Archive for March, 2022

The plan to steal the 2024 presidential election – posted 3/27/2022

March 27, 2022 Leave a comment

You might think that if some political partisans had a plan to steal a presidential election, it would be kept top secret. That is not the case with the Republican Party. Their plan to steal the 2024 presidential election could not be more public. The writer, Ari Berman has accurately summarized:

“Ahead of the midterms, Republicans have launched a full-scale assault on the election system. Fueled by the Big Lie, this attack relies upon a multi-pronged strategy of gerrymandering, voter suppression and the takeover of election positions by ideologues who allege the 2020 election was stolen.”

Because more has been written about the gerrymandering and the voter suppression, I wanted to focus on the election subversion. That subversion is far more organized than is generally known. The plan comes out of lessons learned by Trump’s unsuccessful coup attempt in 2020-2021.

The Republicans are advancing a Big Lie alliance to take control of the presidential election process in key battleground states. They did not have the operatives in place in 2020 to overturn the result although Trump certainly tried.

The plan is to put into place “Stop the Steal” authoritarians who will oversee how elections are run and how votes are counted. These pro-Trump forces believe, without evidence, that Trump was cheated out of a 2020 election win. It must always be remembered that over 60 federal and state courts upheld the fairness of the election.

In deciding the 2024 election, Republicans will deem the election “legitimate” if the Republican candidate wins. If the Democratic candidate wins, Republicans will deem the election “illegitimate”. The Republicans will allege voter fraud if they are on the losing end just as Trump did in 2020.

The big difference is that this time around the Republicans plan to seize control of vital electoral positions. At least 11 Big Lie advocates are running for Attorney General in 10 states. 21 Big Lie advocates are running for Secretary of State in 18 states. The Republicans are also fielding 51 Big Lie supporter candidates who are running for governor in 24 states. These are people who wanted to certify Trump as president in 2020 even though he lost.

If Big Lie supporters were willing to install Trump into power before, is there any reason to believe they would not do it again? They are running for office on a pledge to do it.

There is actually a coalition of America First Secretary of State candidates including candidates in key swing states. We have Jody Hice in Georgia, Mark Finchem in Arizona and Kristina Karano in Michigan. They have all received the coveted Trump endorsement. It would appear that only the most slavish devotees get the nod.

Finchem, who has in the past identified as an Oath Keeper, was at the January 6 insurrection. Without evidence, he argued that Biden relied on fraudulent votes by undocumented immigrants living in Arizona. He signed a joint resolution from 30 Republican lawmakers that called on Congress to block the state’s 11 electoral college votes going to Biden. The resolution urged Congress to accept “ the alternate 11 electoral votes for Donald J. Trump”.

Here is the most disturbing scenario: if the Democratic candidate wins the popular vote in a battleground state, the pro-Trump forces are prepared to replace electors chosen by the populace with electors hand-picked by legislators. This is hardly that far-fetched. 147 House Republicans voted to invalidate Biden’s election last time.

Part of the problem we are facing is weakness in the Electoral Count Act of 1887 which governs how Congress counts presidential electors. Last time Trump tried to get state officials to change the results in states Biden won. Then he tried to get Vice President Mike Pence to reject key states’ elector slates.

Legal scholar Matthew Seligman has written extensively about the anti-democratic dangers that currently exist. Seligman writes that the risk that most threatens the 2024 presidential election is what he has called the Swing State Governor’s Gambit. Say the Republicans win the House in 2024. In a close election, rogue Republican governors could send a Republican slate of electors for certification even if the Democrats won the vote. The pretext would again be voter fraud.

Under the Electoral Count Act, both the House and the Senate must object to a slate of electors to invalidate it. If the Republicans controlled one chamber, the slate of electors would still eke through the fray.

No doubt there would be court challenges but it is impossible to predict the outcome. Possibly the Court would punt, say it is a political question, and not intervene. On the other hand, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court might entertain the independent state legislative doctrine which could allow state legislatures to replace the voters in choosing electors. Such a process could make the loser the winner. It would certainly provoke a monumental constitutional crisis.

After the 2020 election, the need for reforming the Electoral Count Act should be obvious. Not even getting into the Electoral College which is its own can of worms, it must be clarified that the Vice President doesn’t decide elections. The popular vote must be honored in the states.Again, this should be obvious but even Democrats have underestimated the potential for bad faith manipulation.

I fear the Democrats are sleepwalking toward disaster and the end of American democracy where they could be a permanent minority. They seem stuck in some past paradigm, underestimating how many Republicans have fallen for the Trump propaganda. A sense of urgency is lacking and there is fatalism about losing the mid-terms. The Democrats are pretending normalcy.

What is truly sad though is what has happened to the Republican Party. Maybe they want to win too much but they do not see the harm they are doing by sabotaging democracy. Democracy needs political parties that will accept the will of the voters. One side cannot always obtain its desired outcome. Accepting loss is part of the process.

Too many Republicans have fallen prey to disinformation. Conspiracy theories are their currency whether birtherism, QAnon or the Big Lie. There is also a self-righteous tendency on the Right to see themselves as the only real Americans. A large number of Republicans are too ready to resort to violence. A poll from the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute revealed that one-third of Republicans believe that violence may be necessary “in order to save our country”.

This is not a “both sides are doing it” matter. The Republicans are guilty of an asymmetric polarization.

It may be though that the threat to democracy in 2024 will come more from amoral lawyers than from violent insurrectionists. Lawyers who are bad faith manipulators could and would justify the losing side winning.

On January 6, 2021, Mitch McConnell said:

“If the election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost.”

I don’t usually agree with Mitch McConnell but with this statement, I agree.

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Time to retire “woke” – posted 3/20/2022

March 20, 2022 Leave a comment

In his classic essay “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell made a number of still-pertinent statements. He said:

“In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. When it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinion, and not a “party line”. Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.”

Orwell went on to discuss how political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Rather than fresh, vivid expression, words degenerate into cloudy vagueness.

I would suggest that the use of the term “woke” is a prime example of both the vagueness and the lifeless imitative style Orwell warned about. Republican use of “woke” has become a party line, repeated endlessly.

It is now a defense mechanism to avoid a legitimate discussion about institutional racism.

Use of “woke” on the Right is an automatic reflex. Just say “woke”, regardless of the circumstance. Debate then shifts into “is it woke?” This is an example of the slovenliness of language and the meaninglessness of words.

Like an invasive weed, its use is everywhere now. The theme of CPAC 2022 was “Awake, Not Woke”. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says wokeness is “a virus”. On his podcast with guest Erik Prince, Steve Bannon said:

“Putin ain’t woke. He is anti-woke. The Russians know which bathroom to use. They know how many genders there are.”

Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina said:

“Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

Fox host Tucker Carlson has railed against woke activism and woke generals in the Pentagon. Former President Trump has said, “Woke means you’re a loser. Everyone ultimately loses with woke”. When Republican Senator Mike Rounds from South Dakota acknowledged that the 2020 election was “fair”, Trump called him “woke” and “a jerk”.

Woke and the phrase “stay woke” actually have a long history. If anyone did a deep dive, you can go way back to long before Black Lives Matter, the 2014 Ferguson protests, and the #StayWoke hashtag. You could reference Marcus Garvey, Leadbelly’s song about the Scottsboro Boys or Erykah Badu’s song Master Teacher.

Charles Blow said that woke was a word born as a way of saying “Be aware of and alert to how racism is systemic and pervasive and suffuses American life. Wake up from the slumber of ignorance and passive acceptance”.

The history of woke is not germane to the Republican use of the term. Describing something as “woke” is a substitute for thought but it is actually worse than that. To go back to Orwell, it is a defense of an indefensible status quo. That status quo has hurt working people of all races and nationalities. The racism is a double whammy.

Use of woke to change the subject has obscured the Republican descent into authoritarianism and their acceptance of violence. It is a mistake to see “woke” outside the substitution of normal political conservatism by the Trumpist insurrectionist politics best reflected by January 6.

The attack on woke is of a piece with the assault on critical race theory. Republicans are attacking something they do not understand while creating a boogeyman. I would lay odds that if you asked rank-and-file Republican voters to explain critical race theory, nine out of ten could not give a coherent answer. Yet Trump says stopping critical race theory remains a life-and-death battle.

In his March 12 speech in Florence, South Carolina, Trump said:

“Getting critical race theory out of our schools is not just a matter of values. It’s also a matter of national survival. We have no choice…The fate of any nation ultimately depends upon the willingness of its citizens to lay down – and they must do this – lay down their very lives to defend their country…If we allow the Marxists and communists and socialists to teach our children to hate America, there will be no one left to defend our flag or protect our great country or its freedom.”

From beginning to end, Trump’s words are hyperbolic nonsense. Whether or not critical race theory is taught is not a matter of national survival. How we understand the past is a complicated matter and different ways of looking at history are protected by the First Amendment as a matter of intellectual freedom. You have to ask: why is Trump so scared of critical race theory? Could it be that it threatens his white supremacist world view? Talk about laying down lives is absurdly over-the-top.

Understanding American history is not about teaching children to hate America. It is about intellectual integrity. It is not enough for Trump to maintain a Big Lie about the 2020 election. He wants the Big Lie to extend to a whitewashed American history. He is always saying we have no choice when that is patently false.

I see the war on wokeness and critical race theory as an extension of Trump’s January 6 coup attempt. When people talk about left fascism, there is no comparability to what is going on with the extreme right. Nobody on the left tried to overthrow the government or violently attack the Capitol . January 6 was a clear warning shot and Trump and his insurrectionist allies have not backed off one bit.

Most of the media remain in denial about the authoritarian threat to democracy that is ongoing. We should be listening and paying close attention to the language being used by the Republican-authoritarians. Being anti-woke is about maintaining white supremacy.

James Baldwin once wrote, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” Instead of mandating a white supremacist version of our history, we should embrace the contradictions and teach a wide range of perspectives, including critical race theory. To my Republican friends I would say: abandon “woke” and say something original for a change.

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Sol Solomon – posted 3/17/2022

March 18, 2022 2 comments

My friend Sol died on March 2. Death ruthlessly snatched him away at age 74. The speed of it all is still shocking. He was playing tennis in January.

One of the most difficult aspects of aging is losing your friends. I saw that happen with my parent’s friends, getting picked off one by one. Sol was a very good friend, kind and big-hearted. As Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, and I take license, I am not resigned to this death.

Sol and I got acquainted around the end of 2018. He had reached out and organized get-togethers of some writers of Concord Monitor “My Turns” He and I often visited on the weekend.

Sol was a social organizer and he took the initiative to set up lunches with many of his friends. He had a wide circle. He loved good food and we hit spots in and around New London. He was a known quantity at the Millstone at 74 Main in New London. When you would go in they would ask, “Are you with Sol?”

Being a strong environmentalist was a major passion in Sol’s life. I remember his columns about people who see the earth as a dead rock. He most emphatically did not. He saw everything as inter-connected and having its own unique vibratory life force.

Sol was in touch with the earth as a hardcore gardener. He proudly showed me his raised beds. For forty years, he perfected his garden. He was very influenced by a book he read in 1978, The One-Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka had a minimalist approach to gardening that proved highly effective

Sol worried about our absurd carelessness with Mother Earth. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres just called the climate crisis “code red for humanity”. Sol’s attitude reminded me of a Tennessee Williams quote:

“We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.”

He was not a fatalist, however. In his own way, Sol remained an activist.

I do not know many members of Sol’s family but he was devoted to it. He was proud of his daughter Jen, who is an artist and his granddaughter, Eliza. He loved to show me Jen’s art. He lit up at just the mention of Eliza. He treasured his time with his granddaughter.

Sol looked to the example of indigenous people who understood their connection to the natural world and lived in harmony with it. A Native American chant captures Sol’s spirit:

“Walk tall as the trees; live strong as the mountains; be gentle as the spring winds; keep the warmth of summer in your heart, and the Great Spirit will always be with you.”

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Miscalculation and the increased risk of nuclear war – posted 3/6/2022

March 6, 2022 2 comments

One of the most unsettling aspects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the increased risk of nuclear war. At the start of the invasion, President Putin led off with this:

“To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me.”

That was certainly a nuclear threat. Putin told his top defense and military officials to put nuclear forces in a “special regime of combat duty”. It is not entirely clear what that means but it would appear to raise the nuclear threat level up a notch. Putin blames “illegal sanctions” and “aggressive statements” from countries in NATO. He has called the sanctions “a declaration of war”.

The United States and Russia continue to maintain the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world. Russia has 6,000 nukes. The U.S. has 5,600. Both sides can deliver them by plane, submarine and land-based ballistic missiles. The lethal potential is a doomsday scenario where a nuclear attack would result in both sides being annihilated many times over. As has been said about this outcome, the living would envy the dead.

As horrible and as criminal as Putin’s invasion is, the world must avert far worse possible catastrophes like a nuclear war. As Noam Chomsky has said, there has been a reaction “to reach for the six-gun rather than the olive branch”.

Efforts to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis should take center-stage, including ceasefires. We must support any diplomatic options that still exist whether through Israel, France or China. We should be looking for a face-saving off-ramp for Putin.

Nothing about the Ukraine invasion justifies a nuclear exchange. That should be obvious. Ideas like a no-fly zone or the introduction of American or NATO troops must be a non-starter because of the potential risk.

So much media discussion has centered around Putin’s “miscalculation”. And there is plenty of evidence Putin has miscalculated. It is hard not to worry that if Putin fears he is losing the war, he might miscalculate in worse ways.

America also has a long history of miscalculating. Looking back, the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq were horrible miscalculations. Our leaders repeatedly told us lies to justify those wars. Our military-industrial complex has a financial stake in such miscalculations so they can sell their weapons of mass destruction and profit off of war.

History is replete with examples of nations stumbling into war or almost accidentally stumbling into a war.

The outstanding example is the Cuban missile crisis from sixty years ago. The world was incredibly lucky then when Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev miscalculated, placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. We were much closer to a nuclear holocaust than is generally known. For thirteen days, humanity teetered on a knife’s edge. As a young boy, I remember the time.

There is a story from the Cuban missile crisis that deserves our attention.

On October 27, 1962, a little-known senior officer on a Soviet submarine, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, saved the world from nuclear war and mutually assured destruction. Arkhipov was aboard the Soviet sub B-29 which was in the waters off Cuba. He was the Brigade Chief of Staff on the submarine.

Arkhipov’s sub was one of four that had been sent from Moscow. Each carried a special weapon, a single ten-kiloton nuclear torpedo, comparable in strength to the bomb the Americans dropped on Hiroshima.

The commander of each submarine had permission to act without direct orders from higher-ups in Moscow if they believed they were under threat.

President John F. Kennedy had placed Cuba under a strict blockade. When our navy became aware of the presence of Arkhipov’s sub, they sent several vessels to identify it. The U.S. Navy did not know the Russian sub was equipped with a nuclear torpedo.

U.S. forces began dropping low-explosive practice depth charges the size of hand grenades in an effort to get the Soviet sub to surface. Then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara believed the procedure would allow American forces to “actually hit the submarine without damaging the submarine”. He thought those on board would interpret the depth charges as a “warning notice and the instruction to surface’.

The crew on the B-29 sub had been incommunicado. They had been unable to make contact with Moscow for days. They were unaware of the American intention behind the use of the depth charges. Air-conditioning on the sub had failed and it was sweltering. The atmosphere on the sub was extremely tense. Lack of oxygen was leading some to think they would die.

The depth charges were interpreted as an indication war had already started.An intelligence officer on B-29, Vadim Orlov, later described the scene:

“They exploded right next to the hull. It felt like you were sitting in a metal barrel, which somebody is constantly blasting with a sledgehammer…We thought – that’s it – the end.”

The sub’s captain, Vitali Savitsky, panicked. He ordered the sub’s nuclear torpedo to be assembled for launch as he believed the war had started. He said, “We’re going to blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all – we will not disgrace our navy!”

In order to launch the nuclear torpedo, protocol required the captain to get unanimous agreement from the two other political officers on the sub. Deputy political officer, Ivan Maslennikov, gave the green light but his second-in-command, Vasili Arkhipov, said “no”. Arkhipov was able to calm the captain down The nuclear torpedo was not launched.

If Arkhipov had said “yes”, we all might not be here now. A different political officer might have concurred with the captain. The explosion of a nuke off Cuba destroying American warships could have lit the fuse.

I think Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the scariest nuclear moment since the Cuban missile crisis. The nuclear threat is too casually written off or dismissed as unlikely. In the context of the invasion, just the proximity of so many hostile troops and military hardware increases the chance of an accident or a miscalculation.

It would not take much for a military escalation. It could be a fighter plane crash or collision or an unexplained shoot-out between some macho trigger-happy soldiers. All it takes is one side misinterpreting the other side. Tough guy posturing and miscalculations could get us all killed and end life on the planet. We need the wisdom of an Arkhipov. Sanity requires we step back from the brink.

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