Don’t bet on Russia in Ukraine

So parts of eastern Ukraine now belong to Russia, forever, or so Vladimir Putin tells us.

Nice expanded country you have there, Russia. Now let’s see if you can keep it.

It’s perfectly okay for these new areas to be part of Russia though because the citizens there voted to join. Of course, about two thirds of them left when the war started, mostly westward. The Russian army’s main task this week has been to force residents there, sometimes at gunpoint, to “vote”. So it’s not surprising that they did. Who knows whether 98% of them actually voted to join Russia or not but it clearly wasn’t a fair election. These areas are unlikely to be recognized as part of Russia by many countries.

No vote was held in Kharkiv though because Ukraine forces routed the Russians from the area in a surprise offensive they easily won. Now reportedly Ukraine also controls the city of Lyman in Donetsk, supposedly now part of Russia.

Russia’s hold on these territories is fragile at best. Thanks to the courage of Ukrainians and tons of western armaments, Ukraine has shown it has the determination and ability to retake its country through a grinding war of attrition. Russian forces have proven inept for the most part, and succeeded only in pulverizing urban regions with artillery. Oh, I guess they’re also good at war crimes, according to many reports. You don’t want to be a woman in an area of Ukraine occupied by the Russians.

Here’s a good bet: this war is already lost and the Russians have lost it. Whoever has the most will and money wins these things. It’s why the United States was doomed in Vietnam. The best Russia can hope for is that in some nebulous future “peace talks” they keep a sliver of the area they occupy now.

Putin thinks that by mobilizing 300,000 new reservists he can turn this thing around. He threw his best forces at the Ukrainians when the conflict started. These new “forces” will be draftees for the most part and will likely be sent in with minimal training and arms. Much of the arms there have been destroyed, and withdrawing Russian forces have left lots of what remained behind when they hastily withdrew.

The news is reasonably censored in Russia, but it’s not completely censored. YouTube and the Telegram app is available, and they provided Russians who wanted to know the real story with the information they needed. Many of these men are beating hastily retreats outside of Russia if they can. They know if drafted they will just be fodder for Putin’s slaughter machine.

Naturally, Putin is busy raising the threat levels, threatening to use nuclear weapons if necessary. It’s not clear how he could “win” such a war with nuclear weapons. It would kill a lot of people and most of the animals in the area, even if only low yield weapons were used. The radiation levels would likely be toxic to his own forces nearby, or will be when the wind shifts. It’s unclear what value a devastated and depopulated land would be to anyone, even Russia.

Ukraine’s latest tactic is to apply for NATO membership. It’s unclear if they would be admitted, but they’ve proved to be tenacious fighters. Since Russia started this war, Finland and Sweden are likely to be admitted to NATO, making them effectively unconquerable by Russia. Ukraine is sort of part of NATO already, in that they are getting tons of aid and guidance from NATO countries. NATO forces just aren’t actually engaged in any combat.

Effectively, Russia’s worst enemy has turned out to be Vladimir Putin. His tactics have completely backfired and his latest bluster looks more like the actions of someone backed into a corner. At this point, most of his own people aren’t fooled by how badly he botched his invasion.

The one area where he may change some minds is by cutting off supplies of gas and oil to Europe. We’ll see after one winter after a lot of people are freezing if they will endure a second one, with Russia’s pipelines so conveniently nearby. Largely due to the war, inflation is going through the roof in most European countries, and efforts to get new energy supplies from elsewhere may take years to affect. When spring happens, we’ll have a better idea of how effective this policy has been.

But Putin’s 300,000 soldiers will mostly be on paper. There simply isn’t the capacity to quickly replace the lost armaments needed to wage a war. It’s unclear if these new soldiers can even be properly fed. Many of these soldiers are highly vulnerable. There are only a few bridges from Russia into the region still standing. They could be easily be taken out by long range artillery or fighter jets, effectively trapping Russian forces inside of it. That’s probably part of Ukraine’s strategy to route the Russians. They are waiting for the opportune moment. Most likely though with mud season beginning, we can expect little change until the ground hardens again.

We do know that in the interim the Ukraine army can be resupplied and that Western commitment to provide the funds and expertise needed for them to keep going seems endless. It’s the Russians who will have the serious logistical problems.

Putin though appears to prefer to live in his surreal fantasies instead. Real life should have informed him of his real options. His choice to ignore reality will only continue to draw Russia deeper into debacle and folly.

Republicans: be careful what you wish for

Republicans seem hellbent on creating an autocracy. You’d have to be living in a cave somewhere not to be aware of just how brazenly they’ve been working on this project.

The usual tactics had been extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression. But now they’ve dialed it up to 11. Texas is making it hard to successfully register to vote and harder to cast absentee ballots. In Georgia, it will be illegal for someone to give voters a bottle of water to stay hydrated while they wait in line to cast their vote in one of the few polling stations in predominantly minority communities. Voter rolls are being aggressively purged and the procedures for getting your right to vote back are increasingly burdensome and often hard to discern. And, of course, they’re working to put partisan hacks in charge of their boards of elections so that if necessary Trump can find his 11,780 votes in Georgia. Those who control the voting machines ultimately call the vote.

But they are also hellbent on making life as miserable as possible for those who are not White Republicans. Certainly women are fair game, and our Supreme Court seems to be willing to look the other way while women are stripped of their rights because they are pregnant. Missouri is trying to make it illegal for anyone to help a women to go out of state to get an abortion and one legislator there has suggested the death penalty for doing so – now there’s a way to prove you are prolife. Utah won’t let transgender women play in school sports. Most red states don’t want students to be exposed to the reality that White people did a lot of bad things, like enslaved millions of people, because they might feel guilt and somehow that’s worse than their ignorance.

This will all culminate when they can tilt the Electoral College even more in their favor so that it becomes pretty much impossible not to have a Republican president. And so they hope it will go up and down our state and local governments so that they get to be in charge pretty much forever. It’s like The Outer Limits: “We are controlling transmission. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical.”

And yet recent world events should inform them that what they want to do is a very bad idea. Vladimir Putin is now a prime example of why an autocracy is a really bad idea. First of all, most of the rest of the world’s countries aren’t run by autocrats and when countries transcend major boundaries like invading sovereign republics, they cut them off. Second, autocrats or autocrat wannabees like Donald Trump think they know best, but they don’t. That’s because they aren’t living in the real world.

Putin has twenty two years as Russia’s de facto ruler and, like Trump, assumed he could do no wrong. In fact, it’s been twenty two years of people kissing his ass telling him what he wanted to hear. It’s been that many years of bribes and corruption and bleeding away state monies into the accounts of oligarchs. Putin had every expectation that his invasion of Ukraine would be a cakewalk because no one wanted to risk life and limb by telling him the truth. If you did, at best you were thrown in prison for ten years or so.

Rather than build great states, autocrats create fragile states. It’s not like this should be news. We’ve seen it repeated endlessly. Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution probably created two lost generations and, as is true of most of these endeavors, killed millions too. Hitler destroyed Germany not to mention much of Europe. Stalin killed uncounted millions as did the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

The shelf life of autocrats doesn’t tend to be very long and they tend to collapse when their great leader proves mortal like the rest of us. Also, the order and peace they try to bring proves to be an illusion, with state-sponsored oppression and terror generally happening instead.

If their autocratic dreams become real, it’s probably the worst thing that can happen to the Republican Party. It’s all based on an illusion that autocracy will make us safe and comfortable and somehow put us back on the right path.

The reality is the more we learn from the mistakes of our past, the likelier we are to build the checks and resilience to keep them from occurring. In their rush toward White Christian nationalism, they are explicitly choosing to unlearn the lessons of the American Revolution. Our founding fathers witnessed what happened in Europe when there was a state religion and wanted no part of the civil wars that ensued. They specifically disallowed the government from establishing a state religion. Slowly, over many decades, we made progress addressing many of the fundamental inequities in our system including the disenfranchisement of women and people of color, through democratic processes.

But now Republicans want to turn back the clock. Not allowing transgender women to participate in school sports is just the tip of the iceberg. Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) is fine with states disallowing mixed race marriages. Plenty of Republicans want to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing gay marriage too. Seven years ago, Republicans tried to end birthright citizenship because, you know, those illegals don’t deserve it and besides they’re not White. Their leading politicians would be happy to end food stamps, child tax credits, Section 8 housing vouchers, public schools, voting rights, and even the direct election of senators. The one tax they seem to be for is making blue states pay more in taxes by capping deductible property taxes.

Republicans probably think in their autocracy that we would all turn into sheep. Those with the money and talent will leave in droves to places where their freedoms are respected. Police are pretty good at busting heads but it’s unclear whether they would support an autocracy, particularly since police are subject to local control. The military are unlikely to do so, as about 40% are Black or Hispanic. It would likely unleash an insurrection, if not a civil war. I can see estates of wealthy people being burned down, for example. It won’t be panacea; it will make life worse for everyone but likely particularly for Republicans.

Democracies are hardly immune from becoming autocracies, but when properly organized they provide societal stability because vested interests are forced to work with each other. Unfortunately, the more we become an oligarchy (and we’re pretty much there now), the less our legislatures are filled with people that truly represent their interests.

If you want to see what America might look like as an autocracy, look at Russia today. We just need a higher level of corruption to hollow out our military too.

Pondering the Ukraine war endgame

I guess it’s good news that so many Americans now hate Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In a way, I’m surprised because about 30% of voters tend to vote Republican and whatever Dear Leader (Trump) says goes. Trump has never hid is fascist inclinations. Indeed, he sensed them in the party and brought them to life. Trump’s initial praise of Putin’s invasion though was quickly tempered when he discovered it wasn’t working with his base.

Granted, the Republican Party in mostly Southern states has certainly not given up its fascist tendencies. They’re taking a mile instead of an inch. In Missouri, it’s likely that it will soon be a crime for a woman to go out of state for an abortion, a law which I suspect violates the interstate commerce clause of our U.S. constitution and will probably get invalidated. In Florida, you can’t say gay or LGBTQ and keep your job, at least if you are a public school teacher. This also seems to violate basic civil liberties and probably won’t stand up in a federal court either. Meanwhile, in Texas, which is all about ensuring parental rights by making sure students can’t get banned books in its schools, is perfectly fine with taking away parental rights to make decisions about helping their transgender kids get the hormones and surgeries they need to thrive. It’s an anti-freedom agenda masquerading as a freedom agenda. These sorts of policies would feel very much at home in fascist Russia.

But there is something about waging an unprovoked war on a neighboring country has them siding with Democrats, for unknown reasons. Or maybe it is sort of known. Ukraine is overwhelmingly White. When they get to see it up close on the news, it’s not hard to picture that happening here. They don’t want that. It might interfere with their church services and affect the value of their stock portfolios.

So on this issue pretty much exclusively they are aligning with the civilized world and even (ick!) Democrats. You know they are serious when they are for banning oil from Russia, even though it would push up oil prices at home. Their campaign ads will say otherwise, but they can’t hide their votes in Congress.

In the ten days since I wrote about Ukraine, not a whole lot has changed. Certainly a lot more people are dead, the carnage is increasing and likely people are beginning to starve, on both sides. A massive Ukrainian nuclear power plant had a close call and hospitals and residences have been blown up, but Russia hasn’t really gained any ground since March 3. It occupies at best about ten percent of the country, it has few troops in reserve, and logistical difficulties make some sort of partial retreat, or at least troop consolidation, likely.

But Russia still has nukes, and Vladimir Putin has ordered his nuclear force on high alert and has made vague statements like he might start a nuclear war unilaterally. If he is determined to win in Ukraine, nukes would probably do it. There likely wouldn’t be many Ukrainians left afterward. But he’s already reviled across the world, so it’s not implausible that he might use them.

Ukrainians are calling for a no fly zone over their country, enforced by NATO. If I lived there I’d want one too. But it’s a really bad idea if you consider nuclear war worse than horrendous bloodshed in Ukraine. I am grateful we have a president that knows this and won’t put our armed forced into play in or over Ukraine. Had Trump won reelection, he’d probably have encouraged Putin to do his worst to the country.

No one wants to see this continue but it’s hard to see an endgame. That’s not to say the future is hard to predict. This is becoming Putin’s quagmire. There is no face saving way to get out of it and declare a partial victory. It’s unclear if he even understands that he is losing. He’s surrounded by people who have survived by honing their skills as yes men. By controlling the Internet and the press, most Russians don’t understand what’s really going on and are cheering him on.

With time though it will be impossible for them not to figure out that their Dear Leader made a huge mistake. Their currency is becoming worthless and getting goods and services from outside the country is becoming impossible. With time, things will just stop working for lack of parts and people who can fix them. Putin can’t hide the closures of so many western businesses in the country, particularly the local McDonalds. Its military is already bogged down and supplying it will become increasingly problematic. As body bags keep returning regularly, it will become difficult to hide the scope of his misadventure. Moreover, most Russians are used to the Internet and richer Russians used to foreign vacations. They will resent what they have lost.

That’s not to say Putin won’t retain power. He has a powerful police state and saying anything not the party line can get you fifteen years in prison. But his focus will inevitably turn inward. His failures could tip him into the selective use of nuclear weapons. He doesn’t appear to be one of these people that can accept defeat or accept compromises.

So for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis there is a real possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. It may be the use of one tactical nuclear weapon, say a neutron bomb over Kyiv, or a bunch to quickly take control of major cities. Putin does not appear to be suicidal, which is what their use on the West would result in. But he’s a hard man to read other than he’s infinitely stubborn and unwilling to compromise, traits that unfortunately resemble the vast majority of Republicans in power too.

If we can keep Putin from using his nuclear weapons (a big if), it is likely that in a year or two this will resolve itself. Russia is likely to grind to a halt to be held together through intimidation and force of arms. While it may hold itself together, it will be a shell of its former self and increasingly unable to maintain even basic services. A new Russian revolution is certainly possible, but unlikely. Anarchy and large scale national dysfunction is the more likely result.

I don’t think socially-distanced Vladimir Putin will be alive in two years. I think it’s much more likely that someone close to him puts a bullet in his head first.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine proves land wars are so 20th century and democracies are valuable

A week ago, when Russia invaded Ukraine, I remember going to bed feeling upset and morose. I didn’t sleep well. It was a strange reaction to events half a world away, but it’s good to know I was not alone. Lots of Americans are feeling the same way. The invasion of Ukraine has permeated American society the way few events do. It’s woken up pretty much all Americans and they don’t like what they are seeing.

So far Ukrainians have surprised the world by resisting the invasion extraordinarily well. Thankfully, the world is rallying to their side. Almost nobody is rooting for Vladimir Putin, with Donald Trump perhaps being the exception. A lot of Republicans are probably rooting in secret, but it quickly became toxic for Republicans not to support the Ukrainians.

I detected a bit of racism in Americans’ support. There was a lot less concern for the indiscriminate bombing by the Russians in Syria, likely because it’s not a predominantly White country. In Ukraine it’s a war of Whites against Whites.

Part of the reason I didn’t sleep well though was because I understood its magnitude. We thought we had won the Cold War in 1991 when the USSR fell, but this feels like it’s back on again. But the real reason for my disquiet was because this was the first major war in Europe since World War II. I literally was not alive during the last one. Like it or not, we’re in a whole new ballgame.

The world’s reaction to the invasion has been heartening. Russia is virtually alone because really there was no valid justification for it. The pretexts for the invasion were laughable: it was to go after Nazis in Ukraine. And Ukraine’s president is a Jew!

When even Switzerland is thinking of sanctioning Russia, you know just how upset most countries are at Putin’s action. It’s hard to see how Putin wins this. He may succeed in occupying the country for a while, but he can’t keep it. Ukrainians won’t allow it and the rest of the world will provide the resources to make sure they can keep at it. If their goal was to keep NATO in check, it’s much likelier now to expand it.

Moreover, the Russian Army has proven staggeringly inept. Their equipment is old, they can’t seem to maintain supply lines and the resources they need to keep it going are being cut off. Much of its army consists of conscripts and clearly many do not have even minimal training. The Russian Army has clearly degraded and is beginning to resemble a Potemkin village.

The invasion has also paradoxically breathed new life into flagging democracies. When they can see on their TV exactly what it means to be ruled by an autocrat, most people accept the systems of government they got. At least it’s familiar.

Until the invasion, Putin has projected the illusion of competence and tenacity. The invasion proves he is incompetent, as it was obviously a fool’s errand to invade in the first place. In the 21st century, it’s almost impossible to win a conflict through military means, and a win is almost always an illusion and temporary. It’s why we finally got out of Afghanistan last year and our war with Iraq proved such a debacle. You can’t win a conflict where you can’t win the vast majority of hearts and minds. The last conflict we won convincingly was World War II, in part because Japan was an autocracy, and the word of its emperor was enough to end the conflict. These conditions largely don’t exist anymore.

Democratic values are values increasingly not cherished here in the United States. But this horrible invasion may provide an opportunity for Americans to stay with democracy, despite its flaws. No system of government is more stable than one that represents the view of those who are governed. Through gerrymandering we’ve managed to turn our country into one that resembles Russia’s oligarchy. Unlike Russia though we have an opportunity to change course, if we are smart enough to learn from Putin’s unfolding debacle.

What is Putin afraid of on Ukraine?

About a hundred thousand Russian troops are amassed along Russia’s border with Ukraine, ready to invade the country on Vladimir Putin’s command. Whether this actually happens is problematic and it may amount to a lot of saber rattling.

Since 2014, when Ukraine peacefully elected a democratic leader and legislature, it has petitioned to join NATO. It’s choice of democracy was worrisome; but its desire for NATO membership is what Putin is really worried about. Over the decades, Russia’s formerly closely-aligned states on its west have mostly aligned themselves with the West and joined NATO.

His worry about Ukraine joining NATO is not too hard to figure out, as there is more than a millennium of history that shows Russians and other empires can and will invade Eastern Europe and leave behind a lot of death, misery and carnage. Borders in this area of the world are quite fungible. Countries like Prussia and empires like the Holy Roman Empire controlled large swaths of these countries in the past. They are gone, but instead of Mongrel hordes, it’s now mostly Russia which is the threat. Russia likes satellite states on its west to act as a buffer between it and the republics of Europe.

You may have heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Back then the United States was acting a lot like Russia is now. When a foreign threat got too close to our shores, it became unacceptable. The Soviets then wisely withdrew after a tense standoff, and Cuba went back to being officially communist but not a real threat to our national security. Short range nuclear missiles in Cuba though were a real threat for which there was almost no time to react.

Subsequent U.S. presidents have remained exceptionally paranoid. Ronald Reagan’s CIA replaced freely elected governments in Central America with mostly despotic banana republics that we controlled. Reagan eventually sent in the Marines to occupy Grenada in the far West Indies because its citizens had some socialist leanings. Grenada is about 1500 miles from the United States mainland.

From Russia’s perspective, the West is encroaching on it. Since 2004, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia have joined the European Union. All these countries are on or near Russia’s borders. Most of these countries also now belong to NATO. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are no longer Russian buffer states. Basically Belarus and Ukraine are the only ones left for Russia. Imagine if Mexico, the Bahamas, Bermuda and most of the Caribbean were socialist or communist states. We’d be just as alarmed as Russia, if not more.

Ukraine though is culturally and ethnically very tied to Russia; much the way Canada feels tied to the United States because we (mostly) share the same language and dominant ethnicities. If Canada became a communist state, we’d probably feel what Putin is feeling now. We’d be deeply alarmed. Eastern European states want to belong to both the European Union and NATO because they want protection from Russia, which has a history of invading or controlling them. They also like the taste of freedom that comes from being democratic states.

So it’s not surprising in the least that Putin is very alarmed. He wants assurances that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO. If it is, there’s no reason short range missiles can’t be placed there, able to lob missiles at Russia before it can do much in the way of responding to them. He’s feeling cramped in.

Here in the West we wonder what all the fuss is about. I doubt very much that Joe Biden wants to change Russia’s system of government, which is a de-facto autocracy with the illusion of free and open elections. He wouldn’t mind if it happened, but Russia is too big an entity to invade. If it happens, it will happen from within. The United States though is in favor of stable and democratic governments, well, at least some of us are. The Republican Party is of course working hard to subvert democratic government here because demographics are turning against them. Republicans are now completely comfortable with autocracy, providing they are in charge, and many don’t want to lift a finger to help Ukraine.

Putin doesn’t want real democracy in Russia. They tried, sort of, after the end of the Cold War, but communists were quickly replaced with oligarchs. It’s no wonder our Republican party seems so friendly to Russia as it is effectively a party captured by oligarchs. It’s no wonder that Donald Trump wanted to align the United States with Russia, as he felt much more comfortable with autocrats and oligarchs. The whole idea of representative democracy has never agreed with him and, increasingly, with the bulk of his party.

Putin’s interest is likely mostly self-serving. He’s an oligarch worth at least tens of billions, but if Russia were to become truly democratic, it’s likely his wealth and status as an oligarch would go as well. But he likely does read Russia correctly, in that it’s a generally deeply conservative country. Democracy is not likely to fit it well, or at all.

As for what Russia will do, my betting is that no troops will invade Ukraine. But I do expect we’ll see some low level cyber warfare instead, which can probably be attributed to Russia but will mysteriously be missing the electronic footprints to prove it. The United States and its allies are likely to respond in kind.

Trump is literally losing his mind

I’ve been returning to the original theme of this blog lately: Occam’s Razor. So let’s cut to the chase today: Trump is literally losing his mind.

Let’s stop pretending that Trump is the “very stable genius” that he claims to be. It’s just laughable. Last week’s “summit” in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin should put that to bed. In a press conference after the “summit”, Trump said he could not see how Russia could be responsible for hacking the 2016 elections, despite conclusive evidence from our intelligence community that he was presented with before his inauguration. After all, Putin had told him so very forcefully. Obviously the word of a former KGB agent is much more reliable than the consensus of our entire intelligence community. Back in DC his advisers got him to read a statement saying just the opposite, but he added that it could have been anyone. Last night he was back at it again, so apparently it’s Obama and “Crooked Hillary’s” fault, not the Russians. He called out Obama for not taking action when Obama in fact did take action. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s obstruction though led to a watered down statement prior to the election on Russian meddling instead.

Does he look like a “very stable genius” to you? On this one issue alone, he vacillates back and forth. But of course he does this constantly, making him the most unstable person in the world at the moment. Geniuses of course rarely vacillate, but being very intelligent most are open to changing their minds if the weight of impartial evidence is against them. The only part of “very stable genius” that applies to Trump is the very part. He is very something. Occam’s Razor suggests he is very mentally ill.

Trump is hardly alone there. Mental illness is rife in this country. I noted ten years ago that many very intelligent people I have met struck me as mentally ill. This is in part because intelligence by itself does not mean you won’t suffer mental illness. In Trump’s case though it looks like he is suffering true cognitive decline. Watch videos of Trump from ten or twenty years ago. He was still insufferable, but he could put coherent thoughts together. His vocabulary was much richer. He could express complex thoughts. He could express nuance.

Now his vocabulary sounds like a fourth grader. It’s not news to his staff. They give him briefing books he won’t read. They try to summarize complex topics into a few bullet points, but he still doesn’t absorb them. Heck, he walked into a “summit” with Vladimir Putin without a formal agenda and without aides taking notes. This allowed Putin after the summit to claim that Trump agreed with policies (like Russia’s annexation of Crimea) that he may not have agreed to. Trump’s attention span is very short and he can’t seem to remember anything.

He is placing our country in unique peril. Which means that it’s time for a 25th Amendment remedy. Section 4 of the amendment applies here. It basically puts the onus on Vice President Mike Pence to get a majority of the cabinet members to tell the Senate that Trump is unable to discharge his duties, in this case because of likely mental illness.

Pence of course is his sycophant so this doesn’t look likely, at least in the short term. But that doesn’t mean the conversation should not start in earnest. Yet it seems to be something even Democrats don’t want to say aloud. Certainly they and many Republicans in Congress are already thinking it. Republicans lack the political courage to bring up the topic. Democrats should not.

Americans need to know their president is not mentally ill. The White House tried to dodge this issue with Trump’s last physical. The White House physician Ronnie Jackson gave him the simplest of cognitive tests, which he passed. Jackson has since stepped down as his physician, given his failed nomination as Secretary of Veterans Affairs and allegations of the abusive environment he created within the White House medical staff.

Occam’s Razor is not always right, but it does suggest that the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. So Democrats should openly express serious concern about Trump’s mental health. This way it at least becomes a legitimate topic of conversation. Ideally those speaking should be key Democrats like Minority Leaders Pelosi and Schumer. They could suggest perhaps three impartial leading psychiatrists give him a battery of evaluative tests and submit a report to Congress. It’s possible but unlikely that Trump will ace them all. In which case the question will be answered: Trump’s increasingly dangerous and bizarre behavior is due to some factors other than mental illness, in which case impeachment and removal is appropriate.

Our operating assumption has always been that our president would be a sane person. This is seriously under question now, particularly when you get tweets from Trump like this latest tirade against Iran:

We can’t start this process soon enough.

Occam’s razor makes Trump’s treason look obvious

Back in 2002, when I started this blog, I was looking for a theme. Occam’s Razor obviously came to mind since I thought it would have a largely intellectual bent. It best explained where my head was at, since the principle that the simplest solution was the most likely one is borne out in so many aspects of life. There wouldn’t be many posts on this blog though if I only discussed Occam’s Razor. Today though I return to my original theme to state what looks painfully obvious to me: Occam’s Razor plainly tells us that our president is a traitor.

There are other explanations out there but even for Donald Trump these other explanations look ridiculous. For example, I could go with the solution that he is a reflexive narcissist and such a complete dunderhead that even he has no idea that he is a traitor. I can’t discount this altogether but while Trump is pretty dumb and incredibly self absorbed, he’s not that dumb. If he is, well his narcissistic personality disorder is one for the textbooks.

Yesterday’s widely panned press conference after his two-hour “summit” with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki though should have made even the most partisan Trump supporter reel. Even for them, it should have been one of those “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” moments. Trump is so eager to please Vladimir Putin that he will take his word that the Russians had nothing to do with trying to influence the 2016 elections and throw the entire U.S. intelligence community under the bus if necessary.

Just late last week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted twelve Russians for hacking into our election systems and political party websites at the behest of the Russian Federation, which is to say at the behest of Vladimir Putin. He identified them by name. A federal grand jury confirmed these indictments. This means in the unlikely event these people come to trial the evidence against them is solid. This evidence was accumulated by our intelligence agencies. Rest assured they have the goods on them and could prove their guilt in a court of law. This is because we have a vast (though at times imperfect) intelligence system that collected voluminous data on them. It’s so voluminous that Putin is likely astonished by its breadth and specificity and is wondering what spies he has in his government.

While these twelve are likely beyond the reach of our government, the same can’t be said about Mariia Butina, a Russian who arrived here a few years ago on a supposedly student visa and who was arrested yesterday for attempting to set up back channels between the Russian Federation and the Trump campaign. It’s not like there is any question about her guilt. She did a great job. Ask Donald Trump Jr. Ask the NRA, which met with her and apparently illegally channeled Russian money into its election fund to elect Trump. At least we have custody of Butina. It’s unlikely she will be a free woman again, at least not for many decades.

When following a trail, sometimes you only have a few breadcrumbs to go on. In the case of Trump’s collusion and treason there are large turds (and scattered Chicken McNugget containers) every ten feet along this trail.

It’s all in plain sight. (“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Later that very day, the hacking began.) Doubtless Robert Mueller is piecing it all together and I doubt he is breaking a sweat finding the evidence. But also ask yourself: what would you want from a U.S. president if you were Vladimir Putin? Would you want a president that would try to break up NATO as well as the G7? Someone that would start trade wars and call our closest neighbor Canada an enemy? That would okay Russia’s annexation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine? That tacitly supports Russia’s support for Syria? Can you name one thing that Trump has done that Putin would find offensive?

It’s not hard to see how Trump was compromised. We know for a fact at Russian oligarchs kept him in wealth through the Great Recession through loans via Deutsche Bank, facilitated by soon to be former Justice Kennedy’s son. (Curious that he resigned after he had appointed his law clerks for next year.) Trump looks up to his hips in money laundering, mostly by Russian oligarchs paying inflated prices for his condos, likely at the insistence of Putin. No Russian agent had to break a sweat trying to compromise him; the only thing he smells is money and like a bloodhound he follows it with single-minded focus.

Whether explicitly or implicitly, Trump has been compromised and has been used by the Russians for a long time. They simply could not have picked a better Manchurian president. Russian intelligence plays a long game. They baited him decades ago, fed his vanity and ego and played his family like a fiddle. They also played the Republican Party by feeding its obsessions and vanities. We saw this when they changed the party’s platform on Russia and Ukraine. No other explanation comes even close to being plausible.

Republicans are in denial but I’m betting that the astute ones know they are supporting a traitor. Many of them don’t care. They are democratic in name only; and freedom is a principle that only applies to people in their socioeconomic class. Like Trump, most of them love the idea of an authoritarian government, as long as they are in charge and thus feel some kinship with a dictatorial regime. Trump sees Putin and a Russian alliance as part of a great white hope strategy. By aligning with other bigots he can perhaps make America white again and use Russian resources to do it.

The only problem is that he swore to uphold the constitution of the United States and its derived laws. He’s obviously doing the exact opposite. Because of this, he should be impeached and convicted, but this depends on a Republican Party with a spine it no longer possesses. It’s quite possible though (yet still unlikely) that after a disastrous midterm they will finally inhale the smelling salts and throw this bloated orange bastard overboard. After impeachment and removal, he should be tried for being the traitor that he is and has been.

Time to buckle your seatbelts, America

I am back from our nation’s capital after having enjoyed two musicals, one movie, two ethnic restaurants, four American breakfasts (mostly omelets), barbeque, two museums on the Mall and a quick tour of the Capitol over three full days. I chose last Friday to go into D.C. It was odd to play the role of tourist considering I lived in the area for nearly 35 years.

DC weather rarely disappoints expectations in July. It certainly didn’t last Friday when the heat topped 95F and walking around the Mall felt like going into the sauna. Despite the horrid but predictable July weather, things felt, well, different. I remembered a time when you could get into the Capitol easily. You just passed through security and wandered around. Back then areas the public wasn’t supposed to go in were clearly marked off but otherwise you wandered around as you pleased. Now you go to the Capitol Visitors Center and get a ticket for a substandard tour. You won’t get to see either the House or Senate chambers. (There is a separate tour for that.)

Also new was the current occupant of the White House. During the Capitol tour the tour guide was agog over the slogan on our currency: E pluribus unum, or Out of many: one. I guess he couldn’t tell the truth: that our Congress has perhaps never been so undemocratic. It is so gerrymandered that moderates are nearly extinct in Congress. While we were there our narcissistic Cheeto-in-Chief was kicking off a special commission to look into the nonexistent issue of voter fraud. The only fraud is the actual intent of the commission: voter suppression so more of those people aren’t allowed to vote. Arguably these laws put Trump in the White House in the first place. Anyhow, the very limited access the public now gets to the Capitol is symbolic of our national dysfunction. It is harder than ever to meet your legislator unless you represent some interest with plenty of cash. Most likely the one giving the cash doesn’t even employ people in the legislator’s district. Congress critters are even giving up on town halls, unless the audience consists of prescreened partisans. To our new aristocracy, the rest of us are rabble and not worth their time.

Meanwhile, the acts in the Trump circus kept getting more bizarre. Trump’s interview with the “fake media” New York Times signaled a four-alarm fire. Trump clearly has no idea what he is doing, and has at best a minimal grasp of the issues. The acts kept changing when we were in town too. Gone is press secretary Sean “Spicey” Spicer, and in is former hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci as, of all things, White House Communications Director. I shouldn’t be surprised because apparently having no experience in a problem domain is a prime qualification for being chosen by Trump. Still, it was one more breathtakingly bad appointment amongst so many others. It’s also clear from the Times transcript and Trump’s latest tweets that he is obsessed with the Russian investigation, to the point that he has pretty much given up governing. Providing no national calamities happen, this is good news and explains why nothing is getting done even though Republicans control three branches of government.

In the Times interview, Trump made it clear that he reserves the right to fire Special Counsel Mueller and that his ability to pardon is unconditional, which apparently also includes being able to pardon himself. His lawyers are writing arguments to make the case, which suggests if push comes to shove he will pardon all his friends and family implicated in the scandal even though he continues to say there is nothing there. But if there is nothing there, why would he pardon anyone? Why is he so scared?

The answer is clear: it’s because there’s plenty of fire under the visible smoke. You don’t get this kind of response from someone who is innocent and confident that the facts will vindicate him. You get it from someone who knows he is guilty and is prepared to use every tool at his disposal to ensure no one pays a price, especially Trump. From all reports Trump spends most of his days obsessively watching TV to see how he is coming across in the media. Image is everything to him, but he can’t seem to make this Russia thing go away. So he is preparing for the nuclear option: pardon and fire his way out of it. The more scared he gets the more bizarre his behavior gets too.

From this we can reasonably infer things won’t get better, but they will get much worse as Trump senses a cage coming down around him. Which means that our country is at a moment of unique peril. The most perilous part of it is not whether Trump survives or not. It’s whether our enemies use this opportunity of national dysfunction to play their hand. We got a glimpse of it last week when we learned that Trump and Putin had an unannounced private meeting at the G-20 conference in Hamburg. Curiously it wasn’t log afterward that Trump announced that the United States would no longer give support to anti-Assad forces in Syria.

Trump constantly defends Russia so it’s not hard to infer that Russia has the goods on him, he knows it, and he is being blackmailed. All this is likely to come out in time as a result of investigations underway. As a narcissist Trump is driven into denial about his own failings, so he must project them elsewhere using a cast of predictable enemies: the “fake” news media, Democrats, disloyal Republicans and of course Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He’s also probably trying to figure out a way to exit this trap. He hopefully understands that can’t pardon himself out of this problem and remain president, although Trump may be delusional enough to think he can. Trump will look desperately for a face-saving solution that allows him to blame others. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin laid out the most plausible outcomes. It’s most likely #4 or #5, probably #4 as it’s the easiest path for a narcissist to deal with his cognitive dissonance.

One thing is for sure: it will be more than a bumpy ride. As a nation, we are going to go through months and years of airsickness, not to mention grave mortal danger to our nation. It’s quite unclear that Republicans will put country over party. We can hope for it but we should not expect it. The parallels with Watergate are murky at best. The best we can hope for is that Republicans will come to consensus that they are better without him, and vote to impeach and remove him. The hope then lies in Trump’s increasing franticness and that this turbulence will be very severe but relatively short.

Buckle your seatbelts folks and if you are a praying type, now is the time for fervent prayer.

The dumbest thing about the Goldstone email to Trump Jr.

(Note: first published here on DailyKos. Minor edits were made.)

So Donald J. Trump Jr. released the email that publicist Rob Goldstone sent him last year yesterday, along with his reply. Any lawyers among my readers were probably thinking, “What a stupid thing to do!” Trump Jr. probably figured that someone else would release it shortly so maybe there was some benefit of being the first to do so. It sure took everyone by surprise, including possibly his newly hired lawyer. Anyhow, it sure looks dumb. I was dumbstruck by the deed and Trump Sr. is reportedly furious.

Keystone Kops
Keystone Kops

I’m not a lawyer. I’m in Information Technology. And to me the stupidest thing of all was that Rob Goldstone used email to reach Trump Jr. Email! What the hell was he thinking? He compounded his error by giving the email the title (and I swear I’m not making this up):

Russia – Clinton – private and confidential

If you know much about email, you know that a lot of the world’s email goes across the Internet unencrypted, at least between certain points in the network between mail servers. The major email providers have upped the ante, fortunately. GMail encrypts end to end, but if some part of the email was sent through an unencrypted network it lets you know (at least in the web version) with a little unlocked “padlock” icon.

Using email was an amazingly stupid thing to do. I doubt Goldstone was being directed by the Russians to contact the Trump campaign on such a sensitive matter this way, but who knows? In any event if you are going to send a sensitive email you don’t fill the subject line with such lurid keywords.

The Internet leaves traces, and email in particular leaves traces. Emails usually collect in the outgoing email servers, and in places in between emails are often archived. One of those places might have been a NSA computer room. If the NSA were sniffing for information like this, well, they hardly had to do much work. Trump Jr.’s email address was there, it came from a known friend of the Trumps, and it came with a subject line that would automatically flag it. Perhaps the email was already known to the FBI as it got flagged by the NSA but was classified because of the sources and methods involved.

Trump Jr.’s response was classic too. Anyone with half a brain would have raised a red flag, probably reported it internally and to the FBI as well, not replied to it. Obviously there’s a lot of tone deafness in the Trump campaign, administration and family and a feeling they are somehow exempt from the rules.

I don’t do subterfuge, but if given a task like this instead of sending an email I’d be picking up the phone. I might allude to some information Trump Jr. would find very interesting, but it had to be shared in person and, oh, bring Jared and Paul. I’d suggest meeting for lunch in a quiet cubby at a local Ruth’s Chris.

In any event, it gives the whole incident a Keystone Kops surreal feel. It’s beyond amateur. It’s embarrassing. Even Putin gets slimed here. Is this the best he and his FSB can do? I expected they were way less inept than they apparently are.

It’s crazy not to be scared by a President Trump

During the 1972 Democratic primaries, Senator Edmund Muskie (ME) was caught crying on camera at a news conference outside the offices of the Manchester Union-Leader. Muskie said it was just snow melting on his face, but he was heatedly responding to reports that his wife was addicted to a drug. It was enough to kill his campaign. His primary competitor, Senator George McGovern (SD) eventually won the nomination, but McGovern’s eventual choice of vice president Thomas Eagleton was later pulled from the ticket. Eagleton had a past episode of clinical depression. At the time this was considered disqualifying.

Forty-four years later we elected Donald Trump as our next president. It’s abundantly clear that Trump has mental issues of his own, most prominently his supersize case of narcissism. Rather than being disqualifying, it was a feature of his campaign. Wikipedia defines narcissistic personality disorder as:

A long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success, or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. The behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a variety of situations.

You don’t have to be psychologist to see Trump’s evident narcissism. There is evidence every day in his Twitter feed. He’s a man so vain he attacks Meryl Streep for criticizing him at the recent Golden Globe awards. He told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd:

“I win, Maureen, I always win. Knock on wood. I win. It’s what I do. I beat people. I win.”

Trump obviously does not always win. He overleveraged himself with failed businesses in Atlantic City and elsewhere. His Trump shuttle between New York and Washington was taken over by creditors. He’s lost lots of lawsuits and most recently settled the Trump University class action lawsuit for millions of dollars. And yet he cannot acknowledge any of these many failures, matters of simple public record.

In ten days the American people are going to give this man the authority to use our nuclear weapons.

It’s thinking about this that makes my head hurt so much that simply to maintain my own sanity I have at times turned off my brain. I’ve avoided the typical ways people deal with stuff like this: booze and drugs, but I can certainly understand why a sane person would. At times I’ve avoided the news and deliberately sought out distractions. Most recently I’ve been playing a lot of online crossword puzzles.

If you are sane, you should absolutely be scared about a Trump presidency. Trump is super easy to read so it’s not hard to figure out how he’s going to behave and govern. He’s not going to reinvent himself. He will continue to lash out at critics over Twitter, but most likely he will use the levers of power to bully them too, perhaps tapping their phones, examining their computers and surreptitiously putting out dirt on them. He’s a natural fascist. He’s picked a cabinet of tone deaf bullies because he wants to change things, the same way a bull in a china shop will change things. As horrifying and illegal as these actions will be though, what keeps my heart skipping beats is his role as commander in chief.

Trump simply does not understand the complexity of our foreign policy challenges. When they occur rather than use back channels he will be inclined to go postal. Imagine what he would do if China closed off the China Sea to U.S. vessels, or if North Korea attacked South Korea, or sent an ICBM at Guam. Trump will go grand and he will go aggressive. He’d have the navy on the sea-lanes shooting at Chinese warships and aircraft. He might nuke North Korea. This is because he is a narcissist. When someone challenges your authority, you go grand. In the past this meant filing lots of lawsuits. In the future, this means using our military to maximum effect and quickly to prove you are serious.

Remember what his solution to ISIS was? “Bomb the shit out of them!” This got him great applause but it won’t solve the problem of ISIS anymore than Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia did much to slow the Vietcong. Dealing with ISIS is a multifaceted problem, but it’s much more a war of minds. Bombing the shit out of ISIS may cause lots of death and destruction, but it won’t change minds, only steel the resolve of those aligned with ISIS.

Trump is quite binary. If you suck up to him, he likes you. If you oppose him, he’s your eternal enemy and he will use whatever power he has to mow you down. He can’t deal with nuance or complexity. He is full of impatience and an “ends justify the means” sort of guy, typical of a narcissist. And he will never, ever admit a mistake.

One of these days he’s going to figure out that Vladimir Putin is playing him. Okay, maybe not. He may not be that self-aware. Right now he admires Putin, which is unsurprising as he and Republicans in general are drawn to strong people and really don’t care about our democracy. Putin though has an agenda and it’s likely he’s going to play Trump like a fine fiddle. Putin wants to restore Russia’s former glory. It’s not too hard to see how he can do this at some point: reoccupy most of Eastern Europe that the USSR used to control. I would not be surprised to see Putin send in the army to wholly occupy Ukraine. But why stop there? Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are so close too. Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all used to be part of their empire. If any of these scenarios happen they are likely to catch Trump flatfooted. In fact they will be tacitly abetted by Trump, who sees NATO as obsolete. Maybe Trump would even approve.

But something will trip him up and Trump will go big because big and grandiose is how he operates. When he gets tangled in the invariable complexity of it all, he’s not going to be able to think out realistic options or realize he won’t be able to get his way. This is likely to lead to huge anger and a desire to hit his enemies with everything we’ve got. That won’t work either, but it will temporarily assuage his feelings.

If any president were likely to use our nuclear forces proactively, it would be Trump. And if he does it won’t be hard for other nuclear powers, principally Russia and China, to respond in kind. The point of diplomacy and foreign policy is to leverage power without resorting to extraordinary means. That’s not going to happen in a Trump Administration.

It’s entirely rational for rational Americans to be scared as shit by a Trump presidency. I sure am. If you are not, you are in denial.

God bless America, because Trump sure won’t.