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Almost exactly ten years before launching a Tomahawk missile strike against a Syrian air base, Donald J. Trump enjoyed a similar triumph in an internationally-televised, pay-per-view spectacle called the “Battle of the Billionaires.”

Staged as the culmination of a widely-hyped “feud” between Trump and World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Vince McMahon, the event featured Trump in a business suit tackling his rival on the ring apron—the referee having been rendered conveniently unconscious.

Trump pummeled his rival with some of the weakest fake punches in professional wrestling history. Smirking and swaggering, he then plunked McMahon in a chair in the center of the ring and shaved his head.

The video:  simply has to be seen to be believed.

Now I don’t want to shock anybody, but professional wrestling feuds are purely scripted theatrical events. Let Wikipedia explain: “Feuds are often the result of the friction that is created between faces (the heroic figures) and heels (the malevolent, ‘evil’ participants). Common causes of feuds are a purported slight or insult, although they can be based on many other things, including conflicting moral codes or simple professional one-upmanship.

Which brings us back to Syria. Because if it would be irresponsible to call the events of last week as stage-managed as “WrestleMania 23,” it would also be naïve to ignore their theatrical aspects.

First, because neither the Assad nerve gas atrocity nor the US response had any real military purpose. The Syrian dictator and his Russian backers have been winning the civil war, bombing hospitals and slaughtering thousands of civilians without resorting to banned weapons. Assad’s only imaginable motive would have been to convince rebel factions of his absolute ruthlessness—something they already believe.

Supposedly, however, the Russians had persuaded Assad to surrender his biochemical arsenal back in 2013, after President Obama’s ill-considered “red line” blunder. How, then, with Russian soldiers all over the remote air strip where the gas attack was allegedly launched, could Vladimir Putin NOT have known what was going down?

And why would Assad have defied the Russians? Last week’s barbaric strike killed a reported 84 civilians in a rebel-held Syrian village. In contrast, the 2013 chemical assault that prompted Barack Obama’s anger took 1400 lives—an outrage that troubled Donald Trump hardly at all.

Reasoning that Bashar al-Assad’s enemies were Sunni extremists like ISIS, Trump sent out a series of Twitter messages urging Obama to lay off.

“AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER,” he wrote “DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA – IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!”

Never mind that Obama ultimately agreed with Trump about the risks of involving the U.S. in yet another Middle Eastern war. “Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin,” he tweeted in October 2012 “watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.”

A month later, Obama was re-elected easily.Meanwhile, “If he [Trump] can reverse himself on Syria,” writes former G.W. Bush speechwriter David Frum “he can reverse himself on anything.”

Apparently so. In 2013, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported Obama striking Syria; the same poll today shows 86 percent of Republicans back Trump’s actions. I’m sorry, but that is exactly a pro-wrestling audience.

But back to Vladimir Putin. Assuming for the sake of argument that the Russian strongman DID know in advance about Bashar al-Assad’s plan to use nerve gas against his own people, why would he let it happen?

Consider what has taken place. By playing the heel, Putin has allowed President Trump to enact the role of hero: launching an almost purely symbolic, militarily insignificant strike against Syria.

“When I take action,” George W. Bush famously said after 9/11, “I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive.”

Trump went camel-hunting, carefully warning the Russians (hence the Syrians) about the exact time and place precision-guided missiles would strike. Not that it was the wrong thing to do. While few Americans would have minded the US sending a drone strike into Bashar al-Assad’s bedroom window, that would risk intensifying Syria’s many-sided, six-year-old civil war.

And yes, Hillary Clinton was urging Trump on.

You’re going to end up in World War Three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton,” Trump said last fall. “You’re not fighting Syria any more, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right?”

But that was then. This is now.

Meanwhile, Trump’s son Eric may have inadvertently given the game away. “If there was anything that [the strike on] Syria did,” he told a British reporter, “it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie.”

We’re also not supposed to notice that Vladimir Putin’s the one calling the shots.

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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