War Crimes Charges Could Help Putin, Not Hurt Him

“The role of popular elections as the source of ruling legitimacy is just one way in which it is hard to categorize the Russian political system. For all the talk of Putin’s dictatorial personality and wide latitude to crackdown on civil liberties, the institutions of Putinism were built by his democratic predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, enshrined in his 1993 constitution. Flawed and imperfect in practice during the tumultuous 1990s, these foundations were democratic in principle: Grassroots civil society flourished alongside a lively media environment, as legislators and leaders were chosen from a variety of contenders. Even as those liberties have subsequently been eroded and independent media curtailed, the institutions still specify that Russia’s leaders serve at the will of the people. Indeed, the ratcheting-up of Kremlin propaganda is meant, more than anything, to reassure Russians that Putin’s leadership is worthy of their continued support. Such peans to the people would be unnecessary in a classic, run-of-the-mill dictatorship.

Consequently, political scientists are at odds with how to describe Putin’s Russia. Some call it a “competitive authoritarian” regime, where democratic institutions and procedures simply provide a facade of legitimacy for the dictatorship. Others label it an “information autocracy,” in which the powers of state-run media are marshaled to build a public image of Putin as a competent leader, deserving of political support, and it works to generate the popular support he needs. What these different perspectives have in common is what Peskov said: that Putin’s political sovereignty ultimately lies with the Russian people, however manipulated or misinformed they might be.”

“Western hopes that the Russian people would rise up and topple Putin in a popular revolution seem further from reality today than at the start of the war. The smattering of protests across Russia during the first weeks of the war have largely fizzled out. Between the Kremlin propaganda machine in overdrive and criminalization of expressions of opposition, Putin’s approval in nationwide polls is now up to 83 percent, with 81 percent support for the “special military operation.”

What’s more, Russian elites appear to be consolidating behind Putin. Rather than diversifying internationally and finding safe havens abroad, powerful oligarchs and cosmopolitan elites—many of them under Western sanctions—now understand that they are tethered to Russia and to Putin personally. Once-feuding factions are realizing they’re all now in the same boat. Few will bolt for greener pastures in Europe or the U.S., even if they could.

In an eye-opening account by independent Russian journalist Farida Rustamova on the tribulations of Russia’s political elites since the war, she quotes a high-ranking source in a sanctioned Russian company as saying “All these personal sanctions cement the elites. Everyone who was thinking about a new life understands that, for the next 10-15 years at least, their lives are concentrated in Russia, their children will study in Russia, their families will live in Russia. These people feel offended. They will not overthrow anyone, but will build their lives here.”

Before the war, the dominant narrative of Kremlin-controlled media was that Russia is a mighty superpower—besieged on all sides by enemies and conspirators, both Western and homegrown—and only Putin could lead them. Lamentably, the coordinated international response to Putin’s bloody war has only solidified and reinforced that us-against-the-world narrative, and largely rallied the Russian people behind Putin.

In this context, the Russian response to the accusations of genocide in Ukraine have been predictable: It is all a Western “fake” meant to further impugn the dignity of Russia and its leader. Pro-Russian social media accounts have claimed that the corpses are either fake, or are actors, or were killed after the Russians left. The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed “not a single local resident has suffered any violent action” while Bucha was under Russian control. These are all claims that have been easily debunked. By parroting the official line of the Foreign Affairs Ministry that it could not have been Russia that committed such atrocities, but rather the United States staging a “provocation,” Kremlin state-run media only reinforces and retrenches the us-against-the-world narrative already widely accepted among the Russian people.”

Putin Isn’t Just an Autocrat. He’s Something Worse.

“Putin’s trajectory increasingly resembles that of Hitler. Both men came to power after their countries experienced imperial dismemberment and economic collapse. Both promised to revive their nation’s glory and enjoyed enormous popularity. Both militarized and pursued state capitalism. Both relied on the army and secret police. Both identified their nations with themselves. Both promoted reactionary ideologies that identified one nation — Jews for Hitler, Ukrainians for Putin — as the enemy. And both used their national minorities living in neighboring states as pretexts for expansion. Both were also consummate liars and had deranged personalities. In this scheme of things, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is equivalent to Hitler’s attack on Austria, Czechoslovakia or Poland. And we all know what happened afterward — a Vernichtungskrieg.”

Why Tucker Carlson’s special on Hungary and Soros matters

“The film opens with soaring music, footage of white children laughing and playing, beautiful vistas of classical European architecture. Fifteen seconds in, the music turns dark. We see images of dark-skinned youth, chaos, and blood. Then there’s a foreboding black-and-white shot of a man in profile, hunched at a desk, the curvature of his nose prominent in silhouette.

He’s the one responsible for all of this, the brown assault on white tranquility. Europe, we are told, is this predator’s “main hunting area.”

This is the beginning of Tucker Carlson’s new “documentary” for Fox Nation, the right-wing media giant’s streaming service. It is titled Hungary vs. Soros: The Fight for Civilization, and it purports to tell the story of how a plucky little democracy in Central Europe has carved out a conservative model in the face of a relentless assault by the forces of global liberalism personified by George Soros, the Hungarian-American financier.

The story is a lie. Hungary is nominally a democracy but it has made a turn toward authoritarianism in the last decade; Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has painted Soros as a scapegoat whose allegedly nefarious influence justifies Orbán’s anti-democratic moves. The documentary amplifies this propaganda, treating the Jewish philanthropist as the spider at the center of a global web of conspiracy.”

The revealing Trump White House debate over whether to seize voting machines

“By December 2020, as President Donald Trump was trying feverishly to overturn Joe Biden’s election win, his closest remaining advisers had broken into two warring camps.

Both factions, at this point, supported and encouraged Trump’s strategy to retain power: pressuring state legislatures, state officials, and members of Congress to throw out results in key states, claiming they were tainted by fraud. Both were even interested in using the federal government’s power to seize voting machines in key states.

But one camp, led by Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn, wanted to go even further and use the military to seize those machines — while the other, led by Rudy Giuliani, thought that was a bridge too far.

Think of it as a divide between the dangerously unhinged and the totally batshit.”

“The story makes clear just how dire things were for democracy at this point. Everyone around Trump was recommending extreme measures that, if successful, would have amounted to stealing the election.

Yet even some of Trump’s unhinged, irresponsible, and conspiratorial advisers, like Giuliani, were still trying to steer him away from the even worse actions counseled by Powell and Flynn, who seem to have been totally unmoored from factual and political reality at this point.”

“while some officials might have refused to go along with Trump’s whims, he did have the option to replace them but simply chose not to — due to his own calculations that this would be too far, or because other advisers talked him out of it. But there was no guarantee that Trump, who had been willing to push so far already, would back off here. If he were just a bit more stubborn and willing to stretch the boundaries of his power, the election 2020 crisis could have grown far worse.”

““Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome,” Trump said in a statement…“Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!” That same day, he mused at a rally about pardoning January 6 rioters. In a battle between the unhinged and the batshit for Trump’s favor, the latter camp may be gaining strength.”

When the CCP Threatens International Students’ Academic Freedom

“China has long been the number one feeder of international students to the U.S.; for the 2020–21 school year, more than 317,000 Chinese students were enrolled at American higher ed institutions. Hong Kong sends about 6,800 students overseas to

American universities each year. Thus, McLaughlin says, the question arose at the start of the pandemic when foreign nationals were temporarily expelled from the U.S.: “Is it safe for them to learn?”
American professors started “try[ing] to find the safest way to teach without censoring themselves,” McLaughlin says. They have taken certain discussion off of certain platforms; started using blind grading and allowing students to not submit papers under their own names; changed some conversations to be one-on-one instead of group discussions where another student could possibly record or disseminate the comments of a student living under Beijing’s thumb. Some professors, like Rory Truex at Princeton, issued warnings in their syllabuses, saying in essence that if a student was currently residing in China, they should wait to take a given class until they’re back on American soil.

Academics elsewhere have stooped to disturbing self-censorship to stave off Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censors. A teaching assistant at the University of Toronto declared he’d been told not to talk about certain issues online because it could put some students at risk; a guest lecturer-journalist from the Hong Kong Free Press declined an already-agreed-to speaking opportunity at the University of Leeds because he had been instructed by hosts to avoid focusing on the Hong Kong protests out of concern for the safety of Chinese students attending the lecture remotely.”

“Professors in Hong Kong, and international students from Hong Kong who study in the U.S. (not to mention their mainland Chinese counterparts), already had to worry about what might happen if a student takes a phone out and films comments made during classes. With the widespread adoption of remote learning, that’s gotten exponentially worse, says McLaughlin. “Whether it’s the intent or not, the effect of forcing everything online makes it a lot easier to hunt down, censor, and punish speech that’s critical of the government.””

Jan. 6 panel ramps up investigation into Trump’s state-level pressure

“As Trump’s team pushed its discredited voter fraud narrative, the National Archives received forged certificates of ascertainment declaring him and then-Vice President Mike Pence the winners of both Michigan and Arizona and their electors after the 2020 election. Public records requests show the secretaries of state for those states sent those certificates to the Jan. 6 panel, along with correspondence between the National Archives and state officials about the documents.”

“Arizona then took legal action against at least one of the groups who sent in the fake documents, sending a cease and desist letter to a pro-Trump “sovereign citizen” group telling them to stop using the state seal and referring the matter to the state attorney general.
“By affixing the state seal to documents containing false and misleading information about the results of Arizona’s November 3, 2020 General Election, you undermine the confidence in our democratic institutions,” Hobbs wrote to one of the pro-Trump groups.

That group’s leader, Lori Osiecki, had told the Arizona Republic in December 2020 that she decided to send in the certificates after taking part in post-election rallies and after attending a daylong meeting in Phoenix that had included Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

The group that forged the Michigan certification had not used the state seal, and it appears state officials there took no further action after the Archives rejected it.”

How does this end?

“Large majorities of Republicans continue to believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and elected Republicans around the country are acting on this conspiracy theory — attempting to lock Democrats out of power by seizing partisan control of America’s electoral systems. Democrats observe all this and gird for battle, with many wondering if the 2024 elections will be held on the level.

These divisions over the fairness of our elections are rooted in an extreme level of political polarization that has divided our society into mutually distrustful “us versus them” camps.”

“In a draft paper, McCoy and co-author Ben Press examine every democracy since 1950 to identify instances where this mindset had taken root. One of their most eye-popping findings: None of America’s peer democracies have experienced levels of pernicious polarization as high for as long as the contemporary United States.

“Democracies have a hard time depolarizing once they’ve reached this level,” McCoy tells me. “I am extremely worried.”

But worried about what, exactly? This is the biggest question in American politics: Where does our deeply fractured country go from here?

A deep dive into the academic research on democracy, polarization, and civil conflict is sobering. Virtually all of the experts I spoke with agreed that, in the near term, we are in for a period of heightened struggle. Among the dire forecasts: hotly contested elections whose legitimacy is doubted by the losing side, massive street demonstrations, a paralyzed Congress, and even lethal violence among partisans.”

“In his book Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop, political scientist Lee Drutman argues that America’s polarization problem is in large part a product of our two-party electoral system. Unlike elections in multiparty democracies, where leading parties often govern in coalition with others, two-party contests are all-or-nothing: Either your party wins outright or it loses. As a result, every vote takes on apocalyptic stakes.

A new draft paper by scholars Noam Gidron, James Adams, and Will Horne uncovers strong evidence for this idea. In a study of 19 Western democracies between 1996 and 2017, they find that ordinary partisans tend to express warmer feelings toward the party’s coalition partners — both during the coalition and for up to two decades following its end.

“In the US, there’s simply no such mechanism,” Gidron told me. “Even if you have divided government, it’s not perceived as an opportunity to work together but rather to sabotage the other party’s agenda.”

Drutman argues for a combination of two reforms that could move us toward a more cooperative multiparty system: ranked-choice voting and multimember congressional districts in the House of Representatives.

In ranked-choice elections, voters rank candidates by order of preference rather than selecting just one of them, giving third-party candidates a better chance in congressional elections. In a House with multimember districts, we would have larger districts where multiple candidates could win seats to reflect a wider breadth of voter preferences — a more proportional system of representation than the winner-take-all-status quo.

But it’s very hard to see how these reforms could happen anytime soon. Extreme polarization creates a kind of legislative Catch-22: Zero-sum politics means we can’t get bipartisan majorities to change our institutions, while the current institutions intensify zero-sum competition between the parties.”

How Jan. 6 Enabled Greater Interference In Our Elections

“In around a half dozen states under Republican control, new laws have reduced the authority of state election officers who haven’t backed Trump’s “Big Lie” and/or allowed GOP-controlled statewide boards to more easily override or threaten local election administrators in Democratic-leaning areas. And that could be just the tip of the iceberg, as bills to create similar laws have been proposed in other states, too, as well as even more extreme proposals that would make it easier for state legislatures to subvert or even ignore election results.

For instance, some Republican-controlled states have even targeted statewide officials to reduce their oversight over elections. In Arizona, for example, the GOP took away the authority over election-related litigation from the secretary of state – currently a Democrat – and shifted it to the state attorney general — a Republican. Tellingly, however, this change is set to expire in January 2023 at the same time the secretary of state’s term ends. Meanwhile in Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s refusal to help Trump interfere in Georgia’s 2020 election result not only earned him a Trump-endorsed primary challenger who supports the Big Lie, but it also led state Republicans to remove the secretary of state as a voting member of Georgia’s State Election Board and give the Republican-run state legislature control over appointing the board’s chair.

New laws in GOP-run states have also placed local election officials more overtly under the thumb of state authorities, enabling Republicans to target the election apparatuses of Democratic-leaning localities. In Georgia, for instance, the Republican majority on the State Election Board can suspend local officials and appoint temporary replacements. County boards have the power to decide challenges over voter eligibility and certify election results, so this law creates a conceivable path for Republicans to influence the results in heavily Democratic counties by disqualifying votes based on challenges to individual voters’ eligibility — or even by refusing to certify results.

Laws in some Republican-controlled states also now include heavy penalties for election officials who supposedly step out of line. Take Iowa, where officials can now face felony charges for failing to carry out election laws or failing to follow the guidance of the secretary of state, who is currently a Republican. They can also be fined $10,000 for “technical infractions” of their duties. Such rules could have a chilling effect whereby local officials may not govern as they see fit out of fear of being targeted.

In fact, faced with such legal changes, threats made by Trump supporters and the stress of the 2020 election, many local election officials have quit en masse — a loss of experience that could weaken the election system. This exodus has also created vacancies in state and local election administration that supporters of the Big Lie have sought to fill. Coupled with the far right’s concerted effort to recruit precinct officers who often decide poll worker assignments and choose local election boards, the likelihood of future election chicanery motivated by Republican electoral interests has undoubtedly increased.

And this may only be the beginning. Graver threats lurk, such as a Republican proposal before Arizona’s legislature that could permit the legislature, by simple majority vote, to ignore the state’s presidential vote and appoint the state’s electors in the Electoral College. Republicans in Wisconsin are also considering ways to upend the state’s bipartisan election agency and assert partisan control over Wisconsin’s election results.

Rather than ebbing, the movement on the right to threaten free and fair elections appears to be picking up speed. The nation’s small-d democratic backslide is already happening — the question now is just how far will it go?”

Terrorwashing a Genocide

“In The War on the Uyghurs, Sean Roberts begins the arduous task of probing these and other mysteries of the first two decades of the global war on terror. In doing so, he shows how the United States’ efforts to build an international consensus for its counterterrorism projects had far-reaching consequences on the other side of the world, changing the relationship between the Chinese state and its long-oppressed Uyghur minority. He also shows how, during that same period—apart from any Western influence—the Chinese government became increasingly brazen in its oppression of Muslim and Turkic minorities, steadily curtailing freedoms of movement, assembly, and speech in Xinjiang long before the moment in 2016 when it began secretly interning hundreds of thousands of people in extrajudicial “Transformation Through Education” centers.”

“It is tempting to think of Xinjiang as a vast and arid Guantanamo Bay, one roughly as large as Alaska and as populous as Texas. Like Donald Rumsfeld’s own “world-class operation,” on a much grander (albeit largely domestic) scale, it is a hypertrophied state-within-a-state where minority residents are guilty before judgment and where the rule of law is reengineered in the name of fighting a pervasive, unbounded, and infinitely flexible terrorist threat. According to Darren Byler, another scholar of the region, China’s counterterrorism campaign in Xinjiang “rests on the assumption that most Uyghurs and significant numbers of Kazakhs are terrorists, separatists, and extremists-in-waiting.” But while Guantanamo Bay’s purpose is containment, Xin-jiang’s state of exception is intended to cure a diseased population. This philosophy is made explicit in government statements dating to the 2014 start of China’s “People’s War on Terror.” In the words of one 2015 report from Hotan City, anyone whose thinking has been “deeply affected” by “religious extremism” must be transformed through “military-style management.”

Roberts argues that this state of exception is facilitating cultural genocide. In addition to the system of extrajudicial detention that has incarcerated hundreds of thousands of people—possibly more than a million—in camps, more than 300,000 residents have also received formal prison sentences in the last three years, an order of magnitude more than in previous periods. An entire generation of Uyghur academics, artists, and businesspeople has disappeared, probably into prisons; they include internationally respected anthropologists, poets, comedians, novelists, and economists. There have been many credible reports of torture, sexual violence, and forced sterilization among Xinjiang’s minority population. Children are routinely taken from detained parents and placed in state orphanages where minority language and culture are demonized. And more than a million Communist Party cadres have been sent to live temporarily with Uyghur and Kazakh families, where they perform searches of homes, lecture their hosts on the dangers of Islam, and even sleep in the same beds as their “brothers” and “sisters.” Meanwhile, birth rates have plummeted in minority areas. The end result, scholars and activists fear, will be the eradication of Uyghurs as a distinct people.”

“It’s true that small numbers of Uyghurs have sometimes pushed for political independence in their homeland, even founding two short-lived Republics of East Turkestan in the years before China’s Communist revolution. But in case after case, Roberts shows, the Chinese government has used deceptive framing, official secrecy, and the framework of the war on terror to artificially inflate the danger of Uyghur separatism in order to justify increasingly ruthless policies in Xinjiang. “Often,” he writes, “what was framed as a ‘terrorist attack’ by authorities at this time was really armed self-defense against police and security forces, which were seeking to aggressively apprehend Uyghurs they viewed as ‘disloyal’ to the state, often merely determined by their religiosity.””

“As the war on terror escalated outside of China, state-conjured threats of separatism led to harsher policies in Xin-jiang. Roberts argues that this environment created a “self-fulfilling prophecy” where state tactics made spontaneous acts of rage and violence—eventually including genuine acts of terrorism, such as a coordinated knife attack in Kunming in 2014—all but inevitable, retroactively justifying the policies that caused the violence in the first place.”

Sudan’s civilian prime minister is back. Here’s why thousands are still protesting.

“In April 2019, a military coup ended Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule, which was marked by press censorship, the jailing of political dissidents, and the imposition of harsh sharia law, all enforced by regime security forces. Following al-Bashir’s arrest, the military worked with civilian parties to establish a transition to democracy and civilian rule”

“That included a transitional power-sharing agreement between the military and civilian leadership, which was then amended with the Juba Peace Agreement in 2020, a deal between the transitional government and several armed groups which sets out the constitutional process and power-sharing arrangements, among other stipulations for the future democratic government. Crucially for the current crisis, civilian leaders insisted on an eventual governmental structure free from military influence; the memory of al-Bashir’s regime and its brutality were still fresh, and a government run under the auspices of the military couldn’t be trusted.”

“But that progress appeared fleeting when al-Burhan moved to seize power on October 25, forcing Hamdok into house arrest, detaining other members of the civilian government, and using deadly force to crack down on the massive, widespread protests against the coup that occurred over the past month.”

“Since the coup, according to Siegle, the junta, led by al-Burhan, has been searching for a civilian leader to serve as a figurehead prime minister while the military maintained actual control, and even appointed some politicians from the al-Bashir government, like Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who led brutal campaigns against opposition fighters in Darfur, into leadership positions — essentially trying to continue the regime that civilian groups had sacrificed so much to overthrow just two short years ago.
When the junta was unable to find a suitably legitimate figurehead, Siegle theorizes, it was decided that Hamdok would be able to return to his position and preside over a “technocratic” cabinet. What that means is unclear, however: While protesters are calling for absolutely no military influence in the selection of the cabinet, there have not been assurances that Hamdok will be free to select his own ministers.”

“Already, as civilian protest leaders have made clear, there’s little confidence in Hamdok’s return to office, and demonstrations will likely continue”