Friday Talking Points -- Off The Rails

[ Posted Friday, February 24th, 2023 – 18:28 UTC ]

Trains were at the heart of the political scene this week. Internationally, President Joe Biden took a 10-hour train ride to get to Kyiv in person (which he must have thoroughly enjoyed, knowing his general love of trains). Domestically, the trainwreck in Ohio became sidetracked into a political circus.

Biden's surprise appearance in Ukraine had an enormous effect on the goodwill and fighting spirit of the Ukrainians, from all reports. An American president visiting a war zone at great personal risk resonated with the populace, and Biden once again reaffirmed American support for the brave resolve the Ukrainians have felt for one year and counting. The anniversary of the start of the war was precisely the time to make such a journey, and Biden followed it up with a very fiery speech in Poland reminding Vladimir Putin once again of what a colossal mistake he made with his decision to invade. America is on track (sorry, had to throw in a train metaphor) in fighting Russian aggression with the Ukrainians.

Down in East Palestine, Ohio, things went completely off the rails... again. They started with a tragic industrial accident. Then they got a whole bunch of indifference, from both high-ranking government officials and from the mainstream media. Then Republicans sensed an opening and spewed an inundation of politics all over the disaster. This quickly led to a media circus descending on the small town and now they've become no more than a photo op for both sides. It's hard not to feel sorry for the inhabitants of this town, in other words, because they didn't ask for any of this to happen.

One thing that hasn't been said enough is that it's also easy to understand where they are coming from. Toxic fumes literally exploded all over their town and now they're being told everything is fine and the air and water are safe -- despite still getting sick or being able to smell all the toxic residue. But few in the media have picked up how a lot of average people process this all, because what we personally would be thinking if we lived in this town is:

"The federal government doesn't have a whole lot of credibility when it comes to assuring people everything is safe -- after 9/11, they told New Yorkers the air was safe right after the buildings collapsed, and look at what the first responders went through as a result -- and then the military seemed to think the toxic burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq were no problem, but the soldiers soon found out otherwise. So you'll forgive my healthy skepticism when I hear the feds saying everything is peachy when everyone I talk to here still has headaches or rashes or chest pain or worse."

As we said, that's a pretty easy conclusion to come to, but for some reason nobody seems to be picking up on this particular aspect of the problem -- the distrust over the federal government's track record (to throw just one more train metaphor into the mix).

We are choosing to focus on the good that might come out of this man-made disaster. The Republicans are figuring out that they have painted themselves into a corner on this one. They sensed political weakness in the Biden administration, so they started trying to blame it all on Democratic policies somehow. But the reality of the situation (which the White House and plenty of other Democrats were quick to point out) is that the Republicans have fought hard to either outright remove or water down any train safety regulations for years and years. Donald Trump was part of this "deregulation" effort, and he was actually proud to chuck out safety rules for trains and hazardous materials.

Which Trump lied about, during his own self-serving visit to the town. He flew in with some bottled water (with his name on it, naturally) and did what he does best: disavowing any responsibility for the things he did. When asked about all the safety regulations his administration rolled back, Trump just flat-out lied: "I had nothing to do with it."

Which more than one media organization conclusively proved is just laughably false. In fact, Trump's visit actually served to focus everyone's attention on which side of the political aisle bore more responsibility for lax rail safety rules:

Donald Trump's visit to the site of a toxic train derailment in Ohio is offering a political opening to battered Biden administration officials -- by calling new attention to the former president's record of rolling back regulations on both rail safety and hazardous chemicals.

Trump's administration withdrew an Obama-era proposal to require faster brakes on trains carrying highly flammable materials, ended regular rail safety audits of railroads, and mothballed a pending rule requiring freight trains to have at least two crew members. He also placed a veteran of the chemical industry in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency's chemical safety office, where she made industry-friendly changes to how the agency studied health risks.

. . .

In addition, Trump's Federal Railroad Administration stopped conducting regular rail safety audits of railroads -- which the Biden administration later reinstituted -- and allowed railroads to replace some human safety inspections with automation.

Under Trump, "railroads could apply for relief from federal regulations, and FRA would grant them," said Gregory Hynes, the national legislative director of the country's largest rail union, SMART Transportation Division.

"It's really shocking what they've been able to get away with," he said.

Advocates of tougher regulations on toxic chemicals expressed just as much frustration.

Under Trump, "there was a rollback of, you know, almost everything," said Sonya Lunder, the Sierra Club's senior toxics adviser.

Trump's EPA repealed regulations intended to prevent chemical accidents at industrial facilities and rolled back requirements for companies to regularly assess whether safer technologies or practices have become available. It also withdrew requirements that companies have third-party audits to determine the root causes of accidents.

The Biden administration last year proposed reinstating all those requirements.

Of course, there is blame enough to go around on the subject. Biden's administration hasn't done nearly enough and not nearly fast enough on rail safety. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has been in his job for over two years and is just now getting around to making this a priority. And he was awfully slow to respond to any of it as well -- even with just a few public words of empathy for the people affected. But this wasn't just his fault, it was also the national political media dropping the ball:

Still, [Transportation Secretary Pete] Buttigieg acknowledged in a CBS News interview Tuesday that he "could have spoken sooner about how strongly I felt about this incident, and that's a lesson learned for me."

For Buttigieg, a former Indiana mayor and one of the Biden administration's most avid political communicators, what began as a rail and ecological calamity has mushroomed in just 20 days into his most serious test yet as leader of the sprawling Department of Transportation.

Three people in Buttigieg's orbit admit to being exasperated by the furor, saying nobody asked him about the derailment in any of the 23 media interviews he conducted during the first 10 days after the accident. Then critics lambasted him for not speaking sooner.

He was even on more than one Sunday morning political show the weekend after the accident, and he wasn't asked about it even once. But then again, neither did he bring it up himself.

But as we said, perhaps something good will come of all this. Buttigieg has newly dedicated himself to tightening up those safety rules and is publicly shaming both the freight rail companies and Republicans into now publicly supporting such efforts. He is striking while the political iron is hot and so far it looks like he might even succeed in making trains much safer for all Americans. There's no guarantee he can achieve this, but there is a political moment where bipartisan cooperation might actually be possible on the issue.

What would help, of course, is if the circus left town. The chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (who is in charge of investigating the accident) expressed her frustration this week: "Enough with the politics on this. I don't understand why this has gotten so political. This is a community that is suffering. This is not about politics."

The people of the town largely feel the same, because they know they are being used as political pawns, and they resent it from both sides. Here are some quotes from people who live in East Palestine which show their exasperation:

"They come for an hour or so, and they leave," said Nora Wright, an assistant director for area nursing facilities, describing the "publicity stunts" by visiting politicians. "They don't find out how we feel."

"I don't trust the government," said Joe Botinovch, a self-employed flower shop owner who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 but is shopping for a different candidate now and likes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He, too, hasn't enjoyed the sudden burst of attention from former presidents and presidential candidates.

"The only presidents I want to see are dead presidents in my wallet," he said. "They're using East Palestine like China and Russia and the U.S. are using Ukraine. It's a proxy war."

Trains aside, there were a few other notable political events this week. Former President Jimmy Carter has entered a hospice and the political media is now on a sort of deathwatch, waiting for the end. We wrote in honor of Carter this Presidents' Day, in case anyone's interested.

In other presidential news, we have one new official entrant in the 2024 race and one unofficial one that is dropping big hints, but neither one of them is going to ever get anywhere near the Oval Office. On the Republican side, Vivek Ramaswamy tossed his hat in the ring. On the Democratic side, Marianne Williamson broadly hinted she's about to do the same. The almost-universal reaction from voters on both sides of the political aisle was, appropriately: "Who?"

In non-trivial election news, Senator Jon Tester of Montana announced he will be running for another term, and Representative Barbara Lee joined the race in California for Senator Dianne Feinstein's seat.

Donald Trump got some more bad news on the legal front this week, as the foreperson of the special grand jury in Georgia danced around what she quite obviously wanted to tell the world -- that Trump was almost certainly at the top of their list of recommended indictments. The only question really left, at this point, is when this will be announced.

In another case, brought by former F.B.I. employees Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, a federal judge ruled that Trump will indeed have to sit for a deposition under oath and answer questions. Page and Strzok are suing because they were targeted by Trump and his F.B.I. director for retaliation back in the Russia investigation. So there's that for him to look forward to as well.

The non-legal news for Trump wasn't very rosy either this week, as new polls showed that Ron DeSantis is now leading Trump. When a long list of possible candidates was read to Republican voters, they picked DeSantis over Trump by 40 percent to 31 percent. When it was just presented as a head-to-head race, the news got even worse as DeSantis beat Trump by a whopping 55-37 percent. The head of the polling outfit explained this very simply: "Our poll found that while Republican primary voters want a candidate who's a fighter and will take on the status quo, they also want one who can win a general election in 2024." A separate Washington Post article took a deep dive into what previous Trump voters are thinking and they came to the same conclusion: Republican voters are more and more beginning to see Trump as nothing more than a big loser, period.

Which seems to be a very cheerful place to end this week's political wrap-up, don't you think?


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

She's not officially a Democrat, since judges in Wisconsin must be non-partisan, but if she was, Janet Protasiewicz would definitely be in the running for this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

Wisconsin held a primary on Tuesday for a seat on their state supreme court. Two liberals ran against two conservatives. Janet Protasiewicz got more votes than both conservatives combined. The liberal/conservative vote split 54 percent to 46 percent (we wrote about this contest earlier in the week at more length), and turnout was high for such a primary election. If liberals win this seat it could mean guaranteeing women's rights in the state and jettisoning a severely gerrymandered map that the Republicans drew up. So the consequences will be pretty big. And it looks like Protasiewicz has an excellent chance of doing just that, which is good news indeed. And (icing on the cake) it wasn't even the only off-year election Democrats did well in recently.

Senator Bernie Sanders gets at least an Honorable Mention this week, for striking while the political iron is hot on the idea of boosting Social Security. Sanders met with President Biden and pitched the idea of at least partially scrapping the cap on the payroll tax which funds the program -- which would make the whole thing solvent for the next 75 years without reducing benefits one dime. Bernie even wants to increase benefits. After Biden's coup at the State Of The Union, where he got almost all Republicans vocally on board with protecting Social Security from the budget hawks, a window might just have opened to pass some bipartisan legislation. Hey, you never know until you try, right? Which is precisely what Bernie just did, for which he should be commended.

But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was clearly President Joe Biden, for his unexpected visit to Kyiv. What United States president has ever visited one side of an active war zone that American soldiers are not engaged in? We're not sure if anyone else has ever done so, and we certainly can't think of a single example.

Biden's visit was much-appreciated by the president of Ukraine and by all the Ukrainian soldiers and people. They've had a long cold winter and what is right around the corner is what promises to be a very bloody spring offensive for both sides of the war, so an American president marking the one-year anniversary of the start of the invasion was certainly an impressive sight.

Biden followed up his visit with a speech in Poland that mostly failed to break through the American media's boredom with foreign affairs, but was well-received and applauded in Europe. Biden, unlike our last president, actually stands up to Vladimir Putin, and by doing so has gained the respect of the entire free world.

Once again, Joe Biden is showing real American leadership on the world's stage. Back at home, the White House could actually be making progress on another issue from Biden's State Of The Union address, as even some Republicans are getting on board the effort to rein in the "junk fees" so many corporations use to pad their bottom line. United Airlines is the first to read the tea leaves and announce they are now dropping fees they have been charging to families to be allowed to sit together on an airplane ride, which is just an abhorrent and indefensible concept to begin with. So Biden could actually wind up making a lot of progress on these issues, since (as he noted in his speech) everybody hates getting ripped off. Polls show fighting junk fees is supported by between 75 and 79 percent of the public, in fact.

Few people noticed it and few media companies devoted much coverage to it, but Joe Biden had another really good week. For which we are pleased to award him another of our own Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards.

[Congratulate President Joe Biden on his official contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

We read a deep-dive article this week that was pretty stunning. In last year's midterm elections, there was one state where Democrats did not do as well as their counterparts elsewhere, and we wound up with a Republican House with George Santos in it as a result. It appears there is a big reason for this, and that big reason is "the New York State Democratic Party organization." Because this organization is not just woefully small, but it seems focused more on fighting progressive Democrats than on beating Republicans. So it's no wonder we lost a handful of what should have been very winnable House seats there.

Here is the whole sordid story (sorry for the length of the excerpt, but we just had so many jaw-dropping moments when reading it...), from the New York Times:

These disappointments have cast into sharp relief both the divisions within the party and the peculiar void of the state's Democratic organization itself. Few New Yorkers cared, until late 2022, that the statewide Democratic apparatus operated, for the most part, as a hollowed-out appendage of the governor, a second campaign account that did little, if any, work in terms of messaging and turnout. New Hampshire, a state with roughly half the population of Queens, has a Democratic Party with 16 full-time paid staff members. New York's has four, according to the state chairman, Jay Jacobs. One helps maintain social media accounts that update only sparingly. Most state committee members have no idea where the party keeps its headquarters, or if it even has one. (It does, at 50 Broadway in Manhattan.)

. . .

And now the Democratic civil war rages. Jacobs, who is also the chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Party and is on his second tour leading the statewide organization, has come in for a drubbing. A week after the election, more than 1,000 Democrats signed a letter calling for Jacobs's ouster. They included state legislators, City Council members, county leaders and members of New York's 400-odd Democratic State Committee. Most of them belonged to the state's progressive wing, which has grown only further emboldened since the fall. On Jan. 3, a number of them gathered outside City Hall to reiterate their demands: Jacobs must go.

"The party has to change, and it can't change until we change the leadership," George Albro, a co-chair of the New York Progressive Action Network, a left-wing organization formed from the remnants of Bernie Sanders's 2016 campaign, said in an interview. "From top to bottom, the Democratic Party in New York is a disaster."

. . .

In 2021, after a democratic socialist, India Walton, defeated the longtime mayor of Buffalo and a former chairman of the state party, Byron Brown, in a contentious primary, Jacobs refused to endorse Walton. "Let's take a scenario, very different, where David Duke -- You remember him? The grand wizard of the KKK? He moves to New York, he becomes a Democrat and he runs for mayor in the city of Rochester, which has a low primary turnout, and he wins the Democratic line. I have to endorse David Duke? I don't think so," Jacobs said in a television interview, before clarifying that Walton "isn't in the same category, but it just leads you to that question, Is it a must? It's not a must. It's something you choose to do."

Outraged progressives called for Jacobs's resignation. He refused to go, and Hochul, who is from the Buffalo area and remains close to Brown, did not force Jacobs out. Brown, with tacit approval from the governor and Jacobs, then won the mayoralty with a write-in campaign that November, drawing support from Republicans to crush Walton.

. . .

A 67-year-old political lifer, Jacobs has an unrelated day job overseeing a string of popular and lucrative summer camps in upstate New York, in Pennsylvania and on Long Island, where he lives. Democratic business is often run out of a TLC Family of Camps office in Glen Cove, a small town on Nassau County's Gold Coast. Politicos and journalists who want to reach Jacobs know to email his Camp TLC address; Jacobs cc'd his chief of staff at that summer-camp address to help arrange a telephone interview that lasted an hour, despite Jacobs's initial hesitancy about going on the record.

. . .

Should Jacobs resign? "The short answer is yes," [Representative Jamaal] Bowman answered. "But the more, I think, comprehensive nuanced answer or question is, What the hell are we even doing? You know, the whole thing about the corporate agenda, which I think Jay Jacobs and maybe even Governor Hochul and maybe others are missing is, when you talk about younger voters, millennials or Gen Z, they are not aligned with corporate interests over labor and working-class people."

. . .

All the ongoing chaos hasn't escaped the notice of national Democrats. "When I go to D.N.C. meetings," says a high-ranking New York Democratic official, who requested anonymity to avoid antagonizing colleagues, "there is a sense that New York doesn't have a state party at all."

. . .

Jacobs can credibly argue that the progressivism or outright socialism that wins in Brooklyn or Queens can't be easily sold in Nassau County. But Bowman and his cohort can ask why he neglects the younger voters moving left -- or, for that matter, why he fails to build out an organization that can be credibly called a political party, the kind that is more than one man and a few aides conducting political business from a summer-camp office. In a 10-page report issued in January, Jacobs pinned Democratic losses on historically high Republican turnout, a contention backed by data. But shouldn't a state party's task be, in part, to turn out its own voters? Had enough Democrats been motivated to vote, George Santos would never have been sworn in as a congressman.

"What we saw is a party that did not know what role they should play," Nnaemeka says, "and therefore played no role."

Those last lines are pretty damning: "...more than one man and a few aides conducting political business from a summer-camp office... George Santos would never have been sworn in as a Congressman."

New York's progressive and corporatist Democrats have been in a civil war for years. But no matter which side of that ideological divide New York Democratic voters might find themselves on, you'd think the idea that they deserve better from their state's Democratic Party organization would be universal.

For general incompetence and for the sheer amateur nature of it all, we have to give Jay Jacobs this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. And hope that New York Democrats can start rebuilding a more robust party apparatus in the near future.

[Contact New York State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs on his official contact page (which may lead to his summer camp, who knows?), to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 696 (2/24/23)

Happy Mardi Gras week, happy Presidents' Day, happy February everyone! Here are our talking points for the celebratory week that was....


   This is what it means

This first one makes a conceptual point that needs making.

"Republicans back to Ronald Reagan have long worshipped at the altar of 'deregulation,' because they believe that regulating business is a bad thing. But stop and think for a moment -- every regulation was put in place to either solve a problem or reduce risk or promote safety. That's why regulations are created. Sometimes these cost businesses money to implement, which they hate, so they fight against regulations as hard as they can. But the train accident in Ohio shows us all what getting rid of regulations or watering them down actually means. The risks go up. Disasters have a higher chance of happening. That -- deregulation -- is what Republicans have long fought for: the right of corporations to save a few pennies by putting Americans at higher risk of massive disasters."


   Fox, meet henhouse

This is a much deeper problem, of course.

"You know what else this disaster points out? How short-sighted it is to allow industries to essentially write their own regulations. They tell the politicians exactly what to enact so they can run higher risks and make a few extra bucks, and the politicians do exactly as they are told. We saw the same sort of thing with the airplanes that were dropping out of the skies -- when you put the corporate fox in charge of the regulatory henhouse, bad things happen."


   So we're all agreed now, right?

This next one is from Secretary Buttigieg, calling out the hypocrisy of Republicans crying crocodile tears over rail safety lapses. As we've already mentioned, the GOP really painted itself into a corner over this and now has no logical way of opposing tightening these regulations. So Buttigieg is actually happy to have them on board, as he says:

There is a chance for everybody who has a public voice on this issue to demonstrate whether they are interested in helping the people of East Palestine or using the people of East Palestine. This is a community that through no fault of its own is going through enormous upheaval, and a lot of the folks who seem to find political opportunity there are among those who have sided with the rail industry again and again and again as they have fought safety regulations on railroads and HAZMAT tooth and nail. So if people are going to find religion about rail regulation, sometimes for the first time -- I welcome that.


   Call it by its real name

Seriously, everyone needs to just stop.

"The organization that calls itself 'Fox News' simply has no right to use that second word. This is not a news organization, as their internal emails have baldly revealed. They care only about their bottom line, and if it is ever threatened by actual truth, they react by trying to ignore or bury that truth under a mountain of falsehood. They are much more interested in keeping their viewers happy in whatever delusions those viewers have -- delusions Fox has fed them over a long period of time. This may cost them dearly in court, since it is a smoking gun in the defamation case from the companies who make voting machines and equipment. But before that even happens, the emails make it crystal clear that the rest of us should never use the word 'news' to describe what is nothing more than straight-up propaganda."


   More Republicans ignoring reality

Not that this is going to surprise anyone, really, but the Washington Post just dug out a rather amazing refusal of a Republican officeholder to face reality or admit it to the public.

"After the 2020 presidential election, Arizona became a hotbed of conspiracy theories. These were fed by high-ranking Republican officials, although to be fair it was contradicted by other Republican officeholders who ensured that the state's elections were conducted correctly. But now it comes out that the state's attorney general, Mark Brnovich, launched an investigation into the election which consumed more than 10,000 hours of his staff's time. You know what the report they compiled concluded? That there was no widespread fraud at all. That there was no evidence to back any of the conspiracy theories up. And so you know what Brnovich did with this report? He refused to release it. He sat on it. Because he didn't want Arizona's voters to know the truth -- that the election had been fair and well-run. This seems to be the new normal with a lot of Republicans these days -- if you don't like whatever the truth has to say, just conveniently ignore it."



The Post also had a very deep dive into the MAGA electorate in multiple states, just to check their pulse about the 2024 presidential contest.

"It seems more and more Republican voters -- even lots and lots of them who voted for Trump twice -- are coming to the conclusion that Trump is just a sad loser. It's not that they don't like Trump or don't support Trump anymore -- they like him just fine -- but they're getting tired of Trump losing so many elections for the party. They're taking a look at all the other Republicans who either are running or might run for the party's presidential nomination next year, and they're concluding their chances for victory will be a lot higher if Trump's name is nowhere near the ballot next November. Trump's biggest fear is coming true from his own base supporters, because they have begun to see Donald Trump for precisely what he is -- a gigantic loser."


   Liz still feisty

This week, for Presidents' Day (you can't make this stuff up, folks), Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted out a not-very-patriotic thought: the country needs "a national divorce," where red states and blue states could separate and form their own countries. Which, obviously, was tried once before and didn't exactly end well. But it was Liz Cheney who ripped into this idea the best, so here's her clapback at M.T.G. to end on:

Let's review some of the governing principles of America. Our country is governed by the Constitution. You swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Secession is unconstitutional. No member of Congress should advocate secession, Marjorie.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground


33 Comments on “Friday Talking Points -- Off The Rails”

  1. [1] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    Good stuff, thanks.

    There's nothing "new" about the Republican "normal" in TP 5. They've been doing it for decades.

    Refusing to fund or allow studies looking at gun safety or medical cannabis, are just two examples.

  2. [2] 
    italyrusty wrote:

    Re: the train derailment and release of lethal substances.
    I grew up a short drive from Youngstown, FL and was in high school (i.e. the age when one starts to pay attention to 'the news') when a train derailed there, releasing chlorine gas.

    Living in Italia, I have little idea whether any credible news source is highlighting the parallels - and that the same lapses and excuses are being repeated 45 years later.

  3. [3] 
    italyrusty wrote:

    I nominate newly-minted U.S. Representative McClellan as MIDOW.

  4. [4] 
    italyrusty wrote:

    I nominate Joe Biden as MDDOW for his cowardice in repealing the inhumane and evil immigration policies of his predecessor. Biden *could* take the high road and *righteously* denounce Trump's words and actions.
    'The new proposal — which immigrant advocates refer to as the “transit ban” or the “asylum ban” — is the White House’s most restrictive border control measure to date and essentially will serve as its policy solution to the long-awaited end of Title 42. Within minutes of its posting, the Biden administration faced a flood of backlash from immigrant advocates and Democrats who accused officials of perpetuating the Trumpian approach to border politics that Biden pledged on the campaign trail to end. Threats of lawsuits also began to percolate.'

  5. [5] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    An Interesting oral history of the Ukrainian invasion from Politico. Looks like we knew of the likely invasion long before it heated up a year ago and really moved to head it off. Biden, his team and the intelligence community really went above and beyond on this and I don't think Putin could have been convinced not to invade...

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    The US has been pushing for NATO expansion up to and including through Kiev to Moscow for thirty years.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, now the US is saying the silent part out loud, as they say ... regime change.

    So, I think it is not surprising, given how Russia has reacted to all of this over the course of the last thirty plus years and given the US insistence (so much for Ukrainian sovereignty, ahem) on expanding NATO through Kiev, that this all-out Ukraine war began.

    My concern now is how the war will end. I'm guessing Ukraine would have been far better off to negotiate before this thing started and not listened so much to the disingenuous advice it was getting from the US.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Looks like we knew of the likely invasion long before it heated up a year ago and really moved to head it off.

    What did the US do, exactly, to "head it off"?

  9. [9] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Thirty years ago I think most assumed Russia would have a rocky path but would eventually join the world community and they would join NATO or get rid of it as it had no longer had a use. As for negotiation, read the piece, Putin did not believe Ukraine was a legitimate county and panned to basically absorb it. Or to put it another way, if Russia invaded Canada (you do share a watery icy border), would you fight or just accept Russian control and lose your freedoms?

  10. [10] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    What did the US do, exactly, to "head it off"?

    Uh...that's kind of the point of the article. Short answer, lots. It's a quite long read...

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Thirty years ago I think most assumed Russia would have a rocky path but would eventually join the world community and they would join NATO ...

    That sentiment was surely around back then but, it didn't last for very long. And, in fact, it was probably quite non-serious for the short amount of time that it was in vogue.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I have read a lot of the article - which, by the way, is very disjointed - but haven't come across any part about what the US did to avert war, other than to wax lyrical about what the consequences would be - such as a harsh sanctions regime. Which has been a failure to date.

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Or to put it another way, if Russia invaded Canada (you do share a watery icy border), would you fight or just accept Russian control and lose your freedoms?

    I was wondering when I would be asked about that fantasy again.

    That's not putting it another way at all. It is pure folly to even suggest such an incongruous scenario as that without even a remote premise for such an invasion. So, you'll forgive me if I decline to engage.

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    ... if Russia invaded Canada (you do share a watery icy border) ...

    You mean the North Pacific? Heh.

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Here is how to put it another way ...

    What if the US invaded Canada because Canada decided to withdraw from the western alliance opting instead for a military security arrangement with Russia ... would I fight or just accept US control and lose freedom?

    Well, in that case, I would first demonstrate and fight hard in opposition to Canada leaving NATO and joining a Russian alliance. If it went ahead anyway, I'd probably jump ship and head for the South Pacific. :)

  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I would also hope, in the above scenario, that the US would do more to persuade Canada from acting so foolishly than to just threaten sanctions.

  17. [17] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    I was wondering when I would be asked about that fantasy again.

    In the article it mentions that for younger to middle age Ukrainians, they have known freedom for long enough that they are likely to fight for it and this was a warning to the Russians that invasion would not be a cake walk (which turned out to be true). Seems like to avoid bloodshed you would prefer to toss them under a rather repressive bus, but would flee if in a similar situation...

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Seems like to avoid bloodshed you would prefer to toss them under a rather repressive bus, but would flee if in a similar situation...

    It seems that way to you, does it? Shocking. Positively shocking.

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    the article it mentions that for younger to middle age Ukrainians, they have known freedom for long enough that they are likely to fight for it and this was a warning to the Russians that invasion would not be a cake walk (which turned out to be true).

    So, warnings and sanctions were all that the US did to avert war. Yeah, sounds about right.

  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    You think the US and NATO are not currently effectively 'throwing Ukraine under the bus'?

  21. [21] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    The 800 lb gorilla in the room are nuclear weapons. Sanctions are one of the few tools available when threats of direct military action can not be on the table. The article also mentions that if Russia is allowed to succeed, Ukraine would be far from the last country absorbed by Russia, and all the countries that border Russia were quite adamant about that.

  22. [22] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Shocking. Positively shocking.

    Less shocking after your mention of the south pacific...

  23. [23] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Sanctions are one of the few tools available when threats of direct military action can not be on the table.

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Sanctions are one of the few tools available when threats of direct military action can not be on the table.

    What about the use of common sense?

    Sanctions were predictably destined to fail in this case, given the world in which we live. Meaning that most of the world, and especially the Global South, are decidedly not on board with sanctions against Russia and are equally reticent about what exactly the US is selling Re the Ukraine war and NATO expansion when these countries are dealing with their own existential issues, much of which are coming as a direct result of the prolonging of this war.

  25. [25] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    At least, you haven't called me a Putin apologist ... yet. :)

  26. [26] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    The sanctions are the strongest that have ever been applied to a country and have set Russia back decades. Putin has a huge war chest that he has amassed over eight years. We will see whether sanctions have failed once his war chest runs out...

  27. [27] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Have you bothered to check how many countries are not on board with this sanctions regime?

  28. [28] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:
  29. [29] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Have you compared the gdp of those enforcing sanctions with those who are not? Hint: California has a larger gdp than the entire continent of Africa and only a bit less than the entire continent of South America.

    Also many of those countries don't have an automatic mechanism to enforce sanctions, so they are not listed but generally follow along. Sanctions can spill over and many countries will have to chose which side they do business with or realize that by supporting Russia it might prevent them doing business with some of the larger corporations on earth. Russia can limp along but I don't think it is enough to rebuild (or purchase replacements for) their war machine long term...

  30. [30] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    whatever the case in various isolated countries, sanctions can't realistically be termed success or failure in a bubble. they are one catory of factor that can apply pressure to every other factor - be it military, economic, political, technological, social, etc.

    so even if there's no immediate impact, the kremlin and its allies have fewer options in every sphere. they can't yacht on every sea, they can't buy in every housing market. sanctions are no panacea, but enough russians remember getting in line for soviet toilet paper that they'll gradually recalibrate their degree of support for the regime and its war. where national support for a ground war is concerned, it matters a great deal not only IF the public supports the war, but also how strongly.

    i believe most russians know putin's pretext for war is moosepoop, are complying only as much as they must to avoid being targeted themselves, and hold his regime responsible for any hardships they may experience significantly more than they do washington, london or brussels.


  31. [31] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    i don't have the patience for wapo's paywall. if there's a pertinent passage or paragraph, please paste it here.


  32. [32] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'll recap the piece ... later.

  33. [33] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Re. the WaPo article, A Global Divide on the Ukraine War Is Deepening:

    It was a very enlightened piece about why so many countries are not on board with sanctions against Russia and why the same countries are not buying what the US is selling Re. its stance on why Ukraine must win this war ... to save democracy and Europe, blah, blah, blah and, most importantly, why history matters.

    These countries don't like what Putin has done but, they have their own interests to worry about and they feel the US has acted in a hegemonic way - in bully fashion, even - not to mention hypocritically.

    The global divide and the international order that the US lead the way on setting up is fracturing. I used to think that US global leadership was or should be paramount. Maybe it was at one time but, that time is fading fast. The US/NATO action in Ukraine is not helping to maintain or sustain American influence around the globe.

    Bashi should know that this is about so much more than gross domestic product.

    "About two thirds of the world's population lives in countries that have refused to condemn Russia." (From the article)

    Also from the article,

    "Conversations with people in South Africa, Kenya and India suggest a deeply ambivalent view of the conflict, informed less by the question of whether Russia was wrong to invade than by current and historical grievances against the West — over colonialism, perceptions of arrogance, and the West’s failure to devote as many resources to solving conflicts and human rights abuses in other parts of the world, such as the Palestinian territories, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo."

    Biden frames the war in Ukraine as a fight for freedom and democracy. All of which rings quite hollow in countries like South Africa, India and Brazil where the US has not devoted enough attention for the last many years, at least, to their issues of concern. South Africa's current leaders, in particular, remember well who supported their fight against apartheid and who did not. The Arab world has long lost faith in US leadership on any number of issues. China and Russia have taken full advantage of all of this disillusionment with what is now seen as Western hegemony.

    Instead of blaming problems such as inflation on Putin's war in Ukraine, the Global South - Asia, Middle East, Africa and even Latin America to a lesser extent only because of their close proximity to the US - blame Western sanctions for many of the challenges they now face. Again, from the article,

    "They do not subscribe to the narrative that countering Russia is a moral imperative if the principles of democracy and territorial integrity and the rules-based world order are to be upheld ... That’s not an argument that serious people buy,” said Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary, citing the NATO bombing of Serbia, U.S. support for dictatorships during the Cold War, and the Iraq War as examples of what he sees as the United States violating those same principles. “The rest of the world genuinely sees this as a European war. They do not see a global conflict or the way it is presented by the West,” he said."

    The US may be learning ... maybe ... "The United States decided not to impose sanctions on India for a missile deal it concluded with Russia last year and instead has been pursuing expanded ties, including its own defense deals."

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