Category Archives: Politics

Deja Vu All Over Again

For me, one of the most enlightening moments in the aftermath of the tragic events in Buffalo on Saturday came when a number of journalists and pundits were chastised for referring to the shooter as a “lone gunman.” What were the critics of this reporting trying to tell us? While one person pulled the triggered, he had a host of accomplices who created the environment in which he believed his actions were acceptable, if not justified.

In the course of drafting the historical novel which has taken me away from this blog for the past several months, the research took me to Tallahatchie County, Mississippi in 1956. This was the time and location of the infamous torture and murder of Emmett Till, only one of several similar violent responses to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. What was it about northeast Mississippi that made it the epicenter of mid-20th century racial conflict?

David Halberstam's Mississippi apprenticeship - Columbia Journalism Review

One possible answer was provided by then aspiring journalist David J. Halberstam.  Seventeen years before this Pulitzer Prize winning author published The Best and the Brightest, Halberstam penned an article for The Reporter titled, “Tallahatchie County Acquits a Peckerwood.”  Following the acquittal of Elmer Kimbell after the murder of Clinton Melton, an African-American gas station attendant, he wrote:

A friend of mine divides the white population of Mississippi into two categories. The first and largest contains the good people of Mississippi, as they are affectionately called by editorial writers, politi­cians, and themselves. The other group is a smaller but in many ways more conspicuous faction called the peckerwoods.

The good people will generally agree that the peckerwoods are trou­blemakers, and indeed several good people have told me they joined the Citizens Councils because otherwise the peckerwoods would take over the situation entirely.  But while the good peo­ple would not act with the rashness of and are not governed by the hatred of the peckerwood, they are reluctant to apply society’s normal remedies to the peckerwood. Thus it is the peckerwoods who kill Negroes and the good people who acquit the peckerwoods

David Halberstam, “Tallahatchie County Acquits a Peckerwood,” The Reporter, April 19, 1956.

Sound familiar? From his own manifesto, we know the Buffalo assailant is an anti-Semitic, white supremacist. But he is someone who Halberstam, if covering the weekend events, would also call a “neo-peckerwood.” But the phrase in Halberstam’s article that haunts me is, “…several good people have told me they joined the Citizens Councils (the organization created to fight school integration) because otherwise the peckerwoods would take over the situation entirely. “

How is that any different from Mark Esper, John Bolton, Bill Barr, Kellyanne Conway and every other former member of the previous administration who claimed they were protecting us or “the peckerwoods would take over the situation entirely?” No, they did not protect us. They silently endorsed the behavior.

And how are Tucker Carlson, Elyse Stefanik and a host of MAGA-inspired candidates for office in 2022 distinguishable from the “good people” of Tallahatchie County who believed their silence in the face of bigotry and hate made them better than the peckerwoods. Stefanik, the third highest ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives believes she is absolved of her complicity by Tweeting, “Our nation is heartbroken about the tragic news of horrific loss of life in Buffalo.” Just days after calling those across the aisle pedophiles and grifters who were promoting illegal immigration, a dog whistle for “replacement theory.”

Is there no one in the Republican leadership who will recognize how they contribute to the bile that has poisoned the body politic and the nation? Rather than banish the Liz Cheneys who dare call them out, is there not one member of the current party elite who will emulate Prince Escalus in Act V of Romeo and Juliet when he chastises the lovers’ parents for creating the conditions which led to a tragic end. “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate.” Instead of ending his screed with “All are punished,” a modern day Prince would declare, “All are peckerwoods.”

For what it’s worth.

Occam’s Chainsaw

This is going to be short and sweet.

I continue to be amazed how people I respect and admire continuously fail to see the forest for the trees. This week’s example is Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) who was the lead manager for TFG’s second impeachment and now serves on the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th assault on Congress and the U.S. Capitol.

During an interview with Nicole Wallace, following release of the Kevin McCarthy tapes, Raskin suggested it raised a new question for the committee. Exactly what happened during McCarthy’s Mar-a-Lago visit that changed his perspective about the danger TFG presented for the future of the GOP, much less the nation?

Most of the talk has been about money. TFG is believed to have a political nest egg of approximately $150 million to spend in support of his toadies and a possible 2024 run for president. But that ignores two facts of life. So far, TFG has distributed less than one million of that to candidates he has endorsed. Most of it is being spent on legal fees, something not likely change any time soon, and events at (you guessed it) Mar-a-Lago. Second, most GOP candidates do not need his money. They are successful fundraisers, in their own right, and have multiple national PACs from which they can expect additional resources.

What does TFG have that no one else has? Millions of cult followers who would abandon the Republican Party on a moment’s notice if asked to do so. What would that mean for McCarthy, McConnell and the rest of the GOP McLemmings? The answer can be found in this morning’s poll for the GOP nomination in Georgia. Incumbent Governor Brian Kemp: 53 percent. Trump-endorsed challenger David Perdue: 27 percent.

As Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) would say each episode when he cracked the case, “Here’s what happened.”

McCarthy and Trump discuss Republicans plans to take back House majority at  Florida meeting Thursday - CNNPolitics

TFG to McCarthy: Son, cut that shit out or I’m going to start a third party.

McCarthy (bowing): Yes, Sir!

TFG: Bring in the photographer. Smile, son. Bye. (Aside: That was easy!)

Imagine a three-way general election between Kemp, Perdue and Democrat Stacey Abrams who only lost by 50,000 in 2018. Perdue syphons 27 percent of Kemp’s two million 2018 votes. Abrams wins in a landslide. Raphael Warnock wins re-election to the Senate. And every competitive senate, house and gubernatorial contest in which the MAGA Party fields a candidate results in a Democratic victory.

Where is Tennessee Ernie Ford when you really need him? Or a Weird Al Yankovic parody of Ford’s #1 single “Sixteen Tons” with McCarthy, et. al. singing the chorus.

You kiss his ring and what do you get?
A flaccid spine and your pants are all wet.
I know this is contrary
To the oath that I swore.
It’s the price you pay when you join the Trump Corps.

For what it’s worth.

A Tale of Three Cities

After watching so many foreign policy experts look back on their experiences in Russia and Ukraine for warning signs of the current crisis, I decided to do the same. Was there something I missed during my November 1994 trip to Moscow? Were there dots that I should have but did not connect?

Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, the National Governors Association received a USAID grant to work with the emerging Association of Oblast (i.e. Russian state equivalent) Governors (AOG). I was assigned responsibility for the grant which included setting up a Moscow office which would be used for two purposes: work with the AOG and facilitate Russian trade visits by U.S. governors. In the fall of 1994, I spent a week in Moscow, assessing the venture including meetings with both Russian and U.S. partners.

Anatoly Tyazhlov.jpg

On November 9, 1994, Ted Boimov, a Ukraine-born U.S. citizen who managed the NGA Moscow office, and I had lunch with Anatoliy Tyazhlov, who then held the title of head of administration (i.e. governor) of the Moscow Oblast. He was not elected to that position. Instead, he was appointed by Russian president Boris Yeltsin with whom he was known to have shared a vodka or two (but that’s a story for another time).

Two days earlier Ted and I, against the advice of U.S. embassy staff, went to the square outside the former KGB headquarters to view what the local communist party billed as an October Revolution Day parade and rally heralding the revival of Marxism and Leninism. Less than a thousand Russians participated. I remember telling Ted how glad I was we had gone as we might have just witnessed the last vestiges of the Soviet Union.

After lunch, I shared this experience with Tyazhlov and asked his perspective on what this meant for Russia’s future. I should have paid more attention. He said the real danger would come from the “right,” not the “left.” He talked about how so many Russians, who believed in the communist promise of support from cradle to grave, now seemed lost. If conditions did not improve, Russia would be ripe for takeover by an autocrat. Less than six years later, Vladimir Putin was elected Russian president. City #1 is filled with Russians who grew up under Stalin and are creatures of the conditions which made his rise to power possible.

The following day I attended a session co-sponsored by the Foreign Commercial Service within the U.S. Embassy and the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce. NGA was in the midst of a new initiative to encourage states to make their economic development policies and programs more entrepreneurial centric. The hosts invited graduate students from several Moscow based universities and asked me to share some of the lessons from the NGA effort.

Two things immediately became clear. Higher education in Russian academies was overly practical with students being taught how to produce and delivery commodities based on government planning priorities. There was little or no understanding of market pull or technology push. At the end of my talk I asked the students, “If you could start your own business tomorrow what would you offer?” One student immediately replied, “That depends on what the government tells us they need.” City #2, almost thirty years later, is filled with middle-aged Russians, who were on the cusp of becoming part of the global economy but hampered by Soviet era educations.

City #3 emerged in the late 1990s at the dawn of the information technology revolution. Young Russians were exposed to the world outside their geographic borders and wanted to be a part of it. With the exception of a couple of Russian and Ukrainian students in the classes I taught in Milan, I have had little exposure to them. But I know them when I see them. Which is exactly how I felt watching Marina Ovsyannikova disrupt a Channel One broadcast last Monday. Ovsyannikova, born in Odessa, Ukraine in 1978 came of age during the era of dial-up modems and WordPerfect, just enough for her to understand the window that had opened for her and her peers.

These three cities peacefully co-existed in modern-day Russia until February 24th. Residents of City #1 largely rely on state-controlled media and Putin’s disinformation campaign. Citizens of City #3, absent access to more traditional social media, are finding ways around the information blackout. Inhabitants of City #2 are conflicted, their allegiance depending on whether they are more influenced by their parents or their children.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is correct when he says the fate of his country is in the hands of the Russian people. My bet is on the Russians in City #3. Why? Because America was in the same position in 2020. Consider the following exit poll data from the presidential election.


The 65+ voters represented only 22 percent of the 2020 electorate. I suspect the population of City #1 is also a decreasing percent of Russian society. The only question is will it decline fast enough.

For what it’s worth.

Mutual Guaranteed NOTHING

If you go on with this nuclear arms race, all you are going to do is make the rubble bounce.

Winston Churchill

When is the truth not the truth? The first time it is tested.

We have had our eyes opened to perceived truths twice in less than three years. Truth #1: Advances in medical science make global pandemics things of the past. Truth #2: The sacred cornerstone of American democracy is the peaceful transfer of power.

This week we have been exposed to a third, the idea that massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons by the world’s superpowers and the threat of mutual guaranteed destruction (MGD) would keep the peace. A brief history of the concept via BRITANNICA.COM.

To many Western strategists, the development of the hydrogen bomb with its incredible killing potential spelled the end of conventional ground warfare. Despite the example of Korea, the next war, they reasoned, would be fought by the thermonuclear giants, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Such a holocaust could only be avoided by a strategy of nuclear deterrence, and the development of a sizable nuclear arsenal would provide the cornerstone of U.S. Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “New Look” defense policy. 

Faith in this theory grew over time based on the absence over seven decades of armed conflicts approaching the last two world wars. However, just as manufacturers put consumers on notice guarantees are voided if they do not follow specified service terms (e.g. taking the item to an authorized repair provider), the same is true of geopolitics. A guarantee is only as good as the willingness of the buyers to follow the instructions which come with their purchase.

Which of course brings us to Vladimir Putin and his threat to use weapons of mass destruction if the United States and NATO directly intervene in Ukraine. Under the tenets of MGD, U.S. and NATO nuclear capability should have deterred Putin from thinking about, much less launching, an invasion on a sovereign nation. When tested by someone who chose to void the guarantee, MGD proved to be exactly what it was. Just a theory.

Putin had a theory of his own. Nuclear weapons cannot deter aggression. But they can deter opponents from intervening in my aggression. And in a wisp of irony, the justification for spending billions, if not trillions of dollars, on the design and delivery of more and more lethal weapons of mass destruction vanished as quickly as the predicted end of the world if they were ever deployed.

POST SCRIPT: Scarlett O’Liynik

This morning, my on-line news briefing included a picture of Kira Rudik, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who tweeted this image with the following message.


I learn to use #Kalashnikov and prepare to bear arms. It sounds surreal as just a few days ago it would never come to my mind. Our #women will protect our soil the same way as our #men. Go #Ukraine!

Where had I seen this before? Of course, Scarlett O’Hara’s confrontation with a Yankee soldier in “Gone With the Wind.” From the screen directions in Sidney Howard’s movie script:

Leisurely riding up the driveway toward the front door is a Yankee cavalryman. He dismounts, tosses the bridal reins over the hitching post, takes his pistol from its holster and glancing to the right and left, starts toward the front door of the house.

Scarlett’s hands quickly open the drawer and take a pistol from it – the one Rhett had given her on McDonough Road. Scarlett stands still, her heart pounding. She drops her arm to her side and hides the pistol she holds slightly behind her.

It is not hard to imagine a similar scene being repeated again and again in the coming days by women like Kira Rudik. Why does she take this risk? What is really at stake in Ukraine? I again turn to Sidney Howard and paraphrase the opening lines of his screenplay.

There was a land of brave fighters and budding democracy called Ukraine…
Here in this foreign land the promise of the post-Cold War order took its last bow..
Here was the last ever to be seen of outmatched warriors and steeled fair ladies, of former slaves of the Soviet empire saying no to their master..
Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a civilization gone with the wind…

For what it’s worth.

Turning Over an Old Leaf

While browsing the titles in the “New Releases” section of my local bookstore, I came upon The Newest Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Ron DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin. Certainly, these most vocal critics of “cancel culture” would not exploit a Mark Twain classic to further their faux crusade against anything that makes conservative snowflakes uncomfortable. Was I ever wrong.

In Chapter 1, we find Tom and his brother Sid newly relocated in a foster home. The young lads have been removed from Aunt Polly’s care by Child Welfare Services. Rumors of her alternate lifestyle had been reported by neighbors to the local authorities.

“This is no place to raise children,” one told the judge at the custody hearing. “These boys need a mother and father.”

“Will you take them in?” asked the judge.

“You’re joking, of course. How do you expect me to find the time to organize the protest at the next school board meeting if I have to look after these hoodlums. We’d all be better off if these boys had never been born.” (If the book is ever adapted as a movie, this scene will fade to black while Alanis Morissette sings “Ironic.”)

But, that was just a preview of what was to come. In Chapter 2, Tom’s foster parents ask him if he wants to earn some spending money by whitewashing the school library. He agrees and is handed several cardboard boxes, a shovel and a list of names.

“What are these for?” Tom asks. “Won’t I need a bucket and brushes?”

“No, Tom. This is a different kind of whitewashing. Don’t think of it as work. It’s more like a scavenger hunt. Collect all the books by people on this list and put them in the cardboard boxes.”

“But what’s the shovel for?”

“You have to bury the boxes. Due to the drought from this hot spell and lack of rain, the city is prohibiting all controlled burns.”

“Wouldn’t this have been more like an ‘out of control’ burn?”

“Watch your mouth, boy. You’re lucky you have a place to live and someone who feeds you. And forget about being paid.”

I had read enough and put the book back on the shelf.


The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer was nominated for the national book award as the best metaphorical teaching tool to help students understand racial and gender injustice. DeSantis and Youngkin immediately called for the book to be removed from all public school and community libraries.

For what it’s worth.