Where Do Sen. McMorrow and I Fit on the Alt-Right Compass?

On April 19, 2022, MI State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, describing herself as a “straight, white, Christian, married, suburban Mom,” having been attacked by a Republican adversary for “grooming and sexualizing children,” took to the floor of the Michigan State Senate and delivered a blistering response to the attack that proceeded to go viral.  You may well have already seen it.  A link to a YouTube video of her speech is set forth below.

On April 30, 2022, The New York Times published a detailed article on the manner and messages of Fox News Channel Commentator Tucker Carlson.  Mr. Carlson is apparently the highest-rated host on cable news channels.  (It appears from the report that Mr. Carlson’s audience is almost exclusively white and “overwhelmingly” older.)  I have neither the strength of stomach nor sufficient remaining life space to devote attention to Mr. Carlson’s broadcasts, and thus, cannot independently vouch for the veracity of the Times’ account; with that disclaimer, the gist of the Times article seems to align with numerous other reports I have seen of Mr. Carlson’s program over the last several years.  (Mr. Carlson has reportedly relished rather than disputed the Times report.)  A link to the online version of the Times piece is also set forth below; hopefully, you can access it.

The Times indicates (and demonstrates through video) that Mr. Carlson frequently makes use of a “You – They” dichotomy in his monologues:  You for his viewers, and They for those he calls the “Ruling Class” that he claims seeks to denigrate, among others, whites and men:  the Ruling Class that hates You, that wants to control You, that wants to replace You with malleable (colored) immigrants.  Feeding fear and dissatisfaction has made his ratings go higher and higher (arguably akin to setting up a salt lick for deer hunting).  (I did find it particularly cruelly hypocritical for Mr. Carlson to call the Mainstream Media a “Propaganda Machine” for describing the January 6 Capitol uprising as an “insurrection,” when it is patently obvious to anybody with at least one eye that the riot was, indeed, a Trumplican insurrection.)

Sen. McMorrow’s remarks and the Times’ report of Mr. Carlson’s premises have caused me to revisit reflections I’ve had since the political rise of former President Donald Trump upon the contradictions implicit in the way that the political alt-right views some of those who do not adhere to its views.

Sen. McMorrow clearly thinks enough of public service to have placed herself in the political arena.  TLOML and I have been voting and paying taxes for longer than Ms. McMorrow has been alive, have held down jobs, attended town halls, church socials, and parent-teacher meetings, coached Little League and led Brownie Troops.  We shovel our snow and mow our lawn (sometimes, we even fertilize).  Like Ms. McMorrow, we are straight, white, Christian, married, and parents.  (We are also grandparents.)  [I do fit in the “overwhelming older” segment of the Fox audience 😉 ].  By these measures, all three of us are presumably upstanding Fox Nation Real Americans.

That said, while I feel no guilt about being white, I certainly don’t feel under attack because of it; it’s pretty obvious that at least in America, it’s easier to be white than not.  Although white birth rates are declining, I have yet to hear of any white couples who say that they have had fewer children than they wished because immigrants of other colors invaded their homes and forcibly kept them apart.  I feel no threat from those of other races and ethnicities attempting to get ahead; this is America.  (I favor equal treatment, not favoritism – in either direction.)  I don’t feel under attack because I’m straight; again, in America, and I suspect in just about everywhere else in the world, it’s easier to be straight than not.  If those of other gender and sexual orientations find solace in expressions that seem unusual to me, I don’t see how such harms me.  (I find the notion that “unconventional” gender and sexual orientations are not inherent, but rather, can be “taught,” to be – stated tactfully – misguided.)  I don’t feel that my Christian faith is succumbing to non-Christian elements; even aside from my personal belief that Christianity is but one of many paths to the Almighty, of one thing I’m absolutely certain:  He (please excuse the male pronoun) can take care of Himself.  On top of that, I’m male.  Again, I feel no guilt about it, but certainly don’t feel threatened because of it.  I don’t think that any foreigner has stolen any of my testosterone.  If any of Mr. Carlson’s male viewers feel so endangered by the advance of women in our society that they would prefer to be female – and assume the burdens of dealing with oblivious males, conflicting societal expectations, etc., etc. — the line forms to the right. While Mr. Carlson is absolutely correct that those in our country with greater opportunities have frequently exploited those with fewer advantages, I would also suggest that some who focus on their disadvantages refuse to recognize that they didn’t always see or seize the opportunities available to them to better their situations. 

Sen. McMorrow is one state legislator in one state’s legislature.  I have been rereading approvingly – ever more so as the alt-right intensity has seemingly increased since the 2020 election — The Federalist articles of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay and the discourses of John Locke and Winston Churchill – odes to the “Western Civilization” that Mr. Carlson claims to be under siege.  Even so, neither Ms. McMorrow nor I look like the “Ruling Class” to me.  Despite Mr. Carlson’s rants, I don’t hate – and sincerely doubt she hates — the ordinary Carlson viewer.  I don’t wish – and sincerely doubt she wishes — to control the ordinary Carlson viewer.  I don’t want – and sincerely doubt she wants — to replace the ordinary Carlson viewer.  We simply believe that the promise of America embraces more than a single race, a single gender preference, a single faith.

So where do she and I fit within the Alt-Right Compass, given our Whiteness, our Straightness, our Christianity, our Good Citizenship, and the fact that we obviously don’t rule anybody?

Sen. McMorrow called it in her speech, either deliberately or inadvertently invoking Mr. Carlson’s framework:  “[Because I have a different view than my Republican adversary] … you dehumanize and marginalize me … I am one of them.”

In his book, Anti-Pluralism, William Galston quotes Mr. Trump as saying at a May, 2016, rally:  “The only important thing is the unification of the people … the other people don’t mean anything.  [Emphasis Added]”  In Foxconned – a book given me by a close friend detailing the Republican-fostered Wisconsin debacle that merits more extensive treatment in these pages before the 2022 elections — Lawrence Tabak quotes former WI Gov. Scott Walker as saying that it was a “flawed argument” that “a vote in [progressive] Madison [where TLOML and I reside] counts the same as a vote in a very rural community or in a suburban community.”

So it’s not enough even if one is, demographically, what the alt-right claims to appreciate.  Those that don’t think like they do can’t “mean anything,” their votes can’t “count,” elections lost by alt-right candidates must be “stolen” … because good people wrapping themselves in rhetoric such as Mr. Carlson’s would otherwise have to admit, even to themselves, that they no longer believe in democracy.

On Politico’s Report of SCOTUS’ Impending Reversal of Roe v. Wade

As all are aware, on May 2 Politico published a February draft U.S. Supreme Court decision, apparently having the support of five conservative Supreme Court Justices, which would overrule previous Court rulings, the most famous being Roe v. Wade, that have opined that women have a constitutional right to abortion during certain stages within a pregnancy. On May 3, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement that confirmed the draft’s authenticity but indicated that it did not constitute a final and definitive ruling by the Court.

While there is talk both that the leaker is liberal, seeking by the leak to galvanize public opinion against the decision, and that the leaker is conservative, seeking by the leak to solidify any potentially wavering conservative Justice(s), such is obviously pure speculation.  The leaker must recognize that it is almost inevitable that his/her identity will ultimately become known.  While not a compromise of a classified document, this was a breach of such a sacrosanct confidentiality obligation within the Court that the leaker, if a lawyer, must have felt that the act was worth risking his/her career. (Of course, if the leaker is conservative, s/he may have a more profitable future as a Fox News pundit.)

I have previously noted in these pages that notwithstanding my legal background, I have no knowledge of the relative merits of the legal Constitutional arguments surrounding abortion rights beyond that of any layperson who tries to stay informed regarding public affairs.  I have also noted that while I am personally opposed to abortion, I consider that belief to be literally a matter of faith.  I understand that my Roman Catholic creed is not shared by all faiths, nor by many Americans who do not have any religious belief, nor by a significant segment of the scientific community.  I accordingly support a woman’s right to abortion because we are not supposed to be running a theocracy here; it is not mine to impose my religious beliefs on another where there is a rational basis for dispute.  It is up to the Almighty to ultimately judge, not me.  [I have plenty enough to worry about how He (please excuse the male pronoun for a spirit without gender) will judge my transgressions.]

That said, and in addition to the direct effect on women’s abortion rights, several potential consequences seem to me likely to result from the Politico report and/or from any Supreme Court decision with the effect of that in the Politico report.

The first is terribly corrosive but not original.  Any outright reversal of Roe and its progeny will eviscerate any vestige of confidence remaining in our citizenry that the Court decides cases on the law and precedent and not on personal political philosophy and preference.  If a member of the Court, even if I felt that Roe and its progeny were truly wrongly decided, I would, given the potential impact on the Court’s credibility, find it difficult to overturn them outright.  (That said, the balancing of such considerations necessarily retains a significant element of subjectivity; the Court was obviously both legally and morally correct to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 precedent that had upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine.) 

The second is tragically negative.  The hyper-partisan paroxysm that will now grip our polity for the foreseeable future will undoubtedly distract us from all other issues – most notably, our support for Ukraine’s ongoing fight for freedom.  Virtually all I’ve seen anybody talk about since the Politico story broke is The Draft and The Leak.  Overnight, they’ve seemingly done what neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor vaccines could do – eradicate Ukraine and COVID. I fear that the political conflagration surrounding abortion will taint what has been, up to now, a generally amicable and bipartisan support of American’s assistance to Ukraine.  Citizens of democracies cannot afford that.

The third is purely surmise.  While the draft fosters the notion that states are free to deal with abortion rights differently, its author, Justice Samuel Alito, also declared, “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives [Emphasis Added].”  I had this thought before I saw it mentioned, so feel free to add it here:  it doesn’t take much prescience to suggest that if Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress this fall – more on this below — they will immediately abandon their professed allegiance to states’ rights and seek to construct and pass a federal law banning abortion nationwide.  For 2023 and 2024, our federal regime will resemble what we Wisconsinites have had throughout WI Gov. Tony Evers’ term:  a Democratic executive (President Joe Biden) needing to regularly veto Republican partisan pandering legislative spasms. It is not hard to envision what might occur if Republicans control both Congress and the White House.

The last is perhaps counterintuitive.  I would preliminarily venture that the Politico publication has shifted the emotional goal posts for the Court’s upcoming abortion decision.  Until the Politico report, a Supreme Court ruling upholding Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks was viewed as a likely incremental win by conservatives and a lamentable defeat by liberals, but given the Court’s conservative complexion, such a result was – to borrow a phrase frequently used to describe Wall Street’s assessments of the effects of the Federal Reserve Board’s prospective interest rate moves on stock market valuations – already “baked into” the parties’ November electoral prospects.  I ventured in these pages in January that if the Supreme Court declared that there was no Constitutional right to abortion:  most or all states with Republican governors and legislatures would outlaw abortion within their jurisdictions, either de jure or de facto; and that such a decision would provoke such liberal and progressive backlash and generate sufficient unease among Independents and Republican moderates that Democrats, despite all historical trends and the way 2022 political winds have appeared to be blowing, would retain their majorities in Congress.  In reading that post now, I think I may have been a little strong; the House of Representatives may now be so populated by gerrymandered Republicans that even the most frenetic Democratic reaction may well not be enough to stave off a GOP takeover of the House.  However, although I’ve heard analysts express doubt about this contention, I continue to believe that if the Supreme Court overrules Roe during this term, the inevitable state-by-state aftermath will so arouse liberals and progressives and disturb Independents that swing state Democratic Senatorial and Gubernatorial candidates will largely prevail.  Taking an example from close to (my) home:  I would submit that in Wisconsin, such a decision will ironically hurt Republican Senator Ron Johnson’s re-election prospects and aid Mr. Evers’.  On the other hand, if conservatives, now anticipating total victory in the abortion dispute, end up with what they perceive as only half a loaf – i.e., the Supreme Court upholds a woman’s Constitutional right to abort for some specified period of time – they will be infuriated and liberals, relieved; but such reactions will help Republicans at the polls in November. 

“… I offer the Krauthammer Conjecture:  In sports, the pleasure of winning is less than the pain of losing. … For every moment of triumph, there is an unequal and opposite feeling of despair.”

  • Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, June 30, 2017

If Mr. Krauthammer were still alive – and I unfortunately only came to appreciate his sagacity after reading The Point of It All, a compilation of his columns published after he had passed away – I’m pretty sure that he would agree that it is not inapt for me to apply the Krauthammer Conjecture to our political maelstrom, which has, regrettably, degenerated into another sports maxim he quoted in his column, well known to us in the land of St. Vincent Lombardi:  “Winning isn’t everything.  It’s the only thing.”

A War of Miscalculation: Part III

[I apologize for the length of this note to those with the fortitude to undertake it; since my time to post remains limited, when I get the opportunity, it seems best to just … put it all out there at once.  🙂 ]

Some say that the mind never sleeps.  Although my opportunities to delve deeply into detailed accounts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have remained limited, the electronic media reports of indisputable Russian atrocities have been sickening, while those of Ukrainian bravery and martial effectiveness on the one hand and Russian battlefield futility and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consequent embarrassment on the other – recently culminating in the sinking of the Russian Black Sea Flagship Moskva — have been exhilarating.  I must think about the struggle at night; despite the Ukrainian military success to date – which would not have been possible without American and NATO unity and assistance fostered in significant measure by President Joe Biden – over the last couple of weeks, I’ve awakened several mornings with the same notion, the piece of advice that I would impart to Mr. Biden if I could: 

Don’t underestimate this man.  He is literally fighting for his life. 

“… Vladimir Putin … will make good on every promise or threat.  If Putin says he will do something, then he is prepared to do it, and he will find a way of doing it, using every method at his disposal. … In short, Vladimir Putin is a fighter and he is a survivalist.  He won’t give up, and he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win.  … He won’t give up in Ukraine or elsewhere in Russia’s neighborhood. …If [his opponents] are prepared to fight, and he is outweighed or outgunned by his adversaries, then he will look for unconventional moves to get around their defenses so that he can outmaneuver them. … Putin knows unexpected events can and will blow things off course in domestic and foreign policy.  The key to dealing with the unexpected is to anticipate that there always will be setbacks.  This means he focuses on contingency and adaptive planning to deal with them.  Putin has consistently shown that he can learn from his own policy or tactical mistakes at home and abroad.  [Emphasis in Original].”

  • Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy, 2013:  Mr. Putin.  

“I have watched over the years as Putin has stewed in a combustible combination of grievance and ambition and insecurity.”

  • U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia William J. Burns, April 14, 2022.

There has been so much comment about the conflict; what follows is what has surprised me:

As effective as the reactive American and NATO approach has been to this point, it won’t win.  Western diplomats should forget trying to give Mr. Putin an “off ramp”; not only isn’t he looking for one, there are none at this point that will provide lasting European stability.  While I understand why the Biden Administration has heretofore been “curating” – Defense Department Press Secretary John Kirby’s word — its increases in aid to Ukraine to match escalating Russian aggression – such restraint has maintained the support of some NATO allies who might otherwise have been skeptical of too pronounced a response against Russia too soon – I would submit that we now need to get ahead and stay ahead of Mr. Putin.  It’s time to discard the diplomatic fiction that because NATO and the U.S. have not deployed troops to Ukraine, Mr. Putin somehow doesn’t consider himself to be at war with NATO and the U.S.  He does.  Holding back any materiel including aircraft (save nuclear weaponry) because we don’t want to “provoke” Mr. Putin is simply silly.  (Russia’s recent threat of “unpredictable consequences” if the U.S. and NATO continued to supply Ukraine simply underscored what was already glaringly obvious regarding Mr. Putin’s view of the West’s participation in the war.)  Any continuing attempt at this point to label any type of aid – be it materiel, intelligence, or whatever – as “offensive” or “defensive” is pure sophism.  Our (albeit unspoken) definition of success should be to drive Mr. Putin from power via implosion.  Our approach should involve an effort to strangle Russia – quickly — using all means to create enough pressure on and within Russia to precipitate regime change.

As Russia and Ukraine each mass forces in the eastern Donbas region for what will reportedly be a “traditional” open-field battle of large troop contingents and heavy equipment, it feels like we’re about two weeks behind in providing the type and weight of assistance that Ukraine needs to compete.  Hopefully, continued Russian military ineptness will enable us to catch up.

I don’t know if there are any more meaningful economic sanctions that we can impose.  If there are, we should impose them.  Now.

The West’s response to Russia’s potential use of chemical and/or tactical nuclear weapons has hopefully already been decided.  This is a binary analysis.  If the Ukrainians (with the West’s assistance) fail to defeat Russian incursions, Mr. Putin won’t use such weapons; if Ukraine continues to largely successfully repel Russian advances — which is the West’s goal — at some point he will.  Any thought to the contrary is dangerous fantasy.  Since they undoubtedly know Russia’s capabilities, NATO and the U.S. need to know before Mr. Putin authorizes the use of such weapons what they will do when, not if, he does.  If counseling the Administration, I would recommend planting a question in Mr. Biden’s next press conference to enable him to say that the West is taking no options off the table if Russia deploys chemical or nuclear weapons.

I have more sympathy for Germany’s concerns about a European embargo of Russian natural gas than one might suspect, given the pugnacious nature of these posts.  The overriding explicit or implied maxim in every piece by every foreign policy analyst that one will ever read:  a nation will conduct its foreign affairs based upon what it perceives to be in its own best interest.  The first responsibility of any democratic government is to safeguard the wellbeing of its people.  It’s easy for us the U.S. to harrumph about the need to cut off Russian revenues; it will be the Germans that freeze next winter unless they have sufficient access to energy.

I have seen commentary that the true “winner” of this conflict is China; that the Russian invasion has “diverted the West’s attention” and enabled Beijing “to assess America’s likely response” if it seeks to invade Taiwan.  I don’t see it.  Notwithstanding any outward expressions of support for Russia, I suspect that whether or not they were initially, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his advisors are now both angry and frustrated about the ramifications of the invasion.  I think that during his trip to China during the Olympics and prior to the invasion, Mr. Putin gulled Mr. Xi into figuratively getting into the boat with him, and that Mr. Xi is now painfully aware of it.  [I noted in these pages a while back former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s report that an eminent Chinese official once told him that the only strategic mistake Chinese Communist General Secretary Mao Zedong ever made was acceding to Soviet Communist General Secretary Joseph Stalin’s request that China actively support North Korea in the Korean War, because the Chairman’s decision ultimately brought about America’s firm commitment to Taiwan’s defense, thereby postponing (in the Chinese official’s view) the Mainland’s takeover of Taiwan for a century.  By getting Mr. Xi to indicate that China’s relationship with Russia had “no limits” before the invasion, another Chinese leader has arguably fallen for a similar Russian ploy.]  Mr. Putin’s barbaric tactics have left China appearing to be at least an acquiescing co-aggressor and made a world already uneasy about Chinese advances – in Hong Kong, in the South China Sea, through its Belt and Road initiative, and obviously most importantly, through its bellicose attitude toward Taiwan – doubly suspicious.  In a call with Mr. Biden a few weeks ago, Mr. Xi reportedly “expressed the wish that the war was not happening [for once, an undoubtedly completely true statement from Mr. Xi 😉 ].”  In response to the Russian invasion, the western powers have unified ideologically and militarily in a way that Mr. Xi probably did not anticipate.  How China proceeds will depend upon Mr. Xi’s view of China’s strategic interest.  If he sees China’s interests most furthered by buttressing another autocracy [after all, a Russian failure might be a falling domino (to use the old phrase) facilitating a challenge to the Chinese regime], he will aid Russia, endure the ramifications to his own economy, and – most important for the long term — accept that China’s opportunity to wield influence throughout the globe will be sharply curtailed for years if not decades; it will be politically inexpedient for leaders of European economic powers to deepen ties with China.  Most importantly, in Asia, China’s area of greatest strategic concern, his adversaries (Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand) and those seeking to maintain friendly yet arm’s length relations with China (Vietnam, the Philippines) will be on guard, and even less likely to entertain Chinese overtures than they are now.  (A seemingly little-noted but I would submit significant event happened in South Korea since the Russian invasion:  Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative urging a stronger stance against North Korea and closer ties to the U.S., won the nation’s presidency by .8% of the vote, upsetting the incumbent South Korean Democratic Party committed to warmer relations with North Korea and balancing the U.S. and China.  It is tenable that in such a close contest, the Russians’ invasion of Ukraine influenced a decisive number of South Koreans to seek a firmer stance against their own rogue enemy.)  On the other hand, if Mr. Xi believes that the geopolitical trajectory he considered to exist before the invasion – Chinese ascendency and American decline – can be preserved if the world determines that China is providing Russia more lip service than actual assistance, he will tactfully avoid any collaboration with Russia that will impede the “China Dream” to any greater extent than that which has already inevitably occurred. 

Autocracies, like democracies, are stronger united and weaker divided.  Mr. Putin may have given the democracies a wedge to at least weaken the bonds of the autocracies.  While there is relatively little the Biden Administration can do to influence China’s behavior, its primary strategic objective in this context should be to tacitly encourage any emerging gap between China and Russia.

For a while, I have been puzzled by the approach that Saudi Arabia has taken to the conflict.  In rejecting America’s request that the Saudis pump more oil to alleviate the global energy crisis and attendant cost increases brought on by the Russian invasion, Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (“Prince MBS”), the Saudi de facto leader, seemed to me to be as short-sighted as he is arrogant, willful, and malign.  While the Prince has no love for the Biden Administration – due to major actions by the Administration with which I entirely agree, and some personal snubs of the Prince that were deserved but perhaps diplomatically unwise – and by pumping more oil Saudi Arabia would violate its OPEC+ arrangement that supports and benefits Russia, it nonetheless appears that when the Ukrainian conflict ends, Russia will, from a practical standpoint, have less capability to project its power in the Middle East or serve as an intermediary between Saudi Arabia (its OPEC+ partner) and Iran (its Syrian ally).  I thought that the Prince would recognize that he needed America as counterweight against the Iranians, who are, one-on-one, simply tougher than the Saudis and who are probably just as pleased to see the Russians fall on their faces in Ukraine as they would have been to see Russia succeed (with America out of Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran doesn’t need Russia to control Assad and Syria, meddle with Iraq and Afghanistan, or bedevil Saudi Arabia from Yemen).  On April 20, the Wall Street Journal ran a detailed account of the breakdown in U.S.-Saudi relations, which I did have the opportunity to read.  What I hadn’t been considering was that in addition to his personal pique against the Biden Administration, it is likely that the Prince considers America an unreliable partner given both its continuing attempt to resurrect the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran (the Iran nuclear deal) and its withdrawal from Afghanistan.  In what could ultimately have serious consequences for us in the Middle East, I surmise – the Journal didn’t state so specifically – that given Russia’s presumed degradation, the Prince may well see China – to whom he now sells a lot more oil than he does to America – taking Russia’s place as a more reliable partner and intermediary between Iran and itself than the U.S.  If true, a dangerous turn.

It is, perhaps … what it is.  Despite what seems to have been a bit of recent unbecoming groveling by the U.S, as this is typed it appears unlikely we’ll get any help with energy pressures from Saudi Arabia any time soon.  My Roman Catholic viscera is pleased that we have taken the moral stands we have with regard to Prince MBS and Saudi Arabia; at the same time, I’m enough of a realpolitik student of former President Richard Nixon and Mr. Kissinger to believe that we have to live and operate in the real world, and accordingly rue our loss of influence with a strategic and longtime – albeit terribly flawed — ally in a very volatile region.

When possible, I intend to enter a note on the other primary challenge I consider to be facing President Biden related to the Ukrainian crisis:  time.

Ten Years of “Unique” Stupidity in American Life

I continue [not surprisingly 😉 ] to have plenty of notions about the Ukrainian conflict and various domestic issues we face, and hope to return to publishing fairly regularly in the not-too-distant future.  That said, MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning included an interview of Dr. Jonathan Haidt (pronounced, “Height”), author of The Righteous Mind, the book that I suspect that I have cited in these pages more than any other.  Dr. Haidt discussed his recent article in The Atlantic, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” an essay describing how social media has affected our polity and our children and how it has been exploited (on the edges of both sides of the political spectrum).  Apparently, Billionaire Jeff Bezos tweeted recently that he considered the essay well worth reading, albeit long.  I wholeheartedly agree (on both counts; although as all are well aware, I’m in no position to criticize lengthy pieces  🙂 ]. 

A link to Dr. Haidt’s article is below.

Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid – The Atlantic

A War of Miscalculation: Part II

It happens that during the most momentous American foreign policy challenge since 9/11, a number of personal circumstances, many of them delightful – we welcomed our first granddaughter; an unexpectedly heavy (but welcome) time commitment to a volunteer opportunity – have prevented (and for a period into the future, may well prevent) much contribution to this site.  I am confident that no one following these pages has felt the loss very keenly; there has been enough commentary about the Ukrainians’ struggle to repel the Russian malefactors to suit any appetite.  I had a number of notions about Part II of this note when Part I was published; given the lapse of time, it has been recast.  A few current impressions:

President Joe Biden and his team have thus far done a masterful job.  While I agree with those who cringed when Mr. Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal and later uttered his declaration that Mr. Putin should not remain in power, these are relative nits; the President simply said out loud what all can see:  there will be no European stability nor Russian vitality while Mr. Putin remains in power.  On the important matters, Mr. Biden has rallied formerly squabbling and diverse NATO allies, mostly maintained the support of an otherwise sharply-divided American public, kept China largely on the sidelines, and (so far) avoided a nuclear conflict while slowly degrading (by facilitating Ukrainian resistance) Russia’s and Mr. Putin’s standing on the world stage.  In Part I, I asserted that America and its NATO allies should ship the Ukrainians all materiel they wanted short of nuclear weapons; much has been done; I join those that assert more can and should be done.  While I did and do disagree with Mr. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, I can’t think of another major American politician on either side of the aisle who could have achieved in the Ukrainian crisis what he has through his manner, experience, and relationships.  He’s been close to spot-on.

The magnificent resistance of the Ukrainian people and their President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to Russia’s malign invasion has shown the world how a free people will fight to retain their freedom.  From the geopolitical perspective, the invasion to this point has clearly been a Russian military humiliation and a strategic debacle.  Credible reports indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin is isolated and perhaps misinformed.  At the same time, while all who saw President Zelenskyy’s speech to the U.S. Congress found it compelling, I thought Mr. Zelenskyy also sounded desperate.  He is obviously acutely aware that despite his bravado, his people’s bravery, and Western aid, each day his people are dying, and his country is being pulverized by Russian missiles.  Mariupol is rubble.   The possibility that Mr. Putin is becoming unstable is a terrifying prospect given the nuclear and chemical weapons at his disposal.  At the time this is typed, negotiations between Ukraine and Russia are in progress.  While most NATO observers understandably doubt Russian good will, and there is a tendency, from across the ocean, to urge Ukraine to keep the fight going, to press home its seeming current advantage, it is the Ukrainians – not us — who are suffering and it is their country that is being destroyed.  I wouldn’t like it, but I would understand Mr. Zelenskyy’s acceptance of peace terms that included a confirmation of Ukrainian neutrality and Russian acquiescence to a robust defense pact between Ukraine and a U.S. – European consortium in exchange for Ukraine’s formal cessation to Russia of Crimea and the parts of the Donbas and Luhansk regions (not the entire regions) that were already under Russian separatist control when the conflict began.  (Realities being what they are, such concessions by Mr. Zelenskyy would, borrowing a phrase from former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, simply be giving Mr. Putin the sleeves from Mr. Zelenskyy’s vest.)  Even so:  this is not the time for the Ukrainians or NATO to ease up, even in the unlikely event that the Russians are serious.  They must continue to apply all military, economic, and other means to tighten the international vise on Russia until any settlement is achieved. 

There is a delicate word that at least I have yet to see raised anywhere – a word that I would suggest is even more explosive and challenging to prospects of peace than declaring Mr. Putin a war criminal or seeking his removal from power:  reparations.  Mariupol is the easiest example:  Who is going to rebuild it?  With what?  How about other severely damaged Ukrainian cities?  If a peace settlement is reached, who is going to remove the remains of destroyed Russian materiel strewn across Ukraine?  With what?  How is provision going to be made for Ukrainian families who have lost bread winners?  I have heard reported that $300 billion of Mr. Putin’s supposed war chest has actually been frozen by the West (not great planning on his part).  Do western democracies simply confiscate the sums they have frozen and provide them to the Ukrainians to rebuild?  A related issue:  What Russian agreements will be sufficient for the relaxation of Western sanctions?  These are sensitive issues.  If Russia is willing to pull back – a prospect truly to be doubted at this point – negotiators will need to address recompense for Ukrainian losses while being mindful that demands too punitive upon Russia, while warranted and even if accepted on paper, may – as the severe peace terms imposed on Germany by the Allied Powers at the end of World War I – simply breed future conflict.

As noted above, U.S. and NATO sources have publicly stated this week that Mr. Putin may not know the truth about the extent of the reverses Russia has absorbed and the losses it has sustained because his advisers fear for their own safety if they tell him the truth.  The New York Times has reported that Mr. Putin seemed “genuinely unaware” that Russian conscripts are being killed in Ukraine.  I view these statements and reports from two perspectives:  while they may, as some commentators claim, “play with Mr. Putin’s head” and might cause him to reconsider any unrealistic expectations about the invasion’s success that he may still hold, I fear that they also may also expose and endanger the source(s) which the U.S. has clearly placed very close to Mr. Putin.  It’s a calculated gamble as to whether the potential benefits of these statements and reports outweigh the risk to and of losing such a valuable intelligence source(s).  

Mr. Putin has made clear that he views Ukraine as part of Russia and Ukrainians as Russians.  All biographies of Mr. Putin establish that he is an avid reader of Russian history.  He has undoubtedly thrilled to the accounts of the manner in which Russians, due to sheer toughness and love of their Motherland, persevered through unspeakable hardship to ultimately repel France’s Grande Armee in 1812 and Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht in 1942.  Mr. Putin’s greatest miscalculation in launching his malign offensive may ultimately prove to be his failure to understand that while the Ukrainians have Russian grit and tenacity, they do not consider Russia their nation.  They see Ukraine as their homeland.  Perhaps, prior to the invasion, Mr. Putin should have conducted a séance to hear from M. Bonaparte and Hr. Hitler how well an attacking force fares against a people with Russian spirit and pain threshold when they are defending their Motherland.

As the war continues, I would submit that the Biden Administration’s foreign policy opportunities are likely to expand at the same time that its domestic challenges may mount.  More on these as time allows.

On BR-319

While the international community’s attention is properly riveted on the atrocities being wreaked upon the people of Ukraine, other challenges and dangers across the globe continue unabated.  For those able to access the Washington Post, a piece just published by our favorite journalist.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2022/brazil-amazon-deforestation-highway-br-319/?itid=hp-top-table-main

A War of Miscalculation: Part I

[Note:  hopefully, those following these pages won’t find this merely a rehash.  While I have watched media accounts of the Russian invasion over the last week, other life pursuits have precluded a close reading of the accounts of credible newspapers, which I consider an American citizen’s definitive sources.  Unless directly attributed, what follows – whether useful or misguided — occurred to me without outside prompting.]

“No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces.”

  • Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, 1871.

The conflict in Ukraine has thus far been much a war of miscalculation.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has, at least to this point, seemingly miscalculated strategically the most woefully, apparently believing as he ordered Russia’s invasion:  that the bulk of Ukrainians wished to be reunited under Russian rule; that any Ukrainian resistance his forces met during their invasion would be minimal and readily dispensed; that Russian conventional forces were highly competent; that the NATO alliance would be unable to sustain itself in the face of a direct challenge; and, probably most crucially, that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lacked the resolve and inspirational qualities required to lead his people against a Russian onslaught.  Given its pointed efforts to shore up NATO borders and defenses in the months before the invasion, it would appear that prior to the assault, the Biden Administration had similar misconceptions regarding the Ukrainians’ resolve and military effectiveness, Russian conventional military competence, and Mr. Zelenskyy’s leadership capabilities.  I would venture that both sides believed that if Russia chose to endure the international condemnation that would accompany its attack, it would be a quick conflict in which Russia would secure Ukraine, establishing Russian control over a key part of the former USSR — which was its strategic objective; while the United States, after making all the gestures it could before the invasion to dissuade the advances of the Russian bear, viewed any Russian conquest of Ukraine as a sacrifice on the chessboard of Europe that would so terrify the rest of the continent that it would result in an energized, unified, and financially-committed NATO alliance – which was its strategic objective.

Mr. Zelenskyy’s leadership, his people’s grit, and the savage nature of the Russian assault have changed all that.  I would submit that the conflict now provides the United States strategic global opportunities not imaginable before the invasion if it acts wisely — and decisively.    

Before going there:  the courage and heroism of the Ukrainian people cannot be overstated.  I tend to look at foreign policy problems from the “Realpolitik” perspective I absorbed in my imprinting days from the works of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.  There is nothing wrong with this perspective – in a world run by humans and not saints, a great power does its citizens a disservice if it does not objectively determine and protect its own best interests – but such a viewpoint, alone, overlooks the terror and suffering Ukrainians are enduring right this minute to preserve their freedom and culture.  Hopefully, their struggle is searing into our national and personal psyches how precious freedom is and how it must be cherished — not diddled away wrangling over absurdities such as vaccine mandates and whether one should have the right to own military assault weapons.

150 years ago, Herr von Moltke was suggesting that victory in any struggle will go to the side that best adapts to changed circumstances.  I would submit that the Biden Administration should recognize that at this point, with all the destruction and ignominy that Mr. Putin has brought upon himself and his nation, he cannot and will not go back.  Even if he ultimately physically conquers Ukraine, he has lost strategically.  The personal and national respect he craves is gone.  His enemies are united and determined.  In the larger sense, this has become a struggle not for Ukraine but for Russia’s and Mr. Putin’s own future.  As long as Mr. Putin leads Russia, it will be viewed as a rogue nation – feared for its nuclear might, loathed for its barbarism, compared to Nazis.  That said, while the media has made much of the Russian people’s protests and the influence that Russian oligarchs allegedly have with Mr. Putin, I entirely discount these internal Russian factors; Mr. Putin can do as he wishes with each.  On the other hand, any dictator’s influence relies on military support and I suspect that Mr. Putin’s top military command has come to the uneasy realization that Russia will be an economically-hobbled pariah as long as Mr. Putin remains at the helm – an unease that, ominously, a man as aggrieved and paranoid as Mr. Putin is undoubtedly monitoring. 

The Administration – although President Joe Biden cannot say so out loud; such a statement itself could trigger a nuclear war – should set the stage for Russian regime change while the opportunity presents itself.  If counseling Mr. Biden, I would advise that the Administration proceed on three fronts:

Militarily:  We should ensure that we are taking every step to get the Ukrainians, either directly or indirectly, as much materiel as they want of whatever kind that they want, short of nuclear weaponry.  In other words:  “Every weapon system on the planet, that we can send to Ukraine,” as asserted by former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.  (Mr. McFaul has gained credibility with me by being critical of the Obama Administration’s reticence to confront prior Russian aggressions, since he was part of the Obama Administration.)  Last week, the U.S. rejected a Polish plan to provide Ukraine MiG-29 fighter jets that Ukraine has requested.  There is reportedly bipartisan Senate support for providing the planes.  Our reluctance is incomprehensible.  I have no way to judge what the logistical challenges are, or whether the Ukrainians can actually make effective use of the aircraft; but we should let the Ukrainians decide what they need and can use.  Any fear we have of “provoking” the Russians is nonsense.  I am confident that Mr. Putin already considers himself at war with NATO; Russians have now begun shelling sites in western Ukraine where NATO is providing materiel to Ukraine.  Our purpose should be to help keep Russia back on its heels.  I would suggest that those talking heads chortling over the last couple of weeks about Russian military ineptitude have been whistling past the graveyard.  Even from incomplete reports, the conflict has seemed to me akin to a bout between a lumbering heavyweight boxer and a skilled lightweight.  Through skill and determination, the lightweight has done much better than expected in the early rounds; but the fact remains that if the heavyweight is able to land a decisive punch or two, the overt military conflict will be over.  If Russian forces are advancing – and they are – Ukraine is losing.

A related point:  the safety of President Zelenskyy.  By dint of bravado and determination, he is the Ukrainian resistance.  He has been compared to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  Inspirationally, I agree; but I would actually give him more credit when it comes to raw courage.  Throughout WWII, Mr. Churchill was mostly in a bunker deep underground, with the British Navy and the English Channel between him and the Nazi Wehrmacht; in Kyiv, Mr. Zelenskyy has a relatively few miles and some amateur soldiers between him and the Russian army.  The Russians presumably consider killing or capturing Mr. Zelenskyy the single most devastating morale blow they can land on the Ukrainians.  Mr. Zelenskyy, who has rallied the world through his own derring-do, cannot be seen to have abandoned his post, while Ukraine cannot afford to lose him.  It is extremely dangerous.  This is the one area in which I would clandestinely insert American soldiers into Ukraine if such was necessary to safely transport Mr. Zelenskyy to western Ukraine (if and when he was willing to go).

To make at least a mild attempt to hold these notes to manageable length, the other two “fronts” that I would advise Mr. Biden to consider as the Russian invasion continues will be held for the remainder of this note.

The Joy of Income Taxes

These pages have two main purposes:  to provide another perspective on the matters it addresses for those who care to consider it, and to discipline me to refine my own ideas through the exercise of writing them down.  I am 100% confident that no one cares what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis.

That said:  this weekend, I’m doing our income taxes.  I’ve always done ‘em.  Don’t use tax software, but do ‘em old school:  by reading the hard copy Instruction Booklet and filling out the forms longhand.  It’s obviously a tedious endeavor requiring concentration, although I have never particularly minded it.

This year, I’m absolutely looking forward to it.  The task will necessarily distract me for a number of hours from what is happening in Ukraine – the killing of innocents, the irretrievable upheaval of lives, the destruction of structures and institutions, the usurpation of one nation by another more powerful … just because it can.  As I get lost in the IRS’ arcane world and the numbers flow by, my outrage will dissipate, at least for a while.

In the eyes of the Almighty, there is no difference between what is happening in Ukraine today and what has happened and is happening in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, parts of Africa, and so on, and so on, and so on.  We are just seeing the obliteration of Ukraine’s society and culture more clearly due to its proximity to Western media.  I am having trouble putting it aside.

Have a good weekend.  As I get engrossed with taking this number or that from this worksheet or that and entering it onto this line of the return or that, I hope I will.

The Theater of the Absurd

As all who care are aware, on Tuesday former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Gableman reported to the Wisconsin Assembly’s Elections Committee on his investigation of the 2020 presidential election.  Mr. Gableman was appointed by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos – with a $676,000 taxpayer-funded budget – to investigate the election shortly after former President Donald Trump criticized Mr. Vos and other leading Wisconsin Republicans for failing to investigate supposed election corruption.  The alacrity with which Mr. Vos acted to pacify Mr. Trump proved him to be not only despicably partisan (we knew that) but gutless to boot. 

In his presentation, Mr. Gableman — a former state Supreme Court Justice, mind you – declared that “the Legislature ought to take a very hard look at the option of decertification of the 2020 Wisconsin presidential election.”

This is, of course, pathetic poppycock.  First, all objective analyses of the Wisconsin’s election results have determined that President Joe Biden won the state; second, all objective authorities have opined that the Legislature has no power to decertify the election’s results.  Interestingly, there has been sharp negative reaction to Mr. Gableman’s assertions and proposals on the Republican as well as on the Democratic side. It seems likely that a number of state Republican officials fear both that the report makes them look ridiculous and that it shifts voters’ attention back to 2020 instead of ahead to 2024.  As of the time this is typed, Mr. Vos himself has maintained an uncomfortable silence regarding the substance of Mr. Gableman’s recommendations – after past statements that he opposed many of the measures Mr. Gableman is urging.  Mr. Gableman’s rehashing of debunked conspiracy theories could provide a boost to the fledgling campaign of Republican Gubernatorial candidate (and election conspiracy theorist) Timothy Ramthun, which might ironically ultimately aid the upcoming campaigns of WI Gov. Tony Evers and whomever state Democrats nominate to challenge Republican U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson.

After reading the accounts of Mr. Gableman’s report and presentation, the matter strikes me as both hapless and malign.  He is either a liar or a fool.  His report, designed to stir unfounded suspicions among credulous Wisconsinites about the legitimacy of a sitting president whose election has been validated nationwide by all credible evidence, is at best pointless and, by resurrecting unsubstantiated claims as it does, arguably un-American.

Even so, given the perspective provided by our witness to the current existential struggle of a people fighting and dying to preserve their freedom, I’m choosing to focus on the absurd aspects of Mr. Gableman’s quest.  I hope that those who follow these pages will excuse my linking to a scene from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles that, while aptly capturing the machinations of Mr. Gableman and his sponsor, Mr. Vos, admittedly woefully fails to adhere to the standards that I generally try to maintain in these pages.