putin thought Ukraine war was a missile to Nato. It may be a boomerang

Analysis: To turn stolidly non-aligned Finland and Sweden into members would join pantheon of great strategic blunders
Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor — Friday, 15 April 2022

It is conceivable that by the end of the year Nato’s land mass, GDP and territorial borders with Russia may expand by nearly as much as they would have if Ukraine had achieved its distant goal of eventual membership of the western defence alliance – if not more.

The brutal manner in which Vladimir Putin has tried to foreclose Ukraine’s security options has led to a sudden change in thinking in Finland and Sweden that has been all the more powerful since it seems to have come from below, as opposed to from the political elites.

It is not yet a done deal. Opinion so volatile, and previously so settled in its opposition to Nato membership, could swing back towards the comforts of semi-neutrality. Russian nuclear threats, already starting, may intimidate voters into having second thoughts.

The process may be fraught. Many brands of Nato membership exist, and have yet to be fully explored by the Finns and the Swedes.

But by Nato’s Madrid summit in June, Nato will be on course to expand its population by 16 million, its GDP by €800bn and its land mass by 780,000 sq km. Ukraine, by contrast, has a population of 41 million, a land mass of 603,000 sq km and a GDP of €155bn. A new 1,300km border with Nato could be formed, the precise opposite of what Putin set out to achieve in the treaties designed to shrink Nato that he ordered the west to accept last year. What is worse for Moscow, Nato could have strengthened itself in the Baltic Sea, right next to Kaliningrad enclave, the strategic Russian naval base.

By invading Ukraine, Putin thought he had hurled a missile at the west. It has emerged to be a precision-guided boomerang. To have turned two stolidly non-aligned countries into Nato members would join the pantheon of great strategic blunders of wartime.

It is all the more extraordinary since the turnaround has been so rapid. Finland, with its brand of semi-neutrality for the past 70 years and emphasis on consensus-building, tends to shift foreign policy with glacial speed. Finland’s tolerance of Putin was so embedded that some on the left claimed it strayed close to collaboration as the Finnish political elite shunned the Russian opposition.

In the government’s annual survey in December, Finnish support for Nato membership stood at 24%.

Four months later, Finnish politics has somersaulted. Support for Nato membership stood at 68%. Surveys now show more than half of the 200 parliamentarians back Nato membership. In the 2015 Finnish parliamentary elections, 91% of SDP candidates were opposed to Nato membership. The Finnish SDP prime minister, Sanna Marin, said everything had changed. Russia is “not the neighbour we thought it was”, she said.

Alexander Stubb, a former Finnish prime minister, said Finland’s membership is based on rational fear, created on the day of the Russian invasion. He predicts the Finnish application will be with Nato HQ by the end of May. “The train has left the station.”

In a speech earlier this month to the council of the largely agrarian Centre party, Annika Saarikko explained that sometimes history moved fast, measured in weeks rather than years: “In the foreseeable future we cannot rely on a mutually agreed to international order or a functioning relationship with Russia for our security.” She added that Nato membership came with obligations. “Finland would not just be buying some fire insurance. It would be joining the central fire brigade.”

Such has been the Finnish turnaround, it has adopted the unusual role of exemplar to the larger Sweden. That requires the two countries respecting the relationship, sensitivities, and different political cultures. The ideal from Nato’s perspective is that the two countries join simultaneously, and polls show support for this. But Finnish diplomats say they cannot be seen to be interfering in sovereign Swedish decisions. Marin stressed at her joint press conference in Stockholm with the Swedish prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, that coordination with Sweden “is sought but is not a prerequisite”, adding: “Finland does not dictate schedules or conclusions to Sweden nor does Sweden dictate to Finland.”

Left: Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson; and Finland PM Sanna Marin, talking about NATO.

It is vital for the ruling Social Democrats, now launching an internal policy review, to be seen to be in charge of its own destiny. After all, last November the party had clearly affirmed its position that it opposed a foreign policy of alliances. Yet four centre-right parties now support Nato membership and two parties to the left are opposed to membership, claiming joining Nato implies coming to the defence of the authoritarians running Turkey and Hungary. With parliamentary elections looming in September, the SDP will want the review completed without the party descending into left-right splits.

One of the difficulties is that given Russia’s behaviour, no plan B such as greater Swedish-Finnish defence cooperation, or the Nato partnership for peace, looks as concrete as full membership. Most Nato countries see Sweden and Finland as huge military and intelligence assets. “It would complete a missing piece of the puzzle of Nato strategic planning”, said Mika Aaltola, the director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

But Finland would have to apply for Nato membership not knowing the precise future relationship. In its security document published this week, Finland insisted: “Membership would not oblige Finland to accept nuclear weapons, permanent bases or troops in its territory.

For example, in the early stages of their membership, founding members Norway and Denmark imposed unilateral restrictions on their membership and have not permitted permanent troops, bases or nuclear weapons of the alliance in their territory during peacetime. Nato’s enlargement policy, which took shape in the latter half of the 1990s, has been based on the principle that it will not place nuclear weapons, permanent troops or permanent bases in the territory of any new member country.

But if Finland, or indeed Sweden, did set a mass of limiting preconditions concerning nuclear weapons, permanent bases or forces, the application process might be extended.

A lengthy accession process in turn carries risks since Russia, using the full spectrum of war’s grey zone, will seek to harass, and even paralyse. On the day the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, spoke to the Finnish parliament, Russia was accused of cyber-attacks and invasions of its airspace. Finland has already canvassed Nato members for security guarantees in the four months to a year that it was in the Nato ante-chamber awaiting full acceptance.

So there is an incentive to speed the application without delegitimising the domestic consultation.

For those who fear Nato escalating the conflict inside Ukraine, a sudden extension of article 5 obligations in the north remains alarming, and may make Putin even more convinced he was right to confront a Nato policy of encirclement.

But for all its talk of red lines and the stationing of nuclear weapons, can Russia really open a second front to the north when the primary front to its south-west is proving so costly in lost lives, reputation and treasure?

Gwynne Dyer, First on Russia’s second Ukraine offensive: Will Putin wait for the “mud season” to pass or take a dangerous gamble — April 15, 2022

Ukraine wants more tanks, self-propelled artillery and combat aircraft from NATO countries for its war with the Russian invaders, but it won’t be getting them in the tranche of military aid that is being decided in Washington right now. There is a good reason for that.

Kyiv will be getting bigger and better drones, lightly armoured vehicles like Humvees, and maybe some anti-ship missiles, but Joe Biden’s administration is still playing Mother May I?/Grandmother’s Footsteps with Moscow. He moves one cautious step up on the list of weapons he gives Ukraine, watches for the Russian response, then takes another step.

It doesn’t matter at the moment, because this is the “rasputitsa,” the season of rain and mud in eastern Ukraine when off-road travel for heavy vehicles varies from difficult to impossible. The Ukrainian forces won’t be attempting any grand offensives and the Russians are very likely to get bogged down.

The mud season will probably last for another six weeks. Strict military logic would argue for postponing the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine until then, but Putin probably can’t wait that long. The defeats and losses he suffered in his first attacks in northern Ukraine will gradually but inevitably leak out to the Russian public, so he needs a quick victory.

He might get lucky, but there is unlikely to be a decisive Russian victory for two reasons. First, the Russians in the east will be attacking the best-trained, most experienced part of the Ukrainian army, well dug into defences that have grown every year since 2014. It can probably stand its ground and inflict heavy casualties on the Russians.

That would not save the main Ukrainian army if other Russian forces can make a “pincer movement” behind it and cut it off, which is precisely what they will now try to do.

The Russian troops now besieging Mariupol on the south coast will advance to the north as soon as it finally falls. Other Russian troops are already attacking south from around Kharkiv.

If they succeed, Ukraine will have to seek a ceasefire, ceding all the lost territory to Russia, and Putin will have his victory. But first, the Russians will have to advance about 150 kilometres on a single, two-lane road that passes through villages ideal for ambushes. And it’s the rasputitsa, so you can’t go around the villages.

This is precisely the task that the Russian army spectacularly bungled in its attempt to seize Kyiv last month. What are the odds that it will do better this time?

Assume that it’s late June, the ground is drying out, and the Russian troops are exhausted, overextended and demoralized. In Kyiv, they will be thinking about taking back their lost territory — at least the territory they have lost since February, but some will also be thinking about recapturing the territories that Russia conquered in 2014.

That’s when the extra tanks and self-propelled artillery that the United States is not giving Ukraine now would come in very useful. But it would also be the moment of utmost humiliation for Vladimir Putin, and it is always wiser to leave your defeated enemy an avenue of retreat.

Perhaps this entire article is an exercise in counting one’s chickens before they hatch, but you may be sure that they are also being counted in Washington and in NATO right now. Nobody will admit out loud that Ukraine is being kept on a leash, but of course it is.

Six weeks ago it had not occurred to anybody that doing that would be necessary, because they all expected Ukraine to lose. You can sympathize with its desire to take revenge if it wins, but for the sake of peace in the future it cannot be allowed to do that.

Gwynne Dyer

 

GWYNNE DYER on the French Election —  April 14 2022:
French President Emmanuel Macron won the first round of the presidential election last Sunday, but he’s still in trouble. He knew he would be. Here’s what he said on Saturday.

“Don’t believe the pundits and the pollsters who tell you that it’s impossible (that the far right will win in the second round of the election). Look at Brexit and so many elections, all that seemed improbable and yet came to pass. Nothing is impossible.”

In fact, it’s not even unlikely. Strategies have consequences, as Macron is now learning.

The strategy that made Macron president last time (2017) has succeeded so well that it may cost him the election in the second round this time, on April 24.

Macron’s strategy has always been to exaggerate the difference between the centre and the rest. If the left was too far left and the right was too far right, then the politician representing the centre (him) was the only rational choice.

It worked for him in 2017, when he waltzed into the presidency with a 66 per cent majority of the vote, despite the fact that he had never held elective office before. Fast forward five years, however, and the fantasy has become the fact.

The traditional moderate left-wing party, the Socialists, has been devoured by Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s extreme left La France Insoumise (Rebel France), which advocates withdrawal from NATO and also, in effect, from the European Union.
The Socialists only got 4.8 per cent in the first round of voting on Sunday, which means they don’t even get their election expenses reimbursed. The party may actually declare bankruptcy and disappear.

The traditional centre-right party, the Republicans, is suffering exactly the same fate. It too has fallen short of the five per cent threshold and may go broke. Its place as standard-holder of the right has been taken by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, which remains ultra-nationalist, racist and anti-immigrant, despite a cosmetic makeover that downplays its uglier policies.

Le Pen also benefited from the fact that an even harder-right candidate, xenophobic television pundit Éric Zemmour, made her look moderate, if only by comparison. She will inherit all his votes in the second round of voting, naturally, but Macron’s problem is that she may also inherit some of Melenchon’s hard-left supporters on April 24.

That sounds crazy, but it’s Macron’s own fault. By occupying so much of the centre ground and driving the moderate parties of the centre-left and centre-right to extinction, he left all those who wanted something more than his pragmatic, unexciting centrism no options except the extremes.

And the two extremes have some things in common.

They have a shared hostility to the European Union, for example, and most left-wing voters can remember that, even though Le Pen has been downplaying it recently. They both have a strong populist tone: Le Pen may be a woman of the right, but she’s promising that people under 30 won’t have to pay income tax and everybody can retire on full pension at 60.

Fully half of France’s voting population has just voted for extremist parties, and according to the polls Le Pen is heading into the run-off still holding most of those votes. The latest numbers say Macron 51 per cent, Le Pen 49 per cent, which is effectively neck-and-neck.

She is much more than Donald Trump in a skirt. She is far more intelligent than he is and not at all corrupt. She is racist and Islamophobic, but much better at dog-whistling her true convictions.
This does not bode well for Macron, especially because it has always been hard for French presidents to win a second term. And, while the other losing parties told their supporters to back Macron in the second round, Mélenchon just told his supporters “You must not give a single vote to Marine Le Pen.” (But you could abstain, if you like.)

Despite Covid, France is actually in good shape after five years of Macron. Investment is up, inflation is low, jobs are plentiful, the country is even opening more factories than it closes. But the French do not feel good about their lot and Le Pen could actually win.

If she does, a great deal will change, and not just in France.

The newfound unity of The West in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will vanish: Le Pen’s campaign pamphlets feature a picture of her with Vladimir Putin, another hard-right icon.

Le Pen & Putin: enchanté

She has stopped talking aloud about Frexit, but it’s still there in the background somewhere, as is the anti-immigrant racism her party has always peddled.

She is much more than Donald Trump in a skirt. She is far more intelligent than he is and not at all corrupt. She is racist and Islamophobic, but much better at dog-whistling her true convictions.

If the League of Authoritarian Leaders ever needs an honorary president, she would be the best candidate for the job.

Despite all this, I think Macron will win, because the French aren’t fools. But it may be a near-run thing.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is The Shortest History of War.

Ukraine: Cut the Crowing: It’s Far From Over

There’s been way too much cork-popping among American pundits about the stunning Ukrainian resistance to the Putin invasion.

Yes, the Russian forces have performed badly, while the Ukrainians have come through horrors to push them back again and again. Their  campaign thus far has been the stuff of epic and will be a gold mine for historians and storytellers.

But will it save Ukraine? Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria is here to put a damper on the premature rhetorical parades. He says there’s much horror yet to come in this war, the doughty Ukraine defenders still face steep odds, and the country is still in mortal peril. Let him explain.

Opinion: Putin’s Plan A in Ukraine has failed. We can’t let his Plan B succeed.




Opinion by Fareed Zakaria
 April 14, 2022

Ukraine’s brave and brilliant response to Russia’s attack is rightly being celebrated across the world. But it might be obscuring a growing danger. While the assault on Kyiv and the surrounding region has failed, Moscow’s strategy in the south and east of Ukraine could well succeed. If it does, Russia will have turned Ukraine into an economically crippled rump state, landlocked and threatened on three sides by Russian military power, always vulnerable to another incursion from Moscow. It will take much more military assistance from the West to ensure that this catastrophic outcome does not come to pass.


. . .[T]here are two distinct wars taking place in Ukraine, one in the north and one in the south, and the latter has been “radically more successful” for Moscow. Russia has been able to move forces and supplies out of its bases in Crimea and capture the cities of Melitopol and Kherson. Mariupol is now encircled and invaded by Russian troops, and Ukrainian forces trapped there cannot be resupplied. Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Azov has been blocked, . . . Russian forces have a contiguous land corridor from Crimea deep into Donbas. They are also trying to move west, from Kherson to Odessa.


Odessa is the prize. As the main port from which Ukraine trades with the world, it is the most important city for Ukraine economically. It is also a city replete with symbolic significance. It was here in 1905 that a mutiny on the battleship Potemkin (made famous by Sergei Eisenstein’s movie) marked the beginning of the troubles of czarist Russia. Were Odessa to fall, Ukraine would be practically landlocked, and the Black Sea would essentially become a Russian lake — which would almost certainly tempt Moscow to extend its military power into Moldova, which has its own breakaway region filled with many Russian speakers (Transnistria).

Russian President Vladimir Putin could present this outcome as a grand victory, liberating Russian speakers, gaining crucial cities and ports, and turning Ukraine into a nonviable vassal state.



This must not happen, and the Ukrainians are fighting ferociously to prevent it. In Ukraine’s east, the Russians are trying to advance from Kherson, through the city of Mykolaiv, but they are being stymied by the extraordinary courage of the city’s inhabitants, who have reportedly blown up the bridge that connects the city to Odessa and blocked the railway tracks. This week, Ukrainian forces claimed they were able to deploy their never-before-used Neptune missiles and sink the Russian missile cruiser Moskva.

Still, it’s important to remember that, before the invasion, Russia had a 10-to-1 advantage in defense spending over Ukraine — and Putin seems determined to press on, no matter the costs.


What can the United States and the West do? Much more of everything they are already doing. Ukraine needs more arms, especially those that give it massive asymmetric fighting power.

Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who has been farsighted in diagnosing Russia’s weaknesses and Ukraine’s strengths, explained to me that Ukraine needs more equipment that allows it to maneuver quickly around Russia’s rigid forces. That means helicopters, armed Humvees, multiple-launch rocket systems and drones of every kind. Turkish drones have proved to be an amazingly effective weapon in this conflict. Hertling urges that Ukraine be given more of those, as well as American “kamikaze” drones and intelligence drones.


The Russian navy, which has been massing in the Black Sea, continues to pose a great danger to Odessa, threatening either to lay siege to it or to launch an amphibious landing behind Ukrainian lines. Despite the purported success of the Neptune missiles, Ukraine does not have the capacity to stop the Russian navy. NATO should consider doing something similar to what it did during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. It should enforce an embargo around those waters, preventing Russian troops from entering to attack Ukraine’s cities or resupply Russian forces. NATO ships would operate from international waters, issuing any approaching ships a “notice to mariners” that NATO forces are active in the area and warning them not to enter.


Retired Adm. James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander of NATO, supports the actions the Biden administration has taken but urges a more aggressive response from the West on all fronts. Give Ukraine fighter planes and air defense systems, he tweeted, and help it with cyberattacks and give it antiship missiles to “sink Russian ships in [the] Black Sea.”


The United States has dedicated about $16 billion in aid to Ukraine since the invasion. Meanwhile, the world is expected to pay $320 billion to Russia this year for its energy. Economic sanctions will not force Putin to end the war as long as this gaping loophole exists. The only pressure that will force Russia to the negotiating table is military defeat — in the south.

Putin’s Plan A failed, but we cannot let his Plan B succeed.




Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and a contributing editor for the Atlantic.

Ukraine’s Cossack Roots & It Sinks A Russian Navy Cruiser

Two from The Economist: “

Ukraine claims to have sunk a Russian warship

It is the biggest naval loss since the second world war


Three years ago The Economist’s defence correspondent was sailing back to Odessa on the Hetman Sahaidachny, then the flagship of Ukraine’s navy. A plaque in its wardroom honoured its former captains. Two names were scratched out—they had defected to Russia when it seized Crimea in 2014. In late February this year, as Russian forces approached once more, the Hetman Sahaidachny was scuttled in Mykolaiv, complete with its 1943-vintage gun.

Now Ukraine seems to have had its revenge. On April 14th Ukrainian officials said they had used Neptune anti-ship missiles to hit the Moskva, a 10,000-tonne Slava-class cruiser which was 60-65 nautical miles (111-120km) south of Odessa. The Moskva, commissioned in 1982, is—or, perhaps, was—the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which has its headquarters in occupied Crimea. Itwas a “venerable, battle hardened, major surface combatant” which participated in Russian wars in Georgia in 2008 and Syria in 2015, notes Alessio Patalano, a naval expert at King’s College London. “This is one of the most severe naval losses since the Falklands war” of 1982, he adds.

Russia’s defence ministry first acknowledged that the Moskva was “seriously damaged”, claiming that a fire had caused ammunition to detonate, but that the ship stayed afloat—a fact corroborated by the Pentagon. But magazine explosions tend to be devastating. Later it admitted that the Moskva had sunk. A Western official was unable to corroborate Ukraine’s claim, but described it as credible: “I am not aware previously of a fire on board a capital warship, which would lead to the ammunition magazine exploding.”

The strike is rich with symbolism. The ship was built in Mykolaiv, then a Soviet city but now a Ukrainian one which has repelled Russian ground assaults over the past month. It was also one of two warships that attacked Snake Island, west of Crimea, on February 24th, the first day of the war. When it ordered the tiny garrison there to surrender, the alleged reply—“Russian warship, go fuck yourself”—became an icon of national resistance, emblazoned on everything from T-shirts to postage stamps. The Moskva’s apparent loss was “a massively important military event”, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, on social media. He cast it as the Russian navy’s biggest defeat since the second world war.

Of particular note was the weapon the Ukrainians used. The Neptune, though modelled on the Russian Kh-35 (or Kayak) anti-ship missile, was designed and built in Ukraine. It is not the first time that Neptune has been fired in anger. Oleksandr Turchynov, a former Ukrainian national security council chief, says that the missile was first used to hit the Admiral Essen, a Russian frigate, on April 3rd. The rockets entered the navy’s inventory only in January this year, after corruption scandals delayed their introduction. That the Moskva was parked so close to Odessa, well within the known range of the Neptune, suggests that Russia might have seriously under-estimated its threat. It is not the only example of home-made kit on the battlefield: local innovations in passive radar and helicopter technologies have also surprised the Russians, says Hanna Shelest, a security expert in Odessa.

The strike on the Moskva is more than just a symbolic act of revenge or a demonstration of indigenous prowess. It fits a pattern of bold Ukrainian attacks beyond the frontlines, known as deep strikes. On March 29th an ammunition depot in Belgorod, a key staging point in Russia, was blown up. Belgorod is vital to Russia’s effort to build up forces for an attack on the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, now the focus of its war. A day later Ukrainian helicopters reportedly attacked a fuel depot there and, on April 12th, a railway bridge was destroyed. On April 14th Russia said that more Ukrainian helicopters had attacked its Bryansk region, which neighbours Belarus, causing seven injuries.

Such attacks—by helicopters, missiles and special forces—tie down Russian units that must defend rear areas. They also “add additional short-term strain to Russia’s already stretched logistic chains”, according to British defence intelligence. Russia’s defence ministry is evidently fed up: on April 13th it warned that it would target command centres in Kyiv if Ukraine continued to attack its rear areas.

Though the war’s decisive battles have played out on land, around Kyiv and other cities, the apparent loss of the Moskva is also an important moment in the naval contest. By and large, on the water Russia has had the upper hand. It has cut Ukraine off from the Sea of Azov and maintained a blockade of its Black Sea coastline. That has devastated Ukraine’s economy and choked off grain exports, with wider consequences for global food prices. But Russia’s control of the sea is not absolute. Ukraine has now struck at least four Russian warships, including the Orsk, a landing ship which was hit by ballistic missiles and sunk in the port of Berdyansk on March 24th.

Ukraine’s ability to put Russian warships at risk changes the dynamics of the war at sea, says Ms Shelest. Russia has three Slava-class cruisers but the Moskva was the only one in the Black Sea. Russia cannot replace it because of Turkey’s decision to close the Bosporus strait to warships not already in the Black Sea or based there.

Moreover, the Moskva was not just an offensive platform, but also provided command and control, and air-defence, for a number of other ships. They will now be more vulnerable to Ukrainian missiles or drones; several Russian ships moved away from Ukraine’s coast in the aftermath of the incident on the Moskva, according to an American defence official. The threat of anti-ship missiles already appears to have forced Russia to delay or abandon plans for an amphibious assault on Odessa, which was widely expected in the first phase of the war.

Ukraine only has a division’s worth of Neptunes, says Ms Shelest, probably a dozen or so missiles. The factories where its components are made have been subject to heavy Russian attack. Fortunately for Ukraine, more such missiles may be on the way. After Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, visited Mr Zelensky in Kyiv on April 9th, the British government said it would send anti-ship missiles to Ukraine. British officials will not say which ones, nor how many, but one possibility would be to improvise a coastal version of a ship-based missile—something that Argentina did, with success, with the French Exocet missile in the Falklands war 40 years ago. That would take time, training and ingenuity. But improvisation, it seems, is Ukraine’s strong suit.

It’s a Cossack thing
Volodymyr Zelensky’s Ukraine is defined by self-organisation

Coming together is what Ukrainians do


All main roads in Kyiv lead to Maidan, the open space at the heart of the city—even if, at the moment, some of them are blocked by concrete barriers and tank traps. The central space is, most of the time, a busy urban miscellany. The metro station and a labyrinthine shopping centre wrestle for space below ground; the Stalinist buildings on the perimeter boast franchises like McDonald’s and one-offs like the jellyfish museum. And sometimes it is the heart of the nation.

It has had many names over the years: Dumskaya Ploshchad (Parliament Square), Sovetskaya Ploshchad (Soviet Square), Ploshchad Kalinina (Kalinin Square). When student protests demanding independence were first held there in 1990 it was still Ploshchad Oktyabrskoi Revolutsyi (October Revolution Square). It was only the year after, in the post-Soviet age, that it took its current name. No longer a Russian ploshchad, or a Ukrainian ploscha, it became a maidan—a Persian term introduced by way of the Tatars of Crimea which enriches the architectural notion of a square with the connotations of a communal meeting place. Specifically, it became Maidan Nezalezhnosti: Independence Square.

But nobody in Ukraine bothers with the qualifier. Since becoming the focal site of the Orange revolution, in 2004, and the revolution of dignity, in 2014, Maidan has not needed it. In the winter of 2013-14 it became a city within the city as diverse as the country itself, a place where tens of thousands of people cooked together on open fires, lived in tents, built barricades, pried loose cobblestones and died when fired on from the surrounding buildings. Today the name Maidan stands for independence in and of itself.

The identification of independence with a place for coming together gets to the heart of something very Ukrainian. Being Ukrainian is not rooted in a particular territorial claim, or a certain ethnic background, or an allegiance to a particular state and its institutions, or the profession of a given faith. It is instead about an ability to come together when you feel that you need to and to get things done. It is a way of depending on each other, rather than on institutions or hierarchies, whether over cold nights of winter protest or when pelting tanks with Molotov cocktails.

When Roman Romaniuk, a journalist for Ukrainska Pravda, declared that “This war against Putin is our final Maidan,” he was saying that, after two previous Maidans against Mr Putin’s placeman, Viktor Yanukovych, a battle against Mr Putin himself provided a fitting boss-level conclusion to the country’s struggle for sovereignty and democracy. But he was also saying that the self-organising spirit of those revolutions is animating Ukraine’s defence of itself. It goes a long way to explaining why a country which, when invaded, was widely expected to fold like a cheap suit has instead fought the aggressors to a temporary standstill.

Andrei Zorin, a professor at Oxford University, says that the unifying myth behind today’s resistance, the two Maidans and much more is that of the Cossacks of the Zaporozhskaya Sich. The Cossacks were, as Andrew Wilson, a professor at ucl, in London, writes in his book “The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation”, “‘Free men’ who took advantage of the ‘wild field’, the no-man’s-land in the open steppe, to establish autonomous farming and raiding communities beyond the reach of the formal authority of the main regional powers—Poland, Muscovy and the Ottomans.”

The Sich was the self-organised military democracy through which some Cossacks asserted their autonomy in the early modern era. Its capacities have been romanticised and lionised ever since. “[The Zaporozhian Cossacks] were not a standing army,” Nikolai Gogol wrote in “Taras Bulba”, a 19th-century novella. “But in case of war and general uprising, it required a week, and no more, for every man to appear on horseback, fully armed, and in two weeks such a force had assembled as no recruiting officers would ever have been able to collect.” In the 1920s Nestor Makhno, an anarchist who found common ground with peasants who hated all kinds of state control, created a similar army to resist all those who sought to claim the wild field between Donbas and Kryvyi Rih where the Zaporozhskaya Sich had once held sway.

Decentralised does not mean divided

Last year Arena, a project based at Johns Hopkins University and the London School of Economics, reported on what united Ukrainians after 30 years of independence. The researchers concluded that the most important things were not attitudes or values, but “shared, near-unconscious behaviours that have been shaped by the many centuries of Ukraine’s pluralistic history.” In his book “The Gates of Europe”, which has become a standard text in Ukraine since its publication in 2015, Serhii Plokhy describes a nation defined not by its people’s pre-existing identities as by its willingness to negotiate them, crossing and recrossing the “inner and outer frontiers” between regions, faiths and ways of life.

As well as distrusting states imposed on them by others, the Ukrainians have not been very keen on states dominated by any one faction within the country. Mr Plokhy, who teaches history at Harvard, points to the way that, after the fall of the Russian empire in 1917, the primacy some nationalists placed on the Ukrainian language and its associated culture lost them allies among Jewish and Polish minorities worried by such ethno-nationalism. In 1991, on the other hand, Ukrainian sovereignty was supported by all the country’s people. Soviet repression had forged an alliance between Ukrainian nationalists and Jewish dissidents, among others.

Attempts to make capital out of the country’s regional and ethnic differences since then have ultimately proved fruitless, whether encouraged by Russian provocateurs or by factions in Ukraine itself. When Viktor Yushchenko, the president who was brought to power by the Orange revolution, hailed the mid-20th-century nationalist, anti-Semite and sometime Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera as a Ukrainian hero he alienated not just the Russian-speaking east but also the liberal intelligentsia across the country.

The war is laying all thought of division to rest: as Sergei Rakhmanin, a journalist and politician, wrote recently, it “has stitched us together without any anaesthetic”. Russian-speakers, Jews, Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian-speakers are fighting as one for survival and their right to be who they want to be on their own land. It is Russian speakers in the south and east who, stalwart in resistance, are paying the heaviest price. The war which Mr Putin launched on the basis of a belief that Ukraine does not exist and should not exist is proving the opposite.

Military improvisation has always been part of Ukrainian self defence. The tachankas—machineguns on horse-drawn carriages—fielded by Makhno’s army were the forerunners of the armed Toyota pick-ups, or “technicals”, now seen in low-intensity conflicts around the world. In a Facebook post Anton Kolumbet, a fighter in Ukraine’s territorial defence force, described the self organisation of the defenders in today’s “wild field”:

In one small forest next to a village being fought over you can see the following: the Ukrainian army, the national guard, territorial defence units, the police, a few glorious patriotic fighters, military intelligence, the secret services, some other strange military professionals and some dodgy types jumping about with weapons…Whenever the enemy tries to enter the village, he is obliterated. When he is obliterated, dodgy-looking guys run under the shelling to get their hands on trophies drenched in blood. Some kick Russian helmets. Some take photos of the corpses. Others write combat reports. Suddenly, a tank appears and goes after three Russian armoured personnel carriers. It destroys them, and then trundles off somewhere else….Where are all these people coming from? How are they armed? Where are they headed? The people don’t know themselves…No military academy anywhere in the world can teach you how to fight such a thing.

“We are a very chaotic nation,” says Andriy Khlyvnyuk, “A nation of musicians and warriors.” The lead singer of a group called BoomBox, which is hugely popular in Russia as well as Ukraine, Mr Khlyvnyuk was on tour in America on February 24th. He immediately cancelled the rest of the tour and returned to Kyiv to join the territorial defence force. A viral video of him singing “Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow”, a protest song from 1914, in front of Kyiv’s St Sofia cathedral, rifle slung over his shoulder, has been embellished in mash-ups by Lithuanian opera singers, a South African producer and satirist called The Kiffness and, in their first new song for 28 years, Pink Floyd.

Volodymyr Zelensky, a television comedian before he was elected president in 2018, fits the same “you do what you can” picture. “The first thing that I understood,” he said in a recent interview with The Economist, was “that we the people have agency. People are leaders and political leaders are losers, some of them.” (The Arena research found that politicians were the group Ukrainians like least.) As with everyone else, his wartime role has been to do what he does best—communicate with his people and with the world. He is not trying to run the country so much as letting the country run itself.

Nowhere is this more visible than in the army, where Valery Zaluzhnyi, a charismatic 48-year-old, enjoys free rein as commander-in-chief. Unlike older officers, General Zaluzhnyi never served in the Soviet army; on taking over last year he told his officers to “turn your face to the people, to your subordinates.” He has allowed local commanders to take a lot more initiative than is normal in post-Soviet armies; he listens to the advice of his senior officers.

How the self-organising spirit will fare after the war’s end will depend a great deal on what sort of end it is. If Mr Zelensky survives in office he is likely to be the most powerful politician for generations. The machinations of the country’s oligarchs, which have held the country back for 30 years, will matter much less. Giving in to the predilection to just let things sort themselves out once the crisis is over will look more culpable. That all argues for the possibility of reform.

But there will be a risk of backsliding on democracy and liberalism in a country which will be focused on its security as never before. “It is unlikely that Ukraine will have political elections in the next few years,” one observer of Ukrainian politics says. That may make eventual integration into the Europe of the eu harder. “Absolutely liberal, European—it will not be like that,” Mr Zelensky told journalists on April 5th. “It will definitely come from the strength of every house, every building, every person…We will become a ‘big Israel’ with its own face.”

The tank traps that have replaced occasional uprisings and everyday bustle on Maidan will in time be taken away. What the Ukrainian people will put in their place remains to be seen.

A study in Contrasts: DJT & Biden coming to North Carolina

This is strange. Weird, actually:

DJT is coming to North Carolina today, for a rally in Selma, about 90 minutes east of me here in Durham.

Nothing strange about that. DJT carried the state twice, and would be a strong contender in 2024, if Jesus doesn’t return & Merrick Garland still tarries. DJT’s endorsed some far-out candidates in our 2022 races.

What’s odd is that, at the same time his “team” has been promoting the hell out of the rally’s date (April 9) and time (7PM), its location remained a secret until yesterday.

It makes a difference. NC is not a postage stamp state like Rhode Island or Delaware: Continue reading A study in Contrasts: DJT & Biden coming to North Carolina

Big Read: We Know Putin Is Sick. But Is He also Seriously Ill??

Is Putin in seriously bad health?

An independent Russian investigative group called Proekt.media says probably yes, in a major report published online on April 1. [Given the heavy censorship of Russian media, it is not possible yet to independently confirm this report, which depends largely in unnamed sources; but our checks suggest it is at least credible. If we learn otherwise, we’ll say so ASAP.]

[We have confirmed that Proekt was banned by the Russian government in mid-2021. Reuters reported then that:
“Russia declared investigative news outlet ‘Proekt’ on Thursday [July 15 2021] an ‘undesirable’ organisation on national security grounds and banned its activities, in the latest blow against media which look into areas the authorities say are off-limits.

The move is part of a wider crackdown . . . on media seen by the authorities as hostile and foreign-backed. Proekt has published a series of deeply researched and unflattering investigations into Russia’s ruling elite.

In a statement, the General Prosecutor’s Office said Proekt’s activities constituted a “threat to constitutional order and security”. It described the outlet as a U.S.-based non-governmental organisation.

Roman Badanin, Proekt’s editor-in-chief, described the move as the best possible proof that his outfit was doing good work, adding that it was not going anywhere. He did not elaborate further in a Facebook post reacting to the designation.”

Under a 2015 law, members of “undesirable organisations” can be fined or jailed for up to six years for ignoring the ban.”]

Continue reading Big Read: We Know Putin Is Sick. But Is He also Seriously Ill??