Month: July 2022

The Ukraine War Is Going Nowhere – End It Now

Only naive souls or blind ideologues could have thought that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would end well. It will not. And the longer it continues, the worse the situation will be for everyone.

Did Moscow actually believe that the West would roll over and accept its annexation of more Ukrainian territory, giving its leadership an easy victory? Did it really think that Ukrainians would overthrow their own leadership, replacing it with a more pro-Russian government in Kyiv? Did the West, after appearing to dismiss US President Joe Biden’s early warnings about Moscow’s intentions, believe that their belated outrage and displays of resolve would mobilise the world community forcing the Kremlin to give up?

At this point, Moscow has invested too much of its prestige and resources to withdraw. And for the Ukrainians, their national pride is at stake, as is their justifiable fear of Russian intentions. They will not just surrender and accept defeat.

We have now entered the sixth month of this war and despite frequent reports that the Russian military is nearing exhaustion or that the Ukrainian resistance is flagging, there is no end in sight as the killing of innocent Ukrainians and widespread devastation of the country continues. The reality is that no one can or will win this war. While the Russians will be ground down in a long conflict that will cost them dearly, the Ukrainians will pay the greatest price in lives, treasure, homes and infrastructure, and security.

There are additional costs to this war, some of which will only become apparent in the years to come. First and foremost is the fate of the millions of Ukrainian refugees who have been forced to flee their country or who have been internally displaced by the fighting. As is the case in every war of these proportions, only the naive assume that when the hostilities end, the refugees will simply return. In the first place, we have no idea when, how, or if this war will end. What should be certain, however, is that the longer it continues, and the more damage done, the greater the number of refugees who will either be unable or will choose not to go back. In that case, we must ask whether the countries who were initially welcoming of refugees will remain so?

Then there are the unanticipated geopolitical transformations that are slowly beginning to take shape in response to this war. In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, Mr Biden, taking a rhetorical page from the likes of Winston Churchill, spoke of the world coming together to oppose Moscow. Weapons and aid were sent to Ukraine and Nato countries enacted ever-expanding sanctions on Russia. In speeches we were told that these crippling economic measures would isolate Russia, devastate its economy, and help bring an end to this war.

Some of these measures were necessary and others were justifiable. But just as the invasion will have consequences, both intended and unintended, the far-reaching economic measures and efforts to impose isolation will as well.

On the one hand, the loss of Russian oil and gas and Ukrainian wheat, blockaded until a UN-led deal was struck last week, are having a devastating impact on the economies and peoples of both East and West. While not able to immediately transition, Russia has, with some difficulty, been able to recoup some of its losses by selling its vital resources in Asian markets. Because restrictions have been placed on Russia’s ability to trade in dollars, it has demanded payment in roubles, giving its currency a needed boost. Meanwhile, the rising costs of fuel and flour are destabilising countries, both rich and poor. And the scramble to find new sources of oil and gas is putting critically important climate goals dangerously on hold for the foreseeable future.

Partly because of continued lack of trust in the consistency in US leadership (given the dizzying shifts in US policies over the past two decades) many nations have hesitated or outright refused to join a united front in opposition to Russia. As US and other western diplomats have continued to apply pressure on Latin American and Asian countries to join the West’s campaign to isolate Russia, their efforts have been politely rebuffed. These countries have reminded their western interlocutors that just as various western nations have placed their national interests first, even though they do not support the Russian actions in Ukraine, they must now place their own economic and geopolitical interests first. This has led one analyst to cynically describe the emerging US/Nato coalition as “the West against the rest”.

The longer this conflict continues, the more locked in place some of these emerging economic and political realities become, and the greater the danger that the world will become more deeply divided in a new Cold War. Relations will fray, economies will suffer, antagonisms will fester, and new conflicts will emerge.

It was precisely for situations of this sort that the UN was created, and international law and conventions were written. If they had been functioning, the aggrieved parties could have demanded negotiations or arbitration. Because all the world powers have degraded the world body and ignored the rules of law and warfare, we lack the mechanisms to resolve conflict and protect rights.

What we are now left with are the same choices we faced five months ago – either pouring more petrol on the fire or mobilising international pressure to forge a negotiated solution. It won’t be easy or even palatable to find a way forward. Sacrifices will most likely be required and neither side will get what they want. But it’s either that or a continued downward spiral.

The Most Dangerous Looming Supreme Court Decision You Never Heard Of

On June 30, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case called Moore v. Harper. With all the controversial decisions handed down by the Court this term, its decision to take up this case slid under most radar detectors. But it could be the most dangerous case on the Court’s upcoming docket. You need to know about it.

Here’s the background: Last February, the North Carolina Supreme Court blocked the state’s Republican controlled general assembly from instituting a newly drawn congressional district map, holding that the map violated the state constitutional ban on partisan gerrymandering. The Republican Speaker of the North Carolina House appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, advancing what’s called the “independent state legislature” theory. It’s a theory that’s been circulating for years in right-wing circles. It holds that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures alone the power to regulate federal elections in their states.

We’ve already had a preview of what this theory could mean. It underpins a major legal strategy in Trump’s attempted coup: the argument that state legislatures can substitute their own judgment of who should be president in place of the person chosen by a majority of voters. This was the core of the so-called “Eastman memo” that Trump relied on (and continues to rely on) in seeking to decertify Biden’s election.

The U.S. Constitution does grant state legislatures the authority to prescribe “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections.” But it does not give state legislatures total power over our democracy. In fact, for the last century, the Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected the independent state legislature theory.

Yet if we know anything about the conservative majority now controlling the Supreme Court, it’s that they will rule on just about anything that suits the far-right’s agenda.

Conservatives on the Court have already paved the way for this bonkers idea. Then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist was an early proponent. In his concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore, the 2000 case that halted the recount in Florida in the presidential election, Rehnquist (in an opinion joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas) asserted that because the state court’s recount conflicted with deadlines set by the state legislature for the election, the court’s recount could not stand.

The issue returned to the Supreme Court in 2020, when the justices turned down a request by Pennsylvania Republicans to fast-track their challenge to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that required state election officials to count mail-in ballots received within three days of Election Day. In an opinion that accompanied the court’s order, Justice Alito (joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch) suggested that the state supreme court’s decision to extend the deadline for counting ballots likely violated the U.S. Constitution because it intruded on the state legislature’s decision making.

Make no mistake. The independent state legislature theory would make it easier for state legislatures to pull all sorts of additional election chicanery, without any oversight from state courts: ever more voter suppression laws, gerrymandered maps, and laws eliminating the power of election commissions and secretaries of state to protect elections.

If the Supreme Court adopts the independent state legislature theory, it wouldn’t just be throwing out a century of its own precedent. It would be rejecting the lessons that inspired the Framers to write the Constitution in the first place: that it’s dangerous to give state legislatures unchecked power, as they had under the Articles of Confederation.

The Republican Party and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court call themselves “originalists” who find the meaning of the Constitution in the intent of the Farmers. But they really don’t give a damn what the Framers thought. They care only about imposing their own retrograde and anti-democracy ideology on the United States.

But we can fight back.

First, Congress must expand the Supreme Court to add balance to a branch of government that has been stolen by radicalized Republicans. This is not a far-fetched idea. The Constitution doesn’t specify how many justices there should be – and we’ve already changed the size of the Court seven times in American history.

Second, Congress must impose term limits on Supreme Court justices, and have them rotate with judges on the U.S. courts of appeals.

Third, Congress must restore federal voting rights protections and expand access to the ballot box. We need national minimum standards for voting in our democracy.

Obviously, these reforms can happen only if Democrats retain control of the House in the midterm elections and add at least two more Democratic senators—willing to reform or abolish the filibuster.

So your vote is critical, and not just in federal elections. Make sure you also vote for state legislators who understand what’s at stake to preserve our democracy. Because, as this Supreme Court shows, the future of our democracy is not guaranteed.