Sunday, February 25, 2024

On Our Final "Virtual Route 66" For February 2024

It is the final week of February 2024 as we present a snapshot of the week that was with thoughts courtesy Basam Yousef, The Rest is Politics, Heather Cox Richardson, Defense One, New York Times, The Institute for Policy Studies, Institute for Economics and Peace, The Financial Times of London as the Ukraine War enters its third year, Donald Trump is on its' way to the Republican Nomination, and there were rays of hope about a potential ceasefire in Gaza.

We look forward to the continued privilege to serve: 

Hard work ahead for Indonesia’s dancing grandpa

Prabowo Subianto needs to build upon the country’s recent progress


The extraordinary courage of Alexei Navalny


The security risks that haunt the world

‘He wanted to fight for France’: Manouchian honoured as symbol of foreign Resistance fighters
Eighty years to the day since he was executed by the Nazis near Paris, Armenian Missak Manouchian, figure of the French Resistance, takes his place in Paris's Panthéon mausoleum alongside other French…
'Not in Russia's interest' to start war with a NATO country, says Norway's PM

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre spoke to FRANCE 24 about the war in Ukraine ahead of the second anniversary this week of Russia's full-scale...




On Sunday, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva delivered a scathing condemnation of Israel’s genocide in Gaza. Speaking at an African Union summit in Ethiopia, Lula accused Israel of committing a genocide that compares only to the Holocaust.

“What’s happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people hasn’t happened at any other moment in history. Actually, it has happened: when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

Taking aim at Israel’s brutal assaults on civilians in Gaza, Lula added: “It’s not a war of soldiers against soldiers. It’s a war between a highly prepared army, and women and children.”

Israel predictably dismissed Lula’s remarks as antisemitic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Lula’s Holocaust parallel as “disgraceful and grave,” while Foreign Minister Israel Katz announced that Lula is “a persona non grata in Israel” until he takes back his comments.
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The centerpiece of Republicans’ case for impeaching Democratic president Joe Biden is the allegation that he and his son Hunter each accepted a $5 million bribe from Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma when Biden Sr. was vice president. But in the last week, that accusation has revealed quite a different problem, one that implicates Republicans. 

The accusation that the Bidens accepted bribes broke into public channels on May 3, 2023, when Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Representative James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray saying they had received “highly credible…whistleblower disclosures” that said the Department of Justice and the FBI appeared to have “valuable, verifiable information that you have failed to disclose to the American people.” 

Grassley and Comer claimed there was “growing concern about the DOJ and the FBI’s track record of allowing political bias to infect their decision-making process,” and so Congress would be conducting its own “independent and objective review of this matter.” 

Comer then issued a subpoena for the document containing the information, a so-called FD-1023, which is the form used by FBI agents to record “raw, unverified” information from confidential informants. In it, informant Alexander Smirnov made a number of allegations about the Bidens, including that they had accepted bribes. 

In July, Grassley and Comer got the document and showed it to others in a secure facility. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) saw it there, took pictures of it, and posted them on social media. She claimed that “Joe Biden is a criminal and is compromised” and that he was backing Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion because Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky “has proof of more Biden crimes.” “IMPEACH BIDEN,” she wrote.

Grassley also released it, suggesting that the Justice Department and the FBI were trying to cover up a “criminal bribery scheme” implicating the Bidens. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) jumped in, saying: “Every day, the evidence keeps mounting and the evidence that is coming in is number one, of a widespread bribery scheme of Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and the entire Biden family, to extract bribes from foreign nationals.” 

The idea that Biden had accepted bribes was central to the House impeachment effort that then–House speaker Kevin McCarthy (D-CA) announced in September 2023.

That story fell apart a week ago, on February 14, 2024, when a federal grand jury indicted Smirnov for lying and “creating a false and fictitious record.” 

And the story became even more troubling yesterday, when Trump-appointed Special Counsel David Weiss of the Justice Department filed a document establishing that the informant, Alexander Smirnov, has “extensive and extremely recent” ties with “Russian intelligence agencies.” 

The filing revealed other, more recent, false allegations Smirnov had made, and concluded that “Smirnov’s efforts to spread misinformation about a candidate of one of the two major parties in the United States continues…. What this shows is that the misinformation he is spreading is not confined to 2020. He is actively peddling new lies that could impact U.S. elections after meeting with Russian intelligence officials in November.” 

Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, told reporters today that “the impeachment investigation essentially ended yesterday, in substance if not in form, with the explosive revelation that Mr. Smirnov’s allegations about Ukrainian Burisma payments to Joe Biden were concocted along with Russian intelligence agents. And it appears like the whole thing was not only obviously false and fraudulent but a product of Russian disinformation and propaganda. And that’s been the motor force behind this investigation for more than a year.”

The Republican release of Smirnov’s allegations in July 2023 did not happen in a vacuum: they came right after the Republican-led House censured Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) for “misleading the American public and for conduct unbecoming of an elected Member of the House of Representatives,” including “spread[ing] false accusations that the [2016] Trump campaign colluded with Russia.”

But the Mueller Report concluded that “[t]he Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” and that “the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” The Senate Intelligence Committee Report found that “the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence…the outcome of the 2016 presidential election” and that Trump campaign advisor Paul Manafort worked directly with Konstantin Kilimnik, “a Russian intelligence officer.”  

That effort continued in 2020, with the U.S. intelligence community assessing in March 2021 that “Russian President Putin authorized, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted, influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US.”

That foreign countries try to influence elections is far less a surprise than that one of the two major U.S. political parties now appears to be, wittingly or not, working on their behalf.

That willingness to do anything to win—even working with a foreign dictator—seems a logical outgrowth of the process begun during the administration of President Richard Nixon, when his people deliberately appealed to voters’ emotions with a picture of traditional America under siege by antiwar student activists, people of color, and feminist women. 

To rally voters to their party in the 1970s midterms, Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew engaged in what they called “positive polarization.” Nixon’s speechwriter Pat Buchanan wrote a memo to Nixon warning: “We are in a contest over the soul of the country now and the decision will not be some middle compromise…. It will be their kind of society or ours.” 

The theme that the Republicans' opponents were dangerous socialists out to destroy the country became the centerpiece of Republican rhetoric. From President Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen, who was scamming the system and thus taxpayers, through talk radio host Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazis,” to Trump’s claim that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” the party has defined itself as “true America” standing against enemies.

And if you believe you are fighting for the right, it only makes sense to do whatever it takes to win.

Meanwhile, that belief has now overlapped with the evangelical base that supports what it considers traditional values so that, as Alexander Ward and Heidi Przybyla outlined in Politico yesterday, the party is now advancing plans to impose Christian nationalism on the country. Leaders of the Christian nationalist movement incorrectly believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, so they intend to rest the government and public life on what they consider to be Christian values. 

In December, Trump promised: “Upon taking office, I will create a new federal task force on fighting anti-Christian bias to be led by a fully reformed Department of Justice.” 

What that might look like became clear this week when the Alabama Supreme Court decided in a wrongful death suit resulting from the accidental destruction of embryos that were part of an in vitro fertilization (IVF) process, in which doctors artificially fertilize eggs outside the womb and then transfer them into a person, that fertilized human eggs have the same status as children. Chief Justice Tom Parker declared in a concurring opinion that the people of Alabama have adopted the “theologically based view” that “life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

About 2% of U.S. births are a product of IVF. Today the largest healthcare system in Alabama has announced it is halting its IVF program out of fear of prosecution. 

Reworking the nation to impose Christian nationalism requires minority rule, which aligns with the ideology of authoritarianism, enabling Trump and those who share his views to praise someone like Vladimir Putin. And, it seems, to accept his help winning elections.

Donald Trump stands on a stage, staring out at the audience.
Former President Donald J. Trump in Nashville on Thursday. He has continued to cast mail-in voting as rife with fraud. Taylor Baucom for The New York Times

Donald Trump’s self-created hurdles

Author Headshot

By Maggie Haberman

Senior Political Correspondent

For much of 2023, Donald Trump’s political campaign was defined by the criminal charges he faces in four jurisdictions. Republicans reacted, the former president went to arraignments and the coverage on television was often wall to wall.

The cycle of events created a sense of motion for a front-running Republican candidate seeking another term in office who was, in fact, speaking fairly infrequently in public compared with his previous campaigns. That impression cushioned him from, bluntly, himself — limiting the self-inflicted wounds he made by giving relatively few interviews and holding relatively few rallies.

But as Trump has moved closer to becoming the Republican nominee, such a cushion has become harder to maintain. There is barely a primary race for him to disappear behind. And as the race shifts to a new phase, he is creating hurdles his allies wish he would avoid.

Take his recent comments about mail-in voting and early voting.

“If you have mail-in voting, you automatically have fraud,” Trump said to the Fox News host Laura Ingraham this week. When Ingraham pointed out that mail-in voting exists in Florida, a state where Trump lives and which he won, he pressed again. “That’s right, that’s right. If you have it, you’re going to have fraud,” he said.

It’s a message he delivered again in Nashville before an audience of Christian broadcasters on Thursday night. Mail-in voting is rife with fraud, he insisted.

“We no longer have Election Day, we have election periods, some of them last for 45 days,” Trump said ominously. “And what they do during those 45 days is very bad. A lot of bad things happen.”

That’s completely in keeping with his repeated false claims that he lost the 2020 election because of widespread fraud, despite the fact that dozens of judges have ruled against his perspective and his claims were never substantiated.

But it runs counter to efforts by both Trump and his aides, around one year ago, to soften his attacks on mail voting. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in March 2023, Trump said it was time to “change our thinking” on early and mail-in voting, a reflection that the party needed to start banking those kinds of votes in order to win.

That’s a message that people like the all-but-certain outgoing chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, has been espousing for many months. So has Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, whom he has endorsed to be the next co-chair of the national party.

Appearing at this year’s CPAC, Lara Trump said this week that embracing early voting is an imperative for Republicans.

Continue reading the main story



“The truth is, if we want to compete with the Democrats, we cannot wait until Election Day,” she said. “If we want to compete and win, we must embrace early voting. The days of waiting to vote until Election Day are over.”

A more familiar Trump re-emerges

Since being indicted, Trump has not appeared interested in adhering to that message. His attacks on mail-in voting have distressed top Republicans since mid-2020, when the coronavirus pandemic prompted changes in what various states allowed in terms of absentee ballots and mail voting.

At the time, the House Republican leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy, said he had tried to warn Trump that he was damaging himself with his attacks.

“You know who is most afraid of Covid? Seniors. And if they’re not going to go vote, period, we’re screwed,” McCarthy told Axios, recalling a conversation he had with Trump.

Continue reading the main story



There have been other reminders of a less disciplined Trump along the way. When he declared that he wanted to work on repealing the Affordable Care Act, it caught his advisers by surprise, especially given the law’s popularity and his own disastrous efforts to unwind the health law before. Democrats immediately highlighted the statement.

Then there is the issue of Trump moving toward becoming the de facto Republican nominee, and his political world expanding in the process.

On Friday, an ally of Trump announced a new super PAC that is going to be supported by the former president’s friend — Ike Perlmutter, the billionaire and former chief executive of Marvel Entertainment. It will air ads in the general election. Trump has blessed the new group, even though it isn’t clear how it will function alongside the existing super PAC that has been backing him for months.

So far, Trump’s campaign has been professionalized and disciplined, controlling what it can and generally doing its best to limit the things it cannot.

Continue reading the main story



But the realities of the new phase of the race mean an often-uncontrollable candidate is going to be more visible, and calling more of his own shots behind the scenes.

Claude O’Donovan holds up a signed photo of Donald Trump as he sits next to his wife, Sunny.
Claude, left, and Sunny O’Donovan hosted a campaign stop in their South Carolina home for Nikki Haley during her bid for governor. The O’Donovans are planning to vote for Trump in tomorrow’s primary. Dustin Chambers for The New York Times

How did Haley’s South Carolina become Trump Country? Ask the Tea Party.

When Nikki Haley ran for governor of South Carolina in 2010, one of her early campaign stops was the Aiken, S.C., living room of Claude and Sunny O’Donovan.

Claude O’Donovan, 85, the co-founder of a local Tea Party group, had invited Haley and other candidates to make their cases to the conservative activists of Aiken County, a heavily Republican enclave.

“We fell in love with her,” he said. “She was a dynamite gal.”

A digital picture frame in the O’Donovans’ home still displays a photograph of Haley at the meeting. But tomorrow, when Haley faces Donald J. Trump in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, both of the O’Donovans plan to vote for Trump.

“I think he has the values of the Tea Party,” Sunny O’Donovan, 84, said. “It was for the people, and I see Trump as being for the people.”

Recent polls show Trump leading Haley by 36 points in South Carolina. A decisive loss would move the Republican nomination further out of reach and provide a painful coda to her political career in her home state. A Trump win in South Carolina would also write the final chapter of one of the most important political stories of the last decade: the story of how Trump entered politics amid a transformative grass-roots movement and then absorbed that movement into his own.

In the early years of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Tea Party movement channeled outrage over bank bailouts and right-wing animosity toward the new president and his policies into a wave of midterm triumphs. The party went on to win Republican majorities in Congress and statehouses across the country and minted a new generation of political stars, including Haley.

Years later, initially skeptical Tea Partiers embraced Trump, who, as candidate and president, offered a supercharged version of the movement’s antipathy toward immigrants, fear of a changing country and anti-establishment fervor.

“The kind of folks that were Tea Party in 2010 are part of the MAGA movement in 2024,” said Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and director of the Winthrop Poll. “We owe all this to the Tea Party.”

Today, few of the original Tea Party organizations remain. But their former dominance, and dissolution into Trump’s camp, goes a long way toward explaining how South Carolina abandoned its once-favorite daughter for a former Democrat from New York.

Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokeswoman for Haley’s campaign, defended the former governor’s movement credentials. “Just like when she ran for governor, Nikki is the outsider, conservative candidate,” she said in a statement.

But even some once-dedicated supporters have moved on.

“Yes, he’s the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving,” Jane Page Thompson, a co-founder of Claude O’Donovan’s Tea Party group, said of Trump. “But right now America needs the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving — not the snowflake niece.” — Charles Homans

Read the full article here.


Donald Trump, wearing a blue suit and red tie, speaks from behind a lectern.

Taylor Baucom for The New York Times

Trump Says He Supports I.V.F. and Calls for Treatment to Remain Legal

The Alabama Supreme Court ruling highlighted divisions in the Republican Party between staunch abortion opponents who say life begins at conception and those who want to protect in vitro fertilization treatments.

By Jonathan Weisman

Article Image

Meridith Kohut for The New York Times


Biden Tries to Flip the Politics of Immigration

The president has made a point of calling out Republicans for tanking the border restrictions they have demanded for years.

By Michael D. Shear

Donald Trump, wearing a dark suit and red tie, speaks from behind a lectern adorned with the logo of the National Religious Broadcasters association.

Taylor Baucom for The New York Times

Trump Frames Election as Battle Against ‘Wicked’ System Bent on Attacking Christians

Speaking at a Christian media convention in Nashville, former President Donald J. Trump claimed that a “radical left, corrupt political class” was persecuting Christians.

By Michael Gold

Two displays showing American flags with "Trump" overlaid on them.

Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

A New Pro-Trump Super PAC Has Formed, With Ties to Mar-a-Lago

The group, Right for America, is being supported by Ike Perlmutter, the billionaire former Marvel mogul and a Mar-a-Lago member.

By Maggie Haberman

Former President Donald J. Trump in a blue suit and red tie, gesturing with his hands as he speaks in front of an ornate iron gate.

Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

Trump Seeks to Dismiss Classified Documents Case

The former president’s lawyers cited an array of arguments, some of which tested the bounds of credulity or clashed with prior court rulings.

By Alan Feuer

Alexander Smirnov, wearing a blue jacket with the hood up and glasses on, holds onto the arm of another man, dressed in black and with a mask over his face and what seems to be a shirt wrapped around his head.

K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via Associated Press

A Biden Accuser Was Discredited. Right-Wing Media Is Undeterred.

Revelations that Alexander Smirnov, an F.B.I. informant, was a serial fabulist were downplayed on air and online by those who continued to insist the president should be impeached.

By Michael M. Grynbaum and Ken Bensinger