Sunday, March 20, 2022

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30, Page Five: A Longer Look: Julian Assange Closer to Being Extradited

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30, Page Five: A Longer Look: Julian Assange Closer to Being Extradited

Okay, this is something I keep meaning to talk about, keep thinking to include but for one reason or another keep not doing. This time I'm doing it. It's time for A Longer Look.

On March 14, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom rejected the request by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to appeal an earlier decision permitting his extradition to the United States, where he faces espionage charges and up to 175 years in prison for publishing classified documents that exposed war crimes.

There is one more option, which is the hope that UK Home Secretary Priti Patel will decline to authorize the extradition. The hope is probably a vain one since three years ago, the then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid was the one who greenlighted the extradition in the first place.

This business actually dates back to Bush administration, through Obama and Tweetie-pie up to today. For well over a decade the US government has been out to destroy Julian Assange and through that to destroy WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing what governments across the world don't want their citizens to know.

The reason for this long campaign is because WikiLeaks dared to release hidden information that was embarrassing to US foreign and military policy, most particularly release in 2010 of what was called the Iraq War Logs, which documented numerous US war crimes including killing of unarmed civilians and torture of Iraqi prisoners. Something that drew particular attention was a video taken from a US helicopter gunship showing its crew shooting down a group of civilians including two journalists, a video that became known by the title "Collateral Murder." Look it up; you can still find it on YouTube.

The problem, of course, was that by prosecuting Assange or WiiLeaks for release of classified information the government risked involving outfits like the Washington "Post" and New York "Times," which published stories based on those documents - in some cases in consultation with WikiLeaks. That, the government was not prepared to do.

That doesn't mean they wouldn't try to find a way around it. I still recall Eric Holder, The Amazing Mr. O's Attorney General, stating that the DOJ would find something with which to charge Assange even if they had to change the laws in order to do it. (And so much for the Constitution's ban on ex post facto laws.)

During the Obama administration (Remember how they came into office pledging a new birth of transparency only to imprison more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined?) the idea was floated to relabel WikiLeaks as an “information broker,” something to be declared as entirely separate from journalism and publishing and therefore not deserving of any special First Amendment protection available to the news media. That didn't fly because how then do you separate WikiLeaks from any news aggregator such as, for example, Google News or Yahoo! News.

The Tweetie-pie gang was a little more creative. They got a provision inserted into the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2018 which called WikiLeaks "a non-state hostile intelligence service," a term invented for the occasion by Mike Pompeo, Tweetie-pie's CIA director and Secretary of State and a label subsequently used in proposals from the CIA and the Orange Wig Stand himself to kidnap or kill Assange, then taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Julian Assange

This, by the way, is why Chelsea Manning for several months was held in solitary confinement - torture under international law - by the US military and denied treatment and care for her gender dysphoria: It was an attempt to emotionally or psychologically break her so she would testify against Assange in a charge of conspiracy to release classified documents.

You see, the issue of freedom of the press still hung over the case, but conspiracy - nicknamed "the prosecutor's darling" - was a way around that. But to make it work, they needed Manning's testimony. Because if she initiated contact with WikiLeaks by providing the documents, the government has no case. But if she'd testify that he actually talked her talked her into giving up the information, then two people were involved and ta-da! it's a conspiracy.

That this was the intent became even clearer when not long after her court-martial sentence of 35 years in prison was commuted after seven years - still more time in prison than any other whistleblower in US history - she was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury about her dealings with Assange. She spent two months in prison for contempt of court for refusing - and immediately upon her release she was called before another grand jury on the same thing. She again refused and was imprisoned, this time for 10 months plus accumulating $256,000 in fines.
Chelsea Manning

But while it appears the government has given up on trying to break Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange is for the moment still free, the government has been able to pretty much cripple WikiLeaks' ability to act. That can be seen from its website by the drying up of new releases since around 2017, with only one release in over two years, that one about two right-wing hate groups in Spain.

This case has sparked on-going concern from press freedom and human rights groups around the world who warn that prosecution of Assange would have far-reaching impacts on journalists and publishers who dare to challenge powerful governments by exposing their secrets.

For example, in January, the Committee to Protect Journalists stated that the US's prosecution of Assange would set "a deeply harmful legal precedent that would allow the prosecution of reporters for news gathering activities" and called on the DOJ drop both the extradition request and charges against Assange.

Meanwhile, Julia Hall, Amnesty International's deputy research director for Europe called the UK Supreme Court ruling "a blow to justice" and said "the US should immediately drop the charges against Julian Assange."

She noted the lower court ruling the UK Supreme Court overturned had recognized that extradition could present a threat to Assange's life or mental health, a risk the Supreme Court airily dismissed based on breezy US assurances that "don't worry, he'll be fine", which Hall dismissed as "empty promises." Considering the US's record of CIA black sites, Gitmo, along with the conditions to be found in almost any US prison, not to mention the treatment inflicted on Chelsea Manning in pursuit of this case and that the US government has a been pursuing Assange for a dozen years across three presidents, the description "empty promises" is extremely hard to deny.

Reporters Without Borders said it was "deeply disappointed" by the court decision and called on the Home Office to refuse extradition and release Assange without further delay.

So why have you heard so little about this? Why has this case not been bigger news? Well, for one reason, major media outlets are convinced that whatever is done to Assange and WikiLeaks will be carefully defined in such a way that it won't affect powerful interests like them. Put more bluntly, they figure they're safe so they don't care what happens to him. "He was useful when he was around, but if he's not, well, so it goes." It's the "He's not really a journalist, so the idea of a free press doesn't apply to him" dodge.

Which is actually quite astonishing, because a key part of what Assange is accused of amounts to working with Manning to conceal her identity, that is, remain anonymous to avoid being caught and prosecuted. But if that is criminal, those outlets are equally at risk. Consider the screen shot from a page of the New York "Times" website: It openly invites people to send tips and information to the "Times" and goes on to discuss ways for the tipster to remain anonymous, including SecureDrop, a system set up by the "Times" for just that purpose.

Screenshot of
Which really means that the major media's essential ignoring of this case is based less on "He's not really a journalist" and more on "We're too powerful, they don't dare come after us."

Which may be true of the publishers but not of their reporters, without which the publishers can't get the scoops that bring in the eyes and ears of the public: After the government lost the famous Pentagon Papers case against the NY "Times," the government tried to go after reporter Neil Sheehan on exactly the same charge Assange now faces, using exactly the same "It's a conspiracy!" argument, but failed to get an indictment.

Okay, even leaving all that "can't touch this" corporate attitude aside, you'd think the progressive left would keep pushing it - or even the libertarian right, usually on the correct side when it comes to things like press freedom. Well, some on the left did try - heck I've at least mentioned the case more than 20 times over the years - but the major voices of what passes for the left in the US these days, the faux-progressives, those whose progressive and radical proposals expand and contract with the ideas prominent in current intra-Democratic Party debates, have fallen largely silent. And frankly, we can even pinpoint when that happened. And why.

When Wikileaks released documents embarrassing to the Bush administration, when it released footage useful in opposing the Iraq War, Wikileaks was the hero.

But as soon as Wikileaks first released documents embarrassing to Barack Obama's administration, those faux-progressives started to attack it and stood by silently as the Amazing Mr. O tried to bankrupt WikiLeaks by blocking its access to donations and desperately searched for a way to imprison Assange.

The final break came when WikiLeaks invoked the unforgivable curse in 2016 by releasing emails embarrassing to Hillary Clinton, emails showing that during the primaries, her campaign and the DNC had colluded to the detriment of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Well, that was it, criticize the Democratic presidential nominee, and Assange and Wikileaks instantly became part of some anti-American cabal.

Indeed, on one of the and possibly the biggest of the faux-progressive sites, DailyKos, Assange became routinely described by the homophobic term "Putin's butt-boy" with the frequent addendum that he always has been about, that WikiLeaks has always been about, pushing pro-Russian, anti-American propaganda, probably under the direction of the Kremlin.

The fact that this also amounted to an admission that they had been useful idiots during the time they had celebrated WikiLeaks was, naturally, passed over without comment.

This case is something that I have let slide too long and which too much of the supposedly progressive left have simply ignored or even dismissed. That silence can't be allowed to continue. The case against Julian Assange presents a genuine threat to journalism as a principle. This silence must stop. The case should be dropped. Julian Assange should be freed.

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30, Page Four: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrage]

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30, Page Four: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrage]

Moving on the Outrage, we have a real one.

In two decisions announced the end of the first week in March, the Supreme Court upheld and potentially expanded the pernicious “state secrets” privilege, a "privilege" that allows the Executive Branch to keep secret any information and so beyond the reach of legal review any case in which it claims pursuing the matter could involve "national security concerns," a protection to the point where the government will argue that even if allegations of law breaking or constitutional violations are true, they are exempt from judicial review.

Technically, the courts have to accept the assertion of this so-called privilege, but in practice courts tend to be extremely deferential to the security state.

One of the two cases was United States v. Zubaydah, where a divided court ruled that the government did not have to disclose information about its torture program at CIA “black sites” to a plaintiff who is currently detained in Guantánamo Bay. The other was United States v. Fazaga, where a unanimous court ruled that a case against the FBI for unlawful surveillance of mosques should not proceed.

What makes this the true outrage that it is that the state secrets privilege is the result of government lies. It was invented in its modern form by the Supreme Court in the 1953 case United States v. Reynolds.

In 1948, a B-29 crashed, leading to the deaths of three RCA employees on board. The families sued, claiming negligence.

The government refused to release its report on the accident, claiming that to do so would damage national security; in fact, what had been being done on that flight was so secret that it couldn't even be released to the judge to view in chambers.

The Supreme Court ruled that the government had made a valid claim of privilege against revealing military secrets, a privilege "well established in the law of evidence." Which it wasn't. It was part of common law since the 19th century, but it was this ruling that codified it into practice.

Here's the thing: When the accident report was finally declassified in 2004, it proved the government has totally lied. There was nothing secret in the accident report and the equipment on board being tested did not in any way figure in the crash and was not even mentioned in the report. What the report showed, rather, was that the plane had experienced problems before and that it was not properly checked out before the flight.

That is, the report proved the very negligence of which the government was accused and it claimed "national secrecy" to cover up its own guilt.

The entire state secrets privilege is built on a lie. Which makes its use to conceal torture and spying the clearest sort of outrage.

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30, Page Three: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30, Page Three: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

Now for the much-anticipated return of Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages. And we start, as we traditionally do, with the Clowns and we have two of them.

This first one requires no explanation as to why it belongs here.

Apparently, some of those truckers still trying to determine why they're wasting a lot of fuel wandering the commuting times around DC were all huffy and teary about the fact that some drivers were giving them the bird.

When they complained that the police were not answering their calls reporting this heinous offense, their feckless leader Brian Blase suggested they "flood" 911. Because, apparently, they think getting flipped off is an emergency.

No need to go on.


This next one, however, will need a bit of explanation.

On March 15, the US Senate, by unanimous voice vote, passed legislation to make daylight saving time permanent and year-round starting in 2023.

Supporters offered the claimed health and safety reasons for avoiding having to change the clocks twice a year that always got advanced when the idea came up.

So why is this here as the act of a collection of clowns? Because we did this before, folks.

We did it back in 1973 during an oil embargo because it was supposed to save energy. But people forgot then as it seems they forget now that having the Sun set an hour later also means having the Sun rise an hour later and the enthusiasm for the idea lasted as long as it took for parents the following winter to see their children waiting for the school bus in pitch dark and for people working the night shift to realize that arriving for work in the dark and then traveling home also in the dark was not how they wanted their days to go.

Maybe I'll be wrong, but I have a feeling if this passes the House, we'll see the same pushback around the same time, this time. Until I'm shown wrong by experience, I say this is the work of clowns.

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30, Page Two: Ukraine

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30, Page Two: Ukraine

In 1965, Donovan recorded a song called "The War Drags On." I was reminded of that song thinking about Ukraine and how it has dropped from the absolute number one spot in the news in a number of venues - not that it's being ignored or downplayed or that it's being treated as unimportant, it's still being regularly and intensively covered - but that's it's no longer the automatic story one of the day and it's happening because this war, as the song says, "drags on," in the day after day crushing grind of, again quoting the song, "a sea of blood and bones / Millions without faces, without hope and without homes."

We are able to, we often do, keep up with the war almost literally minute by minute, exposed to it in a way that was not possible earlier - I can recall Indochina being called "the first television war," perhaps we can call this "the first Internet war" - as our compassion is grated away by the on-going visions of bombed-out hospitals and desperate refugees but is pushed and stretched again by the undeniable reality of war from which we usually have shielded ourselves by distance and time, grated and pushed until we just desperately, desperately, feel we have to do something, something, and I fear we are being, intentionally or otherwise, stampeded into a spiral of war.

It sometimes seems - it's not true, but it does sometimes seem that - every proposal coming out of the mouths of the supposed experts, the foreign policy professionals, the analysts, the commentators, every proposal to stop or even just limit this war, all seem to involve stepping further into this war. A no-fly zone. A "limited" no-fly zone, whatever the hell that would mean in practice. A "safe zone" on the ground in western Ukraine, patrolled by UN - or maybe even US - troops. Providing not just defensive weapons like anti-tank or anti-aircraft missiles or drones but long-range offensive weapons - like those Migs.

I can't help but recall the infamous words of a US commander in the Indochina War: “It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.”

Mike Mazarr, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation had a Twitter thread on, quoting him, "Acting on the basis of imperative-driven thinking, especially under time pressure in a crisis, is a common prelude to disaster."

And that, I fear, is the possibility we face as the images of pain and desperation assault our eyes and ears and Volodymyr Zelenskyy's emotional, moving, and quite understandable pleas strike at our consciences.
Happily, which sounds really creepy in this context but is intended to express mere relief, not any degree of joy, at least for the moment calmer heads are prevailing. For one thing, despite his pleas, Zelenskyy is not getting his no-fly zone.

It all sounds so easy. It's just protecting lives, that's all. Until you ask how you enforce it and what happens when you do. And how do you deal with the fact that this puts your jets in the line of fire of Russian anti-aircraft batteries. And how do you deal with the fact that most of the airstrikes - which are not even the main source of the destruction, artillery is - are coming from jets flying within the borders of Russia, just lobbing missiles across the border?

The reality is that as humanitarian as it sounds, a no-fly zone accomplishes very little while creating chances, in fact the near certainty, of escalation extending far beyond Ukraine with casualties that would dwarf those seen so far - even if you assume nuclear weapons would not be used.

For the same sorts of reasons, the same sorts of considerations, foreign troops, especially US troops, on the ground is a non-starter and the Migs, regarded by the US Department of War as too much potential risk for too little potential gain, are not coming.

Knowing all that does not make what we witness any easier to bear, but at least we can take whatever minuscule comfort there is in that those with the power (and the responsibility) to actually make those life-and-death choices are resisting the urge to think we can end the horror by adding to it.

Which also makes me wonder what Zelenskyy is thinking. Does he really believe, for example, that a no-fly zone would work, that it would not escalate the war? Is he thinking, just as the US and NATO falsely thought before the war began, that Pukin' could just be bullied into retreat? Or is he, as is more likely, and in the face of what his people are suffering, getting into that "imperative-driven thinking" that Mike Mazarr warned against? If that is true, then the caution of others is even more necessary.

Still, there is hope to be found. There are actual negotiations - well, talks, anyway - going on between officials of Russia and Ukraine, with both sides projecting some optimism. After the last round, the day before I do this, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and representative Dmitry Peskov both said a neutral military status for Ukraine similar to Sweden or Austria was being “seriously discussed,” a major step back from previous demands for the "demilitarization" of Ukraine, while for his part, Zelenskyy said Russia’s demands for ending the war were becoming “more realistic” while also acknowledging that there is no prospect of Ukraine joining NATO.

This does not by any means say that peace is breaking out all over - but it is progress and it starts to offer hints of what a settlement could be. In the meantime, there are a number of groups offering direct aid to the Ukranian people. Two I can suggest because I know they have a presence in Ukraine are Doctors Without Borders at and World Central Kitchen at

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30, Page One: Good News for USPS

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30, Page One: Good News for USPS

Okay, I was determined to start this time with some Good News, and so we will.

On March 8, the Senate approved a $107 billion financial program for the long-beleaguered, long-undermined US Postal Service, providing relief for the agency and enabling it to modernize and maintain, even improve, service.

The measure has already passed the House and President Blahden has said he'll sign it. It's a done deal.

Called the Postal Service Reform Act, it overcame a history of opposition and nonsense from right-wingers who have attacked the USPS because it a-has a strong union and b-is a government-overseen program that is popular and works, perhaps the two things they hate more than anything else with the possible exception of expecting the right to pay their fair share in taxes.

The Postal Service has endured years of losses triggered by slumping mail volumes and a 2006 bill that required it to annually pre-fund retirees’ health-care costs out to 75 years in the future. That is, the USPS was being required to pre-fund the health costs of future retirees who hadn't even been born yet. It was a crippling requirement and was intended to be, so crippling that it amounted to roughly half the annual losses and the system has defaulted on those advance payments since 2011. This bill forgives those past-due debts and drops the requirement for the future, saving the agency $107 billion over the next 10 years.

Significantly, the bill allows for something long proposed by advocates: The agency will be able to contract with local, state, and Indigenous governments to offer basic non-mail services, such as hunting and fishing licenses. Now we just have to get postal banking, and we'll really have something.

This doesn't resolve all the questions such as voting access, electric mail vehicles, and post office closures, but as far as I can see there is no reason to consider it anything short of Good News.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30


050 The Erickson Report for March 17 to 30

Good News: Relief for the USPS

Ukraine: "The War Drags On"

Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages
    DC "truckers convoy"
    US Senate

    Illegitimate "state secrets privilege" used to conceal torture and spying

Julian Assange closer to being extradited

049 The Erickson Report for March 3 to 16, Page Three: Why This War?

049 The Erickson Report for March 3 to 16, Page Three:  Why This War?

One last related thing on this.

There has been a great deal of both sympathy for Ukraine for what they are going through and admiration for the courage and resourcefulness they have shown and they are well-deserved. And yes, we should offer what help we can.

I have to acknowledge - I know this will not popular be popular but I will say it anyway - that I am a pacifist and as a matter of conscience I can't approve sending military aid and weapons, but I say yes to human relief, to acceptance of refugees, and I note that there are materials that can be used in raising all sorts of non-lethal means of resistance that could be gotten in. And I do approve of and support the social and economic sanctions that have been put on Russia, even as I am aware that these can result in hardship for innocent Russian civilians who are not part of and indeed have shown their own considerable courage in openly protesting Putin's war, with something approaching 8000 having been arrested so far.

And I also want to give a shout-out to the Amazing Mr. O, aka Barack Obama, who in his statement on the invasion said what most have avoided: Those economic sanctions could impact us here but as he said, that is a price we should be willing to pay if we believe our own words, even as - he didn't say this part, I did - President Blahden suggests his red line on sanctions is hurting Americans or, more likely, his political standing.

So sympathy and admiration are both deserved and assistance is the right thing to do.

But that still leaves one final question: Why? Why this war? Why did this war get the press, the attention, the coverage, the sympathy, the coordinated efforts of great nations?

There are at least four other wars going on in the world right now that saw from nearly 10,000 to over 40,000 deaths in 2021 with hundreds to thousands deaths more already in 2022. There are 18 more with 2021 death counts ranging from 1500 to 8000. I doubt you could recall more than a couple of those 22 wars if you tried and most of them you never even heard of.

So why Ukraine? One reason, of course, is the push by the major nations of the West to make it that big an issue because it impacted their interests. But even as that influences, why does it seem to control?

So the real question is not why Ukraine, but why not Myanmar?

Why not Yemen, where the US has been involved and continues to be through approving of arms sales of hundreds of millions of dollars to Saudi Arabia?

Why not Afghanistan, a country of which we have washed our hands so thoroughly that despite a 20-year history most of us have no idea what's going on there now?

It takes nothing away from the people of Ukraine to say that our concern seems rather selective, and it behooves us - if I can use such an old-fashioned term - to consider how much of that is because, as David Hannan of the UK Paper "The Telegraph" wrote, "what makes it so shocking" is that "they seem so like us" or as Charlie D’Agata of CBS News put it, Kyiv is a "relatively civilized, relatively European city where you wouldn’t expect that."

We need to consider, that is, how much of that difference is because they are white.

It's true, its true, judgments always have to be made that even as rich and as powerful as we are, the US can't do everything, we can't cure every economic ill, can't relieve every need. But we could do so much more.

In fiscal 2020 - the most recent data I cold find - the US provided something over $39 billion in foreign economic - not military, just economic - aid and an additional $13 billion in humanitarian aid, a total of $56 billion. That is an amount equal to less than 1% of the federal budget and 0.2% of our GDP.

It takes nothing away from our desire to assist the innocent in Ukraine to say that we have as a nation been lacking in our willingness to assist the innocent in places less “like us.”

049 The Erickson Report for March 3 to 16, Page Two: Kiev or Kyiv?

 049 The Erickson Report for March 3 to 16, Page Two: Kiev or Kyiv?

You likely have noticed that the spelling of the capital of Ukraine has changed in news accounts and you might have wondered why.

The reason is quite simple, really.

"Kiev," pronounced "Kee-ev" or "Kee-ef" with a short "e" in the second syllable, is how it's pronounced in Russian. "Kyiv," pronounced "Kee-eev" or "K'eev," with a long "e," is how you say it in Ukrainian.

049 The Erickson Report for March 3 to 16, Page One: Ukraine

049 The Erickson Report for March 3 to 16, Page One: Ukraine

Our top story, as it has been, is Ukraine.

But I'm not going to talk about current events there; it's just not possible. Once the invasion started on February 4, there is no way a show like this, on once every two weeks, can even try to keep up with events that you can watch live changing minute to minute.

So I have no idea what the situation will be when you see this. So instead I'm going to offer some general comments and observations that I think could be of merit or future use no matter the facts on the ground.

First, I said last time that if my predictions about events proved to be wrong, I would own my failure. The problem in doing that is that I'm not sure to what degree I failed because my prediction was that Pukin' would not invade unless....

The "unless" was important. I referred to an old quote that "faced with the choice of humiliation and war, nations historically have preferred war" and so in a confrontation, if you don't want a war, you have to give the other side a way to back out without appearing to backing down; a graceful exit, some have called it; or as I put it, a way to back down without appearing to be kneeling down.

That point was actually widely discussed, widely referenced in the days before the war; more - considerably more - that one analyst said we have to find something to give Pukin' something that he can point to as a victory. Even the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee said just that. And they're still saying it now as a way to stop the war, even as it becomes harder to find what such a thing could be.

The last time out I mentioned a few ideas that had been proposed. One was declaring a moratorium on new members of NATO. Another, related one, was Ukraine declaring itself neutral. Some proposed the idea of insisting that Ukraine live up to the agreement it made in 2015 for self-rule for the breakaway provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region of southeast Ukraine.

To that I added my idea: That, plus plus a passive acknowledgement - nothing direct, more like a soap opera character who leaves a scene and then no one ever mentions their name again, just a passive acknowledgement - that Crimea is gone, that there is no way it will again be part of Ukraine in the foreseeable future. I suggested that those things together could be enough because while Pukin' could claim a victory about the self-rule and maybe even Ukraine, Ukraine could say no, it's just doing what it already committed to, it's just that negotiations are taking longer than expected. Meanwhile, neither side gives up anything over which it actually had control nor does either side gain anything over which it did not already have control.

At this point I have to interject that it must be said the the US intelligence was good. The Russian buildup was described accurately and the timetable, with the likely time for an invasion being set for between February 20 and March 1, was spot on.

We're not used to this, especially those of us schooled on Indochina and Iraq. But we need to remember that American intelligence is actually pretty good; it's when that intelligence is massaged for political ends that it gets screwed up. This time reporting it accurately served the political purpose, so it was done that way.

Which means that ultimately, it's possible that none of the ideas for a graceful exit would've worked and we would have found ourselves right where we are anyway. We just don't know.

What I do know is that they weren't tried. We, that is, the US and NATO, the West, did not offer Pukin' a way out. Instead, our entire policy could be summed up in just four words: stand down, no concessions.

Which raises another question: Why wasn't a way out offered? If the intelligence was as good as it seems to have been, a real prospect of a war within a limited time frame if nothing changes, why the unyielding stance?

I gave my reasons, the only four reasons I could think of. The US and NATO - I'm just going to say NATO from now on - either were ignorant of that history of nations preferring war to humiliation, they actually wanted a war, they thought Pukin' wouldn't actually pull the trigger and they could bully him into just backing down, or something was being negotiated in secret.

I think events since have shown I was right in thinking that third alternative was the right one: They though they could bully Pukin' into a humiliating political surrender.

That, with the hideous addendum that they also believed that if war came, it would be over almost before it started. Indeed, a number of analysts outside the government were talking in terms of a war measured in hours, not even days much less weeks.

And it appears that's what Pukin' thought.

Analysts say that the strategy that was seen had been based on the premise that an initial barrage of missile strikes and a thrust toward Ukraine’s capital coupled with the rapid seizure of a few key objectives would bring about the quick collapse of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, which would surrender or flee, after which a pro-Russia puppet government could be installed.

Other proof can be found in a statement slated for release on February 26 but instead of being withheld was put out on schedule, supposedly accidentally. The statement reads as though it was intended as a celebration of victory in Ukraine, indicating the Kremlin thought the war would be over in less than two days.

And we can see that expectation within the reports just from the first day that the invaders had not gotten as far as they expected - in other words, they expected to have accomplished a good deal more - and soon after that reports of Russian military vehicles abandoned on the road because they had run out of gas.

The importance of those latter reports is that this is not like some medieval battlefield where you walk to wherever you're going, carrying for the most part your weapons with you, either across your back or strapped to your waist, and if you need food or other supplies you just steal them from the surrounding countryside.

A modern army requires food, fuel, technical and technological support, communications, ammunition, a supply line far more extensive and complex than even a 19th century campaign. It requires large-scale logistics. And it certainly appears that the Russian attack gave little thought to that because they thought it unnecessary.

That expectation of near-immediate collapse may also explain why even now Russian officials can't agree on purpose of invasion.

Before the invasion, Pukin' made claims of "genocide" against ethnic Russians in Luhansk and Donetsk. Then there was the claim that the government in Kyiv was a drug cartel of neo-Nazis and it was about "de-Nazification," about being peacekeepers and arresting the criminals. Then at the UN on March 1, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Ukraine of having "made territorial claims against the Russian Federation" and of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons - which considering the reason Ukraine doesn't have nukes is that it voluntarily gave them up in 1994 in exchange for security guarantees from the US, the UK, and Russia to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, maybe bringing that up wasn't the smartest thing for Lavrov to do.  

But speaking of nukes, that brings up something else. Pukin' said something about putting Russia's “deterrence forces” - its nuclear weapons - on a “special regime of combat duty.” The result was a spate of new stories claiming he had put Russia's nukes in a state of "high alert."

He didn't. A higher state, yes; "high," no.

Pavel Podvig, a senior researcher with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, described it as "normally, under the day-to-day status, the system is not capable of transmitting orders" to launch nuclear weapons. But, he added, "you can bring it into the status where it is capable," which is what he felt had been done.

Meanwhile, former Russian military officer Konstantin Eggert told the German news outlet Deutsche Welle there are four levels of alert in the Russian military: regular, heightened, the threat of war, and full or complete.

It could be compared to the US's DEFCON system for nuclear weapons, which has five levels, DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 1, ranging from what's called "Fade Out" or day-to-day level of operations up to "Cocked Pistol," where we are or soon will be in a nuclear war.

Despite some confusion about just what Pukin' meant since the term “special regime of combat duty” is not used by the Russian military, the consensus came down to a move from "regular" to "heightened." But not "high."

That, however, does not mean that the threat of nuclear war is not higher than it was a week or two ago. But it does mean you need not have sleepless nights over it.

At least not yet. The danger of World War III now lies in the question of what happens if Pukin' essentially - as some are now with unnecessary glee are predicting will happen - loses in Ukraine. Not just doesn't get all he wants, but outright loses, fails, the whole thing collapses. What happens then?

You need to realize this is very personal, very emotional, with Pukin'.

Go back to that February 26 statement that read like a celebration of victory in Ukraine. These are some quotes from that statement:

"A new world is being born before our eyes. ... Russia is restoring its unity.... Yes, at a great cost, yes ... but there will be no more Ukraine as anti-Russia. Russia is restoring its historical fullness, gathering the Russian world, the Russian people together - in its entirety of Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians [i.e. Ukrainians]. ... [Referring to Russia's relations with the West:] Not even Russia, but the Russian world, that is, three states, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, acting in geopolitical terms as a single whole. ... Even the deaf could hear - Russia is returning. ... This is Russia's return of its historical space and its place in the world."

Contrary to what some have asserted, his dream is not to reassemble the Soviet Union. He's not thinking back to the 1980s before the breakup of the Soviet Union, he's not thinking back to the 1960s or '50s or even the Stalin era of the '30s. He's thinking back to the Czars.

He dreams of restoring the old imperial Russia, one of the great empires of history, which at its peak ranged from the border of Poland to the Pacific Ocean and from the Arctic Ocean to the border of Afghanistan. He's thinking back to the palaces and the glitter and the gilt and the glory, the glory of Mother Russia. This is what this is about, this is his dream.

So what happens if the result of invading Ukraine is it all blows up in his face, with military defeat combined with a cratered economy, a growing internal unrest and opposition - opposition now also popping up in Belarus - and the resulting humiliation in the eyes of major parts of the world? Would he think "If I'm going down, if everything I wanted is lost, if everything I dreamed of is ashes, I'm going to take the world down with me?" It seems unlikely, it probably is unlikely, but it is possible. In that event, would he be restrained by those around him? Could he be?

So don't have sleepless nights but maybe toss and turn some before you do sleep.

And part of the reason for that tossing and turning goes back to the "unnecessary glee" at the prospect of Pukin's defeat I mentioned. Because something else I raised last time to which I think events have added emphasis and backing is that there are those in the West, in NATO, and even in Moscow who are secretly delighted at recent events heralding a return to the good old days of the good old Cold War and its clear lines and seeming lack of complexity and its, in the eyes of the various foreign policy establishments but creepily to the rest of us, "stability" despite all the proxy wars where the Cold War wasn't all that cold for the people in those places.

It's an attitude reflected in the language of President Blahden's State of the Union address, with its references to it all being about "freedom versus tyranny" - even if we do have people like Viktor Orban on our side and we have increasing reports of bigotry and racism in Ukraine directed against non-white people trying to flee the fighting - language harking back to the rhetoric of decades earlier.

So expect, no matter what happens in (or to) Ukraine, years of heightened, on-going tension between Russia on the one hand and the US and Europe on the other and for all you young folks, welcome back to the world your elders grew up in. Welcome back to a world where peace activists knew about Alcems and Slickems and Glickems, knew the difference between MRVs and MIRVs and MaRVs, where "throw weights" and "ceps" were meaningful terms and the advice to "duck and cover" was a source of bitter amusement. Toss and turn indeed.

Which makes it relevant to raise this here. The "no-fly zone" now being pushed by Ukraine is a terrible idea, so terrible there should be active pushback. Ukrainian officials - including Zalenskyy - should be asked what they think would happen in that event: "Do you think Russia will just go 'Oh, ok, we didn't know it is a no-fly zone, we won't do that any more?' And when that doesn't happen, how do you enforce such a thing?

"You are asking for NATO to shoot down Russian jets; you are asking in fact for the US and NATO to effectively declare war on Russia. That is insane. And if that means that there are limits on how much support the West will give Ukraine, then that’s what it means."

It's one thing to want NATO to accept the risk of World War III - which it is already doing in its current support if things really do go south for Pukin' - but it's quite another to demand that NATO be the one to start it.

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

048 The Erickson Report for February 17 to March 2, Page 4: The Threat to Education

049 The Erickson Report for March 3 to 16, Page 4: The Threat to Education
We conclude with an episode of our recurring feature "The Threat." And this time it is the threat to public education.

We have all heard, I'm sure, of the battles over omigod critical race theory that has lead to screaming threats and even violence directed against school boards and sometimes their individual members. We've seen, too, how that chaotic social panic quickly spread to attacks on school libraries for daring to contain books or teachers teaching concepts that some parent - the singular is deliberate - found objectionable.

We've seen for example, a bill proposed by a Republican state senator in Oklahoma that would empower a single parent to demand books that discuss gender identity removed from public school libraries.

Under the bill, after receiving a written demand to remove a book, a school district would have 30 days to eliminate all copies of the material from circulation. Librarians could be forced to pay said parent $10,000 a day for as long as the book remains available and be fired and barred from working in public schools for up to two years if they don't cooperate.

In November, one member of the the Spotsylvania County [Virginia] School Board ordered school staff to begin removing books that contain "sexually explicit" and added that they should be burned in a public event. He subsequently became chair of that board.

In January, the Florida state Senate's education committee passed a bill banning public schools and private businesses from making people feel "discomfort" when learning about US racial history, with the immediate result that a school district in central Florida canceled a teacher training seminar about the civil rights movement that had been months in the planning.

Also in January, the Indiana House limited what teachers can say regarding race, history, and politics in Indiana classrooms and allows for the state's secretary of education to suspend or revoke the teacher's license of anyone "willfully or wantonly" violating its provisions.

There were a lot more examples, and of course the books most commonly under attack were about gender, being LGBTQ+, and race, with LGBTQ+ and black authors the targets.

But there are two things important to bring up beyond the obvious bigotry involved.

All these bills have something in common: They make it easier - in fact easy - to get things out of the library, out of the classroom, easy to get things out of public education, while providing no way to get things into it. No way to enrich it, expand it, make it deeper or more meaningful or even just more useful. It's all about stripping away from the right to a public education.

In fact, an Alabama bill does away with any pretense. It proposes to just give parents a check for whatever the state would have spend on their children's education and say they can, quoting the bill's sponsor, "use it to pay for educational whatever" they want. The bill, that is, would be the end of public education in Alabama.

But there's another aspect. The big emerging thing is "transparency," is the "right" of parents to have access to all materials used in public schools right down to an individual teacher's lesson plans. Some are even calling for cameras in the classroom to record everything that goes on for future evaluation. It all sounds so wholesome - after all, who could be against transparency?

But that veil of wholesomeness is deliberate. Because what this really is, is another way to provide for an opportunity to complain, to carp, to nitpick, to attack whine bluster and bully. Another avenue for attack.

Have no doubt, this is what it means. This is not some spontaneous burgeoning of parental frustration, this is the result of a deliberate, conscious, coordinated campaign to destroy public education and those parents you see ranting at school boards are classic useful idiots.

Do not doubt it. Christopher Rufo, the Republican boy wonder who guided the whipping up of the anti-CRT hysteria of the past year and basking in the glory of multiple states having passed laws banning the teaching of basically anything that might make white Republicans uncomfortable, has declared “transparency” the word for 2022.

He has openly declared a desire to have at least 10 states pass laws in 2022 requiring public schools to make all teaching materials easily available to parents via the internet, fully aware that the result would be to create impossible demands for public - note, only public, not private - schools to meet, right down to individualized lesson plans for every child as well as opening those teachers and administrators to constant threats of harassment.

That is what all this manufactured hysteria is really about: ending the very concept of a right to a public education. It must not be allowed to succeed.

048 The Erickson Report for February 17 to March 2, Page Three: On NATO

048 The Erickson Report for February 17 to March 2, Page Three: On NATO

Next, I want to get back to what I said about permanently barring Ukraine from NATO being a not bad idea. The realiity is that, as I also said, NATO is a military alliance born in, based on, and still driven by thye shibboleths and demons of the Cold War. For decades it was presented as a response to the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact, even though NATO predates the Warsaw Pact by six years.

Even if you grant that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the evaporation of its control over Eastern Europe, the purpose of NATO, it's reason for existing, evaporated as well.
But instead of being disbanded along with the rest of the predictable celebrations about having "won" the Cold War, it plunged ahead and even aggressively expanded.

Remember the map from last time, the one where every nation in blue to the east of that purple line was added to NATO after Mikhail Gorbachev was assured during discussions about re-uniting Germany it would not expand "one inch" to the east?

According Mary Sarotte, a post-Cold War historian who wrote a book about those negotiations, contemporaneous notes, letters, speeches, and interviews show that Western leaders were already contemplating NATO enlargement by the time those talks took place. It was always the plan.

So what I would say is revive what was for some decades an issue for the left and the international peace movement, but which for some reason faded - actually I can name several but I'll skip that for now: don't just not expand NATO, disband NATO. Break it up. Shut it down. It is a Cold War dinosaur that has become, as it is at this moment, more of a threat to spark a war - intentionally or otherwise - than it ever was to prevent one. It's time, it's part time, for it to just go away.

If you want cooperation, including on mutual security, you have the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, of which Russia and Ukraine are already members.

If it's more economic and cultural ties you're interested in, you have the European Union.

What we don't need is a re-hash of the Cold War, but that it what we're seeing. And frankly I am damn sure that there are people in Washington, the capitals of Europe, and yes Moscow that are delighted at the prospect, even if not consciously, but who are thrilled at the prospect of a return to a simpler, clearer, age when there wasn't a complex and very messy political world to deal with but one with the comfort and stability of a clear, identifiable enemy presenting an always rather vague, diffuse, but ever-present existential threat.

I have to tell you, I remember that comfortable, stable time with its proxy wars, militarism, and leitmotif of Red-baiting. I have no desire to reprise it.

048 The Erickson Report for February 17 to March 2, Page Two: Just Trust Us

048 The Erickson Report for February 17 to March 2, Page Two: Just Trust Us

Moving on to two related not directly but related points:

One is how as soon as the government mentions war or even just foreign policy, we are supposed to just shut up and believe.

On February 3 State Department PR agent Ned Price claimed the US had intelligence suggesting Russia was planning a “false flag operation” propaganda video to justify an invasion of Ukraine, complete with dead bodies and crisis actors posing as weeping mourners. When AP reporter Matt Lee asked for evidence, Price repeatedly said the evidence was what he just said before cutting it off by telling Lee
“If you doubt the credibility of the U.S. government, of the British government, of other governments and want to find solace in information that the Russians are putting out, that is for you to do.”

The same day, White Hoose PR ad rep Jen Psaki reacted with incredulity when NPR White House Correspondent Ayesha Rascoe asked if there would be any evidence offered of the claim that ISIS militant Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi detonated a suicide bomb that killed himself, his wife, and his children rather than being the victims of a US attack.
Psaki responded by saying "People are skeptical of the U.S. military’s assessment ... that they are not providing accurate information and ISIS is?"

In both cases, the immediate response to a question, to wanting evidence, is "either you shut up and believe us or you are saying you believe our enemies" with just a soupçon of "believe or you are un-American."

What's really disturbing is how much of the media willingly embraces that same idea. For an example, that Politico's National Security Daily I mentioned said that "Putin wants to reclaim the narrative after the US exposed many of Russia’s plots," making specific reference to the business about "his false flag video operation" - that is, unquestioningly absorbing and repeating the very claim for which Ned Price repeatedly failed to meet the challenge of providing any evidence.

And if you doubt that liberals are as ready to go along, just watch MSNBC pretty much every night.

048 The Erickson Report for February 17 to March 2, Page 1: Ukraine

048 The Erickson Report for February 17 to March 2, Page 1: Ukraine

I start with a warning that as I write this, events in Ukraine are in serious flux, with Russia saying it's pulling back some troops and NATO countries saying they see no signs of it and one even suggesting a drawdown could be a trick while hints about talks on other topics are being bandied about on both sides.

As I do this, the February 16 "day it will happen" is passing but the "it'll be by February 20" deadline is still ahead. Russia says it is pulling back troops but the US and NATO call b.s. So maybe tension is easing except maybe it isn't.

But it doesn't matter because as Politico's National Security Daily would have it today, February 16 was always "overhyped" and the real important day is February 20. Or soon after February 20. Or March 1. Or it doesn't matter because as one person they quoted said "Just because these dates come and go doesn’t mean the risk is any less." Just be worried all the time.

Things could be - in fact very likely will be in at least some ways - quite different by the time you see this: the difficulty of trying to discuss changing current events in a two-week time frame.

So I decided to plunge ahead with what I intended to say and if events prove that I got things totally and disastrously wrong, so be it and I won't hide from my failure. So onward.

Last time amid the growing drum beat of war at any moment, I made the prediction that Putin not invade Ukraine. 

Among the reasons were my contention that if he intended to invade he would have done it already rather than this extended slo-mo buildup giving both Ukraine NATO plenty of time to prepare a response and that his real intention was to make a declaration that NATO could not continue to act on matters of European security as if Russia did not exist, that is, to remind the West that Russia is still a player in these matters and it does have what it regards as legitimate security concerns about NATO expansion.

And in fact, that has recently been made more explicit, with Putin complaining the US and NATO have “freely interpreted” the principle of the "indivisibility of security," the idea that no country should strengthen its security at the expense of others, a principle that is enshrined in international agreements involving both sides. That is, he is sarcastically accusing NATO of interpreting the phrase in whatever way it finds most convenient at the moment, without regard to any concerns of objections Russia may have.
Another reason I gave was that an invasion would be a bloody and difficult undertaking,
the biggest Russian military operation since World War 2, and that includes Afghanistan.

And I also noted that I had some backup of my doubts to be found in statements from various diplomats and officials of non-US countries.

So my conclusion was that Putin would not invade - unless.

Which is where I left it, saying if the following two weeks had not yet proved that I am a lousy prognosticator, I'd finish that sentence this time. Time has not yet proved my failings, so here we are.

Simply put, the "unless" revovles around the NATO - which really means the US - response to Putin's posturing.

Putin is trying to lay down a marker, saying "We will be heard, we will not be ignored." Putin is regarded by some analysts as a gambler in foreign affairs, as being "risk-tolerant" as it's put, but in laying down his marker in this case, he's taking the risk he's making a bet he can't cover.

The risk can be seen most easily and clearly in the frankly bellicose words of US officials.

For one, there was the statement by Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, who said late in January, quoting, “We strongly encourage Russia to stand down and to pursue a resolution through diplomacy.”

For another, that same week the Biden administration and NATO told Russia there will be no US or NATO concessions on Moscow’s main demands, which revolve around Ukraine being kept out of NATO and the withdrawal of NATO forces from near Russia's border.

Some years ago I read a statement - I can't remember who, I'd like to give credit where it's due but I can't - that "faced with the choice between humiliation and war, nations historically have shown a depressingly persistent preference for the latter." The point and the relevance here is that if you don't want a war, you have to give the other side a way to back out of a confrontation without appearing to back down, a way to say at the very least "OK, I can live with that; it's not everything I wanted but I can live with it." Lacking such a way out, nations historically prefer war to humiliation. That concern is central to where we stand now.

And realize this notion of giving the other side a graceful exit is not an out-there idea: On February 14, Rep. Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, told MSNBC that “If we're going to prevent a war, Putin has to get something out of this. He has to have some sort of diplomatic face-saving mechanism to back down."

The idea has even been mentioned in mainstream news articles, often coupled with claims that the US is now offering Putin such an off-ramp. Unfortunately, that off-ramp consists of saying if Putin totally backs down, that is, withdraws all his troops from near Ukraine and drops all his other demands, including any objection to Ukraine joining NATO, we would be willing to talk about some tangentially-related issues outside the bounds of those demands. It's hard to think of that as being an acceptable alternative to Russia. Such discussions and even some decent results arising from them are certainly not out of the question - on February 15 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made specific reference to them - but they will not address the central questions.

Which just brings us back to the US-NATO position of "stand down, no concessions."

There are really only four reasons they would say such a thing.
- They are totally ignorant of that history of nations preferring war to humiliation.
- They actually want a war.
- They are really convinced an attack won't happen and taking the opportunity to look tough because they are convinced they can bully Putin into retreat.
- Or there is something going on behind the scenes of which no one is talking about even on background and so of which we know nothing.

Of those, the last is the most hopeful, although hard to credit considering how many potential leaky points there are. Nonetheless, I can hope it's true; it certainly wouldn't be the first time some back-channel deal proved to be the way out of a crisis.

The first reason I simply cannot believe to be true and the second one I have to believe and fervently hope is not true.

Which leaves what I think is the most plausible reason: They think they can bully Putin into backing down. In fact, a hint of that confidence can be seen in that at the same time the US was declaring "no concessions," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg declared that Russia should not only pull its forces from in and around Ukraine but also from Georgia and Moldova.

Frankly, if that's the game being played here, it is an insanely dangerous one, particularly when you bear in mind that Putin holds the 1990s as a "decade of humiliation" for his country, an experience he is unlikely to be willing to repeat.

Okay, so what can be done? There have been several ideas advanced; let's run through a few.

You have to realize the Ukraine is the key. So one idea is to simply accept Moscow's insistence that Ukraine be permanently barred from NATO. Now, that's actually not a bad one and I'd even go beyond that which I'll get to later, but right now it's not politically viable. It would be almost as much a humiliating retreat for NATO as the one being pushed on Russia by NATO. So in the present, it's a nonstarter.

However, what could be done is to emphasize the fact - and it is a fact - that there is no reasonable prospect for Ukraine to be part of NATO any time in the foreseeable future, if in fact ever.

The prospect of its joining what is a Cold War military alliance is based on a 2008 NATO statement which in the nearly 14 full years since has not produced what's called a Membership Action Plan - a pathway to eventual membership - for Ukraine. And Germany and France were and remain opposed to Ukraine's membership and getting in requires unanimous support from existing members. So Ukraine may never be able to join NATO.

Even Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has essentially acknowledged that. During a meeting with German chancellor Olaf Scholz on February 14, Zelenskyy said membership in NATO would take “longer than expected" and described it as a "dream," something Kyiv hopes to get to someday, but who knows when or, bluntly, if.

But instead of pointing that out except occasionally in passing, NATO and the US keep banging on the "anyone can join" drum as if it were a done deal and it's just a matter of some details.

Admittedly, President Blahden did say that Ukraine does not have the go-ahead to join NATO - but that was last June and is not found in the current rhetoric, at least as how anyone would notice. It's dispiriting and indicative of the idea that the US thinks Putin can be bullied because it is pushing pride over practicality, made clearer by that last week Jean-Marie Guehenno, former UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, described NATO’s non-stop enlargement as a "mistake" and said the 2008 promise was "hypocritical to claim that NATO enlargement was compatible with the development of real friendship with Russia."

Another related idea of what could be done is for NATO, rather than barring Ukraine or emphasizing membership is only long-term possibility, to declare a moratorium on new member states, a way to finesse Ukrainian membership without directly acknowledging the connection. Yet another proposal is the so-called "Finlandization" of Ukraine, which has a bad air about it because it has implied being subject to informal domination by Russia, but would really mean Ukraine declaring itself neutral and trying to maintain contacts and good relations with both Russia and the West, which wouldn't be popular with the pro-Europe western parts of Ukraine and would require a formal change in Ukrainian policy but still could be a viable option and over time become the normal state of affairs.

Yet another potential off-ramp for Putin, a way for him to, if you will, stand down without appearing to kneel, something that would give him that "face-saving mechanism" would be for the US and NATO to insist that Ukraine fulfill its obligations under a 2015 peace deal regarding two breakaway pro-Russia provinces in the Donbas region in the southeast of the country, a deal that was brokered by France and Germany and required Kyiv to offer self-rule to the rebel-held territories. Its implementation has stalled because of domestic opposition in the anti-Russian western Ukraine, but granting that self-rule plus surrendering even if not formally to the reality that Crimea is gone could well be enough to provide the "flexibility" to avoid a major war without anyone on either side giving up anything over which they actually have control.

Personally, I think that is the best option available and could be made even better if only because more saleable is for Ukraine to be admitted to the European Union - something to which it appears Russia has not objected - which would to some degree satisfy Kyiv's desire to closer ties to the West without involving any commitments of Europe or the US to the military defense of Ukraine or allowing for the stationing of any NATO forces or bases within it.

In fact, I'm going to go way out on a limb here. On February 15, Putin declared, without offering any evidence, that what is going on in Donbas is "genocide" - that is, genocide against the ethnic Russians there. Analysts are as you'd expect claiming that this is intend as a pretext for an invasion. Which, I have to acknowledge, it could be. However, he has been saying the same thing since 2014. It has served as the excuse for Russian military support of the rebels. Which prompts me to think that raising it right now, in this context, is a tell that what I just raised - a deal involving self-rule to the breakaway provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk - could be the key to a settlement.

As events unfold, we'll see how I do.

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