Putin is not your friend.
February 21, 2022
[Audio version here]
Conflicting messages are coming out of Ukraine. Over the weekend, the U.S. said that Putin had already given the order to invade. Russian separatists in the Donbas region of Ukraine have told ethnic Russians to evacuate, and shelling has increased on the eastern border of Ukraine—a possible prelude to war. But late Sunday evening, President Biden announced that he agreed “in principle” to meet with Putin as long as Russia does not invade Ukraine.
Whatever happens, Putin has already successfully captured one former Soviet republic without firing a short—Belarus. The president of Belarus agreed to allow Russian troops into the country to stage an invasion of Ukraine. The problem for Belarus is that those Russian troops are never going to leave. Per The Washington Post,
Belarus announced Sunday that Russian forces would remain in the country after massive military drills ended, in a move that opposition figures said surrendered the country’s independence to Moscow without a shot being fired.
The lesson of Belarus is, “Do not trust Putin. Ever. He is not your friend.”
Events will move quickly, or not. To Biden’s credit, he is willing to continue diplomacy even when it appears hopeless. And Biden has refused to impose sanctions in advance of an invasion of Ukraine—despite second-guessing from some on the right. As Biden has correctly argued, imposing sanctions will give Russia a pretext for war.
In a shameful turn of events, conservatives in the U.S. are seeking to glorify Vladimir Putin when he is threatening to kill and maim thousands of innocent Ukrainians. See Washington Post, U.S. claims Russia has list of Ukrainians ‘to be killed or sent to camps’ following a military occupation. In Friday’s newsletter, I wrote the following:
Although I am not an expert on Russia, I decided to check with the two leading sources of Russian propaganda: Fox News and TASS (the latter being the official Russian news agency, the former being the unofficial Russian news agency).
I said Fox News was a leading source of Russian propaganda only partly in jest. Over the weekend, the editor-in-chief of Russia Today (R.T.) (the Kremlin’s propaganda outlet in the West) begged Tucker Carlson to interview Vladimir Putin. See Daily Beast, “Russia’s Top Propagandists Beg for a Putin Interview with Tucker Carlson.” Per the Daily Beast article,
[T]he head of R.T. praised Carlson in a way no other American television host is being lauded on Kremlin-funded TV. [The editor in chief] gushed . . . “You showed the clip of wonderful Tucker Carlson, who—by the way—is dreaming of interviewing Vladimir Putin, simply dreaming about it! It’s not within my purview, but if anyone could make it happen, it would be amazing.”
The chief propagandist for Russia did not make that on-air invitation to Tucker Carlson without Putin’s knowledge and consent. Of course, Putin wants to be interviewed by Carlson because Putin knows he will be able to lie with abandon and impunity. Carlson will do nothing to challenge Putin on the fact that political opponents meet with sudden, mysterious deaths with alarming regularity. Nor will Carlson challenge Putin regarding Russia’s baseless claim that it can dictate the foreign policy choices of a sovereign nation.
Putin intends to re-assemble the U.S.S.R. by recapturing the former Soviet Republics. He has secured Belarus and is about to take over Ukraine. For those who say that the U.S. has no security interest in an independent Ukraine, that is the wrong question. The question is whether the U.S. has a security interest in the independence and sovereignty of every former Soviet Republic. Putin claims he can invade Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians living within Ukraine’s borders. Newsflash: Ethnic Russians live in former East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Turkmenistan, etc. Putin can also use the same excuse to invade those sovereign nations. The crisis in Ukraine is not only about Ukraine. It is about the post-Cold War peace and security of Europe—which is most definitely in America’s interest. Don’t let Fox News tell you differently.
Trump’s losing streak in court.
Court’s have been chopping through the thicket of lies in Trump’s defenses to a half-dozen lawsuits that threaten to (finally) deliver a measure of justice. See CNN, Donald Trump’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in court. Trump and his children must testify in the action by the New York Attorney General regarding Trump Organization finances. That development is significant because it will force Trump to invoke the Fifth Amendment hundreds of times. That is not a good look for someone who once said, “Only guilty people take the 5th.” Ouch!
In another significant development, a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks damages from Trump for inciting the assault on the Capitol on January 6th. See NYTimes, Judge Allows Civil Suits to Proceed Against Trump Over Jan. 6. The ruling means that the plaintiffs in those civil suits will obtain discovery from Trump about his involvement in the events of January 6th. Trump will seek interlocutory review to overturn the ruling—relief that is rarely granted. Here, the motion to dismiss decided novel issues of law, so Trump has a chance of obtaining appellate review before the matter goes to trial.
There is more, but the point is this: Trump is on his heels. He will lash out at the judges and his opponents. He will make incriminating statements and sling racial slurs at the prosecutors. All of which will make him a more toxic, divisive candidate for the 2024 G.O.P. presidential nomination. But he won’t drop out until he has inflicted the maximum damage possible on the Republican Party. Good.
Special call for nurses and doctors to volunteer for 2022 campaigns.
If you are a nurse or a doctor who can help a Democratic congressional campaign in 2022, please read this. Over the weekend, I interviewed Dr. Norbert Goldfield, founder of Ask Nurses & Doctors (“AND”). AND is devoted to organizing local healthcare professionals to help elect House candidates in ten “close” races. AND seeks to leverage the credibility of healthcare professionals to help elect candidates who will promote a healthy population and a robust democracy. If you volunteer, AND will train you in media outreach—including making appearances (virtual or in-person), writing op-eds, and leading social media campaigns.
If you are a nurse or a doctor interested in playing an important role in a 2022 campaign, you can:
Email Dr. Goldfield at email@example.com,
Listen to my interview with Dr. Goldfiend and Jeff Lerner at Today’s Edition Podcat interview with Ask Nurses and Doctors, or
Explore the Ask Nurses & Doctors website.
Help send banned books to readers free of charge.
About a week ago, one of my readers (Jessica Craven of Chop Wood, Carry Water) heard about an organization called In Purpose Educational Services that is pushing back against book bans by offering to send a different banned book every month to anyone who applies—for free! (The organization reviews each application to ensure that applicants are genuinely interested in reading the banned books.) Jessica helped publicize the program by making a TikTok video—which prompted thousands of requests for banned books on the first day Jessica’s TikTok was released. The outpouring of interest overwhelmed the program, which put new requests on hold and is now looking for donations of any size to pay for the books already ordered (about $30,000). Help out if you can. Donate at paypal.com!
B.T.W., I will ask Jessica to put on a webinar for leaders of organizations interested in learning how to effectively use TikTok to promote Democratic messaging and democracy. I perused TikTok’s “politics” section after watching Jessica’s promotion mentioned above. The vast majority of political content on TikTok appears to be reactionary right-wing propaganda. There are 100 million TikTok users in the U.S., of which 50% are under 34, with 41% between 16 and 24. At the moment, to the extent those younger users hear anything about politics on TikTok, they mostly hear messages from the M.A.G.A. crowd. If you are interested in joining the webinar, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “TikTok” in the subject line of the email.
Over the weekend, several readers forwarded copies of an article in Axios that was a mashup of bad news stories for Democrats under the heading “Squad Politics Backfires.” The thesis is that the “hard-left” politics of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “is backfiring big-time” for Democrats. This story duped some readers, so I thought I would highlight the sleight-of-hand used by Axios to achieve its intended effect.
First, let’s recognize the piece for what it is—a “hit job” masquerading as a news story. The author set out to spin a negative narrative about “A.O.C.’s politics” and wasn’t going to let fairness or context get in his way. Axios is free to publish such stories, but it is disappointing that it chooses to do so. Its reporting is generally more balanced. Indeed, it is a source I frequently review and cite in writing this newsletter.
If you read the article—and ignore the rest of the universe—you would be justified in feeling anxious about Democratic chances in 2022. But the first trick the author uses is to pretend that the G.O.P. doesn’t exist. Do Democrats have problems? Sure, plenty! But those problems do not exist in a vacuum. Only one party in America is led by a twice impeached failed coup-plotter waging an internecine war in his party. Only one party has defended violent insurrection as “legitimate political discourse.” Only one party has tried to expel one of its luminaries who held the second-in-command position in the House only nine months ago. I could go one, but you get the point. The author made the “editorial” decision to focus only on Democratic problems. Fine, but let’s recognize that decision as a choice made by the author for reasons known only to him.
Second, though many of the “facts” cited by the author are accurate, they lack context. He notes that 30 Democrats in the House are retiring in 2022. Sounds bad, right? But whether it is, in fact, “bad” depends on how many of those retirements are in “safe” seats that will assuredly be won by the Democratic contender. For example, five Democrats are retiring in California, but “[e]xperts said the departures will have little effect on the makeup of the state’s delegation to the House after November.” I haven’t researched the likelihood of whether the retirements nationally are likewise concentrated in “safe” districts—but neither did the author of the article, presumably because it might undercut his narrative.
And, of course, the author does not mention the pesky fact that Republicans are primarying nearly all of the ten G.O.P. members of the House who voted to impeach Trump. A Trump-sponsored primary challenger isn’t a retirement; indeed, it may be worse for party unity and electoral success than normal retirements.
I could go on, but my Managing Editor tells me that I need to keep the “Concluding Thoughts” section shorter. So, here’s my point: If you are going to doom‑scroll, you must have the mental discipline to recognize when you are being led astray by click-bait. Contextualize bad news to test whether it is truly bad—or merely part of the tidal pull of media-driven politics. If you do that, I guarantee you that you will feel much better about Democratic chances in 2022.
Talk to you tomorrow!