‘It’s going to be an army’: Tapes reveal GOP plan to contest elections

“Video recordings of Republican Party operatives meeting with grassroots activists provide an inside look at a multi-pronged strategy to target and potentially overturn votes in Democratic precincts: Install trained recruits as regular poll workers and put them in direct contact with party attorneys.

The plan, as outlined by a Republican National Committee staffer in Michigan, includes utilizing rules designed to provide political balance among poll workers to install party-trained volunteers prepared to challenge voters at Democratic-majority polling places, developing a website to connect those workers to local lawyers and establishing a network of party-friendly district attorneys who could intervene to block vote counts at certain precincts.”

“election watchdog groups and legal experts say many of these recruits are answering the RNC’s call because they falsely believe fraud was committed in the 2020 election, so installing them as the supposedly unbiased officials who oversee voting at the precinct level could create chaos in such heavily Democratic precincts.

“This is completely unprecedented in the history of American elections that a political party would be working at this granular level to put a network together,” said Nick Penniman, founder and CEO of Issue One, an election watchdog group. “It looks like now the Trump forces are going directly after the legal system itself and that should concern everyone.”

Penniman also expressed concern about the quick-strike networks of lawyers and DAs being created, suggesting that politically motivated poll workers could simply initiate a legal conflict at the polling place that disrupts voting and then use it as a vehicle for rejecting vote counts from that precinct.”

“On the tapes, some of the would-be poll workers lamented that fraud was committed in 2020 and that the election was “corrupt.” Installing party loyalists on the Board of Canvassers, which is responsible for certifying the election, also appears to be part of the GOP strategy. In Wayne County, which includes Detroit, Republicans nominated to their board a man who said he would not have certified the 2020 election.

Both Penniman and Rick Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said they see a domino effect that could sow doubts about the election even when there was no original infraction: A politically motivated poll worker connecting with a zealous local lawyer to disrupt voting, followed by a challenge to the Board of Canvassers that may have nothing to do with the underlying dispute but merely the level of disruption at the polling place.

“You shouldn’t have poll workers who are reporting to political organizations what they see,” Hasen said. “It creates the potential for mucking things up at polling places and potentially leading to delays or disenfranchisement of voters,” especially “if [the poll workers] come in with the attitude that something is crooked with how elections are run.””

“Penniman, the election watchdog, believes the strategy is designed to create enough disputes to justify intervention by GOP-controlled state legislatures, who declined to take such steps in 2020.”

China’s new vassal: Vladimir Putin

“When Chairman Mao Zedong visited Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the winter of 1949, he was very much the junior supplicant. Stalin packed him off to wait for weeks in his snow-bound No. 2 dacha, 27 kilometers outside Moscow, where the humiliated and constipated Chinese leader grumbled about everything from the quality of the fish to his uncomfortable mattress.

When the two Communist leaders did get to business, Stalin bullied his way to a very favorable deal that put Mao on the hook to buy Russian arms and heavy machinery with a loan on which Beijing would have to pay interest.

Seven decades later, the power dynamics reveal a radical reset. Shortly before invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to the Winter Olympics in Beijing to proclaim the “no limits” friendship with China’s Xi Jinping, but there’s no doubting who the real superpower is in that duo these days. China’s $18-trillion economy is now 10 times mightier than Russia’s. Beijing will hold nearly all the good cards in setting the terms of any financial lifelines from big brother.

As Russia faces a sharply contracting economy under sanctions and an impending oil embargo from Europe, China is the obvious potential benefactor for Putin to turn toward.

Xi shares Putin’s hostility to the West and NATO, but that doesn’t mean he will be offering unalloyed charity. Xi’s overriding strategic concern is China’s prosperity and security, not saving Russia. Beijing is likely to buy at least some oil diverted from Europe, but only at a hefty discount from global benchmarks. China will only help Russia to the extent that it doesn’t attract sanctions and imperil its own ability to sell goods to rich countries in North America and the EU.”

“For years, Chinese officials have been quietly lobbying their Russian counterparts to cut arms sales to India, which has had a sometimes bloody border dispute with Beijing.

Between 2017 and 2022, India was the largest arms export market for Russia, followed by China, according to statistics from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Fighting Indian soldiers armed with Russian equipment may not be fun for China, but it’s certainly a lucrative business for Russia.

Before the war, “Russia was very stubborn and [would] say, ‘Oh, you’re not in a position, China, to dictate us our choices to whom we sell weapons. But I think that China will be in this position probably five years down the road,” said Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank.

India, for its part, is trying to keep an open relationship with Putin. New Delhi, like Beijing, is snapping up cheap oil, even though it’s also eager to maintain strong ties with the U.S.”

The Pandemic Killed Dissent in Hong Kong

“When Great Britain returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, a condition of the transfer was that Beijing would allow the territory to maintain its own government until 2047. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never liked this agreement, and the COVID-19 pandemic provided the excuse to all but erase the “one country, two systems” distinction.

The CCP began its authoritarian assimilation of Hong Kong in 2019, when Beijing encouraged CCP loyalists in Hong Kong’s legislature to pass a law allowing extradition of residents to mainland China. That proposal sparked pro-democracy protests and a police crackdown in Hong Kong, which captured the world’s attention.

In June 2020, Beijing responded to the pro-democracy movement by requiring Hong Kong to implement a national security law that “introduc[ed] ambiguously defined crimes such as separatism and collusion that can be used to stifle protest,” as The New York Times put it. But the pandemic provided Beijing with an even bigger opportunity to suppress dissent.

Citing public health concerns, Hong Kong postponed its Legislative Council (LegCo) elections for a year. In the interim, Beijing changed LegCo election rules to reduce the number of directly elected seats and to require that candidates pledge their loyalty to mainland China.

With only Beijing-aligned “patriots” on the ballot, CCP loyalists swept the 2021 LegCo elections. Many leading opposition politicians went into exile, while others were jailed. Voter turnout was a paltry 30 percent—the lowest since the handover in 1997. By comparison, a record 71 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2019 district council elections. The high turnout was reportedly driven by opposition to the extradition treaty, and pro-democracy candidates won 85 percent of the available seats.

The pandemic also has facilitated suppression of pro-democracy protests. Every June since 1990, residents of Hong Kong had marched and held a vigil in memory of the Tiananmen Square dead. But in 2020, Hong Kong announced that it would extend social distancing restrictions until June 5, the day after the massacre’s anniversary.

Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules banned public meetings of more than eight people, with a potential penalty of six months in jail. As a result, only a small vigil was held. Organizers nevertheless were arrested and sentenced to up to 14 months in jail. The sentencing judge remarked that they had “belittled a genuine public health crisis.””

Hong Kong ushers in a new era of restriction under John Lee

“John Lee is the new chief executive of Hong Kong. The 64-year-old ran the only approved campaign to succeed Carrie Lam, the embattled head of the Chinese territory who oversaw a dramatic degradation to democratic institutions throughout 2019’s pro-democracy protests. Lee’s tenure will likely bring more of the same: a former deputy chief of Hong Kong’s police force, he was instrumental in the brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy activists.

As the sole Beijing-approved candidate to replace Lam, Lee’s victory was all but assured as soon as he announced his candidacy. While Hong Kong doesn’t have what Americans would recognize as a democratic electoral system, previous elections have seen multiple candidates vie for Hong Kong’s top job. But this year, Lee was the only person Beijing apparently deemed sufficiently loyal to China’s Communist Party under its new electoral policies for Hong Kong, unveiled last March. He won handily with 99 percent of the votes from the 1,500-member electoral commission.”

How Putin became the victim of his own lies

“dictators are often victims of the information bubbles they create around themselves. The sorts of errors that are easily avoidable in democratic systems (thanks to various checks) become commonplace in autocracies, and that leads to profound missteps by leaders.”

“It’s a mistake that dictators make where they become the victim of their own lies. To be more specific, it’s what happens when authoritarian leaders make catastrophic short-term errors because they start to believe in the fake realities they’ve constructed around themselves.”

“it’s the story of 22 years of consolidating authority in a place where crossing the dictator is potentially a death sentence. Putin has been in charge for a very long time, and he’s grown increasingly impatient with people who cross him. The effect of getting increasingly isolated and increasingly repressive is that you get increasingly bad information. If independent media is shut down and you can’t freely discuss things, if people are afraid of telling pollsters what they actually think, if propaganda is so rooted in the regime’s survival that it becomes really what you believe to be true, you’re going to make massive mistakes.
I think what happened with Putin is basically the combination of being surrounded by yes-men and being surrounded by propaganda. When you have both of those things, and you’re trying to invade a country that people around you probably think will go badly but they’re afraid to say so, it’s understandable that eventually you start to think, “Maybe it’ll go really well,” because that’s all you’re hearing.”

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.”

“The alarmists were right all along”: A Moscow journalist on Putin and the new Russian reality

“For a long while, Russia has “flooded the zone” and bombarded the population with so many contradictory accounts of reality that they weren’t sure what to believe, or they were too cynical to believe anything. But now it’s full Orwellian control of reality, and that’s a much heavier lift because it’s not about undermining consensus, which is easy; it’s about enforcing one.”

“I have to be honest, there were a handful of people here who have been warning about this for a long time, who were telling people like me that this was going to be a fascist dictatorship one day, and we’ve been dismissing these people. We were like, “Come on, Putin is a cynic, he’s evil in so many ways, but at least he’s a rational guy. All he wants to do is get himself insanely rich. He’s not going to do anything really drastic.”
But we were all fucking wrong. The alarmists were right all along, and almost every one of them is either dead or in jail or exiled.”

“we’re in uncharted waters. All these major foreign media outlets, like the New York Times and the BBC, are fleeing Moscow. That’s never happened. The New York Times has had a bureau in Moscow throughout the entire 20th century, including three revolutions and two world wars and the entire Cold War. But now Moscow isn’t safe for the New York Times. I really don’t have the words to describe how unpredictable this situation is.”

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.”

Turkmenistan’s Record-Setting Repression

“Berdimuhamedov’s Turkmenistan is one of the most secretive and repressive dictatorships on the planet.

Berdimuhamedov isn’t so shy himself. The Turkmen president balances out his harsh governance with flamboyant public displays. In one popular video clip, he “plays” a white guitar clad in a pastel green sweater—though the fog creeping up from below, obscuring his hands, casts doubt on his musical chops. The crowd doesn’t seem to mind. In a different video, Berdimuhamedov shoots at targets while his ministers look on with adoration. In another, he triumphantly lifts a thin golden rod above his head, which looks as if it weighs about as much as a fishing pole. He does donuts in his car, writes poetry, and races on golden Akhal-Teke horses, of which he owns nearly 10 percent of the world’s population.

Berdimuhamedov has used spectacles like these to curate a bizarre cult of personality around himself. Core to his image is a quest to nab as many Guinness World Records as possible. Since he ascended to Turkmenistan’s top office in 2007, the country has clinched quite a few superlatives, including “largest single line bike parade,” “largest roof in the shape of a star,” and “largest gerbil species.”

It’s so much lighthearted fun that you might almost forget the country has earned another distinction not recognized by Guinness: the most oppressive of the former Soviet countries, scoring a 2 out of 100 on Freedom House’s index. In Turkmenistan, there are essentially no recognized human rights and the economy has no meaningful private sector, with dysfunctional state-run monopolies dominating a country plagued by insufficient access to food, water, and natural gas.

What life is like inside the country is somewhat of a mystery. For those living there, the outside world is even murkier: Internet access is prohibited, foreign travel is restricted, and there is not even a semblance of a free press.

Turkmens are to believe one thing: Berdimuhamedov is their Arkadag (“protector”). That might become a tougher sell if the country’s economy continues to implode. Yet Berdimuhamedov’s public persona is a reminder of how such cults are cultivated in the first place: If you can’t give your country the basics, you have to give them a show.”