June 3, 2021
Ten days after he was taken from a plane diverted to Minsk by autocrat Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, 26-year-old opposition journalist Roman Protasevich appeared on state television. Visibly injured, Protasevich praised Lukashenko and parroted his government’s story that protests are backed by the West. He disavowed his past opposition and confessed to organizing “mass unrest.”
By the end of the interview, he was crying. “I never want to get into politics again. I want to hope that I can correct myself and live an ordinary peaceful life, to have a family, children, stop running away from something.”
Protasevich faces the death penalty.
In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to stay in power. As Josh Marshall writes at Talking Points Memo, Netanyahu’s supporters are threatening the incoming prime minister, Naftali Bennett—himself a hard-liner—and his supporters. A Netanyahu ally in the Israeli legislature—the Knesset—says he is simply going to refuse to hold the vote that’s necessary to recognize the new government. It’s not clear how long he can do that, but every day increases the pressure on members of Bennett’s party to break away from the new coalition. That would keep Netanyahu in power.
The coalition that is trying to oust Netanyahu is a coming together of left and right out of fear that Netanyahu is destroying the rule of law and setting up one-man rule. Marshall notes that “[w]hen you lose an election, you’re supposed to leave. Netanyahu’s not leaving.” The situation is volatile.
In the U.S., Charles C. W. Cooke of National Review confirmed the scoop by Maggie Haberman of the New York Times on Tuesday that former president Trump believes he will be “reinstated by August.” He believes that the so-called “audits” of the 2020 election results from Arizona, Georgia, and possibly other states will put him, and former senators David Perdue of Georgia and Martha McSally of Arizona, back into office.
This is a fantasy. Aside from the fact there is no evidence of any irregularity in the 2020 votes, we have no mechanism for such a “reinstatement” in our system. But by telling his supporters that he will be president again in August, he is setting up a scenario where they will be angry enough to fight for that to happen, always with the idea that they are defending American democracy, not attacking it, just as they did on January 6 when they tried to “Stop the Steal.”
The “audit” now underway in Arizona by the private company Cyber Ninjas has been widely discredited as a partisan hack job by “auditors” who have no idea what they’re doing, but Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania have now called for a similar “audit” in their state. Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, opposes the plan, and says, “what is going on in Arizona is not an audit. It is funded by partisan political benefactors, it is directed by partisan political operatives to reach a partisan political conclusion, which is… not an audit.”
One of the Pennsylvania Republicans pushing the “audit” in his state is Doug Mastriano, who called for the Republican state legislature to appoint its own delegates to the Electoral College rather than following the actual results of the vote, and then helped to organize busses to go to Washington, D.C., for the January 6 insurrection, at which he was present. Mastriano has recently met with Trump; they talked about launching an “audit” in Pennsylvania.
In Georgia, a state judge has permitted a reexamination of 147,000 mail-in ballots from Democratic Fulton County, and in Wisconsin, the speaker of the state assembly, Representative Robin Vos, had said he is hiring retired police officers to investigate the 2020 election.
These “audits” don’t have to find anything; the fact that they exist at all is enough to do what they are designed to do: undermine voters’ faith in the system at the same time they indicate that no election result that elects a Democrat is legitimate.
This week Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Rob Portman (R-OH) traveled to Eastern Europe, where they met with Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who lives in exile in Lithuania, to illustrate their support for democracy. “The U.S. stands in bipartisan solidarity with the people of Belarus in their pleas for an accountable government,” said Shaheen. The senators went on to Ukraine and Georgia, where they reiterated their support for democracy there and called for a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Murphy said: “[W]e know that the best defense against Russian interference is a strong, resilient democracy….”
Shaheen added, “This bipartisan trip sends a clear message that the United States is committed to rebuilding our transatlantic relations and reasserting U.S. global leadership to promote democratic values.”
The first National Security Study Memorandum of Biden’s presidency, issued today, formally establishes the fight against corruption as a core U.S. National Security Interest. It begins by noting that corruption “provides authoritarian leaders a means to undermine democracies worldwide.” To combat that corruption, Biden vows to combat “all forms of illicit finance” in the U.S. and internationally. He will “robustly” implement the law that requires all shell companies to disclose who owns them, a rule in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that Congress passed over Trump’s veto on January 1, 2021. (Remember I wrote then that this piece of the law would end up being important?)
The memorandum promises to “hold accountable corrupt individuals, transnational criminal organizations, and their facilitators,” including by seizing stolen assets. The U.S. government will work with international partners to stop the strategic corruption that enabled bad actors to interfere in U.S. elections—a shot across Russia’s bow—and work across offices, agencies, and departments—State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce, Energy, and so on—to develop government-wide policies that will root out corruption.
“[B]y effectively preventing and countering corruption and demonstrating the advantages of transparent and accountable governance, we can secure a critical advantage for the United States and other democracies,” the memorandum reads.
The Biden administration announced today that it plans to distribute at least 80 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the rest of the world by the end of June. Biden said: "We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values.”