SoCS: Ukraine and the rest of the world

Like much of the rest of the world, I’ve been watching coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I’m horrified at the destruction and loss of life and at the brazenness of the attack against a neighboring sovereign democracy.

I’m in awe of the courage and resolve of the Ukrainian people to defend their homeland. There are many ordinary citizens who have been given guns to defend their cities and villages. Apparently, some are making homemade bombs from instructions given on television. I don’t know that I would be able to do that myself and pray that I am never in such a terrible position that I would have to find out.

I’m also amazed at the courage of some Russian citizens who are protesting Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. There have been protests in 54 cities and many arrests. Some prominent people have spoken out publicly, including sports heroes. They are risking their careers and their freedom to speak out against the war.

I wish there was more that I could do to help the Ukrainians but I know I have no power to do so. I understand that the US as part of NATO has taken many actions to try to punish Putin and his oligarchy for this attack but they won’t directly intervene to protect the Ukrainian population. I’m worried that Russia will assassinate Ukrainian President Zelenskyy with the rest of the world looking on and unable to stop it. That they will put in place a Kremlin-backed dictator. That millions of Ukrainians will suffer from violence and deprivation for years as they try to reestablish themselves as an independent democracy.

And the rest of the world will be powerless to stop it.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “rest.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/02/25/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-26-2022/

the war in Ukraine

I noted in this post that I joined in fears that Russia was about to escalate its hostilities toward Ukraine around the time of the Olympics and now it is happening.

The war there has been going on since 2014 when Russia took over the Crimean peninsula. At that time, separatists in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, with the backing of Russian troops, took control of the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and some territory around them. Earlier this week, Russia recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as separate republics, including not only rebel-held territory but also land under the control of Ukraine. Putin also sent more troops into the area, calling them “peacekeepers” when they are actually invaders into Ukraine. Russia also has at least 150,000 troops with heavy weaponry just over the border on three sides of Ukraine.

I’m very afraid for the people of Ukraine. They have already lost about 14,000 people to this war but would lose many, many more if Russia launches a major offensive against them. The thirty countries of NATO are instituting economic sanctions against Russia and have increased military support to Ukraine, although they will not take part in the fighting directly. They are also preparing for possible refugees if Russia does undertake an invasion of the whole country.

It’s likely that people in Europe, and to a lesser extent in North America, will be impacted in terms of oil and gas supplies because Russia is a major producer and exporter and has used fossil fuels as a weapon before. It’s also likely that the Russian attack will include cyber warfare against Ukraine and possibly NATO countries.

President Biden has made clear that the US will keep its NATO commitments to defend member nations against attack and has moved additional troops into Europe. Because Ukraine is not a member of NATO, they only have their own armed forces to actively fight against Russia.

I hope it will be enough.

Putin has tried to claim that Ukraine was never really an independent entity, but he is mistaken. Even during the Soviet era, there were many people who proudly identified as Ukrainians, even when they were forced to flee to other countries, such as the US. Currently in Ukraine, there are even citizens who are Russian speakers who are ready to take up arms to defend Ukraine and its democracy.

Perhaps, Putin will realize that and back down before more blood is shed. I know there are diplomats still trying to avert a large-scale war but things look very grim now.

Putin does not inspire hope for peace.

voting in the US

I’m tired of politicians in Republican-led states that are restricting voting practices boasting that their policies still make voting easier than in “liberal” New York.

I live in New York state and here’s the deal. New York has long had very cumbersome voting rules. Registration and changes in party affiliation had to be completed months in advance of election day. Absentee voting by mail was only for medical issues with a doctor’s letter or being out of the county on election day. Until the pandemic, there were no early voting days. When we did have some early voting for the November 2020 election due to the pandemic, I waited in line for three hours to cast my ballot. Fear of COVID was allowed as a medical exemption so voting by mail was easier in 2020 but those ballots were not counted for over a week.

I envied family and friends in other states where most of the voting was done by mail, often with ballots mailed routinely to registered voters. States with open primaries, same-day registration, weeks of early voting days. States where it was not as cumbersome to fulfill the fundamental responsibility of being a citizen.

Because of the election interference problems of 2016, there had been a lot of preparations done to make the 2020 election more secure. The pandemic added another layer of complexity but the election was very successful with high turnout and accurate results reported. There were only scattered instances of voter fraud. Despite the vociferous and continuing lies from the former president and other Republicans, the election was free and fair. Dozens of recounts, audits, and court cases have upheld the results.

That is not to say that there were no problems. In my Congressional district, New York 22, the vote count was so close that it had not been certified when the new Congress first met in early January. During the January 6 attack, there was no representative from my district huddled in the House chamber and then evacuated to a safer location. The contested election results wound up in court. One of the main issues was that one of the counties did not process new voter registrations even though they arrived before the deadline. When those people appeared to vote, they were not allowed to cast ballots, which was significant in a district where only a few dozen votes separated the candidates. The court allowed the vote count to stand, seating the Republican candidate who had won in 2016 in place of the Democratic incumbent who had beaten her in 2018.

In a way, this foreshadows some of the efforts underway in various states to make registering and voting more difficult for people who are deemed likely to vote for Democrats. This has variously been applied to people of color, urban dwellers, elders, college students, and Latinx populations, depending on the state. For example, in Texas, a handgun license is accepted as identification for voting but a student ID is not. There have also been moves to close polling locations in certain areas, for example, to create long lines to vote in majority black neighborhoods while white neighborhoods have more polling places with only a few minutes’ wait. We also see increased amounts of gerrymandering, whereby districts are drawn in convoluted ways to dilute the voting power of a group, whether that is regarding political party, race, or ethnicity.

These kinds of voter suppression tactics and interference in representation have been around for a long time but are worse now than in recent US history due to Supreme Court decisions in 2013 and 2021 which made much of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unenforceable.

What is even more unsettling are the new laws in some states that are empowering partisans to determine which of the votes cast get counted and which get thrown out. The counting of valid votes should be totally straightforward and non-partisan. It’s math. Inserting politics means that it’s possible for electoral college votes to be awarded to the candidate who lost the popular vote in the state, perhaps overseen by the state legislature. We have seen a frightening example of this already with several states sending fraudulent slates of electors for Trump in states where Biden won the popular vote. We have just learned that these cases are being investigated by the Department of Justice.

There have been several bills in Congress to try to address these problems. They have passed the House but not the Senate where they have been impeded by the filibuster that would need ten Republicans to join with the Democratic caucus to advance the bills for a vote.

It’s shameful that Republicans are not standing up for democracy and the right of all citizens to participate in free and fair elections. They are apparently afraid that, if everyone votes and all the votes are counted accurately in fairly drawn districts, they will lose elections and power.

They should, though, be prioritizing our democratic principles and highest ideals. The last time the Voting Rights Act was re-authorized in 2006 it passed in the Senate 98-0 with 17 currently serving Republican senators supporting it. The Voting Rights Act originally targeted black voter suppression in certain jurisdictions with known discriminatory practices and the Supreme Court considered these formulae outdated. The current legislation under consideration goes further in securing voting rights for all in that it addresses a wider range of problems over the country that have appeared or been threatened over time. It would help voters in Democrat-led states like New York as well as Republican-led states like Florida.

Some have argued that the courts will prevent injustice but that does not always happen, as we found in the case in NY-22 where voters were disenfranchised without redress. We are also seeing, unfortunately, cases where judges are acting in a partisan way rather than an impartial, merits-of-the-case way.

Our Constitution begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union”. Over our history, voting has been restricted by race, age, gender, and wealth. As we strive to “form a more perfect Union,” we must ensure that all adult American citizens have equal access to voting, whatever their race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, political opinions, education, place of residence, or health status. We need just and enforceable laws to make that possible. I call on all members of Congress to support their fellow citizens in order to make our union stronger and “more perfect”.
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what?

After the January sixth insurrection and the inauguration of Joe Biden, I thought that most Republican members of Congress would decide to fulfill their Constitutional duty and cooperate in governing the nation.

I was spectacularly wrong.

Instead, the vast majority of the Republican members have decided to lie about the fact that the insurrectionists were supporters of Donald Trump who injured police officers and sought to intimidate and harm the vice president and Congresspeople. They are also lying about the integrity and outcome of the election, despite the fact that there were Republican observers and officeholders who oversaw the election and certified the results in every locality and state.

Joe Biden is the duly elected and serving president of the United States under the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

Any member of Congress who does not give assent and support to that should resign immediately as they have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution.

For the House members, all of whom run for two-year terms and so were also in races in November 2020, how can they say with a straight face that the results in the presidential race were fraudulent but that their own elections were valid? They ran on the same ballot.

The few Republicans who are standing up for election integrity are being maligned by their colleagues and the state Republican apparatus. The most salient battle at the moment involves Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. She is the current House Republican Conference Chair, the third highest leader of the caucus. She is also the daughter of Dick Cheney, who was vice president under George W. Bush. She is very conservative, which used to be a hallmark of the Republican party. Because of her principles, she weighed the evidence and voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection. She also acknowledges that Joe Biden won a free and fair election and is now legitimately serving as president.

Although she retained her leadership post in a secret ballot of the caucus in February, there is likely to be another vote in the coming week that will remove her from the House leadership.

Given that the Republican party has overwhelmingly turned into the Trump party, I think that Liz Cheney and the handful of other Republicans in Congress that have retained their Constitutional and conservative principles should create a new conservative Congressional caucus. This caucus could engage in good faith negotiations with the Democratic leadership to give input and amendments to legislation with the prospect for voting in favor of the legislation when it gets to the floor.

While there are currently some Republican members of Congress talking to the Democratic leadership and the White House on bills, the Republican leadership, especially in the Senate, have made clear that no Republicans will vote in favor of any legislation proposed by Biden and the Democrats. I don’t know what would happen if Cheney in the House and Senators Romney, Collins, and/or Murkowski in the Senate formed a conservative caucus. The Republican party might throw them out, saying they could no longer run as Republicans in their states. In that case, they could either run as independents or form their own conservative party. Indeed, Murkowski has previously won an independent write-in campaign in Alaska and Collins, who just won re-election and won’t be on the ballot again until 2026, serves the state of Maine whose other senator, Angus King, is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

Anyone who joined the conservative caucus might lost their next election because of it.

At least, they would lose knowing that as public servants they had stood up for their country and their principles at a time when our democracy is under grave threat.

It’s what patriots do.

One-Liner Wednesday: John Lewis

“A democracy cannot thrive where power remains unchecked and justice is reserved for a select few. Ignoring these cries and failing to respond to this movement is simply not an option — for peace cannot exist where justice is not served.”

Rep. John Lewis (1940-2020)

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socialism?

In the film adaptation of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya, played by Mandy Patinkin, says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I think of that quote every time I hear someone accuse Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi, or any other member of Congress of being a socialist.

Merriam-Webster defines socialism as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” The second definition is a) “a system of society or group living in which there is no private property” b) “a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.”

No member of the United States Congress is calling for the abolition of private property or for government ownership of businesses. Capitalism continues, although with more legislation to ensure that workers are paid adequate wages, have safe work conditions, and are protected from discrimination or abuse.

Most proposals also call for higher taxes on the very wealthy. The top marginal tax rate in the United States was 70% or higher from 1936-1980. To be clear, the US income tax is a graduated tax. The first bracket of taxes is at a low rate; as income increases, the percentage of tax also increases. If someone is being paid millions of dollars a year, they still pay a low rate on the first bracket amount, paying a higher amount on each bracket. Only the amount of income above the starting level of the highest bracket is charged at the top marginal rate. For reference, the top marginal tax rate is currently 37% for income over $510,300/individual or $612,350/married couple.

None of the health care reform proposals is calling for “socialized medicine.” This system, which is currently used in the United Kingdom, is one in which the medical providers work directly for the government. All the proposals of the Democratic presidential candidates are either a combination of public and private health insurance or single-payer systems. Medical care providers continue to work for private practices, hospitals, etc. as they do now. In the single-payer system, the government acts as the insurer. This is the system in place in Canada. The current Medicare system is a form of single-payer, although many recipients also have a private supplemental plan. The “Medicare-for-all” proposals also expand Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing care, while cutting premiums and co-pays to at or near zero.

What confuses things more is that a few members of Congress consider themselves “democratic socialists.” What they favor is what is generally called “social democracy” in Europe. Many European countries have a social-democratic party and use some of these principles in their governments. The Nordic countries are structured with a lot of social democracy principles. They have strong social safety nets and much lower levels of income inequality than the US, and their citizens rank among the happiest in the world. Yet, the vast majority of their workers still work for private companies.

So, the next time you hear “socialist” being thrown about as an epithet or a scare tactic, ask yourself if the speaker is using the word accurately. Chances are high that they are not.
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One-Liner Wednesday: politics and democracy

“When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us—our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor, and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy.”
~~~ Parker Palmer
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news response

I try to keep up with the news, both here in the United States and internationally, but it is getting more and more difficult to do, especially regarding the federal government here. It seems that every day has so many important news stories that I can only hear summary reports on most, delving into detail on only a small fraction.

One story that is more and more alarming is the interference of Russia in election campaigns, both here in the United States and around the world. During the 2016 election campaign, I was disturbed about the role of Russia in the Democratic National Committee hacking. I was also disgusted that Congressional Republican leaders blocked a unified response to the threat under President Obama.

Even more shamefully, that denial/lack of response persists both among most Republicans in Congress and with the current executive branch.

Meanwhile, more and more evidence has been found of Russian meddling in our election and many other countries, especially European ones, have experienced Russian interference as well. These countries are actively taking countermeasures, but the United States federal government is not.

Among the people, the response to the situation is mixed. Some of us are alarmed and making a point of staying informed and alert. Some companies, media, and state and local governments are putting in policies to counteract as much Russian interference as they can.

The problem is that the Republican lies about Russian meddling are believed by some of the people, making them particularly vulnerable to further foreign influence and adding to the bizarre discounting of facts and mistrust of the mainstream press that made the whole mess possible in the first place.

This division is dangerous to our society and our democracy. It appears that what Russia wants is to destabilize democracies.

I’m very much afraid that they have succeeding, in part, here in the United States.

We cannot and must not let them change our fundamental structures of government and daily life. Many of us are and will continue to fight for our American values.

We must prevail.
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One-Liner Wednesday: absolute power

“By its nature absolute power limits and even denies the freedom of others.”
~~ Leonardo Boff

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