Tuesday, September 27, 2022
“Hello, I have a pregnant wife and a mortgage. My wife is panicking, and I have no money to go abroad. How can I escape the draft?”
This is a message we received at Help Desk, a website I and other journalists set up in June to help people — with information, legal advice and psychological support — affected by the actions of the Russian government. The writer, after completing his mandatory military service seven years ago, was being drafted into the war in Ukraine. The Russian government was not interested in who will pay the mortgage or take care of his pregnant wife. It simply wanted more fodder for its war.
In the days since Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization,” clearing the way for hundreds of thousands of men to be conscripted into his failing war effort, we’ve fielded tens of thousands of messages like these. Some were plaintive; others were defiant. Some were simply defeated. Along with Russians desperately trying to board flights, crossing borders or attacking recruitment centers, they testified to the same desire: to avoid the draft.
The truth is, they probably can’t. While presented as a limited measure affecting only those who previously served in the army, in practice, the government has free rein to conscript as many people as it wants. The initial number of 300,000, for example, already seems an enormous undercount. In the face of a monstrous regime hellbent on war and widespread international isolation, Russians are caught in a disaster. And judging from the response so far, they are terrified.
Such terror is at odds with the mass support the war supposedly enjoys. But the actual level of support is clearly significantly lower than that trumpeted by the Kremlin-controlled media. There are, tellingly, very few people eager to go to war — something made viscerally clear by the shooting of a recruitment officer in Siberia on Monday.
For regular citizens who want to escape that hellish fate, there simply aren’t many options. Some people have crossed into Belarus, but we are already getting information that the Belarusian authorities, complicit with Mr. Putin, are planning to seize men from Russia. If not Belarus, where? Just days before the start of the mobilization, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland imposed an entry ban on almost all Russians. Last week, the Baltic States declared that this decision will not change, at least for now.
The thousand-mile border with Ukraine is, of course, closed. The Finnish authorities are still letting Russians in, but one needs a passport and a Schengen visa — something held by just a million Russians. Finland is planning to close the border, too.
What remains open is Georgia, where the queue at the border crossing is more than 24 hours long and people are occasionally denied entry without any obvious reason. There are also destinations as far-flung as Norway, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Mongolia. Getting to any, by foot, bike or car, is a daunting undertaking with no assurance of success.
You want to fly to neighboring Kazakhstan? Here’s a ticket, with two layovers, for $20,000. Want to go to Armenia? No tickets left. Or to Georgia? Russia used to have daily direct flights to Tbilisi before the conflict in 2008, but now you cannot fly there, either.
The terrible truth is that Russians have become outcasts. Many countries have already imposed residency restrictions on them, and there are fewer and fewer possibilities of obtaining legal status, a work permit or even a bank account. No one is waiting to welcome fleeing Russians. In any case, it’s unclear how long the Russian authorities will allow people to leave the country.
People observing this horror from outside Russia are asking: Why don’t Russians protest? Well, many are. . . . . Some protesters were severely beaten up. This is bravery beyond the imagining of those who have never experienced life in a dictatorship.
As for overthrowing Mr. Putin, likewise urged on Russians, I doubt you will find anyone who can tell you how to do it. The main opposition politician, Aleksei Navalny, is behind bars; protest is effectively outlawed; and even mild antiwar statements can land Russians in prison with a hefty sentence. I, for one, am facing criminal charges for writing on Instagram that the massacre in Bucha, Ukraine, was perpetrated by the Russian Army. For Russians, there is no visible route to a better future.
Capital punishment may be forbidden in Russia. But for Mr. Putin’s decision, many people will pay with their lives.
Putin views himself as Russia's new tsar. He might do well to remember the fate of the last true tsar which was hastened by disastrous wars that could have been avoided.
Monday, September 26, 2022
Sunday, September 25, 2022
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) ran on education — specifically, giving parents more say about what happens in and around the classroom. So it is no surprise, yet nonetheless disheartening, that his administration announced last week that it rewrote model school guidance for how educators should treat transgender students, eliciting a storm of controversy on a subject for which there are no easy answers — and that, therefore, requires less politicization, not more.
Mr. Youngkin’s education department to quickly tear them [the Northam administration guidelines] up and substitute its own guidance — one that better reflected the governor’s weaponization of parental rights as a wedge issue.
It’s troubling, for example, that the new model policies would allow school personnel to disrespect and belittle transgender students by refusing to use the name that conforms with their gender identities, even in some cases when parents have made an official request. Just as teachers are not allowed to teach creationism out of their personal or religious beliefs, so, too, must school employees be barred from hurting children placed in their care.
Far thornier is the question of what school officials should be required to tell parents about their children’s gender identity. Mr. Northam’s policy recommended that schools weigh sharing information with parents on a case-by-case basis, considering students’ health and safety.
Mr. Youngkin’s new policy states that schools may not “encourage or instruct teachers to conceal material information about a student from the student’s parent, including information related to gender.” This might make informants of teachers and counselors, causing transgender students — already at a greater risk of suicide and substance abuse — to avoid confiding in them and, as a result, not get needed support . . . . There is also the risk that outing kids could endanger them if parents are unwilling to accept them.
Instead of issuing another guidance more likely to inflame than to strike a durable balance, Mr. Youngkin should have rescinded Mr. Northam’s policy and asked the state board of education to consult with his administration on how to craft a guidance that would help school districts, individual schools and administrators to navigate these fraught issues. Indeed, those closest to the students for which they are caring might prove better able to muster the right mixture of compassion and good sense these situations require than a governor in Richmond who made his political name riling up parents on school policy.
The second column looks at how the fallout of Youngkin's anti-transgender policies will likely harm LGBT students in general. Here are highlights:
When it came time to find someone to edit his college essay, Aaryan Rawal turned to a teacher at his high school in Fairfax County. . . .He trusted her opinion. He also trusted that she wouldn’t out him to his parents.
“For years, my sexual orientation clashed with my Indian heritage,” he wrote in that essay. “I threw out pink clothes, purged musicals from Spotify playlists, remained silent in class discussions on LGBTQIA+ issues, and deepened my voice to hide the inflections of the ‘gay voice’ — all in an attempt to stamp out my sexuality. None of it worked, but I still avoided anything with even loose connections to Queerness until the pandemic. No longer walking hallways pierced by gay slurs, I finally appreciate that my sexuality is not tethered to a color, music genre, behavior, or voice, but rather, a part of me I cannot change.”
Rawal is now a student at Harvard University. Virginia’s public schools propelled him to that prestigious campus, and that should be a point of pride for the state. But a close look at his experience also shows this: A shift in policy could have shifted that outcome.
Rawal said it wasn’t until his senior year of high school that he began to openly identify as queer at school. He said he only felt safe doing that because of the “model policies” put in place by then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to protect transgender students.
Rawal is not transgender, but he said the polices created an atmosphere where he felt free to be himself at school. He described it as allowing him to focus on his studies and pursue his passions.
“I don’t think I would be attending Harvard without that policy,” Rawal told me on a recent afternoon. “I think I would have been very depressed and suicidal.”
The 18-year-old shared his essay with me and agreed to speak openly about his experience in Virginia’s schools because he knows what’s at stake right now for LGBTQIA+ students in the state. He also decided long before we talked that he didn’t want to hide that part of himself in his public life.
“The model trans policies saved my life and are the reason I was able to attend a school that, while not perfect, still affirmed some of my humanity,” Rawal tweeted. “@GlennYoungkin new guidelines undermine the humanity of so many Queer kids — especially gender Queer and Queer students of color.”
The new policies require schools to force students to use restrooms and other facilities corresponding with their assigned sex at birth and prevent students from changing their names or pronouns without parental permission. They do this despite studies that show LGBTQ youth are already at high risk of self-hate and self-harm.
In the United States, at least one young person who identifies as LGBTQ attempts suicide every 45 seconds and 1.8 million seriously consider it each year, according to the Trevor Project.
“We know if this gets implemented, students will die in Virginia,” Rawal said. “Students will be subject to abuse and harassment. To us this isn’t a game. This isn’t about advancing an agenda.”
Years before I was a columnist, I was a cops reporter, and in that position, I saw time and again parents who were capable of horrific cruelty toward their children. Saying he trusts parents to do right by their children may help build a presidential platform for Youngkin, but using it to restrict how vulnerable children can identify in the places where they spend much of their time is inhumane and dangerous.
His policies stand to cost not only lives but also human potential. How can we expect LGBTQ students to thrive when we are putting in place policies that we know will make it more difficult for them to survive?
A statement released by the Pride Liberation Project condemned Youngkin’s new policies as “bigoted.” “These revised guidelines will only hurt students in a time when students are facing unparalleled mental health challenges, and are a cruel attempt to politicize the existence of LGBTQIA+ students for political gain,” it reads.
A piece at Vanity Fair looks at how radical and dangerous Youngkin is despite his efforts to pretend otherwise.
After President Vladimir Putin announced this week that Russia was conscripting some 300,000 reservists and military veterans to reinforce its war effort in Ukraine, international flights out of Russian cities quickly sold out. This latest wave of Russia’s exodus included Anton Shalaev, a 38-year-old senior manager at an IT company, and 15 colleagues.
On less than a day’s notice, these men of military age all left their relatively comfortable lives in downtown Moscow to fly to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Because of Putin’s war, Shalaev tossed a book, an iPad, and a laptop in a backpack and got out of Dodge.
Shalaev and his co-workers are true tech geeks, producers of high-value computer games. They represent their country’s brightest and best, members of a tech elite that was the economic foundation of Russia’s new middle class. In a last selfie from Moscow, Shalaev brandished a coffee mug that bore the slogan Not today, Satan.
Anton Shalaev: On the day Putin declared the war, I knew I would never fight on behalf of this new Nazi Reich. They are my personal enemies: mercenaries who steal my country from me, occupy foreign territories, and kill innocent people. Putin’s army commanders have had plenty of time to turn down their contracts; instead, they are recruiting more cannon fodder now.
So I chose to help Ukrainians suffering from this horror—pay for shelters in Kyiv with cryptocurrency and write antiwar posts on social media. To encourage Russians at home, I said: “Guys, look, I am writing this from Moscow.”
The departure was super stressful. The border guards took each of my friends aside into a small room, interrogated them, asked if they had ever served in the military, and if not, why not. And you know that type of sly border official making their little jokes: “Aha, you are leaving on the day of conscription.” Of course, they checked whether our names were in the database for the mobilization.
Shalaev: A few old men and an army of zombies are leading us to hell. I say that because people around me in Russia behaved as if they had been bitten by a zombie, dragging my entire country into a dreadful war. All I saw was Russian loser husbands beating their wives, while the entire rotting house of the state system has turned my people into an army of the dead. They are my enemies. . . . . This entire war is a crime against humanity.
On February 24, when the invasion of Ukraine began, it became clear to me that the old man had nothing to lose. He [Putin] is a psychopath and does not care what happens to us all, to our economy, to our future.
My only hope is that he has some instinct for self-protection that will stop him from nuking us all.
The CNN piece is of a similar tone and looks at those fleeing by car, bus, train or in some cases walking the last few miles to escape the hell Putin is creating and that they had no hand in creating. Here are excerpts:
Tension was in the air as a long trail of cars lined up near the Petkuhovo checkpoint on the border between Russia and Kazakhstan late Friday night.
Andrei Alekseev, a 27-year-old engineer from the city of Yekaterinburg, was among many men in the queue who were fleeing Russia in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s mobilization orders. Cars had to go through Russian and Kazakh border checks, both of which lasted about two hours.
Alekseev woke up to the news of Putin’s mobilization order on Wednesday morning and he knew he had to flee Russia. He met up with his friends that night to discuss their next steps and decided to avoid taking any risks and to leave Russia with no plan in mind.
On Saturday, Putin signed the law on military service, setting a jail term of up to 10 years for evading military duty due to mobilization, and up to 15 years in prison for wartime desertion.
The decree signed by Putin appears to allow for wider mobilization than he suggested in the speech that aired on Wednesday. According to the address, 300,000 reservists would be drafted to the front, breaking his promises earlier in the war that there would be no mobilization. However, the decree itself puts no cap on how many people can be mobilized.
“Mobilization is called ‘partial,’ but no parameters of this partiality, neither geographical, nor in terms of criteria, are specified,” Ekaterina Schulmann, a Russian political scientist, wrote on her social media page. “According to this text, anyone can be drafted, except for workers of the military-industrial complex.”
Kirill Ponomarev, 23, who also fled Russia via a Kazakhstan border, said he struggled to book a ticket. The night before Putin’s address he was looking up tickets out of Russia.
While all men aged below 60 in Russia now share the fear of getting drafted, Putin’s mobilization disproportionately affects poorer, more ethnically diverse regions of Russia, according to Alexandra Garmazhapova, president of the Free Buryatia Foundation, who spoke to CNN. “In Buryatia, mobilization is not partial, everyone is mobilized. Summons come to students, pensioners, fathers of many children, people with disabilities,” she told CNN.
Some men were lucky to find out the news of mobilization orders from abroad. Ilya, 35, was on vacation with his family in Turkey when he received a text from his co-workers in Kurgan, a city in the Urals region of Russia, that his office had received a draft letter for him.
His wife and child returned to Russia while he stayed behind in Turkey. “I don’t want war, I don’t want to die for someone else’s ambitions, I don’t want to prove anything to anyone, it was a difficult decision to not return to Russia, very difficult, I don’t know when I can now see my family, my loved ones,” Ilya told CNN.
Note how one young Rusian called Putin a psychopath - no wonder he and Trump hit it off as Putin used Trump as a Russian asset.
Saturday, September 24, 2022
Trump’s latest legal setback came last night, when a federal appeals court handed the classified documents seized by the FBI at his Mar-a-Lago estate back to government investigators. In siding with the government, a three-judge panel—including two Trump appointees—slapped down just about every argument that Trump and his legal team had advanced to suggest that the former president was within his rights to take classified documents from the White House when he left office last year. The decision also rebuked Aileen Cannon, the Trump-appointed federal judge whose rulings in favor of Trump have led many legal experts and former prosecutors to question her impartiality. The lower court had “abused its discretion,” the panel wrote.
The appellate ruling was not the only sign of trouble for Trump in the Department of Justice’s investigation. Earlier this week, Judge Raymond Dearie—the special master whom Judge Cannon appointed (and whom Trump’s lawyers recommended) to review the Mar-a-Lago documents—expressed irritation at the Trump team’s refusal to show proof that as president, Trump had actually declassified the documents in question before his term ended. “You can’t have your cake and eat it,” Dearie told them.
Trump’s legal problems in New York State are growing too. On Tuesday, E. Jean Carroll, a writer who says Trump raped her in the 1990s (he denies it), said she would take advantage of a new state law allowing victims of sexual assault a onetime opportunity to file new civil lawsuits after the statute of limitations on their cases has expired. And yesterday, hours before the appellate ruling came out, New York Attorney General Letitia James unveiled a lawsuit against Trump, his family, and his business alleging that for years, Trump inflated his net worth for financial gain.
As for Trump's flunky judge, a piece at Salon looks at her backtracking and revisions to her ruling in the wake of the 11th Circuit's stinging rebuke and how it largely wipes out further Trump delaying tactics. Here are highlights:
District Judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday struck portions of her special master ruling barring the Justice Department from investigating former President Donald Trump just hours after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ripped apart her decision to halt the criminal probe.
The three-judge panel — which included two Trump appointees — said Cannon, a fellow Trump-appointee, "abused" her discretion by barring the DOJ from continuing to investigate the classified documents seized from Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence and allowed investigators to resume their probe.
"For our part, we cannot discern why Plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings," the panel said. "Classified documents are marked to show they are classified, for instance, with their classification level."
Cannon on Thursday issued a revised order stating that the special master in the case would review all documents "except the approximately one-hundred documents bearing classification markings." She also struck two portions from her original order preventing the DOJ from probing the classified documents during the special master review and requiring them to disclose the materials to the special master.
Some legal experts, like NYU Law Professor Ryan Goodman, say that Cannon's revised order essentially "erased Trump's chance to appeal to Supreme Court."
Steve Vladeck, a federal courts expert at the University of Texas School of Law, explained that Cannon's amendment doesn't "formally" kill Trump's ability to ask the court to vacate the stay — since the stay is still out there — but in practical terms, it makes it impossible.
"Cannon's amendment moots DOJ's appeal, and means Trump can't show any harm — let alone irreparable harm — that the Eleventh Circuit's stay is causing," he explained on Twitter. "So there's still *technically* a stay for #SCOTUS to vacate, but no possible legal justification for asking the Court to do so."
Former appellate lawyer Teri Kanefield agreed that "changing the order moots Trump's appeal to SCOTUS." "I suspect that [Cannon] doesn't like being overturned on appeal and wants to avoid more appellate thrashings," Kanefield said. Even if Trump does appeal, legal experts say he will likely lose.
Former US Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal explained that Trump can attempt to go to the US Supreme Court but "it's a loser every day of the week." He added that the former president got "obliterated" by the appellate court and that they confirmed what legal experts have been saying, "the whole declassification thing is a red herring."
Bad news for Trump is good news for the rule of law and the American public.
In Fairfax, a gender-nonconforming teen who is out at school, but not at home, is terrified their parents will discover the truth under Virginia’s new policies for transgender students. If they find out, the teen is sure, they will refuse to pay for college — and may kick the teen out of their home.
And in Chester, Ace Nash, a trans sophomore who has passed as male since starting high school, is wondering if classmates will discover his secret — and what they might say if they do. He feels broken when he imagines seeing his birth name on school records or hearing it from a teacher, as may happen under the new policies.
“If I had kept presenting as female, I would be dead,” Ace said. “I can’t imagine being forced to be female again.”
It’s been a week since the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) sharply restricted transgender student rights, debuting guidelines that say trans students must access school facilities and activities, including restrooms and sports teams, that match their sex assigned at birth. The guidelines also make it difficult for students to change their names and pronouns at school and say teachers can refuse to use transgender students’ names and pronouns if it violates their beliefs. And the guidelines suggest parents should be told about students’ gender identities, no matter if the student wants to keep it private.
Virginia’s more than 130 districts have until next month to adopt the policies, the Youngkin administration says. Already, Democratic legislators are vowing defiance, and Youngkin’s guidelines may be vulnerable to legal challenges.
In the meantime, the teenagers who will be most affected by the new policy are trying to figure out how it will reshape their lives. The Washington Post asked students statewide to share how they are feeling, garnering more than 260 submissions across 30 school districts as of Wednesday evening.
The vast majority were from transgender students who wrote in fear. Some who transitioned years ago are worried they will be outed to unsuspecting classmates. Others who are mid-transition, or just beginning to transition, are worried they will be outed to their parents and forced to leave home. Many wrote they are feeling angry, depressed, suicidal.
“Because of it, I’ll probably have multiple breakdowns a day, my grades will drop,” wrote a 16-year-old. “Everything I’ve worked so hard to overcome will have been for nothing.”
Research suggests there are roughly 4,000 transgender teens in Virginia, a state with 1.2 million public school students. Research has also shown that transgender youths are far more likely to attempt suicide.
Asked about students’ distress, Youngkin spokesman Rob Damschen provided a copy of remarks he said the governor gave to a group of reporters in Loudoun County on Tuesday.
“I would find it very hard to argue that a parent being engaged in a child’s life is inconsistent with that child’s safety,” Youngkin said then. “This is about keeping people safe, but also fully, fully, involving parents into these most important positions.”
Damschen noted that a reporter asked Youngkin what he would say to transgender students who live with parents who do not support their gender identities. “I would say,” the governor said, “trust your parents.”
Over the next several days, Ace did not learn much. He was too busy worrying a teacher would approach him about his name or pronouns, although no one did. He worried someone might stop him on the way to the boys bathroom, although no one did that either. Still, Ace began minimizing restroom trips by skipping lunch or waiting until he got home. At night he took melatonin, seeking the release of sleep. It didn’t help.
Ace’s thoughts strayed to dark places. Before this year, Ace said, he has attempted suicide three times, most recently in November, because he was miserable over the wave of anti-transgender legislation appearing across the country. More than 300 bills restricting trans rights have been proposed nationwide, according to a Washington Post analysis, and many target schools.
Since the Virginia guidelines’ release, Ace said, he has felt the impulse to harm himself. He does not know what he will do if he is forced to return to female pronouns and facilities at school. “I would not be okay,” he said. “I could not deal with that. I would genuinely be a danger to myself.”
Of the 266 submissions received by The Washington Post, 13 came from students who said they are pleased with the guidelines. Four students said they did not care. The rest — 94 percent — came from students who believe the new guidelines will make their lives worse or endanger their friends’ mental health and well-being. Eighty-two percent of the submissions came from students who identified themselves as LGBTQ.
[A] 17-year-old senior, was assigned male at birth but identifies as female. She came out to her parents a year ago, she said, but they refused to believe her. After several yelling matches, they decided to ignore the problem. Now, the teen and her parents live together uneasily, both sides afraid to broach the “taboo topic,” the teen said. The teen’s parents continue to use her old name and treat her as male. The teen spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from her parents. School is the teen’s safe haven.
Ever since the Youngkin administration guidelines appeared, the gender-nonconforming teenager in Fairfax County has lived in dread of an email from their high school counselor.
The teenager, who is 17 and a senior, spoke on the condition of anonymity because their parents do not know they are gender-nonconforming.
The teen went public with their gender identity at school this year, announcing a different name and pronouns to friends and teachers. Until this month, the student planned to make it through the rest of senior year by existing as their true self at school and a shriveled version at home. The teen dreams of attending a university in the Northeast and majoring in gender studies. The teen meant to tell their parents about their gender once they were much older.
Under the new guidelines, though, the teen fears their parents will learn the truth now — and can almost feel their future slipping away. “It would lead to either me not having housing,” the teen said, “or them not being willing to pay for my college.” Probably both.
All so Youngkin can pursue his political ambitions even if it means he does so on the dead bodies of trans and LGBT students who take their own lives or die on the street after being thrown out by their parents. Youngkin is despicable.
Friday, September 23, 2022
Donald Trump has a knack for making his most committed apologists look like complete imbeciles—even if they are not complete imbeciles, though many of them are. This has been true for several years. But in recent weeks, Trump’s trickle-down idiocy has become a significant midterm-election issue for Republicans, and a drag on some of the party’s most vulnerable Senate candidates.
If you’re a candidate seeking a GOP nomination, Trump’s blessing can be a political wonder drug. But it comes with debilitating side effects. These go beyond the standard debasements that Trump inflicts on his dependents (for instance, Trump boasting at a Youngstown, Ohio, rally on Saturday that J. D. Vance, who is running for Senate there, was “in love” with him and “kissing my ass, he wants my support so much”). Assuming an acceptable Trumpian posture requires a determined self-lobotomy. In most states, it’s nearly impossible to pass yourself off as an election-denying January 6 truther and still be taken seriously by a majority of voters. Yet many candidates who clearly know better are doing exactly this.
You might be a media-slick, Ivy-bred brainiac like Vance or Dr. Mehmet Oz, and even admit backstage that you don’t really believe the asininity you’re spouting. As a general rule, though, discerning swing voters tend not to differentiate between fools and those who just play them on TV.
Not every Trump knockoff is faking it, of course. The former president has mainstreamed an authentic collection of cranks, bozos, and racists. The preponderance of safe, gerrymandered seats probably ensures continued employment in the House for the loony-tunes likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The trickier proposition for Republicans involves statewide elections in toss-up states—which is why someone like Greene would almost certainly never win, say, a Senate race in her home state of Georgia. (The actual Republican nominee, Herschel Walker, is himself bananas, . . . . )
[T]he primary successes of Trump’s protégés have saddled Republicans with, as Mitch McConnell put it, low “candidate quality” . . . . the former president has imposed a mental headwind against even the most seasoned GOP incumbents. It is to their great disadvantage, at least with most college-educated voters, that remaining Trump-accredited requires shaving dozens of IQ points off an otherwise sound candidate’s brain.
I was contemplating this phenomenon the other day as I watched Senator Marco Rubio of Florida beclown himself in service to the man he used to openly loathe. As Trump’s opponent in 2016, Rubio was one of those ostentatiously saddened and troubled candidates who kept lamenting that Trump was turning that campaign into “a freak show.” Before Rubio became a cast member in the freak show himself, he talked a lot about how dangerous Trump was . . . .
Rubio’s self-correction to Made MAGA Man apparently compelled him to downplay Trump’s frightful conduct, even though it was something he obviously would have screamed bloody murder about if Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton had done the same. This was not a mere “storage issue,” at least not primarily. It was a “Why is the former president refusing to relinquish scores of classified and highly sensitive documents that don’t belong to him?” issue.
As the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rubio is clearly aware of this. But he’s been playing this game for a while, and he knew what was required of him. . . . Rubio sounded miserable, as he often does when called upon to defend Trump’s indefensibles. He seemed to fully anticipate scorn and ridicule raining down. . . . I might have felt a twinge of sympathy, except no one was forcing Rubio to do this.
From the get-go, Republican officials have had to contort themselves in ridiculous ways to navigate Trump’s reality-distortion field. . . . We’ve gotten so used to the Trickle-Down-Idiocy Effect that it no longer engenders surprise, let alone outrage. It goes well beyond candidates having to perpetrate lies or offer preposterous explanations such as “storage issue,” “alternative facts,” “normal tourist visit,” and whatnot. Trump’s reckless claims and behaviors have led his dependents into a minefield of topics that, in previous campaign cycles, would likely never have come up, let alone be so fraught.
Absent Trump, Republican candidates in 2022 would be able to focus on subjects that would be more favorable to them and their party, such as inflation, crime, and Biden’s unpopularity. Trump continuously muddles their efforts and requires them to dwell in the bizarre realm of his narcissistic delusions.
Candidates are well accustomed to playing to the base for the primary and then pivoting to the center for the midterms. Savvy voters understand and tolerate this to a degree. But Trump has made finessing the gap far more complicated. . . . Did Trump—being Trump—place Oz in a no-win position where he would come off as either a kook or a traitor?
Vance can be cavalier at times, taking stupid much too far. Back in February, he appeared on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast and declared, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other.” . . . . But Vance paid a price. His “I don’t care about Ukraine” grenade detonated in his own face when Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked invasion a few days later. People in both parties rallied behind Ukraine, most notably in northeastern Ohio, home to one of the largest concentrations of Ukrainian Americans in the country.
In a less Trump-hospitable state, Vance would have a much harder time. New Hampshire’s Don Bolduc became the latest toadying Trump endorsee to see his apparent faith rewarded, having won the state’s Republican nomination for Senate this month. He spent more than a year as a loud and unrelenting election denier, but just 36 hours after winning the primary, he made a screeching 180. . . . Presumably, Bolduc was trying to make himself look like a reasonable general-election candidate, and not a total idiot.
Thursday, September 22, 2022
If an American president announced a major speech, booked the networks for 8 p.m., and then disappeared until the following morning, the analysis would be immediate and damning: chaos, disarray, indecision. The White House must be in crisis.
In the past 24 hours, this is exactly what happened in Moscow. The Russian president really did announce a major speech, alert state television, warn journalists, and then disappear without explanation. Although Vladimir Putin finally gave his speech to the nation this morning, the same conclusions have to apply: chaos, disarray, indecision. The Kremlin must be in crisis.
In fact, no elements of the delayed speech were completely new or unexpected. Russian authorities have long intended to hold sham referenda in the Ukrainian territories they occupy. Putin and his television propagandists have been making subtle and unsubtle nuclear threats since February. Quietly, a creeping mobilization has been going on for many weeks too, as the Russian army has sought to recruit more men to replace the soldiers whom it still does not admit have been killed, wounded, or exhausted by the war. But now that Ukraine has successfully recaptured thousands of square miles of Russian-held territory, the sham referenda are being rushed, the nuclear language is being repeated, and the mobilization expanded. These are not the actions of a secure leader assured of his legitimacy and of the outcome of this war.
In part, the crisis stems from Putin’s fears that he will lose whatever counts as his international support. No ideology holds together the global autocrats’ club, and no sentiment does either. As long as they believed Russia really had the second largest army in the world, as long as Putin seemed destined to stay in power indefinitely, then the leaders of China, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, along with the strongmen running India and Turkey, were happy to tolerate his company.
But Putin’s supposedly inevitable military victory is in jeopardy. His army looks weak. Western sanctions make problems not just for him but his trading partners, and their tolerance is receding. At a summit in Uzbekistan last week, he was snubbed by a series of Central Asian leaders. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told him that “today’s era is not an era of war,” and Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his “concerns” as well. On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told PBS that he had urged Putin to end the war: “The lands which were invaded will be returned to Ukraine.” And those lands, he made clear, should include Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, following a sham referendum much like the ones it now plans to stage in other parts of occupied Ukraine.
But while losing support abroad is bad, losing support at home is worse, and there are some signs of that too. Putin might not care much about the Russian liberals and exiles who oppose the war, but he may worry (and should worry) about people who are supposed to be on his side—people such as Alla Pugacheva, a Soviet-era pop star who has millions of mainstream followers and has recently proclaimed both her patriotism and her opposition to the war. Putin may also worry about the disappointed, pro-war nationalist bloggers, active on social media, who have been criticizing the conduct of the war for some time. . . . If their loyalty isn’t assured, then Putin isn’t secure either.
At the same time, the Russian president has to balance the discontent of that heavily armed minority against the wishes of the mostly apathetic, mostly silent majority. For the past six months, Putin has been telling the latter that there is no war, just a special military operation; that Russia has suffered no losses, just some temporary setbacks. Given that the army is victorious and everything is fine, most people need not alter their lives in any way. Now events have forced Putin to change his language, but it seems there are limits. Thus he speaks not of a true mass mobilization—which would involve conscripting young men in enormous numbers—but of partial mobilization . . .
Finally, and perhaps most important, the speech and a series of legal changes announced yesterday reflect a crisis inside the military. In truth, the Russian army faces not just a logistical emergency or some tactical problems but also a collapse in morale. That’s why Putin needs more soldiers, and that’s why, as in Stalin’s time, the Russian state has now defined “voluntary surrender” as a crime: Under a law approved by the Russian Parliament yesterday, you can be sent to prison for up to 10 years.
If the Russian army were a reliable, enthusiastic, dedicated fighting force, then the state would not need to declare harsh punishments for deserters, looters, and mutineers. But it is not.
Over the next few days, the bogus referenda will gather headlines, and the nuclear threats will create fear, as they were designed to do. But we should understand these attempts at blackmail and intimidation as a part of the deeper story told by this delayed speech: Support for Putin is eroding—abroad, at home, and in the army. Everything else he says and does right now is nothing more than an attempt to halt that decline.
I hope his efforts prove unsuccessful.
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
I hope all those “middle of the road” folks who voted for him because they were annoyed about COVID restrictions (especially in schools) who thought he was a rich guy who didn’t really have extreme views and wouldn’t do any real harm, have woken up and realized he’s actually quite dangerous.
Things will sadly likely get worse here in Virginia as Youngkin pursues his real goal: running for president. A solumn in the New York Times looks at Youngkin's full embrace of the MAGA base and his display of his true colors. Here are highlights:
It’s obvious. Glenn Youngkin, the Republican governor of Virginia, wants to be president.
Within months of taking office, Youngkin had already established two political organizations, Spirit of Virginia and America’s Spirit, meant to raise his profile in national Republican politics with donations and assistance to candidates both in his home state and across the country. In July, he met privately with major conservative donors in New York City, underlining the sense that his ambitions run larger than his term in Richmond.
Youngkin, a former private equity executive, is on a tour of the country, speaking and raising money for Republican candidates in key presidential swing states. And as he crisscrosses the United States in support of the Republican Party, Youngkin is neither avoiding Donald Trump nor scorning his acolytes; he’s embracing them.
In Nevada last week, Youngkin stumped for Joe Lombardo, the Trump-backed Republican nominee for governor . . . . In Michigan, Youngkin stumped for Tudor Dixon, the Trump-backed Republican nominee for governor who has repeatedly challenged the integrity of the 2020 presidential election. And later this month, in Arizona, Youngkin will stump for Kari Lake, the Trump-backed Republican nominee for governor who accused Democrats of fraud in the state and says that unlike Gov. Doug Ducey, she “would not have certified” the 2020 election results.
In the 2021 Virginia Republican primary, he flirted with election denialism but never fully committed. What matters, for our purposes, is that Youngkin believes he needs to cater to and actually support election questioners and deniers to have a shot at leading the Republican Party.
The issue is that Republican voters want MAGA candidates, and ambitious Republicans see no path to power that doesn’t treat election deniers and their supporters as partners in arms.
There is an analogy to make here to the midcentury Democratic Party, which was torn between a liberal, Northern, pro-civil rights faction and a reactionary, Southern, segregationist faction. The analogy is useful . . . . because the reason the liberal faction prevailed helps illustrate why anti-MAGA Republicans are fighting a losing battle.
From its inception in the late 1820s as the movement to elect Andrew Jackson president, the Democratic Party relied on the Solid South to win national elections. Now it had a choice. Democrats could reject their new civil rights plank, accommodate the Dixiecrats and fight with a unified front against a hungry and energetic Republican Party, shut out of power since Herbert Hoover’s defeat in 1932. Or they could scorn the so-called States’ Rights Democrats and run as a liberal party committed to equal rights and opportunity for all Americans.
They chose the latter and changed American politics forever. And while much of this choice was born of sincere belief, we also should not ignore the powerful force of demographic change.
There is no equivalent to northern Black voters in the Trumpified Republican Party. Put differently, there is no large and pivotal group of Republicans who can exert cross-pressure on MAGA voters. Instead, the further the Republican Party goes down the rabbit hole of “stop the steal” and other conspiracy theories, the more it loses voters who could serve to apply that pressure.
In a normal, more majoritarian political system, this dynamic would eventually fix the issue of the MAGA Republican Party. . . . . The problem is that the American political system, in its current configuration, gives much of its power to the party with the most supporters in all the right places. Republicans may have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections, but key features in the system — equal state representation in the Senate, malapportionment in the House of Representatives and winner-take-all distribution of votes in the Electoral College (Nebraska and Maine notwithstanding) — gives them a powerful advantage on the playing field of national politics.
Which is all to say that someone like Glenn Youngkin is only doing what makes sense. To make MAGA politics weak among Republican politicians, you have to make MAGA voters irrelevant in national elections. But that will take a different political system — or a vastly different political landscape — than the one we have now.
Be fearful for what Youngkin will do here in Virginia as he seeks to compete with the likes of Trump and Ron DeSantis on the national stage.