Friday, June 17, 2022

The West is getting tired of sacrificing for Ukraine

 Back in February and March, in the early days of the Ukraine war, the world was mostly united against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The West joined hands in imposing sanctions and shipping relief supplies and weapons to the beleaguered defenders. It was a kumbayah moment.

Such moments don’t typically last long, however. This one may already be fading as high oil and gas prices exacerbate inflation. Putin is turning the screws with reductions in unsanctioned natural gas supplies to European countries and attacking Ukrainian food production, which together with Russia’s own sanctioned food exports could boost food prices similar to the oil spike. Meanwhile, interest rate increases aimed at fighting inflation and diminishing purchasing power are combining with everything else to push the world towards recession and unrest. The “perfect storm” metaphor gets overused, but there really is a lot going on.

One big question is how long the West will be willing to sacrifice for Ukraine.

Photo credit: First World Problems meme template from imgflip.com

Admittedly, it’s a #firstworldproblems sort of situation when we talk about our sacrifice. We’re paying more for gasoline and sometimes have to wait for consumer goods rather than bringing them directly home from the store. Millions of Ukrainians, on the other hand, are displaced by the war and/or have lost their homes, possessions, and loved ones.

But we see less and less of that on television as other new stories crowd out the war. Out of sight, out of mind.

With stories about Ukraine moving to the back page, it’s easier to focus on our own problems. And our own problems are real, even if they aren’t as life-threatening as Russian artillery destroying our homes and Russian soldiers raping our daughters.

Gas prices have doubled in many places since the onset of the war. That presents a very real challenge for the Americans whose budgets were already on the edge. What happens in the coming months as food prices continue to rise alongside energy prices?

Over the past two years, we saw our country teeter on the edge over a number of imagined and exaggerated crises. What happens if and when we get to the point where more people can’t afford food and fuel, especially as we head into winter?

The logical answer is that sanctions get kicked to the curb. Republicans blame Biden for high gas prices and Democrats blame oil companies, but the plain truth is that it is the Ukraine war and the sanctions on Russia that are doing the most to increase prices. Without sanctions, supply pressures ease and the price goes down.

It’s pretty apparent by now that the war won’t be over soon. Russia was disabused of its notions of quick victory within days. Ukraine pushed back the assault on Kyiv but the war in the east is going to be a long, bloody slog.

George Orwell said that the quickest way to end a war is to lose it, yet both Ukraine and Russia stubbornly refuse to lose. Russia is using tried-and-true tactics of using its numerical superiority with little regard for the well-being of its troops to grind slowly forward. The war of attrition boils down to the fact that Russia has a lot more potential soldiers than Ukraine.

Putin’s second front is in the hearts and minds of Western voters. During the Cold War, the KGB infiltrated Western peace movements to influence policy and elections. There is no reason to think that today’s FSB wouldn’t use the same tactic, especially given the current level of Russia-friendly politicians in certain political parties that I’ll only refer to as “The Republicans” to protect the guilty.

The Republicans are widely expected to win big in the midterm elections this year. How would this affect support for the Ukraine war? Let’s game it out.

The GOP congressional majorities probably couldn’t repeal the sanctions without a veto-proof majority or a number of defections among the Democrats. As the chief executive, the president has a lot of authority to impose sanctions and the current Russian sanctions were codified into law by Congress back in April.

That would not prevent Republicans from beating President Biden about the head and shoulders with high gas and food prices. They would hold hearings that generate “own-the-libs” soundbites without offering much in the way of substance or positive strategies. There would probably also be show votes on bills to repeal the sanctions “for the good of the hard-working American people.” They might also claim that Biden is restricting American oil production. Republicans are already making these claims but lack any constructive plans to alter the economic situation for the better.

As I discussed back in March, there was a decline in domestic oil production but it occurred under Donald Trump back in 2020 rather than under the Biden Administration. Since the end of the pandemic, American oil companies have been steadily cranking out more and more “black gold.”

Poynter Resources discussed the bigger picture back in March. At the start of the war, the US was producing about 12 million barrels of oil per day. Russia was slightly behind us at 10.8 million barrels. Less than one percent of Russian oil was imported into the US, but about 40 percent went to our allies, many of whom are active partners in aiding the Ukrainians. (About a quarter of Russian oil went to China, which never joined the sanctions.) This makes a strange-bedfellows situation in which the West is giving Ukraine the tools to kill Russian invaders with one hand and giving Russia money for its oil with the other.

Forty percent of Russia’s 10.8 million barrels per day is about 4.3 million barrels. This means that US oil production would need to increase to more than 16 million barrels per day to pick up the slack for current demand. That’s unlikely even though US domestic production is slated to grow by about 6.5 percent this year.

Other countries, such as OPEC producers, are also increasing production to meet demand. It seems that governments don’t have to micromanage oil companies into increasing production when oil is trading at $120 per barrel. There is already a powerful financial incentive to do so.

But none of this is going to happen quickly. Unhappy voters are likely to give at least some gains in Congress to Republicans, who won’t be able to kill the sanctions but who will be able to splinter support for continuing to pressure Russia and supply Ukraine. Look for some Republicans to become more critical of Ukraine and argue that ending military aid to Ukraine is merciful because it would bring the war to a close and save lives. This argument has already been made by some pundits online.

So far, support for sanctions is still high, but there is evidence that it could be starting to slip. A new poll of Europeans found a deepening divide between those who want to punish Putin and those who want the war to end quickly, even if Putin is rewarded with territorial gains. Here in the US, a May poll showed the share of Americans who favor limiting damage to the US economy tick up slightly to become a majority over a similar poll in April.

The longer and deeper the economic pressures grow, the more voters will be willing to cut their losses and drop the sanctions. It’s impossible to say where the situation will be in 2024, but the Ukraine war and punishing Putin at the cost of economic growth could still be issues then.

I have a hard time believing that if the MAGA faction of Republicans turned against Ukraine and favored ending support for the Ukrainian military in exchange for cheap oil from Russia that a lot of Republicans in Congress wouldn’t get on board. I just have not seen principled resistance to MAGA from the Republican elite on much of anything.

I have to say though, that I’m encouraged by the toughness that voters have shown in the polling so far. Despite the Republican weeping and gnashing of teeth, Americans seem to be standing firm thus far on the need to stop Vladimir Putin. Here’s hoping that continues.

Share

Things That Would Have Been Nice to Know BEFORE the Election: I wrote a couple of days ago that Herschel Walker had a previously unknown child from an extramarital relationship. Well, it turns out he has a total of three undisclosed children in addition to Christian, his known son.

The Daily Beast reports that Walker, who has criticized absentee fathers, supports one son financially but was not in his life. The same outlet later reported on two more children without details as to the relationships.

Tweet of the Day: In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, here’s a tweet thread from Steve Berman comparing Nixon and Trump.

Share The Racket News

Have a happy Father’s Day from those of us at Racket News!

From the Racket

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

How the January 6 commission could put Republicans back in the White House

 There’s a saying that no good deed goes unpunished. Democrats may eventually find that is the case with the January 6 commission’s investigation into Donald Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election.

If you haven’t been following the January 6 commission hearings, you should. That’s especially true if you don’t believe that the insurrection was a big deal or if you still think that Democrats stole the election. There is abundant evidence that Donald Trump and his inner circle knew that they had lost the election and engaged in a cynical attempt to undermine public faith in the electoral process as well as throw out millions of legitimate votes. Those crimes against our Republic should not go unpunished.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

And much of the evidence against Trump does not come from his critics but from his friends. Witnesses such as former attorney general Bill Barr, former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, and even Ivanka Trump have testified that there was no widespread voter fraud and that Donald Trump knew it. Law-abiding Republicans tried to stop Trump’s coup attempt, but most were ultimately forced out.

I don’t know if the investigation will ultimately lead to Donald Trump’s indictment, but members of the committee have said that they believe that there is enough evidence to lodge criminal charges against Trump for his actions in the post-election period. While I would like to see Trump held accountable, I also think that the government should be very careful in accusing him. Trump has already survived two impeachments and a criminal acquittal would only increase his mythos. If Trump is to be indicted, it should be a slam-dunk case.

A criminal case does have different rules than an impeachment. The senators who vote in an impeachment trial are free to ignore the facts and vote based on partisan considerations. A jury, on the other hand, should consider the facts and applicable law when deciding a case, but I’m sure that any trial lawyer can tell you that juries can be very unpredictable.

At this point, I’m skeptical that Donald Trump will ever stand before a jury (although I think that in a perfect world he should), but the fallout from the January 6 investigation could end his political hopes nonetheless. There are signs that some Republicans are starting to sour on Trump and the investigation’s revelations could speed that process along.

As I watched the fallout of the insurrection in January 2021, I saw and heard from a great many friends and relatives, most of them devout Republicans, that they would never vote for Donald Trump again. How many will still feel that way in November of 2024 against a Democrat who will be labeled as a socialist, pro-abortion groomer is an unknown, but I’m pretty certain that it would be enough to sink Trump in the general election, although not necessarily the primary.

Trump, a candidate who always have extremely large negatives, now has the weight of an insurrection and coup attempt added to all of his other faults. This would be too much for even many Republicans to accept.

So if the January 6 investigation forces The Former Guy out of the 2024 presidential race, it might actually be a good thing for Republicans. You’d think that forcing out a corrupt and incompetent narcissist would be a good thing by default, but the problem is that the GOP is tied to Trump’s base. If Republicans jettison the disgraced former president, a large share of their voters stay home in protest.

The best thing for Republicans may be to have the January 6 commission do their dirty work for them. By airing Trump’s dirty laundry to the nation, a third Trump run can be forestalled and the Republicans who don’t really like Trump but also don’t want to cross him get to keep their hands clean.

Brit Hume seems to realize this. The Fox News analyst recently mused that if the investigators made it impossible for Trump to run again “they might find out they’ve done the GOP a great service because I think a great number of Republicans think they can’t win with Trump at the head of the ticket again. They’re afraid of his supporters and don’t want to come out against him directly, but they’d like him to go away.”

It’s almost as if the January 6 committee is doing what it believes is best for the country in shining the light on the Trump Administration’s corruption and putting partisan interests aside. Imagine that!

That only goes so far though. Democrats want to run against MAGA candidates rather than traditional conservatives and there are indications that some Democratic candidates are boosting Trumpist candidates because they believe they will be easier to beat in the fall. This may be too smart by half since Hillary Clinton’s campaign to elevate Donald Trump is how we got into this mess in the first place.

At this point, one of our national priorities should be ending Donald Trump’s political career. After more than half a decade of watching Republicans rationalize, justify, and defend Donald Trump’s excesses, I’m no longer a fan of the GOP, but the fact that ending Trump’s political career may be good for Republicans doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. Getting Trump - and Trumpism - out of politics is the best thing for the country.

But getting Donald Trump out of politics and getting Trumpism out of the GOP are two different things. The January 6 investigations may accomplish the first, but it will take voters in both Republican primaries and general elections to put an end to the lawless populism and unprincipled politics of the current GOP. It is now clear that the struggle to redeem and deprogram the Republican Party will long outlast Donald Trump himself.

Share

More political violence was narrowly averted over the weekend. This time it was white supremacists in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Police responded to a report of “a little army” getting into a U-Haul van near a gay pride event with riot shields and masks. When police arrived, they arrested 31 members of the Texas-based Patriot Front.

I saw many Republicans posting online and questioning the charges stemming from the planned riot, but police say that the conspiracy to commit violence was detailed in an “operations plan.”

“They even had an operations plan to detail their actions once they arrived at the Pride event,” Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White told reporters.

“They talked about entering the park and immediately confronting people; as soon as they met some level of resistance, they were going to release smoke grenades,” he added.

The attempted attack comes shortly after another failed attack, this one on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home. That failed assassination attempt came mere weeks after an adherent to the racist “replacement theory” killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo.

The warning signs on the political landscape are flashing red Extremists on both sides are becoming more and more likely to resort to violence. Partisans also seem less likely than ever to condemn violence by their own side or even acknowledge that it exists.

The correct answer to condemn and try to stop violence from both ends of the political spectrum. Rioting in the name of BLM was wrong, as was the attack on Congress. Killing Supreme Court justices is wrong. So is killing people because of the color of their skin or attacking them because of their sexual orientation.

We need to call these people on both sides what they really are: Domestic terrorists.

We really need to defuse the current political situation by toning down the extremist, end of the world rhetoric. Some people actually believe what politicians and pundits say.

From the Racket