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Letters to the Editor, Monterey Herald, January 15, 2022
How many times has Donald Trump been accused of a crime? I don’t know and you probably don’t either. The correct answer: too many times to count. And yet he has never been convicted. We’ve been told nobody is above the law in this country. Does anybody actually believe that?
Are President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Congress afraid of Trump and his followers? What about members of Congress? How is it that Trump and most of his cronies have so far escaped accountability for their transgressions? Democrats need to go on the offensive immediately.
There can be no doubt that Trump is guilty of financial crimes, political crimes, assaults on women, etc. but has never acknowledged any of these crimes. Most Americans understand that our justice system has always been flawed. Those who have power, money, and the right skin color, have always gotten away with more than others.
But with Trump and his GOP accomplices chipping away at what remains of democracy in America, we just don’t have time to wait.
If we ever truly had a reasonably fair justice system, this is the time to prove it. Otherwise, we will continue living in an autocracy/plutocracy, but no longer a democracy. I don’t want that to happen. But it very well could.
Del Rey Oaks
By Arlen Grossman
How many times has Donald Trump been accused of a crime? I don’t know and you probably don’t either. The correct answer: too many times to count.
The next question is: how many times has Donald Trump been convicted of a crime? Everybody knows the answer: Zero. We’ve been told nobody is above the law in this country. I can’t believe anybody still believes that.
How does Trump get away with it? Probably because a lot of people are afraid of him, or afraid of his power and reach. Or maybe people are afraid of the morons in the Trump Personality Cult. The former president still commands loyalty–and fear–from millions of clueless Americans.
Is President Biden afraid of Trump and his followers? What about Attorney General Merrick Garland? What about members of Congress? Or the courts? Is everybody afraid of this mentally defective idiot?
There can be no doubt that Trump is guilty of financial crimes, political crimes, assaults on women, etc. and has never acknowledged any of these crimes. Or course, he lies constantly and we can count on one hand the times he has told the truth (and that’s being generous).
Most Americans understand that our justice system has always been flawed. Those who have power, money, and the right skin color, have always gotten away away with more than others.
But with Donald Trump and his goon squads chipping away at what is left of democracy in America, we just don’t have time to wait. These people are well lawyered up and will do their very best to run out the clock until the next election, when the Democrats will have even less power than they do now.
If we ever truly had a fair justice system, this is the time to prove it. Otherwise, we will find ourselves living in an autocracy, as well as a plutocracy, but no longer a democracy. If we allow that to happen, then maybe we deserve it. I don’t want that to happen. But it could.
Democrats play softball as GOP battles for power
Published in Monterey Herald. December 31 and Rutland (VT) Herald, January 5
Trump Republicans are stopping at nothing in their aggressive battle to regain power. Lying, cheating, suppressing voting rights, gerrymandering, even a violent effort to overturn the election results, have been tried. If the GOP succeeds and they take over Congress after November’s midterm elections, the Democrats may have trouble winning another important election. What remains of our democracy will be gutted by Trump loyalists, and be relegated to our American history books (unless they too are banned).
While the Trump Republicans play hardball, the Democrats seem satisfied playing softball. Democrats seem to feel that playing nice, being polite, and not cracking down on Republicans who break the law, will convince the GOP to come to their senses and play fair. They can forget that.
I worry that Democratic leaders like President Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are too old and too establishment to know how to fight back against this unprecedented Trumpian assault on our democracy.
Democrats have no choice but to toughen up, get serious, and grow the necessary body parts to vigorously fight back. There is a lot at stake. But time is running out.
— Arlen Grossman, Del Rey Oaks
By Arlen Grossman/OpedNews.com/December 22, 2021
One day I decided to do an experiment.
I had been watching the news on MSNBC and CNN recently, and one Tuesday morning I found it especially fascinating. I admit it, one reason I liked it was because it made Republicans look ridiculous (admittedly not too difficult). This was an important day of hearings by the January 6 House Committee. They were providing evidence of the efforts of Donald Trump and his allies to overthrow the 2020 election, and the House had to decide whether Mike Meadows should be held in contempt for refusing to testify to the committee.
Republicans seemed to be flailing away in an attempt to discredit the hearings, explaining Mark Meadows had some kind of presidential immunity and the hearing was just a political act by the Dems to help their 2022 election campaign. Most striking of all was Republican Rep. Liz Cheney reading panicked texts from Fox News hosts and Donald Trump, Jr. pleading for the president to halt the chaos at the Capital. And it was clear that more and more evidence was pointing toward serious trouble for a number of Republican officials and lawbreakers involved with the planning of the insurrection. On another matter, talk was getting serious about suspending the filibuster rule in order to pass laws to protect voting rights, as well the President Biden’s ambitious social spending plan.
That’s when I had my idea for an experiment. I had left the TV to do other things, and wanted to turn on the news to catch up. But this time I thought about trying something completely different. I wanted to see how Fox News was going to report that day’s events which we knew would present their friends and allies in the worst possible light. Yes, it was a big sacrifice for me, because watching this cable news network in the past has caused my blood pressure to spike to dangerous levels.
Unlike the other cable networks, Fox News Primetime did not lead with the day’s events in Congress. Host Matt Cain opened with a story criticizing Black Lives Matter:
“Black Lives Matter is asking its followers to participate in segregation. They called their mission ‘Black Xmas.’ And its goal is pretty simple, fight ‘white supremacist capitalism.’ Now you’re probably wondering what is white supremacist capitalism? And that also is simple: it’s any business owned by a White person.”
For Fox News, anything that drives a wedge between their viewers and the “others” is good for their ratings, Black vs white: Brown vs white, gay vs straight, Christians vs Muslims, criminals vs. church-going Christians. Fox viewers are easily stirred up when it’s “us” vs. “them.”
The next topic was rising crime rates, and there were interviews with Republican senators Josh Hawley and John Kennedy. The problem for so much crime, of course, were the Democrats, who, as usual, were soft on crime and want to weaken the police (“defund the police.”). This segment was followed with a diatribe against rival cable news network CNN, especially Black anchorman Don Lemon, and a special dig at Jeffrey Toobin, who got caught, uh, embarrassing himself during a Zoom conference.
That was followed by some news of the new COVID variant Omicron. Guest Bret Weinstein, a podcaster and author, complained about “a mono maniacal obsession with mandates especially surrounding things like vaccines and masks which do not seem to work.” Weinstein added, “It is time that we stood up against these autocratic mandates.” Host Matt Cain agreed. “No doubt it is time. It is time for civil disobedience.” Primetime concluded with news of the latest surge in UFO sightings. Fortunately, there was no mention of “Jewish Space Lasers.”
So much for my experiment. Nary a word about the January 6 investigation or the secret tweets from Fox hosts and the president’s elder son. For all Fox News viewers knew, there had been no congressional hearing in the capital, and no special tweets to President Trump. But they did get to see several exciting My Pillow commercials.
Any good experiment should close with a conclusion. This is my conclusion of the role Fox News plays in the media world:
1, As the number one cable news channel (and not just cable news programs), Fox News has clout. Many people watch it and spread its message to others.
2. Fox News is not a news network, but serves as the public relations arm of the Republican Party and Donald J. Trump. They block any suggestio that the GOP and Trump are less than perfect, and makes great effort to report all the real and perceived misdeeds of Democrats, progressives, and people of dark skin.
It is also a propaganda machine that sets the tone for its imaginary world of right-wing super-patriotism and left-wing socialist anti-Americanism. Truth, facts and reality are less important to them than their appetite for influence, ratings and money. They can’t be stopped or controlled, for to do that would violate their free speech under the First Amendment.
And I hate to say it, but Fox News’ success is very much a reflection of this country’s vast ignorance and gullibility. That is the most frightening thing of all.
If the 20th century was the story of slow, uneven progress toward the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies—communism, fascism, virulent nationalism—the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.
By Anne Applebaum/ The Atlantic/ November 15, 2021
The future of democracy may well be decided in a drab office building on the outskirts of Vilnius, alongside a highway crammed with impatient drivers heading out of town.
I met Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya there this spring, in a room that held a conference table, a whiteboard, and not much else. Her team—more than a dozen young journalists, bloggers, vloggers, and activists—was in the process of changing offices. But that wasn’t the only reason the space felt stale and perfunctory. None of them, especially not Tsikhanouskaya, really wanted to be in this ugly building, or in the Lithuanian capital at all. She is there because she probably won the 2020 presidential election in Belarus, and because the Belarusian dictator she probably defeated, Alexander Lukashenko, forced her out of the country immediately afterward. Lithuania offered her asylum. Her husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, remains imprisoned in Belarus.
Then her husband bought a house and ran into the concrete wall of Belarusian bureaucracy and corruption. Exasperated, he started making videos about his experiences, and those of others. These videos yielded a YouTube channel; the channel attracted thousands of followers. He went around the country, recording the frustrations of his fellow citizens, driving a car with the phrase “Real News” plastered on the side. Siarhei Tsikhanouski held up a mirror to his society. People saw themselves in that mirror and responded with the kind of enthusiasm that opposition politicians had found hard to create in Belarus.
“At the beginning it was really difficult because people were afraid,” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told me. “But step-by-step, slowly, they realized that Siarhei isn’t afraid.” He wasn’t afraid to speak the truth as he saw it; his absence of fear inspired others. He decided to run for president. The regime, recognizing the power of Siarhei’s mirror, would not allow him to register his candidacy, just as it had not allowed him to register the ownership of his house. It ended his campaign and arrested him.
Tsikhanouskaya ran in his place, with no motive other than “to show my love for him.” The police and bureaucrats let her. Because what harm could she do, this simple housewife, this woman with no political experience? And so, in July 2020, she registered as a candidate. Unlike her husband, she was afraid. She woke up “so scared” every morning, she told me, and sometimes she stayed scared all day long. But she kept going. Which was, though she doesn’t say so, incredibly brave. “You feel this responsibility, you wake up with this pain for those people who are in jail, you go to bed with the same feeling.”
Unexpectedly, Tsikhanouskaya was a success—not despite her inexperience, but because of it. Her campaign became a campaign about ordinary people standing up to the regime. Two other prominent opposition politicians endorsed her after their own campaigns were blocked, and when the wife of one of them and the female campaign manager of the other were photographed alongside Tsikhanouskaya, her campaign became something more: a campaign about ordinary women—women who had been neglected, women who had no voice, even just women who loved their husbands. In return, the regime targeted all three of these women. Tsikhanouskaya received an anonymous threat: Her children would be “sent to an orphanage.” She dispatched them with her mother abroad, to Vilnius, and kept campaigning.
On August 9, election officials announced that Lukashenko had won 80 percent of the vote, a number nobody believed. The internet was cut off, and Tsikhanouskaya was detained by police and then forced out of the country. Mass demonstrations unfolded across Belarus. These were both a spontaneous outburst of feeling—a popular response to the stolen election—and a carefully coordinated project run by young people, some based in Warsaw, who had been experimenting with social media and new forms of communication for several years. For a brief, tantalizing moment, it looked like this democratic uprising might prevail. Belarusians shared a sense of national unity they had never felt before. The regime immediately pushed back, with real brutality. Yet the mood at the protests was generally happy, optimistic; people literally danced in the streets. In a country of fewer than 10 million, up to 1.5 million people would come out in a single day, among them pensioners, villagers, factory workers, and even, in a few places, members of the police and the security services, some of whom removed insignia from their uniforms or threw them in the garbage.
Tsikhanouskaya says she and many others naively believed that under this pressure, the dictator would just give up. “We thought he would understand that we are against him,” she told me. “That people don’t want to live under his dictatorship, that he lost the elections.” They had no other plan.
At first, Lukashenko seemed to have no plan either. But his neighbors did. On August 18, a plane belonging to the FSB, the Russian security services, flew from Moscow to Minsk. Soon after that, Lukashenko’s tactics underwent a dramatic change. Stephen Biegun, who was the U.S. deputy secretary of state at the time, describes the change as a shift to “more sophisticated, more controlled ways to repress the population.” Belarus became a textbook example of what the journalist William J. Dobson has called “the dictator’s learning curve”: Techniques that had been used successfully in the past to repress crowds in Russia were seamlessly transferred to Belarus, along with personnel who understood how to deploy them. Russian television journalists arrived to replace the Belarusian journalists who had gone on strike, and immediately stepped up the campaign to portray the demonstrations as the work of Americans and other foreign “enemies.” Russian police appear to have supplemented their Belarusian colleagues, or at least given them advice, and a policy of selective arrests began. As Vladimir Putin figured out a long time ago, mass arrests are unnecessary if you can jail, torture, or possibly murder just a few key people. The rest will be frightened into staying home. Eventually they will become apathetic, because they believe nothing can change.
The Lukashenko rescue package, reminiscent of the one Putin had designed for Bashar al-Assad in Syria six years earlier, contained economic elements too. Russian companies offered markets for Belarusian products that had been banned by the democratic West—for example, smuggling Belarusian cigarettes into the European Union. Some of this was possible because the two countries share a language. (Though roughly a third to half of the country speaks Belarusian, most public business in Belarus is conducted in Russian.) But this close cooperation was also possible because Lukashenko and Putin, though they famously dislike each other, share a common way of seeing the world. Both believe that their personal survival is more important than the well-being of their people. Both believe that a change of regime would result in their death, imprisonment, or exile.
Both also learned lessons from the Arab Spring, as well as from the more distant memory of 1989, when Communist dictatorships fell like dominoes: Democratic revolutions are contagious. If you can stamp them out in one country, you might prevent them from starting in others. The anti-corruption, prodemocracy demonstrations of 2014 in Ukraine, which resulted in the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, reinforced this fear of democratic contagion. Putin was enraged by those protests, not least because of the precedent they set. After all, if Ukrainians could get rid of their corrupt dictator, why wouldn’t Russians want to do the same?
Lukashenko gladly accepted Russian help, turned against his people, and transformed himself from an autocratic, patriarchal grandfather—a kind of national collective-farm boss—into a tyrant who revels in cruelty. Reassured by Putin’s support, he began breaking new ground. Not just selective arrests—a year later, human-rights activists say that more than 800 political prisoners remain in jail—but torture. Not just torture but rape. Not just torture and rape but kidnapping and, quite possibly, murder.
Lukashenko’s sneering defiance of the rule of law—he issues stony-faced denials of the existence of political repression in his country—and of anything resembling decency spread beyond his borders. In May 2021, Belarusian air traffic control forced an Irish-owned Ryanair passenger plane to land in Minsk so that one of the passengers, Roman Protasevich, a young dissident living in exile, could be arrested; he later made public confessions on television that appeared to be coerced. In August, another young dissident living in exile, Vitaly Shishov, was found hanged in a Kyiv park. At about the same time, Lukashenko’s regime set out to destabilize its EU neighbors by forcing streams of refugees across their borders: Belarus lured Afghan and Iraqi refugees to Minsk with a proffer of tourist visas, then escorted them to the borders of Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland and forced them at gunpoint to cross, illegally.
Lukashenko began to act, in other words, as if he were untouchable, both at home and abroad. He began breaking not only the laws and customs of his own country, but also the laws and customs of other countries, and of the international community—laws regarding air traffic control, homicide, borders. Exiles flowed out of the country; Tsikhanouskaya’s team scrambled to book hotel rooms or Airbnbs in Vilnius, to find means of support, to learn new languages. Tsikhanouskaya herself had to make another, even more difficult transition—from people’s-choice candidate to sophisticated diplomat. This time her inexperience initially worked against her. At first, she thought that if she could just speak with Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron, one of them could fix the problem. “I was sure they are so powerful that they can call Lukashenko and say, ‘Stop! How dare you?’ ” she told me. But they could not.
By Arlen Grossman/ OpEdNews.com/ November 26, 2021
(Top Headlined Story At OpEd News, November 26-27)
As democracy struggles on life support in the United States and with authoritarianism gaining popularity here and abroad. Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, must be clapping his hands and smiling broadly.
Putin is aware that Russia cannot compete militarily with the United States, but the former KGB operative knows of other ways to damage his strongest rival. What Putin hoped for is well documented and easy to see. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, reported in January 2017 on the work of the FBI, CIA, and the National Security Agency:
“President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.“
Putin succeeded probably more than even he thought possible. By all rights, Hillary Clinton should have won the presidency in 2016 and Trump would have had to slink back into private life. But with considerable help from Putin and likeminded election trolls, the majority of Americans and most of the rest of the world were stunned to see Donald Trump elected and sworn in as this country’s 45th president.
This country has paid a huge price. Trump’s win was a major jolt to America’s psyche. Despite his numerous flaws as a politician and as a human being, this reality TV star turned out to be the champion con-man of all time. He had managed to convince nearly half this nation that he would restore America to greatness despite his numerous failures as a businessman and a human being.
By helping Trump gain the presidency, Putin knew that the U.S. would be easier to manipulate and take advantage of. The results came quickly. Upon taking office (and even before) Trump moved to dredge up the worst prejudices and fears in this country. His efforts succeeded, and the poison began to spread.
In short time xenophobia, racism, gun worship, fear of alternate lifestyles (LGBT, especially), religious fundamentalism, distrust of government, and a hatred of all things liberal or progressive rose to the surface and were exploited by the Trump campaign. Political decency and tolerance were pushed aside, allowing a disturbing dark side to take control of the Republican Party. Most importantly, with the help of a growing ultra-right media, which egged on the haters and others fearful of losing white power and privileges, Trump and his followers gained strength, neutralized the moderate wing, and before long the Republican Party barely resembled its old self.
How did Putin do it? U.S. Intelligence agencies covered the details of Russia’s 2016 election intervention in a series of reports over the last several years. They documented Project Lakhta, the code name of the operation ordered by President Putin and his Russian allies, which worked through some dozen entities, employed hundreds of people and had a global budget of about $35 million, funded by a company named Concord, run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian billionaire friendly with Putin.
Although there was no firm evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the interference was well documented. The Internet Research Agency, basically a troll farm based in Russia, produced millions of anti-Clinton, pro-Trump social media posts, planned pro-Trump political events, hacked into the internet accounts of important Democratic campaign committees and leaders, and leaked stolen campaign information to the public, with the help of DC Leaks, Guccifer 2.0, and Wikileaks.
By helping Donald Trump, the Russian president got what he wanted. Besides having an ally in the White House, Putin helped poison the political atmosphere in the United States, and could enjoy the splitting of our country into partisan groups unwilling and incapable of working with each other.
Hillary Clinton had no magical healing power, but as president she likely would have tried to bridge the political divisions and bring people together. But Trump, using the power and influence of the office, did his best to divide the country and encourage hate and conflict, the kind this country hasn’t seen since the Civil War.
It is no secret that if the Republican Party were to gain power again, our democracy will be in grave danger. Republicans have shown all they care about is winning and gaining power, and have made a concerted attempt to suppress votes from people of color, older people, poor people, students, the disabled and other groups that tend to vote for Democrats. More than 30 voter suppression bills have passed and over 400 bills in 49 states introduced since the 2020 election, and the gerrymandering has been unprecedented, all of it intended to make it harder for certain Americans to vote.
Even worse, Republicans, led by Trump, have denied the 2020 election results and insist, without even the slightest of evidence, that the Democrats stole the election from Donald Trump. And if that isn’t enough, some states are passing laws to replace neutral and objective election officials with partisan Republican-leaning officials. If Republicans don’t like the election results in their state, elected officials can step in and appoint new electors more favorable to their views. In other words, election results can be overturned, meaning each American’s vote will be arguably of little value.
This is exactly what Vladimir Putin wanted: politicians who go easy on Russia, and an America paralyzed by political and cultural division, with diminished power and influence globally.
Putin won. We lost. It is imperative that we do everything we can to turn that around. We face a monumental and uncertain challenge, but our future depends on it.
Random Thoughts During the Final Days of Democracy
By Arlen Grossman
Could this finally be rock bottom for the GOP? (we all know it isn’t) House member depicts killing of colleague but the Republicans don’t have a problem with it. But vote against party leadership on a policy issue? That deserves harsh condemnation. Republicans have no shame.
Does Democratic leadership and Biden justice deptartment have the cajones to fight the GOP insurrection on so many fronts? The answer is far from clear at this point. Republicans are playing hardball, unafraid of anything and willing to do everything possible (legally and illegally) to regain power. Democrats are nice, fair, and unwilling to rock the boat. Dems will get eaten alive by the GOP unless they match the intensity and hardheadedness of the opposition party. Maybe Biden, Pelosi and Schumer are too old and need to be replaced by fearless younger progressives? I think so.