Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, February 18, 2023
Putin’s Last Stand
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine was meant to be his crowning achievement, a demonstration of how far Russia had come since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991. Annexing Ukraine was supposed to be a first step in reconstructing a Russian empire. Putin intended to expose the United States as a paper tiger outside Western Europe and to demonstrate that Russia, along with China, was destined for a leadership role in a new, multipolar international order.
It hasn’t turned out that way. Kyiv held strong, and the Ukrainian military has been transformed into a juggernaut, thanks in part to a close partnership with the United States and Western allies. The Russian military, in contrast, has demonstrated poor strategic thinking and organization. The political system behind it has proved unable to learn from its mistakes. With little prospect of dictating Putin’s actions, the West will have to prepare for the next stage of Russia’s disastrous war of choice.
War is inherently unpredictable. Indeed, the course of the conflict has served to invalidate widespread early prognostications that Ukraine would quickly fall; a reversal of fortunes is impossible to discount. It nevertheless appears that Russia is headed for defeat. Less certain is what form this defeat will take. Three basic scenarios exist, and each one would have different ramifications for policymakers in the West and Ukraine.
The first and least likely scenario is that Russia will agree to its defeat by accepting a negotiated settlement on Ukraine’s terms. A great deal would have to change for this scenario to materialize because any semblance of diplomatic dialogue among Russia, Ukraine, and the West has vanished. The scope of Russian aggression and the extent of Russian war crimes would make it difficult for Ukraine to accept any diplomatic settlement that amounted to anything less than a total Russian surrender.
That said, a Russian government—under Putin or a successor—could try to retain Crimea and sue for peace elsewhere. To save face domestically, the Kremlin could claim it is preparing for the long game in Ukraine, leaving open the possibility of additional military incursions. It could blame its underperformance on NATO, arguing that the alliance’s weapon deliveries, not Ukraine’s strength, impeded a Russian victory. . . . under Putin this outcome is highly improbable, given that his approach to the war has been maximalist from the beginning.
A second scenario for Russian defeat would involve failure amid escalation. The Kremlin would nihilistically seek to prolong the war in Ukraine while launching a campaign of unacknowledged acts of sabotage in countries that support Kyiv and in Ukraine itself. In the worst case, Russia could opt for a nuclear attack on Ukraine. The war would then edge toward a direct military confrontation between NATO and Russia. Russia would transform from a revisionist state into a rogue one, a transition that is already underway, and that would harden the West’s conviction that Russia poses a unique and unacceptable threat. Crossing the nuclear threshold could lead to NATO’s conventional involvement in the war, accelerating Russia’s defeat on the ground.
The final scenario for the war’s end would be defeat through regime collapse, with the decisive battles taking place not in Ukraine but rather in the halls of the Kremlin or in the streets of Moscow. Putin has concentrated power rigidly in his own hands, and his obstinacy in pursuing a losing war has placed his regime on shaky ground. Russians will continue marching behind their inept tsar only to a certain point. Although Putin has brought political stability to Russia—a prized state of affairs given the ruptures of the post-Soviet years—his citizens could turn on him if the war leads to general privation. The collapse of his regime could mean an immediate end to the war, which Russia would be unable to wage amid the ensuing domestic chaos. A coup d’état followed by civil war would echo what happened after the Bolshevik takeover in 1917, which precipitated Russia’s withdrawal from World War I.
No matter how it comes about, a Russian defeat would of course be welcomed. It would free Ukraine from the terrors it has suffered since the invasion. It would reinforce the principle that an attack on another country cannot go unpunished. It might open up new opportunities for Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova, and for the West to finish ordering Europe in its image.
Though Russia’s defeat would have many benefits, the United States and Europe should prepare for the regional and global disorder it would produce. Since 2008, Russia has been a revisionist power. It has redrawn borders, annexed territory, meddled in elections, inserted itself into various African conflicts, and altered the geopolitical dynamic of the Middle East by propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Were Russia to pursue radical escalation or splinter into chaos instead of accepting a defeat through negotiation, the repercussions would be felt in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Disorder could take the form of separatism and renewed conflicts in and around Russia, the world’s largest country in landmass. The transformation of Russia into a failed state riven by civil war would revive questions that Western policymakers had to grapple with in 1991: for example, who would gain control of Russia’s nuclear weapons? A disorderly Russian defeat would leave a dangerous hole in the international system.
Trying to sell Putin on defeat through negotiation would be difficult, perhaps impossible. . . . Conditions on the ground in Russia would have to be conducive to compromise. A new Russian leadership would have to contend with a demoralized military and gamble on a complacent public acceding to capitulation. Russians could eventually become indifferent if the war grinds on with no clear resolution. But fighting would likely continue in parts of eastern Ukraine, and tensions between the two countries would remain high.
Still, an agreement with Ukraine could bring normalization of relations with the West. That would be a powerful incentive for a less militaristic Russian leader than Putin, and it would appeal to many Russians. . . . The hitch here is timing. In the first two months after the February 2022 invasion, Russia had the chance to negotiate with Zelensky and capitalize on its battlefield leverage. After Ukraine’s successful counteroffensives, however, Kyiv has little reason to concede anything at all.
In the face of defeat, Putin could resort to lashing out on the global stage. He has steadily expanded his framing of the war, claiming that the West is waging a proxy battle against Russia with the goal of destroying the country. . . . Part bluster, part nonsense, part trial balloon, Putin’s rhetoric is meant to mobilize Russians emotionally. But there is also a tactical logic behind it: although expanding the war beyond Ukraine will obviously not win Putin the territory he craves, it could prevent Ukraine and the West from winning the conflict. His bellicose language is laying the groundwork for escalation and a twenty-first-century confrontation with the West in which Russia would seek to exploit its asymmetric advantages as a rogue or terrorist state.
Russia’s tools for confrontation could include the use of chemical or biological weapons in or outside Ukraine. Putin could destroy energy pipelines or seabed infrastructure or mount cyberattacks on the West’s financial institutions. The use of tactical nuclear weapons could be his last resort. . . . If Russia were to use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, Kyiv would not surrender.
The consequences of a nuclear attack would be catastrophic, and not just for the Ukrainian population. Yet war would go on, and nuclear weapons would not do much to assist Russian soldiers on the ground. Instead, Russia would face international outrage. For now, Brazil, China, and India have not condemned Russia’s invasion, but no country is truly supporting Moscow in its horrific war, and none would support the use of nuclear weapons.
If Putin did defy this warning, he would be an isolated pariah, punished economically and perhaps militarily by a global coalition.
For Russia, then, threatening to use nuclear weapons is of greater utility than actually doing so. But Putin may still go down this path: after all, launching the invasion was a spectacularly ill-conceived move, and yet he did it. If he does opt for breaking the nuclear taboo, NATO is unlikely to respond in kind, so as to avoid risking an apocalyptic nuclear exchange. The alliance, however, would in all likelihood respond with conventional force to weaken Russia’s military and to prevent further nuclear attacks, risking an escalatory spiral should Russia launch conventional attacks on NATO in return.
At this point, the Russian public has not risen up to oppose the war. Russians may be skeptical of Putin and may not trust his government. But they also do not want their sons, fathers, and brothers in uniform to lose on the battlefield. Accustomed to Russia’s great-power status through the centuries and isolated from the West, most Russians would not want their country to be without any power and influence in Europe. That would be a natural consequence of a Russian defeat in Ukraine.
Still, a long war would commit Russians to a bleak future and would probably spark a revolutionary flame in the country. Russian casualties have been high, and as the Ukrainian military grows in strength, it can inflict still greater losses. The exodus of hundreds of thousands of young Russians, many of them highly skilled, has been astonishing. Over time, the combination of war, sanctions, and brain drain will take a massive toll—and Russians may eventually blame Putin, who began his presidential career as a self-proclaimed modernizer. Most Russians were insulated from his previous wars because they generally occurred far from the home front and didn’t require a mass mobilization to replenish troops. That’s not the case with the war in Ukraine.
Russia has a history of regime change in the aftermath of unsuccessful wars. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5 and World War I helped lead to the Bolshevik Revolution. The collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, came two years after the end of the Soviet military’s misadventure in Afghanistan. Revolutions have occurred in Russia when the government has failed in its economic and political objectives and has been unresponsive to crises. Generally, the coup de grâce has been the puncturing of the government’s underlying ideology, such as the loss of legitimacy of Russia’s monarchy and tsardom in the midst of hunger, poverty, and a faltering war effort in 1917.
Putin is at risk in all these categories. His management of the war has been awful, and the Russian economy is contracting. In the face of these dismal trends, Putin has doubled down on his errors, all the while insisting that the war is going “according to plan.” Repression can solve some of his problems: the arrest and prosecution of dissidents can quell protest at first. But Putin’s heavy hand also runs the risk of spurring more dissatisfaction.
If Putin were deposed, it is unclear who would succeed him. . . . To suppress palace intrigue, Putin has surrounded himself with mediocrities for the past 20 years. But his unsuccessful war threatens his hold on power. If he truly believes his recent speeches, he may have convinced his subordinates that he is living in a fantasy world.
In the worst case, Putin’s fall could translate into civil war and Russia’s disintegration. Power would be contested at the top, and state control would fragment throughout the country. This period could be an echo of the Time of Troubles, or smuta, a 15-year crisis of succession in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries marked by rebellion, lawlessness, and foreign invasion. Russians regard that era as a period of humiliation to be avoided at all costs. Russia’s twenty-first-century troubles could see the emergence of warlords from the security services and violent separatists in the country’s economically distressed regions, many of which are home to large numbers of ethnic minorities. Although a Russia in turmoil might not formally end the war in Ukraine, it might simply be unable to conduct it, in which case Ukraine would have regained its peace and independence while Russia descended into anarchy.
Fox News Hosts Knowingly Lied About 2020 Election
News organizations rarely look good when their internal emails and text messages surface in the public square. A filing Thursday from Dominion Voting Systems in its defamation lawsuit against Fox News is not only no exception, it’s a watershed of journalistic misdeeds.
The network’s prime-time stars — Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, along with other top names — care about ratings first, second and third, a consideration that eclipses the truth and other principles of journalism. “Sidney Powell is lying,” Carlson wrote on Nov. 16, 2020, to a producer about President Donald Trump’s lawyer, who played a leading role in pushing far-out theories about election theft. The Dominion filing makes clear that the stars and Fox executives knew there was no evidence behind the election-denial lies repeated on the network’s broadcasts — a bombshell that is likely to take Fox years to live down.
Even the generous protections of U.S. libel might not save Fox News in this case. “Fox, one of the most powerful media companies in the United States, gave life to a manufactured storyline about election fraud that cast a then-little-known voting machine company called Dominion as the villain,” reads Dominion’s March 2021 complaint. The company argues that Fox News defamed its work across jurisdictions in 28 states in the 2020 elections and is seeking summary judgment from a Delaware court. The programming in question spanned the November 2020 presidential election and the tumult of January 2021, a time when Fox News found itself in an audience dogfight with other conservative cable networks — Newsmax and One America News (OAN) — for pro-Trump viewers eager to hear that their candidate had been cheated out of a second term.
Panic over audience desertion got going early at Fox News, correspondence cited in Thursday’s filing shows. On election night, Fox News was the first news outlet to call Arizona for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a decision that infuriated the Trump campaign. Disenchantment trickled down to the Trump faithful. “We worked really hard to build what we have,” Carlson wrote to a producer, according to the Dominion filing. “Those f---ers are destroying our credibility. It enrages me.”
[A]s the prime-time opinion stars sought to keep MAGA viewers happy while news-siders provided more fact-based analysis. Bret Baier, anchor of the weeknight program “Special Report,” expressed incredulity that Powell had gone on Lou Dobbs’s evening program three days after the election to discuss a far-out theory on voter fraud.
Fearing an all-out ratings crisis, Fox News executives “made an explicit decision to push narratives to entice their audience back,” the Dominion filing says. Journalism wasn’t one of those narratives. On Nov. 9, Neil Cavuto, an afternoon host known for his affability and independence, cut away from unsupported remarks by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. “Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue to show you this,” Cavuto said on air. That moment triggered a notification from an executive at parent company Fox Corp. about the “Brand Threat” from Cavuto’s actions. An email from Fox News Media chief executive Suzanne Scott to other executives following the incident is redacted from the filing.
Collegiality followed journalistic principles out the window on Nov. 12, when reporter Jacqui Heinrich tweeted out a fact check of Trump, who had cited reporting by Hannity and Dobbs (whose eponymous Fox program was canceled in 2021) and mentioned Dominion. Election officials, Heinrich pointed out, claim there was “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” . . . . Carlson told Hannity via text, “Please get her fired. Seriously….What the f---? I’m actually shocked … It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
Hannity took his concerns to Scott, who apprised other colleagues: “Sean texted me—he’s standing down on responding but not happy about this and doesn’t understand how this is allowed to happen from anyone in news. She [Heinrich] has serious nerve doing this and if this gets picked up, viewers are going to be further disgusted.”
Think about that statement — the top official at Fox News choosing falsehood over fact, for the sake of ratings. Fox News viewers, the correspondence confirms, get “disgusted” when their favorite network stops feeding them conspiracy theories.
Yes, we know: The internal correspondence and testimony Dominion cites are part of a filing in a defamation case relating to “actual malice,” damages and so on. There will be time to evaluate those matters, which are scheduled to go before a jury in mid-April. For the moment, let’s pause on how effectively a well-crafted lawsuit has pierced one of the country’s most powerful, and opaque, media organizations.
The piece in The Hill likewise underscores that the Fox News achors knew they were lying but put pleasing viewers ahead of truth and responsible reporting:
A filing in Delaware state court by Dominion Voting Systems as part of the company’s blockbuster lawsuit against Fox News and its parent company contains never-before-revealed vignettes from inside the network in the days that followed the 2020 election.
Text messages, emails and testimony contained in the filing show the outlet’s top executives and hosts casting doubt on former President Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, and worrying about how fact-checking those assertions on the air might be received by the conservative media outlet’s massive audience.
Carlson at one point allegedly confronted Powell directly about her claims, saying, “You keep telling our viewers that millions of votes were changed by the software. I hope you will prove that very soon. You’ve convinced them that Trump will win. If you don’t have conclusive evidence of fraud at that scale, it’s a cruel and reckless thing to keep saying.”
Dominion’s case against Fox hinges on its ability to prove that the network acted with “actual malice,” or reckless disregard for the truth, a legal precedent that has been a high bar to clear for parties suing media companies and other publishers in recent years.
Friday, February 17, 2023
The Political Right's Hostility to Education
Ron DeSantis, who is currently governor of Florida and wants to become president, has been trying to position himself as America’s leading crusader against wokeness. And lately higher education has become his most visible target. He picked a very public fight with the College Board over its new advanced placement course in African American studies, and in the past few days has broadened that attack into a suggestion that Florida might stop offering A.P. classes in any field.
[T]he fundamental context: the extraordinary rise in right-wing hostility to higher education in general.
Is every accusation about left-leaning professors trying to indoctrinate students false? Probably not: America is a big country, and it surely must be happening somewhere — although the specific charges made by right-wing critics are often ludicrous. In a meeting with the College Board, Florida officials asked whether the new A.P. course was “trying to advance Black Panther thinking.” Guys, the Black Panthers closed up shop when Ron DeSantis was a little kid; say the words now and most people think you’re talking about Wakanda.
It is true that college faculty members are much more likely to identify themselves as liberal and vote Democratic than the public at large. But this needn’t be evidence of anti-conservative bias. . . . . The police skew Republican, but I presume that everyone accepts that this mainly involves who wants to be a police officer.
So what’s really driving the attacks on higher education?
Not that long ago most Americans in both parties believed that colleges had a positive effect on the United States. Since the rise of Trumpism, however, Republicans have turned very negative. Recent polling shows an overwhelming majority of Republicans agreeing that both college professors and high schools are trying to “teach liberal propaganda.”
But what actually happened here? Did America’s colleges — which a large majority of Republicans considered to have a positive influence as recently as 2015 — suddenly become centers of left-wing indoctrination? Did the same thing happen to high schools, run by local boards, across the nation?
Of course not. What happened was that MAGA politicians began peddling scare stories about education — notably, denouncing high schools for teaching critical race theory, even though they don’t. And right-wingers also greatly expanded their definition of what counts as “liberal propaganda.”
Thus, when one points out that schools don’t actually teach critical race theory, the response tends to be that while they may not use the term, they do teach students that racism was long a major force in America, and its effects linger to this day. I don’t know how you teach our nation’s history honestly without mentioning these facts — but in the eyes of a substantial number of voters, teaching uncomfortable facts is indeed a form of liberal propaganda.
And once that’s your mind-set, you see left-wing indoctrination happening everywhere, not just in history and the social sciences. If a biology class explains the theory of evolution, and why almost all scientists accept it — or, for that matter, the theory of how vaccines work — well, that’s liberal propaganda. If a physics class explains how greenhouse gas emissions can change the climate — well, that’s more liberal propaganda.
U.S. politics is increasingly polarized along educational lines, with the highly educated supporting Democrats and the less-educated supporting Republicans. This polarization is often portrayed as a symptom of Democratic failure — why can’t the party win over working-class white voters? But it’s equally valid to ask how Republicans have managed to alienate educated voters who might benefit from tax cuts. And the party’s growing hostility to education is surely part of the answer.
[T]his turn against education is taking place precisely at a time when highly educated workers are becoming ever more crucial to the economy. This is especially obvious when you look at regional data within the United States: The college-educated percentage of a city’s population is a powerful predictor of both its current prosperity and its future growth.
For now, the important thing to understand is that people like DeSantis are attacking education, not because it teaches liberal propaganda, but because it fails to sustain the ignorance they want to preserve.
Republicans Double Down on Abortion at Their Peril
Republicans’ extreme antiabortion stance cost them dearly in the midterms, especially among women, young people and college-educated voters. But rather than adjust course, they are doubling down. Like the American tourist who thinks if he yells loud enough, non-English speakers will finally understand him, they have decided to be more aggressive in trying to block abortion access.
House Republicans have already passed two antiabortion measures (which have no chance of passing the Senate). They have also filed other bills seeking to limit access to abortion. Likewise, Senate Republicans are pushing an array of antiabortion measures, including restrictions on interstate travel for the procedure and bans on federal funding for colleges that supply abortion medication.
Meanwhile, a forced-birth group in Texas is suing to reverse the Food and Drug Administration’s decades-old authorization of mifepristone, which is one of two drugs used for medical abortions (and is also critical for the treatment of miscarriages). Twenty-two red states have filed amicus briefs expressing support for the effort to deprive women of safe, effective medication. And in Congress, Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona filed a bill to do the same.
At the state level, Republicans have introduced a trove of antiabortion legislation. Some seek to ban certain types of abortion procedures or disallow them for certain reasons (e.g., genetic abnormality) while others would impose criminal penalties against doctors. Some attempt to regulate what doctors can and cannot say to patients. And some try to regulate abortion clinics out of business. The amount of time and energy devoted to stripping women of the power to make decisions about their own lives is stunning.
Then there are the potential GOP presidential candidates who keep pushing for national abortion bans. Former vice president Mike Pence, for example, declared last year that “we must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land.”
If anything, then, Republicans’ onslaught against women’s autonomy over their bodies has accelerated after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And public opinion polls suggest they will regret it.
A recent Gallup survey shows that Americans are increasingly frustrated with U.S. abortion policy. “The record-high 69% of U.S. adults dissatisfied with abortion laws includes 46% who prefer that these laws be made less strict, marking a 16-percentage-point jump in this sentiment since January 2022,” the poll reports.
Likewise, an NPR-Ipsos poll in January found that 3 out of 5 Americans want abortion legal in all or most cases. The overwhelming sentiment is that government should “butt out,” as one respondent told the pollsters.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents say they think lawmakers are making abortion policy based on what donors and their base want, not what the majority of the public wants.
[A]bortion is not Republicans’ only political liability. The general aura of craziness within the party’s MAGA wing also played a role in their election defeats. Yet Republicans are doubling down on this as well, holding nonsensical hearings about made-up scandals and the “weaponization” of the federal government. Polls have consistently showed that voters are opposed to spending time on this. And no surprise, the hearings were widely regarded as duds.
Did Republicans pay any attention to the messages that voters sent them last November? It certainly doesn’t seem so. But Democrats sure did. Expect them to remind voters in 2024 about Republicans’ utter disdain for their constituents’ views.
Thursday, February 16, 2023
Banning Books: A Self-Defeating Effort
It’s shunning time in Madison County, Virginia, where the school board recently banished my novel The Handmaid’s Tale from the shelves of the high-school library. I have been rendered “unacceptable.” Governor Glenn Youngkin enabled such censorship last year when he signed legislation allowing parents to veto teaching materials they perceive as sexually explicit.
This episode is perplexing to me, in part because my book is much less sexually explicit than the Bible, and I doubt the school board has ordered the expulsion of that. Possibly, the real motive lies elsewhere. The conservative [Pharisee-like] Christian group Focus on the Family generated the list of “unacceptable” books that reportedly inspired the school board’s action, and at least one member of the public felt the school board was trying to “limit what kids can read” based on religious views.
The truth is that the inspiration for The Handmaid’s Tale is in part biblical: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). The novel sets an inward faith and core Christian values—which I take to be embodied in the love of neighbor and the forgiveness of sins—against totalitarian control and power-hoarding cloaked in a supposed religiousness that is mostly based on the earlier scriptures in the Bible. The stealing of women for reproductive purposes and the appropriation of their babies appears in Genesis 30, . . . . My novel is also an exploration of the theoretical question “What kind of a totalitarianism might the United States become?” I suggest we’re beginning to see the real-life answer to that query.
Wittingly or otherwise, the Madison County school board has now become part of the centuries-old wrangling over who shall have control of religious texts and authority over what they mean. In its early-modern form, this power struggle goes back to the mid-15th-century appearance of the Gutenberg printing press, which allowed a wider dissemination of printed materials, including Bibles.
The [Catholic] Church had good reason for wanting to limit Bible-reading (in Latin) to the clergy. Limbo and purgatory weren’t in it, nor was the catalog of saints or the notion of marriage as a sacrament, among other key teachings. . . . . As people learned to read in ever larger numbers, they read the Bible, and the result was a proliferation of different interpretations. Baptists, Lutherans, Calvinists, Presbyterians, Mennonites, and Methodists are all the descendants of this biblical big bang. Approximately three centuries of bitter and destructive religious wars followed, as well as massacres, excommunications, widespread heresy trials, witchcraft panics, and burnings at the stake, with the usual nasty human-warfare raping, looting, and pillaging stuff thrown in.
That’s one reason the authors of the United States Constitution framed the First Amendment as they did. It stipulates that Congress shall not make any law that establishes a state religion or prohibits the free exercise of an individual’s own faith. Who wanted the homicidal uproar that had gone on in Europe for so long?
That uproar resulted from the collision between an old establishment and a new communication technology. All such collisions are disruptive, especially at first, when the new technology bears an aura of magic and revelation. . . . it inspired Hollywood’s Hays Code. This list of prohibitions was very long, and included depictions of mixed-race marriages and scenes in which a man and a woman were shown in bed together, even if married.
The effort to control lurid comic books came next. Donald Duck was one thing; crime and horror were quite another. The latter included much material that was banned under the Hays Code, and teens of my generation read them avidly.
Then along came television. . . . . the televising of anti-Vietnam protest rallies and riots sparked more of them, giving us the ’60s. And today, it’s the internet and social-media platforms—so disruptive!
Add streaming services, which permit written works too long and complex to be squashed easily into a 90-minute film to appear as ongoing series. One of these is The Handmaid’s Tale. So, yes, today’s self-appointed moral gatekeepers can exclude my novel from school libraries, thus making it impossible for students who can’t afford to buy it to read it for free—but as for shutting down the story completely, I’m afraid that horse has left the barn.
I did intend my book for adult readers, who would recognize totalitarianism when they saw it. But it’s very hard to control what young people get their hands on, especially if they’re told something is too old for them, or too evil, or too immoral. What was I doing reading Peyton Place on top of the garage roof when I was 16? Incest! Rape! Varicose veins! The incest and the rape weren’t news to me—they were in the Bible . . . .
Stalin’s U.S.S.R. and Mao’s China went in for a mind-boggling level of censorship, but it was all for “the people,” and who could be against that? Or against the protection of the innocent? Sometimes, these things get started out of a genuine need and concern, but a takeover by some bureaucratic version of the Inquisition is very likely to follow.
The licensing of plays and books in the name of public morality explains much about the 19th-century novel. Sex by implication, but not on the page. Officially, no obscenity, no sedition, no blasphemy. Nothing that would bring a blush to the cheek of an innocent maiden (though there was a great deal of illicit porn).
Which brings us back to Christianity and the supposed bias against it in The Handmaid’s Tale. Christianity is now so broad a term that it means little. Are we talking about Greek Orthodoxy? Antinomianism? Mormonism? Liberation theology? The Salvation Army, dedicated to helping the helpless? Sojourners, a social-fairness movement? . . . . Incidentally, Jesus is not particularly pro-family. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). That’s a difficulty for any pro-family Christian group, you must admit.
Should parents have a say in what their kids are taught in public schools? Certainly: a democratic vote on the matter. Should young people—high-school juniors and seniors, for starters—also have a say? Why not? In many states, if they’re over 16, they can be married (with parental approval); if of reproductive age, which might be 10, they can give birth, and may be forced to. So why should they, too, not be allowed an opinion?
The outward view of the Madison County school board is that people ages 16 to 18 are too young to explore such questions. I don’t know what its inner motives may be. Possibly, it has a public-spirited aim. It may have noted the falling birth rate and the surveys showing that young people are losing interest in sex. . . . . If so, what better way to make it fascinating again than to prohibit all mention of it? Don’t read about sex! Don’t think about sex! See no sex, hear no sex, speak no sex! Suddenly, the kids want to explore! “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Proverbs 9:17). If that’s the school board’s game, well played! Virginia may even get more babies out of it.
How dare I question the school board’s motives? I do dare. After all, it has questioned mine.
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
DOJ Seeks Trump Lawyer’s Testimony, Evidence of Crime
Federal prosecutors overseeing the investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of classified documents are seeking to pierce assertions of attorney-client privilege and compel one of his lawyers to answer more questions before a grand jury, according to two people familiar with the matter, adding an aggressive new dimension to the inquiry and underscoring the legal peril facing Mr. Trump.
The prosecutors have sought approval from a federal judge to invoke what is known as the crime-fraud exception, which allows them to work around attorney-client privilege when they have reason to believe that legal advice or legal services have been used in furthering a crime. The fact that prosecutors invoked the exception in a sealed motion to compel the testimony of the lawyer, M. Evan Corcoran, suggests that they believe Mr. Trump or his allies might have used Mr. Corcoran’s services in that way.
Among the questions that the Justice Department has been examining since last year is whether Mr. Trump or his associates obstructed justice in failing to comply with demands to return a trove of government material he took with him from the White House upon leaving office, including hundreds of documents with classified markings.
Last May, the Justice Department issued a subpoena for any classified documents still in Mr. Trump’s possession, . . . . In June, Mr. Corcoran met with investigators and handed over more than 30 documents in response to the subpoena.
Another lawyer for Mr. Trump, Christina Bobb, then signed a statement asserting that a “diligent search” had been conducted at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s residence and private club in Palm Beach, Fla., and that there were no additional documents bearing classification markings. Ms. Bobb has told investigators and others that Mr. Corcoran drafted the statement, and that she added some caveats to it, seeking to make it sound less ironclad.
But when the F.B.I. searched Mar-a-Lago in August, agents found more than 100 additional classified documents.
Mr. Corcoran recently appeared before a grand jury in Federal District Court in Washington and is believed to have asserted attorney-client privilege on behalf of Mr. Trump in refusing to answer certain questions related to his representation in the documents investigation, according to three people familiar with the matter.
It remains unclear what questions Mr. Corcoran sought to avoid answering by asserting attorney-client privilege or what crime the Justice Department cited in invoking the crime-fraud exception in its motion to Judge Beryl A. Howell, the chief judge in the Washington federal courthouse, who oversees all grand jury matters.
But after his appearance in front of the grand jury, Mr. Corcoran received notice that the Justice Department was seeking to use the exception to break through his assertions of privilege, the people familiar with the matter said. Judge Howell, who has consistently decided in the government’s favor on privilege issues surrounding Mr. Trump, will ultimately rule on the department’s request about Mr. Corcoran.
The push for Mr. Corcoran’s testimony is another sign of the aggressive efforts being made by Jack Smith, the special counsel overseeing the investigations into Mr. Trump, to secure testimony. Mr. Smith is guiding both the investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of the classified documents and the inquiry into Mr. Trump’s efforts to remain in office after his election defeat in 2020 and how they led to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capito
A spokesman for Mr. Trump described the latest move by the Justice Department as a politically motivated witch hunt intended to block Mr. Trump from being re-elected to the White House, and predicted that it would fail.
I wonder if Corcoran is now questioning the wisdom of representing Trump - a man who lies incessantly and connot be trusted and who cares NOTHING about others and the harm he brings them.
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
DeSantis Threatens to Ban All AP Courses
Tens of thousands of Florida high school students take Advanced Placement courses every year to have a competitive edge heading into college.
Now, Gov. Ron DeSantis says he wants to reevaluate the state’s relationship with the College Board, the private company that administers those courses and the SAT exam. And that has some high school students worried.
“I don’t see how I could have gotten ahead without them,” said Eli Rhoads, a senior at Pasco County’s Mitchell High School, who said AP courses helped him get a full scholarship to the University of Alabama. “You almost have to have these courses to stand out.”
DeSantis has not made clear exactly what he plans to change, but his remarks come after the College Board on Saturday accused his administration of playing politics when it rejected its new Advanced Placement African American studies course over allegations that it “lacks educational value.”
“This College Board, like, nobody elected them to anything,” DeSantis said at a news conference Monday in Naples. “They are just kind of there, and they provide a service, and so you can either utilize those services or not.”
While DeSantis acknowledged the College Board’s long-standing presence in the state, he said “there are probably other vendors who may be able to do that job as good or maybe even a lot better.”
A College Board spokesperson said the organization had no comment on the governor’s statements.
The dispute between the College Board and DeSantis is indicative of the Republican governor’s take-no-prisoners brand of politics. The board joins Walt Disney World in the ranks of companies the governor has wrangled with for not adopting conservative stances on education matters.
“This is about the governor trying to cancel the companies he doesn’t like,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. “He’s screaming and complaining about ideology being pushed onto our schools, yet what he continues to do is push his ideology onto us.”
As with Disney, Florida has long had a strong relationship with the College Board.
The state pays for students to take Advanced Placement exams and provides teachers a bonus of $50 for each student they teach in an AP course who earns a test score of 3 or higher.
College Board offers eight AP courses in languages and culture; seven science-based courses, such as physics and biology; six math and computer science courses, including calculus; nine history and social science courses; two English courses and three arts courses.
In 2021, nearly 200,000 Florida teens sat for more than 366,000 tests, for which they can earn college credit. It had the fifth-highest rate of tests taken per 1,000 students in the nation.
The College Board also administers the SAT exam, which students may use to help them complete graduation testing requirements, earn entry into universities and become eligible for Bright Futures scholarships.
Stella Tucker, another Mitchell High senior, will have taken 18 AP courses by the time she graduates in the top 10 of her class this spring. She said she finds the courses challenging academically — more reliably so than dual enrollment — while also preparing her for college.
She predicted a strong backlash from Florida teens if the governor and Legislature were to propose scaling back or eliminating AP courses. . . . “I think that would really put the students of Florida at a disadvantage,” Tucker said.
In this latest round, DeSantis’ dispute with the College Board is over an AP African American studies course that included the study of Black scholars and authors on topics like Black Lives Matter, Black queer studies and reparations.
On Saturday, the College Board said it is proud of its “historic” course, which has been crafted by renowned scholars. . . . . “The vitriol aimed at these scholars is repulsive and must stop,” the group wrote.
DeSantis, who is eyeing a presidential run in 2024, has drawn national attention for his stance against what he calls “woke indoctrination” in schools, a stance that in the last two years has led to restricting certain aspects of race-related lessons.
DeSantis is dangerous and must be stopped.
Monday, February 13, 2023
The Exodus From Russia Continues
As Russian troops stormed into Ukraine last February, sending millions of Ukrainians fleeing for their lives, thousands of Russians also raced to pack their bags and leave home, fearing the Kremlin would shut the borders and impose martial law.
Some had long opposed rising authoritarianism and the invasion was a last straw. Others were driven by economic interest, to preserve livelihoods or escape the bite of sanctions. Then, last autumn, a military mobilization spurred hundreds of thousands of men to run.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war has set off a historic exodus of his own people. Initial data show that at least 500,000, and perhaps nearly 1 million, have left in the year since the invasion began — a tidal wave on scale with emigration following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
Now, like then, the departures stand to redefine the country for generations. And the flood may still be in its early stages. The war seems nowhere near finished. Any new conscription effort by the Kremlin will spark new departures, as will worsening economic conditions, which are expected as the conflict drags on.
The huge outflow has swelled existing Russian expat communities across the world, and created new ones.
Some fled nearby to countries like Armenia and Kazakhstan, across borders open to Russians. Some with visas escaped to Finland, the Baltic states or elsewhere in Europe. Others ventured farther, to the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Thailand, Argentina.
The financial cost, while vast, is impossible to calculate. In late December, Russia’s communications ministry reported that 10 percent of the country’s IT workers had left in 2022 and not returned. Russia’s parliament is now debating a package of incentives to bring them back.
But there has also been talk in parliament of punishing Russians who left by stripping them of their assets at home. Putin has referred to those who left as “scum” and said their exit would “cleanse” the country — even though some who left did not oppose him, or the war.
With the government severely restricting dissent, and implementing punishment for criticism of the war, those remaining in the depleted political opposition also faced a choice this year: prison or exile. Most chose exile. Activists and journalists are now clustered in cities such as Berlin, and the capitals of Lithuania, Latvia and Georgia.
“This exodus is a terrible blow for Russia,” said Tamara Eidelman, a Russian historian who moved to Portugal after the invasion. “The layer that could have changed something in the country has now been washed away.”
While Ukrainian refugees were embraced in the West, many countries shunned the Russians, uncertain if they were friends or foes and if, on some level, the entire country was culpable. Some nations have blocked arrivals by imposing entry restrictions, or denying new visas, at times spreading panic among Russians, especially students, already abroad.
Meanwhile, the influx of Russians in countries like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which long sent immigrants to Russia, has set off political tremors, straining ties between Moscow and the other former Soviet states. Real estate prices in those countries have shot up, causing tensions with local populations.
Washington Post journalists traveled to Yerevan, and to Dubai for a close look at how the emigres are faring, and to ask if they ever plan to return. Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, a former Soviet republic, is a destination for Russians with lower financial mobility — an Orthodox Christian country where Russian is the second language. By contrast, pricey Dubai, in the Persian Gulf, is predominantly Muslim, Arabic-speaking, and attracts wealthier Russians seeking either glitz or business opportunity.
For many fleeing Russians, Armenia was a rare, easy option. It is one of five ex-Soviet countries that allow Russians to enter with just a national ID — making it a popular destination for former soldiers, political activists and others needing a quick escape.
Given shared religion and common use of Russian language, Russians typically do not face animosity or social stigma. Obtaining residency permits is also straightforward, and living costs are lower than in the E.U.
Yerevan has attracted thousands of IT workers, young creatives and working-class people, including families with children, from across Russia, who have established new schools, bars, cafes and robust support networks.
Maxim, whom The Post is only identifying by first name due to security reasons, flew to Yerevan from Volgograd to avoid the mobilization last September. “We left for the same reason everyone did: There was suddenly a real danger in the country for me and, above all, my family,” he said. . . . Maxim said he is sure the family will not return to Russia. “Perhaps we will move on somewhere else, maybe even to Europe if things start to normalize,” he said.
At a shelter on the outskirts of Yerevan, Andrei, 25, a former military officer from Russia’s Rostov region, said he was also adjusting to his new life, after similarly fleeing conscription. “I did not want to be a murderer in this criminal war,” said Andrei, who is being identified by his first name for safety reasons. . . . Andrei said. “I feel so ashamed about what Russia has done.”
Russians are everywhere in Dubai: clutching Dior totes perched atop Louis Vuitton suitcases in the airport, walking around malls in tracksuits, and filming TikToks and Reels near the Burj Khalifa.
Russia’s rich and powerful have long traveled to Dubai, but it was just one of many hot spots. That changed when the war cut Russians off from the West.
Thousands have chosen the UAE, which did not join Western sanctions and still has direct flights to Moscow, as their new home. Russians enjoy visa-free travel for 90 days and it is relatively easy to get a national ID through business or investment, for a longer stay.
Shortly after the invasion, conversations in Moscow’s affluent Patriarch Ponds neighborhood turned to the best Dubai real estate deals, said Natalia Arkhangelskaya, who writes for Antiglyanets, a snarky and influential Telegram blog focused on Russia’s elite. A year later, Russians have ousted Brits and Indians as Dubai’s top real estate buyers . . . .
The UAE’s embrace of foreign business has enticed a stream of Russian IT workers seeking to cut ties with Russia and stay linked to global markets. Start-ups seek financing from state-supported accelerators. Larger firms pursue clients to replace those lost to sanctions. . . . . Most expressed bitterness about the Kremlin’s politics and longing for Moscow when it was an aspiring global hub.
“The most important thing for me is to be able to develop international projects and to integrate my kids into a global community, so they grow up in a free environment,” she added.
Aside from techies, many middle-class Russians followed the money to Dubai — for hospitality jobs, to open beauty salons or simply work remotely far from the warmongering motherland.
Like the White Russian emigres of the Bolshevik era and the post-Soviet immigrants of the 1990s, many of those leaving Russia because of the war in Ukraine are likely gone for good.
Eidelman, the Russian historian, said that the longer the war, the deeper the scars. “Every extra month leads people to get used to a different country,” she said. “They get a job there, their children go to school, they begin to speak a different language. The longer the war lasts, the longer the dictatorship in the country continues, the fewer people will return.”
“It’s historic,” he said. “These people are voting with their feet. They are leaving because of the what the Putin regime is doing.”