Ukraine: Putin Backs Down

On May 9th, Vladimir Putin made a much-anticipated speech to the Russian people (https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/nato-nazis-and-the-motherland-putin-s-full-victory-day-speech-1.10787657 ). Interspersed with familiar tropes, was a softer Putin message.

1.Narrowed Focus: Rather than focus on annexing all of Ukraine, Putin now seems intent on solidifying control of the Donbas region; that is, the eastern-most provinces of Ukraine: Donetsk and Luhansk.  In addition, Putin wants to build a land bridge between Crimea and Donbas: secure Kherson and Melitopol and the surrounding territory.

Putin observed, “Donbass militia alongside with the Russian Army are fighting on their land today… I am addressing our Armed Forces and Donbass militia. You are fighting for our Motherland, its future, so that nobody forgets the lessons of World War II.”

Captured Russian documents (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/putin-s-precious-war-plan-left-behind-by-fleeing-russian-troops-officials-say/ar-AAXaaQ5 ) reveal that Putin’s original focus was to annex all of Ukraine: “‘Investigators… found important documents of soldiers of the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces that give a clear understanding that Russia was preparing to seize all the territory of Ukraine,’ Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation Chief Oleksiy Sukhachev said in a statement.”

2. Calmer Presentation: Although Putin’s justifications for the invasion were the same as they had been in previous speeches, his words were less bellicose.

Although western observers can be encouraged that Putin has narrowed the scope of his invasion, the fact remains that he seems intent on annexing the Donbas region.  Putin is going to have considerable difficulty doing this.  Russian forces have lost control of strategic terrain and they can no longer move supplies using Ukrainian railways.  This suggests that Putin has put himself in a “box.”  He can’t move forward and he’ll lose face if he retreats.

3. Falsehoods: Much of what Putin told the Russian people were lies.  The BBC fact-checked his speech (https://www.bbc.com/news/61379405).

a. Ukraine wants nuclear weapons:  “President Putin has repeatedly said Ukraine plans to acquire nuclear weapons as a justification for Russia’s invasion, although there’s no evidence this is the case…   the Ukrainian government has not expressed an intention to acquire nuclear weapons and a military strategy document published last year did not refer to them.”

b. Neo-Nazis are seizing control of Ukraine: “President Putin has frequently claimed the presence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine as a justification for Russia’s invasion.  At the last parliamentary election in 2019, support for far-right candidates was just 2% – far lower than in many other European countries. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and members of his family died in the Holocaust.”

c. NATO was preparing for war before the invasion: “President Putin appears to be suggesting, not only that Nato has been expanding its influence in the Baltic states which are Nato members – but also inside Ukraine, which is not in Nato. It’s true that Nato allies have supported Ukraine with equipment and training since 2014, and they have deployed more forces to some Nato member states in eastern Europe.”

4. IMPASSE:  Russia cannot win this war, but it can inflict terrible damage as it thrashes around.  On May 10th, President Biden’s advisor, Avril Haines (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/10/putin-nuclear-weapons-us-intelligence-avril-haines?) warned there is a dangerous path ahead : “Vladimir Putin could view the prospect of defeat in Ukraine as an existential threat to his regime, potentially triggering his resort to using a nuclear weapon… The prediction for Ukraine was a long, grueling war of attrition, which could lead to increasingly volatile acts of escalation from Putin, including full mobilization, the imposition of martial law, and – if the Russian leader felt the war was going against him, endangering his position in Moscow – even the use of a nuclear warhead.”

Summary: Putin isn’t going to “fade away.”  He’s a psychopath.  Hold on tight.

Weddings


Some weddings are brief
Some last all day
My favorite is
When I don’t have to pay.

Weddings are:
Complicated
Serpentine
Existential.

One of the few social occasions
Where you are obliged
To confront
Your family.
(Funerals are another.)

Of course,
The couple can always elope
Or not get married.
(“Shack up” or “Live in sin.”)

There’s no such thing as a
small wedding.

If you decide to
“tie the knot”
You invite your entire family
Even Uncle Bud who drinks way too much
or Leaping Lena who “sleeps around.”

Then you have to decide who sits where
What food to serve.
What kind of ceremony.
Should there be music
Who is going to pay for it all.

My favorite ceremony:
Everyone I know attends
Outdoors in good weather
Sit on ground
Wonderful food and drink served by robots
Lawrence Ferlinghetti reads
Ray Charles and Bruce Springsteen play
Desmond Tutu officiates
My children pay.

Abortion Politics: SCOTUS Goes Rogue


When historians look back on 2022, they’re likely to characterize it as “the year of the big reveal.” The year Vladimir Putin was revealed as murderous thug. The year Donald Trump was revealed as feckless loser. The year Republicans were revealed as the party of white male supremacy. The year the US Supreme Court went rogue.

On May 2nd, Politico (https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/02/supreme-court-abortion-draft-opinion-00029473 ) published a draft Supreme Court opinion indicating the court was about to issue  “a full-throated, unflinching repudiation of the 1973 [Roe v. Wade] decision which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights.”

1. Philosophy: Overturning Roe v. Wade is a reflection of two philosophical pillars of the contemporary Republican Party: state’s rights and misogyny.  It’s a reflection of “state’s rights” because overturning Roe v. Wade means that each state will determine abortion rights.  This is a reflection of the current Republican thinking that most civil rights should be determined at the state level; for example, the right to same-sex marriage should be determined by each state.  (In effect, the Republican Party is taking the same states-rights position that led to the civil war in 1861.)

It’s a reflection of the underlying Republican misogyny because overturning Roe v Wade means that, in Red states, white men will control women’s bodies.

2.Public Opinion: Most Americans do not want Roe v. Wade to be overturned.  For example, a recent Public Policy Institute of California Poll (https://www.ppic.org/blog/a-broad-range-of-californians-oppose-overturning-roe-v-wade/? ) found that 76 percent of likely voters do not want Roe v. Wade overturned; 87 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Independents, and 54 percent of Republicans.  (There was no major California Demographic category that did not oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.)

Of course, California is a blue state.  But recent polling indicates that there is strong national opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade.  The Guardian notes: “A Politico/Morning Consult study found voters are two to one in favor of preserving the 1973 Roe v Wade opinion that safeguarded protected women’s access to abortions… exactly 50% of respondents wanted it maintained. 28% wanted it overturned, and 22% were undecided. A separate Washington Post/ABC poll reports 54% in favor of preserving Roe, and 28% against, while an even higher number of Americans, 70%, think abortion is a private issue between patient and doctor.”

The New York Times breaks this down by state (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/04/upshot/polling-abortion-states.html), noting: “the national average [is] 54 percent who mostly or fully support legalized abortion, compared with 41 percent who mostly or fully oppose it.”  The Times article goes on to state: “The public’s views on abortion are notoriously hard to measure, with large segments of the public often seeming to offer muddled or inconsistent answers. Polls consistently show that around two-thirds of Americans support the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade and oppose overturning it.” [Emphasis added]

The map accompanying the Times article indicates that in all the swing states — that is, the ones whose votes will determine control of Congress in November — a majority of likely voters support Roe v Wade.

3. Politics: It’s unlikely that Republican politicians (McConnell, McCarthy…) wanted SCOTUS to strike down Roe v Wade at this time.  After all, until recently, it was widely assumed that Republican voters had more enthusiasm heading into the 2022 midterms.  Nonetheless, after Russia invaded Ukraine, and Biden showed remarkable leadership, Democratic enthusiasm ticked up.  Now it has exploded.

Politicsusa.com (https://www.politicususa.com/2022/05/03/bombshell-poll-shows-overturning-roe-could-trigger-a-blue-wave.html ) reported: “An Ipsos poll exclusive for Reuters, fielded May 3, 2022 after the leak of a Supreme Court draft decision challenging Roe v. Wade, finds that in the upcoming November elections, two-thirds of Americans (63%) would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports passing a law legalizing abortion, replacing Roe if it is struck down.”

4. Platform: At the end of 2021, it appeared that the 2022 midterm elections would be, in effect, a popularity contest; Republicans would say, “Trump was cheated; we can’t stand Biden; we want anybody else.”  Democrats would say” “C’mon, Biden’s not that bad.

That’s changed; the November election will not be a popularity contest.  The consequence of the SCOTUS decision will be that voters will consider consequential differences between Democrats and Republicans.  There’s at least four differences between Democrats and Republicans:

a. Abortion: Democrats will say, “We support a women’s right to make her own healthcare decisions.  Moreover, we believe that civil rights should be determined at the Federal level; for example, the right to chose who we marry and the right to vote.”

Republicans will counter: “We oppose abortion in all circumstances.   And, by the way, we plan to repeal Obamacare.  Moreover, we believe in ‘State’s Rights;’ we believe that civil rights should be determined at the state level.”

b. Voting Rights: Democrats will say, “We believe  the right to vote should be guaranteed at the Federal level.  By the way, we believe the 2020 presidential election was fair and what occurred on January 6, 2021, was an insurrection.  We also want to abolish the electoral college and have national presidential elections decided by popular vote.”

Republicans will counter:  “Each state should determine its own voting standards.  By the way, we believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen and what occurred on January 6., 2021 was exaggerated by the liberal media.  We want to hang onto the electoral college as a cherished heirloom.”

c. Economy: Democrats will say: “Democrats have guided the US economy out of a tough period and, after hitting a few potholes, the economy is back on track to be the strongest in the world.  By the way, we need to tax corporations and rich individuals to ensure they pay their fair share.”

Republicans will counter: “Biden’s handling of the economy has been a disaster.  We need to return to the days of ‘Trumpanomics’ where we had a steady hand on the wheel.  By the way, taxes on corporations and rich individuals are still too high; everyone should pay a minimum tax — particularly the poor.”

d. National Security: Democrats will say, “President Biden recognizes Vladimir Putin as a murderous thug; Biden has united the western world in opposition to Russian aggression.  By the way, the most serious national security problem is climate change.”

Republicans will counter: “Putin is a strong leader; he’s smart.  The real national security threat is Hunter Biden.”

Summary: SCOTUS has gone rogue and Republicans have joined them.

Ukraine: What We’ve Learned


It’s been more than two months since Russia invaded Ukraine (February 24).  We’ve learned enough to be able to predict what will happen next and what the geo-political consequences will be.

1.Russia will lose the war: At the beginning of the invasion, most observers believed that Russia would overwhelm Ukraine.  That didn’t happen and, as time passes, it seems more unlikely to happen.  The conflict may drag out but eventually, Russia will lose.

There are multiple reasons why Russia has performed so poorly.  The first is that the Ukrainians have out-fought the Russians; the Ukrainians are highly motivated and the Russians are not.  The second is that the Russia military has been “hollowed out” because Russia is a kleptocracy and Putin and his cronies have siphoned funds, that should have gone to defense, for their own purposes.  In all facets of the Russian invasion we see indications that the invasion was underfunded, and terribly managed.

Russian soldiers are poorly trained.  There is inadequate communication between front-line troops and battlefield commanders.  The Russian generals have made bad tactical decisions; for example to invade the Donbas region in the spring while the ground is very wet.  The Russian supply infrastructure is inadequate.  Russians seemingly have no capability of repairing vehicles that break down in the field.  Because of the EU sanctions, Russia cannot get critical parts it needs to repair or replace its equipment.  (While Russia has shown the capability to build prototypes of advanced weapons, they cannot manufacture these.)

The Russian military is a mess.  Russian military power was over-rated.

2. Russians soldiers have committed atrocities.  It’s one thing to be incompetent and quite another thing to be a brutal loser.  Russia’s conduct of the war has outraged the western world. Russian troops have no respect for civilized norms.

3. Ukraine will win the war, but at a terrible cost.  The war will end when Russia either runs out of money or  has lost so much equipment it will be unable to maintain its lines. Then the Russians will withdraw, looting and burning everything in their path.

Most likely, Russians will retreat to the previous Ukraine border; they will cede Donbas but there will be nothing left of it.  Russia will pay no reparations.  (The fate of Crimea remains to be determined.)

4. Sanctions will continue.  This isn’t a war that will be ended with a peace conference where dignitaries sign agreements.  Russia will slink back to its den.  The west will be outraged by Russia’s conduct.  Putin will continue to threaten us.  (How does it all end? “Not with a bang, but a whimper.”)

Russia will be isolated from the western world.  “Normal” relations will not resume until Putin is out of power.

5. Russia will lash out.  Since the war began we’ve been expecting Russia to do something to hurt NATO countries — such as arrange for Marine Le Pen to become president of France.  The  most likely possibility is cyber warfare.  A recent “Sixty Minutes” segment explored this possibility.  ( https://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-cyberattacks-60-minutes-2022-04-17/)  One of the presenters observed: “The reality is that [The United States has] way too many targets. If you look particularly in our energy sector, you have regional utilities. You have minor energy processing companies, storage companies, pipeline companies. And make no mistake, Bill. The cyber actors that [Russia has] are top notch. And they’ve demonstrated that time and time again.”

Russia will continue to interfere in US Politics.  (Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, Rand Paul…)

To say the least, this is a dangerous period.  If, as i expect, Russia eventually retreats to the previous Ukraine border, Russian forces will likely use heinous weapons to render the Donbas landscape unusable.

6. Germany is particularly vulnerable.  German has taken steps to aid Ukraine but not to the extent that the other major NATO members have.  That’s because Germany gets 34 percent of it gas, 32 percent of its oil, and 43 percent of its coal from Russia.

If Russia loses, as we expect, it’s reasonable to expect NATO members to suffer for this; of course, Russia would need to find a big customer to replace the revenue.  The Guardian observes that Germany is at the edge of recession.  (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/apr/22/russian-gas-ban-germany-recession-bundesbank?)

7. Russia is vulnerable to China. In a recent Renew Democracy podcast (https://renewdemocracy.substack.com/p/germanys-making-a-deadly-mistake? ), Tom Tugendhat was interviewed; he’s a member of the British Parliament and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  He observed that it’s not just Russia’s reputation that’s been damaged by their poor performance in Ukraine.  Tugendhat noted that to resupply troops killed or injured in Ukraine, Russia has been forced to withdraw troops from their eastern provinces.

It’s conceivable that China will capitalize on Russia’s weakness and take back territory such as Manchuria.  China might invade Siberia, where there are big oil fields.

8. There will be severe economic consequences.  There is a school of thought that argues the war will only stop when Russia runs out of money; that is, when NATO countries stop buying Russian fossil fuel — currently estimated at $1 billion per day. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/27/russia-doubles-fossil-fuel-revenues-since-invasion-of-ukraine-began? )

However, there is an emerging school of thought that argues the war will end when Russia so depletes their military store that to continue the Ukrainian invasion would present Russia with a grave national security threat.  In other words, Russia will have lost so many troops, tanks, trucks, and other weapons that they will not be able to adequately secure their vast territory.

The latter possibility once seemed unthinkable. Now it isn’t.  Russia has lost far more troops than they anticipated and cannot adequately replace them.

During the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has lost about one-quarter of their armored vehicles — roughly 1200.  They still have a lot of armored vehicles but they are not replenishing this supply and evidence suggests the existing store is poorly maintained.  That suggests that by June, Russia will have lost more than half of their half of their armored vehicles.

The war may continue but it will soon have grave consequences for the Russian and Ukrainian economies.  Russia exports fertilizer, and grain to the West.  These exports will stop as well as Ukrainian agricultural exports. The cessation of Ukrainian agricultural exports will create a food crisis in the Mediterranean region.  Writing in Common Dreams, Steven Devereux (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2022/03/28/russias-war-ukraine-poses-threat-global-food-security) observed: “Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of Europe, and Russia and Ukraine have both become major food exporters in recent years. In 2020 these two countries accounted for one third of the world’s wheat trade and one quarter of the world’s barley trade. Ukraine alone exported 15 percent of the world’s maize and half of all sunflower oil traded globally.”  The war will drive up food prices.

9.  The environmental consequences are unthinkable.  Russia is the largest country in the world with 11 percent of the world landmass.  It’s unthinkable to seriously attack global climate change without the support of Russia.  Nonetheless, under the present circumstances, that’s not going to happen — and is unlikely to happen until Putin is out of power. (Note that the effort to combat climate change has some support from all other major powers, including China, third largest, Brazil , fifth largest, India, seventh largest, and Kazakhstan, ninth largest.)

For the foreseeable future, the world will have to tackle climate change without the support of Russia,

10. Politics: We’ve started World War III, but the United States remains divided along political lines;  According to the latest Pew Research Poll (https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2022/04/06/seven-in-ten-americans-now-see-russia-as-an-enemy/ ) “69% of Republicans [describe] Russia as an enemy.”  (Only 6 percent express confidence in Putin.)  Nonetheless, there are huge partisan divide on the conduct of the war;.The latest Pew Research poll indicates that Americans are divided on the Biden Administration’s handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: 47 percent strongly approve and 39 percent strongly disapprove.  Opinion is divided along partisan lines: 69 percent of Democrats strongly approve and 67 percent of Republicans strongly disapprove.

It’s difficult to understand what Republicans disapprove of since they seem to change their tune every day.  The one continuing theme is that Republicans don’t like Joe Biden.

But some Republicans have seen the light.  Writing in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/24/biden-is-getting-ukraine-right-russia-war-critics/?), Republican columnist Jennifer Rubin thinks that Biden has done a good job managing the war in Ukraine. “In our age of perpetual cynicism, distrust and discontent, it would be unheard of for [Republicans] to acknowledge that an administration is doing just about everything humanly possible to confront evil. But this administration is. For that, Biden deserves a great deal of credit.”

Summary: Welcome to the new world order.  We’re not doing enough to combat climate change.  Russia has launched World War III.  And Republicans have lost their minds.

La Bulle

While I sat at my desk searching for artistic vision
A gust of whimsy lifted me up out of my senior routine
As if I were a wayward party balloon.

I hovered above my house
Slightly to the left of the solar panels.

To the west, a glimmering sliver of the Pacific
A tonsure of fog.
Cattle ranches separated by
Oak-dense canyons.
Around me redwood groves
the green hills of Occidental.
To the east, vineyards
Organic farms.
The dreaded strip malls of Petaluma.

Sanctuary
Unified by music and poetry.

Ukraine: Russian Disinformation


As the war in Ukraine drags on, it becomes increasingly apparent that one of the major parameters is disinformation. For example, the attitude inside Russia seems to be that Vladimir Putin’s military operations are justified because Putin is protecting “the fatherland” from neo-Nazis. Pro-Putin propaganda has been disseminated throughout the world; It has infected Republican legislators.

Russia: In the United States, a narrative has circulated suggesting the war will end when Russians rise up and depose Putin.  Nonetheless, Russian opinion polls suggest that Putin is very popular because the average Russian believes that Putin is protecting “the fatherland.”  A recent Levada poll discussed in Newsweek (https://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-approval-rating-increase-russia-1693521 ) “Showed that approval of Putin’s actions increased from 69 percent in January to 83 percent in March.”  (Statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/896181/putin-approval-rating-russia/) confirms that within Russia, Putin has strong approval ratings.)  Nonetheless, a recent academic study discussed in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/04/13/putin-public-opinion-propaganda-levada-center/ ) indicates that Putin’s ratings are fragile: “These findings suggest that much of Putin’s support is based on perceptions that he is popular. Without that perception, Putin’s popularity fades.”

The Russian media has a consistent message: “Ukraine is a threat to ‘the fatherland’ and Vladimir Putin is a strong president who is protecting Russia.”  The monolithic Russia media is also dismissing reports that the initial Russian effort was unsuccessful or that Russian troops have committed war crimes.

If this seems familiar, it is similar to the situation in Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II.  Hitler was very popular in Germany and disliked in most of the rest of the world.  One of Hitler’s lieutenants, Joseph Goebbels, ran the ministry of propaganda.  He succeeded in convincing most Germans that Adolph Hitler was the right person to protect their country.

Europe: Russia’s distorted view of Putin isn’t an isolated phenomenon.  Throughout the world, there are many countries where the Russian actions in Ukraine are viewed more sympathetically than US citizens would believe.  For example, “In polls on several Chinese websites, generally about 40 percent of Chinese people remain neutral, about 30 percent support Russia, and about 20 percent support Ukraine.” (https://thediplomat.com/2022/03/why-do-many-chinese-sympathize-with-russia-in-the-ukraine-conflict/)

While most of the NATO countries have strong support for Ukraine in the war, and equally strong dislike of Putin, there is a different attitude among Europe’s far-right parties.  This is seen in Hungary with the government of Viktor Orban.  It is also a feature of the current French election which pits centrist Emmanuel Macron against right-wing Marine Le Pen.

Al Jazeera (https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2022/4/4/forbidden-love-putin-and-the-french-european) recently observed: “French opposition leader Marine Le Pen, the de facto spokesperson of the European far right, has been rising in the polls despite her ongoing support and admiration for [Putin] …. In 2014, Le Pen endorsed the Kremlin’s referendum in the Russian-annexed Crimea as legitimate and has been accused of being a Putin stooge. In 2015, reports in the French press based on hacked Kremlin records showed that Le Pen may have lent her support to Putin’s annexation in return for a nine million euro ($9.9m) loan from a Russian bank – although the allegations of a quid pro quo have never been proved.”

On April 24, Macron and Le Pen will vie for the French presidency.  Le Pen is close despite her long-time support for Putin.  The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/11/french-election-runoff-marine-le-pen-putin/) noted: “A National Rally campaign leaflet distributed this year depicted her shaking hands with the Russian president, and the party funded itself with a 9 million euro loan from a Russian bank in 2014. Ms. Le Pen’s long-standing hostility to NATO is well-known; she is promising to withdraw the French military from the alliance’s command structure.”

United States: Donald Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin is well known. On February 27, Trump said: “Yesterday, I was asked by reporters if I thought President Putin was smart. I said, ‘of course he’s smart… The problem is not that Putin is smart, which of course he is smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb.”

But Trump wasn’t the only Republican leader to admire Putin.  “Putin’s high-profile admirers include alt-right agitator Steve Bannon and former White House communications director and presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. Prominent television host Tucker Carlson spoke out in support of Putin just one day before Russia invaded Ukraine, questioning whether Putin was the enemy liberals painted him to be: ‘Why do Democrats want you to hate Putin? Has Putin shipped every middle class job in your town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked your business? Is he teaching your kids to embrace racial discrimination?'” (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-04-02/putin-s-supporters-in-united-states-europe/100944412)

Late in January, a Yahoo/YouGov poll (https://news.yahoo.com/poll-as-ukraine-tensions-escalate-62-percent-of-republicans-say-putin-is-a-stronger-leader-than-biden-192437439.html ) found “more than 6 in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (62 percent) now say Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a stronger leader” than Joe Biden.”

50 days into the war, most Republicans have changed their tune.  According to the latest Pew Research Poll (https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2022/04/06/seven-in-ten-americans-now-see-russia-as-an-enemy/ ) “69% of Republicans [describe] Russia as an enemy.”  (Only 6 percent express confidence in Putin.)  Nonetheless, there are huge partisan divide on the conduct of the war; for example, like Marine Le Pen, most conservative Republicans do not have confidence in NATO.

The latest Pew Research poll indicates that Americans are divided on the Biden Administration’s handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: 47 percent strongly approve and 39 percent strongly disapprove.  Opinion is divided along partisan lines: 69 percent of Democrats strongly approve and 67 percent of Republicans strongly disapprove.

Analysis: Note that since Russia invaded Ukraine, most Republicans have become negative on Putin and Russia, but have not rallied around President Biden.  We’re at war with Russia but unlike the situation in previous wars, Republicans have not rallied around the commander-in-chief.

There are two connected explanations for this.  One is that many Republicans like Putin because he reflects their world view.  Putin is a racist misogynistic bully.  Many conservatives see him as a rugged individual guided by the philosophy of self-interest popularized by Ayn Rand (BTW: She was born  Alisha Rosenbaum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.)  In other words, Vladimir Putin is not woke.  He has a very simple moral philosophy; the ends always justify the means.  Writing in the New Statesman ( https://www.newstatesman.com/world/americas/north-america/us/2022/03/why-parts-of-the-us-right-cant-quit-putin) Emily Tamkin opined: “The far right – or at least the Trump-aligned far right – is already too deep into conspiracy theories to break with Russia, or at least to side cleanly with Ukraine…”

The other explanation for the undue influence that Putin has had on US politics is that we have allowed Russian money to have undue influence in US politics.  Since Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign, there have been indications that Russia funneled money to the Republican Party.  The Mueller investigation reported that Russia “interfered” in the 2016 election and there were troubling links between the Trump campaign and Russian actors including Russian Oligarchs; see for example, this article by professor Ruth May (https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2018/05/08/how-putin-s-oligarchs-funneled-millions-into-gop-campaigns/ )

Summary: Recently, CNN host Jim Acosta (https://www.politicususa.com/2022/04/10/jim-acosta-nails-tucker-carlson-for-using-russian-talking-points.html ) pointed out that Tucker Carlson (Fox News) was repeating Russian talking points about Ukraine: ” Last week Tucker Carlson tried to imply that some of what you are seeing [about Russian atrocities] has been fabricated and amplified by news organizations. That sounds a lot like what we heard from Putin’s spokesman who said bodies lining the streets were, quote, a forgery, aimed at denigrating the Russian army.”  Prominent Republican members of Congress like Marjorie Taylor Green and Josh Hawley are also repeating Russian talking points.

It’s time to call out the ongoing Russian-sponsored disinformation campaign for what it is: a national security threat.

It’s time to call out Republicans, who praise Putin and denigrate Biden, for what they really are: traitors.  It’s time to brand Tucker Carlson as a traitor.

We are at war with Russia.  We don’t have to put up with Republican craziness any longer.

Tabula Rasa


My poetry brain is empty.
Can I have a little help please?
Just answer these questions.

“Who is the first person you would invite to your (ideal) dinner party?”
“A bad place to take a first date.”
“Name the eleventh commandment.”
“How do we know God is a woman?”
“What’s the first thing you will do when you become President?”

“I dreamt I walked into a party wearing a ___.”
“I got a new filling and now I hear ___ all the time.”
“My dog ate my ______.”
“Don’t move, that’s a _______.”
“For every ___ there are seven ____.”

“Someone has to tell you this: ____.”
“I know I was speeding officer but _____.”
“I’ve been praying for ____ to show up.”
“I may look ___ but here’s what you should know about me: ______.”
“I know Susie and I are naked, but there’s a simple explanation ___”

Ukraine: Sanctions and Opportunities


There are two schools of thought about resolution of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. One argues that there must be a negotiated settlement and the other believes the conflict will only end when Russia is “brought to its knees.”  The latter perspective carries risk but notable opportunities.

The negotiated settlement perspective suggests that Russia will stop the invasion if the eastern portion of Ukraine is ceded to Russia; that is, the Donbas region. Russia would require Ukraine to declare “neutrality.”  A negotiated settlement ends the conflict, for now; Russian bombing would stop, along with the horrific civilian casualties.  It’s unclear what would happen with sanctions or who would pay to rebuild Ukraine.

The “bring Russia to its knees” perspective argues that the invasion will only stop when the Russian economy is so weakened that Putin can no longer afford to have armed forces in Ukraine.  This is the position argued eloquently by Bill Browder in  a recent Renew Democracy podcast (https://renewdemocracy.substack.com/p/-winter-is-here-ep5-how-do-sanctions?s=r)

In essence, Bill Browder’s argument has three parts;

1.The west can’t negotiate with Putin because he is a psychopath.  Browder argues that the US and our allies  cannot trust Putin, because he invades neighboring countries as a tactic in his grandiose scheme to stay in power.  Therefore, from Browder’s perspective, a negotiated settlement is impossible because Putin will use this as an opportunity to rearm; Putin will not be deterred by an settlement in Ukraine.  Speaking to Barron’s magazine (https://www.barrons.com/articles/putin-sanctions-bill-browder-51646267765) Bill Browder observed, ““Putin has no reverse gear. His whole psychology is prison-yard psychology. You can’t show any weakness. You have to be more brutal than anybody out there.”

In recent days, as Russia has withdrawn from northern Ukraine, we have seen graphic evidence of Russian war crimes.  This underscores Browder’s contention that Putin is a psychopath.

The only way to stop Vladimir Putin is to (metaphorically) put him in jail. He cannot actually be put into prison, because he is in Russia.  Therefore, the strategy has to be to isolate all of Russia.  There must be a total blockade.

2. The best way to stop Putin is through sanctions.  One way to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine is for NATO forces to enter Ukraine, to fight alongside Ukrainian troops and force all Russian forces out of Ukraine.  The west hasn’t chosen to do this because of our belief that Putin would respond by using weapons of mass destruction and the conflict would escalate into world war III.

Browder believes Putin will stop the war in Ukraine when Russia runs out of money.  Browder notes  that Putin is financing the war by using funds gained from selling fossil fuel to the west.  (Estimated to be $1 billion per day.) That is, the current sanctions have diminished the flow of EU money to Russia but not eliminated  it.  Russia is wounded but not yet “brought to its knees.”

Renew Democracy is grading the sanctions (https://fight4ukraine.com ).  The US grades at B-.
Sanctions are broken down into seven categories: condemnation, military support for Ukraine, financial sanctions, sanctions on individuals, diplomatic isolation, propaganda, and replacement of Russian energy. Renew Democracy observed that the US is doing well on “condemnation” and “financial sanctions” but needs do more work on the other categories such as “military support” and “sanctions on individuals.”  The US and our NATO partners are sending increased level of military support to Ukraine.

The key problem is that NATO is not united in the severity of sanctions.  Some NATO members are buying lots of oil and gas from Russia and have implemented only limited financial sanctions.  (They can’t block money transfers to all Russian banks because they need to have a payment channel.)  Most Russian fuel exports go to EU countries: the largest customer is Germany which gets 49 percent of their fuel needs from Russia; the second largest is Italy (46 percent); then Turkey (65 percent); France (24 percent); Hungary (72 percent); Finland (100 percent); Slovakia (100 percent); Poland (60 percent); Czech Republic (82 percent) and Austria (63 percent).  If Russia were to cut off fuel exports to the EU, these countries would be severely impacted.

On April 8, the US Congress voted to ban all Russian oil imports.  (https://thehill.com/news/senate/3261477-senate-passes-package-to-limit-trade-with-russia/)  The same day, the European Union voted to stop all Russia coal imports by August (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/06/business/russia-coal-europe.html ) : “Imports from Russia accounted for 47 percent of coal coming into the European Union in 2019.”

To use a deliberately disturbing metaphor, NATO is a fossil-fuel junkie that finds itself at war with its dealer.  It is proving difficult for NATO to stop using Russian fuel imports.  So NATO continues to fund the Russian war in Ukraine.

Obviously, this is an opportunity for a massive shift to renewable energy.

2. Another way to stop  Putin is to seize the assets of Russian Oligarchs.  Bill Browder estimates that Vladimir Putin and his associates have looted $1trillion from Russia.  Browder estimates there are more than 100 “oligarchs.”  They have a straightforward relationship with Putin: half of their assets belong to him; they do his bidding without equivocation or they die.  (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/04/meet-the-oligarchs-sanctions-russian-billionaires )

NATO has  begun seizing the assets of these oligarchs; for example, seizing their super-yachts and planes.  However, many of these assets are hidden deep in a web of legal deception.  Like sanctions, dealing with the kleptocrats will take time.

This is an opportunity to deal with kleptocrats, in general.  For example, the US has oil barons.

Summary: Once again, I’m conveying a grim message.  Nonetheless, I do not feel pessimistic; i feel determined.  We’re at a moment similar to that in “The Wizard of Oz” when the curtains are lifted and we see the Wizard for who he truly is — a fake.  The curtains of Russia have been lifted and we’ve seen Vladimir Putin for who ihe truly is — a psychopath.  We can’t play nice with a psychopath.

We know what to do.  Now we must do it.  We must take the actions necessary to bring Russia to its knees.

 

 

Ukraine: What Have We Learned


It’s been five weeks since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The conflict threatens to stretch out for months; a resolution is murky. Nonetheless, we have learned several important lessons:

1.Putin is a thug. Out here on the Left Coast we never had high expectations for Vladimir Putin. We knew that he came out of the Soviet KGB and heard rumors that he was a “kleptocrat,” reportedly the richest man in Europe ( https://fortune.com/2022/03/02/vladimir-putin-net-worth-2022/). We didn’t trust Vlad. We believed that he contrived to get Donald Trump elected in 2016.

We thought Putin was immoral but smart. When it looked like he was going to invade Ukraine, we worried, “Poor Ukraine. Russia will roll over them in a few days.”

We forgot that thugs often start out wily but then get overconfident — inflated with hubris.  Thugs surround themselves with sycophants.  They start believing their own B.S.

Putin got cocky.  He thought Ukraine and NATO would roll over if he acted tough.  He confused brutality with guile.  As a result, Putin got Russia into a war it cannot win.  Now he is scrambling to find a way out that “saves face.” It’s not clear what that is.

2. Ukraine isn’t going to roll over.  What’s become obvious is that Putin underestimated Ukraine’s military capabilities.  Putin’s initial objective was to quickly occupy Ukraine’s four largest cities: Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, and Lviv.  That’s not going to happen.

Putin underestimated Ukraine and most of us over-estimated Russia.  Most Ukrainians would rather fight to the death than be occupied by Russians.  Given what we’ve seen in the last five weeks, the Ukrainian attitude makes sense: Russia has been brutal with civilians.

Russia has more missiles and bombs than Ukraine does.  But Ukraine has proven superior at ground combat.  It appears that the Ukrainian communication and logistical systems are better than those of the Russians.  For example, it appears that the Russian attack on Kyiv stalled because there was poor communication among the Russian troops and they ran out of supplies.

3. It’s difficult to find middle ground.  Russia has agreed to hold “peace talks” with Ukraine; they’re beeing held in Turkey.  Russia has suggested a “lull” in the fighting; they would pull back from Kyiv and concentrate on solidifying their gains in the east, in the Donbas region.  There’s no reason to believe the Russians are doing anything more than stopping to resupply their troops.

Ukraine would agree to “neutrality” but wants a return of the areas of Ukraine that Russia has seized.  Russia won’t agree to that.  Russia wants the economic sanctions to end; NATO won’t agree to that until Ukraine’s demands are met.

It’s hard to see how there can be a quick negotiated settlement.  Putin needs to save face and that’s not possible.

4.There are important consequences of a protracted conflict:

a. Food:  Russia exports fertilizer, and grain to the West.  These exports will stop as well as Ukrainian agricultural exports. The cessation of Ukrainian agricultural exports will create a food crisis in the Mediterranean region.

Writing in Common Dreams, Steven Devereux (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2022/03/28/russias-war-ukraine-poses-threat-global-food-security) observed: “Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of Europe, and Russia and Ukraine have both become major food exporters in recent years. In 2020 these two countries accounted for one third of the world’s wheat trade and one quarter of the world’s barley trade. Ukraine alone exported 15 percent of the world’s maize and half of all sunflower oil traded globally.”  The war will drive up food prices.

b. Energy: A total blockade of Russia will create a fuel crisis in Europe.  Some EU members are extremely dependent upon Russian gas; for example, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Poland.  There is no quick solution for these countries.  (For example, Germany has no port suitable for the processing of liquid natural gas.)  At the moment, Germany and Austria have ordered fuel rationing; they are preparing for Russia to stop sending gas through the pipelines.

Russia is demanding that EU countries pay for Russian gas in roubles (https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/russia-sets-deadline-rouble-gas-payments-europe-calls-it-blackmail-2022-03-31/).  The EU countries seem unlikely to do this. The war will drive up energy prices.

c. Cyber warfare: We haven’t seen the massive cyberattacks that we expected.  But Russia has.  This week Aviation News (https://www.aviation24.be/miscellaneous/russo-ukrainian-war/powerful-cyber-attack-on-russias-civil-aviation-authority-servers-no-more-data-nor-back-up/ ) reported a massive hack: “A powerful and effective cyberattack on the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) infrastructure that took place on Saturday morning has erased all documents, files, aircraft registration data and mails from the servers. In total, about 65 terabytes of data was erased.”  This suggests that we will see an escalation of cyber attacks.  The war will directly impact US security.

c. Climate Change:  The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a disaster for the climate change movement.  The constant Russian shelling has dire consequences — along with the use of mines and other weapons aimed at civilians.

Because there will be an energy “panic” in Europe, there will be enormous pressure in North America to produce as much oil as possible, so we can ship a lot of it to the EU — to replace the oil no longer provided by Russia.

d. Accidents: the longer the war continues, the greater the probability that Putin will do something horrible.  It’s seems increasingly likely that Russian forces will damage a Ukrainian nuclear plant and cause a massive radiation leak (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/31/nuclear-power-plant-ukraine-danger/).  Sadly, it’s within the realm of possibility that Putin — because he is a thug, who is playing a losing hand — will use tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons.

Summary: If this analysis seems gloomy, it is.  The Russia-Ukraine conflict is going to stretch on; there’s little hope for a quick diplomatic solution.  There are all kinds of sinister side affects.  Putin made a big mistake, but he’s incapable of admitting it.

 

Instruction Manual

Something broke.
Now
I can’t find
My instruction manual.

I remember
Leaving it
In my bottom desk drawer
Amongst the other manuals.

It’s not there.
However, I did find
Instructions for my
Dust buster.

I’m sure my mother
Referred to my manual;
She was always attempting to
Fix me.

The manual recommended:
Clean underwear
Short hair
Brushed teeth
Erect posture
Fixed smile
Closed mouth
Unblinking subservience.

Perhaps I lost my manual
During the sixties.
When my hair grew long, and
I turned to the dark side.

Nonetheless
I’m positive I had it
When I moved to Occidental
Eager to fit in.

Now something is broken
I’m bekloppt, and
Sure could use
My instruction manual.

My kids say:
“Locate your manual in the cloud.”
That requires a serial number
Which I can’t find.

There’s always prayer
But, after all these years,
My faith is fallow
Perhaps that’s what’s broken.

Ukraine: The Tipping Point

It’s been three weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine and the Western world is wondering: “How can we bring this horrible war to an end and spare the lives of millions of innocent Ukrainians?”  We’re searching for a tipping point; searching for a way out.

Here are several factors to consider:

1.Vladimir Putin: The Russian dictator is blocking a reasonable end to the conflict.  To say the least, Putin has a warped worldview: he invaded Ukraine with the intention to reassemble “Russkiy Mir” (Russian World); to unite all Russian-speaking people.  Building upon this perspective, Putin does not consider Ukraine to be a separate part of Russia and plans to annex it.

Experts believe that Putin intends to seize the four largest Ukrainian cities: Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and Lviv.  If he is successful, Putin will install Russian puppet mayors, hold mock elections, and declare that Ukrainians have voted to rejoin Russia.

Putin does not care how many civilians he kills in order to achieve his objective.

Putin is the reincarnation of Adolph Hitler.

2. Incrementalism: On March 12th, I listened to a ZOOM briefing on Ukraine (https://rdi.org/situation-report-from-the-ukrainian-foreign-minister/ ) featuring Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, renown Russian dissident Garry Kasparov, national security expert USA Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, and individuals from the Ukrainian front lines.

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman (retired) is the former Director for European Affairs for the US National Security council; a naturalized US citizen, Vindman was born in Kyiv. He opined that what is required to stop Putin is a massive NATO response, certainly providing aircraft to Ukraine, and possibly declaring a “no-fly” zone.  He reminded viewers that Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and for the next 27 months — until December 11, 1941 — the US policy was “incrementalism.” While the US did provide some support to Europe, it was woefully inadequate; Hitler rampaged across the continent and killed millions of innocents.  Colonel Vindman said, in effect, that Putin is Hitler and will not be deterred by anything short of a massive military response.  Vindman warned that unless we do this, Putin will kill millions of Ukrainians.  (Ukraine has a population of 44 million.)

At the ZOOM briefing, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba asked the United States to provide four forms of assistance: sanctions on Russia, humanitarian assistance, conventional arms (including anti-tank weapons), and planes.

3.Next Steps: The official US position is that we will provide the first three forms of assistance requested by Foreign Minister Kuleba.  But not planes from NATO countries.

a. We should provide Ukraine with better surface-to-air missiles.  Indications are that we are doing this.

b. NATO teams should jam Russian communications.  We seem to be doing this.

c. We should provide Ukraine with aircraft via non-NATO countries, such as Moldava and “Kurdistan.”  (Technically, Kurdistan is not a country.)

d. As proposed by Evelyn Farkas in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/03/11/ukraine-no-fly-escalation-humanitarian/) NATO should insist on humanitarian no-fly zones: “These would build on the agreements between Ukraine and Russia to create safe corridors allowing civilians to leave the sites of battles. Russia would have to allow NATO planes to ensure that no attacks occurred in these corridors. (That no attacks will occur is something Russia has already pledged.) Given its mutual nature and limited goal, such a plan would not require the destruction of Russian radars and antiaircraft weaponry on the ground. NATO would make explicitly clear that it intends no attacks unless civilians are imperiled.”

e. The West should strengthen economic sanctions and cut off all oil purchases from Russia; in essence, blockade the Russian economy.

f. The US should cease all normal diplomatic relations with Russia.  (By the way,  the Renew Democracy Initiative (https://fight4ukraine.com ) rates the US sanctions as a C-.)

4.Drawing a Red Line: At the beginning of World War Ii, the United States failed to draw a red line with Hitler.  We watched as he invaded Poland and then steadily moved across Europe.  We must draw a red line with Putin and declare: “If you do this, we will declare a ‘no-fly’ zone over Ukraine and enforce it with NATO planes.”

a. Putin must not be allowed to use biological or chemical weapons.

b. Russian forces must maintain captured Ukrainian nuclear power plants in a way that does not produces dangerous radiation.  If they destroy the power plants, that constitutes crossing the red line,

c. Putin must permit stable humanitarian-relief corridors.  There has to be a way to evacuate civilians and to provide humanitarian aid.

d. Obviously, Russian forces must not enter any NATO nation.

5. The Role of China: Hu Wei, a distinguished Chinese political scientist, (https://uscnpm.org/2022/03/12/hu-wei-russia-ukraine-war-china-choice/ ) argues that China must intervene on the side of the West (United States and Nato) and force Russia to leave Ukraine: “China should avoid playing both sides in the same boat, give up being neutral, and choose the mainstream position in the world.,, In some cases, apparent neutrality is a sensible choice, but it does not apply to this war, where China has nothing to gain. Given that China has always advocated respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, it can avoid further isolation only by standing with the majority of the countries in the world.”  President Biden is taking to Chinese Premier Xi bout chin’s role.

Summary: Perhaps a negotiated settlement is possible, but it appears more likely that we’ve entered into a war of attrition, where Russian forces will remain in Ukraine until they run out of energy.  This could take months.  In the meantime, the United States should continue to provide all forms of assistance.  And, NATO with the aid of China, should demand humanitarian-relief corridors.

Ireland

1. The Island

As the sun kissed the rain-slick Irish hills
And the mist rose off Bantry Bay
I cried
From the joy of being present
At the birth of life.

2. The Music

What is the measure of a man?
Perhaps, his ability to sing
At the local pub.

An Irish bard named Joyce
Possessed a magnificent voice
When full of the bubblin’
His songs lifted Dublin
Until he made an unfortunate choice.

“At a key juncture in 1904, James Joyce almost won the most prestigious music competition in Ireland.. The judge Luigi Denza… was so impressed with his singing that he was prepared to give Joyce the gold medal—until the young author refused to participate in the sight-singing part of the event.” Joyce then left Ireland.

3. The People

“It doesn’t matter what the topic is, any self-respective Irish person will be able to talk about it and at a rapid pace. So whether it is the taxi driver or just someone you’ve stopped to ask directions, don’t expect it to be a quick conversation.” Guidebook

There was a lass from Cork
Whose tongue was shaped like a fork
Her spoken word
Was sure to be heard
Delivered with unusual torque.

“It is a much cleverer thing to talk nonsense than to listen to it.”
Oscar Wilde