Monday, January 24, 2022

Last Call For Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

The Pentagon is putting as many as 8,500 troops on alert for possibly deployment to Europe as Russia-Ukraine border tensions are growing more dangerous by the day.

As many as 8,500 US troops have been put on heightened alert for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe as Russian troops mass on Ukraine's border, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday. 
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued the prepare to deploy orders at the direction of President Joe Biden, the latest step the US has taken to prepare for a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine that officials have warned could be imminent. 
Kirby said that the "bulk of" US troops placed on heightened alert were intended to bolster NATO's quick response force, but added they would be "postured to be ready for any other contingencies as well." 
As of Monday afternoon, no final decision to deploy the troops had been made, Kirby emphasized. 
"The United States has taken steps to heighten the readiness of its forces at home and abroad, so they are prepared to respond to a range of contingencies, including support to the NATO response force if it is activated," Kirby said. He noted the NATO Response Force "comprises around 40,000 multinational troops." 
Earlier on Monday CNN reported the Biden administration was in in the final stages of identifying specific military units it wants to send to Eastern Europe, according to multiple US and defense officials. 
Biden discussed options for bolstering US troop levels in the Baltics and Eastern Europe with his top military officials during a briefing at Camp David on Saturday, according to a senior official. 
The goal of sending military reinforcements to Eastern Europe would be to provide deterrence and to reassure allies, and there's been no suggestion US combat troops would deploy to Ukraine or take part in any combat roles. Kirby noted the US does have military advisers in Ukraine. 
Kirby would not say where the US troops might deploy, but said the US has "made it clear to the Eastern flank allies that we're prepared to bolster their capabilities if they need it." 
"In the event of NATO's activation of the NRF or a deteriorating security environment, the United States would be in a position to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, logistics, medical, aviation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, transportation and additional capabilities into Europe," Kirby said.
"We're bolstering NATO rapid reaction forces" is a polite way of saying that "We're not sending troops to Ukraine, but..." 
Putin surely will see this as a direct provocation, or will pretend it is one, and act accordingly I suspect. Still, for all the drumbeats of war definitely echoing across Europe right now, Putin still hasn't actually invaded Ukraine yet.
He would have by now if that was the sole point, so as I've said earlier this week, he wants something, and Biden needs to figure out what it is. 

Former US intelligence officer and Russia expert Fiona Hill has a pretty good idea of what Putin actually does want, and it's "the whole bowl of borscht".

As I have seen over two decades of observing Mr. Putin, and analyzing his moves, his actions are purposeful and his choice of this moment to throw down the gauntlet in Ukraine and Europe is very intentional. He has a personal obsession with history and anniversaries. December 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when Russia lost its dominant position in Europe. Mr. Putin wants to give the United States a taste of the same bitter medicine Russia had to swallow in the 1990s. He believes that the United States is currently in the same predicament as Russia was after the Soviet collapse: grievously weakened at home and in retreat abroad. He also thinks NATO is nothing more than an extension of the United States. Russian officials and commentators routinely deny any agency or independent strategic thought to other NATO members. So, when it comes to the alliance, all of Moscow’s moves are directed against Washington.

In the 1990s, the United States and NATO forced Russia to withdraw the remnants of the Soviet military from their bases in Eastern Europe, Germany and the Baltic States. Mr. Putin wants the United States to suffer in a similar way. From Russia’s perspective, America’s domestic travails after four years of Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency, as well as the rifts he created with U.S. allies and then America’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, signal weakness. If Russia presses hard enough, Mr. Putin hopes he can strike a new security deal with NATO and Europe to avoid an open-ended conflict, and then it will be America’s turn to leave, taking its troops and missiles with it.

Ukraine is both Russia’s target and a source of leverage against the United States. Over the last several months Mr. Putin has bogged the Biden administration down in endless tactical games that put the United States on the defensive. Russia moves forces to Ukraine’s borders, launches war games and ramps up the visceral commentary. In recent official documents, it demanded ironclad guarantees that Ukraine (and other former republics of the U.S.S.R.) will never become a member of NATO, that NATO pull back from positions taken after 1997, and also that America withdraw its own forces and weapons, including its nuclear missiles. Russian representatives assert that Moscow doesn’t “need peace at any cost” in Europe. Some Russian politicians even suggest the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against NATO targets to make sure that we know they are serious, and that we should meet Moscow’s demands.

For weeks, American officials have huddled to make sense of the official documents with Russia’s demands and the contradictory commentary, pondered how to deter Mr. Putin in Ukraine and scrambled to talk on his timeline.

All the while, Mr. Putin and his proxies have ratcheted up their statements. Kremlin officials have not just challenged the legitimacy of America’s position in Europe, they have raised questions about America’s bases in Japan and its role in the Asia-Pacific region. They have also intimated that they may ship hypersonic missiles to America’s back door in Cuba and Venezuela to revive what the Russians call the Caribbean Crisis of the 1960s.

Mr. Putin is a master of coercive inducement. He manufactures a crisis in such a way that he can win no matter what anyone else does. Threats and promises are essentially one and the same. Mr. Putin can invade Ukraine yet again, or he can leave things where they are and just consolidate the territory Russia effectively controls in Crimea and Donbas. He can stir up trouble in Japan and send hypersonic missiles to Cuba and Venezuela, or not, if things go his way in Europe.

Mr. Putin plays a longer, strategic game and knows how to prevail in the tactical scrum. He has the United States right where he wants it. His posturing and threats have set the agenda in European security debates, and have drawn our full attention. Unlike President Biden, Mr. Putin doesn’t have to worry about midterm elections or pushback from his own party or the opposition. Mr. Putin has no concerns about bad press or poor poll ratings. He isn’t part of a political party and he has crushed the Russian opposition. The Kremlin has largely silenced the local, independent press. Mr. Putin is up for re-election in 2024, but his only viable opponent, Aleksei Navalny, is locked in a penal colony outside of Moscow.

So Mr. Putin can act as he chooses, when he chooses. Barring ill health, the United States will have to contend with him for years to come. Right now, all signs indicate that Mr. Putin will lock the United States into an endless tactical game, take more chunks out of Ukraine and exploit all the frictions and fractures in NATO and the European Union. Getting out of the current crisis requires acting, not reacting. The United States needs to shape the diplomatic response and engage Russia on the West’s terms, not just Moscow’s.
Putin wants the old Soviet Empire back.  He just needs NATO neutralized. He figures he can outlast Biden and whomever comes after.

I sure hope he's wrong.

It's Still About Suppression, Con't

Arizona Republicans found no election fraud whatsoever, but that won't stop them from passing some of the toughest new voting restrictions in the country anyway.

Arizona Republicans have put forth two dozen bills this month that would significantly change the state's electoral processes after the GOP's unorthodox review of millions of ballots affirmed President Joe Biden's victory and turned up no proof of fraud.

Proposals introduced in the state House or the Senate would add an additional layer to the state's voter ID requirement, such as fingerprints, and stipulate the hand counting of all ballots by default. Other legislation would require that paper ballots be printed with holograms and watermarks.

Republican legislators argue that the proposals, part an ongoing surge of GOP-led election changes enacted or under consideration across the country, are necessary to enhance election security and prevent fraud.

Official counts, audits and accuracy tests have confirmed the election results in Arizona and elsewhere without finding evidence of widespread fraud, and states with Republican and Democratic leaders have certified the results as accurate. Former President Donald Trump, who continues to promote the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, was unable to prove any of the claims in court. A coalition of federal agencies involved in election security, alongside representatives of election officials from each state, said the election was "the most secure in American history."

The Legislature began its 2022 session on Jan. 12, and many of the bills have already been referred to committees for consideration. They face uncertain fates, as Republicans hold narrow majorities in the Senate, and a Republican, state Sen. Paul Boyer, said he would block bills he saw as unnecessary or problematic.

Some of the bills appear to be tied to conspiracy theories about the 2020 election that were elevated in the widely criticized ballot review state Senate Republicans orchestrated last year. Election experts said Cyber Ninjas, the company the legislators hired to examine millions of ballots in Maricopa County, had little to no experience with handling ballots, appeared to be looking for proof of conspiracy theories and misrepresented normal election processes in its final report as suggestive of fraud. Cyber Ninjas is accruing $50,000 a day in fines for refusing to respond to a court order requiring it to turn over documents related to its work.

Other bills, like one that would ban automatic voter registration from being implemented, appear to be designed to pre-empt provisions in national Democrats' election overhaul legislation, which has stalled in the Senate.

A Republican who has advanced false claims about the election, state Rep. Mark Finchem, who was outside the U.S. Capitol when rioters stormed it on Jan. 6, 2021, introduced and co-sponsored several bills, one of which would require that all ballots cast for primary and general elections be hand counted by default — a method that election experts say is unreliable and time-consuming. The state's millions of dollars' worth of ballot tabulation machines would be used only to verify hand counts.Finchem is running for state secretary of state, the office that oversees elections.

Another bill would spend $5 million create a special bureau to investigate voter fraud; still another would require voters to show voter ID cards and verify the cards with two of three methods — signatures, security codes or fingerprints.
So now Republicans want to make sure you need fingerprints to vote, which will of course create a public database of voters with biometric information that certainly would never be abused, hacked, or would never be prone to human error of course, and then require default hand-ballot counting, which would mean election results would take weeks to tabulate.

It gets worse, some of the requirements for paper ballot security technology simply doesn't exist.
Jeff Ellington, the CEO of the ballot vendor Runbeck Election Services, said he was also having trouble pricing out the proposed changes, although it was clear it would be expensive.

Runbeck supplied about 20 percent of U.S. mail ballots in 2020, Ellington said, printing 35 million ballots for jurisdictions in 22 states, including Arizona's largest county, Maricopa.

Ellington said that he had to Google some of the bill's requirements and that even some of his suppliers were befuddled by some of its requirements; he said it wasn't yet clear whether the proposed ballot design was even possible.

"Nobody's got that technology," he said of election vendors. "It's not readily available technology, because it's bank-level, Treasury-level stuff
And all of this will end up costing Arizona taxpayers millions of dollars to prevent fraud that doesn't actually happen and could be caught by existing security measures.
The whole point of course is to make conducting elections as difficult as possible. Imagine if you had to give a retina scan at an ATM every time you made a withdrawal. Sure, it will protect your account from fraud if someone stole your card and they knew your PIN, but it would get obnoxious and burdensome quickly.
Now imagine having to get fingerprinted to vote.  The only thing they are doing is scaring off voters, which is the point. It's still about suppression.

Retribution Execution, Con't

 Remeber that the entire GOP is now dedicated to furthering Donald Trump's petty vengeance, and the incoming Republican administration of Glenn Youngkin in Virginia is no exception.

The top staff investigator on the House committee scrutinizing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has been fired by the state’s new Republican attorney general from his position as the top lawyer for the University of Virginia, from which he was on leave while working on the congressional inquiry.

The office of the Virginia attorney general, Jason S. Miyares, said the firing of the investigator, Timothy J. Heaphy, was not related to the Jan. 6 investigation, but the move prompted an outcry from Democrats in the state, who accused him of taking the highly unusual action as a partisan move to further former President Donald J. Trump’s attempts to undermine the committee’s work.

“This is purely payback for Jan. 6 — there is no other reason that makes any sense,” said Scott Surovell, a top Democrat in the Virginia State Senate, who said that he knew of no other similar example in recent history where a new attorney general had immediately removed a school’s top lawyer. “In our state, we normally leave those decisions to the school’s board of visitors and president.”

Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Mr. Miyares, said: “The decision had nothing to do with the Jan. 6 committee or their investigations.”

In Virginia, the attorney general oversees a range of lawyers across the state, including the top lawyers at the colleges and universities that make up the vast public higher education system. The posts are typically held by career lawyers who are rarely replaced when new attorneys general take over.

In addition to dismissing Mr. Heaphy, Mr. Miyares also had the top lawyer at George Mason University removed.

Mr. Heaphy, a Democrat who has made political donations to Hillary Clinton and Joseph R. Biden Jr., had been the top lawyer at the University of Virginia since 2018. He served as a United States attorney in Virginia during the Obama administration and is married to the daughter of Eric K. Shinseki, the retired chief of staff of the Army who served as President Barack Obama’s secretary of veterans affairs. In 2017, on behalf of the City of Charlottesville, he completed a highly critical report of how the police handled the white nationalist rally that turned violent and led to the death of one woman and injured dozens.

In a written statement, the University of Virginia sidestepped the issue of whether his dismissal had been motivated by politics, but made clear that it had no role in it.

“University leaders are grateful to Tim for his outstanding service to our community and disappointed to see it come to an end,” said Brian Coy, a spokesman for the university. “If you have further questions about this matter, I would check with the attorney general’s office, as this was their decision to make.”

Mr. Heaphy — who attended undergraduate and law school at the University of Virginia, who has long lived in Charlottesville and whose son attends the school — declined to address why he was dismissed, saying that he was “disappointed” that his time at the university had come to an end and that he was confident that the school would continue “to thrive in the days to come.”

In two statements released on Sunday, the attorney general’s office said the firing was unrelated to the Jan. 6 inquiry. In the first, to The Associated Press, Ms. LaCivita said that Mr. Heaphy had been a “controversial” hire and that the “decision was made after reviewing the legal decisions made over the last couple of years.”

“The attorney general wants the university counsel to return to giving legal advice based on law, and not the philosophy of a university,” she added.

In a subsequent statement, Ms. LaCivita said: “It is common practice for an incoming administration to appoint new staff that share the philosophical and legal approach of the attorney general. Every counsel serves at the pleasure of the attorney general.”

Of course it was retribution. Let's also remember that Miyares fired nearly the state's entire Civil Rights division when he took office this month too, all over the Charlottesville white supremacist riots and Trump's "very fine" people.

They're not pretending anymore. When Newt Gingrich says things like the January 6th Committee is "risking jail" once Republicans get back into power, he's not joking.

Retribution in the name of Dear Leader Trump is all that matters to them now.
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