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Ukraine and Obama: it ain’t pretty

Frontline came out with a new episode on Ukraine called The Presidents and Putin. This is the latest in a series that recounts the origins of the war in Ukraine but in this case presents each presidents’ encounters and responses to Valdimir Putin. The short summary is that Bill Clinton and Joe Biden read Putin accurately as a anti-Democratic former KGB agent with ill intent in his heart, assuming he had one. Every other president between those two bookends got it disastrously wrong.

In this Frontline episode, what was previously hinted about Obama finally comes out unsparingly. In fact, the diplomats, military specialists and other experts that worked for or covered Obama finally said what they only danced around in prior episodes: Obama’s response to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 was baffling, infuriating and went against everyone’s advice at the time including Joe Biden’s.

It’s both refreshing and strange to see the facade of the myth of Obama’s greatness finally crack. They didn’t just criticize him on Ukraine but his response to Mubarak in Egypt and Assad in Syria came under scrutiny as well.

Part of the reason for why Putin “rolled” Obama had to do with the years of inaction to every infraction by the Bush Administration. Putin has a knack for sizing his opponents up and using their own identities against them. In Bush’s case, it was his evangelical Christianity. So Putin told Bush a chicken soup story about how his saintly mother survived WWII, starvation and the loss of two children during the war while wearing a little wooden cross. And that little cross was one of a small handful of objects that survived a devastating fire at his family’s dacha. And now he carries that cross with him everywhere to remember his mother and as a symbol of his faith.

Bush ate it up and looked into Putin’s soul. Then Putin started to rebuild his empire.

Julia Ioffe who covered Russia during the Putin years says that Putin evaluated Obama as a young, naive, idealistic and inexperienced black man. Obama fans will zero in on the “black” part of this equation and immediately jump to “racism”. Ioffe acknowledges that Putin is a racist. But what I think she eventually gets to is that Putin thought Obama was a lightweight and easy to manipulate.

The risk America took when we elected Obama is that he would be a president without the confidence to make decisions because he didn’t know what he was doing. Was he smart? I’m assuming that he was. Was he charismatic? Not to me but I’m sure he sized up his competition and audience and knew what buttons to push in his base and his backers.

But he was very new to government and he came with a focus group tested set of ideals and a bankroll of money from his backers whose motives seemed to be focused on saving their asses from the mess on Wall Street that they created. If you don’t believe that, consider who really did well during the Obama years.

I think Obama was smart enough to know he was inexperienced and over his head. That tends to trigger insecurity and indecision. That was probably more important to him than the fact that Putin is a racist. If Putin’s racism did get into Obama’s head, then what was the point, all you civil rights era boomers? Did it feel so good to elect the equivalent of the Huxtables to the White House that you were willing to overlook Obama’s actual record or the lives of not upper middle class black families?

Putin sized him up pretty well. So when he invaded Crimea and all of Obama’s advisor’s and vice president were running around with their hair on fire, Obama did nothing. As one interviewee says, Ukraine “wasn’t on his agenda”.

Add that to protecting women’s access to abortion, paycheck fairness, protection for homeowners after the crash, protection of millions of Americans who were thrown out of work for extended periods of time and have never recovered their financial stability (moi) because his stimulus package was half of what it should have been.

Why am I so incensed about Obama all these years later? It’s not because he was black. It’s that his blackness was used as a tool by some pretty savvy and cynical backers and campaign people to run a stealth candidate for president. One that was young, naive, idealistic and inexperienced and consequently felt uneasy making decisions that had the power to affect the entire world. He was no threat to Putin or any other ultra wealthy powerbroker.

As Garry Kasparov says, if you don’t get rid of a dictator early, the price of doing so goes up as time goes by. Obama was not the only president who miscalculated or made stupid decisions. Bush and Trump were much worse. But Obama had a chance in 2014 to stop Putin in his tracks with regard to Ukraine and instead of punching the dictator, he did…


And here we are.

George Santos and the Other Republican Liars

Daniel Goldman is becoming one of my favorite Congresspeople in just a month. We remember him from his work as lead counsel in the first impeachment of Donald Trump. He is very bright, articulate and forceful. It is early but I think he has the “It Factor,’ in the way that Gretchen Whitmer and a few others have. If we are looking to the future to try to save the country, we need to pick out the people who are best equipped to do it; and those are two of my top “picks to click,” as the sports analysts say.

Putting that aside for now, I heard him say something on Monday night which I have said (not on TV, of course!), and I am sure that others have, as well, but he did it just right. The question was about George Santos, and his and Kevin McCarthy’s fallback position, which is that 142,000 people voted for him, so it would be wrong to cancel those votes and have him leave office. Oh, no, it would be unfair to nullify all those votes!

Goldman analogized it to someone who lies endlessly on a loan application, and then gets the loan, and says, “Well, they gave me the loan, so I get to use the money.” The point which should be obvious is that just as the bank relied on the loan applicant’s statements as to assets, so the voters relied on Santos’ fabricated biography. And of course the bank has much more ability to research someone’s financial status, than the voters have to delve into a candidate’s past. And the bank doesn’t have to approve anybody’s loan, but the voters are compelled to choose one of two candidates put before them.

The person the people in Santos’ district voted for, was a phantasm, a created illusion. That person, the one with the great academic record, the sports achievements, the ancestors who died in the Holocaust, and who were killed on 9//11, does not exist, along with the other attributes and achievements he claimed. Should the voters have done more research on their own? I don’t think they should have been required to. They usually rely on the fact that one of the major parties put him up for election, and presumably vetted him.

And I find it very hard to believe that Republicans, who spend most of their time on these things, did not have operatives who knew about Santos’ fabrications. Maybe not all of them, but many. Of course Democrats did not do a proper job here .All the incredible lies have come to light only two months after the election. What was the media, particularly in New York, doing? Was it one of their infamous “We know the story, but we do not want the Far Right to attack us for trying to affect the election'” waves of the handkerchief?

Somehow, we got to what often seems an inevitable point: that the Republican won; that they cheated and lied to achieve it; and that there is very little that we can do about it. Republicans never concede a game or a hand;,they play what they’ve got for all it’s worth. In this case, it seems like the only way Santos can be removed, is if he is indicted, and maybe not even then.

The overarching themes are that the Republicans will do anything to win elections; and that they are willing to put anybody up for election, if they think he can win; whether a liar or a fraud, or a simulacrum, or a bot. Or put a cipher up, invent a history for him or her, use computers to print his statements and speeches, use bots on social media to amplify and praise them. Actually, how far is that from where we are now?

Republicans just want the power, the money and the votes. All of the rest is malleable. Democrats usually run on heartfelt positions. Of course they do research, and cone up with slogans. But behind that are actual views, and the wish to have the voters validate them. Behind the Republican speeches and slogans is–nothing. A black vacuum, like what was behind the edifices that “The Strangers” built to create the illusion of an actual town with nice beaches, in the movie “Dark City.” What was behind it there, was the blackness of outer space. What is behind the Republican veil is the complete obliteration of democracy, and the darkness at noon of totalitarianism.

The video of Trump’s deposition regarding financial violations was played, and he was shown taking the Fifth Amendment over four hundred times. Some of the media showed him at rallies in 2016 railing against taking the Fifth, implying that Hillary Clinton was doing that. This was wrong, and the media is being irresponsible in implying it.

Hillary never took the Fifth. Her aides who were subpoenaed during the endless Benghazi hearings, took the Fifth, on advice of counsel, who believed that the House Republicans were going to look for any statement which was slightly erroneous regarding their personal facts: addresses, work history, anything; and then charge them with perjury, whether salient fact or not. That was why they took the Fifth, not that they had committed any crimes that they did not want to admit.

That wasn’t the first time that aides have done that in such hearings, but of course Trump was allowed by the media to go unchallenged when he kept blaring, “Took the Fifth! That is terrible!” Again, she never took the Fifth. She did not lie; and for her, taking the Fifth would have been political suicide. Trump can do it; and he is a hypocrite, and far worse, a compete liar in this matter. “Ah, but he never said ‘Hillary,’ he just implied it.” Ahh.

So we continue to search vainly for some moral responsibility on the part of Republicans, any of them, to tell the truth. It is almost like those logic puzzles. “Half the people on the island always tell the truth; the other half always lie. How can you tell which is which?” In this case, just look for the “R” next to their names.