Sunday, February 27, 2022

Where Will Putin's War Lead?

Serious question: What the hell is Putin's endgame?

We all know what he wants going into his invasion of Ukraine: Stop Ukraine from joining NATO and/or the EU, break the anti-Russian government leading Ukraine, install a pro-Russian (pro-Putin) regime to control Ukraine, rattle the rest of Europe - Poland, the Baltic states, even Finland and Sweden - into accepting Russia as a dominant power again, and expose NATO as a weak and ineffective alliance hopefully leading to its demise.

What he likely expected going in was an easy fight. Like all autocratic bullies, he viewed his victim Ukraine as a pushover. His opponent President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was an actor and comedian, a political lightweight. His puppet donald trump had disrupted as much military and financial support to Ukraine from the United States as he could get away with. trump's actions to disrupt NATO had to have left that European military alliance divided and unfocused.

What Putin got was a bloody nose, figurately speaking. 

Literally, five days into his ordering the invasion of Ukraine, what Putin has is an international PR nightmare, near-global condemnation of his war, escalating sanctions and lockdowns of every financial avenue Russia has - including cutting off banks from SWIFT, a transactional process that can arguably block the Russian citizenry and businesses from their own accounts - not to mention a tanking stock market, and nothing resembling a cakewalk into Kyiv to set up his puppet state.

Putin's rival Zelenskyy failed to flee the capital when the invasion started, instead using his media savvy to go onto social media and make a personal call to arms to every Ukrainian to stop the Russians approaching their major cities. Reported when asked by western powers to evacuate for his own safety, Zelenskyy answered "I need ammunition, not a ride." Sonofabitch (and I mean this in a cool way) is getting comparisons to freaking Winston Churchill, for God's sake.

It's still too early into the fighting, but far too many reports have gotten out about Russian heavy armor failing to reach objectives without enough fuel, Russian conscripts getting lost, and air transports getting shot down before they can deploy troops to seize vital structures (like Kyiv's airport). 

Russia's army is supposed to be this formidable behemoth. Rebuilt from the downturn of the Soviet Union collapse. Armed with the latest high-tech gear, reliable tanks, fearsome air strength, cyberwar capabilities. Five days in, and they're performing about as well as Iraqi forces did in BOTH Persian Gulf wars. It'd be hilarious if the bloodshed of Ukrainian civilians wasn't so painful.

Social media is filling up with clips of Ukrainians berating Russian tank units stranded along the roadside, or tractors dragging off Russian tanks left abandoned in the middle of nowhere. NO I AM NOT MAKING THAT UP.

And that's not even going into the heroism of the thirteen Ukrainian defenders of Snake Island, who refused to surrender to Russian ships with a defiant "Go fuck yourself." (Update 3/5/22: Those defenders may have survived but are likely POWs)

All of Putin's efforts to portray his invasion as a "peacekeeping" effort to "de-Nazify" Ukraine didn't sell well past his own sycophants. Nearly the entire world views him as a war criminal, and it's a view that's not going to go away if he tries to prolong this war any further.

There is welcome news that Ukraine and Russia are agreeing to peace talks, with Ukraine insisting they won't surrender, but that then begs the question just what the hell Putin will ever agree on to end this invasion?

Putin has already shot his load, as it were. Making a grand pronouncement that Ukraine wasn't even a real country and that he was going to make them all happy Russians again, only to have nearly every Ukrainian grab a rifle and fight back. Even grandmothers were tossing sunflower seeds at Russian troops cursing that their bodies will be fertilizer for the flowers that will bloom

Putin has already flexed his nation's military might, only to face the possibility that he's going to have to retreat, never a good look for a bullying autocrat. Or worse, double down on the troops and weaponry (that he may not have) and try to overwhelm Ukrainian resistance by sheer numbers, risking the growing anti-war sentiment of the citizenry at home.

Putin called for this invasion in spite of U.S. President Biden's increased warnings of massive backlash in the form of sanctions and financial lockdowns. He tried to brush off such concerns claiming Russia would endure it, but there are serious signs he underestimated the resolve of most major financial nations as both the U.S. and the EU are closing off nearly every revenue stream Russia needs to survive. Shutting down SWIFT is a legitimately painful cutoff. Germany's willingness to cut off their reliance on Russian natural gas has to be a serious blow.

And in terms of foreign relations, Putin's aggressiveness only worked to make the European nations not yet in NATO - like Finland and Sweden, both of them along Russia's northern borders - openly call for debate to join NATO. Threats of retaliation from Russia's foreign minister are falling on deaf ears. Putin's plan to break up the one European alliance in opposition to him has failed.

In fact, it's a bit surprising how NATO is still here, or that the United States is still a member. One of the great fears of donald trump's reign as President Loser of the Popular Vote (Twice) was how he seemed so close to pulling the U.S. out of NATO in order to appease his idol/boss/blackmailer Putin. It was something that could well have happened in 2018 or 2019, just as trump was threatening to cut off all military aid to Ukraine unless they helped him sabotage Biden's presidential hopes (which led to trump's first Impeachment). Something stopped trump from pulling the plug, and until more details - and more behind-the-scenes memoirs get published - we're only left to speculate.

But that failure by trump - gee, another botched job by him, go figure - weakened Putin when it mattered most, because now NATO is revitalized and focused on its original objective of providing a military bulwark against Soviet Russian aggression against the rest of Europe.

Now that I've said all that, I need to go back to my original question: Just what the hell is Putin's endgame here?

If he's bartering for peace, in order to end the economic hits that Russia's taking now and to save whatever's left of an invading force getting bogged down into a mismanaged quagmire, Putin's got a weak hand to play with.

Ukraine is not going to trade away the one card they've got in all this: Their threat/promise to join NATO and/or the EU market. Whatever fears Russia/Putin has about that, it's the one thing Ukraine can't abandon lest they risk Russia pulling this invasion crap ten or twenty years from now. Don't forget, Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons left to them when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, with the promise that Russia would never invade, never pull the bullshit that Putin so obviously did this month. Putin cannot offer anything else for that security again, no other promise or guarantee to prevent invasion the way membership with NATO could guarantee. And yet, it's going to be the one thing Putin wants - No NATO for you! - to take away from this no matter what. Like I said earlier, this is a paradox that can't be resolved through promises he'll easily break.

There's little Putin can offer to the rest of the world, either. He's on record breaking treaties and agreements to pull off this invasion, and anything he has to offer to relieve the economic stranglehold can't be taken at face value or with simple platitudes. For these sanctions to get lifted, he's going to have to sacrifice more than a pound of flesh. We're talking demilitarization along the Ukrainian border with UN peacekeepers put in place to make sure Putin won't pull this stunt again. We're talking reform efforts to purge the oligarchs feeding off the Russian economy and creating global corruption abroad, and likely weaken Putin's power base. We're talking election reforms to guarantee free and open elections that Putin can't steal, which he'll definitely fight to save his own unpopular ass.

Putin's reputation abroad getting shredded is one thing, but it's his position at home that's going to suffer if he's forced to change his narrative and retreat without victory. "Strong Men" authoritarians like himself can never afford to appear weak or beaten: Losing in neighboring Ukraine, with the whole world watching and his own Russian people paying attention, is a sign of weakness that tends to be fatal. The army he led into disaster is likely going to question his further leadership. The politicians he thought were toadying Yes Men are going to dread being blamed for HIS disaster and sacrificed to clear room for more 'competent' Yes Men (if any can be found by now). The citizenry he's tried to bully into acquiescence is going to start mocking him from the shadows if not from the middle of the streets (anti-war marches are already happening in Russia).

In that situation, Putin's not likely to barter with Ukraine or the West in any good faith, meaning the odds of a peaceful end to his invasion are close to nil. A good sign that Putin's not going to negotiate well is how he's already called up his nuclear deployment forces - five days in! - as a sign of how panicked he is this thing isn't going his way.

That Putin is already reaching for the Nuclear Option as a means of forcing the world to cower to him in spite of his failures in Ukraine is both horrifying and placating. Yes, it's scary that we're back to the brinkmanship game of Mutually Assured Destruction. But even Putin - even his military and political advisors who would have to be a buffer in this situation - has to realize that if he goes nuclear that's it, GAME OVER for everyone including themselves, that even if they survive they will end up ruling over a world of radioactive ash.

It's a trump card (sorry, pun intended) that Putin really can't call on. It's at best the one thing he's got going for him that would ensure he gets a safe flight out of Russia after the country rises up against his corrupt weak ass.

That's the only sane way Putin's war is going to end. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Why Fox Not-News, and the Rest of the Far Right, Loves Putin and Not America

So Putin chose war this week. The invasion of Ukraine is underway and bloody already.

(Also, did they send troops to CHERNOBYL?!?! Where one bad artillery exchange could CRACK OPEN THE GODDAMNED RADIOACTIVE TOMB TO REACTOR NUMBER FOUR?!?!?! Do you want mutant radioactive bears, Putin? BECAUSE THIS IS HOW YOU GET MUTANT RADIOACTIVE BEARS.)

In the past couple of days, the Western leaders making up NATO - formed in opposition to a belligerent Soviet Union and stayed in alliance to keep the peace across Europe when the USSR fell - have done what they can in the early stages: Sanctions issued, diplomatic representatives recalled, public outrage, and promises of future action if Russia doesn't stop the invasion and walk their troops back. It's a delicate matter: blindly rushing in with NATO troops or issuing our own No-Fly Zone over Kyiv to stop Russian air bombings would clearly escalate to a broader war.

This is a serious moment for the United States. Much like previous situations where our foreign policy compels our nation to act in defense of our allies and interests overseas, you would think this is a moment similar to previous struggles like the Berlin Airlift, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or our nation's reactions to 9/11.

A moment for national unity regarding a grave and potentially tragic matter - straight-up war in Europe! - that almost assures American troops going into harm's way to end the conflict on our best possible terms.

Except you wouldn't know that if you tuned into Fox Not-News for all your Putin-loving, pro-Russia propaganda. Everyone on the Far Right - from the usual suspect donald "Putin's BFF" trump to Tucker Carlson - is taking Putin's side instead of President Biden's (via Meryl Cornfield at Washington Post (paywalled)):

As the United States seeks to rally its allies and impose tough penalties for Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, a vocal group of Republicans and right-leaning commentators is expressing praise and admiration for the president’s strength and shrewdness. President Vladimir Putin, that is.

While most congressional Republicans back Biden’s tough line against Moscow — or argue it should be even tougher — a faction made up of conservative Republicans, supporters of former president Donald Trump and conservative media figures says Putin should be left alone, or even congratulated, by Americans.

Trump complimented Putin on Tuesday, saying it was a “smart move” by the Russian president to send “the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen” to the Ukraine border.

“This is genius,” Trump said in a conservative talk radio interview at his Mar-a-Lago resort, echoing his past praise of the Russian president. “Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. He used the word ‘independent’ and ‘we’re going to go out and we’re going to go in and we’re going to help keep peace.’ You’ve got to say that’s pretty savvy...”

Of course trump is parroting Putin's lie about "peacekeepers" going into Ukraine. This is the same idiot who as President Loser of the Popular Vote (Twice) essentially did everything he could to give Putin more global prestige and even met with him in a meeting so private not even our own Intelligence agencies know what was shared.

In the meantime with the likes of Carlson:

Fox News host Tucker Carlson, like many others on the right, minimized Russia’s move to invade and overpower a neighboring country as a “border conflict” that should not concern Americans.

“It may be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious: ‘What is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much?’” Carlson said Tuesday. “‘Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?’”

In Carlson's view, the Far Left critics and progressives here in the United States are more his enemy than Putin is. So to him, Democrats are Evil and Russian autocratic kleptomaniacs are Good. All because Carlson and those autocrats are on the same wavelength.

There are several vulgar ironies at play.

Back when our nation faced a foreign policy crisis of this magnitude, it was 9/11. Middle Eastern terrorists had directly attacked our major cities and caused the deaths of thousands. War against those terrorists - primarily hiding in Afghanistan - required our nation to mobilize for war.

Fox News was one of the greatest voices screaming for war. And not just in Afghanistan: Fox punditry and other Far Right commentators pushed for an invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2002 into 2003, based on flimsy evidence and long-standing rage towards Saddam Hussein. President George W. Bush (The Lesser) pushed for that invasion, and anyone protesting against that - protesting against Dubya - felt the full wrath of Fox News' outrage.

Now here we are 20 years later, and with the United States edging to a war-time footing these same pundits - who proudly waved the Stars and Stripes screaming "USA! USA!" and demanded the rest of us obey their bloodlust - are now pushing for division and criticism of the current President and rooting for the other side... partly because this current President is a Democrat (boo hiss).

The horrifying thing is that the major reason why Fox Not-News and the rest of the Far Right Noise Machine is supporting Putin is because they share the same belief: This nationalist, Christian White Power identity common between Russians and racist extremists across Europe and the U.S.

Here's an NBC News report by Matt Bradley from 2017:

Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia is working to empower Europe’s far-right and Eurosceptic parties with offers of cooperation, loans, political cover and propaganda. Such love has not gone unrequited: European populists are answering back with fulsome praise for Russia, its foreign policy and its strongman leader...

From the Russian side, empowering anti-European Union populists has the obvious benefit of helping erode the strength of European institutions that Moscow has long considered enemies.

For Europe’s extreme right, the benefits of embracing Putin are more abstract and ideological, said Markus Wagner, a political science professor at the University of Vienna. They see Putin as the kind of patriotic hero who prizes national traditions and realpolitik over the internationalism and openness that have long characterized Western liberalism...

Here's a report by Michael Edison Hayden from the Southern Poverty Law Center about one such link to an extremist White Supremacist group:

Hatewatch found an email address ending with a Russian domain name referenced across the source code of a network of three extreme, far-right websites that operate primarily in the U.S. Those three websites share the same Google Analytics account, one that was first used by a notorious pro-Kremlin propagandist named Charles Bausman.

All three websites feature bylines used by members of The Right Stuff, a white nationalist organization that helped plan and promote the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. The Right Stuff is also the same white nationalist organization for which U.S. State Department Official Matthew Q. Gebert covertly recruited members, as Hatewatch first reported in 2019. At least two of the websites have published inflammatory, racist rhetoric in response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that have erupted across the U.S. in recent months. Members of The Right Stuff have also defended eruptions of far-right violence in response to civil unrest this year...

Bausman has a long history of promoting Russian President Vladimir Putin to an English-speaking audience and communicated with a pro-Putin oligarch about money around the time Russia Insider first launched.

In 2015, the website The Interpreter published emails showing Bausman asked for money from pro-Kremlin Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev through his associate, Alexey Komov. The U.S. Department of Treasury sanctioned Malofeev in December 2014 “because he is responsible for or complicit in, or has engaged in, actions or polices that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine and has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of [pro-Kremlin separatist activity].”

Natalia Antonova, a journalist and Russia expert who lived in Moscow for seven years, overlapping the time when Bausman launched his website, told Hatewatch the timing of Russia Insider’s creation is significant, because it launched when Putin needed positive press in the U.S., due to backlash over Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.

“Russia Insider is founded in 2014, which is the same year that Russia attacks Ukraine. And Konstantin Malofeev is fingered as a financial link between so-called rebels in Ukraine and Moscow,” Antonova explained. “Russia was feeling embattled [by the Western press] because most people were not big fans of what Russia was doing to Ukraine. Then, here comes [Russia Insider] where if your takes are too extreme for [Kremlin controlled] Russia Today, that’s where you can get them published...”

This has been happening for a long time, almost a decade, and Putin's been cultivating these relationship with American hate groups to achieve his own agenda against Ukraine.

And the Far Right - the hate-driven, the money-driven - enjoy this cultivation because it gives them both money and power. Remember Russia's involvement with the National Rifle Association? The NRA got suckered into a money laundering scandal, all because they saw the money and they saw the chance to spread their hateful rhetoric with the aid of a foreign dictator they admired.

What's involved here is Christian Nationalism, an underlying ideology for a lot of the White Supremacist militias running around rioting in our streets and nation's Capitol. It's an ideology that abhors a diverse and open culture, and therefore rails against democracy, civil rights, women's choice, and everything else under the sun. It's an ideology reflected in Russia through Putin's alliance with a Russian Orthodox church that promotes the same anti-gay, anti-woman, racist trash you hear from Far Right Republicans every day (especially now in Texas and Florida, God help us).

The (mostly) White Evangelical crowd that makes up the Far Right voting base, and the Fox Not-News audience, worships the likes of Putin - and trump, who poses as a similar autocratic leader - because Putin offers them a chance to remake their own nation in their own Christianist image. In spite of the reality that Putin's (and trump's) actions and statements are so clearly in opposition to Jesus' teachings.

The hypocrisy of such adoration from the Far Right is lost on them. Their greed and their ideology blinds them to the reality that the United States - a nation formed, if flawed, on basic democratic norms and human rights - has to stand against the likes of Putin, who openly mocks everything we've built from 1776 to 1865 to 1945 to 1965 to 1991 to now.

Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon and the rest of the Far Right media are convinced they are backing the right side, even when it's in full opposition to their own nation's security and interests.

Goddamn them.

Part of me wants Biden to ask Congress to declare a state of war existing between the United States and Russia, not so that we are prepared to defend our NATO allies when (not if) Putin escalates the violence in Eastern Europe, but because that declaration would trigger certain laws that would make it harder for the goddamn wingnuts to openly praise Putin and even cut into all the business dealing they've got with Russia.

We're at war against all the spiritual wickedness - violence, corruption, deceit - that Putin represents, thou hypocrites. There's two sides: America's, or the bloody kleptocratic dictator Putin.

You're choosing poorly, Fox Not-News, you're all one step removed from outright treason against the United States. Keep it up, and you'll deserve to pay for your folly.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Ukrainian Paradox

The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin Putin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

-- Princess Leia, updated for 2022

Well, it's official: The Cold War is back. Russia is marching in troops to Ukraine 30 years after the Soviet Union broke up: Intensifying hostilities with a Western Europe sensing Putin's enmity towards NATO, and an Eastern Europe not wanting to fall back under Russian control.

To quote Tom Nichols at The Atlantic (paywalled):

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a long speech full of heavy sighs and dark grievances, made clear today that he has chosen war. He went to war against Ukraine in 2014; now he has declared war against the international order of the past 30 years.

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

Even discounting Putin’s delivery, the speech was, in many places, simply unhinged. Putin began with a history lesson about how and why Ukraine even exists... But Putin’s point wasn’t that the former subjects of the Soviet Union needed to iron out their differences. Rather, he was suggesting that none of the new states that emerged from the Soviet collapse—except for Russia—were real countries. “As a result of Bolshevik policy,” Putin intoned, “Soviet Ukraine arose, which even today can with good reason be called ‘Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s Ukraine’. He is its author and architect.”

It is true that Soviet leaders created the 1991 borders. That is also true of what we now call the Russian Federation. Putin, however, went even further back in history: “Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood.”

By that kind of historical reasoning, few nations in Europe, or anywhere else, are safe...

If you follow a lot of foreign policy and intelligence punditry in the U.S. media - I tend to read first from Adam L Silverman at Balloon Juice who's been covering the Russia/Ukraine conflict for years now - you may have noticed a number of observations how Putin was attempting a game of brinkmanship (and failing): Threatening over the past year to escalate the border conflict ongoing since 2014, in order to force concessions from NATO nations that NATO could never fully concede.

The reason NATO could never concede on what Putin wants, was because what Putin wants is total subjugation and submission of Ukraine to Russia's his control. And only Ukraine - their politics, their people - can decide that.

And Ukraine wants nothing to do with Russia. This is from Steven Pifer at Brookings back in 2017:

Following the Soviet Union’s collapse, Ukraine and Russia maintained relations that at times were testy, but their differences largely appeared manageable. That changed in 2014, when the Kremlin used military force to seize Crimea and then supported armed separatism in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas. As a result, attitudes within Ukraine toward Russia have hardened to a consider­able degree, and the appeal of Western institutions such as the European Union and NATO has grown...

One result of the ongoing conflict is hardening attitudes among the Ukrainian population toward Russia and Russians. When Ukraine first regained its independence in the early 1990s, some nationalists held sharply anti-Russian views, but they constituted a small minority. The large majority of Ukrainians generally hoped to get along with Russia; many spoke Russian as their first language and had family and/or friends in Russia.

Russia’s aggression changed that dramatically. Since 2014, a Ukrainian national iden­tity has taken hold. It includes a strong anti-Russian animus. In an April 2017 public opinion survey conducted by Rating Group Ukraine, 57 percent of Ukrainians polled ex­pressed a very cold or cold attitude toward Russia, as opposed to only 17 percent who expressed a very warm or warm attitude...

Those opinions in favor of NATO and the EU have only grown since then: in 2019 they added a constitutional amendment seeking eventual membership in NATO. Today, a solid majority of Ukrainians want NATO and EU membership in direct spite of Russia's growing hostility over that.

Pifer is only noting the current animus between the two bordering nations. A deeper look into history shows a harsh, often violent connection between Russia and Ukraine that underscores a lot of bad blood. Caught between the imperial rises and falls of neighboring Poland and Russia - from the 1600s until the rise of the Soviet Union in the 1920s - Ukrainians became second-class citizens in their own region. Treatment under the Soviets was no better: Between 1932 to 1933 Stalin's regime starved out the population with famine, an act of genocide leading to the deaths of about 3 million people. It's the sort of thing Ukrainians can't ignore or forgive.

And yet here comes Putin, claiming - like most other Russians will - that Ukrainians and Russians are the same ethnicity, the same people: Even though he'll more than likely resume treating Ukrainians as second-class citizens the way they were treated for centuries by Russians.

If we refer to a relationship metaphor: It's like Russia is the drunken abusive boyfriend to Ukraine, who has had to put up with decades if not centuries of emotional abuse, gaslighting, insults, and the occasional beating from a Russia that doesn't understand why Ukraine doesn't love them as much as they should.

(How do you say "Why do you make me keep hitting you, sweetie" in Russian? Also "The beatings will continue until morale improves" would work here...)

Hence the paradox the world faces today.

Russia (Putin) doesn't want Ukraine to go running off to another European alliance like NATO or the EU, but they can't offer anything to Ukraine that would honestly entice Ukrainians to take Russia back as a political/economic partner. So instead, Russia (Putin) will try to "encourage" their relationship by force, not caring that such bullying behavior will only drive Ukrainians more towards joining Western Europe against Russia.

Ukraine is never going to give in to Russia's demands here, they will not agree to any deal absolutely barring them from even thinking about joining NATO. They dare not. Even the mere threat of joining NATO is the only leverage Ukraine has against outright invasion and occupation. Paradox: Every move Russia makes to stop Ukraine from joining NATO only pushes Ukraine further towards joining NATO.

And yet, when you look at it from Russia's perspective - and you do have to give them some sympathy here - the possibility of having a Western-oriented military alliance physically on their border if Ukraine joins NATO would be a straight-up threat to national security. Their own history of invasion and occupation - from Mongols to the East, Napoleon and Hitler from the West - has helped make the Russians a little paranoid about their safety. Being in an ideological Cold War vs. the United States and the West for most of the 20th Century hadn't improved things.

There has always been cultural and political differences between Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Whereas Russia prides itself on being more European than Asian - being one of the nations to straddle those two continents - there are still Western cultural norms that aren't normal to them, which keeps them wary and feeling unwelcome. Their history of corruption and human rights abuses doesn't endear them much in Western eyes as well. 

So to the Russians, having some kind of geographical barrier between them and the West makes some kind of twisted sense. In the post-World War era, that meant occupying Eastern Europe to forge a Warsaw Pact to divide Europe against itself for 40 more years. Today, it means trying to undermine democratic institutions across all of Europe to break up NATO and bring nations like Ukraine and Poland back under Russian influence.

And yet, the more Putin and Russia does all this, the more this will drive Ukraine further into siding with the West and guarantee a NATO agreement that would fulfill Putin's darkest fears. It's also forcing NATO members to reaffirm their agreement and support for each other, meaning Putin's efforts to break it up is going for naught.

Everything going on right now as Putin sends more troops closer to Kyiv and closer to outright war with Ukraine is a downward spiral that neither side can stop. Ukraine can't because their very existence as a nation and as a people are under direct threat. Putin and Russia can't because they dare not leave themselves vulnerable to a Western Europe that would challenge their corruption and abuse. NATO and the United States can't stop because Putin threatens our economic integrity (yes, we have some at least compared to him) and our own political/cultural institutions.

The one who COULD stop all of this is Putin. He's the one really triggering all of this and pushing it all into a downward spiral of conflict. But he won't. He's fully committed to this agenda, if he stops himself he will become weak to his own corrupt allies, so he will keep forging ahead until either Ukraine falls completely or Russia collapses from its own failings.

Until then, all the rest of the world can do is push back as best they can, avoiding outright war if we can.

Because THAT kind of war can spiral well out of control and turn the whole Earth to ash.

Gods help us. 

Monday, February 21, 2022


At last.

Time to honor all the great and wonderful Presidents of the United States who served this nation with honor, grace, and distinction.

That pretty much just weeds the list down to Washington, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Obama. The rest were either too quirky, too foolish, too graceless, too foul-mouthed (dammit Truman!!!), too deceptive, too dishonorable, or served without distinction.

And oh we DEFINITELY should not honor this guy

Lemme shill for Professor Barber's Presidential Character tome of eldritch lore again!


Thursday, February 17, 2022

Damned If You trump, Damned If You Don't

As you might know, donald trump former President Loser of the Popular Vote (Twice) is facing a set of investigations in New York regarding his business dealings and his questionable tax dodging. It's a twofer: One investigation is pursuing the evidence as a Civil matter, another grand jury investigation is looking at the Criminal violations.

And yes, in our legal system you can get investigated in both Civil and Criminal systems over the same alleged acts (SEE: OJ Simpson's trial for murdering his ex-wife and another man AND the wrongful death lawsuits of those murders) without it violating Double Jeopardy.

The newsworthy thing happening today was that trump and his children involved with his businesses were in court arguing to prevent the Civil case from forcing them to testify to that particular grand jury. Their case was that anything they said - or didn't say - regarding civil violations could get handed over to the criminal grand jury and violate their Fifth Amendment rights over self-incrimination.

If we go to the AP News coverage for an explainer:

(New York Attorney General Letitia) James, a Democrat, is considering whether to sue Trump or his company, the Trump Organization, over the way they have valued his assets over the years. Essentially, her investigators contend Trump and his company had a “fraudulent or misleading” pattern of saying properties they own such as golf courses and skyscrapers were worth more when they wanted better deals on loans, and less when they wanted tax breaks...

Trump has bristled at allegations that he lied about his wealth. He and his lawyers have pointed out that asset valuations can be subjective. They’ve repeatedly ripped the investigation as purely political, and even sued James to try to stop her probe.


Yes. The Manhattan district attorney is also investigating. A grand jury has been hearing testimony and reviewing documents covering much of the same subject material as James’ civil probe.


A deposition is like an interview, usually held in a law office or conference room, except witnesses must swear an oath and could be subject to penalties if they commit perjury. They’re typically recorded.

Depositions, frequently depicted in legal dramas as pitting one side against the other across a table, are most common in civil litigation and are often used to obtain information or get someone’s answers on the record.


Since anything a person says in a civil deposition could also be used against them in a criminal investigation, witnesses are free to invoke their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent at any time.

So if he chooses, Trump could simply refuse to answer many questions...

Refusing to answer the toughest questions could hurt Trump in any Civil trial. A jury is allowed to know if a person has refused to answer, and is also allowed to infer that if the person had answered the question, it might make them look bad...

The problem apparently is that trump (and his family members as well) could plead the Fifth out of a fear that any testimony will incriminate himself in the Criminal proceedings at the other end of the courthouse, and if the Criminal investigation leads to charges and a trial his pleading the Fifth can't be used against him. However, the likely Civil court case can present his refusal to testify to the jury, which makes him vulnerable to any "guilty" or "culpable" findings there.

An interesting thing about the differences between a deposition - which Civil cases rely on - vs. grand jury Criminal testimony:


There are some similarities, but in New York, anyone who testifies before a grand jury automatically gets immunity from prosecution for any crimes they discuss.

For this reason, New York prosecutors are unlikely to call Trump before a grand jury...

Hence trump's argument that James' Civil investigation is a witch-hunt trying to work around the limits of a Criminal probe.

Thing is, the judge wasn't buying trump's argument (Also via AP News but article by Michael R. Sisak):

Former President Donald Trump must answer questions under oath in New York state’s civil investigation into his business practices, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Arthur Engoron ordered Trump and his two eldest children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., to comply with subpoenas issued in December by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Trump and his two children must sit for depositions within 21 days, Engoron said following a two-hour hearing with lawyers for the Trumps and James’ office...

21 DAYS! (checks calendar) Holy shit, that's March 10. MARK IT DOWN, PEOPLE.

“In the final analysis, a State Attorney General commences investigating a business entity, uncovers copious evidence of possible financial fraud, and wants to question, under oath, several of the entities’ principals, including its namesake. She has the clear right to do so.” Engoron wrote in his decision...

Suck it, trump.

Trump’s lawyers told Engoron that having him sit for a civil deposition now, while his company is also the subject of a parallel criminal investigation, is an improper attempt to get around a state law barring prosecutors from calling someone to testify before a criminal grand jury without giving them immunity.

“If she wants sworn testimony from my client, he’s entitled to immunity. He gets immunity for what he says, or he says nothing,” Trump’s criminal defense lawyer, Ronald Fischetti, said in the hearing, which was conducted by video conference.

Anything Trump says in a civil deposition could be used against him in the criminal probe being overseen by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. If Trump invokes the Fifth Amendment, Fischetti said it could still hurt a potential criminal defense.

“That’ll be on every front page in the newspaper in the world,” Fischetti said. “How can I possibly pick a jury in that case...?”

If you're wondering why pleading the Fifth is so damaging, you'll need to do some research on "Fifth Amendment Commies." Back in the days of the McCarthyist witch hunts for Communists, it was a favorite tactic of the Far Right to summon people before public hearings and get them to refuse to self-incriminate. Back then in the 1950s, in an era of Loyalty Oaths, people could actually lose their jobs if they admitted they were ever members of the Communist Party (which a number of people were back in the 1930s and the Great Depression) even for a day. So they plead the Fifth, after which McCarthy and his allies would accuse them anyway of being "Fifth Amendment Commies," forcing their employers to fire them anyway.

As a result, even though it's perfectly legal under the Constitution, the Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination has a bad reputation in the public discourse. Republicans still enjoy pummeling anyone who goes to that legal tactic in any way: trump himself bashed the Fifth Amendment as a "refuge for mobsters" and that you shouldn't plead the Fifth "if you're innocent." So this has to burn for him. You can't claim to be a winner and you can't claim the legality of your actions if you have to go on court record pleading the Fifth (and pleading it more than 500 times like son eric trump recently did).

Another thing that has to bother trump - and especially his lawyers - is how any deposition runs the risk of trump committing perjury in any way. It's been noted before: trump can contradict himself on testimony at any given time if forced to answer questions. Driven by the need to look perfect - to look like a winner at all times - trump will say one thing about an incident in one sentence and then say the exact opposite about the same incident in a later question if it makes him look good. He'll make grand statements about any meetings or conversations he has, opening himself up to counter-testimony from other people who'll remember those conversations differently... and have records to prove what happened.

If trump is compelled in the Civic deposition to say something other than pleading the Fifth, he opens himself up to the risk of countering the thousands of receipts AG James already has (especially from the Mazars accounting firm that just pushed trump under the bus).

No matter which way trump is forced to testify, he's in deep trouble.

Which is probably why he doesn't want to testify at all.

But the legal system is no longer treating him with the kid gloves they've used back when he merely filed for bankruptcy four (or six?) times back in the 1990s and 2000s.

He's in deep trouble now.

And the best thing the rest of us can do is break out the popcorn GIFs, as always.


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Say It, Florida. Gays Exist.

(Update: Many thanks again to Batocchio for including this blog in Crooks & Liars' Mike's Blog Round-Up! Please read this and many other articles and please leave comments, I wanna feel the love from time to time...)

Well, this is a pretty sick attempt by the Florida Republicans to take us back 20 years into denial and homophobia. The state legislature is about ready to pass a "Don't Say Gay" bill (via Joe Hernandez at NPR):

Proposed legislation in Florida would restrict how teachers can discuss sexuality and gender in the classroom, the latest effort by Republican lawmakers to remove the teaching of LGBTQ issues from schools.

Supporters say the measure empowers parents who deserve to have a say in what their children learn, but critics — who've dubbed the proposal the "Don't Say Gay" bill — argue that it will strip protections from LGBTQ kids and have a chilling effect on educators...

Under the House bill, a Florida school district "may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students." The bill doesn't specify how "age-appropriate" and "developmentally appropriate" would be defined.

The bills would also give parents the ability to sue schools if they believed the schools violated any provisions of the law...

That lawsuit empowerment is tied into the "bounty" concept that the Far Right have championed to go after abortion rights, civil rights, and any other rights by granting haters the ability to bankrupt their targets. Back to the report:

The group Equality Florida, which advocates for ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said the bill is "dangerous" and accused lawmakers of targeting LGBTQ young people.

"This legislation is meant to stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids, and make teachers fearful of providing a safe, inclusive classroom," the group said in a statement. "The existence of LGBTQ students and parents is not a taboo topic that has to be regulated by the Florida Legislature."

All of this is happening even though last decade we saw the Supreme Court guarantee Gay Marriage as a right, even though we've undergone serious changes in our military and other institutions recognizing gays exist and can serve the public trust as well as the heterosexuals.

This isn't only an issue of free speech and free identity for our residents and for our kids. This is going to get worse than just banning books about LGBTQ fictional characters or real-life biographical figures. This is going to get worse than shutting down talk about social roles as our children grow into the adults - hetero and gay and genderfluid - we need them to be.

This law is going to grant license to the bullies and the gay-bashers to let loose, allow them to accuse anyone of even uttering a word about homosexuality or gender identity. This is a license to go after the teens who are gay, who are trans, who are genderfluid, and who aren't harming anyone else by their existence despite what the haters fear.

All the current problems we have in our schools with bullying will multiply as the haters will encourage their kids in schools to harass and punish anyone they deem as LGBTQ/Other and get away with it because we DARE NOT say "gay" in those schools. Teachers will get pressured to look the other way. The kids who are finding themselves LGBTQ as they grow up will suffer emotionally, if not physically. Even the kids who AREN'T gay/lesbian are going to get picked on out of fear and rumor, and will have nowhere to go for help.

Basically, the state of Florida is happy to turn their public schools into even more hostile and violent war zones.

All because to the Far Right running this state the very concept of non-heterosexual identity still terrifies them. Even after all the research that there are biological and psychological factors that are well beyond any religious morality.

Always remember this kids: The imposters, the bullies, the haters, they all will employ force instead of argument, impose silence where they cannot convince, and propagate their character - lack of - by the sword.

The Far Right religious wingnuts are desperate to impose silence about gay rights - about gays existing at all - because they cannot convince us to be as hateful and judgmental as they are.

Fight back. 

Recognize that we should not be bullies to our fellows. 

Recognize that real Christian Faith calls on us to love each other, without restriction or hinderance. 

Recognize that fear is an enemy, it drives us to hate and to hurt others.

Recognize that the Republican Party is running on Hate because they cannot run on anything else.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Darkest Habit That Could End trump's Reign of Error (w/ Update)

Can you imagine it? Twenty years from now, Netflix will produce a miniseries where an intrepid reporter will meet with a shadowy deep informant from the donald trump Administration, and the informant - whom the producers will label "Deep Stoat" and look suspiciously like John Bolton (no, the idiot with the mustache, not the Michael Bolton with a pirate hat) - will reveal how chaotic the White House was, due to trump's insane habit of trashing every document that came his way.

Deep Stoat will lean back into the shadows of the dimly lit parking garage and utter the immortal line, "Follow the clogged toilets."


No, I am NOT making that detail up.

Okay, getting serious here. This week saw a number of revelatory reports regarding the National Archives recovering at least fifteen boxes from trump's Mar-a-Lago resort of White House documents he took with him once his administration ended back in January 2021. Quoting from Jonathan Franklin's article at NPR:

As first reported by The Washington Post, the documents retrieved last month from the Florida property contained important records of communication along with Trump's self-described "love letters" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as well as a letter addressed to Trump from his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

According to the newspaper, keeping the boxes of records at Mar-a-Lago violated the Presidential Records Act — which requires that the government keep all forms of documents and communications related to a president's or vice president's official duties.

As required by the act, the records discovered at Mar-a-Lago should have been transferred to NARA from the White House at the end of the Trump administration in January 2021.

"The Presidential Records Act mandates that all Presidential records must be properly preserved by each Administration so that a complete set of Presidential records is transferred to the National Archives at the end of the Administration," said David Ferriero, archivist of the United States...

I've mentioned the National Archives before, when discussing how Presidential Libraries come into existence as depositories of paperwork for each administration. It's their job to sort through the hundreds of daily documents generated by the actions and decisions that comes out of each presidency, especially because a lot of those documents were - and perhaps still are - highly classified pertaining to national security matters.

These are matters that have to go through a vetting process independent of the President in order to determine what can go public and what remains under security clearance... which trump and his people interfered with by taking at least 15 boxes worth of stuff and holding them for a year without likely safeguards for those classified documents. Ever hear of Chain Of Custody, the means of protecting sensitive documents to ensure the information is not compromised or broken? The minute trump took papers that had to go to NARA, he broke that chain. 

And he made matters worse by taking all this to Mar-A-Lago, well-known trumpian retreat notoriously vulnerable to spies and leaks. You could pretty much imagine the joy a lot of trump's "guests" had being in close proximity to paperwork most likely shoved into some office cubicle without supervision.

It doesn't help trump's argument - whatever it is, probably along the lines of "The papers belong to ME, donald trump" - about why he took all these papers. What we do know is that the National Archives did ask the Department of Justice to open an investigation into this because they DID find classified materials among the boxes making it likely there were national security breaches (Via Charles R. Davis at Business Insider because I can't link to the original Washington Post article behind its firewall, yes I operate on the cheap):

Former President Donald Trump took documents that were clearly marked as "top secret" with him to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing two unnamed sources.

"Top Secret" is the highest level of classification, referring to material that could harm national security if released.

According to The Post, the documents were found by the National Archives, which stores and preserves presidential records...

After uncovering the documents, officials referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which in turn asked for the National Archives' inspector general to conduct an investigation.

Under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, the last administration's records are owned by the public, not the former president.

In addition to taking documents, Trump has also been accused of destroying them. Reporters at The New York Times and Bloomberg have both said sources confirmed that torn-up records were found near White House toilets...

Yes, this is when you'll see more reports of toilets as the story deepens.

Just as an aside, the national media punditry accused Hillary Clinton back in the 2016 election cycle of ignoring or violating national security matters by maintaining her own email server, and their constant jumping on half-baked reports that turned into nothingburgers is often viewed in hindsight as a major reason she failed to secure more votes in close-contested states. "But Her Emails" enjoined with trump followers' cries of "LOCK HER UP" kind of points out a serious case of irony here. Hillary turned out to be better with national security stuff than trump ever did.

Because trump never took any of that shit serious. Look at his history with top secret materials. He blabbed in 2017 about an ongoing joint US-Israeli operation to a couple of Russian buddies that ended up shutting it all down. He Tweeted out sensitive surveillance photos of a failed Iranian rocket launch that pretty much told Iran how much info we're getting on them (and likely exposing human resources our intel agencies had in Iran's government). That was so egregious a reveal that the intelligence experts in the media couldn't even look at those photos without risking their own clearances (Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice had a massive meltdown over this one).

All of this because trump has no understanding or respect for anything outside of his own limited world-view. This is a man who does not read much as a hobby, nor a man known for focusing on the topics at hand other than if it's something that makes him richer or more worshiped.

His mistreatment of paperwork, his willingness to hide documents and visitor logs and phone conservations, all of it tied into trump's background as a businessman where hiding questionable paper trails seem to be a habit... and in trump's case an obsession, considering all the failed business dealings he'd committed over the decades.

This is a man in trump who spent more time - allegedly, as the ongoing criminal investigation in New York keeps uncovering on a weekly basis - figuring out tax loopholes and rigging accounting ledgers to cheat the legal system as much as possible.

So what happened when trump jumped from the private sector of his business dealings into the public sector of government paperwork and accountability was a clash of styles. trump's willingness to shred everything ran into the legal requirements that nothing gets shredded (until vetted by the proper agencies).

There have been stories for years about trump's mishandling of White House papers. In 2017, Politico reported the National Archives had to remind trump not to destroy any documents. In 2018, Time published a report about trump staffers retaping torn up shreds in order to comply with NARA demands. By 2020, the watchdog group CREW sought to file a restraining order on trump's outgoing administration - because yes by then trump lost the November elections - because there were still reports that trump and his aides were destroying files.

All of this leading up to reports from Maggie Haberman coming out with a tell-all book later this year about it (via Igor Derysh at Salon): 

Trump, who reportedly had a habit of tearing up documents and failing to follow federal document preservation laws, needed a repairman on more than one occasion to fix his bathroom plumbing, according to Haberman's upcoming book "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America," which was recently excerpted by Axios.

Staff at the "White House residence would periodically find the toilet clogged," Haberman told CNN on Thursday. "The engineer would have to come and fix it, and what the engineer would find would be wads of, you know, clumped up printed wet paper."

Haberman stressed that this was "not toilet paper."

No duh. Anyone who survived middle school bathroom hazings will tell you that printing paper is too thick to disintegrate or soften in water the way toilet paper does. Yet trump kept trying like the blabbing idiot that he is to flush unwanted documents away. It never occurred to trump that there are working fireplaces in the White House and he could have easily burnt all that paper along with the kindling on cold nights when nobody else was looking. (Not like I'm trying to give out tips here... You're not supposed to destroy any of these papers in the first place, okay!)

(Also, Haberman deserves some scorn here for failing to adequately report these stories to media outlets when the damn reporting mattered between 2017 and 2020. She's one of the people responsible for the over-reaction to Hillary's emails and in some ways trump is her bloody fault.)

I'm not going to comment yet on the alleged report from 2018 of trump caught in the act of EATING some of those papers because so far it's just one source and we need more verification. 

With all of this in play - trump's history of destroying documents, trump's horrifying habits of mishandling classified top secret documents, and the fact he rolled out of the White House with 15 boxes of documents he shouldn't have taken - the question arises, "Is this one more legal scandal that trump is going to have to weasel his way out of?"

Because yes Virginia, it is looking like trump violated a couple of serious laws here.

First off is the Presidential Records Act, a set of laws created after Nixon's Watergate and other scandalous fiascos. It ranges from 44 USC s2202 that spells out the UNITED STATES and not the President owns those papers, to 44 USC s2203 how the President and his office cannot dispose of such papers until the National Archivist says so (44 USC s2203(f)) AND that the Archivist is the one who possesses all the documents when the President's term ends (44 USC s2203(g)(1) so skating off to Mar-A-Lago with 15 boxes is a serious no-no).

Then you get to Title 18 of the US Code, where the criminal penalties kick in. 18 USC s2071 makes it clear: 

(a)Whoever willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, or destroys, or attempts to do so, or, with intent to do so takes and carries away any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited with any clerk or officer of any court of the United States, or in any public office, or with any judicial or public officer of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

(b)Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States. As used in this subsection, the term “office” does not include the office held by any person as a retired officer of the Armed Forces of the United States.

In short: donald trump has been caught red-handed violating various provisions of the Presidential Records Act and can get punished for willfully - you have to go out of your way to flush documents down a toilet for God's sake - destroying and willfully concealing/removing all those documents, records, maps - yes, he took the hurricane map he Sharpied, remember THAT one boys and girls! - and other things that SHOULD HAVE gone to the Archivist instead.

Consider this: For all the illegal things trump has done, documented over all these years but that he's never had to answer for, with all the criminal and civil trials he's still facing... The one thing that is fucking airtight is that trump broke the rules over his mishandling, destruction, and theft of official documents. The one person who can push for trump's downfall, imprisonment, and banishment from any hope of future political office will be a career civil servant in our National Archivist.

Basically, trump can go to jail for pissing off one of the highest-ranking librarians in the United States.

Schadenfreude, do your thing!


(Update 2/12/22): Two national security experts - John Gans and Jon Wolfsthal - weigh in at The Atlantic on how serious this matter is, and why trump must answer for the rules he broke (paywalled):

...Everyone from the president down to the most junior federal bureaucrat swears an oath to protect the Constitution and is informed that keeping records is a crime. Many citizens, including those who are in or have left office, have been charged in violation of these rules, their careers destroyed or damaged, some sent to prison. Even with these “lesser” cases, it is the Nixon example that sets the bar, indicating that this is not some minor issue or mere convention. Protecting the paper of a presidency is about nothing less than the rule of law, government accountability, and whether everyone in our government, and in this country, is held to the same standards...

...The president has to follow the same rules as anyone else. This is part of why we were infuriated to learn that former President Donald Trump is reported to have removed unique materials from the White House that later had to be recovered from his Mar-a-Lago resort. And it is why we believe that the Department of Justice must investigate Trump for his handling of government records and, if the facts justify it, prosecute him, just as other less prominent Americans have been for similar behavior.

The Presidential Records Act and other archival regulations are intended to ensure that all documents and materials are protected and preserved for posterity. Executive privilege protects the president while in office; afterward these documents explain what the commander in chief and his teams did or did not do, as well as why. This accountability is linked directly to the core of the American government’s creed—that the governed, not an individual sitting in government, are the source of all authority. The law ensures that Americans will eventually know just what their government and their elected and appointed officials do with the power granted by the people. Although reasonable disagreements exist over how and when the National Archives can make these records accessible, advocates for good government and democracy agree as to the importance of eventual disclosure and accountability.

This is why Trump’s behavior has caused an uproar, and why the National Archives has also asked the DOJ to investigate. Although the 45th president’s predilection for tearing up documents (and also reportedly flushing some down the toilet) has gotten the most attention, the brazen theft—and it is theft—of at least 15 boxes of materials from the White House is most alarming... On Thursday The Washington Post reported that some of the information taken to Mar-a-Lago was designated “top secret.” This is no longer just a case of removing materials important for historians and accountability. This has morphed into a full-blown intelligence scandal that could undermine both national security now and democratic norms in the future...

If the DOJ does not hold a president accountable for misconduct, it will weaken a standard, perhaps irrevocably, that has prevailed for nearly 50 years. When you serve at the pleasure of a president, as so many in the federal government do, knowing whether the person in the office will be held accountable matters. If they are not, anyone taking the oath on their first day or closing up their files on their last will do so with the understanding that the rules only matter in certain cases, or that they do not matter at all...

For the LOVE OF GOD, Merrick Garland, investigate trump for his theft of Presidential records.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Cross-Posting From My Librarian Blog: Time to Defend Your Libraries!

I posted this at my other blog - the professional librarianship / amateur writing one - but it's also a political call to action so:

Well, this is unsettling (Via Nikoel Hytrek at the Iowa Starting Line):

The effort to ban books has expanded beyond the classroom now to public libraries, with a new GOP-backed bill adding librarians to their target for prosecution and civil fines of those they believe give access to materials that are “obscene or harmful to minors.”

A collection of 14 Iowa Republican representatives introduced a bill Tuesday that makes it illegal for a person affiliated with a public school or public library to knowingly spread “material the person knows or reasonably should know, is obscene or harmful to minors.” Colleges and universities are exempted.

The penalty would be an aggravated misdemeanor, upgraded to a class D felony if the person was previously guilty of this.

Aggravated misdemeanors can be punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine between $625 and $6,250. Class D felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine between $750 and $7,500.

In short, Iowa Republicans want to turn librarianship into a criminal profession. Putting us up there with robbers, drug dealers, and people who talk at the theater...

Goddamn wingnuts. They know it's not enough to ban books at the school libraries. They're going after the public libraries as well.

Unable to ban books due to First Amendment restrictions, these Republican bastards are going to do the next-best thing: Make it impossible for public librarians to do their jobs lest they fear getting fined and jailed.

You want to know how this game will get played if Iowa makes this a law?

Say a mature-looking young adult comes in, claiming they're a college student, asking for a book on sexual identity from the 306 Dewey Decimal (DDC) shelves. As a librarian, I would direct them to the shelf area, show them the titles we've got there. And then WHAMMO the "college student" turns out to be a 17-year-old high schooler on "dual enrollment" with the local community college and they call in the cops to arrest you for "knowingly spreading obscene material" to a minor.

You think that if this law passes, the courts will only rely on the fines to punish librarians, I mean who wants to send a sad little librarian to jail over an obscene book? Thing is you WILL get judges who will punish sad little librarians "to send a message," because those judges may agree with the Far Right religious conservatives who want to ban "obscene" books from the face of the Earth. Even then, those fines aren't cheap: A full-time librarian usually makes between $35,000 to $45,000 a year. Even a $625 fine is cutting into rent or mortgage, not to mention the costs of fighting these charges in court. Want to take care of $1000 fines every month? There goes most of a monthly paycheck for librarians. This would bankrupt most of us...

I'd really like it if you went to that blog and read the rest of my rant. Suffice to say, I am calling on every honest American to stand with your public library. Join your Friends of the Library group. Tell the religious wingnuts they will not take away your right to access a great public service.

You are going to pry my library catalog
from my cold dead hands, Republican wingnuts.

This is where the Far Right war against libraries is taking us, America. Fight back.


Sunday, February 06, 2022

An Insurrection By Any Other Name Is Still Damaging To Our Nation, Stop Lying About It Republicans

So during this weekend, the national-level leadership of the Republican Party censured the Congresscritters who called trump out for his January 6th insurrection - Liz Cheney, Republican Or Not? - and also decided that the rioting mob that smashed their way into Capitol Hill were, and I quote, "A Legitimate Political Discourse."

About as brazen a lie as anything trump himself could cook up. Then again, the GOP have gone all in to defend the indefensible since 2016...

Lemme refer to Vixen at Strangely Blogged for some observations:

The phrase "legitimate political discourse" sounds, in the phrasing of the Republican party, like a new and not-improved version of "the Aristocrats": there are a lot of ways to tell that joke, but the point of it is its filthiness. Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger have been censured by the gutless old party for bothering to look into a national security incident affecting the seat of our democracy, but the party chooses to see them as persecuting "ordinary citizens"...

Who stuffed their brains with the nonsense of German servers, Venezuelan voting machines, Chinese thermostats, and Italian satellites? And how are the people who perpetuated that level of absurd fraud, and a White House that not only tolerated but encouraged it, not anything but illegitimate? This isn't legitimate discourse, but weaponized bullshit. It was dangerous agitprop designed to produce a chaotic and violent result on the ground, and a disruption to the country's leadership at the top, and Ms. McDaniel wants to argue semantics? 

The interest of justice lies in the pursuit of truth with neither fear nor favor, and the oath to the Constitution deserves no less fervor...

But this is where the Republican Party HAS been for years now, well since before 2015 when I declared it dead and void of principle, well before trump became its standard bearer, its guarantor of crassness, and the wingnut's golden calf. OF COURSE the Republican Party leadership would rebuke even a conservative stalwart like Liz Cheney, all because she dared to point out that rallying to trump is a bad idea.

Whatever conservative principles Cheney may think she's defending, those principles are meaningless to the Republican leadership's utter obsession with winning at ALL costs even if it alienates them further with more Americans. Because those leaders genuinely think they still have enough of a voting base to eke them through, and that they're successfully rigging future elections to favor only themselves.

We're at the point the Republicans - as a Minority Party in all but name - are getting to where they're kicking to the curb every other American who could actually give them hope to stay in power anyway.

If David A Graham at The Atlantic (paywalled) is right about any of this

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Republican Party prided itself on being a big-tent party. This didn’t mean that anything went—generally, members were expected to adhere to a philosophy of free markets and small government—but the party tolerated the left-leaning Nelson Rockefeller as well as the rock-ribbed Barry Goldwater, the conservative Ronald Reagan and the moderate Arlen Specter. The GOP no longer has many coherent policy goals, mixing free traders and tariff fanatics, entitlement-cutters with populists. The single unifying requirement is paying fealty to Donald Trump. Pretty much anyone willing to do that is welcome. This resolution is a demonstration of that fealty...

The RNC is trying to be cute here, winking at the insurrectionists without actually endorsing the violent assault on the Capitol. Trump allies have been working on this quickstep for months, downplaying the violence without explicitly accepting it, while supporting other parts of the attempt to overturn the election. The censure appears to have been written so that everyone could read into it what they wanted; McDaniel’s amendment is evidence this worked all too well...

One might say that these contortions to pacify Trump are really just attempts to respond to the desires of Republican voters, but this defense is flawed. First, pandering to voters who wanted to overturn a legitimate election (and coddling their false claims that the election was stolen) is an abdication of citizenship and leadership.

Second, if Trump service is intended as voter service, it’s at least a second-order effect; the participants seem most concerned about what the former president will do. Trump is still the favorite for the GOP nomination in 2024, but there are signs that voters are a bit weary of Trump. Glenn Youngkin’s victory in last year’s Virginia gubernatorial race showed that a candidate can win while keeping Trump at arm’s reach. Some recent polls have even found that fewer than half of Republican voters—including many Trump fans—want to see him run again in 2024...

Thing is, nobody can rile up that fervent, violent base of the Republican Party like trump can. He may seem weak now, but that's only because he doesn't have the primary rallies and the constant media attention that nets him. If he's still out and about by 2024, smashing his way through every state primary like he did in 2016, all of the nightmares and threats he represents are coming back with him.

The Republican leadership still doesn't seem to understand just how dangerous this all is: Not just to Democrats and to Americans outside of their power circle, but to Republicans themselves. They're debasing themselves into lesser creatures, unthinking and unfeeling and unable to take care of the simple basic things that keeps us a civilized society.

Yet the GOP will lie to us, lie to themselves about how they are in control, oh yes they are please believe us, of their own party ranks and their own party standard bearers and their own violent angry voting base.

I said it before and saying it again: This is not going to end well.

Still In a 2016 Nightmare, Searching for a Wakeup Call in 2022

Saw this on Twitter today from Emma Lord (the Tumblr is from Deadnightguard but I can't find the original post so):


Looking back, everything went to hell the moment donald trump came down that escalator to a paid crowd announcing his Presidential campaign.

I mean, we can look back at when it happened in June 2015, the sheer madness of it seemed like it would quickly go away like a bad fart. I can still remember how Rude Pundit described the scene (seriously NSFW). I can't even sharequote from that, as brilliant as it was, due to the sheer vulgarity. Not from Rude's vivid descriptions, but from the reality that trump himself WAS THAT VULGAR to begin with.

And yet, the absurdity of trump never dissipated. Lacking any political record to run on, he ran on himself, his own racism and sexism and vulgar consumption. trump overwhelmed the election cycle, running on the sheer fact that the mainstream media - some of them controlled by his closest allies like Jeff Zucker, who turned out to share trump's sexism and amorality - gave him free coverage 24/7 that he fed from like a soul vampire.

Everything in my life still feels like it's been on hold since 2016, since that dark election result where Hillary still won the Popular vote but the Electoral vote was rigged in favor for trump. I can't be the only one who feels this way, even in 2022. Even with trump officially out of power, even with Biden sitting in office trying to get this nation back on track.

All because trump hasn't gone away. The remnants of his January 6th Coup Attempt haven't ended, the ongoing investigations revealing just how deep the rot sank into trump's White House, trump and his allies are still threatening to call out for more violence, and the Republican Party is pretty much running on this madness for their 2022 Midterms (and beyond).

None of that madness is going to end until trump himself is in handcuffs for his criminal bullshit, and even then THAT will trigger the Far Right violence we can all sense is right there on the edge of our nightmares.

Thing is, we dare not look away. We dare not pretend we can avoid that nightmare. We dare not - not as a nation, not with the danger to our individual rights - ignore the Far Right Fascist storm that's coming. 

We may be stressed out by six (or seven) years of trumpian disaster, but the disaster isn't over and it's threatening to get worse. We need to steel ourselves, prepare for the moment when destiny stares us in the eye, and we have to stand up and keep everything that's right about America - our families, our friends, our personal honor, our best selves - from getting taken away or burned in the firepits of fascism. 

It's all hard work. But our liberty and our rights are worth fighting for. Thomas Paine told us that centuries ago:

THESE are the times that try men's souls.

The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

Those lessons have not changed. Our rights as Americans - our need to express ourselves by vote, by voice, by conviction, by community - are still a celestial good, and dare not let it get stolen by that Eternal Grifter trump.