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September 13, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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Russian president Vladimir Putin met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un today in Russia’s far east. His need to turn to North Korea’s isolated leader is a dramatic fall for Putin, who just four years ago was hobnobbing with then-president Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. Now, thanks to his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Putin, too, is isolated, charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court, and under an arrest warrant. 

It is no wonder that shortly before he met with Kim, Putin said of Trump’s 2024 presidential run: “We surely hear that Mr. Trump says he will resolve all burning issues within several days, including the Ukrainian crisis. We cannot help but feel happy about it.” Trump has said he will end the war in a day if he’s reelected, and has called for withholding funds to Ukraine until the Department of Justice and the FBI investigate President Joe Biden. 

At the meeting, Putin and Kim vowed to strengthen the ties between the two countries, and Kim expressed total support for Putin as Russia’s isolation grows, calling their stance a “fight against imperialism” and saying at a state dinner that he is “certain that the Russian people and its military will emerge victorious in the fight to punish the evil forces that ambitiously pursues hegemony and expansion.” 

And yet it is Russia that is attacking other nations, including the U.S.: on September 7 the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 11 Russian men for their participation in cyberattacks against governments, businesses, and major hospital chains around the world. The U.S. Treasury Department and the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency say the hackers are associated with Russian intelligence services.

Russia is looking for artillery munitions from North Korea to continue its war against Ukraine; North Korea wants ballistic missile technology from Russia to develop its space and satellite program. Kim cannot get that technology elsewhere because of sanctions intended to keep him from developing nuclear weapons. Sergey Radchenko, a senior professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies who studies Russian and Chinese national security, concluded that we might be seeing an alliance between North Korea and Russia that, among other things, is likely to increase North Korea’s assertiveness.

That Putin feels the need to cozy up to Kim indicates the war is not going as he would like. Indeed, last night Ukraine hit the main base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, in occupied Crimea, destroying two vessels and the port infrastructure. The Ukrainian military claimed responsibility for the strike, underlining its growing strength in Russian-occupied areas.. 

In a major speech today at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained the place at which the United States finds itself in both foreign and domestic affairs. He told the audience that the end of the Cold War, a period of competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, along with their respective allies, ushered in “the promise of an inexorable march toward greater peace and stability, international cooperation, economic interdependence, political liberalization, human rights.” That postwar period did, indeed, lift more than a billion people from poverty, eliminate deadly diseases, and usher in a period of historically low conflicts between nations, despite challenges such as the 2008 global financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, and regional conflicts like those in Rwanda and Iraq.

“But,” Blinken said, “what we’re experiencing now is more than a test of the post–Cold War order. It’s the end of it.”

The relative geopolitical stability of the post–World War II years has given way to the rise of authoritarian powers, he said. Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is the most immediate threat to “the international order enshrined in the UN charter and its core principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence for nations, and universal indivisible human rights for individuals.” But the People’s Republic of China “poses the most significant long-term challenge,” he said, “because it not only aspires to reshape the international order, it increasingly has the economic, the diplomatic, the military, the technological power to do just that.”

As partners, “Beijing and Moscow are working together to make the world safe for autocracy,” Blinken warned.

As the competition between the two systems ramps up, many countries are hedging their bets, while the influence of nonstate actors—international corporations, public service nongovernmental organizations, international terrorists, transnational criminal organizations—is growing. At the same time, the sheer scale of global problems like climate change and mass migration is making cooperation across borders more difficult.

The international economic order of the past several decades is flawed in ways that have caused people to lose faith in it, Blinken explained. Technology and globalization have hollowed out entire industries and weakened workers, while laws protected property. Inequality grew dramatically between 1980 and 2020, with the richest 0.1% accumulating the same wealth as the poorest 50%. “The longer these disparities persist,” Blinken pointed out, “the more distrust and disillusionment they fuel in people who feel the system is not giving them a fair shake. And the more they exacerbate other drivers of political polarization, amplified by algorithms that reinforce our biases rather than allowing the best ideas to rise to the top.”

Democracies are under threat, Blinken said. “Challenged from the inside by elected leaders who exploit resentments and stoke fears; erode independent judiciaries and the media; enrich cronies; crack down on civil society and political opposition. And challenged from the outside, by autocrats who spread disinformation, who weaponize corruption, who meddle in elections.” 

The post–Cold War order is over, Blinken said. “One era is ending, a new one is beginning, and the decisions that we make now will shape the future for decades to come.” 

The U.S. is in a position of strength from which it seeks to reinforce a rules-based international order in which “goods, ideas, and individuals can flow freely and lawfully across land, sea, sky, and cyberspace, where technology is used to empower people—not to divide, surveil, and repress them,” where the global economy is defined by fair competition and widespread prosperity, and where “international law and the core principles of the UN Charter are upheld, and where universal human rights are respected.” Such a world would serve humanity’s interests, as well as our own, Blinken said; its principles are universal.  

“[O]ur competitors have a fundamentally different vision,” he said. “They see a world defined by a single imperative: regime preservation and enrichment. A world where authoritarians are free to control, coerce, and crush their people, their neighbors, and anyone else standing in the way of this all-consuming goal.”

They claim that the norms and values that anchor the rules-based international order are imposed by Western nations, that human rights are up to nations themselves, and that big countries should be allowed to dictate to their smaller neighbors. 

“The contrast between these two visions could not be clearer. And the stakes of the competition we face could not be higher—for the world, and for the American people.”

Blinken explained that the Biden administration has deliberately integrated domestic and foreign policy, crafting industrial strategy to rebuild the U.S. and to address the wealth disparities that create deep political resentment, while aligning that domestic strength to foreign policy. That foreign policy has depended on strengthening alliances and partnerships, building regional integration so that regions address their own interests as communities, closing the infrastructure gap between nations, and strengthening international institutions—rejoining the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization, working to expand the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and so on.

Blinken said that such investments will lead nations to stand up to “the Beijings and Moscows of the world” when they claim this system serves the West and try to tear it down, and answer back: “No, the system you are trying to change is our system; it serves our interests.” At the same time, such investments will offer new markets for American workers and businesses, more affordable goods for American consumers, more reliable food and energy supplies, more robust health systems to stop deadly disease, more allies to address global challenges. 

Looking back from the future, Blinken said, “the right decisions tend to look obvious, the end results almost inevitable. They never are. In real time, it’s a fog.”

“We must put our hand on the rudder of history and chart a path forward, guided by the things that are certain even in uncertain times—our principles, our partners, our vision for where we want to go,” Blinken said, “so that, when the fog lifts, the world that emerges tilts toward freedom, toward peace, toward an international community capable of rising to the challenges of its time.” 

Notes:

https://www.icc-cpi.int/news/situation-ukraine-icc-judges-issue-arrest-warrants-against-vladimir-vladimirovich-putin-and

https://apnews.com/article/ukraine-funding-trump-biden-republicans-1271243a1d052f68765d9f39fe115592

https://apnews.com/article/trump-republicans-impeachment-ukraine-pennsylvania-c22cda6a5f6783b5f6a1123b724ebaff

https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/2023/09/13/trump-putin-election-interfence/

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/multiple-foreign-nationals-charged-connection-trickbot-malware-and-conti-ransomware

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/us-uk-accuse-11-russians-running-cybercrime-ring-attacked-hospitals-wo-rcna103736

https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy1714

https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/12/asia/kim-jong-un-putin-meeting-russia-intl-hnk/index.html

https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-september-11-2023

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-sevastopol-925cf5d35b53ea061d1dc73dd0cf329f

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraine-launches-missile-attack-sevastopol-crimea-russian-installed-governor-2023-09-13/

https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-remarks-to-the-johns-hopkins-school-of-advanced-international-studies-sais-the-power-and-purpose-of-american-diplomacy-in-a-new-era/

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WATCH: ‘This Is My First Rodeo’ | Ben Meets America Ben Kawaller

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In the latest stop on his cross-country quest to understand America, Ben Kawaller watches men hurl cows to the ground.

Last month I attended The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, a city of around 400,000 souls situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. This was my first rodeo, and it did not take me long after entering its host venue, the gargantuan Globe Life Field, to realize that I did not know what a rodeo was. If you’d asked me six weeks ago to define the term, I would have said something like, “It’s when you watch someone career around an enclosed pen on an animal.” 

Which is actually not too far off. But what I hadn’t realized is that a rodeo is actually a sporting event. 

You see, some people are especially good at bending these animals to their will, and if you are one of those people, you can win competitions for things like making the animals run very fast, or tying the animals up very quickly, or not dying while trying to sit on one of the animals.

Of course, I wasn’t really there for the games; I was there to talk to the crowd about what makes our society so divided. If you’re tuning in for the first time to my new series—“Ben Meets America”—I was born and raised in progressive Brooklyn, I now live in West Hollywood, and I will admit to being soft in some fundamental way. Suffice it to say I get a more transcendent high from watching a torch song than I do from watching a man hurl a small cow to the ground.

But, in fact, theater and rodeo have their similarities. If you’ve been to a play in recent years, you will have suffered the degradation of a “land acknowledgement.” This is when the audience is told before the show—either in an announcement or in the program notes—that they’ve gathered on land stolen from whatever Native American tribe existed there years ago. My sense is that some of this is rooted in the idea that America itself is fundamentally illegitimate. Whatever’s behind it, the inclusion of a land acknowledgement has become de rigueur.

I did not think conservatives did land acknowledgements, so I was surprised when the Native American actor Mo Brings Plenty appeared before the start of one of the competitions and performed a minute or two of indigenous wailing. I believe the intent of this was to, well, acknowledge the fact that Native American bloodshed was central to the expansion of the American West. What I did not expect was the incongruence of what came after. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I’m still puzzling over its significance.

In the end, however, I decided I prefer the conservative version of a land acknowledgement. Unlike the inane liberal sacrament, it appears to be capable of expressing two truths at once: that oceans of indigenous blood were spilled in the creation of this country, and that we live in one of the greatest nations on earth.

Even if one of our favorite spectator sports is man versus cow.

Only paid subscribers can see Ben’s video on The American Rodeo. Become one today and scroll down to watch.

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April 14, 2024 Garamond

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Senate spotlight: A Trump Republican’s China problem Judd Legum

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November’s election will not only determine which party controls the White House but also the United States Senate. Currently, the Democratic caucus holds a narrow 51-49 advantage. Control of the chamber will come down to a handful of competitive races. This is the first installment in a series that takes a deep dive into the issues shaping these campaigns. 

In Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno (R) is attempting to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D). Ohio, once a swing state, has been trending Republican. Moreno’s campaign strategy is to attach himself at the hip to Donald Trump. He refers to himself as the “Trump endorsed Republican nominee for US Senate from Ohio.” This helped him easily win the Republican primary against a field of more politically experienced opponents.  

In a potential second term, Trump is vowing to declare economic war on China, promising to “tax China to build America up.” Trump’s plan is to revoke China’s most favored nation trading status and impose a tariff on Chinese goods of up to 60%. (The policy would cost the typical American household thousands of dollars annually and increase inflation.) Imports of “essential goods” from China, including electronics, steel, and pharmaceuticals, would be completely banned

Moreno has taken a similar approach, saying he is running for Senate to “Beat Communist China.” To bolster his anti-China credentials, Moreno claims to have a history of combating Chinese power. These stories, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Moreno made his fortune through buying and selling car dealerships. As his wealth increased, so did his interest in Republican politics. In 2011, former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) appointed him to the board of trustees at Cleveland State, one of Ohio’s public universities. Moreno served as chairman of the Cleveland State board from 2016 to 2018.

Confucius Institutes, which offer “Chinese language and culture programs,” were established at numerous U.S. universities beginning in 2005. They were partially funded by the Chinese government. Over time, there were bipartisan concerns that Confucius Institutes were being used to promote Chinese government propaganda or even to facilitate espionage. On the campaign trail, Moreno has repeatedly claimed that, in his role as chair of Cleveland State’s Board of Trustees, he eliminated the university’s Confucius Institute.

Here is how Moreno described his role in a March 2023 campaign event:

I chaired the board of trustees at Cleveland State University, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was there, we got rid of our Confucius Institute. We made certain that we focused everybody on student achievement, and we respected free speech on campus.

He made a nearly identical claim in October 2023. But it is a lie.

Moreno’s service on the board ended in May 2018. Cleveland State did not shut down its Confucius Institute until 2021. The truth is, while Moreno was on the board, he repeatedly approved funding for Cleveland State’s Confucius Institute. In 2016, when Moreno was still vice chairman, he voted to approve $38,000 in funding for the school’s Confucius Institute. The following year, as chairman, Moreno voted to re-up the funding. Minutes from these meetings show that Moreno did not express any concerns about the Confucius Institute

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Moreno told the Columbus Dispatch that he deserves credit for the elimination of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State because of “his role in the hiring of Harlan Sands, who was Cleveland State’s president when the institute closed.” There are a couple of issues with this response. First, this is not what Moreno said previously. He clearly said that the board “got rid” of the Confucius Institute while he was chair. Second, Cleveland State did not eliminate the Confucius Institute because of the initiative of President Sands. Cleveland State, along with nearly all other universities, closed its Confucius Institute after Congress passed legislation in 2018 and 2020 limiting federal funding for universities that maintained the Confucius Institutes. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Confucius Institutes operating in the United States went from about 100 to fewer than 5.

The truth about Moreno and Chinese-made SUVs

“When I was a General Motors dealer, I sold Buicks. The Buick Envision was made in China. I told General Motors I wouldn’t sell one of them, don’t even ship it to me,” Moreno said during a February 10, 2024 radio interview. “They threatened me and sent me all kinds of nasty notes… we have to actually take this stand…”

That story, which Moreno also told during his brief run for Senate in 2021, is a lie. 

In reality, Moreno sold the Buick Envision at his dealership for at least five years — from 2014 to 2019 — and promoted the vehicle repeatedly on its social media channels, an investigation by NY1 revealed

A December 13, 2016 video published on the “Bernie Moreno Companies” YouTube page begins with this testimonial: “My name is Kayla McCullough. I purchased a 2017 Buick Envision from Buick GMC of Beachwood… I highly recommend you visit the team at Buick GMC of Beachwood, a Bernie Moreno company.”

Moreno’s campaign “acknowledged to Spectrum News that his dealership did sell the Chinese-made SUVs.” It claimed that “in response to the closure of the Lordstown Plant here in Ohio [in March 2019],  Bernie made a decision to stop any new inventory of Envision’s from being sold at his dealership. After he sold off the inventory he already had on the lot, he refused to take orders for more Envisions.” This explanation, however, makes little sense as the Envision was also produced in China and never at Ohio’s Lordstown Plant. Moreno’s dealerships also continued to advertise for the Envision months after the closure of the plant. 

 

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