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Israel’s Herzog Visits Turkey, Meets Erdogan to ‘Restart’ Ties

Israel’s Herzog Visits Turkey, Meets Erdogan to ‘Restart’ Ties
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) receives Israel's President Isaac Herzog in the capital Ankara, Turkey, March 9, 2022. (AA Photo)

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog arrived in Turkey Wednesday to meet his counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the first visit by an Israeli head of state since 2007, as the countries seek to mend fractured ties.

“President Herzog’s visit will be a turning point in Turkey-Israel relations,” Erdoğan said in a press conference following the meeting between the two leaders, adding that Turkey is ready to cooperate in energy.

The Israeli president’s visit is “an opportunity to develop our energy cooperation,” Erdoğan added.

Later on, Herzog also acknowledged the potential of Turkish-Israeli relations.

“Israel and Turkey can and should have a cooperation that can positively affect this entire region we call home,” he said.

“Relations with Turkey will be based on mutual respect from now on,” Herzog added.

“I highly appreciate the upcoming Antalya Diplomacy Forum which is set to bring a solution to the ongoing war in Ukraine,” he also said, referring to the Russian invasion.

“We will not agree on everything, and the relationship between Israel and Turkey has certainly known ups and downs and not-so-simple moments in recent years,” Herzog previously told reporters at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport ahead of his trip.

“But we shall try to restart our relations and build them in a measured and cautious manner, and with mutual respect between our states,” he said.

One particular area of interest for Turkey and Israel is natural gas. Erdoğan has said the visit will herald a “new era” and that the two countries could work together to carry Israeli natural gas to Europe, reviving an idea first discussed more than 20 years ago. Plans for a subsea pipeline from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe, excluding Turkey, have stalled after the United States expressed misgivings in January.

Herzog’s visit to Ankara and Istanbul was in the making weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, though the conflict could arise in talks since both Israel and Turkey have been playing mediation roles in recent days.

However, bilateral issues will likely dominate following more than a decade of diplomatic rupture between Israel and Turkey, a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Discussions on gas sales to Europe were also considered likely given the added urgency amid the Ukraine conflict.

Turkey and Israel will discuss steps to improve cooperation during talks between the two countries’ presidents in Ankara, the Turkish Presidency said on Saturday, as the regional rivals work to repair long-strained ties.

Erdoğan and Herzog will “review all aspects of Turkey-Israel bilateral ties” and “discuss steps that can be taken to improve cooperation,” it said.

The two presidents will also hold talks on “recent regional and international developments,” it added.

“The two presidents will discuss various bilateral issues, including Israel-Turkey relations and the potential for expanding collaboration between their respective states and peoples in various fields,” Herzog’s office also said.

In recent months, the two regional powers have sought a rapprochement after nearly a decade of broken ties.

Israel’s presidency is traditionally a ceremonial post but Herzog, a veteran of the left-wing Labor Party, has taken on a high-profile diplomatic role.

Erdoğan and Herzog have spoken several times since Herzog’s inauguration in July.

Israeli officials have said that Herzog and Erdoğan may discuss prospects of exporting Israeli gas to Europe through Turkey, a notion raised by Erdoğan in January, amid fears of impaired supply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also stepped into the role as a Russia-Ukraine mediator over the weekend, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin for three hours on Saturday, and speaking to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy three times in a day.

Erdoğan is also in contact with Putin and Zelenskyy, while Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is set to host his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts in southern Turkey on Thursday.

Regional ties also remain sensitive, and Herzog visited both Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration ahead of his Turkey trip to reassure the two Israeli allies.

Herzog will also meet with members of the Jewish community in Istanbul before returning to Israel on Thursday.

Turkey-Israel ties

Israel was a long-time regional ally of Turkey before a 2010 commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla left 10 Turkish activists dead.

In 1996 Israel and Turkey signed a “strategic partnership,” under which their air forces can train in each other’s air space. Relations took a downturn when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was the prime minister at that time, walked out of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2009, in protest at Israel’s massive offensive in Gaza against Palestinians. The 22-day operation cost the lives of 1,440 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

A full-blown crisis erupted in May 2010, when Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on the Mavi Marmara ship, part of a flotilla trying to ferry aid to the Gaza Strip in defiance of a naval blockade. Ankara recalled its ambassador and scaled-down economic and defense ties with Israel.

In March 2013, under pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey and announced compensation for the families of those killed.

Israel and Turkey formalized the normalization process in June 2016 after six years of estrangement.

In December 2017, Erdoğan led Muslim opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to transfer the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to recognize the disputed city as Israel’s capital.

On the day the new embassy was opened in Jerusalem, on May 14, 2018, Erdoğan accused Israel of “state terrorism” and “genocide” after dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli rockets.

Both countries recalled their ambassadors. Relations continued to sour, particularly after a controversial law passed by the Israeli parliament in July that defined the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

In November 2021, Erdoğan held telephone talks with Israeli President Herzog and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the first such discussions between the Turkish leader and an Israeli leader since 2013.

Erdoğan declared that Turkey is considering “gradual” reconciliation with Israel.

In January 2022, he announced that Turkey is ready to cooperate with Israel on a gas pipeline project in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Following the 2010 crisis, Israel created a strategic alliance with Greece and the Greek Cypriot adminstration, two actors with long-standing acrimony toward Turkey, and in recent years held regular trilateral meetings and conducted joint military drills.

The trio was part of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum established in 2019 with other states, including Egypt and Jordan – without Turkey.

In 2020, Israel, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration signed the EastMed deal for a pipeline to ship gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe, triggering objections from Ankara.

The United States has since also raised concern about the project, citing possible issues over its “commercial viability.”

Erdoğan had earlier said energy cooperation could be on the agenda during talks with Herzog.

Turkey has recently been working to improve relations with several countries in the region as part of a normalization process launched in 2020.

Ankara, which supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has condemned Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its policy toward Palestinians, while Israel has called on Turkey to drop support for the Palestinian group Hamas which runs Gaza.

Last month, Turkey said it would not abandon its commitment to Palestine in order to broker closer ties with Israel.

Through the years of animosity, Turkey and Israel have maintained trade, which stood at $6.7 billion in 2021, up from $5 billion in 2019 and 2020, according to official data.

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DS

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Trump Says his Personality Would Have Prevented Ukraine Conflict

Trump Says his Personality Would Have Prevented Ukraine Conflict

During a rally, the ex-president claimed America was no longer ‘feared nor respected’ under Biden

Former US President Donald Trump lashed out at the Biden administration during a rally on Saturday amid Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. Trump boasted that Russia would never have engaged in the conflict under his watch.

“The fake news said my personality would get us into a war… But actually, my personality is what kept us out of war,” Trump claimed during a rally in Florence, South Carolina, adding, “I was the only president in nearly four decades who did not get America into any new conflicts.”

Trump argued that, under Biden, the US is “neither feared nor respected” and that “there has never been a time where our country has been treated the way it is right now.”

“Other countries are lecturing us and telling us what to do. That’s why we are seeing chaos and mayhem and bloodshed all over the world,” the 45th US president suggested.

Trump railed against “neocons” and “warmongers” who “in the name of democracy… destroyed Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.” He also said that while the US needs to “help stop this brutal invasion,” it also has to “clean out the rot” of the “failed foreign policy establishment” to prevent World War III from taking place.

“Despite all of Biden’s weakness, cowardice, and incompetence there is still a path for him to end this tragedy in Ukraine without getting Americans snared in a gruesome and very bloody war,” he said. “This could lead to World War III… because if you think Putin’s going to stop, it’s going to get worse and worse.”

Trump suggested that part of the problem was that the US government didn’t “have anybody to talk to” Putin under Biden.

“You had somebody to talk to him with me. Nobody was ever tougher on Russia than me,” he claimed, boasting that Moscow “didn’t attack during our administration” despite the US imposing sanctions.

Trump concluded by advising the Biden administration to give Moscow an ultimatum: “Negotiate peace right now or else face blistering consequences, including a push to permanently eliminate dependence on Russian energy.”

Trump noted, however, that Biden would have to embrace the US energy industry to make such a threat credible.

The Biden administration imposed sanctions on Russia’s energy industry in the wake of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, which resulted in US oil prices rising significantly. American officials subsequently attempted to find an alternative country to supply oil to the US – holding discussions with Venezuela and unsuccessfully attempting to organize phone calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the UAE.

Venezuelan Minister for Foreign Affairs Felix Plasencia said on Saturday that Caracas was ready to sell oil to the US again while simultaneously remaining “loyal” to Moscow.

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As West Tries to Force Russia From Ukraine, Endgame Elusive

As West Tries to Force Russia From Ukraine, Endgame Elusive
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau smiles while speaking to Canadian troops during his visit to Adazi Military base in Kadaga, Latvia, on March. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Roman Koksarov, File)

As Western leaders congratulate themselves for their speedy and severe responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they’re also scratching their heads with uncertainty about what their actions will accomplish.

The U.S., NATO and the European Union have focused on strangling Russia’s economy and arming Ukrainian fighters. But it’s unclear how this will stop the war. No one knows what President Vladimir Putin is thinking, but there’s no reason to believe that even the toughest measures will shatter his determination to force the Western-leaning former Soviet republic back into Moscow’s orbit.

They may not say it publicly, but U.S. officials and their NATO allies don’t see a breaking point for Putin — either an economic toll so severe or battlefield losses so devastating — that would convince him to order his troops home and allow Ukraine’s leaders to govern in peace.

“Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin,” Biden said as he announced a U.S. ban on Russian energy imports on Tuesday. But Ukraine might not be a complete defeat for Putin either.

The sanctions and military aid may have been effective in slowing the Russian advance in Ukraine and perhaps discouraging Putin from targeting other countries. They may serve as a warning for other powerful countries tempted to target weaker neighbors. But Western officials have been vague about how the actions will end the fighting.

One of the most direct answers came from the third-ranking U.S. diplomat, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland. She said Tuesday that internal, rather than external, pressure on Putin will be more effective.

“The way this conflict will end is when Putin realizes that this adventure has put his own leadership standing at risk with his own military, with his own people,” she testified before Congress. “He will have to change course, or the Russian people take matters into their own hands.”

A more provocative remark came from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who called for the Russian people to assassinate Putin. The White House quickly distanced itself from that comment.

In fact, there is no sign yet that his grip on power has loosened. There’s also the frightening uncertainty about how a nuclear-armed Putin, if cornered, would respond to a genuine threat to his power if one were to arise.

And no one is counting on an outright military victory by Ukraine. While Ukrainian fighters have put up a remarkable defense and are determined to fight for as long as Russian forces remain on their soil, they are badly outgunned and would be hard-pressed to push Russian troops back across the border. Meanwhile, NATO nations aren’t about to risk triggering World War III by joining the fight in defense of a non-member state.

Against this backdrop, a diplomatic solution appears unlikely. Russia has only hardened its demands since launching the invasion last month and attempts at diplomacy by French, Israeli and Turkish leaders have thus far proven fruitless. The top U.S. and Russian diplomats aren’t even talking to each other and recent lower-level communications have focused almost entirely on the expulsions of diplomats from their two countries.

“Nobody knows how this is going to end and it’s going to take some time to see how the Russians decide to react to the obvious dead-end that they’ve got themselves into,” said Jeff Rathke, a European expert and president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

“Until the Russians are ready to negotiate something serious and real, there’s not much you can do,” he said. He added that the U.S. and Europe should resist the temptation to negotiate themselves with Putin over Ukraine, especially as the economic costs of isolating Moscow mount, particularly in Europe. “The endgame has to be decided by the Ukrainians in terms of what they will accept,” he said.

“I can’t see this ending in any way good for Ukraine as long as Putin is in power,” said Ian Kelly, a retired U.S. diplomat and former ambassador to Georgia who now teaches international relations at Northwestern University. “He’s put out his maximalist goal, which is basically surrender, and that’s something the Ukrainians aren’t going to be able to accept and the Russians are not going to be able to implement.”

“Withdrawal for him is death. It’s too weak,” Kelly said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged the limits of the West’s ability to end the conflict.

“What we’re looking at is whether or not President Putin will decide to try to finally cut the losses that he’s inflicted on himself and inflicted on the Russian people. We can’t decide that for him,” he said Wednesday.

Appearing beside Blinken, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss suggested the Western response may go beyond hopes of getting Russia out of Ukraine.

“Putin must fail,” she said. “We know from history that aggressors only understand one thing, and that is strength. We know that if we don’t do enough now, other aggressors around the world will be emboldened. And we know that if Putin is not stopped in Ukraine, there will be terrible implications for European and global security.”

With the uncertainty, U.S. officials have said they are convinced of only one thing: that an angry and frustrated Putin will pour more troops and firepower into Ukraine and the bloodshed will get worse before the situation approaches any return to normalcy.

CIA Director William Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, told lawmakers this week he believes Putin has profoundly miscalculated the resistance and determination that his forces would meet from Ukrainians. He also said it may soon dawn on Putin that he will not be able to occupy Ukraine or impose a Russia-friendly regime there without facing years, if not decades, of fierce and bloody opposition.

“Where that leads, I think, is for an ugly next few weeks in which he doubles down with scant regard for civilian casualties, in which urban fighting can get even uglier,” Burns said.

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AP

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Mailed Ballots Boosted 2020’s Turnout, Will It Work in 2022?

Mailed Ballots Boosted 2020’s Turnout, Will It Work in 2022?
Samantha Rhodes completes her civic duty for the November, 2020 election outside of the Carla Madison Rec Center on Colfax Avenue. Oct. 16, 2020. Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

New research on the 2020 election confirms that mailed-out ballots boost turnout—especially when there are no bureaucratic hurdles for voters.

States that mailed a ballot to every registered voter in 2020’s presidential election saw voter turnout increase by an average of 5.6 percent, and turnout was even higher among infrequent voters, according to the first peer-reviewed academic study of 2020 mail voting.

The turnout increase was slightly larger than previous studies of mail-based voting conducted before 2020’s election, where 71 million-plus voters, including voters in swing states, turned to mailed-out ballots in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Less convenient versions of mail-based voting, such as local officials sending all voters an application to fill out and submit before receiving a ballot, or a state relaxing that application’s criteria but still requiring voters to apply, had smaller impacts on lifting voter turnout.

“We tested these different approaches,” said Eric McGhee, a co-author of the new study and a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) senior fellow. “And of those three approaches, we found that the only consistent effect, either on turnout or on the composition of the electorate, was that mailing everybody a ballot elevates turnout.”

McGhee’s paper, “Vote-by-Mail Policy and the 2020 Presidential Election,” which will be published later this year by the scholarly journal Research and Politics, was co-authored by PPIC’s Jennifer Paluch and the University of Southern California’s Mindy Romero.

The research, which surveyed county-level turnout from 1992 through 2020, buoys claims by voter advocates that getting mailed-out ballots directly into voters’ hands—especially in states with automatic voter registration—could be pivotal in 2022’s midterm elections, when historic patterns suggest November’s turnout may fall to two-thirds of the presidential election.

“Voters of color clearly want, need, and use VBM [vote-by-mail] options,” said a February paper by the Deliver My Vote Education Fund (DMVEF), which focuses on increasing voter turnout in communities of color. The use of mailed-out ballots in 2020 was “staggering” compared to 2016, it said, especially in battleground states.

Michigan went from 26 percent of its electorate voting with mailed-out ballots in 2016 to 59 percent in 2020, the advocacy group reported. Pennsylvania went from 4 percent to 40 percent. Among Michigan’s Black voters, using mailed-out ballots increased by 47 percent. Among Pennsylvania’s Black voters, mailed-out ballot usage increased 42 percent; among Asian American and Pacific Islander voters, by 56 percent.

“But historically, turnout in [federal] midterm elections is significantly lower than turnout in [presidential] general elections,” DMVEF said. “We do not have to accept that. There is opportunity to do more to increase midterm election turnout overall and grow VBM use in 2022. The DMVEF is dedicated not just to supporting the VBM movement, but to propelling it.”

The Deliver My Vote Education Fund is not the only voice making this argument that getting mailed-out ballots in voters’ hands could change the dynamics of 2022’s midterms.

“There’s no better way to materially increase the odds that potential 2022 midterm ‘dropout/no-show’ voters will actually consummate the voting act than getting tens of millions of mailed-out ballots in their hands at least three to four weeks before the polls close on November 8, 2022,” said a memo sent to congressional Democrats shared by a well-known advocate. “Campaigns often hinge on small, even razor-thin, margins.”

Encouraging or Overpromising?

Vote-by-mail proponents note that voters in every 2022 battleground state, except Georgia, can now apply to receive a mailed-out ballot for all of 2022’s elections. (In Georgia, the period to apply opens 78 days before the election.) Rather than feeling demoralized by pundits and partisans who say there is little that can be done to fend off major electoral losses next fall, advocates say that applying now for a mailed-out ballot can be empowering.

They point to New Jersey, where, in 2020’s presidential election, every registered voter was mailed a ballot. (The state adopted automatic voter registration in 2018.) Among young voters, ages 18 to 29, the turnout in New Jersey was the highest of any state in 2020, at 67 percent. But in 2021’s statewide elections, where local officials did not mail every voter a ballot and reverted to its prior mix of absentee, early in-person, and Election Day voting, the turnout among voters ages 18 to 29 fell to 20 percent. The “absent Democratic voter problem” for voters of all ages was also seen in New York and Pennsylvania in 2021, the memo lobbying congressional Democrats said.

“The 2020 election was a perfect storm,” Deliver My Vote Education Fund’s paper concluded. “Voters and election administrators who never would have considered voting from home instead of an election booth, made different decisions. The 2022 midterm elections provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to continue this extraordinary expansion of VBM for all voters.”

Academics who study voting by mail and youth voting are more cautious in their projections. They say that specific factors affect turnout in general, and youth turnout in particular.

PPIC’s McGhee said that mailing every voter a ballot has a bigger effect than what was reported by the New York Times’ Nate Cohn in April 2021, where Cohn said that the balloting option had “limited import” and cited a study, whose data was from 1996 through 2018, that concluded it “increases turnout by only about 2 percent with no discernible partisan advantage.”

One reason for the difference between McGhee’s research and Cohn’s figures is that McGhee was looking at turnout as a percentage of registered voters, while the study cited by Cohn looked at the larger population of all eligible citizens—which includes unregistered voters. Thus, McGhee found that mailing all voters a ballot saw turnout grow by an average of 5.6 percent in 2020.

“What’s remarkable about our paper is not that we find universal vote by mail raises turnout, but that we find it really didn’t change in 2020,” McGhee said. “In the midst of a crazy election year and the pandemic and everything, it had the same effect as in previous years.”

McGhee and his colleagues found factors that both boosted and lowered turnout.

The biggest increases occurred in counties where all registered voters were mailed a ballot, and, crucially, the jurisdiction had little history of absentee ballot usage beyond overseas and military voters. In those settings, sending infrequent voters a ballot without that voter having to do more work lifted the presidential election turnout by “6 to 8 percent,” McGhee said. “The turnout boost is reaching people who were otherwise not on the radar.”

The converse was also true, he said. Adding more steps to be taken by voters to get a mailed-out ballot decreased turnout. Those steps, from less to more rigorous, include officials sending applications to voters (which must be filled out and returned) to suspending the state’s prior “excuse” requirement to qualify for a ballot, but still requiring voters to apply on their own.

Turnout increases “when you mail everyone a ballot. Everything else was more complicated,” McGhee said. “The impact was either very small or dependent on how you slice and dice it.”

McGhee’s team also found, surprisingly, that expanding vote-by-mail options in 2020 seemed to help Republicans more than Democrats—”precisely the opposite of the claims made by former President Trump and others,” their paper noted. That’s most likely because before 2020, most of the states and counties that had embraced the use of mailed-out ballots in 2020 “generally trended Democratic.”

Back to New Jersey

Since 2020, a few states, mostly blue bastions such as California and Vermont, have shifted to universal voting with mailed-out ballots. Nevada, a purple state and a national battleground, also has shifted to mail-based voting. In contrast, New Jersey, which mailed all voters a ballot in 2020, has reverted to its pre-pandemic baseline where voters must apply to vote by mail.

McGhee was reluctant to overly ascribe the drop in dramatic voter turnout among youths ages 18 to 29 to New Jersey’s decision to not mail every voter a ballot in its 2021 state elections—in contrast to mailing all voters a ballot in the 2020 presidential election.

Kelly Beadle, the impact and outreach manager at Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which tracks youth voting, said that New Jersey’s 2021 turnout of voters ages 18 to 29 was consistent with pre-2020 turnout trends. The state’s adoption of automatic voter registration eliminated that step for young people, which, in turn, contributed to the high voter turnout in the last presidential election, she said.

CIRCLE’s post-2020 analysis of which versions of mail-based voting resulted in the highest turnout echoed the findings by McGhee and his colleagues. Fifty-seven percent of youths who received a mailed-out ballot in 2020 voted, she said. Fifty-two percent of youths who were sent a ballot application ended up voting. Fifty percent of youths who applied for a ballot in a state where the excuse requirement was suspended ended up voting. And 42 percent of youths in the states where the excuse requirement remained in effect voted. (Overall, youth turnout in 2020 was among the highest since the voting age was lowered to 18, CIRCLE reported.)

Beadle emphasized that the dynamics surrounding voting by mail for young people, especially students, were very different from older people. Young people move more frequently. In many states, they have to re-register or update their registration information before getting a ballot. While many apps used by outreach groups seek to help young people to register and to plan to vote, there are other factors that influence turnout, from their interest to their peers.

“I think the biggest thing that remains to be seen in 2022 is we know that young people get their information about voting from a variety of different sources, whether it’s their friends, family members, co-workers, professors or teachers,” Beadle said. “In a year [2020] where over half the people are submitting their ballots by mail, when people are talking about voting, they are going to be hearing from lots of different sources about voting by mail. We don’t know if that’s going to be the case in 2022.”

With snow still on the ground in many northern states, it may be hard for advocates to get young people to focus on spring’s primaries or November’s midterms. Similarly, it may be hard for activists to prod people to go online now and apply for a mailed-out ballot. But research by PPIC’s McGhee and CIRCLE suggests that getting a ballot into a voter’s hands increases their chances of voting. In lower-turnout midterms, any new voting bloc could prove pivotal.

“There’s reason to believe the effects would be larger,” said McGhee. “These kinds of election reform effects tend to be larger in lower-turnout elections where there are more people who are already sitting on the sidelines.”


By Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

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Independent Media Institute

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The War-Profiteering Gangsters Will Kill Us All Unless We Unite Against Them

The War-Profiteering Gangsters Will Kill Us All Unless We Unite Against Them
People look at the exterior of a damaged residential building hit by an early morning missile strike on February 25, 2022, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Western media simplifies the conflict in Ukraine in ways that divide us. But what if instead, we chose to unite against those who profit from all wars throughout the world?

I figured something out after tossing and turning all night. We on the left often make the mistake of still looking upon Russia as a somewhat socialist enterprise. Of course, it isn’t. The Soviet Union ended in 1991. Russia is an unadulterated neoliberal capitalist gangster’s paradise, modeled during the time of its horrific restructuring under Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) on the United States of America. It should come as no surprise that its autocratic, and possibly unhinged leader, Vladimir Putin, has no more respect for the UN Charter and international law than recent presidents of the United States or prime ministers of England have had. (For example, remember George W. Bush and Tony Blair during the Iraq invasion.) I, on the other hand, do care about international law and the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and can unequivocally state that if I had been eligible to vote in the General Assembly on March 2, I would have voted with the 141 ambassadors who supported the resolution condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and demanding that it withdraw its armed forces.

Would that the General Assembly had a mandate to govern, sadly it doesn’t, which means it’s even more beholden on all us freedom-loving, law-abiding anti-war activists to stand shoulder to shoulder with all our brothers and sisters all over the world, irrespective of race, religion, or nationality, in pursuit of elusive peace. That of course means standing with the Russian people and the Ukrainian people, the Palestinian people, the Syrian people, the Lebanese people, the Kurds, African Americans, Mexicans, Ecuadorian rainforest dwellers, South African miners, Armenians, Greeks, the Inuit, the Mapuche and my neighbors the Shinnecock, to name but a few.

It has been monstrous to hear white Western news reporters (such as Charlie D’Agata of CBS News) bewailing the plight of Ukrainian refugees on the grounds that “they look like us” when addressing what they must assume are white Western audiences and that the conflict in Ukraine is exceptional because “this isn’t Afghanistan or Iraq.” That is outrageous. The implication is that it’s somehow more acceptable to make war on people whose skin is brown or black and drive them from their homes than people who “look like us.” It’s not. All refugees, all people who struggle are our brothers and sisters.

In these difficult days, we should resist the temptation to pour good guy/bad guy gasoline on the fire; demand a ceasefire in the name of humanity; support our brothers and sisters fighting for peace internationally, in Moscow and Santiago and Paris and Sao Paulo and New York, because we are everywhere; and stop pouring weapons of war into Eastern Europe, further destabilizing the region just to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the international armaments industry.

Maybe we should raise our voices to encourage the idea of a neutral Ukraine, as has been repeatedly suggested by wise individuals of good faith for many years. First things first, of course, Ukrainians should demand a ceasefire; but after that, maybe Ukrainians would welcome such an arrangement. Maybe someone should ask them. One thing’s for sure: It can’t be left up to the gangsters. Left to their own devices, the gangsters will kill us all.


roger waters

By Roger Waters is a musician.

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This article was produced by Globetrotter to publish on Telegraf.

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26 Russians, Getting EU Blacklists Including Kremlin Spokesman Peskov

26 Russians, Getting EU Blacklists Including Kremlin Spokesman Peskov
A pedestrian is reflected as they walk by EU flags outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. Britain and the European Union warned Tuesday that talks on a post-Brexit free-trade deal are teetering on the brink of collapse, with just over three weeks until an economic rupture that will cause upheaval for businesses on both sides of the English Channel. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Apart from that, sanctions have been imposed on Gas Industry Insurance Company SOGAZ.

The European Union has blacklisted 26 more Russian nationals, including presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov, and one legal entity, according to the corresponding normative acts published in the EU Official Journal on Monday.

“In view of the gravity of the situation, the Council considers that 26 persons and one entity should be added to the list of persons, entities and bodies subject to restrictive measures set out in the Annex to Decision 2014/145/CFSP,” it reads.

Along with Peskov, the blacklist includes Igor Sechin, executive director of Rosneft; Nikolay Tokarev, Transneft CEO; Alisher Usmanov, founder and major shareholder of USM holding co; Pyotr Aven, chairman, board of directors, Afta Bank; Mikhail Fridman, co-owner, Alfa Group; Sergey Roldugin, cellist and businessman; Dmitry Chernyshenko, Deputy Prime Minister; Irek Faizullin, Minister of Construction and Housing; Vitaly Savelyev, Minister of Transport; Andrey Turchak, first deputy speaker of the Federation Council (upper parliament house); Tigran Keosayan, film director; Olga Skabeyev, journalist; Alexander Ponomarenko, chairms, board of directors, Sheremetyevo airport; Modest Kolerov, editor-in-chief, Regnum news agency; Roman Babayan, editor-in-chief, Govorit Moskva radio station; Zakhar Prilepin, writer and co-leader of the Just Russia – For Truth party; Anton Krasovsky, journalists and RT host; Arkady Mamontov, journalist and host on Rossiya-1 television channel; Sergey Punchuk, first deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet; Alexey Avdeyev, deputy commander, Southern Military District; Rustam Muradov, deputy commander, Southern Military District; Andrey Sychevoy, commander, 8th army of the Southern Military District; Gennady Timchenko, majority shareholder, Volga Group investment company and holder of share in Rossiya bank; Alexey Mordashev, chairman, board of directors, Severstal; and Pyotr Fradkov, Promsvyazbank chairman.

They are banned from entering the European Union and their assets in the EU countries, if any, will be frozen.

Apart from that, sanctions have been imposed on Gas Industry Insurance Company SOGAZ.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address on Thursday morning that in response to a request by the heads of the Donbass republics he had made a decision to carry out a special military operation in order to protect people “who have been suffering from abuse and genocide by the Kiev regime for eight years.” The Russian leader stressed that Moscow had no plans of occupying Ukrainian territories.

When clarifying the unfolding developments, the Russian Defense Ministry reassured that Russian troops are not targeting Ukrainian cities, but are limited to surgically striking and incapacitating Ukrainian military infrastructure. There are no threats whatsoever to the civilian population. TASS

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Michigan Initiatives Clash on How to Stop GOP’s Election Deniers

Michigan Initiatives Clash on How to Stop GOP’s Election Deniers
Several hundred demonstraters cheer on Republican activist Jon Rocha during a rally Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021 outside MichiganÕs Capitol in Lansing, demanding an additional investigation into 2020 election results. Conservative activists announced a petition initiative aimed at changing state law on post-election audits. The Republican-led Legislature has not acted on demands for a Òforensic auditÓ from supporters of former President Donald Trump who believe the results were tainted by fraud. | Jake May

Competing state constitutional amendments go to different lengths to enshrine voting rights and target anti-voter legislation and court rulings.

A new front is opening in Michigan’s voting wars that raises fundamental questions about how far defenders of fact-based elections and representative government must go to protect voting rights in an era marked by Republicans who deny results and spread lies about elections.

Republicans have launched ballot initiatives to bypass a gubernatorial veto and enact laws that would complicate voting, and sanction outside inquiries into close results. Voting rights groups and Democrats, in turn, are using the initiative process to amend Michigan’s constitution to close the veto loophole, and to affirmatively enshrine voting rights and balloting options.

There are three pro-voter proposed amendments. The first would close the veto dodge. The other two, affirming voting rights and options, would, if passed, lay the groundwork to strike down the GOP’s initiative-sparked legislation. But the latter two proposed amendments go to different lengths to block legislators and even the courts from rolling back voting rights.

“They’re all interested in what the ground rules all are,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, speaking of Michigan’s five competing ballot initiatives to enact laws or amend its constitution. “They’re also all interested in how these different political actors have power relative to one another, and how to restrict or expand that power.”

Michigan’s initiatives are responses to ongoing fights over its 2020 election, where Joe Biden officially beat Donald Trump by 154,000 votes out of 5.5 million cast. On February 11, its Board of State Canvassers finalized the 100-word summaries describing the latest measures to initiate legislation or amend its constitution. The next step is gathering signatures by July 11 to advance the GOP’s proposed laws or to put the amendments before voters in November.

The initiatives are part of a surge of more restrictive or permissive voting measures that have flooded state legislatures since the 2020 presidential election. But unlike states such as Arizona and Nebraska, where single ballot measures have emerged in addition to many bills proposed by legislators, Michigan offers the broadest spectrum of ballot initiatives that may complicate elections or construct guardrails against antidemocratic power grabs.

The faction seeking more onerous rules for voters, led by pro-Trump Republicans, wants to adopt legislation that was vetoed last October by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. They have turned to Michigan’s ballot initiative process, where signatures from 8 percent of the votes cast for governor (340,000) would refer the measure to the GOP-led legislature, which could then enact the law. (Laws initiated this way are exempt from vetoes.) A second potential law proposed by Trump allies would empower private contractors to audit election results, like Arizona’s much-maligned 2020 review that concluded Biden won after spending months casting doubt on the election’s results.

The GOP proposals have been met by countermeasures to amend Michigan’s constitution from proponents of more expansive voting rights. Amending a state constitution supersedes new law and establishes a basis to challenge existing laws. (The amendments need 425,000 signatures to get on Michigan’s November 2022 ballot.) Center-left groups are behind the three proposed amendments. The first would close the veto loophole. The other two proposals overlap in their enumeration of voting rights and voting options, but they differ in how far each goes to restrain conspiracy-driven legislation and courts from upholding laws based on unproven threats.

These differences may confuse voters as signature-gathering efforts start. The authors of the competing proposals talk about them in very different ways.

How Far to Go?

“The Promote the Vote (PTV) proposal is about moving the state forward,” said Sharon Dolente, an attorney and senior adviser to Promote the Vote, a coalition that includes Michigan chapters of many voting rights groups such as the ACLU, League of Women Voters, and NAACP, and has been endorsed by the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. “The voters of Michigan are tired of talking about November 2020… Now, how do you do that?” continued Dolente. “You do that by creating [affirmative constitution-based] policies that make your system, your voting system, more accessible and more secure. People want both.”

“It’s not just about the mechanics of voting, because that’s not the only part of what makes your system accessible and secure,” she added. “For example, voters in Michigan don’t want there to be any risk that they are able to cast their ballot, but then their vote doesn’t count. You saw after the 2020 election [various pro-Trump] efforts to subvert the votes.”

The competing amendment is from MI Right to Vote (RTV), a coalition of grassroots ballot campaign activists led by a retired longtime election official. It also affirms a fundamental right to vote and enumerates pro-voter options in the Michigan constitution. But it requires that legislators and courts use strict evidence standards when writing or reviewing voting laws. Its authors emphasize that such specifics are needed to block laws based on unproven threats.

“That’s the heart and soul of our proposal,” said Fred Green, an attorney with RTV, during the Board of State Canvassers meeting on February 11. “The fundamental right to vote, alone, is not effective. The Michigan Supreme Court provides that unless a restrictive law is severely restrictive, the court will allow the restriction. Our amendment will change the constitution so that any law that unduly burdens or limits the right to vote will require a compelling state interest. If there is no compelling state interest, the law will fail.”

MI Right to Vote also drafted a constitutional amendment to close the veto loophole.

Both pro-voter groups say that they were unaware of each other’s effort to draft constitutional amendments. Each group also played pivotal roles in the passage of constitutional amendments in 2018. MI Right to Vote helped create the state’s independent redistricting commission, which has been meeting and has been praised as a model to hedge against gerrymanders. Promote the Vote drafted a successful amendment expanding voter registration, including same-day access to a ballot, and ended the “excuse requirement” to receive a mailed-out ballot.

Ballot initiatives to adopt laws or amend state constitutions are not new in the voting sphere, Morales-Doyle said. However, the specificity of these proposals, especially RTV’s language that legislators must establish a factual record of illegal voting before passing new restrictions on voters, and its requirement that courts follow the strictest judicial scrutiny and evidence standards when evaluating election laws “is not something that I would say I’ve ever seen written into a constitution.”

“There are 18 states that can follow what we are doing,” said Jan BenDor, co-founder of MI Right to Vote and former election official. “We are trying to get them to follow our lead.”

Responding to Republicans

Twenty-six states have ballot initiatives, where petition drives can change the law. Of those, 18 states including five presidential battlegrounds—Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio—allow measures to amend their state constitutions.

Michigan’s accessible voting options were attacked by Trump and his allies during and after 2020’s election. Efforts to roll back these options and impose restrictions by its GOP-majority legislature were vetoed by the state’s Democratic governor last fall, leading Republicans to draft a ballot initiative with the same changes.

Their measure, put forth by “Secure MI Vote,” a GOP front group, would require that voters produce additional identifying information when registering to vote, signing in at polls, and applying for a mailed-out ballot. It also would bar officials from proactively informing voters about voting by mail, from widely using absentee ballot-return drop boxes, and from taking foundation grants to help pay for running elections.

“Secure MI Vote is committed to increasing confidence in the results of Michigan elections by expanding voting opportunities and making it harder to cheat by, for example, implementing real signature verification and prohibiting special interest funding of the conduct and administration of elections,” Robert Avers, its attorney, told the Board of State Canvassers in emailed comments on Promote the Vote’s petition summary language.

At its February 11 meeting, Avers criticized the more inclusive ballot measures, saying that it was “unnecessary” to affirm the right to vote in the state’s constitution, as other federal and state court rulings have already done so. “It is not impartial [wording],” he said, referring to the 100-word summary voters will read. “It would work to essentially make the public want to sign the petition. Because who doesn’t want to establish a fundamental right to vote?”

A second Republican-based proposal, from “Audit MI,” would initiate legislation authorizing outside contractors “to carry out a systematic or formal inquiry to discover and examine the facts of the November 2020 general election or any other future statewide or federal elections so as to establish the truth.”

These inquiries have failed to find any evidence in any state that Trump did not lose but created fodder for pro-Trump media to report for months that the 2020 results were illegitimate, which a majority of Republicans now believe. In essence, the representatives of the GOP-based proposals said that they did not trust local election officials to run elections.

The state board, with two Republican and two Democratic members, rejected these criticisms and approved the summaries for the measures from the pro-inclusion groups, MI Right to Vote and Promote the Vote.

A Deeper Look

Promote the Vote’s proposed constitutional amendment declares that Michigan voters have a “fundamental right to vote” and bars “any harassing, threatening, or intimidating conduct”—a nod to recent right-wing protests in Michigan. It states that voters can present a wide range of ID or sign an affidavit attesting to their identity if they lack ID. If a voter’s signature does not match a state record (as signatures change over time), they have time to cure that discrepancy. It states that mailed-out ballots will be sent with prepaid return postage, requires localities to deploy one drop box for every 15,000 voters, and states that once a voter has applied for a mailed-out ballot that they will not have to reapply for “any future elections.”

The measure also bars election audits by nongovernmental officials, including political parties, and states that election officials can accept grants “to conduct and administer elections.” It also says the legislature “may by law establish boards of county canvassers,” and clarifies the role of the State Board of Canvassers, which is ministerial and to certify results.

“We don’t want to address each and every effort [to roll back voting rights] every two years,” said Dolente. “This is developing future infrastructure to avoid these problems.”

MI Right to Vote has two proposed amendments. The first would bar ballot initiatives from referring laws to the legislature that were exempt from a gubernatorial veto. The second would establish voting rights and enumerate voting options. Like Promote the Vote, it requires the use of drop boxes and prepaid postage for absentee ballots, denotes a wide range of acceptable voter ID, creates a permanent absentee voter list, and allows local officials to accept foundation grants.

Where their proposal differs from Promote the Vote is it specifically seeks to hem in legislators who want to intentionally complicate the voting process, and similarly creates higher burdens of proof for courts to keep judges from issuing rulings that thwart voters and voting options.

“While there are many areas where the proposed constitutional amendments of MI Right to Vote and Promote the Vote are in agreement, we have been asked by many people to include what we have determined are some of the significant differences,” RTV’s website said.

The RTV proposal makes the right to vote “a fundamental enumerated right by putting it in Article I of the Michigan constitution,” the website said, whereas the PTV measure puts it in Article II. The RTV proposal also “[r]equires that any proposed law limiting the right to vote shall require the strictest judicial scrutiny… [and] be necessary and narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest,” which is not in PTV’s measure.

BenDor said that provision was intended to challenge a 2007 Michigan Supreme Court advisory opinion that held the possibility of voter fraud, even unproven, justified tougher voter ID requirements. Similarly, the proposed amendment stated that “any proposed [new] law [from legislators] restricting voting based on fraud must be based on clear evidence of fraud, not on the mere assertion of possible fraud,” RTV’s website said.

BenDor also criticized one line in Promote the Vote’s proposal, “The legislature may by law establish boards of county canvassers.” She said that language was a “Trojan Horse” that could allow a GOP-run legislature to replace local canvass boards (now with two Democrats and two Republicans) with Republican majorities, which has been seen in Georgia where legislators purged Democrats on some county boards after passing legislation in 2021. Dolente replied that BenDor was misreading that language and called her charge “disinformation.”

The likelihood of any of these measures moving onto the next stage—either the GOP referring their proposed laws to the legislature or the voter advocates’ constitutional amendments being on the fall ballot—depends on raising the funds to underwrite signature-gathering campaigns.

But what is intriguing about the pro-voter measures is how far they go to address what their authors distrust about those who would suppress votes in Michigan and in the institutions overseeing Michigan’s elections. In that respect, the Brennan Center’s Morales-Doyle said the proposals are grappling with the same question that hovered over the federal election reforms that recently died in the U.S. Senate and shadowed the drafting of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965—which is how to stop power brokers from disenfranchising voters and subverting election results.

“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was aimed at particular practices. It said, ‘You can’t have literacy tests. They can’t have certain tests of devices that are used to discriminate,'” Morales-Doyle said. “The call that President Johnson made for its passage said, ‘We also need something to protect against ingenious discrimination.’ Basically, it was passed with this recognition that no matter what rule you can’t have, these states and localities are going to figure out ways to accomplish the ends of race discrimination in voting by different means. They’re very creative. They’ll find another way to do what they’re trying to do. And we need to have a system in place to prevent that.”


By Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute to publish on Telegraf.

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