WE CHERISH THE RIGHT TO VOTE: SO WHY DO SO MANY OF US NOT USE IT ?

IMG_6055

^ huge lines of voters waiting to cast a ballot in last year’s election : we have the power. And we know it. Whether we use it or not. Often we do not use it. But the important thing is that we have it. Even we who haven’t registered know we always can, know that the power is ours

—- —- —-

Almost everyone except the nationalists who love Mr. Trump cherishes the right to vote. Those of us who think of citizenship consider voting rights the bedrock civil right. We are not wrong. Our ancestors fought a bloody civil war at least in part to se cure voting rights for African Americans and immigrants. Several important expansions of voting rights ensued; today our nation practices universal suffrage, at least in principle. If you’re a citizen, and eighteen years of age, you have the right to vote.

Yet the path from the right to vote to actually voting is not universally taken. About half of vote-eligible citizens never register; and in local, Boston elections, only about 37.5 percent — and not always that high a percentage –of those who do register actually cast a ballot. Boston’s registration rate is high: about 80 percent of eligibles register; still, these numbers tell us that about 68 percent — more than two of every three — of vote-eligible Bostonians do not vote in city elections.  Why not ?

Because more than two of every three vote-eligible Bostonians do not vote in city elections, those who do acquire about three times the voting power that they would have in a universal suffrage participation. Because elections are won by a majority, if only 32 percent of eligible vote, barely 1/6 of all vote eligible citizens choose who wins. This isn’t much different from the situation that prevailed in the 1780s and 1850s, long before /universal voting eligibility was enacted, or even thought of . Boston in 1822, the year it, became a city, had about 10,000 voters; by 1850, about 30,000; Civil War Boston counted about 60,000 voters. Today, 150 years later, 60,000 votes almost wins a Mayor election (65,000 is the actual).

Does it matter that most of us who  could vote do not ? Evidently it doesn’t. Very few people except pundits complain that Boston elections are decided by 16 to 19 percent of us. Would elections look all that different if 50 percent of us voted ? Maybe not. But one thing seems  certain : if 50 percent voted — about 230,000 voters — there’d be far more  candidates. There’d be a culture of participation. There’d be vigorous primaries and heated second rounds. Today, at least half the municipal election contests have no primary. If there’s no primary, there isn’t much to excite voters.

But perhaps political excitement, except for President, is a rare thing and one that doesn’t feel necessary. Life in Boston has its pressures, and its drama, but those in charge do not slack, and every citizen, voter or not, makes her voice heard in a dozen venues including social media and the streets. If a citizen can make her voice thus heard, as so many are now effective at doing, maybe voting isn’t so crucial. Perhaps democracy is an arsenal with many different weapons in it.

A weapon need not be used to be effective. If the opposition knows it’s there — and you know it’s there — that’s often effect enough. Having the right to vote is power enough. And we all know that we all have that. We have the power.

Those who want to restrict the right to vote, or impede it, would not bother if they did not understand, as well as we do, how powerful the right to vote is, used or left unused. We cannot let them restrict us or impede us, and we won’t, no matter if we vote this time, or next time, or hardly ever, and even if we have yet to register.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

HAS ANYONE YET NOTED THAT THE STATE’S BUDGET IS EXPANDING ?

FullSizeRender

^ Governor Charlie Baker : bread and butter reform in sometimes surprising directions

—- —- —-

Two recent developments in state funding, both of them Governor baker initiatives, have resulted in an FY 2018 State Budget that is expanding despite the substantial revenue shortfall revealed a couple of months ago.

The first development is Governor Baker’s ongoing program of grant awards to various industries pursuant to his Workforce Development initiative that began almost the day he first took office. As the link I’m attaching makes clear, Baker’s grants come frequently and are hardly ungenerous : http://www.masslifesciences.com/news/announcements/

Baker has also delivered substantial funds to the development of workforce-priced housing. In a Budget that has included no new taxes or fees, and that has a revenue shortfall, where is this money co0ming from ?

This may well arise from Baker’s careful analysis of the State’s Budget; there is, however, nothing careful about Baker’s really ambitious new move : assessing $ 180million in fees to businesses that do not offer their employees health insurance. It’s not precisely anew tax, but it is a new levy, and it comes with full support by the House, and thus that of Speaker DeLeo : http://news.wgbh.org/2017/04/10/politics-government/mass-house-budget-enables-gov-baker-pursue-employer-assessments

Baker originally proposed an even larger assessment : $ 300 million; but the House felt that the smaller levy would do. So far, so good. What’s truly interesting Is to see Baker, who has the label “Republican” attached to him, moving in a direction one would never expect from the term “Republican” today.

I have often wondered what would happen when the “no new taxes or fees” Baker of 2014-16 met the “we need new revenue” reality of 2017. One need wonder no longer. Baker has made his choice : to seek new funds for a purpose that cannot be quarreled with : we badly need to pay our rapidly rising health care costs, especially in light of potential hurt if the Congress ends up enacting its controversial, undermining health care venture. Baker has now signed onto doing so. It is, in fact, his top priority.

Baker recently told a gathering of his activists that “there’s no partisanship in our program going forward.” He said it with pride, and it was and is true.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here andm Sphere

 

THE MUGGLEBEE FILES : A MEMO ON INTELLIGENCE

rosenstein

^ the man and his memo : Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein

—- —- —-

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. — F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

  • The firing of James Comey defines this political moment. As America continues to unpack his sudden firing by President Trump,what becomes immediately clear is the contradiction in it: the firing of Comey is supported, and unsupported, by almost everyone. Why is that? It’s simple, really, yet nothing in American politics is, or is allowed to be, so simple.The American narrative is based in contradiction. We’re for wars before we are against them. Firing FBI Director Comey was a curveball that almost no one saw coming. No one, except Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, that is.Late last October, you will recall, Comey stepped into the election at a critical time and in a very critical way, one that seemed to most an unprecedented partisan effort to sway an election by speaking about an ongoing investigation. The election then resulted in boosting the very candidate Comey’s move seemed to benefit. Couldn’t be better, right? Not right.Comey had a peculiar set of values and a sterling reputation, but at once his move became a scandal of a type seen in our history but which we hoped we’d never see again : the tyranny of an FBI Director; of J Edgar Hoover. Since Trump had now won, Comey’s role seemed affixed…yet, perhaps, not. Because, you see, Comey had his own conflict. He absorbed so much criticism for his decision to speak on the Clinton e mail matter in a way that had the appearance of impropriety, that he literally felt he needed to make it right. Perhaps, and this is based on his testimony last week on his regrets, his contradiction side began to take command: bent on correcting a perceived error of serious magnitude and, thus, using the only things at his disposal…turned his focus on the focus of much of the nation- the Trump/Russia ties.As Attorney General, Jeff Sessions had already recused himself of handling the Trump/Russia inquiry thanks to his own ties thereto : which made the sudden firing of Comey all the more strange : because the President acting on advice from Sessions would violate the promised recusal. So into the picture steps Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a 27 year Department of justice veteran. The President solicits a recommendation – a memo -regarding Comey’s actions in November. This, mind you, is on the heels of Comey’s most recent testimony highlighting significant investigation into Trump/Russia collusion and the high level of threat to the country that it presents. No wonder that the timing of James Comey’s sudden firing is immediately suspect.During perhaps the most divisive election in our country’s history, most Trump supporters, who were rabid anti-Hillary, at the time saw Comey’s rogue actions as “saving the country”, and of course acceptable (on their side). But this is how things get difficult: the very same man who helped them defeat Hillary is now helping defeat Trump, possibly.The crux of F Scott’s quote above. Two opposing ideas.Americans are tasked, right now, with understanding the inherent contradiction of two opposing ideas at the same time: Jim Comey deserved to be fired, but not now. Not under these circumstances. This is what makes this so damn difficult- politics loves to sow confusion and divisive thought. If F Scott is right, the very measure of intelligence is also the very lever of anti-intelligence, or forcing people to hold two opposing ideas in mind and retain the ability to function. People like Sarah Huckabee Sanders want you to function on one idea and one alone, and that isn’t intelligent. Rod Rosenstein has chosen a curious duplicity here. While he memo’d what most Americans on each side of the isle truly believe about Comey’s actions (which did indeed stun and worry most of us), Trump wanted to use Comey’s actions when they benefitted him (and so did his supporters)…and then completely reverse direction when it also suited him. He did so on the back of this simple memo from Rosenstein seemingly suggesting firing Comey. Why? You could say Rosenstein merely addressed Comey’s over-steps: an analysis as non-partisan as objective. Yet given the cut-throat culture in today’s White House, the Rosenstein memeo could easily be a trap. It’s been said that the difference between clever and intelligent is that clever is short-sighted and seeks immediate gain at the expense of long-term loss. Intelligence travels the opposite path.What F Scott was talking about, and makes clear, is doing the opposite twice; but taking two different opposing actions at separate times isn’t intelligence: it’s clever. To be intelligent, one must keep two opposing ideas in mind at the same time AND function from there. Trump was for Comey before he was against him. Rosenstein, on the other hand, may be for AND against at the same time. But for and against what? By handing Trump a memo, which seemed to be for firing Comey…He’s also against Donald Trump.Trump firing Comey suddenly may have thrust into him the sword that will end his presidency. As things unfold — and Trump admitted last night he indeed fired Comey to “end the investigation” — undoubtedly it’s clear to everyone that new have obstruction of justice. (clear to everyone but Trump, that is.)As the likely Constitutional crisis unfolds, I end with yet a second Scott Fitzgerald quote, one that I personally like:So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

 

  • — Christopher Mugglebee / The Mugglebee Files for Here and Sphere
  •  
  •  

FROM OUR EDITOR, A PERSONAL NOTE

tylenol

^ Tylenol is my constant companion as I recover from nine days of hospitalization and ten days of home therapy.

—- —- —-

As you may know, I have had a significant health issue to deal with, one that put me into the hospital for nine days and has imposed a rehab regimen on me that has already lasted ten more days and will continue for about another week. My absence has left you the reader without much of Here and Sphere’s food for thought.

I want now to share with you some details of what I have been though as well as what portends.

An explosion of blood disorder hit me practically without warning (although in hindsight, there were song indications of what would soon blow up). There I was: vomiting, loss of appetite, slow urination, fever over 101 F: This was sepsis, infection of the blood, a grave portent. Three days later my Doctors finally specified the precise bacteria causing the infection, and from then on, I began get better.

I was saved, yes; but recovery from such a blow is not fun. It hasn’t been fun for me. On this the eleventh day after I was released from hospital, I remain somewhat incapacitated. Walking is difficult. Hospital bedding left my lower back sore, my bum numb, nerve pressure excruciating — I live with Tylenol.

Today is my first on the computer writing to you, our faithful readers. I apologize for the interruption. Read on : we’ve an op-ed on the drama of Salem’s Sanctuary City ordinance.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

 

 

BOSTON: FIRST LOOK AT COUNCIL DISTRICT ONE:

CityCouncil_redistrict_2011

Yet another of Boston’s nine Council Districts will be choosing a new member. In this case, its’ my own District, #One, which brings together the oldest of Boston’s neighborhoods : Charlestown, the North End, East Boston — 25 precincts all in.

The opening is gifted to us by the retirement of Sal LaMattina — not exactly a surprise, rumors had reached me, but still a major shift, LaMattina had voiced our District’s interests at the City Hall for years, and his voice was very distinctive: the last of his generation of rough-throated Italian upbringing in what was then the City’s biggest Italian Ward (East Boston). Whoever replaces Sal may well have an Italian last name, but there’s been enormous change since Sal became an adult; his successor will speak differently, in different words, in different worlds.

Several candidates have been mentioned : Lydia Edwards of East Boston, Jack Kelly of Charlestown, Stephen Passacantilli of the North End. Of these, Passacantilli has the longest political pedigree: I well recall his Dad Dan Passacanatilli when he was first hired to be a City Council staffer about 40 years ago. Edwards is the newcomer of the group, yet she is no rookie; in last year’s Special Senate Senate Election to succeed the #1stSuffolkMiddlesex’s Anthony Petrcucelli, Edwards won East Boston outright, with 941 votes in a seven-candidate field.. Meanwhile, Kelly, who hails from a long-time Charlestown family, ran for City Council at large in 2013 and received some 3709 votes out a total of 5557 in Ward 2.

Many Districts draw candidates who have no major political exposure. Its a token of #CouncilDistrict1’s intense commitment to local government that all these candidates could run the table in many of the Nine Districts.

But there will be time to assess the candidates and their campaigns. First, what of the District ?

Turnout. Despite the intensity of its activists’ activism, participation by the full electoral falls short. East Boston (Ward 1) beat the City average by ten points — but there was a very contentious casino referendum on the ballot. Charlestown’s 43.81 percent turnout is a true representation: six points better than the city average — not much. The North End’s four precincts tallied a mere 2956 votes, eight points UNDER the City average. This will be a Mayoral election years, so turnout will tend toward the high rather than the low. That said, more recent elections  have seen Ward 1 tally about 4600nbqllot, \Charlestown about 2700, the North End about 1600. Thus your “turnout over – under.

Demographics : When I drafted this District (as well as the others)_ for then councillor Terry McDermott’s 1981 (I think, this was a bit ago, y’know) committee pursuant to the Charter Change voted that year, District One wrote itself: it was to elect a traditional, Italian-American voice to represent what was still overwhelmingly populated by such — with Charlestown thrown in because geographically there was no option. There still IS no good option; but Charlestown and East Boston have almost completely changed. Today they are much more alike than in 1981. Charlestown’s vote is at least 30 percent gentrified, while East Boston’s has divided into four parts : young singles in Precents 1 and 3; gentrified in Eagle Hill and much of the Dom Savio Area; Hispanic and Brazilian along the “battle” streets and those that intersect from the tracks and Library Park to about the Eastward side of Trenton Street. As for the “Italian vote,” it can be found in almost every precinct but dominant only in Precincts 11, 12, and 13 — Orient Heights. And even there it has lost sense of command.

Issues : 35 years ago local Council contests weren’t driven by issues but by who one’s friends were. These were patronage elections, and which ward you came from determined your fate. Today that’s not nearly true. Council District 1 is divided by issues of housing, the housing market, education, business development, and availability of parks  and sports playgrounds in ways that unite across the district as the divide within it. The same is true of the District’s substantial union membership. Not much labor unity can be discerned between Teamsters in ward 2 and Local 26 Hotel Workers in the mid-section of Ward 1.Whoever runs successfully will have targeted with almost surgical care.

Interests : If Council District One isn’t the City’s number one restaurant district, it’s close. the North End alone accounts for at least 20 per cent of all the city’s restaurant licenses.

Income : 35 years ago, District One was almost uniformly working class, when working class meant something. Today much of it affluent, even very affluent. Charlie Baker easily won the North End, just missed carrying Charlestown, and kept his loss in Ward One respectable. He will almost certainly do even better in #CD1 next year.

NEXT : the candidates

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

JUSTICE GORSUCH vs. JUSTICE HOLMES

Oliver_Wendell_Holmes_Jr_c1924

Neil Gorsuch is now a Supreme Court Justice. He joins a man he once clerked for, Justice Kennedy — first time a Justice’s clerk has sat on the High Court with a Justice he once clerked for.

Much has been made of Gorsuch’s alignment, jurisprudentially, with the late Justice Scalia. But what if Gorsuch actually feels more drawn to Kennedy’s methods ? Scalia is not there in the deliberation room, Kennedy is; and Kennedy, as we have seen, is moved by the actually litigants before him as much, if not more than, by the issues their disputes present. Would it not be fitting if Gorsuch found himself persuaded to follow Kennedy’s judicial course ?

We have no idea, really, if Gorsuch in his new role will continue the strict construction method he has applied as a Circuit Court judge to statutes and administrative regulations. As a Circuit Court judge, he is subject to being overruled and thus to avoiding novelties. He often writes, in his Circuit opinions, about the need to stick to High Court precedent. As a Justice, he won’t need to be thus bound. He will be able to set precedent.

How flexible will his High Court opinions be ? Probably not as flexible as they might be, were Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the deliberation room. We badly miss Holmes’s awareness of the entire history of the common law upon which our Constitution’s precepts rest. I only wish that Justice Gorsuch could hear Holmes speak the words of his masterly dissent in the famous case Lochner v. New York (1905):

This case is decided upon an economic theory which a large part of the country does not entertain. If it were a question whether I agreed with that theory, I should desire to study it further and long before making up my mind. But I do not conceive that to be my duty, because I strongly believe that my agreement or disagreement has nothing to do with the right of a majority to embody their opinions in law. It is settled by various decisions of this court that state constitutions and state laws may regulate life in many ways which we, as legislators, might think as injudicious, or, if you like, as tyrannical, as this, and which, equally with this, interfere with the liberty to contract. Sunday laws and usury laws are ancient examples. A more modern one is the prohibition of lotteries. The liberty of the citizen to do as he likes so long as he does not interfere with the liberty of others to do the same, which has been a shibboleth for some well known writers, is interfered with by school laws, by the Post Office, by every state or municipal institution which takes his money for purposes thought desirable, whether he likes it or not. The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer‘s Social Statics. The other day, we sustained the Massachusetts vaccination law. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S. 11. United States and state statutes and decisions cutting down the liberty to contract by way of combination are familiar to this court. Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U. S. 197. Two years ago, we upheld the prohibition of sales of stock on margins or for future delivery in the constitution of California. Otis v. Parker, 187 U. S. 606. The decision sustaining an eight hour law for miners is still recent. Holden v. Hardy, 169 U. S. 366. Some of these laws embody convictions or prejudices which judges are likely to share. Some may not. But a constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizen to the State or of laissez faire.It is made for people of fundamentally differing views, and the accident of our finding certain opinions natural and familiar or novel and even shocking ought not to conclude our judgment upon the question whether statutes embodying them conflict with the Constitution of the United States.

General propositions do not decide concrete cases. The decision will depend on a judgment or intuition more subtle than any articulate major premise. But I think that the proposition just stated, if it is accepted, will carry us far toward the end. Every opinion tends to become a law. I think that the word liberty in the Fourteenth Amendment is perverted when it is held to prevent the natural outcome of a dominant opinion, unless it can be said that a rational and fair man necessarily would admit that the statute proposed would infringe fundamental principles as they have been understood by the traditions of our people and our law. It does not need research to show that no such sweeping condemnation can be passed upon the statute before us. A reasonable man might think it a proper measure on the score of health. Men whom I certainly could not pronounce unreasonable would uphold it as a first installment of a general regulation of the hours of work. Whether in the latter aspect it would be open to the charge of inequality I think it unnecessary to discuss.

How would Gorsuch, with his strict construction opinion of the law, respond to Holmes’s argument ? Holmes’s conclusion, remember, is to uphold the law at issue, not overrule it. That is judicial restraint, albeit, in Holmes’ sarcastic sentences, strictness which doubtless he enjoyed applying against the activism of the majority decision.

Gorsuch wrote a concurrence in the Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius in which he also upheld a statute, the so called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the law upon which the owners of Hobby Lobby relied to justify their refusal to permit employees enrolled in the corporation’s health plan to access certain contraception devices to which they objected on religious grounds “sincerely held.” Gorsuch’s opinion has become one of the bulwarks of those who opposed his confirmation; yet his result is the same as Holmes’s: to confirm the statute at issue.

Gorsuch as a Circuit Court judge did not paint the context of his Hobby Lobby, Inc. opinion with a brush broad like Holmes’s. It was enough for him that the owners of Hobby Lobby had proved the sincerity of their religious belief and thus the applicability of the RFRA to their case. But might Gorsuch, now, as a Justice, speak more generally of the RFRA, and say, analogous to Holmes’s words, that the act must be upheld because it does not “infringe fundamental principles as they have been understood by the traditions of our people and our law” ?

I sincerely hope that Gorsuch always keeps these words of Holmes in his mind when writing an opinion. That said, the RFRA is not as easy to dispose of, or to uphold, as the labor law that Holmes decided to uphold. The RFRA is written upon a First Amendment as ambiguous as any part of our Constitution. It bars Congress (and the States too, via the 14th Amendment) from enacting any establishment of religion, but it also prohibits interference with the “free exercise” of religion. These sound good, but the devil is indeed in the details. Is it “free exercise of religion” for a person to exercise his religion against the interest of an employee enrolled in his health plan ? The RFRA says that it is. The First Amendment does NOT bar individuals from doing what the owners of Hobby Lobby, Inc. did; but why does it NOT bar Congress from enacting a law that sanctions it ?

The question has become as religiously political as the majority;’s opinion in Lochner had become economically political. There lies the trap for Gorsuch, from which the words of Holmes offer him safe escape.

To the question I asked in the paragraph two prior, Holmes’s words provide an answer inapposite. It is one thing to uphold a statute that alters the law of contract, the parameters of which is not a subject of Constitutional precept. It is quite another to opine upon a statute that squeezes within the ambiguities of the First Amendment. Ambiguity provides Justices with a world of discretion. Gorsuch will need to be extremely careful, in cases arising under ambiguous Constitutional guidelines, not to arouse a whole lot of of sleeping dogs — many of them, in the case of religion issues, deplorably politicized these days — that the Constitution lets lie.

NOTE : those who want to study the jurisprudence of Holmes more fully can read HERE : https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2009-summer/justice-holmes-empty-constitution/

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE MUGGLEBEE FILES : CROSSING THE LINE

Shayrat airfield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stunning revelation that chemical weapons were used, yet again, in Syria has turned our nation’s  foreign policy upside down. Videos of children suffering from this attack are difficult to watch and viscerally real to the core : which begs the question, why anyone in any sort of situation would ever use such weapons and for what, if any, gain?

It is a line no one can cross and come back. We had no choice but to respond, and we did.

Few events that can trigger as potent a world reaction as the sight of children suffering. As Trump says, “It crosses a line”.

Yet as we accept the situation, increasingly and urgently important it is to maintain some focus as to who was behind this and why.  And then to target those who perpetrated it, in a way precisely that sends a message — not to them, for they are finished — but to the rest of the world that this must never, ever be done again. Period.

War is of a nasty complexity, politics perhaps even nastier. Nevertheless, behind every atrocity lurks an agenda, however misguided. Yes, Syria’s leader Assad is labeled as doing this terrible thing. That much, our nation’s leadership has said. Yet the only reason that Assad still exists is the support he gets from Putin’s Russian forces. That would be troubling enough, but this war isn’t so simple : we would like to see Assad removed : but his army has battled ISIS, and to remove him would remove a significant force fighting our primary foe in the entire Middle East.

Given Russia’s involvement in our recent election, the Russia factor in Syria got worse.

Assad in 2013 had already used chemical weapons against his own people, acts that President Obama had to respond to : he declared it a crossing of the line. Military action was ready; however, Obama chose, at the last minute, a diplomatic maneuver by which Russia agreed to remove all chemical weapons from Syria, neutralizing their use – and preserving Assad’s regime.

Obama seemed satisfied; but the gambit proved effective. Obama could have done both — persuade Russia to take out the weapons AND then, himself, take out Assad. He chose not;, and things are where they are now.

So, why did Assad do this ?

I’ll discuss this issue later. First, let’s talk a parallel problem we currently face : North Korea. Their testing of ICBM’s has been much noticed; equally noticed was the curious murder of Kim Jong’s estranged and exiled brother in a Malaysia airport – by, of all things, a chemical weapon. Which one ? Sarin. A deadly gas which only few nations possess, the US being one, Russia another. The question became : who did this and for what purpose? Some said it was Kim Jong himself. Yet, much mystery surrounds that ongoing investigation.

You may also recall an incident from last year in which a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border crossed into Turkish airspace and was shot down by Turkey. Instead of challenging Turkey, Putin did something very different : he blamed the USA even though there was no evidence of our involvement at all. He then put together a NATO meeting with Turkey and others to develop strategy against their common enemy, ISIS, and he deliberately disinvited the US. What does any of this mean? It means Putin was willing to get his own fighter killed in order to draw Turkey into his sphere and driving a wedge into the US/Turkey relationship.

Putin has been credited for the chess mastery of this move, and the US criticized for having been played with little ability to counter.

What can the US do against any of this? Putin seems every day bolder to push US leadership in demonstrating his autonomy and international power. His corruption of our recent election is only one play in his game. So, what is the US thinking? The Syria fighting has seemed to move Assad’s way, as Russian military assistance enabled the Syrian Army to re-take Aleppo — and to corner rebel factions that we were supporting. Russia supported Assad, while we supported the rebels, put us face to face with Russia’s aims. Russian influence within the new US administration complicated matters, not to mention making the resolution an urgent matter of national security.

Assad appeared to have re-asserted his regime, announced his success, and celebrated it. Yet yesterday he felt the need to employ a chemical attack on the Syrian people. With Sarin, no less.

The same poison used to murder Kim Jong’s brother. And the same Assad that had used before and was supposed to have been removed by Russia.

The world buys that Assad did this, because he’s done it before. There had to be a response by the US. But what response ? Could Russia be inducing the US to act ? If so, to what purpose ? Has Putin played a part in the North Korean problem by having a hand in Kim Jong’s brother’s murder? The idea that Russia might poison people isn’t unheard of- in fact it’s heard of. Often.

Perhaps Putin is pushing Trump to lift sanctions, but given Russia’s successful money laundering network, in which Trump has been implicated for at least a decade, it’s doubtful Russia cares about the sanctions. Yet, their economy isn’t good, which means the people of Russia aren’t good, and Putin may feel this a major weakness. Our foreign policy may seek to turn his own people against him ; easier said than done.

All that being said, perhaps Russia did not do this sarin attack. We have no clear idea why Assad would do it, but we need to accept he may have. And there is one other possibility.

Who else could engineer something that immediately draws American attention and determination to avenge ? The world is now unified against Assad. Putin takes a big risk by continuing to support him; indeed, as a leader with world power goals, he needs to distance himself from Assad’s heinous regime lest he be implicated in the murderer of children (he already is that, having supported those who shot down a commercial plane over Ukraine that was carrying 260 people, including children.)

This is what makes this situation so grave. The lines between good and evil, who’s flying close to the line and who’s crossing over it. Is there even a line at all ? The Trump administration has already made it clear that truth is negotiable, that there are facts and there are alternative facts. Our world is upside down. Who is in charge? The guy who still talks about how many electoral votes he got, and tweets at 4 in the morning? Where are the adults? What lines are being crossed? Better yet, what is the line that can not be crossed?

The American people draw the line at innocent children.

It’s been said that Putin is playing three-dimensional chess and the US is playing checkers; this may be true. But it may not be. The history of the United States includes actions to further our own agenda that have ,at best, blurred lines and at worst crossed them deliberately. This must be considered.

A line has been crossed. But to be clear, it wasn’t in Syria yesterday by Assad. It was crossed last November. And ever since, we’ve been trying to re-draw it somehow, and it’s not entirely clear how that’s gonna happen.

—- Christopher Mugglebee / The Mugglebee Files at Here and Sphere