September 20, 2022
There is big news today out of Russia, where the legislative body abruptly passed harsh penalties on those who don’t report to military duty, who surrender, or who refuse to fight against Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian-installed officials in the parts of Ukraine occupied by Russia announced referenda for later this week on joining those territories to Russia.
Once those territories vote to join Russia—as authorities will undoubtedly declare, no matter what any actual vote might look like—Russia says it will see any attack on that region by Ukraine as an attack on Russia itself.
This looks quite as if Putin is worried the recent Ukrainian advance is going to force the Russians out of the Ukrainian territory they invaded in 2014, and is setting up a scenario to be able to hold that territory, at least.
Today, Putin was scheduled to make a major speech, but after several hours of delay, media figures announced the speech would take place tomorrow.
The news out of Russia made the Moscow Stock Exchange drop almost 7%.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that if Russia does, in fact, “stage these sham ‘referenda’, the United States and the international community will never recognize Russia’s claims to any purportedly-annexed parts of Ukraine. We continue to stand with the people of Ukraine.”
As Russia staggers, countries that were formerly in its orbit are realigning with the movement toward liberal democracy. Today the president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, wrote an op-ed declaring, “There is simply no viable alternative to globalization, interdependence and the international rules-based order.” So, he said, “we are doubling down on the liberal, international, open policies that have driven such a dramatic increase in standards of living around the world.” He promised to decentralize and distribute power throughout Kazakhstan, strengthen parliament and local authorities, encourage political parties, and limit presidential terms, all to “move toward a new…model of a presidential republic with a stronger parliament and a more accountable government.”
Meanwhile, at the United States Agency for International Development today, Blinken said that the U.S. and partners “came together in support of the benefits that flow from democratic governance. If we continue to invest in and improve upon our democracies, they will not only persevere, they will prevail.”
Protests have broken out in Russia’s ally Iran as well. Women infuriated by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, arrested by Iran's morality police for allegedly breaking the law regulating the headscarf covering her head and loose clothing disguising her body, are burning their headscarves and shouting “death to the dictator,” meaning Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is old and ill. They are supported by men, who are helping to fight off the police trying to stop the protests.
Here in the U.S., federal agencies are sending teams with hundreds of employees to Puerto Rico to help respond to the devastation left by Hurricane Fiona, which left the island without power and with severe flooding when it hit recently. When Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, more than 3000 residents died. Since then the Federal Emergency Management Agency has built warehouses and moved in generators and other commodities.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced yesterday that the Senate will vote later this week on the DISCLOSE Act, sponsored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), which requires super PACs and other groups that do not have to disclose their donors—so-called dark money groups—to identify those who give $10,000 or more during an election season. It would also prohibit foreign entities from contributing at all. In a blow against those who have helped to pack our courts, it would require anyone spending money to advance the candidacies of judicial nominees to disclose their donors, too.
Thanks to the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, such advocacy groups can take unlimited money from individuals, corporations, or other entities so long as they don’t directly coordinate with a candidate, and they do not have to identify who the donors are. “Their ruling has paved the way for billions in unlimited campaign contributions by Super PACs and other dark money groups over the last decade,” Schumer said. “Ordinary citizens, meanwhile, have had their voices drowned out by elites who have millions to spare for political donations.”
Pointing to the recent $1.6 billion donation to a new right-wing political advocacy trust, President Joe Biden noted that the public found out about that donation only because someone tipped off a reporter.
Republicans are expected to oppose the bill.
Today, three of the migrants Florida governor Ron DeSantis flew from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation Jared W. Purdue, the state of Florida, the Florida Department of Transportation, and others, for planning and executing “a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme” to exploit vulnerable migrants—in this country legally—“for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests.”
The suit alleges that the defendants trolled the streets outside a migrant shelter in Texas offering humanitarian assistance, “then made false promises and false representations that if Plaintiffs and class members were willing to board airplanes to other states, they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other like assistance upon their arrival.” Once they agreed, the plaintiffs put them up in hotels away from the migrant center where someone might tell them they were being abused.
The defendants allegedly paid $615,000 to charter two private planes ($12,300 per passenger) and told the plaintiffs they were being sent to Washington, D.C., or to Boston. While on the plane, the defendants gave the migrants “a shiny, red folder that included other official-looking materials, including a brochure entitled ‘Massachusetts Refugee Benefits’” full of false information.
The migrants were dropped on Martha’s Vineyard in the evening without food, water, or shelter, and with no one aware they were coming. Then the defendants disappeared and refused to answer calls from the plaintiffs to learn what was going on. This, the plaintiffs say, was “cruelty akin to what they fled in their home country.” They allege the defendants violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The next day, DeSantis claimed responsibility. Since then he has claimed on Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity’s show that the migrants traveled voluntarily and that they signed consent forms, although he could explain how he had authority to move migrants from Texas when he is the governor of Florida only by saying that migrants come to Florida, but “the problem is we’re not seeing mass movements of them…. It’s just coming in onesie-twosies.” So he had those likely to come to Florida rounded up in Texas.
Today he called the lawsuit “political theater.”
As they indicated last night they would, Trump’s lawyers today refused to produce any evidence that Trump had actually declassified any of the national security material FBI agents seized at Mar-a-Lago on August 8. They also told Special Master Judge Raymond Dearie that they wanted to examine the records the agents took before they decided to assert that Trump had declassified them, although they do not have the relevant security clearances. Dearie seemed disinclined to acquiesce to their request.
And tonight, the Department of Justice cited Trump’s lawyers’ refusal to assert that he declassified any of the material in its comprehensive request for a stay of Judge Aileen Cannon’s order stopping “the government from using its own records with classification markings—including markings reserved for records of the highest sensitivity—in an ongoing criminal investigation into whether those very records were mishandled or compromised.”
Earlier this month, New York Attorney General Letitia James rejected an offer from the Trump Organization to settle a civil case concerning whether Trump lied about the value of his properties to manipulate tax laws or bank loans. Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. (Eastern), she will make a major announcement.
JOSH RUSSELL @jruss_jrussNew York Attorney General Tish James to make “major announcement” tomorrow morning. https://t.co/6TxUWGjF88