Monday, August 28, 2023


Talking heads have been analyzing who won last week’s GOP debate hosted by Fox News. I, on the other hand, had no problem at all picking a winner right away: It was the mastodon not in the room, Donald J. Trump (a.k.a. Prisoner No. P01135809).

It’s true. What was billed as the first GOP Presidential Debate actually could have been called the GOP Vice-Presidential Debate. And even as such, nobody on that stage came away a winner, with the possible exception of Nikki Haley, but only in terms of the debate, and certainly not in the primaries. In one of the most lackluster debates of its kind in history, what viewers mostly witnessed was a lot of bickering and schoolyard banter, and an utter dearth of substance regarding domestic and international policy.

Many commentators have tried to squeeze some differentiating plus out of the squabbling mess, but the best they’ve been able to do is claim former everything Nikki Haley stood her ground. But how much merit is there, when you’ve been a governor and UN ambassador, in coming out on top in a pillow fight with an absolutely inexperienced nobody like Vivek Ramaswamy?

I would have to give Haley points, however, for calling out her party (Trump’s party, actually, but she, like the others, was borrowing it for the debate) on the utter hypocrisy of their position on spending—which, could be summed up as, It’s okay when we do it, but not when Democrats do it.

More specifically, Haley said, “The truth is that Biden didn’t do this to us. Our Republicans did this to us too. When they passed that 2.2 trillion-dollar COVID stimulus bill, they left us with ninety million people on Medicaid, forty-two million people on food stamps.

“They need to stop the borrowing. They need to eliminate the earmarks that Republicans brought back in, and they need to make sure they understand these are taxpayer dollars.

“And while they’re all saying this, you have Ron DeSantis, you’ve got Tim Scott, you’ve got Mike Pence — they all voted to raise the debt [limit]. And Donald Trump added eight trillion to our debt. And our kids are never going to forgive us for this.

“And so, at the end of the day, you look at the 2024 budget. Republicans asked for 7.4 billion dollars in earmarks. Democrats asked for 2.8 billion. So, you tell me, who are the big spenders?”

This definitely places Haley on the moral high ground in the debate outcome, but it’s unlikely it will do much to endear her to her fellow party members—especially not the Washington leadership. She also called on her experience as UN ambassador to go after Ramaswamy’s simplistic view of Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine—to wit, that the US should stay out of it.  Haley accused Ramaswamy of wanting to “hand Ukraine to Russia” and “let China eat Taiwan.”

“You are choosing a murderer over an ally of the US,” she said. “You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.” That statement got her a round of loud applause.

Other analysts tried to spin Ramaswamy’s performance as stellar. But if this were a boxing match and I were covering it, I’d have to report that all he managed to do all night was feint and cover, as he was tag-teamed by nearly all the other candidates.

Nor did the other candidates shine in their attacks on him, which were unworthy and disrespectful at best, and ad hominem and vaguely racist at worst. Two candidates who, in my opinion, seriously damaged their own images in their rabid verbal assaults on Vivek were former Vice-President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

About all that Pence has going for him is his “evangelical”-based governorship in Indiana, and the fact that he served as vice-president of the United States, since he is a remarkably unimpressive and indecisive politician. Throughout his entire four-year term as VP, he limited his performance to being a yes-man for Donald Trump, never showing any character of his own and failing to call out his boss’s bad behavior, even when it crossed the line into uncharted and possibly felonious waters. Pence’s one shining moment was when, in his role as Senate President, he for once, and crucially, refused to give the president’s bad conduct a pass, and, as it turned out, risked his life in defiance of Trump’s mob, by carrying congressional certification of the presidential election Trump lost to fruition. But afterward, even after it became clear that the former president’s reckless behavior had put his life and those of other members of Congress in mortal danger, Pence remained wishy-washy in his placement of blame where it belonged until he had already launched his own campaign for the presidency.

But despite all that, all has been forgiven for Pence in both the old-time Republican and moderate Democratic camps, since he has been touted as “a hero of democracy” for, basically, doing the job he was morally and legally obliged to do under the Constitution, instead of joining his boss’s criminal conspiracy to virtually overthrow the established order and remain in power as a de facto president.

It would have been wise for Pence, who is one of the blandest politicians in history, to have basked in his former VP status and remained above the fray in the debate, concentrating on grass-roots conservative policy and on separating himself from Trump instead of on engaging in head-butting and eye-gouging with the most inexperienced candidate on the stage. He could have provided an example for others by treating all candidates with equal respect, debating on substance rather than personality. But that was clearly too much to ask of a man who appears never to have had an original idea in his life.

Pence, who has an obviously naïve idea of today’s United States “conservatism”, still sees his party as the party of Eisenhower and Reagan and allowed himself to be goaded by Ramaswamy’s ironic tone when the young candidate sought to remind him that today’s climate is no longer the one Pence recalled from the past. The US, Ramaswamy pointed out, was in the grip of a national identity crisis. Pence came back with his “Mr. Rogers” view of the country, saying, “We’re not looking for a new national identity. The American people are the most faith-filled, freedom-loving, idealistic, hard-working people the world has ever known.”

Innocent though many of us may find that church-bulletin, blue-sky view of a troubled nation, it is indeed what sells among Pence’s natural conservative peers—white, Middle-American people of fifty-plus grown weary of the drama, who would like nothing as much as to return to “the good old postwar fifties.” Pence is unlikely to find support among radical Trumpsters who consider him a traitor to their personality cult, nor is he likely to attract young and up-and-coming Republicans who think all “boomers” should go home to tend their flower gardens and leave straightening out the mess the world is in to the people who are going to have to live in it for decades to come. So it would have made sense for him to stick to his good-ol’-days narrative, since he clearly has no idea what contemporary “conservatives” are looking for, nor does he care. He apparently thinks the young should listen to their elders and re-found a Reaganite America under his leadership.

Vivek wasn’t buying it. He said—in a disparaging reference to a Reagan era slogan—“It is not ‘morning in America’. We live in a dark moment. And we have to confront the fact that we’re in an internal sort of cold, cultural civil war.”

Pence could have gained points by calmly and cogently explaining how, in his view, what was wrong with conservatism today was precisely that it wasn’t the conservatism of Reagan, but had instead taken a sharp turn toward right-wing extremism. But he chose instead to dismiss the other candidate’s view on the sole grounds of his youth, saying, “Now is not the time for on-the job training. We don’t need to bring in a rookie.” 

His belittling of Ramaswamy tended to indicate that he was dismissing him because he saw him as a credible threat. That gave Ramaswamy more importance than he merited. Pence had a chance to continue “schooling” the thirty-eight-year-old candidate and gave it up to schoolyard banter, rendering him, “just some guy” on the stage instead of the only one with somewhat presidential credentials.

Chris Christie, for his part, also decided to surrender his “experience advantage” by launching the same sort of ad hominem attack as Pence did on Ramaswamy. The former New Jersey governor probably did a lot to boost Vivek in the polls by seeking to dismiss him, saying, “I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT standing up here. And the last person in one of these debates…who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here?’ was Barack Obama. And I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur.”

By saying that instead of slamming Vivek on things he needed to be slammed on—like his incredibly surreal assertions that climate change was “a hoax”, that more people were dying because of anti-climate-change policies than because of climate change, that racism was a thing of the past and that white supremacists in America were as rare as unicorns—Christie employed the peevish “young whippersnapper” defense, which lacked substance.

Had Christie left it there, at least, he would only have been shooting himself in the foot with something smaller than a double-barreled twelve-gauge. But the comparison to Obama and the “amateur” status of both him and Ramaswamy was way over the top. Vivek is basically a nobody, no matter what he might end up being in the future, while Obama, no matter what far-right Republicans and their white-supremacist cousins might think of him, remains ranked by presidential historians as one of the most popular presidents of the postwar era, listing on a footing with such names as Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

It made Christie look weak, defensive, clueless, and even slightly racist. It is one thing for men of color like Obama and Ramaswamy to refer to themselves as “skinny guys with funny last names,” but quite another for a white guy to do it. Especially when it was a backhanded attack on a highly popular and respected leader—the first non-white ever elected to the presidency—for whom many people voted across party lines in both presidential terms that he served. Moreover, it was tantamount to throwing a jab but leaving his guard down for the hard uppercut Ramaswamy delivered when he responded, “Give me a hug just like you did to Obama, and you’ll help elect me just like you did to Obama.”

In all fairness, both Christie and former Alabama Governor Asa Hutchinson were addressing a hostile crowd. As the only two who are dead set against Trump’s ever again being a GOP presidential candidate, they were setting themselves up to get booed by the clearly overwhelming majority of Trump apologists in the live audience. As two of the three lowest candidates on the totem pole, they would clearly have done well to be prepared to let their listeners judge them on policies, not their politics. Alas, they didn’t.

The other fellow who barely made the stage, North Dakota Governor and gazillionaire businessman Doug Burgum, ensured his continued anonymity—to make the forty thousand donor tally he needed to join the debate, he reportedly offered a twenty-dollar gift certificate to anybody who would donate a dollar to his campaign—with his non-performance. In fairness to Burgum, however, he really was not prepared for a political brawl. His whole campaign is based on energy strategies to strengthen the US in the face of rising aggression from China and Russia. He probably figured there would be some segue that would permit him to expound on that, but there wasn’t, so he ended up looking like he had nothing to say.

Nor4 did Tim Scott get a chance to tout the conservative policy logic that separates him from Donald Trump—or, thus, a chance to move the popularity needle further in his favor. But I blame Scott himself for that, as I have from the outset, since he has refused to go after Trump in any meaningful way, which makes him look weak and acquiescent.

Unfortunately, Scott is not alone in that regard. And that was where the debate, across the board, demonstrated itself to be more vice-presidential than presidential. Ramaswamy, for instance, may have gotten noticed—more by being obnoxious than for any other reason—but in answer to one of the questions asked, he said that Trump was “the best president of the twenty-first century.” The natural follow-up question for the Fox moderators to have asked should have been, “So, why the hell are you running against him?” But they failed to ask it.

I think I know the answer to the unasked query. At thirty-eight, I figure Ramaswamy is running to get noticed, since he has no political credentials. The main person he is trying to impress, I feel, is Donald Trump, since there is essentially no difference between his running platform and Trump’s. A successful businessman, he probably feels his profile will appeal more to a man like Trump than a politician’s. So it would make sense that he would hope to be Trump’s vice-presidential pick. Being VP to Trump, should Trump get another four years—in the White House rather than in prison—could give a man as young as Vivek the street cred he would need to run for president in the future, or at least that might well be his calculation.

The big loser of the night was Ron DeSantis. Believing his own campaign’s hype about how he was going to be receiving “all of the incoming” in the debate, as holder of the distant second spot to Donald Trump, he ended up seeming to be at a total loss for anything else to do, when, surprisingly, all fire from the other candidates appeared to be focused on Ramaswamy. The Florida governor, not at all his usual brash and boastful self, spent a lot of time looking like a deer in headlights. The only time he really came to life was when Fox News moderator Brett Baier put a Trump question to him and he bristled, asking if the debate was going to be about Trump or the future. Trump, he indicated, wasn’t relevant. Baier bristled right back and indicated that with Trump’s voter intention rating running at least twenty points higher than anyone else’s on the stage, he was clearly relevant, whether DeSantis liked it or not.

Not only did DeSantis, to his discredit, hem and haw and waffle when he was later asked if Mike Pence had done the right thing in certifying the 2020 election on January 6th 2021, but he also proved just how true Trump’s relevance was when all candidates were asked to raise their hand if they would vote for Trump, assuming he was the candidate, even if he had been convicted of a felony. The Florida governor looked left and looked right to see what everybody else was doing and belatedly raised his hand (as did Pence). It was a chance for him to definitively separate himself from Trump, and he blew it.

In total, six of the eight candidates on stage raised their hands—in doing so, Nikki Haley undid all of her refreshing earlier disqualifying criticism of Trump—thus demonstrating that Trump still owns the GOP, since not even his rivals for the presidency will throw him under the bus completely, even if he is a convicted felon. Chris Christie timidly raised a finger (had it been the middle one it might have been taken as a no, but it wasn’t), but later reneged, saying he wouldn’t vote for Trump. “Someone," said Christie, “has to stop normalizing this conduct.”  A response that was met with loud booing from the audience. The only candidate who left no doubt about his position was former Governor Hutchinson, who made no move to look at other candidates to see what they were doing, or to raise his hand.

With that single exception, it was a moment in the debate that continued to put Trump above the law. Never did Trump’s controversial statement in the 2016 campaign to the effect that he could “shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes” seem more apropos. In the end, then, Trump won the debate hands down without being there and the other eight demoted themselves, from the outset, to “also-ran” status, in their failure to cut the umbilical cord to the Trump base and to start reaching out to the other sixty-plus percent of Republican voters.


Wednesday, August 9, 2023

OH O-HI-O!!!

My home state of Ohio topped the national news earlier this week in a litmus test for the GOP’s less than prudent bet against women’s reproductive rights.
  But while abortion rights topped the agenda of Ohio’s Issue One, which was soundly defeated in a special referendum on Tuesday, it also piggybacked other themes that were aimed at expanding the power of state and at restricting the influence that the people can exert on their elected officials.

Conservatives portrayed the referendum as vital to “protecting the state constitution.” But, in fact, it was an attempt to make it harder for common citizens to introduce constitutional amendments. Since 1912, amendments have been passed in the state by a simple majority (fifty percent plus one). Issue One was designed to raise that bar to sixty percent.

It is worth noting that, historically, less than a third of amendments to the Ohio constitution have passed by a sixty percent majority or more. But that wasn’t the only way in which Issue One would have restricted citizens’ political power. According to the terms of the referendum, citizens who sought to petition for the proposal of a constitutional amendment would have needed to collect at least five percent of signatures from voters in the previous gubernatorial race, and furthermore, that proportion of signatures would have had to come from all eighty-eight Ohio counties. Currently, a constitutional amendment can be elevated for consideration with the signatures of five percent of the voters in just forty-four of the eighty-eight counties.

But Issue One also sought to affect voter rights in an even more direct way, by proposing the elimination of current legislation that permits any voter whose signature has been deemed questionable by the office of the secretary of state to provide a signature-correction within a ten-day period after his or her ballot has been challenged. In other words, had the proposal passed, the secretary of state could have arbitrarily challenged ballot signatures and thrown the votes out without the voters’ having any recourse under the law. Considering the currently uncertain climate in which we have seen Republican attempts to steal an election through fraud on a national scale, this would have placed extraordinary authoritarian power in the hands of the secretary of state and, indeed, the state itself.

Although the referendum may have appeared, at first glance, to separate greater amendment restrictions from the abortion issue, they were, in fact, inextricably linked. Last year, Ohio’s legislature enacted one of the country’s most restrictive bans on abortion. Strong opposition to it, however, has kept that legislation from taking effect, since the Ohio Supreme Court agree to place it under judicial review. In the meantime, Ohio pro-choice activists have mounted a campaign to draft an amendment that would protect women’s reproductive rights.

Across the country, ever since the heavily conservative US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, which had protected these rights for fifty years—despite data demonstrating that a vast majority of Americans across party lines are, to a greater or lesser degree, pro-choice and were against the end of Roe-v Wade—grass-roots efforts to protect pro-choice rights at a state level have been put together across the country. The result has been six successful proposals to protect reproductive rights in as many states since Roe v Wade was dismantled.

This fact has thrown the Ohio GOP—which is clearly playing to the radicalized base of Donald Trump, despite all indications that the majority of voters oppose a flat ban on abortion—into panic mode. In spite of conservative attempts to sell Issue One as “protecting the constitution”, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose pulled no punches prior to the vote when he said that the referendum was “one hundred percent about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our Constitution.”  Considering, as mentioned previously, that only about one in three amendments pass with a sixty percent majority, this tended to indicate that Issue One was less about constitutional integrity than about the GOP’s trying to appease the Trump evangelical base by keeping a pro-choice amendment from finding its way into law.

In the end, the inordinate stress that the Ohio GOP is placing on stripping women of their right to choose, and virtually making their wombs wards of the state, under the scrutiny and control government, may well be a very risky bet. The rejection of Issue One is clearly a strong indicator that this is true, especially in highly populated areas of the state, which Republicans can’t help but covet in their future election campaigns.

The numbers tell the story. Twice as many people voted in the referendum as in Ohio’s last primary. Overall, the measure was defeated by fifty-seven percent. In all major cities in the state, however, Issue One was spectacularly rejected by margins of between sixty-one and seventy-six percent.

Perhaps the Ohio GOP would be smart to stop tuning their discourse to the Trump base, rethink making abortion a major plank in their campaign and start concentrating on more practical issues.


Monday, August 7, 2023


This past week, former US President Donald J. Trump was arraigned pursuant to the third criminal indictment brought against him in the past few months. This is, perhaps, the most consequential of the three indictments, since it involves Trump’s refusal to concede defeat in the 2020 election and his repeated attempts to subvert, disregard, corrupt and overthrow the lawful democratic process by which he was defeated as the incumbent candidate.

I feel that there are two ways of looking at this piece of news. One, that it is one of the saddest days in modern American history—though surely no sadder than the events encompassed by the indictment—and, two, that it is the most hopeful day in our most recent history in which democracy and the rule of law have been (and continue to be) under direct attack.

The sorrow encompassed in this turn of events is, basically, that it has come to this. It wasn’t a sudden turning point. It is the end result of a monstrous social experiment that began with Trump’s demagogic election campaign as of 2015 and ended with his refusal to accept the results of what was arguably the most transparent and highly scrutinized election in US history, when he ran for a second term in 2020 and was beaten handily by current President Joe Biden.

That refusal came in the form of his, first, insisting on specific recounts, and then exhausting all legal recourse to try and prove election fraud, which ended with more than sixty courts rejecting his campaign’s false claims, the Supreme Court refusing to hear the case, and his own Attorney General William Barr admitting that, no matter how hard they looked, they could find no widespread fraud. Clearly, no matter how unjustified it might be, that is the legal right of any and all candidates for public office.  And Trump is certainly not the first, and very likely will not be the last candidate to question an election outcome.  

But in the case of Donald Trump, for the first time in US history, when legal action was exhausted, he still refused to concede defeat. From that point on, he initiated—as borne out in recordings of his own voice and words—an active attempt, with the collusion of his campaign and several of his attorneys, to corrupt election officials, to widely spread falsehoods and conspiracy theories which he and his cohorts knew well to be spurious, and to install fake electors parallel to the authentic Electoral College. And finally, when nothing else worked, Trump called on the most fanatical and violent elements in his slavish base to turn out and defend his seditious continuation in power by refusing to allow Congress to certify the true election results. This incitement ended in the historic and now infamous January Sixth 2021 attack on the Capitol, violating the sanctity of one of the nation’s most basic institutions, and endangering the lives of lawmakers including Trump’s own Vice President Mike Pence in his role as Senate president. This spurred an hours-long insurrection in which at least five people died as a direct or indirect result of the violence—this does not include four Capitol Police officers who later took their own lives as a consequence of the mental and physical trauma they suffered—and in which at least one hundred fifty people were seriously injured (the vast majority police). The attack also resulted in at least a million and a half dollars in damages to the Capitol itself.

While these facts are well-known to the general public, they bear frequent reiteration, since again and again, Trump sycophants in Congress and elsewhere have sought to minimize the events of January Sixth, which, with the exception of the American Civil War, was the most serious and violent attack on US democracy in the nation’s history. These include high-profile Republican politicians who, in the immediate aftermath of the insurrectionist violence, heaped scathing criticism and blame on the former president, characterizing the riot as the grave upheaval that it was, only to later recant in accordance with their own personal and party convenience and proportionate to their cold-sweat cowardice in the anticipation of retaliation from Trump and his radicalized base.

But hope springs eternal, as Alexander Pope once wrote, and the upside of what is an otherwise sad day, is that the rule of law, which Donald Trump has so sorely disrespected with the necessary collusion of far too many right-wing politicians in Congress, and of the GOP leadership in general, is apparently alive and well. None other of the indictments against Trump so far is more significant of this fact than the one leading to the former president’s formal arraignment last week for his part in attempts to unlawfully overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and to remain in office as a de facto president.

While Trump and many of his enablers continue to disrespect this process, in their persistence in deluding the most blindly loyal and gullible of the former president’s followers—even while, without a doubt, knowing that what they are telling those Trump fanatics is patently false—both the Justice Department and, in particular, Special Counsel Jack Smith have been nothing if not transparent and meticulous in the pursuit and presentation of their case.

Special Counsel Jack Smith

The indictment handed by Smith to the Federal Court in Washington DC is a faithful reflection of the legal efficacy and scrupulousness with which the prosecution is presenting the case. Smith and his team have penned their charges in the clearest and simplest terms possible. The Special Counsel has, additionally, invited the public at large to read the indictment, knowing full well that the basis for criminal proceedings against the former president will, through its reading, become crystal clear to anyone but the most indoctrinated and disingenuous of Trump supporters. 

It is worthwhile noting that Smith has prudently avoided, at least for the moment, prosecution of Trump’s undeniable part in the January Sixth Insurrection itself. That might well take shape as a separate indictment in the future. But for right now, Smith is concentrating entirely on trying the former president for using his powerful office to perpetrate election fraud and to coopt the civil rights of voters who opposed his candidacy and won, as well as conspiring to spread disinformation among his followers. As Princeton political history professor Julian Zelizer pointed out this past week in an interview with CNN, it’s important to note that “this isn’t a question of presidential power, but of presidential abuse of power.”

The fact that those efforts to steal the election would indeed spark a violent insurrection, which Trump unquestionably egged on, and that claimed lives and destroyed property, is an issue that is being left for another day. It is a prosecutorial strategy that appears wise, since the soundest of proof gathered pertains to efforts by the former president and his lieutenants to falsify an election win, while his responsibility for the insurrection itself will require a much more meticulous case-building effort, despite the fact that many of the perpetrators already convicted and sentenced have made it clear that they truly believed that they were answering a call to battle by the former president.

As someone who, in my work as a researcher, translator, ghostwriter and editor, has frequently been called on to write up simplified executive summary versions of particularly dense legal and political documents, I can tell you, without the least doubt, that my services would have been required by no one reading this forty-five-page list of charges. Smith has taken great pains to eschew legalese and to present the case in layman’s terms and in the most starkly plain sentences possible. It is, without a doubt, an impeccable piece of writing in the common American vernacular.  Plain English, in other words.

As part of their strategy to plant overwhelming doubt in the minds of Trump’s supporters, his enablers among the GOP leadership have sought to convince the public that the former president can’t possibly get a fair trial in Washington DC. And yet, there could be no more natural place for it to occur. The court is the same one that has already successfully tried and either convicted or released a number of the active participants in the January Sixth rioting. Furthermore, Washington is the seat of the federal government of which Trump is the former head. And it is the place where the bulk of the felonies described in the indictment were allegedly perpetrated. Finally, as the nation’s capital, it would seem the appropriate venue in which to try crimes perpetrated not only against Congress but also against the people of the United States as a whole. If the former president’s attorneys should ask for a change of venue—and it seems likely they will—it is, then, highly unlikely that the court will grant the defense such a request, nor should it.

Donald Trump, like any other citizen called before a court of law, is innocent until proven guilty. This case will indeed demonstrate that fact, since no effort is being spared to guarantee the civil and legal rights of the former president. Beyond the courtroom—where nothing can be assumed or taken for granted—however, there is not just what the prosecution can prove or what the defense can challenge under the rule of law, but what we, as citizens, know to be facts and what we can see with our own two eyes and hear with our own two ears. And federal court action will be very different in securing justice than the two impeachment proceedings brought against Trump during his presidency, where actions were quashed in accordance with partisan considerations and rivalries rather than based on the overwhelming evidence. It is the job of the prosecution, the jury and the judge to try and decide the case based on hard facts, not on whether the decision will alienate one party or another, or whether one party has more votes than the other and can prevent the opposing force from prevailing.

Whether it can be proven in court or not, however, is not the concern of those of us who objectively know what we’ve seen and heard.  And what we have seen and heard is this:

·        A president who, for the first time in history, took seditious actions that put his own personal and political interests above American democracy and the rule of law.

·        An incumbent president who, after failing to prove his claims of election fraud in dozens of courts, decided to take the law into his own hands, refusing to accept the authentic results, to concede to his rival, or to voluntarily leave office.

·        A president who hired a group of unmitigatedly crooked and lunatic lawyers to spread a false narrative of a stolen election, of adulterated results and of tampered-with voting machines, none of which ever existed, as proven repeatedly in the courts and in numerous recounts.

·        An incumbent president who countenanced the creation of fraudulent lists of fake state electors in an attempt to overturn his clear and definitive loss in the Electoral College.

·        A president who seriously contemplated the unsound advice of a disgraced general and several other advisers that he could declare martial law and rule by force—with only the honor and stability of the armed forces chiefs preventing him from doing so.

·        A president and his attorney’s calls to election officials in at least two states seeking to get them to invent election results that would make Trump the winner, even when he legally and demonstrably wasn’t.

·        A former president who has yet to concede defeat, years after his loss, either because he is being feloniously disingenuous or because he has lost touch with reality and believes his own narcissistic fantasy in spite of abundant proof to the contrary.

·        An incumbent president who, as one of his final acts as chief executive, fueled a massive and violent demonstration of his own making and then refused for hours on end to defuse the situation, despite a virtual state of siege in Congress and serious threats to the lives of police, of members of Congress and of his own vice president.

·        A former president who continues to show no remorse, and who, in fact doubles and triples down, blaming everyone but himself for the serious legal jeopardy that he is facing, backed by palpable evidence of more than seventy felony counts, the validity of which will be tested in courts of law where he will have a chance to redeem himself, but is unlikely to do so.

Sidney Powell, General Flynn, Rudy Giuliani,
the lunatic fringe...
Allies of former President Donald Trump have rushed to his defense since he was charged Tuesday in connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

They inaccurately attacked the judge assigned to oversee the trial, baselessly speculated that the timing of the accusations was intended to obscure misconduct by the Bidens and misleadingly compared Trump’s conduct to that of Democratic politicians in somewhat, but nor entirely, similar situations—I say “somewhat” because the case of Trump is unprecedented in US history.

The most egregious of these claims came, disgracefully, from the Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, who disingenuously, sought to compare Trump’s conduct to that of other candidates who, in the past, have questioned the results of close elections. He mentioned, in particular, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton—biasedly overlooking Republican Richard Nixon’s complaints about John F. Kennedy’s narrow win. McCarthy indicated that Trump was being pilloried for something that was his right—to question election results—while nobody was mentioning the other three times where candidates did the same. The indication being that it was a Democrat versus Republican thing.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy
Clearly, that is not the case. For one thing, 2020 was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a close call. And it should be pointed out that in those other three cases, the results were questioned, the challenges ruled invalid, and all three candidates accepted the outcome, conceded defeat and fully supported the peaceful transfer of power. Trump is the first president in history who hasn’t.

No one, least of all Jack Smith or the federal court, is questioning Trump’s right to challenge the election results by all legal means—which, again, he has done and failed. Rather, what is being questioned and charged is, first of all, the potentially felonious behavior of a former president who sought to overturn an election by illegal means, and second, whether McCarthy and his party are really willing to subvert US institutions and the rule of law in order to defend the indefensible and render tribute to a cult of personality.


Wednesday, June 28, 2023


 And now, he wants to end birth right citizenship!

In other words, if you're born in the US to brown parents, you might not be a citizen after all. If he has his way, it'll all depend on whether Uncle Ronnie says you are or not.

Has this clown ever even READ the Constitution???

Hey Ron, I know you're a moron, but this is really simple: Let me spell it out for you. I_F  Y_O_U  A_R_E   B_O_R_N   O_N   U_S   S_O_I_L,   Y_O_U   A_R_E   A_M_E_R_I_C_A_N!

Otherwise. all of us whose ancestors washed up on these shores from wherever they washed up from are going to have to pack up and go back to wherever we came from and give the continent back to its original owners, none of whom was called Desantisthe Latin root of which, rather appropriately in this case, means "blameworthy".




For about a New York minute, I found it quite satisfying to see the rats at the top of the autocratic, oligarchic food chain in Russia turning on one another. Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived revolt against a sector of Vladimir Putin’s government (not even the chief of one of the most ruthless mercenary forces ever assembled could muster the guts to oppose Putin himself) was a little like the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s dog Toto knocks over the screen and the wizard is exposed for what he is, an ordinary man with no real power at all except for his ability to make people believe that he is all-powerful.

But once that small pleasure had waned, there were other more practical aspects to consider, as a result of the weekend of utter chaos that Prigozhin visited on Putin’s Russia. The most immediate take-away is that both Putin and Prigozhin came out of this incident much weaker than before.

Putin and Prigozhin - end of the affair

Prigozhin basically ended up having to give up his brutal, tinpot, mercenary army in order to save his own skin when he miscalculated the level of discontent in the Russian Armed Forces in general and among Putin’s closest military commanders in particular. It’s not hard to guess that in his delusions of grandeur, he imagined marching on Moscow and picking up large detachments of the Russian military on the way. That didn’t happen. And despite the fact that he made it clear he was rebelling against the defense ministry and not against the chief of state, Putin, nevertheless, declared him a traitor and vowed that he and his men would be punished to the full measure of the law (which is often whatever Putin says it is). But that didn’t happen either.

Putin, for his part, was caught on his back foot and got waylaid. He seems to have been unaware until the last minute that the rebellion was coming. And yet, as someone who was once an officer in the KBG and who has, over the past twenty years, garnered an enormous measure of autocratic power over the Russian Federation, he should have known. At least some of his generals knew ahead of time but evidently didn’t share that knowledge with the boss.

It seemed clear, at least, to many Russia insiders in the West that Prigozhin was hardly likely to stand still for Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s move to bring the oligarch and his private army, known as the Wagner Group, under the control of the Russian state. Shoigu had earlier issued an order for all Russian mercenaries to join the regular Army by the first of July, which would basically have rendered moot Prigozhin’s until-then enormous power.

It was Putin himself who provided Prigozhin with the power he had come to wield. And ex-convict and self-made man, Prigozhin had become Putin’s go-to guy whenever the president didn’t want to get his own hands dirty. Prigozhin and the Wagner Group repeatedly provided Putin with deniability in unofficial Russian military actions in which crimes against humanity were consistently committed. Prigozhin was also reportedly behind Russian interference in both the 2016 and 2018 elections in the US. 

This is, of course, part of the dictator playbook. When I was covering the bloody reign of a military dictatorship in Argentina in the nineteen seventies and early eighties, paramilitary hit squads, made up largely of retired police and military personnel, carried out most of the torture, political abductions and assassinations in which tens of thousands of people disappeared or were killed. The first junta head and president, Jorge Rafael Videla, would consistently insist, in answer to worldwide outrage, that when orders were given, he had no real control over how they were carried out. A claim that was, of course, ludicrous, as have been all of Putin’s own denials since he started using paramilitary mercenaries to invade Ukrainian territory, clear back to the time when he first annexed Crimea in early 2014.

Ever since it became clear that practically any pyrrhic victory Putin could claim in Ukraine—where his original claims that it would be a walk-over and that his troops would be accepting the Ukrainians’ surrender in short order turned out to be a miscalculated fantasy of epic proportions—has been largely thanks to Prigozhin and his army of mercenary thugs, I started asking myself what the Russian president was going to do when that pack of mad dogs turned on him. This past weekend provided an at least partial answer. I say partial, because the consequences of the rebellion have still not all been revealed. 

Defense Minister Shoigu

While Putin has tried to keep up appearances, in his home-grown Ukraine War, in the face of withering pushback from Ukraine’s Armed Forces and its stoic people in which the Russians have suffered their worst losses since World War II—some forty thousand men killed and another one hundred forty to one hundred sixty thousand injured—Prigozhin’s drive toward Moscow demonstrated clearly that Putin has nothing to spare in the way of military power. A mobilized detachment of the men of the Wagner Group made it from Ukraine to within one hundred twenty-five miles of the Russian capital and, according to Western reports, only encountered armed resistance from the Russian Armed Forces at one point along the way, where the Wagner Group quickly overpowered it.  More telling still, when a deal was struck, the mercenaries were allowed to turn around and go back to where they had come from, and Prigozhin was permitted to slip away into exile.

What this also tended to show was that while Putin’s military, by and large, didn’t turn against him, neither did it make any great effort to defend him, which could be taken as a wait-and-see attitude and/or previews of possible coming attractions. Or perhaps it was just the Russian field military commanders demonstrating that without them, Putin was powerless against overthrow. In the only images that have come out of Prigozhin talking to military officers during his drive toward Moscow, both he and the Russian officers seemed relaxed and non-confrontational. Furthermore, despite all of Putin’s talk of holding the Wagner Group and Prigozhin to account, in the end, he was forced to let Prigozhin escape to exile and to strike a deal, telling the mercenaries that all would be forgiven if they submitted to Russian military control.

He also was forced initially to say that nothing would happen to Prigozhin. But then, nobody believes that, and least of all, Prigozhin. While he agreed to Belarusian exile, he immediately and wisely disappeared from view. From an undisclosed location he would later issue a statement explaining that his idea was never to overthrow Putin. All he was doing, he said, was protecting his men. Clearly, what he was trying to protect was his own power, and without his private army, that power has been considerably reduced. But it has not been wiped out, since, up to now, Prigozhin has been a chief ally of Putin’s in the vast Russian mafia. He is a kingpin, a guy who knows where the bodies are buried. And, without a doubt, he and his Army have been crucial in Putin’s prosecution of his war of aggression against Ukraine and in military action elsewhere.

Seeking to explain the significance of the Russian Defense Ministry’s order for all of Prigozhin’s battle-hardened frontline fighters to place themselves under Russia’s general military command, former US Army in Europe commander, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, told a TV interviewer that it was rather as if members of Delta Force, Navy SEALs or some other special forces unit were being told to place themselves under the orders of a regular infantry command. But he hastened to point out, however, that this was where the comparison ended, since the Wagner Group wasn’t a highly trained, special forces unit, but rather, a mercenary army made up of criminal thugs and convicts, led by a mafioso.

Prigozhin dressed in battlefield gear

Indeed, for all of his posturing in elaborate military garb and armed to the teeth, Vevgeny Prigozhin is as much a self-style military commander as he is a self-made oligarch. Sometimes known as “Putin’s Chef”, because, under Putin, his food industry interests have catered to the Kremlin, the sixty-two-year-old Prigozhin originated from fairly humble beginnings at the height of Soviet rule in Russia. His Jewish father died while he was still a boy and his mother struggled to support Vevgeny and his ailing grandmother with her work at a hospital in what was then Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). 

Vevgeny’s mother eventually remarried. His stepfather, who was also Jewish, was a cross-country skiing instructor. Vevgeny, who was a teen by this time, took to the sport and hoped to go pro. His stepfather managed to get him into a prestigious athletics school to help him reach his goal, but Vevgeny’s plans didn’t work out in the end.

Almost immediately, Prigozhin turned to a life of crime. He was arrested for stealing at age eighteen. The court went easy on him and gave him a two-year suspended sentence. At twenty, he was arrested again for leading a criminal gang of mostly juvenile delinquents, which burglarized high-end apartment buildings. This time, he was sentenced to twelve years in prison for theft, fraud and corruption of the minors whom he had involved in his crimes. He ended up serving nine years of the sentence before being released in 1990.

On his release he joined his mother and stepfather in a small business selling hotdogs out of stand in an open-air market in Leningrad. In an interview years later, Prigozhin would say that their hotdog business was so thriving that his mother didn’t know what to do with all the money that came rolling in. But Vevgeny did. He embraced the entrepreneurial spirit of the times following the fall of the Soviet Union and invested in a wide variety of interests. From grocery stores and restaurants to marketing research, construction and foreign trade, Prigozhin’s empire expanded exponentially.

But it was apparently his foreign trade interests that eventually led to areas of interest to the Putin regime—notably gold and diamond mining in Central Africa. These interests seem to have provided him with the perfect segue into arms and mercenary recruitment. For some time, Prigozhin denied having anything to do with the Wagner Group—a shadowy paramilitary arm of the Putin regime that was involved in guerrilla warfare activities in several parts of Africa and which eventually showed up in Syria, where Putin was propping up the cruel dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad in his devastatingly bloody war to put down a nationwide democratic uprising. But he eventually admitted to being the group’s founder, and in Ukraine has become its high-profile commander. His untrained, unschooled and non-strategic approach to war to date has been simple: to throw huge numbers of men and ordnance at the enemy in hopes of eventually overcoming their resistance.

For this unsophisticated and brutal strategy to work, Prigozhin requires either highly motivated or, more often, otherwise hopeless men. That’s why much of his army in Ukraine has been made up of convicted felons, desperados who joined him in order to get out of prison. These are men who have had no problem following their commander’s orders to lay non-military targets to waste and to murder civilians. And in some of the heaviest fighting, Prigozhin himself admitted that he was losing an average of a hundred men a day.

The US has leveled numerous sanctions and criminal charges at Prigozhin in recent years. He is also one of the Russian oligarchs under sanctions in the United Kingdom and in the EU. Additionally, the FBI has offered a bounty of up to two-hundred-fifty thousand dollars for information leading to Prigozhin’s arrest. 

A relaxed Prigozhin meets with Russian military leaders
The uncertainty in Russia hasn’t been allayed, by any means, as a result of the deal reached between the Putin regime and the Wagner Group. Just the fact that Putin put together a flamboyant display honoring the Russian Armed Forces within a couple of days of the mercenaries’ revolt is as telling as it is unusual. Until Prigozhin went rogue, no one was questioning the power of Vladimir Putin. Dictatorships, however, function very much like the Mafia. The capo is the capo…until he isn’t. His power isn’t based on love and loyalty, but on ruthlessness and fear. Power in autocracies in strictly vertical, and a dictator’s continuation in power is subject to the fear of those beneath him. They must feel that the price of betrayal is so certain and so lethal that their only choice is blind loyalty.  Given Putin’s track record, while it’s unlikely anyone is beating down Prigozhin’s door to sell him a life insurance policy, the fact that he and his band of thugs got away, at least for now, with nipping at Putin’s heels will almost certainly be taken as a sign of fear and weakness on Putin’s part. All the more so because, instead of downplaying the incident’s importance, Putin has cast Prigozhin as a dangerous traitor and has thanked and honored the Armed Forces for “saving the country from civil war,” when, in fact, all indications are that the military did precious little in that regard.

Calling the uprising an attempt at civil war tends to show that a much more serious rebellion is a possibility that might be keeping Putin up nights. An admirer of Czar Nicholas and his empire, Putin can hardly help but recall that, in the end, the czar’s failures in foreign wars and the poverty they engendered at home played into the hands of the Bolsheviks so that a revolt by ragtag civilian militias ended up being backed by large numbers of discontented professional soldiers. And Czar Nicholas and his family ended up facing a firing squad.