Sunday, March 10, 2024

On Our "Virtual Route 66" This Week: On Our World This Week

The US Election season has begun in earnest with the conclusion of Super Tuesday here in the United States (Including our home state of California) and the withdrawal of Nikki Haley as a candidate.     Our team decided to headline this edition of "Virtual Route 66" with this snapshot Seth Meyers prepared looking back on Donald Trump and the Republicans over the year.    This is as the Gaza War continues with new initiatives to help the people with basic needs as Israel continues its' genocidal campaign; Northern Gaza continues to be caught off even though Aid Trucks are stuck on the board as hunger is being used as a weapon by Israel for a potential Naqba, the War in Ukraine continues, North Korea continues to make belligerent noises, China had its' National People's Congress.

Our team pulled together thoughts courtesy of Defense One, Heather Cox Richardson,   The Institute For Policy Studies,  Crooked Media, and Al Jazeera English:


Last night, Republicans and Democrats offered very different visions of the roles and rights of women in American society. 

In the State of the Union address, President Joe Biden thanked Vice President Kamala Harris “for being an incredible leader defending reproductive freedom and so much more.” Biden condemned “state laws banning the freedom to choose, criminalizing doctors, forcing survivors of rape and incest to leave their states to get the treatment they need,” and he called out Republicans “promising to pass a national ban on reproductive freedom.”

Biden quoted back to the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court, sitting in front of him in the chamber, their words when in June 2022 they overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized the constitutional right to abortion.

The justices wrote: “Women are not without electoral or political power.” 

Biden responded: “You’re about to realize just how much you were right about that.” “Clearly, those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women. But they found out. When reproductive freedom was on the ballot, we won in 2022 and 2023. And we’ll win again in 2024.” Biden promised to restore Roe v. Wade if Americans elect a Congress that supports the right to choose.

Senator Katie Britt (R-AL) gave the Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union address. Sitting in a kitchen rather than in a setting that reflected her position in one of the nation’s highest elected offices, Britt conspicuously wore a necklace with a cross and spoke in a breathy, childlike voice as she wavered between smiles and the suggestion she was on the verge of tears. 

“What the hell am I watching right now?” an unnamed Trump advisor asked Nikki McCann Ramirez and Asawin Suebsaeng of Rolling Stone.

Britt’s performance was the logical outcome of right-wing demonization of women’s rights advocates since the 1960s. That popular demonization began soon after women calling for “liberation” from the strict gender roles of the post–World War II years protested the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The protesters tossed items related to women’s roles as homemakers and sex symbols—bras, girdles, pots and pans, and Playboy magazines—into a trash can. That act so horrified traditionalists that a journalist likened the women to young men burning their draft cards, starting the myth that the protesting women had burned their bras. 

Two years later, with his popularity dropping before the 1972 election, President Richard Nixon wooed Catholic Democrats by abandoning his support for abortion rights. The following March, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, declaring that “[e]quality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” and sent it off to the states for ratification. 

Advocates of traditional gender roles used abortion as a proxy to attack women’s rights in general. Railing against the Equal Rights Amendment in her first statement on abortion in 1972, activist Phyllis Schlafly did not mention fetuses, but instead attacked “women’s lib”—the women’s liberation movement—which she claimed was “a total assault on the role of the American woman as wife and mother, and on the family as the basic unit of society.” 

The Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, including women in the ranks of marginalized Americans whose civil rights were protected by the federal government. Since the 1950s, opponents of such federal protection for Black and Brown Americans had tied such federal action to communism because it meant the government used tax dollars for the benefit of specific groups. In their minds, this amounted to a redistribution of wealth from hardworking taxpayers to undeserving special interests. 

The cultural backlash to the idea of women’s equality strengthened. In 1974 the television show Little House on the Prairie, based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, began its nine-year run. It portrayed western women as wives and mothers cared for by menfolk, complementing the image of the cowboy individualist championed by the antigovernment right wing. 

As historian Peggy O’Donnell noted in Jezebel in 2019, prairie dresses, with their image of “traditional” femininity and motherhood, the female version of cowboy clothing, became fashionable, even as the era’s popular televangelists railed against feminists. 

Constantly evoking the image of the western cowboy, Ronald Reagan won the White House. Four years later, sociologist Kristin Luker discovered that "pro-life" activists believed that selfish “pro-choice” women were denigrating the roles of wife and mother and were demanding rights they didn’t need or deserve.

Increasingly, Republicans portrayed women who demanded equality as a special interest made up of feminist scolds who wanted federal support they did not deserve. In 1984, when Democratic presidential candidate Walter “Fritz” Mondale tapped the very well qualified Representative Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate, opponents circulated fake campaign buttons backing “Fritz and Tits,” and even 60 percent of Democrats thought Ferraro was there only because Mondale was under pressure from women's groups who wanted special legislation. 

Powerful women either fell out of public view or were pilloried for intruding on a man’s world as those opposing women’s equality portrayed women either as wives and mothers, who looked to their husbands for financial security and safety, or as sex objects available for men’s pleasure. 

By 1988, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh had begun to demonize women’s rights advocates as “feminazis” for whom “the most important thing in life is ensuring that as many abortions as possible occur.” After the 1993 siege of the headquarters of a religious cult near Waco, Texas, that left 76 people dead and inspired the rise of right-wing militias to resist the federal government, Limbaugh emphasized that the attorney general who ordered the operation was the first female attorney general: Janet Reno.

Such rhetoric turned out Republican voters, especially the white evangelical base, and after it launched in 1996, the Fox News Channel (FNC) reinforced the idea that individualist men should be running society. Most FNC personalities were older men; the network’s female personalities were young, beautiful, and deferential. (FNC chair and chief executive officer Roger Ailes resigned in 2016 after accounts emerged of alleged sexual harassment.) 

By 2016 the competing ideologies concerning the role of women in American society were encapsulated by the contest between Donald Trump and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton was highly educated and extremely well qualified. She advocated protecting the rights of women and minorities and warned that Trump would pack the Supreme Court with extremists who would undermine abortion rights. She provided detailed policy papers. 

Trump, in turn, bragged of sexual assault and called for Clinton to be arrested: “Lock her up!” became the call and response at his rallies. Ending access to abortion had become the rallying cry for the evangelicals who supported Trump, and he promised to end those rights, even flirting with the idea of criminal punishments for women seeking abortions. Far from being disqualifying, Trump’s denigration of women embodied the sort of traditional gender roles fundamentalists embraced.

Once in office, Trump nominated and the Republican-dominated Senate confirmed three radical Supreme Court justices who in June 2022 overturned Roe v. Wade, taking away the recognition of a constitutional right Americans had enjoyed for almost 50 years. 

When Britt delivered the Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union from a kitchen, wearing a cross and using a submissive speaking style, she represented the outcome of the longstanding opposition to women’s equal rights in the United States.

The Democrats’ position last night was a sharp contrast. Biden stood in front of the nation’s first female vice president as he denounced the Republican assault on women’s rights. He warned the country: “America cannot go back.”

Perfect timing for today’s celebration of International Women’s Day.


NATO welcomes its newest member


Sweden formally joined the Russia-focused NATO alliance Thursday, nearly two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of its neighbor Ukraine, which spurred Sweden and neighboring Finland to apply for membership in the collective defense alliance.


President Joe Biden welcomed the United States’ latest ally a few hours later at his State of the Union address, of which more below. 


Before the Ukraine invasion, Russian leader Vladimir Putin alleged NATO’s growing membership was partly what triggered his initial Ukraine invasion ten years ago when masked Russian troops without any insignia attacked Ukrainian cities and illegally annexed its Crimean peninsula and portions of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. But when Finland joined NATO last year, Russia’s border with NATO countries doubled. 


Now with Sweden’s accession to the alliance, “The Baltic Sea becomes a NATO lake,” said Latvian Foreign Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, according to the UK’s Financial Times, reporting Thursday. The very tabloid-y British paper The Daily Mail illustrated this Baltic dynamic more clearly in a series of maps published late last month, here


“After over 200 years of non-alignment, Sweden now enjoys the protection granted under Article 5, the ultimate guarantee of Allies’ freedom and security,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said following the news Thursday from Brussels. “Sweden brings with it capable armed forces and a first-class defense industry,” he said, and added, “Sweden’s accession makes NATO stronger, Sweden safer, and the whole alliance more secure.” 


“Our shared democratic values—and our willingness to stand up for them—is what makes NATO the greatest military alliance in the history of the world,” said U.S. President Joe Biden in a statement Thursday. “It is what draws nations to our cause. It is what underpins our unity. And together with our newest Ally Sweden—NATO will continue to stand for freedom and democracy for generations to come,” he said.


“Sweden's decision is another reminder that Putin's war is not the result of NATO enlargement, it is the cause of NATO enlargement,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in his own statement Thursday. “Together, we will continue the Alliance’s urgent, vital work to defend every inch of NATO territory, strengthen Euro-Atlantic security, and build a safer world,” Austin said. 


“Thank you all allies for welcoming us as the 32nd member” of NATO, said Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, writing Thursday on social media. “We will strive for unity, solidarity and burden-sharing, and will fully adhere to the Washington Treaty values: freedom, democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law,” he said.


A few hours later, Kristersson took a seat in the U.S. Capitol, a guest of honor for Thursday evening’s State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. “With Sweden as a NATO Ally, our already close bilateral bonds will grow even stronger,” Kristersson said afterward in a note of thanks. 


Biden opened his fourth SOTU with a dire warning about the future of Europe and a plea to Congress to pass a supplemental aid package for Ukraine.


“If anybody thinks Putin will stop at Ukraine, I assure you he will not,” Biden said. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., who has blocked efforts to approve such aid, nodded along behind Biden.


Panning out: Biden spoke amid a slip in the polls for his popularity and the popularity of foreign policies he champions, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports. “Public support for Ukraine is morphing, with nearly two-thirds now supporting a negotiated end to the conflict that Russia launched, even at the expense of Ukraine losing territory.” Continue reading, here


Gaza developments


The U.S. military has been tasked with leading an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in Gaza, President Biden announced Thursday. The idea is “to enable the delivery of significant quantities of assistance by sea” in a multi-national effort closely coordinated with the Israeli government, the White House said in a joint statement Friday with the leaders of Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, the Republic of Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. 


“The delivery of humanitarian assistance directly to Gaza by sea will be complex, and our nations will continue to assess and adjust our efforts to ensure we deliver aid as effectively as possible,” the leaders said in their statement. They referred to this new corridor as a necessary facet “of a sustained effort to increase the flow of humanitarian aid and commercial commodities into Gaza through all possible routes.”


“We’re not waiting on the Israelis,” because the U.S. wants to accelerate the provision of food, water, medicine, and temporary shelters, White House officials said Thursday. “We expect the first delivery to transit this crossing over the coming week, starting with a pilot and then ramping up,” they said in a call with reporters. 


The first shipments are expected to come from Cyprus and will be “enabled by the U.S. military and a coalition of partners and allies,” officials said. “The forces that will be required to complete this mission are either already in the region or will begin to move there soon,” they added. 


The U.S. military also delivered another 38,000 meals to Palestinians besieged in Gaza on Thursday. That episode marked the third time in a week that U.S. and Jordanian C-130s have teamed up to deliver humanitarian aid to Northern Gaza; the others occurred on Saturday and Tuesday. The Defense Department released imagery of the latest drop, which you can see here


Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin rang his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant Thursday. (The two spoke at least 16 times in October; eight times in November; four times in December; twice in January; and three times last month.) In their Thursday chat, they discussed “the critical need to surge aid through all possible entry points and ensure the safe distribution of aid once delivered to Gaza,” according to the Pentagon’s readout


Elsewhere in the region, U.S. forces shot down three Houthi aerial drones headed for the Gulf of Aden on Thursday. They also destroyed four mobile anti-ship cruise missiles and another aerial drone before launch in the afternoon hours Thursday, officials from the Tampa-based Central Command said


Around the services


V-22 cleared for flight, with a new maintenance plan—and one outstanding mystery. Maintenance changes have been made to address the failure and all three services will have their own return-to-flight plans, according to a statement from Naval Air Systems Command. Officials say they know what part broke in the fatal late-November crash that led to a two-month grounding, but they don’t yet know why. Defense One’s Audrey Decker reports.


Budget cuts are eating into Air Force modernization but not readiness, leaders said ahead of the Monday rollout of the Pentagon’s 2025 budget proposal. Decker has a bit more, here.


Army experiment shrinks targeting time shrinks from minutes to seconds. Efforts to streamline procedures and speed up data flows have produced a “two orders of magnitude” increase in the speed at which data is passed to weapons crews since the first Project Convergence, said Alex Miller, a senior science and technical advisor to Army Chief of Staff Randy George. Defense One’s Sam Skove reports from Camp Pendleton, California, the Marine Corps base that hosted the latest iteration of the Army’s marquee tech-tryout, here.


Other newish Army efforts include: 

· A new cross-functional team focused on developing ways of identifying and targeting enemy formations at long range,

· Work on the High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System system, which will load spy gear into highflying jets more often used for corporate travel.




And lastly this week, the Pentagon threw cold water on anyone hoping for evidence of alien technology. That finding topped the department’s newly unclassified report to congress rolling up the historical record from the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office. 


Background: “AARO reviewed all official U.S government investigatory efforts since 1945, researched classified and unclassified archives, conducted dozens of interviews, and partnered with Intelligence Community and DOD officials responsible for controlled and special access program oversight, respectively” for this latest report on unidentified aerial phenomena. 


To be clear, the goal of the analysis “is to use a rigorous analytic and scientific approach to investigate past U.S. government-sponsored UAP investigation efforts and the claims made by interviewees that the U.S. government and various contractors have recovered and are hiding off-world technology and biological material,” Pentagon spokesman Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Friday. “AARO is committed to reaching conclusions based on verifiable evidence,” and their analysts “will follow the evidence where it leads, wherever it leads,” he said.


Topline finding: “AARO found no evidence that any USG investigation, academic-sponsored research, or official review panel has confirmed that any sighting of a UAP represented extraterrestrial technology. All investigative efforts, at all levels of classification, concluded that most sightings were ordinary objects and phenomena and the result of misidentification.”


But don’t put away your tinfoil hats just yet, because the Pentagon says it still plans to release a second volume featuring “interviews with current and former U.S. government personnel who contacted AARO” with their experiences. 


For what it’s worth, by the last known count, just under 20% of Americans believe in alien abductions, which is “a bit less than that claim to have seen a UFO,” the Huffington Post reported in 2017. 

Friday, March 8, 2024

President Biden jabbing all of the Republicans who voted against the American Infrastructure Law then later took credit for it at home

President Biden’s State of the Union address last night was surprisingly strong and spirited, but featured a few notable missteps. 

  • After showing up late to his own event because he couldn’t stop chatting with every single person he passed (relatable) President Joseph Robinette Biden (kind of shockingly) came out swinging in his State of the Union address. He was energetic, shouty Joe again, ad-libbing and heckling back at his hecklers (unhinged members of the House GOP) and cracking a bunch of jokes. The bar for his performance last night was relatively low, but he certainly exceeded expectations. Even Republican strategist Sarah Longwell said he was “on his game.” She continued: “He somehow managed to have it be incredibly political, he managed to be going right at Republicans, but was also joking with them, smiling with them,” which Longwell said created a nice “balance” to the speech. 

  • Biden, it seems, blasted a bunch of Red Bulls and went on the offensive, highlighting his administration’s policy achievements and dragging disgraced former president Donald Trump—whom he repeatedly referred to only as “my predecessor”—for his disastrous pandemic response, his chummy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the trillion-dollar tax cut for the wealthy he signed into law in 2017, among many other things. During the portion of the speech about abortion and the disastrous healthcare landscape the Dobbs decisions has wrought, he yelled at the Supreme Court while they were sitting right in front of him, which was pretty cool. Biden framed reproductive rights as not a women’s issue but a freedom issue, which was smart! He also made great points about his role in economic recovery, and the importance of organized labor, giving a personal shoutout to United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain, who was in attendance.

  • A few days ago, GOP Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (who spent most of the speech looking like the prissiest little elf in the treehousehad a meeting with his Republican caucus about “decorum” so as to avert a repeat performance of last year’s MAGA heckling spree. It, uh, didn’t really work. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) came to the address wearing head-to-toe MAGA gear, including the notorious red hat (no hats allowed in the chamber!), and regularly heckled the president throughout his speech. When Biden began discussing immigration, Greene began yelling “Laken Riley!”—a reference to the 22-year-old woman killed while jogging at the University of Georgia last month. An undocumented immigrant has been charged with her murder. Biden then ad-libbed a response, calling Riley “an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal,” (yikes) and redirected back to criticizing Republicans for stymying the bipartisan border security bill. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) wrote on X: “There was a lot of good in President Biden’s speech tonight, but his rhetoric about immigrants was incendiary and wrong.”

In a speech with many pleasantly-surprising highs, the other notable low came when the president, about two-thirds of the way through the hour, finally addressed the elephant in the room: Israel and Gaza. 

  • Once the president got to the Israel-Gaza portion of his speech, he appeared less fluid and more prone to stumbling. After reaffirming his support for Israel and recounting the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack, Biden’s diction was also less direct than in other portions of the address, using more passive voice, like when he said: “There’s also a fundamental responsibility, though, to protect innocent civilians in Gaza.” Then there was the non-specific: “Thirty-thousand Palestinians have been killed, most of whom are not Hamas”—which felt a bit like saying: “Mistakes were made.” 

  • I asked President Obama’s former Deputy National Security Advisor and co-host of Pod Save the World Ben Rhodes for his thoughts on the Israel-Gaza portion of Biden’s speech. Here’s what he had to say: 

    “In an otherwise successful SOTU, the section on Gaza felt like a disappointment. First, it was striking that Biden led with Ukraine and put Gaza near the end—it was an indication that the White House has come to realize this issue is a political liability. Second, the language felt discordant from the reality on the ground. We heard Biden talk about Israel’s ‘added burden’ to avoid killing innocent Palestinians because Hamas is among civilians, and that ‘Israel must allow more aid into Gaza.’ But the reality is that the Israeli government has dropped hundreds of (U.S.-supplied) two-thousand-pound bombs on densely-populated areas and restricted the flow of aid to the point that there is a risk of catastrophic famine. 

    “It has been clear for months that the Israeli government is not listening to these requests from Biden, yet there has been no substantive leverage pursued, for instance through conditioning assistance or supporting a cease-fire at the United Nations. The announcement of a new pier to deliver aid to Gaza in a few weeks was an outgrowth of that reality: the U.S. is still pursuing a policy of unconditional support for the Israeli government’s military operation while trying to mitigate the substantive and political consequences of a policy that isn’t working.” 

Despite a few lingering disappointments, most reactions to the president’s State of the Union fell along party lines, and pundits across the political spectrum seemed to agree that Biden did well, or certainly better-than-expected. Our own Tommy Vietor told the What A Day podcast: “What I was expecting him to try to do was do a heavy run-down of all the things he’s accomplished, and then lay out a second term agenda. What he ended up doing was something I didn’t expect, which was go right after Republicans right from the top.” He continued: “I think one of Biden’s problems lately is that…he’s lost some support from Democrats. And I think it will probably help him that those Democrats saw him fighting tonight. They want to see him look like a fighter.”

We close out with the following on the reality in Gaza right now: